Okay, this was a weird year for me.
First off, too many of my friends made kick-ass amazing records.
And then, even as the months passed, I would find myself in a battle with myself as to what was my favorite album of 2018. There was only one thing that never changed, my favorite song of this year. In fact, maybe it was the year of the songs, as so many truly stood out, while sometimes the albums from whence they came fell a little short.
I don’t know. But I am changing things up this year. Going to start the listing with songs, and then bring on the albums, but the albums won’t have any specific order, and honestly as I write this now on December 26that 6:15 PM, I’m not even sure how many albums will make the list. So, I’ll be as surprised as you.
Best Song of 2018
Uh-Huh from Jade Bird – This UK singer/songwriter, who released one great EP last year, and a couple of singles this year, delivers the perfect song: short, fast, angry and so to the fucking point. When she turns up the growl at the 31 second mark, I am a complete goner. The song gave me goosebumps on that first listen, it gives me goosebumps now. As good a song as any you’re likely to hear . . . ever.
Runners Up for Best Song of 2018
Make Me Feel – Janelle Monae – Though Prince passed in April of 2017, his spirit was certainly alive in protégé Monae’s funky ode to a subject so close to the Purple One’s heart. If Jade hadn’t growled, this would have been song of the year. So close. So damn good.
The Way She Looks At You – Sarah Shook – Released back in November, one week after What it Takes: film en douze tableaux, the documentary I made on the band was also released, came a track from the Years sessions. A three-four alt-country classic about realizing what you thought you had perhaps wasn’t yours after all. Fucking beautiful. And so authentic I can hear Patsy Cline singing it.
Venice Bitch/Mariners Apartment Complex – Lana Del Rey – I love Lana Del Rey. And when she dropped these two songs earlier in the year I was immediately drawn to Mariner’s, but as the weeks passed something about the almost 10-minue long Venice Bitch started taking hold. There’s a vibe, a seduction, a play of words, I can’t explain it, and the old punk in me is disappointed. But fuck him. Like I said, I love Lana Del Rey.
Plastic Hamburgers – Fantastic Negrito – THIS is how you sound like Led Zeppelin without sounding like an ass.
The (14, it would seem, though one’s an EP) Best Albums of 2018, in alphabetical order:
Bottle It In – Kurt Vile – I’ve never placed another Vile album on any best of list because I never truly loved any of his albums. There were a few good songs, but mostly I felt a lot of filler. Not here. This is all brilliant vibe, a perfect album for long drives in the middle of the night.
Boygenius – Boygenius – Technically an EP, but since no one truly understand the art of the EP any more, I’ll let it hang with the long players. Six perfect songs from a supergroup made up of three of the most talented singer/songwriters on the planet at the moment.
Clean – Soccer Mommy – This album honestly almost squeeked past all the rest. Probably my most played record of the year. Angst, guitars, most angst. It’s as if everything good about alt power pop from the 90s were still alive and well.
Fall Into the Sun – Swearin’ – It feels as if one or the other Crutchfield sister is on this list every year. This year it’s Allison’s turn. Just a great fun power punk record with crunch guitars and mostly great lyrics.
History of Panic – The Shellye Valauskas Experience – This was the great power pop record of the year. A collection of songs that stick in your head, but you’re okay with that. They’re like good friends you want to have a beer with who always make you smile.
I Don’t Run – Hinds – You either like this band, or they annoy the crap out of you. I actually love them, and this is their best record. One that I might even risk playing for other people. (Maybe.)
Kiss Yr Frenemies – Illuminati Hotties – A perfect noise pop record. And that is my favorite musical subgenre. Not a weak moment. And those fucking guitars!
No Recover – Eric Bachmann – Speaking of noise pop, the leader of my all-time favorite band put out a record this year that was pretty much the complete opposite. And though Eric insists all of these songs are about the apocalypse, this is a liltingly beautiful collection, which Bachmann breaking your heart, if not with his guitar, then with his gentle whisper of a voice.
Not Tonight – John Howie Jr. – Earlier this year we took the Grand Ole Opry tour, and of course I looked up and listened to a number of artist that I had never really explored, Porter Wagoner being one. And in a nutshell he’s who I was reminded of when I first heard Howie’s album. This is about as old time country as it gets.
And for the hell of it, and because I know most of you have never heard him, a little Porter Wagoner. C’mon, listen and expand your horizons.
Something – Something Young – Long story short, over the summer one of my co-editors told me her boyfriend put out a record and I should give it a listen. To “be nice” I of course did, never expecting this self-released record from a high school senior would become one of my most listened to albums of the year. It’s the 90s indie rock record that’s somehow missing from your collection. Fuck, it’s good!
Tell Me How You Really Feel – Courtney Barnett – At the time of it’s release this would have been my most likely choice for best album of the year. But while I still love it, I don’t feel I love it as much. Still a great collection, but I’m not sure why it hasn’t aged well. Perhaps it’s me.
Warm – Jeff Tweedy – I’m a Wilco fanatic, and this might be Tweedy’s best collection of songs since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (or at least since The Whole Love). It’s as if Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan had a son, and Paul Westerberg was his demented uncle who took him to a lot of shows he should have never gotten into. Love this man.
What a Time to be Alive – Superchunk – One of my favorite bands of all time putting out quite possibly their most punk record. While not the freakin masterpiece of their last, I Hate Music, it’s an angry, timely, ode to our fucked up times. Send a copy to the White House.
Years – Sarah Shook & the Disarmers – My feelings on this band are pretty damn obvious, as the are the subject of my last documentary and I directed the video below. Love every song on this record. It’s an alt-country masterpiece about loss and longing and holding onto the bottle for redemption. And make sure to see them live, Shook and company will make you see God at the bottom of that empty glass.
The more observant of you might notice that this is where I usually list my best films of the year. But I don’t think I’ve seen enough to give an honest opinion. So I won’t even try to give a dishonest opinion. (Or course, those same observant folks might think I was not completely blown away by anything, yet, and of course you’d be correct.) I’ll just skip to the next category.
BEST TV of 2018
There was so much, but one show stands out. One show that makes me laugh, cry, keeps me on the edge of my seat, makes me pause it because I can’t hold back comments on how brilliant something (the fucking costume design) or someone (pick any of the cast members) is, turns me on (yes, she’s my TV crush), and makes me angry that there are only ten episodes in a season and I’ve just binge-watched them all, and now I have to wait another 11.9 months for more. And that show is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. (I love you, Midge.)
BOOK OF THE YEAR:
Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc. by Jeff Tweedy – This is coming from someone who hates rock bios. I DO NOT read them. They almost always make me dislike the artist at hand, which defeats the purpose, because I was only reading the book because I was a fan. Or they’re written by someone else who puts way too much of their own spin on the story, and I know it’s a bunch of bullshit anyway. Tweedy’s bio is different. It’s very funny, but it’s also very sad. So self-depricating, and honest. It made me like him more than ever, and I didn’t think that was possible. Read it and find a new best friend.
As for the rest of my 2018:
Tales of an impromptu music video, part one: We had a blizzard back in February. At around 9:30 am when there was around a foot of snow on the ground, and the roads in the state were about to be officially declared off limits, I turned to my wife and said, I’m going to go out and shoot a music video. She told me I was crazy and that she was not going to come and rescue me if I got stuck. I have a Jeep. Getting stuck was not an option. So I called up Dean Falcone, whose partner in crime Shellye Valauskas had just released a beautiful new album. I said, let’s go shoot a music video in the snow. In the background I could hear Shellye say we were both crazy. Dean replied, pick us up in an hour. I said, bring cheap guitars. And so we spent an hour in the frigid cold wind-whipped snow shooting this video. I personally love it. Hope you do too. P.S. We did not get stuck, and the video was online by 3 PM that same day.
Tales of an impromptu music video, part two: a Thursday, later in the next month, I hear my friend Matthew Ryan is releasing an acoustic version of the album Hustle Up Starlings, for which I made the first music video which can watch here:
Now the issue was that this new acoustic record was going to be released the following Tuesday. I immediately contacted Matt and asked him to send me the tracks. Upon hearing the acoustic version of Aviator I knew what had to be done: an acoustic version of the music video, with just singer and guitarist. Well, the singer, Chloe, had become one of my go-to film editors after the first music video, so she immediately said yes. And Carina, the guitarist, was just as quickly on board. We filmed it in the same location as the original video on Sunday, and Matt had his music video, which was premiered sight-unseen by American Songwriter magazine on Tuesday. I might love this video even more than the original.
As for my feature films…
Pizza, A Love Story– in the works for eleven years is done. We’re running a final Kickstarter now for the sound mix and E&O insurance, and then we begin the film festival run. You can find the Kickstarter here.
Normal Valid Lives– has it’s third, maybe fourth, editor, and is moving along. Perhaps the story, or my interviews, are a little too disturbing.
Where are you, Jay Bennett?– we hit the motherlode this year. But I don’t want to tell you how or what. Let’s just say we found the holy grail to make this film work. It will also double post-production time, but it will be worth it.
Seniors– we’re about half-way through editing. Just filmed a few almost final interviews. Our happy animal film is coming along.
And we’re figuring out right now what is coming next…
NHdocs 2018 was a blast. Difficult, exhausting, but rewarding. And it’s coming back for it’s 6thyear on May 30thfor 11 days of great films.
Thank you to all of the people who collaborate with me on my films, NHdocs, and other projects: Chloe, Brianna, Dean, Shellye, Lindsay, Jay, Fred, Colin, Charlotte, Charlie, Katherine, Tony, Sam, Max, Haley, Ed, Carina, Kathie, Scott, Diane, and another Scott, plus the amazing musicians and bands, and of course my harshest critic Kristine, whom I love with every inch of my being. And yes, my four-pawed children Springsteen and Dylan. None of this would exist without you.
Be well, hug your dog, share a drink with people you love and respect, eat good pizza, drink hot coffee, laugh, rock, play it loud, try not to let the political climate get you down, and be kind to everyone you meet (no matter what side of the aisle they’re on).