Artist: My Epic Album: Violence EP Year: 2019 Grade: A-
In Brief: The follow-up to Ultraviolet is a more visceral, adventurous, and sometimes downright abrupt and startling record that puts the focus on human relationships and the awful things we’re capable of doing to each other in the name of God. It’s not an easy listen, but it’s one of the year’s best recordings precisely because of it.
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.)
This is the list I look forward to writing the most each year, and yet that I seem to always agonize over until New Year’s Eve arrives and I have to click the “Publish” button and freeze these opinions in time. Coming up with a good, solid list of album recommendations at the end of every year seems to be a harder and harder task as time goes by, owing to a lot of artists seeming to lose interest in the album format, perhaps putting out excellent singles or EPs, but with the full-length LP becoming almost an afterthought. Even some of the top entries here were records I got to know at least half of as pre-release singles, or as a collection of EPs, before the full listening experience was made available, and thus I regard them more as strong compilations of songs from the latest phase of an artist’s career rather than as cohesive “albums” in the traditional sense. Still, a few holdouts are doing great things with the LP format, making a case for why it’s worth roughly 40 to 60 minutes of a listener’s time to take in a collection of songs in the order presented. I think that’s an art form that is still worth pursuing, even if the state of the music industry makes it an uphill battle to keep doing so.
It feels like this year brought along a massive hodgepodge of acoustic remake EPs (and some full LPs), remix projects, live albums, etc. from artists whose studio work I tend to enjoy. A lot of it felt hastily rushed out the door in order to generate more streaming revenue, to be honest. But these few holdouts containing all original material (or covers of a single artist, in one case) were of such strong quality that I found myself wishing each one could be expanded into an album in its own right. (Or in one instance, wishing it could have actually been part of the album it was released as a prelude to.) Here are the EPs that I enjoyed the most in 2018, as well as a pair of actual full-length albums from 2017 that I didn’t get around to in time.
Artist: DeVotchKa Album: This Night Falls Forever Year: 2018 Grade: A-
In Brief: Ten songs after a seven-year absence might seem like a meager offering from most bands, but DeVotchKa ensures that their long-awaited return is an engrossing and intoxicating listen. The Latin rock influences may not be as pronounced this time around, but the strings, whistling, and other exotic bits of instrumentation all help to give this record an adventurous, otherworldly aura that isn’t easily forgotten. This Night Falls Forever can be a bit of an emotionally intense listen at first, but it’s definitely worth your time.
Artist: Sucré Album: In Pieces EP Year: 2018 Grade: A-
In Brief: These three new songs hint at an exciting “next level” for a side project of former Eisley and MuteMath members Stacy DuPree-King and Darren King that is now apparently the main musical gig for each. I’m really hoping this exciting little morsel is just an appetizer for a full album to come, because I’d hate to think they left their other respective bands only to put out stuff like this on rare occasions.
Artist: Chvrches Album: Love Is Dead Year: 2018 Grade: A-
In Brief: For a band that had such a fully realized synthpop sound from the get-go, it makes sense that change should come only in small increments. Chvrches once again keeps what works for them intact, and while there are a few small surprises in the song structures and instrumentation, the bigger surprise on Love Is Dead is how hard a lot of the lyrics hit. Without being preachy or overtly political, the trio clearly feels a responsibility to address the turbulent times we’re all living in. It’s refreshing and vital, and ultimately that’s what makes this record yet another home run for Chvrches.