Best Of 2018 - Jeffrey343

ARTICLE: Best Of 2018 - Jeffrey343
YEAR: 2018



The year 2018 has come and gone. All in all, a good year personally and musically. My wife and I are settling into the routine of no kids at home, with both sons away at college. And with older son graduating in 2019 and having a great job lined up, we can envision having a bit more disposable income for the first time since the mid 90's.

My music listening habits keep evolving. Not so much what I listen to, but rather how I listen to it. During the 'kid years', mainly middle and high school, I'd drive them all over town, and I'd listen to a lot of music in the car. Usually the newer car where I could plug in a flash drive with whatever music I owned; I don't have an easy way yet to stream music in the car, at least not with decent quality.

Now, I'm driving a lot less. When I'm in the car with my wife, she likes to talk, so it's usually smooth jazz turned down low, or one of the SiriusXM 80's stations. On my own, I usually drive the 17-year-old car that merely has a six-CD changer, and I honestly rarely swap out the discs.

Speaking of discs, I am actually buying more of my music in physical format. But I'm buying less music overall. I know streaming is controversial, but I like being able to use it to decide whether to purchase the album. The labels usually release two to four songs in advance of the album, so I can stream them and see whether the albums seem promising. Then I can stream the whole album once it is released. I can stream on my phone, which is always with me, and which I use when I go for a run.

If the album is really good, then I'll order the CD. Getting the CD is usually the same cost or maybe a dollar more than buying a digital version, and I get all the liner notes, and I don't have to burn a CD for the car. I do have to rip it for the flash drive, but that's less work. One day in a couple of years I won't need the CD for the car (if the wife lets me get a new car finally), but this works for now.

I am surprised that the labels do not usually provide a digital version of the liner notes with a digital purchase. Musically, I thought it was a pretty good year. Not quite as good as 2017. There were some very good albums early in the year that have lived in the car stereo, and others that came out throughout the year that impressed me.

There were a few that I eagerly anticipated that underwhelmed me, but at least I can grab some great songs from them for various workout playlists. And there remain some that didn't really grab me too much the first couple of listens but may resonate with me if it catches me in the right mood. On to my list!

The Albums

01: Midnite City - There Goes The Neighborhood
One of the two 2018 albums I reviewed for this site, and it earned the same perfect 10 that I gave the debut in 2017. No contest, really - I love these guys. Great music with strong heartfelt lyrics delivered by a guy with a perfect voice for this style. I'm impressed they could give us an album just one year after the first one that was actually even better than what I considered a perfect album. Both albums are in the mix for my faves of the entire decade.

02: Jerome Mazza - Outlaw Son
Every year, there are some albums that fly totally under my radar until they're out. I found the lyric video for 'Immortal' and thought 'Hey, that sounds promising!'. Then George sent me a fileshare of the album the same day I was able to stream it - he figured (correctly) that it would appeal to me. I played the album several times that weekend, and it was indeed a killer. Mazza has been around long enough I should have heard of him, or perhaps someone should have given him more exposure. But hooking him up with Tommy Denander and Steve Overland was a brilliant move.

03: State Of Salazar - Superhero
I mentioned those 'under the radar' albums just above. The last album from these guys was such an album in 2014 (their first proper album after an EP), so they were totally on my radar this time. They delivered with an excellent release. I can't say I was a huge Toto fan back in the day, but I'm digging the Toto influences on this one.

04: Perfect Plan - All Rise
This one got more plays than any of the 2018 albums I heard. It is great musically, with tons of influences throughout. That can give the impression they don't have their own unique sound, but man, they do sound great. Kent Hilli should be the next vocal god of the genre. If the lyrics were a bit more connected rather than being an alphabet soup of catchy phrases, this could have been a spot or two higher. Looking forward to what these guys do next.

05: Groundbreaker - Groundbreaker
Steve Overland and Robert Sall - FM meets Work Of Art - pretty much what you'd expect here. And to a large degree, it's what you get. I reviewed this and gave it a solid 9. I was hoping for something a bit more epic, but this will certainly be one that I reach for several times a year.

06: FM - Atomic Generation
The second album with the voice of Mr. Overland, here with his 'day job'. These guys have been pretty consistent the past several years, and I've enjoyed everything they've done. It's a different style than their 80's material - I actually think that Groundbreaker album sounds more like early FM than anything here. But they deliver another winner here.

07: Treat - Tunguska
Another eagerly anticipated album. Their last two were very good, with 'Coup de Grace' from 2010 definitely one of the top albums from the 2010 - 2019 decade. This is another very solid effort. Maybe my tastes have changed a bit, as I'm not reaching for it quite as much as I expected. Stylistically, it's somewhere between 'Coup de Grace' and 'Ghost Of Graceland' of 2016. Still very good, but I have to be in the right mood to really get into it.

08: White Widdow - Victory
This and the Midnite City albums were the two that I anticipated the most in 2018. Both artists have had my top pick in different years. I thought White Widdow didn't live up to the greatness of 'Crossfire' with their 2016 release 'Silhouette'. And they didn't quite get there with 'Victory' either. It's plenty good enough to crack my top 10 for the year, but I really wanted it to be duking it out for the top spot. Still a nice collection of catchy songs with strong lyrics, a bit on the relaxing side (surprisingly) with enough bite to keep it interesting.

09: Sunstorm - The Road To Hell
At this point in my top ten list, I'm having to make some tougher decisions. For some reason, I want it to be a 'top ten' list, and I could easily come up with my top eight. I'm not really sure why, but I somehow put this in my mental list of disappointments until last week. My bad, as it is a very solid album. Most reviews were respectable. George mentioned that there aren't any songs that scream 'play me', and I'll agree. It's more of a 'solid block of music' album, with great musicianship that might be a bit samey but sounds good if you're wanting harder-edged AOR. Not quite as commercial as most of what they've done before, at least until the previous album (which had mostly the same lineup and approach). Joe Lynn Turner sounds as good as he has in years, and that elevates the overall experience.

10: Issa - Run With The Pack
Another one that I'd neglected - probably because it could not beat out the Perfect Plan and FM albums for playing time early in the year. But it is a nice effort, and one I like better than 'Crossfire' in 2015. Interestingly, it has much of the same lineup as the Sunstorm album. It gets a bit ballad-heavy towards the end. I might rate this as my favorite of her output. The duet with Deen Castronovo is a highlight.

Other Contenders

Of the 42 albums I heard, these were also in the running. There are others that might grow on me too, but I don't expect anything not listed (if I've heard it, at least) to crack the top 10.

Fire Tiger - Suddenly Heavenly - Catchy lighter AOR.
Creye - Creye - Solid album that sounds like a soundtrack for an 80's teen-oriented action movie.
Dion Bayman - Better Days - Some good catchy songs here.
Palace - Binary Music - Will likely grow on me if I give it a chance.
Gioeli - Castronovo - Set The World On Fire - Was hoping for more; 'Need You Now' kinda kills the mood for me.
Hearts On Fire - Call Of Destiny - Good solid debut.
Devil's Hand - Devil's Hand - Expected to like it more based on Mike Slamer's involvement and the first two songs, but rest of album let me down.
Hank Erix - Nothing But Trouble - Some very good moments - harder than Houston without deviating too much, but just didn't resonate like I wanted it to.
No Hot Ashes - No Hot Ashes - Initial promise, but the ashes cooled.

Biggest Disappointment

Daughtry - Cage To Rattle
Well, honestly, that might not be true, as I wasn't expecting them to return to their previous level of greatness. But I was hoping their 2013 album 'Baptized' was an aberration. Alas, this is more of what passes as popular music in the U.S. in 2018. Gone are the guitars. Chris Daughtry can still sing with anyone; I just wish they'd rock like they did on their first three albums.

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jeffrey343 January 12 2019 304 reads 3 comments Print


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  • george_the_jack
    When I read your list Jeff, can't help but notice there's a ton of albums I haven't even listened once over the course of last year. That proves my deteriorating interest about new music I guess...
    I found the Midnite City album flat and cheesy as a whole although it had its moments while Perfect Plan, Groundbreaker, Issa and Gioeli-Castronovo were good but nothing spectacular that'd make me want to go back and play them. I also can't get that new Jerome Mazza album that all of you liked so much. I liked his previous a lot more. The new one sounds heavily processed in the studio and very plastic for my liking.
    Reply · · - January 18 2019 14:26:13
    • jeffrey343
      I can respect that... I believe the current "sound" of the modern AOR era has been around long enough that it is pretty distinct from anything before the early 2000s. Production is different, and I think production standards today are quite good, especially compared with the inconsistency of ten years ago. It's just a different sound. When I create playlists for workouts, I rarely mix eras - it's either 80s (with possibly some late 70s and early 90s) or somewhere like 2006 on (more heavily 2010 and later). I enjoy both a lot, but they don't mix that well for me. I also think modern bands are starting more to try to get away from recreating the 80s songs over and over. I'm glad I like the new stuff, but I can understand how it doesn't impress others. Heck, that started to happen to me in the latter 80s when "hair metal" all started to sound the same to me, and then when grunge and other "alt rock" became the big thing. And even though I don't seek out the mainstream U.S. pop music, I hear enough of it to know that I liked it a lot better a dozen years ago, when artists like Maroon 5 actually had some good songs on the radio.
      Reply · · - January 22 2019 03:34:34
      • george_the_jack
        Very true what you said about how the newer stuff mixes up better with stuff from around the same era compared to the classics. However, as far as I'm concerned and according to how I see and hear things, the turning point in today's music started taking place during the last 4-5 years - not before. It's not only Treat or FM who reverted their sound to something more modern-ish but also names like ''Find Me'', last H.E.A.T. album or most of Frontiers' ''hard rock'' releases today. I generally struggle to find music faithful to its roots that would draw direct comparisons to what I really fancy listening.

        Personally, I'd rather remember 2018 for their heavy metal releases such as Judas Priest or Maverick than anything else.
        Reply · · - January 25 2019 19:53:41


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