Is it really the middle of the year already? It feels like every time I turn around, another six months has gone by and it's time to sort through my thoughts again. These first six months of 2018 have had a lot of great music to sort through, but it has also had the land mines we've had to carefully avoid. More than that, there is an interesting development on the intellectual front.
We often confront ourselves with questions when we talk about music. Is this record pushing boundaries? Is this record better than that record? How will this band ever top themselves?
What we don't often get are existential questions, but this year has given me one. Namely, what is an album? Are separate releases that make up a single entity one album? There isn't any hard and fast rule to these things, and I believe the nature of the term has been fluid as we have seen technology completely upend our understanding of how the business works. So with that being said, and since this is my list and I can make my own rules, I am going to declare:
The Best Album Of 2018, So Far:
The Spider Accomplice - Los Angeles
The third installment of this conceptual piece came out this year, and since it all follows the same story, I'm considering it one album for the purposes of this list. I'm doing that because "Los Angeles" is easily my favorite bit of music this year. Over the course of this song cycle, The Spider Accomplice takes us on a twisting, turning ride through the world of pop/rock, hitting on too many sounds and influences to count, all while maintaining both a constant core to their sound and a through-line of growth. The combination of VK Lynne's big voice and melodies with Arno's inventive musical backdrops has created a band where anything is possible, and like a rainbow in the sky, what color you can reach out and touch depends on where you're looking. In my mind, "Los Angeles" is the most important album of the year.
My other favorites this year include (in alphabetical order):
Ghost - Prequelle
Ghost has been getting better each time out, save for their misguided sophomore album. This is easily their poppiest album, but that's exactly what I love about it. Writing an album about the plague, and death in general, that is so upbeat sounding and infectious (pardon the pun) is the kind of subversion that makes me happy. Throw in the fact that Ghost continues to hone their craft, and you get an album that overcomes its flaws on the sheer strength of its smile-inducing capabilities.
Graveyard - Peace
The best rock and roll band going is back, and they pick up in fine form. "Peace" is their heaviest album to date, but is still packed with both the simple riffs that have always made guitar players jealous, and the emotional melodies that show a songwriter's touch. Music doesn't need to be any more complicated than this, because doing something simple the right way is harder than it sounds. In five albums, Graveyard has now made four of the best classic rock records since the 70s. How's that for success?
Light The Torch - Revival
I'm the weirdo whose favorite Killswitch Engage record is the 2009 self-titled. I love the way they pumped heaps of melody into the sound, which is what makes "Revival" such a wonder for me. This is a spiritual successor to that record, where Howard Jones returns to his most melodic side, creating an album that is mainstream in its catchiness, but still undeniably heavier than hell. When it comes to heavy music, this is what I want to hear. Big guitars, big vocals, and big melodies.
Myja - Myja
What happens when power-pop meets grungy alternative rock? You get Myja, who have made a record that is dark and hazy like a classic Seattle album, yet bristles with the sheen of power-pop melody. It is both upbeat and downbeat at the same time, and the clash of sounds makes it an interesting listen. It is akin to a Fastball record in the midst of depression. It's beautiful to listen to, and the record contains one of the best songs of the year in "One More Kiss", the only rock song I've ever heard that borrows from Shania Twain and makes it work.
W.E.T. - Earthrage
Europe has been giving us a steady stream of great melodic rock, and one of the usual suspects strikes again here. Erik Martensson and his cohorts have made an album of melodic rock that is heavy when it needs to be, but is shameless in wringing melodies for all they're worth. Many might say the record is cheesy, and perhaps it is, but it's also simply a blast to listen to. Sometimes music is just there to give us a good time, and W.E.T. has mastered that with this album.
And we will pretend the bad stuff, which includes Machine Head and Fall Out Boy's newest 'efforts', didn't happen. At least not until the end of the year, by which time I will hopefully have some creative ways of explaining how bad they are.