Artist: Darlingside Album: Extralife Year: 2018 Grade: B
In Brief: I’m pretty fascinated by Darlingside’s ability to bring together old-timey vocal harmonies, modest folk instrumentation, a willingness to experiment with instruments and effects uncommon to the genre, and a touch of sci-fi and speculative fiction that helps to set their lyrics apart from the norm. At times it’s like hearing what people from decades past might have anticipated folk music would sound like in in a future existence parallel to our own.
It’s inevitable most years that some of the best music I listen to either isn’t going to fit strictly into the album format and thus won’t be eligible for my Favorite Albums list, or else it’ll have been released the previous year, and thus get added to that year’s list retroactively. In 2019 in particular, there were enough cases of this that I’m basically willing to consider this rundown of EPs, live albums, re-releases, and/or seasonal albums as my “Honorable Mentions” list for the year. 2018 also proved to be the gift that kept on giving, as I got turned on to several strong releases that I hadn’t known about yet when I wrote up last year’s countdown.
Artist: My Epic Album: Ultraviolet EP Year: 2018 Grade: B+
In Brief: A slow-burning but thoughtful set of songs about the implications of believing in the unseen, that serves as a compelling introduction to the My Epic sound even if it’s not 100% representative of the band’s range.
Artist: Liam Singer Album: Finish Him Year: 2019 Grade: A
In Brief: Singer’s expressive, percussive, and incredibly intricate style of piano-based indie pop music, with occasional choral and electronic accents, is truly a magnificent thing to behold. Equal parts playful and confident, uncertain and exploratory, this hour-long album makes me feel a level of excitement over discovering a brilliant new artist that I experience maybe two or three times a decade. (And this is his fifth album, which means I’ve been missing out for quite some time now.)
Artist: Polychrome Album: Polychrome Year: 2018 Grade: B
In Brief: A strong start for a promising synthpop act, in a genre where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out. Their reliance on vocal samples, bright pop hooks, and occasional more eerie/atmospheric passages to serve as a contrast, showcases diversity across this playful set of songs. But it also becomes apparent toward the end that there’s a bit of filler here – all pleasant ambient and instrumental stuff, but a bit lighter on the big, bright pop songs than I might have preferred.
Artist: Myles Kennedy Album: Year of the Tiger Year: 2018 Grade: B+
In Brief: A surprising detour into folk and blues-influenced rock territory that demonstrates a more personal and eclectic side of the Alter Bridge frontman. Though the subject matter on his solo debut is often quite dark, it’s also cathartic, and a refreshing change of pace from what I would have expected.
In Brief: This all-female power metal band from Japan may not have reinvented the genre in any meaningful way, but they play the hell out of their instruments and have a ton of fun doing it. At the end of the day, I can’t fault them for that – especially when the end result puts such a massive smile on my face.
In Brief: A powerhouse synthpop/electronic rock album that knows when to ham it up and when to peel back the layers a bit for more of an organic performance. Just when you think you’ve got them figured out, something different happens. This is my kind of band for sure.
Artist: Crowder Album: I Know a Ghost Year: 2018 Grade: C
In Brief: There’s too much material, and a distressing amount of it is rather bland. I’ll always admire Crowder’s penchant for mashing up different genres into his own unique little worship service, but he’s starting to do it in ways that feel a bit cliched, in light of these things not being considered risky in modern pop music for some time now.
Artist: My Brightest Diamond Album: A Million and One Year: 2018 Grade: B-
In Brief: This album further revises the MBD sound, taking Shara Nova’s already rhythm-heavy approach in even more of an electronic direction while dropping some of the more ornate instrumentation. It’s a bit all over the place, musically speaking, but I do appreciate it as a bold expression of her independence and artistic ambition.