I think I’ve found a formula that’ll work going forward for which of these lists to do at the end of the year: One for EPs (posted that yesterday), one for archival or reissued albums, one for Richmond artists, one for albums that don’t fit into any of those categories, and then one more for a genre that stood out in some way during the course of the year. Last time around it was Americana, with exceptional releases by the likes of David Rawlings, Willie Watson, Dori Freeman, and Jake Xerxes Fussell. This year, jazz resonated especially deeply, so I thought I’d highlight five albums I was grateful to get to know.
John Coltrane — Both Directions at Once
I’m a big believer that you’re likely to feel a special connection to the first new album that comes out after you get into a band or artist. (The example I usually cite is Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief — an album many folks view highly but that I would rank one or two spots higher in their discography than others might.) Getting to have the Hail to the Thief experience with John Coltrane is such an unexpected treat, and Both Directions will always feel a little more meaningful to me as a result.
Julian Lage — Modern Lore
If you haven’t yet had a chance to read the Off Your Radar issue from November about Julian Lage’s Arclight album, I hope you’ll take a moment to have a look. Arclight is such a wonderful album — so fascinating in terms of the connection between the notes you hear and the tools used to create those notes. Modern Lore is cut from very similar cloth and features the same ensemble, and I’ll cosign it with just as much enthusiasm as I did Arclight.
Makaya McCraven — Universal Beings
This may be the most perfectly packaged album of 2018, and it’s not just about the weight of the paper used to make the cover or the art that adorns it. Each side of my vinyl copy — four total — features a distinct group of musicians, all united by Makaya McCraven’s exploratory process. Start side one and you’re in New York. Flip the disc, you’re in Chicago. Grab the second disc and you’re in London. Flip that and you’re finishing in L.A. No two sides sound the same, even though they share an approach that’s indebted to sampling yet unmoored via improvisation. Somehow, amid all the repetition, you still feel like anything can happen. That’s the brilliance of a hip hop producer like J Dilla, and McCaraven has managed to capture that electricity with live instrumentation. It’s as inspiring as it is fun to spin, whether you’re zoning out or zooming in.
The Nels Cline 4 — Currents, Constellations
Nels Cline and Julian Lage in the same ensemble? Yes please and thank you. They’re two of my favorite guitarists, and while they’re divergent enough in terms of style, there are still moments on Currents, Constellations when you get to wonder who’s playing. They’re both such inventive, intuitive musicians, and I love that they join forces from time to time. I haven’t spent much time with their Room album, but I plan to ASAP.
Kamasi Washington — Heaven and Earth
This dude. His band. This album. His last album. His show at the National in November. His show before that at the National. All of it can be overwhelming — not because it’s too much, or because his albums are lengthy and generously built-out (which they are), but because there’s an abundance of goodness you don’t find very often. Most musicians can tell you the story of why their tracks are titled the way they are, or what inspired a certain instrumental piece, but when Kamasi Washington tells you about how a song was created and why, it’s wildly compelling and convincing. He has a poise when he speaks that stands in stark contrast to the fury he can conjure when he plays, and the only way to reconcile those two states is to understand that what he’s presenting is the absolute truth as he sees it. Seeing him play means seeing what he sees so vividly. I believe in Kamasi Washington’s truth. You should too.
More 2018 in Review:
2018 in Review: EPs
2018 in Review: Blasts from the Past
2018 in Review: RVA
2018 in Review: 15 Favorites