Top 10 Albums of 2018

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ERRA - Neon

Neon is the fourth studio album from the Alabaman outfit, ERRA. Released on August 10th of this year, it marks their follow-up to 2016’ Drift, and is their second album with former Texas in July front-man, JT Cavey. While Neon may not pack the same vocal punch as say 2013’s Augment, it solidified the sound first heard on Drift. While it definitely has a groovier sensibility to it than their first two albums, which had borderline death-core tendencies to them, it retains the fast pummeling riff's, drums, and lush vocal stylings that ERRA fans are accustomed to by now.

Neon is an incredibly enjoyable listen that serves as a great introduction that eases listeners into their fantastic back catalog.

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Death Cab For Cutie - Thank You For Today

Where 2015’s Kintsugi came on the heels of the Ben Gibbard’s recent divorce and the departure of Chris Walla, Thank You For Today offers a fresh take on the band’s classic sound - it’s an album that’s grown up alongside the members. It offers a slightly riskier pop-production filled with hazy synths and bass lines that the band would never have dared to try out when emo was still alive and well. And while it definitely still offers a melancholic aesthetic, it’s no longer sung in the first-perspective but are rather short, cinematic stories that anyone can relate to.


Logic - YSIV

YSIV is the conclusion to Logic’s series of albums entitled Young Sinatra. Where his other 2018 release, Bobby Tarantino II, saw more commercial success than YSIV, this is the album that should sell you on his absolutely incredible lyrical prowess. From top to bottom, this entire album is constructed beautifully and has a vibrant energy just not found in many other hip-hop albums from this past year.


Vacationer - Mindset

Vacationer’s combination of breezy tropical influences along with psychedelic yacht-rock makes for one of the most interesting and easiest listens of the whole year. The whole album is groovy, and Vasoli’s dreamy vocals add to the electric hallucinatory vibe as it mixes in with the hazy auditory experience Vacationer forms. It’s all about calming down and embracing the goodness of each day, and that really shines through this record.


Dance Gavin Dance - Artificial Selection

Artificial Selection is arguably Dance Gavin Dance’s most diverse, complex, and experimental album to date. It refines years of the sound first heard in 2013’s Acceptance Speech, the first album with their now concrete line-up featuring Tillian Pearson as their front-man, and it shows. It’s the best example of how they can connect absolutely zany transitions and with clear-cut vocals and choruses - a showcase of their creativity combined with methodical precision.

While it can be a bit taxing to listen at times to due to the sheer complexity of the album, fans both old and new will find something they enjoy regardless.


Boy Pablo - Soy Pablo EP

Soy Pablo is the second EP from the Norwegian indie band, Boy Pablo. While their style isn’t necessarily fresh nor groundbreaking in anyway, it manages to feel fresh. The use of dreamy guitars truly compliment their goofy lyrics, making you want to smile and dance along to songs about breakups, and as weird as that may sound, it works.

I think what helps Boy Pablo is the fact that they only release EPs. If this was a full length LP, I could see myself becoming tired of the repetitive nature of it, but since it’s so short, it feels perfect in length and style.


Wallows - Spring EP

Wallows blends shoegaze with indie-pop to bring listeners back to the days of the early 2000s. Whether it’s their bopping Pictures of Girls or ethereal 1980s Horror Film, this EP as a whole captures the essence of summer as beachy vibes can be felt through each of the songs.

What stands out to me the most, however, is how they manage to subvert your expectations as each song is acoustically different from the next, and just how much fun they seem to be having in the process.

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Jungle - For Ever

Jungle’s 2014 debut album was something of a missed opportunity. Where their first album served as a vehicle to dole out one brainless funk track after another, 2018’s Forever aimed for something more substantial. While still a bass-heavy 1970s funk/groove inspired album, the sound has been tightened and there’s just more acoustic variety to be found. There are moments of tenderness found amongst the up-beat grooves, and this variety is what helps it to stand out.


Jeff Goldblum & The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra - The Capitol Studio Sessions

Throughout 2018, I was looking for ways to fine-tune my sense of style. Through much persuasion, my girlfriend Iryna finally got me into Pinterest, and I immediately started searching for men’s fashion. That’s how I stumbled upon and re-discovered the style icon that is Jeff Goldblum. After enough searches about the man, Google knew to offer me up a notification saying that his debut jazz album had been released, and this was one of the few times I was glad I was being tracked across the internet, because this album is an absolute gem. It’s classy, warm, and intimate - all words you typically associate with Goldblum himself.

Lawrence - Living Room

Brother and Sister duo, Clyde and Gracie Lawrence, have made retro-soul feel new again. Their new album, Living Room, masterfully combines Clyde’s raspy 70s soul & classic rock vocals with Gracie’s more modern pop sensibility. The result is something that feels nostalgic, warm, and genuine with just enough modernity thrown in. And while that seems like an odd combination to blend together, it works impossibly well, leading to one of the most fun and fresh feeling albums of 2018.

Time Well Spent

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about how my smartphone habits have changed over the years. Before I went on my road trip across the country, I was an absolute Twitter fiend. I had to know what was going on at all times so much so that the app icon had a prominent spot on my device's homescreen.

However, during the trip, I made a conscious effort to disconnect and really try and enjoy the moments for what they were and not save them for future posterity. I do believe that fundamentally rewired my brain for the better, because ever since then, my social media habits have become infinitely better.

I moved all my apps except the most essential - WhatsApp, Calendar, Maps, Phone, Camera, Podcasts, and Spotify - off my homescreen and away into my app drawer. The idea was out-of-sight-out-of-mind and to be honest, it worked. I stopped checking my feeds every five minutes because the icons that were immediately accessible did not provide that same dopamine rush I'd normally otherwise receive.

And I think that I'm not the only one that's thinking about this. In fact, I know that I'm not the only one that's thinking about how smartphones and all the various apps we use on a daily basis have rewired our brains. I can think of three examples I experience all within the last 72 hours.

The first was a podcast. It was the May 8th episode of The Verge's Why'd You Push That Button on push notifications. For a long time, I have been considering purchasing a smart watch because I thought it would fundamentally improve my life. Being able to triage all those notifications without actually having to dive into them on my phone sounded like a great idea, until I listened to this episode. What I hadn't thought about before this was the importance of notifications in the first place. Which ones are the ones I actually care about, and which ones just constitute noise? Which are the ones I need to know about and which are the ones that I can disable entirely? When I began to think about it in that manner, I realized that almost 90% of my notifications are noise, and I'm spending more time sifting through that noise than I am actually acting on the notifications that matter. 

In that particular podcast episode, the co-hosts talk with John Herrman of The New York Times and his February 27, 2018 article on How Tiny Red Dots Took Over Your Life. "We've all met red dots that existed only to inform you of the existence of other red dots, new dots, dots with almost no meaning at all" (Herrman, New York Times). It's an insightful piece on the power that notifications have over us, and how we've been tricked into thinking we're engaging meaningfully with the world around us when in actuality, we're just engaging with our devices instead.

The second was a conversation with a friend of mine over dinner. I was telling him how I had recently tried to search him up on LinkedIn as a referral to a friend and how I was unable to do so, and how I had quickly realized he was nowhere to be found online at all. He mentioned how he had reached a point when he was only feeling happy and satisfied when he was browsing his social feeds on his phone, and how he hated that feeling. So rather than be tempted by the ever present lure of online social interaction, he opted for the nuclear route and deleted his entire online social presence. 

That got me thinking about the third experience, because earlier that same day, Google announced a new initiative that will launch with their newest version of Android, Android P, later this year called Digital Well Being. Essentially, in Android P, your phone will track how much you use the device and how often you use certain apps. "There’s a new Android Dashboard, where you can track how you’re spending your time onscreen. An App Timer to set limits on how long you can spend in certain apps. A new gesture, called “Shush,” switches your phone into Do Not Disturb when you set your phone facedown; a “Wind Down” mode flips your screen to grayscale as soon as it’s bedtime" (Waite, Wired). What stood out to me is that we live in a world now in which this is deemed necessary by the very same manufacturers that helped to make their own devices so addictive in the first place. 

My friend made a comment, which really resonated with me. He said that "if you are the kind of person who needs your phone to tell you to get off Facebook after a certain amount of time and have it lock you out of the app itself, there're bigger problems at hand." And he's absolutely right. While I do think that what Google is doing with Android P is a good first step in helping curb the addiction epidemic, it's also insane to me that we've allowed it to get this far in the first place. If I need my phone to tell me that it's time to get off my phone and do something else, I have some serious thinking to do.

For me, while I still find my social feeds useful, I wanted to be more deliberate in my usage of them. Turning off notifications just wasn't enough, because I could and was still accessing them when I was idle. I wasn't letting my brain have enough down time to be idle and to just think, but rather I was filling in those space with tiny hits of dopamine every time I refreshed them and saw something new to consume. Nor did I delete my accounts entirely. I went the middle route in deleting those apps off my phone so that the only way to access them is by deliberately opening my laptop and going to those webpages specifically because I have the intention to do so, not because I'm trying to fill in the time.

We're halfway through 2018, and it honestly feels like we're collectively only just beginning to understand the relationships we have with these devices and if the time we're spending on them is well spent or not. And if we're being honest, I don't think it is, but it can be better.