By January of 2018, I was burned out. I had spent each of the previous 52 weeks identifying, listening to, and evaluating a new album. Though I got a lot out of my 2017 music mission, I did not have the energy or interest to invest in a lot of new music. As a result, my 2018 listening list is meager. Even so, the magic of music is such that you fall in love with whatever you give your time to. I only invested in a few albums in 2018, but those albums provided me with hefty returns.
5. Sure Sure (Sure Sure, 2018)
Favorite Song: “Koreatown”
This eponymous debut album is like an ice cold Sprite: bright and airy, flavorful and poppy, and uncaffeinated. The back half of the album is not as strong as the first (with the exception of “Hands Up Head Down”), but when it’s good it’s good. Sure Sure uses their punchy, unique sound to create truly remarkable songs. Every time I hear “Friends” or “New Biome,” it feels like I’m hearing it for the first time.
4. Marry Me (St. Vincent, 2007)
Favorite Song: “Paris is Burning”
I listened to Marry Me as the methodical first step toward Getting Into St. Vincent. I’d never heard her music, but second-hand descriptions indicated that she and I would get along. Experience confirms my initial hypothesis.
Marry Me allows me to flex my superpower, which is the ability to point out when a song sounds like The Beatles; I detect a strong whiff of Revolver in “Now Now” and “Your Lips Are Red.” In an additional favorable comparison, the piano in “All My Stars Aligned” could be a B-side of Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane.” “Paris is Burning” is a semi-timeless anthem for a city with a tendency for revolution. The title track is a deliberate march toward an unhappy romance.
Reflecting on this album, I’m surprised to realize that the music stands out to me more than the lyrics. This is normal for many, but highly unusual for a lyric-hound like me. St. Vincent’s lyrics perfectly complement the music, and perhaps that is why the sound cuts through so clearly.
3. Worry. (Jeff Rosenstock, 2016)
Favorite Song: “Staring Out the Window At Your Old Apartment”
Worry. is terrible on paper. Rosenstock doesn’t have a great singing voice. The lyrics are often incomprehensible, and most of the time the songs aren’t even finished. In action, Worry. is wondrous. It is not a collection of singles, but a unified album. It is symphonic in the way songs flow one into the other, the energy rising and falling and crescendoing and collapsing, echos and reflections of words and messages reappearing throughout. Worry. is full of earworms that stick around for weeks–all the more dangerous because they are short and unable to be resolved.
2. The Immaculate Collection (Madonna, 1990)
Favorite Song: “Into the Groove”
Before 2018, I could list half a dozen Madonna singles, but I couldn’t sing you more than two. (“Holiday” is played in pop culture pretty regularly, and I knew “Lucky Star” from a scene in Snatch.) “Material Girl,” “Like a Virgin,” and “Papa Don’t Preach” were just titles to me. Now that I’ve listened to The Immaculate Collection roughly six hundred times, I have what may be a shocking, fresh perspective on Madonna. It is my personal opinion that she makes catchy, delightful, perfect pop songs. Hell, I’d consider her pop royalty. A duchess, perhaps? I may be inviting conflict by saying so, but I stand by it.
1. Invasion of Privacy (Cardi B, 2018)
Favorite Song: “Bickenhead”
As so often precedes my forays into current music, I just wanted to understand what all the fuss was about. And once again, I was infected by the fuss. Cardi B’s take-no-prisoners, give-no-fucks attitude is empowering as hell, and came to me at the moment I needed to feel strong. She is everything I want in a songwriter–her lyrics are funny, playful, and nonstop. I can’t count how many times I’ve gone through this thought cycle: “I love this song! I should sing it at karaoke.” *actually listens to song* “Whoops! Can’t say that word, won’t say that word, that entire verse is off limits. Never mind.” (But I still haven’t ruled out karaoke for good.)
I’ll Be Your Girl (The Decemberists, 2018) Certainly not the strongest Decemberists album, but it definitely grew on me. The band knows it–they didn’t even play the title track during their promotional tour. Superpower at it again: “Rusalka, Rusalka” opens similarly to The Smiths’ “Last Night I Dreamt that Somebody Loved Me.”
CLPPING (clipping., 2014) Daveed Diggs and company play with sound, words, rhythm, rhyme, meter, and anything else they can get their hands on. “Taking Off” is a mathematical masterpiece, and “Work Work” without fail makes me move.
Looking Toward the Future
Still somewhat reacting to 2017, I am not putting minimums on my music intake for 2019. One guiding principle that has naturally taken shape is this: I don’t have the energy to listen to men sing about women they don’t care about. I’ve heard enough of that point of view. Otherwise, I will take music as it finds me.