Here are the albums that I had the toughest time making it all the way through in 2018. At the top of the list are the merely mediocre records that I almost wanted to rescue from the “dishonorable” pile, but that just didn’t have enough good to outweigh the bad. As you get further down, the list gets more and more abysmal, to the point where I can’t even come up with a track highlight to make a case for why it’s not all bad.
In Brief: Not a strong showing for Thrice on their second album post-hiatus. It’s about a third “Hey look, we can still rock hard!”, about a third middle-of-the-road balladeering, and about a third experimental… and honestly, at this point, I’m only really here for the experimental stuff. I’m OK with Thrice making more of a “genre roulette” album in the same spirit as Beggars, rather than forcing themselves to always have a focused sound… but on Palms, the quality from song to song really suffers due to the lack of cohesion, without much of a theme to bridge it all together.
In Brief: While Lo Moon’s synthesis of 80s pop and shoegaze aesthetics and their attention to background detail are commendable, there’s not enough interesting stuff in the foreground (hooks, riffs, variance in tempo and intensity, etc.) to make the album listening experience a particularly eventful one.
In Brief: The stripped down approach and more starkly personal lyrics are a strong move… in theory. But this just plain doesn’t work for a powerhouse vocalist and an eccentrically creative songwriter of Florence’s caliber. The production mushes everything together whenever the music tries to pick up a little steam. The songs have an irritating habit of cutting off before they really feel like they should end. And whatever’s left of “The Machine” feels like it’s too timid to assert itself the way it used to.
Artist: Owl City
In Brief: Somewhere within this hodgepodge of bland personal anecdotes and ill-advised bits of genre-hopping, are a small handful of truly imaginative synthpop songs that remind me of why I once risked the scorn of fellow critics to proclaim that I actually liked Owl City. While sifting through 15 songs (and 3 alternate versions!) to find those rare gems is generally not a delightful experience, this album might still be a step up from Mobile Orchestra.
In Brief: A distressingly unfocused and non-committal album full of weird genre-hopping experiments that rarely work, and grating repetition that sucks any potential humor or narrative value out of most of the songs. I applaud the willingness to take risks with their sound, but I honestly get the impression from this album that The Decemberists are just plain exhausted from all the epic-length records that they used to make, and only half trying at this point. Not everything on this record is awful, but enough of it ranges from mildly disappointing to downright irritating that I end up in a bad mood pretty much every time I listen to it.
In Brief: Lyrically, Fingers Crossed is a harrowing tale of a man’s guilt, anguish, and possible loss of faith in the messy aftermath of an extramarital affair. Musically, it’s mostly a low-key mixture of acoustic coffeehouse-type material and electronica. 13 tracks and over an hour of music in this vein can be an incredibly difficult listen for both reasons, but I have to admit that a few of the confessions and insights offered here are darkly fascinating.