Welcome to the penultimate section of the Top 100 list! We’re looking at nothing but A-grade material from here on out, folks. Before we dig into the next 20 albums I’ve chosen to highlight, let’s talk about what genres are represented on this list.
Admittedly the concept of “genre” is a tricky thing to define, and I’ve played fast and loose with it as I’ve reviewed albums over the years, sometimes not applying genre tags consistently to the same artist making more or less the same style from one album to the next. or they’ve undergone a radical change in their sound, and yet I still consider them part of the old genre in my mind because they’re still associated with that scene. It’s more of an art than a science, and often the records that excite me most will dabble in a wide array of genre influences, making an accurate descriptor for their sound as a whole rather difficult to nail down.
And now, finally, it’s time to get started with the Proper Top 100 list! A lot of truly excellent music came out in the 2010s, to the point where narrowing it down to the most deserving albums required a mental refresher on well over 200 albums that I had enjoyed during the last ten years. It’s taken me longer than expected to get this list off to a proper start, due to a bit of a counting mishap when I was choosing my finalists, resulting in some painful last-minute cuts when I realized that I had put more than 20 albums in my lowest tier out of the 100. But that’s all settled now, and I’ve got my list broken into 5 parts, during which I’ll take a look back at 20 great albums per installment.
Everything in this first section of the list would score a B+ if I reviewed it today, so it’ll be a little ways up the list before we get to the truly amazing stuff. But even within this initial batch of 20 albums, there are tons of fond memories that I get from going back and revisiting the vast majority of the tracks on each of these – and in a few cases, new memories still being formed, as I discovered a few of these albums for the first time during a huge back catalogue binge I embarked on last year.
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.
First on my to-do list as the year comes to a close is to list the individual songs that inspired and entertained me the most in 2018. Some of these may have come out in 2017, or in a few extreme cases, as singles in 2016 that didn’t make it onto an actual album release until more recently. Either way, it was all new to me this year, or else I heard it in late 2017 and I had a belated reaction to it. Explanations and video/audio links are given for the Top 30 – for the rest, if you’re curious, just click the review links where provided to learn more.
As always, many of these songs (limit one per artist) are collected in my 2018 in a Nutshell playlist over on Spotify.
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.
2011 was truly an exceptional year for music. It just took me the better part of the year to realize it. Most years, I’m lucky to stumble across at least four albums deserving of the five-star rating that I seem to award more and more rarely these days. But this year, in addition to the four or five that I knew I had to give instant A’s, there were several more albums that persuaded me to bump them up from a carefully considered B at the last minute as I reviewed them and realized how well thought-out even some of their lesser songs were. Now almost my entire Top 10 is comprised of A-grade material. I’m stoked about that. What has been a year full of personal turmoil, possible the most emotionally difficult of my life so far, will at least contain a lot of beauty and grace when I look back upon it years from now, and a lot of that will be due to the music I fondly remember for helping me to make my way through it all.