2018 ALBUM OF THE YEAR Poll ResulTs
Our expansion from the OG Facebook group to this website yielded an increase in submissions, resulting in a Choon Group record total of 37 ballots, encompassing a whopping 250 artists. Voters could either rank their choices with weighted points (13-10-9-7-6, etc.) or award 6 points to each of their ten picks. Here’s our countdown of the Top Ten finishers, with the overall Top Forty to be revealed after we crown the 2018 Choon Group Favorite Album of the Year.
10. Robyn – HONEY
(36 Points, 6 Ballots)
Swedish dance pop royalty Robyn returns for her first full-length in 8 years and breaks into our Top Ten. In his ChOOOOn review, our Dan Behrendt concluded:
“It feels strange to call Honey a “grower” since it has its fair share of immediate pleasures, but its real strength lies in something greater than the sum of its parts--in the vivid emotional universe it depicts and the way each track seamlessly enriches the one to follow. For people accustomed to Robyn songs that explode with titanic hooks like perfectly timed glitter bombs, it may take several spins for the full weight of what she’s achieved to sink in. However, once it does,it reveals something even more special: an uncommonly mature pop album possessed with the wisdom to know that it’s important to give your broken heart the proper space to hurt, but only if you use what’s left from the wreckage to rebuild. Sometimes that starts by moving your body, and trusting that your heart will eventually follow. “
9. Saba – CARE FOR ME
(37 Points, 6 Ballots)
Chicago hip-hop stand up, as another singular talent joins the ranks of the city’s major stars with Saba’s moving breakout LP.
Our Gregg Katsoudas said: “Dark and moody, the production sticks on this record like late night fog. The sound of ‘70s style keyboards and soft drum hits lounge around throughout and create the airy environment perfect for introspection. But it’s Saba’s vocals that are the star here. A versatile lyricist, Saba can change speeds and cadences mid-verse seamlessly - old blues man one moment, excited auctioneer the next. He allows his voice to inform his rhymes and do much of the emotional heavy lifting.”
Revisit our full review here.
8. Hop Along - BARK YOUR HEAD OFF, DOG
(39 Points, 7 Ballots)
The Philly indie foursome fully emerges with a memorable collection featuring Frances Quinlan’s resonant lyrics interwoven through daring instrumentation. In his ChOOOOn review, Dan Behrendt said Dog’s songs “fluidly maneuver through countless twists and turns before skillfully downshifting into slinky, danceable shuffles. The rhythm section has limbered up and found its hips, and even as the arrangements delve into the baroque, they remain light on their feet. The music’s increased spaciousness creates plenty of pockets filled with short-burst pleasures that carry the thrill of renewed discovery on each successive spin.”
Read Dan’s original review here.
7. Beach House – 7
(44 Points, 7 Ballots)
Baltimore dream-pop duo Beach House’s signature sound once again pulled listeners under its spell.
Choon Group Founder Matt Pierce has a few words.
6. Parquet Courts – WIDE AWAKE!
(45 Points, 6 Ballots)
The prolific-yet-slacker NYC punks enlisted Danger Mouse to distill their strengths into a front-to-back banger that boldly and explicitly responds to the dire state of the world without making us cringe, maintaining humor, heart and groove while keeping us wide awake.
Revisit our Brad Brubaker’s review of their December gig in Chicago.
5. Noname – Room 25
(50 Points, 8 Ballots)
Chicago hip-hop stand up once again, with Fatimah Warner’s second self-released LP as Noname continuing her climb from spoken-word underdog to revered figure in a hip-hop movement that (along with frequent collaborators Saba and Smino, who show up here on “Ace”) champions honesty, self-revelation and diversion from materialistic tropes.
On intro track “Self,” she asserts her abilities as a rapper while defying expectations of how a traditional flow is supposed to go, staying laid-back and hushed while dropping impressive word-nerd rewindables. Later on “Prayer Song,” cracks appear in her calm, controlled demeanor as American aggrievances deposits pain at the edge of her vocals. The D’Angelo-referencing mortality meditation “Don’t Forget About Me” demonstrates her ability to deal directly with difficult subject matter and evoke emotion, but emerge on the other side having strengthened her listeners and herself.
On the tracks, producer Phoelix provides bohemian sounds ideal for Noname’s thoughtful, language-dense delivery, with warm aqueous keys, buoyant bass and lush (but not overindulgent) string arrangements. Knowing the collaborative nature of their scene and his strong work here, we’re apt to see more of his credits to come.
Whether Noname can keep mining personal anguish and subsequent growth remains to be seen, as her post-Room 25 loosie single “Song 31” questions the commodification of such truthful journal-baring, but for now, she’s won a dedicated following and established herself as a serious, sensitive artist doing things differently from the mainstream, in an unshowy fashion that really reaches folks.
4. Kamasi Washington – HEAVEN AND EARTH
(59 Points, 10 Ballots)
In attempting to out-epic The Epic (he clears the three-hour! mark after just missing it last time), Kamasi perhaps hit his first speed bump on the rocket ride of adulation he’s been on since the early ‘15 release of The Epic. Tireless touring, canny collaborations and word of mouth have quickly made him the biggest crossover jazz star of his generation and it’s obvious he’s just getting started, as he preps film projects and helps spin off a connected universe of associated West Coast Get Down acts’ albums: Graves, Moseley, Coleman, Bruner, Porter…
All those names, all that personnel, all those solos included. The maximalism of The Epic’s blueprint--big melodic choruses, unstoppable rhythms and athletic soloing, topped with background choir overdubs--can be exhausting to take in. The relative economy and focus of the one-theme-at-a-time Harmony of Difference EP this don’t got. But there are so many sparks to catch from the players’ fiery, multilayered attack, that replaying Heaven and Earth undoubtedly continues to yield pleasures. Album opener “Fists of Fury” ably positions itself as a marching, emotionally moving social justice anthem, while “Connections” on the first disc benefits from shorter solos and a fun variance between adjacent instruments’ qualities. Brandon Coleman’s keys and vocoder work move things back to the future of 70s-80s funk on multiple occasions, as on well-chosen single “Street Fighter Mas.”
So to quibble about the project’s bloat, or Kamasi’s solo tricks becoming apparent to even the untrained jazz ear to me seems like gorging on Thanksgiving dinner and then spending dessert complaining that there was too much cinnamon on the sweet potatoes. The past four years of the WCGD crew’s run has been triumphant, and has correlated with thrilling collaborative scenes opening up in London, Chicago, and who knows where next. Mainstream/indie/casual music fans, media outlets, and performance venues are letting go of genre inhibitions and allowing the mastery and endless possibilities of contemporary jazz to flourish, invigorating the culture at large and nourishing our souls and imaginations as individuals. Kamasi Washington stands atop Heaven and Earth as the MVP of that movement.
3. Father John Misty – GOD’S FAVORITE CUSTOMER
(69 Points, 12 Ballots)
The man, the myth, the Misty: The most decorated artist in the Choon-Poll’s brief history (Honeybear took the crown in 2015) returns just a year after his modern-life-is-ridiculous opus Pure Comedy with his most reflective, understated work under the guise of this present persona. Customer chronicles/imagines a two-month hotel bender where he blows up his life and marriage, and the process of taking stock and coming back to the life and love he risked.
In 2018, Josh Tillman scaled back his celebrity and social media footprint, just as this fourth album reined in album length and arrangements to a satisfyingly concise and warm-sounding portrait of an expansive mind and big heart in turmoil. And while we may miss the irascible, unpredictable character of Father John Misty, he sends us out of another trying year reminding us "We're Only People (And There's Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)," a weirdly encouraging sentiment that treads the line between hope and resignation, signalling maturity and an attempt to live kindly within this modern mess.
Choon Group looks forward to the next message from our post-ironic folk-rock shaman, and will always be ready to gather with friends and a bottle of beaujolais to share the thoughts, laughs and feelings Misty engenders, as we did on our listening party podcast celebrating the release of God’s Favorite Customer.
2. Mitski – BE THE COWBOY
(78 Points, 12 Ballots)
Mitski Miyawaki remains intriguingly elusive even as awareness of her talent continues to grow each time out. She blurs confessional and fictive worlds with convincing character on her synths-adding 5th LP.
Our Dan Behrendt is a fan of her songwriting, noting in his 4 “O” review that on Cowboy, “the artsiest touches are employed with a restraint and precision calibrated to hit you even more forcefully in the gut. Above all else, Mitski knows how to spin a devastating turn of phrase in the form of a killer hook. Her lyrics chronicle the relationship between what we know we should want vs. what we really do want with a clarity more ruthless than almost any other songwriter working today.”
1. Janelle Monáe – DIRTY COMPUTER
(108 Points, 15 Ballots)
After Janelle Monáe Robinson’s profile was raised by appearances in smash films Hidden Figures and Moonlight in 2016, we might have guessed that she would take a big pop swing on the next project for her musical day job, which over two previous LPs and an assortment of EPs, compilations and collaborations, had revelled in weirdness and genre-omnivorousness, chronicling the adventures of her android alter ego Cindi Mayweather (Our In Five Songs feature provides a catch-up.)
We didn’t, however, anticipate that Dirty Computer would hit so solidly and become so widely admired. The 2018 Choon Group Favorite Album of the Year Poll winner handily took the crown over all comers, pulling in support from hipsters, afropunks, poptimists, moms, you name it. In another culturally-contentious year that many of our voters cited as a disappointing one musically, it seemed everybody could agree on Monáe, as she ascended to regal status (a palpable hush of adoration fell over the room at last week’s Golden Globes ceremony when she levitated to the podium to present an award).
To massively oversimplify, Dirty Computer does play like a cross between Dirty Mind and OK Computer in more than just its title, bridging the dystopian ambition of the latter, to the focus and funkiness of the former. Indeed, Monáe seems to have completed her Masters in Princeology, paying tribute to her mentor and collaborator by crafting a record that like His Royal Badness’s best LPs, stakes its claim on your psyche with glorious, earth-shaking singles (“Make Me Feel,” “Pynk”), then rewards repeat plays and shuffles by turning deep cuts into favorites (“Take a Byte,” “Don’t Judge Me”).
For my money, this pop thrust was a welcome reining-in of some of her more musical-theatre impulses, but not at the expense of showing off her rich voice, or her power and control over a classic melody. And importantly in a year where artists were being held to a higher account for their messaging and awareness of vital social issues than ever, she didn’t shy away one iota from the integrity of her convictions, fluidly including calls for equal pay, emancipation from restrictive gender norms, and recognition of black excellence into Computer’s 12 tunes without ever bringing the joyful noise down.
The year clearly belonged to The Electric Lady, as Janelle Monáe became the very worthy winner of our eighth annual year-end poll. Revisit our release-week team-written review of Dirty Computer here.
Full 2018 Poll Results
1. Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer (108 Points/15 Ballots)
2. Mitski, Be the Cowboy (78/12)
3. Father John Misty, God’s Favorite Customer (69/12)
4. Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth (59/10)
5. Noname, Room 25 (50/8)
6. Parquet Courts, Wide Awake! (45/6)
7. Beach House, 7 (44/7)
8. Hop Along, Bark Your Head Off, Dog (39/7)
9. Saba, CARE FOR ME (37/6)
10. Robyn, Honey (36/6)
11. Neko Case, Hell-On (34/6)
12. Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy (33/5)
13. IDLES, Joy As an Act of Resistance (31/4)
14. Lucy Dacus, Historian (30/7)
15. U.S. Girls, In a Poem Unlimited (29/4)
16. Lord Huron, Vide Noir (28/6)
17. (Tie) Amber Mark, Conexão EP (27/4)
Snail Mail, Lush (27/5)
19. Low, Double Negative (26/6)
20. (Tie) The Internet, Hive Mind (25/7)
Let’s Eat Grandma, I’m All Ears (25/4)
22. (Tie) Various Artists/Kendrick Lamar, Black Panther: The Album (23/2)
Nao, Saturn (23/3)
24. Leon Bridges, Good Thing (22/5)
25. (Tie) Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour (21/4)
Rhye, Blood (21/4)
27. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Sparkle Hard (20/3)
28. (Tie) The Beths, Future Me Hates Me (19/5)
Earl Sweatshirt, Some Rap Songs (19/3)
Kississippi, Sunset Blush (19/2)
Tierra Whack, Whack World (19/4)
32. (Tie) Brandi Carlile, By the Way, I Forgive You (18/4)
The Carters (Beyoncé and Jay-Z), Everything Is Love (18/5)
Pinegrove, Skylight (18/3)
Superorganism, Superorganism (18/3)
Kali Uchis, Isolation (18/4)
37. (Tie) Courtney Barnett, Tell Me How You Really Feel (17/5)
boygenius, boygenius EP (17/3)
Cat Power, Wanderer (17/4)
Dirty Projectors, Lamp Lit Prose (17/4)
Foxing, Nearer My God (17/4)
Emma Louise, Lilac Everything (17/2)
Ella Mai, Ella Mai (17/2)
Makaya McCraven, Where We Come From & Universal Beings (17/2)
Anderson .Paak, Oxnard (17/3)