My Best and Worst Posts of 2018

A necessary part of being a small-time writer on a blog that doesn’t get much traffic is the ability to self-critique. I don’t get much in the way of serious feedback and some of my posts get barely any views, so I usually have to decide for myself whether it was successful or not. I think this is one of my strengths as a writer — just like I enjoy picking apart an album, I enjoy looking back at my own work and learning from my successes and failures, and I think I’m able to do it more objectively and honestly than most.

So as a possible learning experience and therapeutic exercise of sorts (plus a way to shamelessly plug posts someone might have missed), I thought I’d look back at the year I had and see if there are any takeaways from what I have deemed successes and failures. Let’s start with the good ones, in no particular order.

The Legacy of Trish Keenan Series

This is something that’s been rattling in my head forever because I’m such a fan of Keenan and so dismayed at how little her music gets discussed. I kept putting it off because I felt a lot of pressure to get everything right and usually would doubt my capabilities to do something on this scale. I’m only partway through it, but so far I think I’ve done justice to her career and have done it in a way that is unique to my blog.

Part of how I generate ideas now is to think about the type of writing I wish there was more of, and this is something I never see on other music websites: deep appreciation and enthusiasm for an artist, especially one who isn’t current. The One Week One Band tumblr is the closest I’ve seen and was the main inspiration for this. Almost all other music websites are obsessed with the now and are chasing clicks through news items, reviews, and controversial opinions. They also focus on an objective, academic style that drains the writing of any personality or joy for music.

So the broader takeaway that I like from this series is that it’s providing something different. I want to give a personal perspective and provide analysis of artists I love, regardless of their popularity or how they fit into the “conversation,” and this series serves as a baseline of what I want to accomplish. Now I just need to finish it, which is difficult since there’s so much to talk about.

This New Janelle Monae Song is Not Good

In a similar vein, I think other websites don’t have nearly enough negative criticism. I can understand why: it’s risky to potentially piss off readers, and a lot of blogs try to cultivate positive relationships with artists so they can promote each other. One upside of my lone wolf approach is that I owe nobody anything, so I can say something sucks if I think it does.

It’s reasonable to ask what the purpose is of just unleashing some negativity, especially towards an artist of this stature. A lot of it is my belief in just being honest: any real music fan has these moments where they despise something, even if it’s irrational, and I want to capture that strong emotion. The Pollyanna approach almost everyone else takes isn’t real and doesn’t actually serve artists or art. In an odd way, I think my post is more complimentary to Monae than the thousands of “YASS QUEEEN” cheerleading articles, because I’m actually taking her work seriously and engaging with it. And I realize nobody really understands this concept of criticism anymore, but I believe strongly in it and want to keep doing it.

There is also some strategic value to this, because I want to provide a context where potential readers understand that I don’t just love everything I listen to. This way, it means something if I am praising an album I do enjoy. That said, it’s important to pick targets judiciously, and even at my most negative, I usually make an effort to respect the artists and not diminish them or their fans on a personal level (except for the Black Keys).

Beyond all this, I think this might have been my strongest writing on a pure sentence-to-sentence level. It flows really well and I think it’s constructed in a way that is persuasive, even if pretty much no one on earth seems to share my dismay at Janelle Monae’s career path.

“How You Remind Me” Is a Perfect Song

Usually when I write about music, I don’t get a chance to show off my incredible sense of humor. It occurred to me recently that part of why music writing isn’t resonating with me much is that it’s so serious all the time. Everyone lately is treating music like it’s in a museum and must be treated with total solemnity, when half the fun is talking shit and disagreeing with people.

So this was my attempt to just write something silly, while still providing some level of analysis that I hadn’t seen articulated much elsewhere. I don’t think I’d want every post to be like this one, but it worked as a change of pace and as a way to show personality/voice that isn’t seen much at professional outlets. And maybe it was funny — I’m not actually sure.

The Landmark Feminine Vision of Hounds of Love

This is the type of post I used to shy away from: tackling some iconic album where it feels like little old me has nothing to add to the discourse. But this one has a personal angle, and I think it has that balance of voice/experience/analysis that I’m trying to do. It is still a little clunky at parts and maybe runs too long in terms of explaining every part of the album, but I thought it was still a good step just to write about such an intimidating work.

Becky Lynch is Making Wrestling Real

I ended up writing three different posts about Lynch as I got obsessed with her story right as I also hit a bit of a lull in music this year. My first two were kind of bad, since I was writing about a new subject and felt I had to fill in a lot of esoteric details for non-wrestling fans. But I thought on this one my perspective on the subject was more accessible, and I made an argument for why Lynch is an artist and wrestling, despite its obvious stupidity, is sometimes worth taking seriously. I don’t know if I’ll keep doing wrestling posts (nobody seemed to enjoy them), but if I do, they’ll hopefully be like this one.

That’s enough of how great I am. Let’s examine some of my humiliating atrocities from this year.

Naomi Osaka Meets Her Hero

For those that don’t know, I once aspired to be a sportswriter and currently work in the sports industry. I know a disturbing amount about sports (way more than I know about music) and so I wanted to try to bring that side of myself to this blog. Unfortunately, the problem remains that sportswriting is really boring and it’s almost impossible to have a unique perspective on any event that happens. In this one, I framed it as characters and drama, but it just didn’t really work and I was somewhat embarrassed to have published it. I like the occasional departure, but this was a mistake.

Look What You Made Me Do

One of the unique aspects of this blog is how I completely shun popular celebrity culture and try to focus on artists who aren’t being written about incessantly. I threw that away when I wrote this Taylor Swift essay because I thought I had a unique enough perspective and it would be entertaining. Neither of those things were true and I think this was just bad. I felt gross after publishing it. Let’s not do this again.

Oh Right, This is a Music Blog

This one isn’t bad in and of itself, but it’s a type of post I’ve realized is ineffective: the album round-ups thing where I just throw music out there and write a paragraph or two about it. I don’t think it ends up serving anyone, because I feel no sense of accomplishment from writing it and I don’t really do justice to the albums, and then anyone who reads probably isn’t that compelled to listen based on the two paragraphs I wrote. There were great albums featured in this post and I should have just written separate reviews instead of crapping this out.

My Best and Worst Posts of 2018

This started out as a good idea — honest self-reflection that would help articulate some of my process — but ended up being a work of bloated self-indulgence. At the end of the day, nobody cares that much about my process and I should have kept this to myself. I would be shocked if anyone even read the entire thing.


“Working Class Woman” is a Complex and Funny Self-Portrait

When I put myself in the shoes of an artist who has some level of popularity, I always think the most awkward part of it would be realizing that some of your fans are idiots. Marie Davidson explores that idea on “Your Biggest Fan,” the lead track on her new album, Working Class Woman, and it’s probably the funniest song of the year. In a mocking voice, she impersonates the dumb questions she gets after shows and the sexist assumptions people make about her: “Why are you so strange? Do you play in a band? Do you really need to carry all that gear with you? Is this album about taking risks?”

Davidson’s dark industrial electronic sound, which she’s developed over the last few years, adds some dread and horror to the comedy. Eventually, the funniness of “Your Biggest Fan” gives way to a sense of anxiety and despair as the annoying voices turn into paranoid whispers. It’s an ideal tone-setter for this album, which feels like a complete dive into Davidson’s psyche as an artist. At the end, I possibly knew too much about her sense of humor, her anxieties, and how she feels about her life as a traveling musician.

This dancey electronic music isn’t something I listen to much, but Davidson puts a spin on it that is compelling. The second track, “Work It,” is a good example: taken at face value, it resembles a typical electronic song with a pulsing club beat that someone might use to motivate them while working out. Taking on the voice of a deranged fitness coach, she uses the familiar language of empowerment, talking about working to be a winner and working until you sweat. Read another way, it’s a satire of her musical genre, her workaholic nature, and the values our society has that makes someone define themselves by work.

The ambiguity in tone is very intentional and part of what makes the album captivating. The protagonist of Working Class Woman is complex and difficult, which stands out among one-dimensional portrayals of women in other media, which are often either misogynistic or purely fantasy wish fulfillment with little in between. Davidson isn’t necessarily brave or heroic for working hard and dealing with weird fans — it’s just a part of her life that is portrayed, like everything else on this album, with brutal honesty.

My Favorite Albums of 2018

It’s December, which means it’s year-end list season and a reminder that music (and art in general) is a bloodthirsty competition. All year long, musicians put themselves out there, presenting the public with their latest work — not in hopes of expressing themselves or articulating insights about the human condition, but because they want to make it to the top and be the best. That distinction is administered upon them by bloggers and critics like myself, who understand the art form in a way that average people can’t even fathom. While artists everywhere dream of having that “1” or even “8” next to their name at the end of the year, the reality is that only a select few can make it into this privileged group. To the artists who weren’t chosen: I’m sorry that your work was an abject failure, but hopefully it can be used as motivation to be less bad next year.

The following were the only good albums of 2018. Any album not on this list is not worth listening to.

15. Tender Age – Becoming Real Forever

There is a national surplus of lo-fi, noisy rock bands out there, and Tender Age don’t necessarily distinguish themselves on the surface. This is where I’m supposed to explain why they’re different, but they really aren’t. I just really like these songs, which find the right balance of heaviness, chaos, and light, plus some Sonic Youth attitude in the vocals.

14. Peel Dream Magazine – Modern Meta Physic

If nothing else, Modern Meta Physic proves the value in stealing from the right artists. Joe Stevens’ band is very up front about how it is borrowing from past bands like Stereolab, who themselves were up front about borrowing from groups like Neu, and so on. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel, Peel Dream Magazine put themselves in that lineage, and this album plays as an earnest and thoughtfully crafted homage to the history of gentle psychedelic music.

13. Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore – Ghost Forests

By some margin the prettiest music I heard this year, this collaboration between the two folk artists conjures up woodsy, psychedelic imagery with Baird’s guitar, Lattimore’s harp, and ethereal vocals. The lengthy, spacious compositions function as their own little worlds that prove how two artists can strengthen each other’s sound through collaboration.

12. Julia Holter – Aviary

With its 90-minute run time and gloriously excessive, lush arrangements, Aviary functions as something like a meta-critique of the music listening process. While not necessarily an album I looked forward to listening to start to finish, I really enjoyed exploring all of its nooks and crannies and trying to figure it out. I’ll be honest: I still don’t know if I actually like it, and maybe I never will. But Holter’s project is a work of great purposeful ambition that raises more questions than it answers, and listening to it was a very different experience than any other album I heard this year.

11. Afrirampo – Afriverse

After eight years apart, Afrirampo picked up where they left off with Afriverse, providing an alternate vision of rock music where spontaneity, chaos, and fun take precedent over brooding and tired societal commentary. While their music undeniably seems random, there is real craft in its pacing and the use of dynamics, not to mention the technical ability of Oni and Pika, who both rip on their respective instruments. Sometimes music doesn’t need to be more than two talented people making a lot of noise.

10. Infinite Void – Endless Waves

Endless Waves is one of those albums that never really got a chance, given it was released by a band from Australia that already broke up. The world missed out, as it usually does. This is post-punk songwriting done at a high level with fantastic rhythms and dark imagery. I love music that sounds forceful but dreamy at the same time, and Endless Waves pulls that off.

9. U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited

In a Poem Unlimited was my favorite topical album of the year because it didn’t seem intended to be. While many artists pander to critics and listeners with lyrics that resemble Facebook posts, Meghan Remy grounds her arguments in storytelling while not shying away from hard truths. Her album outlines the feelings of distrust and abuse people face in different situations and puts these complex narratives in the shell of catchy, noisy pop that has a punk edge.

8. Nun – The Dome

Nun has a sound that, for lack of a better term, is very cool. The throbbing synth sounds create a dystopian atmosphere of dread typified by the album’s title, which is married with legitimate pop hooks. Meanwhile, Jenny Branagan’s half-spoken singing style puts them more in the punk realm and makes this a band that doesn’t really sound like anyone else.

7. Beach House – 7

A few years ago, I thought Beach House were stuck in a rut where they were repeating themselves too much and had nowhere else to go. Sometimes it’s a pleasure to be proven wrong. On their last two albums, they have evolved while maintaining a sound that is uniquely theirs, with a layer of darkness and introspection that wasn’t there before. I wasn’t as obsessed with 7 as Thank Your Lucky Stars, but it’s another gorgeous album by a band that feels revitalized.

6. Wax Idols – Happy Ending

The fittingly titled Happy Ending brings an end (hopefully a happy one) to a strong run from Hether Fortune’s band, which again showed its knack for goth-rock songwriting that gets into heavy, emotional material while being very listenable. This one focuses on death and loss, but as was typical with this band’s work, it’s not content to just wallow in misery. It finds nuance and catharsis in life’s darkest moments.

5. Marie Davidson – Working Class Woman

Abrasive in both its sound and the personality of its protagonist, Working Class Woman is a darkly comic trip into the mind of Marie Davidson or possibly a character resembling Marie Davidson. Her deadpan singing and ironic lyrics make it hard to tell what is serious and what is a joke on the album, which takes no prisoners in mocking herself and the perceptions other people have of her as a woman in the male-dominated club scene. Its sound varies between subversive club jams like “Work It” and the pure industrial-noise terror of “The Tunnel,” with the unifying link being Davidson’s relentless, refreshing honesty.

4. Free Cake for Every Creature – The Bluest Star

A throwback in the best sense, Katie Bennett’s band plays music that is in the true original spirit of indie pop, with an honesty and authenticity that eludes many more widely acclaimed artists. On The Bluest Star, the band’s scrappy, winning appeal is combined with something resembling ambition, resulting in a sprawling showcase of heartfelt songwriting and detailed character-driven storytelling. The sheer likability of Bennett goes a long way: she doesn’t need much more than some reverbed guitar and her near-whispered lyrics to connect with any listener.

3. The Green Child – The Green Child

This collaboration by Mikey Young and Raven Mahon arrived in January to little fanfare and set a bar for 2018 that only a couple artists matched for me. While not outwardly ambitious, The Green Child taps into all of the best parts of psychedelic music, with introspective retro-futuristic arrangements, ambiguous, thought-provoking lyrics, and Mahon’s understated vocals. It also boasts the song of the year in “Her Majesty II,” a dazzling, timeless mix of swirling synths, harmonies and guitar with lyrics that reflect on current events with a welcome touch of subtlety.

2. Melody’s Echo Chamber – Bon Voyage

The world of shoegaze and dream pop is full of artists trying to sound like their heroes from the past. Bon Voyage shows the power of sounding like no one, as well as the risk. Full of bizarre tempo changes and quirky diversions, Melody Prochet’s album is intentionally alienating and strange, the product of an artist with too many ideas and arguably not enough editing instinct. But the flaws of Bon Voyage end up being its great strength — its overstuffed aesthetic represents genuine unfiltered imagination, the kind rarely heard in music.

1. Emma Ruth Rundle – On Dark Horses

Emma Ruth Rundle is making music I always wanted to hear: something that has the massive sound of metal, the intimacy of folk, and the hooks of straight-up rock. On Dark Horses continues her evolution into a genreless force who can make relatively simple quiet-loud alt rock songs sound unlike anything else. Her 2016 album, Marked for Death, was a breakthrough; the sound, the confidence, and the emotional conviction of On Dark Horses cement her as an artist who has no peers.