Join me as I deep-dive into film franchises and director filmographies.
Now streaming wherever you listen to podcasts!
Check out my new podcast, Franchises and Filmogs (formerly known as Zach's Spooktacularathon)!
Join me as I deep-dive into film franchises and director filmographies.
Now streaming wherever you listen to podcasts!
Togo, The Real Hero (Togo)
It's not often that we see Disney correct it's mistakes, but Togo seems to be made just to do that. Personally I've never seen Balto so I cannot attest to its inaccuracies, but Togo certainly pushes the fact that it is a correction of a mistold story. Disney's new live-action film is a grand retelling of the 1925 Serum Run, with vast mountain landscapes and well-trained dogs to lead the cast. If the dogs don't sell you on this movie, Willem Dafoe's (Spider-Man, The Florida Project, The Grand Budapest Hotel) performance is just another outstanding display of his epic career in acting. Dafoe transforms into Leonhard Seppala, a musher trying to save his townspeople from a disease.
The story of the event is pretty simple, but Ericson Core's (Point Break) direction along with Tom Flynn's (Gifted) screenplay make it intricate. Core delicately travels around in time with flashbacks that keep the viewer engaged. We get to see the lead sled dog's upbringing and I cannot imagine anyone complaining that the dog gets a large amount of screentime. Most of the story revolves around Togo's upbringing and Seppala's relationship to the dog. There are heartwarming moments, but also moments that really make the viewer think about how we treat and understand pets.
The most praiseworthy aspect of this film is the cinematography. Vast mountainscapes and blizzard-like conditions add an element of risk to the story. Core is no stranger to cinematography and that is apparent as this movie is very well done. I found myself gasping amidst the clear power of nature, with scenes of the dog sled team crossing an ice-capped lake that was sure to break. Nature is an extremely valuable asset in filmmaking and Togo proves that from the start. The adventure is daring and the film flies by without a moment for the filmgoer to ever feel relaxed.
The Bottom Line: With Disney's correction to Balto, Togo brings out the best of nature's connection with humans and expands on the discussion of human relations with animals in a dramatic retelling of a true story.
Image credit: By User:Wynford Morris - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33449859
Tough Love (Marriage Story)
Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha) returns to Netflix with this heart-wrenching drama revolving around a couple going through the process of a divorce. This film is a horror romance, not because it is scary or creepy, but merely because it shows the real-life consequences of marriage. Marriage Story displays the fragility of love and the effects it can have on even the happiest couple. Adam Driver (Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, Paterson, Inside Llewyn Davis) and Scarlett Johansson (Her, Lost in Translation, The Avengers) lead the cast as a seemingly happy couple, but divorce leads the couple to make choices that they did not foresee happening in their relationship.
At times, the film is hard to watch and tears at the moviegoer's heartstrings. When the project was first announced, I was a bit concerned that Johansson and Driver were an odd choice to play the lead roles. Yet, their chemistry cannot be denied and it is hard to picture any other actors playing these roles after viewing the film. Baumbach clearly knows how to cast a film and this may be his best project to date. Definitely look out for the multiple Oscar nominations that this film will get. I'm not one to cry often during a film, but it was sure hard to hold back the tears during this one. The film has the best scene between two characters that I have seen in quite a while. Leaving out too much detail, there is a major climax in the film between the married couple, that builds more and more with intensity leading to a payoff that will leave the viewer heartbroken.
The film is subtle to create a realistic story, but the implications are nonetheless concerning. Randy Newman's (Toy Story, Meet the Parents) original soundtrack creates a nice background for the onscreen dialogue. The soundtrack has nice piano melodies that play off of the subtle environment and act as a more classical soundtrack.
Baumbach's script is so real. He is able to create slight comedy in a script riddled with wrenching emotion. He can take a cast of well-known actors without giving any of them a sense of entitlement. This film is NOT a blockbuster, but has the intensity of one. As one of the best films of the year, I am quite excited to see how it will perform at the awards ceremonies. Baumbach is no stranger to nominations, but this year has a very bloated field of great films so it will be tough to pick which actors and films will win it all.
The Bottom Line: Marriage Story is subtle, but heartbreaking nonetheless with a professional cast that carries the film to the next level.
Image Credit: By Georges Biard, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59740186
A Cold-hearted Sequel (Frozen 2)
After rewatching Frozen, I realized that the film as a whole was far from perfect. With endless plot holes, a basic pop soundtrack, and a familiar story, it was hard to appreciate the original film. I recall liking it the first time, but maybe it was just catchy and really stuck in my head for the months following. While Frozen 2 still has a lack of needed explanation for certain plot lines, it is a definite step up from the first film. This is already a contested opinion between fans young and old, but I stand by it for the following reason...
To start, the music in the sequel holds more weight. Children may not like every song as much as they did for the original film since none of the tunes have stuck as much as "Let It Go". The break-out song of this film was marketed to be "Into the Unknown", which is not the most creative song on the soundtrack, but still seems craftier than "Let It Go". Kids might struggle to catch on to the melody, but the lyrics are more fulfilling and Idina Menzel's (Enchanted) voice carries it quite well. Her voice truly defies gravity and is such a treasure to the listener. Along with the new hit, audiences can enjoy a cheesier song from Olaf and a hard-hitting love ballad from Kristoff. Olaf's song is similar to his debut in Frozen, but Kristoff brings older viewers the nostalgia of artists like Meatloaf or REO Speedwagon. It's a fun and intentionally ridiculous 80s tribute. These songs are a treat for adults and kids alike.
Furthermore, the voice work and script for this follow-up are more exciting and creative. While Olaf did not have too many lines in the original film and still annoyed me, it appears he has more lines in the sequel but never comes off as overly annoying. Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Jonathan Groff (Mindhunter), and Josh Gad (Beauty and the Beast, 21) round out the cast again with a few extra voice actors in minor roles. Menzel and Bell voice the young sisters so fittingly. Gad plays a slightly more matured Olaf, but still sounds like a curious snowchild. The big breakout for me with this film was Groff's ability to sing. I'm a big fan of Mindhunter and Groff's character in the Netflix show is so different from Kristoff; it took me a while to realize they are played by the same person. I can see this ensemble making a few more films together if everyone stays aboard the wintery franchise.
While I do like the sequel more than the original, there are a few choices that are flawed and leave the viewer pondering. A couple of the things that were left unexplained in the first film are brought back and explained in this film, but this film has characters choose certain paths that are unnatural. At one point, a main character (trying to avoid spoilers still) makes a choice that contradicts everything the film sets up. It left me scratching my head and wondering if they just couldn't figure out a better way to progress the plot. I still give praise to this plot for being more original than the first film, with no real villain for the sisters to face off with. This is more about character development than it is about a battle at the end, creating a refreshing story for Disney.
I would go amiss without mentioning the visual effects. I saw the film in Laser IMAX and it was totally worth the big screen experience. The ice shimmers across the screen and while there is not a lot of real action sequences, there are quite a few moments where the beautiful landscape shines bright with the reflecting snowy overlay. There was one point where the pine trees looked so realistic that I had to do a double-take and look away from the screen for a minute. It truly is amazing what modern technology has done for artists and animation studios.
The Bottom Line: This darker sequel progresses the characters that kids and adults already love, but has flaws that are left unexplained and contradictory.
The Mob is Back (The Irishman)
It's hard to keep an audience captivated for 3.5 hours, but Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver) does just that! Not only is The Irishman captivating, but it is also full of content that is necessary to tell the story of Frank Sheeran, a mobster who had ties to the organized crime scene in the 1950s, orchestrated largely by Russell Bufalino and Jimmy Hoffa. Going into the theater, I knew basically nothing about these characters. Sure, I've heard of Jimmy Hoffa but I've never really done any research on him or the 1950s mob scene. This story is so rich in history, that it is only fitting for the very knowledgeable Scorsese to direct.
2019 has been a great year for movies and The Irishman keeps up the streak. Scorsese's direction is organized and every piece of information given to the viewer is valuable from start to finish. Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List) writes another superb screenplay for the audience to fully familiarize themselves with the many characters in this story. I would encourage anyone who gets the chance to see the film on the big screen to run to the closest cinema and get a seat before the movie is solely on Netflix. There is value in sitting through the whole plot without distraction, although this is probably the lengthiest film I have seen in a theater to date. The direction never dwells for too long in one spot, but also never feels too rushed.
The characters are all rich with background and it is easy to get lost in the world of organized crime within the first thirty minutes of the film. Robert De Niro (Taxi Driver), Joe Pesci (My Cousin Vinny), and Al Pacino (The Godfather) are the trifecta of mob actors. The de-aging process used for each of them never really shows and it's likely because the acting is so good. The facial expressions of the characters are never exaggerated, and at times I wondered if De Niro truly is a gangster in hiding. The big story here was that De Niro and Scorsese were somehow able to convince Pesci to come out of retirement for this film, and we are given a lot to thank them for that. It would be hard for any other actors to portray such a story with the smooth dynamic between the three leads. Rounding out the cast, there are also notable performances by Anna Paquin (X-Men), Stephen Graham (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), Bobby Canavale (Ant-Man, Blue Jasmine), Harvey Keitel (Reservoir Dogs, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Pulp Fiction), Jesse Plemons (Game Night, The Master), and Ray Romano (The Big Sick, Ice Age). With all of these actors and characters hitting the screen, it is already clear why the film had to be more than three hours in length.
The writing for the film also deserves a lot of praise. The script is clever, dramatic, and occasionally even funny. This is the mob universe that Scorsese has built and is highly acclaimed for. At times you feel sympathetic for the characters, but then you sit back for a moment and realize that these are criminals. The film is an emotional ride, that constantly makes you think about what each character stands for. From the premise, I never thought that I would be sympathetic to Frank Sheeran, but by the end I found myself in that exact position. Therefore credit is due to the screenplay, setting up a movie that can be discussed for more than it's lengthy runtime.
The Bottom Line: Everyone should see this film on the biggest screen they can and sit through the whole thing without distraction. This is only fair for such an accomplishment by the partnership of Scorsese, Zaillan, and the many actors that can keep an audience engaged for 3.5 hours.
By che(Please credit as "Petr Novák, Wikipedia" in case you use this outside Wikimedia projects.) - che, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4443635
By David Shankbone - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2000640
A Murder Most Fun (Knives Out)
Thanks to AMC, I got the chance to see this film a week before it's wide release date. This was certainly one of my most anticipated films of the year, and the anticipation was absolutely worth the wait. Fresh off of his controversial Star Wars film (which I admittedly saw three times in theaters), Rian Johnson (Looper, Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi) is back with an original murder mystery. When family patriarch, Harlan Thrombey, leaves behind a large fortune in his mysterious death, his large family is left behind to solve the cause of his death and what will happen to the fortune. Johnson hits the genre right on the head, but adds an entertainingy comedic twist to keep the audience fully engaged throughout the whole film.
Johnson's writing is so strong that it is only fitting his cast is full of top-tier names. Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine, Hereditary), Jamie Lee Curtis (True Lies, Freaky Friday), Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water), Don Johnson (Django Unchained), and Chris Evans (The Avengers) create a dysfunctional family dynamic that is believable and yet shocking to watch. If those names aren't enough to keep you interested in this film, the cast also includes Christopher Plummer (Beginners), Daniel Craig (Casino Royale), Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049), LaKeith Stanfield (Sorry to Bother You, Short Term 12, Selma), Katherine Langford (Love, Simon), and Jaeden Martell (It, Midnight Special). Every member of the cast is nothing short of amazing. No one is given too much time on screen or too little time on screen. To me, Daniel Craig really stands out in his role, with an accent that I would have never expected to hear from him. With a southern drawl, it takes a good ear to stay focused on what his character is saying. Furthermore, I have seen very few movies with Ana de Armas and this film really makes me want to become more familiar with her acting. Certainly, everyone will find a character that is most enjoyable or most relatable to them in the film.
This cast works so well because the script and story is consistent throughout the whole movie. This is a suspenseful and yet comedic murder mystery. There are constantly new revelations in the story, but with so many twists and turns one might expect the film to grow tiring. Contrary to this expectation, the twists and turns are perfectly timed and keep the viewer on the edge of their seat. Within the plot we get a lot of family banter, especially with Chris Evans's character. Evans plays Ransom Drysdale, a rebellious grandson of Harlan, who constantly bickers with the family. Ransom provides most of the comic relief in the film, being crude and clever with his banter.
Once all of the pieces are put together for the mystery, the audience is left craving more still. Similarly to a Soderbergh (Traffic) heist film, Knives Out, releases the audience's tension at the end of the film. The payoff is worth the nearly 2 hour wait, just as it was worth the wait for Rian Johnson's first original film in 7 years.
The Bottom Line: Rian Johnson is back with one of his best films yet. This is a wholly original murder mystery with a crazy cast that portrays Johnson's writing skills with gravitas.
Image Credit: By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America - Rian JohnsonUploaded by maybeMaybeMaybe, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22894471
As the first feature length film under the direction of rising star, Alex Wolff (Hereditary, Patriots Day, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), The Cat and The Moon is quite an impressive debut. Wolff captures the beauty and madness of high school in a way that only someone under the age of 25 can truly understand. Sure, this was not everyone's high school experience (definitely not mine), but the characters are relatable and constantly evolving.
The whole movie is extremely well acted. Skyler Gisondo (The Amazing Spider-Man), Stefania LaVie Owen (Krampus), Camrus Johnson (The Sun Is Also a Star), Tommy Nelson (Moonrise Kingdom), and Olivia Boreham-Wing (A Rainy Day in New York) all show promise as young actors and I look forward to seeing their careers grow over time. Throughout the film, there are characters that we like at times and then at a later time may end up hating. I found myself surprised with the characters thought I understood at first, but then ended up realizing they were much different once you get to know them. As a father figure, Mike Epps (The Hangover) acts superbly and has one of the best scenes in the entire film. Every character in the film is relatable at times, as they all have human emotions that change over time. I really liked how this film captured the fact that people change with the crowd around them.
This film is not a Hollywood blockbuster, nor is it meant to be. After all, we are watching the life of a high schooler with family struggles. For reasons that are further developed in the film, Nick (played by Alex Wolff) is relocated to live with a family in New York and starts attending a new high school where he makes new friends. Some of these friends are good, and some are bad. This is the experience that Wolff captures so boldly behind the camera. We've all been in friend groups that didn't suit us, but over time we learn what is good from bad. We learn who we can trust and who we can rely on. Another great performance comes from Mike Epps, who acts as Nick's fatherly figure. He reminds the viewer of the rebelliousness of being a teen and how this affects their parents. Overall, every performance in the film is near flawless and creates a sense of belonging for the viewer.
The Bottom Line: High school is a rough time, and Alex Wolff captures the good moments along with the bad that viewers can reminisce upon.
Mint - Alice Merton (Album Review)
For a debut album, Alice Merton's Mint plants itself in the listener's ears starting off with a strong bass line in the first track, "Learn to Live". Alice Merton's voice layers itself as the song progresses building an edgy and heavy first track for an indie rock artist. The songwriting preaches about life (and very little about love) with catchy choruses and fun guitar riffs.
The album as a whole appears to be a background for Merton's adventures in life. "2 Kids" is an ode to her manager and his relationship with her. Merton's music was not accepted by major record labels, causing her to start her own. This rebellion against mainstream art has created her success as an indie artist. "2 Kids" provides nostalgia for her early beginnings and career.
Right after "2 Kids", Merton hits the audience with her biggest song. "No Roots" is a catchy song with a constantly moving bassline, bringing us into the world of Merton. As the song states, she has "no roots" constantly moving between countries. All of her experiences have built the music that she tours with today.
The fourth track on the album, "Funny Business" gives off a fun vibe before the album leads to a bit of a darker tune. "Homesick" discusses Merton's constant travel and the effect that her relationships have had on her life. Clapping noises underneath her voice bring the listener into the song with an interactive aspect. The rhythm is nice to listen to, but hard to repeat since it is unique. Her creative rhythms continue through the next two tracks, "Lash Out" and "Speak Your Mind". "Speak Your Mind" brings an electric tone to the forefront of the song, showing a diversity in instrumentals.
The electric instrumentals continue through the next song, "I Don't Hold A Grudge", before Merton slows down the pace with "Honeymoon Heartbreak". Her intimate vocals soar in this love song as the instrumentals tone down to make space for her. The song has an ease and smoothness that is incomparable with the rest of the album. It is a relieving change of pace for an album that is stacked with constant bass lines. Merton gets a chance to show off her range at the end of the song as well.
To me, "Trouble In Paradise" is a reflection on the rest of the album. This penultimate track leads us to the final track on the album, "Why So Serious". The final track reminds us that life does not need to be taken so seriously. This is a nice message to end the album for an artist that is sure to sell out many shows on her current tour. I also highly recommend checking out her No Roots EP!
Favorite Tracks: "Learn To Live", "No Roots", "Homesick", "Speak Your Mind", Honeymoon Heartbreak", "Why So Serious"
Least Favorite Tracks: "Lash Out", "Trouble In Paradise"
Image credit: By Justin Higuchi from Los Angeles, CA, USA - Alice Merton 12/11/2017 #7, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75343734
After a decade, this film is exactly what audiences need to move forward.
Grandiose character performances from the lead cast, an emotional plotline, the harshest purple villain of all time, and of course CGI action-shots galore bring us straight to a satisfying ending of a chapter. Surely this is not the last film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it definitely feels like the end of an era.
The heroes that we have grown to love are stuck in a final showdown with the heavy-handed Thanos. While the film stands out as a blockbuster action flick, there is a lot of emotion involved and tears will fall. For a three-hour-long superhero movie, the run time feels shy of two hours, leaving me wanting more action and more time with these characters. There is just enough time for the film to solve the situation that they are left with at the conclusion of Avengers: Infinity War. It’s not an easy task to move forward after half of the cast is turned to dust, but Anthony (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Infinity War, Captain America: Civil War) and Joe Russo (Avengers: Infinity War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War) direct the film towards a proper resolution.
At the end of Infinity War, we are left with a cast of MCU founders including Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes, The Avengers), Chris Evans (The Avengers, Captain America: The First Avenger), Chris Hemsworth (The Avengers, Thor: Ragnarok, Snow White and the Huntsman), Scarlett Johansson (Her, Lost in Translation, The Avengers), Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers, Spotlight, Foxcatcher), and Jeremy Renner (The Town, The Avengers, Wind River). While everyone in this cast has been a dud in one of the previous films of the MCU, they are all perfect in this film. After witnessing their friends and families die, they wear their emotions on their sleeves. This is not something we often get in superhero films. Usually, our fictional superheroes are emotionless robots. Luckily, Marvel has finally fixed this lack of character.
The dynamic between Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans leads this film to victory and emotional payoff. Without going too far into spoilers, the ending is clearly a tool that Marvel can use to move on from the franchise that has been built thus far. The end is worth the ride that fans have been on for the past 11 years. Of course, Thanos leaves his mark on the universe and everything is not left perfectly normal.
It will be interesting to see where the MCU progresses from here. With a Spider-Man movie just months away, Endgame will forever impact the future of the franchise. Sacrifices are made, battles are fought, relationships are broken, and overall this is the most meaningful film for the franchise.
The Bottom Line: If you are a die-hard Marvel fan, bring tissues and get ready for the longest and most rewarding end of an era.
1. Against All Logic – 2012-2017
Early in the year electronic producer Nicolas Jaar released a surprise album under the moniker Against All Logic. Like its title suggests, the album consists of a collection of songs Jaar created between the period of 2012 to 2017. Despite appearing to be a compilation with over five years of material, the sound Jaar creates is consistent, unique, and experimental. The tracks are crafted around old samples from various music sources, all backed by solid house grooves and beats. The finished product is something I’ve never heard in electronic music before; and besides a few lengthier tracks near the end, the album contains no filler and flows smoothly without feeling boring.
Best Tracks: Some Kind of Game, Cityfade, Now U Got Me Hooked
2. KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS
A collaborative project between Kanye West and Kid Cudi, KIDS SEE GHOSTS is a moment of complete artistic freedom for the two musicians. This freedom comes through the music in spades right from the opening track, with Kanye’s ridiculous vocal adlibs appearing halfway into the song. While both artists have been suffering from mental disorders recently, they sound the healthiest they’ve been in years. Even though we can’t know if these new-found messages of positivity and mental clarity are here to stay, the musical genius on this album can’t be denied. The production mixes the sounds of psychedelic, rock, and hip-hop into a tight and unique package. At just 23 minutes, the album has no room for filler and delivers on that promise. The short run time easily lends itself to multiple listens without getting tiring. I only wish the project was more lyrically conceptual given the intriguing name of the group.
Best Tracks: Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2), Reborn, Cudi Montage
3. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
Parquet Courts came through with the best rock album of 2018 with their art punk spectacle Wide Awake!. The songs are fun, lively, and smart. Despite being punk in nature, Parquet Courts delivers some of the best grooves of the whole year, from the funky title track to the ballad Freebird II. The song-writing and lyrics perfectly balance important political messages and a catchy sound. And fuck Tom Brady.
Best Tracks: Freebird II, Wide Awake, Tenderness
4. Armand Hammer – Paraffin
Armand Hammer is a New York underground hip-hop duo consisting of emcees Billy Woods and Elucid. After releasing one of the best hip-hop albums of 2017, Known Unknowns, Billy Woods teams up once again with long-time collaborator Elucid. Delivering another standout in the world of hip-hop. Paraffin embodies the complete sounds of the east coast. From grimy, lo-fi production to dark and politically-driven lyrics. What makes this project stand out are the abstractions added into the production and song-writing that separates it from their genre contemporaries. Its sample-based with flares of industrial and jazz sounds looped in. The songs progress dynamically and avoid feeling repetitive. The performances from both rappers are outstanding and the vibe created is one of the darkest you will hear this year.
Best Tracks: No Days Off, Fuhrman Tapes, VX
5. IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance.
British punk band, IDLES, returns with a quick follow-up to their great 2017 album Brutalism. The instrumentals are as violent and angry as ever, and front-man Joe Talbot’s vocals are just as intense. What’s changed for the group are their lyrics and message. IDLES uses their brash sound to bring forth words of positivity, self-worth, and unity. The band is actively shedding its façade of a bunch of angry men and showing a smart and progressive side. Its such a wonderful change of pace to the punk genre.
Best Tracks: Colossus, Never Fight A Man With A Perm, Great
6. Jack White – Boarding House Reach
Longtime musician Jack White finally reached his experimental peak with his 2018 album. He took the familiar sounds of blues rock that’s been in his repertoire for years and completed shifted it on its head. Expertly working in electronics and other instrumentation into the classic blues sound made Boarding House Reach a fun, progressive, and intriguing listen from front to back.
Best Tracks: Connected by Love, Corporation, Over and Over
7. ROSALÍA – El Mal Querer
With last year’s album Los Angeles, Spanish singer Rosalia broke onto the scene with her fantastic take on contemporary flamenco music. This time around, Rosalia is boasting new original material, and an alteration to her sound. Moving on from the acoustic and minimalist sound of classic flamenco, she has updated the genre for the modern age. El Mal Querer combines the classic Spanish sound with excellent pop sensibility and experimental production. Her vocals are terrific and are certainly some of the best in pop music now. This is the kind of music anybody can listen to; language barrier be damned.
Best Tracks: MALAMENTE, PIENSO EN TU MIRA, BAGDAD
8. Julia Holter – Aviary
The American singer-songwriter has been dominating the art/baroque pop genre the past five years with continuously great albums. There are no other musical acts that rival her ability to create incredibly beautiful and luscious soundscapes. Her last album, 2015’s Have You In My Wilderness, was her best yet. Combining strong jazz themes on top of her art pop creations. This time around on Aviary, Holter takes a much more avant-garde approach. Favoring more heavily the use of strings and orchestral instrumentation. At one hour and 30 minutes, it’s a behemoth of a record. It certainly requires patience. But all you need to do is let yourself fall into the immersive, and overwhelming beauty of the record.
Best Tracks: I Shall Love II, Underneath the Moon, Les Jeux to You
9. Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want
This record is tough to describe. The best words I can use are: harsh, demented, and tortured. It’s a difficult listen. The instruments are abrasive and violent, while the lyrics are dark and unhinged. The repetition from the bass and drums becomes almost hypnotic. Daughters effectively creates their own unique sound, immersing you into this deprived musical world. The complete commitment to this tone and concept is impressive. It’s an album worth listening to multiple times. Please don’t discard it on first reaction.
Best Tracks: City Song, Satan in the Wait, Less Sex
10. Denzel Curry – TA13OO
The Florida-based rapper showed a lot of potential on his 2015 mixtape Imperial, and 2018’s TA13OO confirms that talent. The album consists of three separate acts: Light, Gray, and Dark. It’s a light concept that sets the rapper up to musically explore societies taboos. As the album progresses further down the track list, the songs get darker and darker. It culminates into a ferocious finish for Act 3, featuring some of heaviest songs of the year. Curry shows off his rapping prowess on every track with great lyrics and a variety of flows. The production does well to match his skillset. Curry also did an excellent job picking his featured artist. My main complaint is Curry does not fully commit to the album’s concept. Some of the songs seem out of place to their respective acts.
Best Tracks: Cash Maniac, Switch It Up, Percs
11. Haru Nemuri – Haru to Shura
Haru Nemuri is a relatively unknown Japanese rock artist. Her vocals are loud, powerful, and fun. Nemuri experiments heavily in the rock genre, mixing elements of noise, electronics, and hip-hop. On multiple occasions Nemuri will go from screaming to basically rapping on her tracks. It’s a fast-paced record and one of the more fun and exciting listens all year.
Best Tracks: Harutosyura, Sekaiwotorikaeshiteokure, Yumewomiyou
12. JPEGMAFIA – Veteran
Rapper/Producer JPEGMAFIA came through with one of hip-hops most creative albums in years. His production is insane and glitchy, and his lyrics are violent, smart, and funny. What separates him from other experimental or abstract hip-hop acts are his vocals. JPEGMAFIA combines intense flows with pop rap singing you would hear in a Drake song. It’s hard to imagine but sounds so smooth and seamless.
Best Tracks: 1539 N. Calvert, Thug Tears, Baby I’m Bleading
13. U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
U.S. Girls is a musical project from musician Meghan Remy. It is without a doubt the years funkiest record. The album features excellent instrumentation, lyrics, and catchy writing.
Best Tracks: Velvet 4 Sale, Rage of Plastics, Incidental Boogie
14. Natalia Lafourcade – Musas Vol. 2
Mexican singer-songwriter, Natalia Lafourcade delivered the year’s best folk album with Musas Vol. 2. The record has beautiful composition and great vocals. It’s an incredibly consistent track list that maybe could have been trimmed by a song or two. Once again you can completely ignore the language barrier. Give this a listen.
Best Tracks: Danza de Gardenias, Duerme Negrito, Derecho de Nacimiento
15. twenty one pilots – Trench
The alt-rock/pop duo is back in 2018 with a pretty divisive album. It seems the bands existing fans are less thrilled with Trench, while listeners who were never fans before (like myself) are really enjoying the project. Either way it’s a fun album that combines genres well and has a lot of catchy songwriting. It’s cool to see the band take more experimental strides with their music.
Best Tracks: My Blood, Chlorine, Nico and The Niners
16. Hermit and the Recluse – Orpheus vs. the Sirens
Hermit and the Recluse is a new alias and musical project for New York emcee Ka. He is consistently one of the best lyrical minds in rap currently working. His last two projects have all been heavily conceptual with Honor Killed the Samurai and The Night’s Gambit. This trend doesn’t end with Orpheus vs. the Siren. Ka takes his numerous experiences in life growing up in tough neighborhoods and relates them to the story of the fabled Greek hero. The production backing him is relatively the same as in past projects but with some new twists worked in.
Best Tracks: Sirens, Golden Fleece, The Punishment of Sisyphus
17. Current 93 – The Light is Leaving Us All
The long-running experimental folk band delivered one of the weirdest albums of the year. Its yet another conceptual album on this list that effectively transports you into the ghastly underbelly of 19th century England. The lyrics are poetic and esoteric, and the delivery of front-man David Tibet is theatrical. I love the kind of music that can immerse you into a different world. The vocal repetition of the phrase “the light is leaving us all” and the dark production culminates into quite a terrifying experience.
Best Tracks: The Policeman is Dead, A Thousand Witches, The Kettle’s On
18. MGMT – Little Dark Age
The famed pop duo rebounded in 2018 with an exercise in 80’s synth pop revival. It’s a tight and consistent listen at 10 tracks and features a lot of catchy tunes. There are some great highlights throughout. However, the album doesn’t sound completely original, giving off some very strong Ariel Pink vibes.
Best Tracks: She Works Out Too Much, When You Die, James
19. Clarence Clarity – THINK: PEACE
Clarity’s first album No Now, released in 2015, was one of the best of the year and completely flew under the radar. With THINK: PEACE, Clarity confirms that he is still one of the most exciting producers working now. He experiments with electronic production and modern R&B songwriting, creating a sound that is completely his.
Best Tracks: Adam and The Evil*, W€ Chang£, Naysayer Magick Obeyer
20. Polyphia – New Levels New Devils
New Levels New Devils is an instrumental, math rock album from the Texas-based band Polyphia. The guitar and bass playing are impressive, and the drums are punchy. An interesting addition to nearly every track is a short trap-produced interlude that will finish off the song and lead it into the next. Overall, it’s a fun listen that remains sonically consistent.
Best Tracks: Nasty, Death Note, G.O.A.T
21. BROCKHAMPTON – Iridescence
After releasing what I thought was the best album of 2017 with SATURATION, the boyband’s breakout success hit a myriad of drama in 2018. Despite the loss of a core member, BROCKHAMPTON still managed to return with their most mature release yet. While their fourth studio album doesn’t live up to the surprise and experimentation of their first, they came through with a noticeably more serious effort on Iridescence. The album features a lot of musical progression and some great hip-hop ballads. I’m sure they will continue to define their new sound in the future
Best Tracks: WEIGHT, SAN MARCOS, TONYA
22. Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit
Stranger Fruit is one of the wackiest albums you’ll come across this year, blending black metal with slave spirituals. It’s the invention of Swiss musician Manuel Gagneux and comes together a lot better than you would initially think. The track list of this album can feel a little bloated at times and the story/concept could use some further fleshing out, but it’s an exciting project I’m looking forward to hearing more form.
Best Tracks: Don’t You Dare, You Ain’t Coming Back, Built on Ashes
23. Andrew W.K. – You’re Not Alone
After nine years of musical silence, singer-songwriter and self-help/motivational speaker Andrew W.K. released the most inspiring and uplifting album of the year. You’re Not Alone is a happy light in a world with a lot of bad news. The music is blaring arena rock that can sound corny to some, but truly has a wonderful message and charm.
Best Tracks: Music Is Worth Living For, Give Up On You, Total Freedom
24. Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs
Like its name suggests, Some Rap Songs is a collection of abstract hip-hop tracks that Earl uses to communicate what his mental state has been at for the last few years. For a large portion of his life and career, Earl has dealt with many obstacles like depression and anxiety. He’s an incredibly talented emcee and lyricist, and it comes through in spades as he describes the mental decay he’s experienced. The production is disjointed and trippy, matching the subject matter well.
Best Tracks: Nowhere2go, December 24, Azucar
25. Ghost – Prequelle
The magnificent Swedish heavy metal band returns with a worthy successor to their 2015 magnum-opus Meliora. This time around they took a noticeable pop direction with their sound. It’s a lot lighter in tone but embraces catchy songwriting and enhanced theatrics.
Best Tracks: Rats, See The Light, Life Eternal
SOPHIE – Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides
Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy
Sons of Kemet – My Queen is a Reptile
serpentwithfeet – soil
Kali Uchis – Isolation
Sleep – The Sciences
Kero Kero Bontio – Time ‘n’ Place
Superorganism – Superorganism
Tropical Fuck Storm – A Laughing Death in Meatspace
The Voidz – Virtue
JID – DiCaprio 2
Screaming Females – All At Once
George Clanton – Slide
Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
Image Credit: By Various (cropped and combined together by CoughingCookieHeart) - File:Kidcudi (300dpi).jpg, [Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/pjayofficial/7389658206], CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=72319078
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