Five Favorite Records of 2018
Hippiesandhipsters has been around since 2011 and I can’t even believe it. What’s worse is I do not update enough. But here we are again at the end of another year and I am complying in the Year End List extravaganza (unlike last year’s Year End List That Never Was.)
But first I pose a question: have we gone too far with the Year End List? We are so instantly nostalgic it’s frustrating. Do we even care? Or are we just looking to love what we just loved and move on so we can forget sooner what we still like? Year End lists started popping up in the end of November rendering art released in late November and December meaningless and barely eligible to be included in all the wrap-ups. Do people notice your record or book if it comes out on December 15th? As a writer, it’s not a motivating algorithm to be an audience member of let alone a contributor to. Why try? But the point is to keep going. So I will.
This year I became a contributor to the independent music site Albumism. I wrote about the new, terrible Jack White record, Boarding House Reach, the new Dirty Projectors, Titus Andronicus’ A Productive Cough, the 50th Deluxe Reissue of The Grateful Dead’s Anthem of the Sun, and Father John Misty’s God’s Favorite Customer, which I’ll get to later. I did a number of short blurbs and anniversary write-ups too, so a lot of my listening this year was spent on those records. See: Tom Petty, Ozzy, Smashing Pumpkins, The Raconteurs, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. (Shameless self-promotion: my author page is here.)
For the end of the year EIC Justin Chadwick asked us to rank our favorite records the site covered and five of our favorite records personally. It got me thinking about records from this year: ones I loved, ones I wish I liked more (St. Vincent’s Masseduction), ones I didn’t spend enough time with (yet) (Jeff Tweedy’s Warm, Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs, The Internet’s Hive Mind, and Jean Grae’s Everything’s Fine), ones I spent time with but weren’t top five worthy (the new Courtney Barnett, Carseat Headrest’s Twin Fantasy), and records I didn’t like. That’s the stuff I know is good but simply not my taste (Robyn’s Honey and Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer.) I am not into pop music! SORRY. But I will say “Make Me Feel” is amazing.
Either way I decided to write something on the five records I chose as a writing exercise and figured I’d share them here.
My number one is Mac Miller’s Swimming.
Mac Miller died at the age of 26 one month and four days after the release of his sixth LP Swimming. I had been on hiatus from listening to his records since 2013’s Watching Movies With The Sound Off, a record I know every word to. I tried with a few mixtapes and singles in the three years but nothing stood out to me the way WMWTSO did. I tried on Swimming while looking for something new to listen to and fell in love instantly. He sings and raps his biggest fears and frets, the opening line: “my regrets look like texts I shouldn’t send.” Instantly everything is about his recent, public break-up with Ariana Grande. You can hear him trying to learn from his mistakes on Swimming.
This record is the growth of someone, simply, growing up. Miller realized what was happening around him. This happens to 26 year-olds: the age where you cross into the second half of a decade and literally feel life is long and you have to actually deal with the shit in it, or it will swallow you whole.
Like everyone else, I had a month to sit with this record while Miller was still a sentient human among us. “I was drowning but now I’m swimming/through stressful waters to relief…they told me it only gets better.”
And now the lyrics are their own time capsule of his life. It’s “I put some money on forever” breaking my heart every time. It’s the deep bass of “Hurt Feelings” I want to swim in.
“Self Care” plunges us into a glossy sound, underwater. And right before the first chorus Miller slows everything down and states, “we gon’ be alright,” and I wonder what Kendrick thinks of that. While the phrase “self-care” is eye roll inducing like a click bate article on which facemask to buy, with Miller it has a heavier subtext. He wanted to take stock and care of himself, and realized the growth it provides to be honest to yourself and about yourself with others. Later the song swings into a computerized, mechanical beat, “I didn’t know what I was missing/Now I see a lil’ different…I got all the time in the world,” he sings, “so now I’m just chillin’/Plus I know it’s a beautiful thing/oblivion/yeah yeah.”
Swimming is vibrant and full of life. The change of timbre to his voice, echoes, and spider-webs explore layers of himself. It brings a depth to his lines physically and emotionally. The orchestral string arrangements on “2009” are otherworldly and reminiscent of 2016’s The Divine Feminine—a record he made devoted to women and what he learned from them, bumping with R&B and romanticism.
These melodies jump genres as he sings and raps effortlessly, finding a groove with himself and all the sounds he wanted to explore.
I am sad because his story ends here, with these songs. 26 is far too young and addiction is real. You can hear his use in the lines but you can also hear his craving for a clear head. He never tried to hide his use and I respect that honesty he had with himself and his listeners. It is terrible to me that he died thinking Ariana Grande would marry Pete Davidson. But it was even worse when people blamed her for his death. The news surrounding this terrific record is about everything but the music now that he’s gone, which is the actual tragedy. RIP Mac.
Number two is tUnE-yArDs’ I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life.
The thing about tUnE-yArDs is I love them. Merrill Garbus makes music unlike anyone else making music. That is what drew me into her sound in the first place. No one else sounds like tUnE-yArDs and that is my favorite thing about them and the best thing about them.
Once you start listening to the lyrics you realize it’s politics under a thin disco veil and this record escalated that more than the previous LPs.
Look at the lyrics to “ABC 123”: “California’s burning down/Sitting in the middle of the sixth extinction/Silently suggesting the investment in a generator.”
I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life was released in January (and feels like forever ago) is a great addition to her catalog. Before making this record Garbus had been attending workshops on race in her home base town of Oakland, CA. Simon Vozick-Levinson interviewed her for The New York Times and she discusses how white centrality played a big roll in her songwriting and approach to her looping and percussive nature as a songwriter and musician.
The track “Colonizer” addresses her place in the world almost too directly, but I’ll take it: “I use my white woman’s voice to tell stories of travels of with African men.”
I’ve seen Merrill tour with her band in venues big and small indoors and outdoors and she’s never disappointed me. I’m a bit of a die-hard when it comes to tUnE-yArDs (I refuse to step away from the capitalization abruptness in the stylization of their name) and I will always listen to the music she makes.
Hiding just below bright sounds and melodies is the political truth. And we need more of that now more than ever.
Third is Caroline Rose’s LONER.
My introduction to Caroline Rose came in 2017. I was attending the latest inception of my best friend’s art share in a living room in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn containing a baby grand piano. Just as the last poet finished, a roommate came home.
“Oh, Caroline!” Jake, owner of the apartment, piano, and frontman of The Yeahtones said. “Do you want to play something?”
She sat down with her guitar and started playing and percussing a quick speed across the neck and strings. I was in awe of her and looked across the room at my best friend and my partner, their mouths were open too as Rose opened her mouth to sing:
He didn’t do it for the man/Didn’t do it for the world/Didn’t do it for the high-powered supernova/He didn’t do it for the war/Didn’t do it for the beast/Didn’t do it for the Ooh/didn’t do it for me/Didn’t do it for the love/Didn’t do it for the priest Down on his knees/I didn’t do it for the sex/Didn’t do it for the law/Didn’t do it for the/I did it for the money/I did it for the money/You all did it for the money/We did it for the money!
I had no idea who she was and went up to her, eager to compliment her sound. “You remind me of the Violent Femmes,” I said. “I love your sound.” She smiled politely. “I used to tour with them as an opener,” she said. I’m sure I said something nerdy and quaint, like “wow” or “that’s amazing.” She wasn’t wearing red, but her approachability was instantly likable. She didn’t linger long with the friends hogging her living room. She might’ve left, or that might just be my memory remembering the star power she exhibited in that moment.
Months later “Money” was released as a single to her upcoming record Loner. I hit play and it was electric, still percussive, and produced: a slick version of the stripped down “Money” she performed for us in her own living room (the ultimate Tiny Desk). I don’t remember how soon after Loner came out because Rose has been on repeat in my headphones all year.
It’s a short pop record, only 35 minutes. My partner and I played it as we drove from Denver to Steamboat Springs on our way to my sister’s home in the Rockies earlier this spring. It’s a soundtrack on early mornings to work and reminds me of the dessert vegetation in the western part of Colorado.
Rose tells stories in her songs through sarcasm. Passively commenting on what it is to be a woman in society, patted on the head, and told to dance in a bikini to get what we deserve, she makes you think (and listen) twice. Truly, she had me at hello when I spoke to her but this record filled in the rest of our conversation we never had. It’s hard to make music funny and Rose is effortless with her humor. Listening to Loner makes me feel like I’m in on her inside jokes even though they’re universal.
Noname’s Room 25 is fourth.
I first heard Room 25 while driving up the FDR on my way out of the city heading to an early fall wedding in the Catskills. It was a calming soundtrack to a not so-soothing leg of the journey. Noname has a relaxed, graceful delivery. She’s not in a rush and it shows when she cuts off her verse and lets the music finish the line for her. Then she comes in once the next count of eight starts, on the opener “Self.”
I came to her 2016 debut Telefone too late even after someone suggested it to me for months. Noname’s flow is her heartbeat: unique to her as an individual and as an artist. She mixes jazz and soul in a way that sets her apart from the rest for me.
Writing about hip-hop used to be easy for me and I did it all the time. But now I am uncomfortable writing about it because it does not belong to me—a coin I’ve felt and wrote on both sides of. I recognize that my time writing about hip-hop is over. There are better writers out there who understand and listen to hip-hop, and all its sub-genres, way more than I ever will. I’ve lost touch with the genre and the hip-hop I do listen to is limited to my sonic interests. I’ve also lost touch with the genre because I can no longer stomach its misogyny. When I am listening to hip-hop, I keep to myself and keep it close in my headphones.
(Previously I’ve written extensively about all of these feelings and ideas and explored it experimentally while in graduate school where I had the time and space to wonder aloud, and on the page, about listening to hip-hop and consuming it as a white woman.)
So instead I’ll direct you to a friend, former co-worker of mine, and my hip-hop spirit guide: Briana Younger. She reviewed Noname’s Room 25 for Pitchfork. And since its September release she’s moved on to greater things as a staff writer and editor at The New Yorker. You can read her most recent piece about women in hip-hop here.
Fifth is no surprise: Father John Misty’s God’s Favorite Customer.
For my Albumism review of this record, I openly speculated about Tillman’s private life and the clues on the LP that lead me there.
There’s enough Internet content about FJM out there, so I won’t bore you with more. Instead I’ll link you to some of it I’ve written myself.
These are my five. There’s more music and content out there than any one human can stomach anymore. Tastes vary and time is no longer money: it passes without us even noticing anymore. I’m happy to have this space to continue writing about music. Thanks for reading!