18 For '18: WUNC Music's Top Albums of 2018
Nathaniel Rateliff “Tearing at the Seams"
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats have been at the center of America’s contemporary soul revival. 2018’s “Tearing at the Seams” moves that sound forward. We played the song “Hey Mama” a lot around Mothers’ Day this year. The band’s bass player Joseph Pope talked about the song to NPR Music saying, “To see a day in the life of my mom, through her very eyes, is such an immense gift to me. The themes of thankfulness, loss, struggle and time that are deep within all of our relationships are on display here."
Leon Bridges “Good Thing"
Leon Bridges sings with a soul that sounds much more weathered than his 28 years. He blends R&B, classic soul and doo-wop with a contemporary perspective. The end result is a sound that we couldn’t get enough of this year. His second record “Good Thing” was a big hit on WUNC Music and NPR Music. It’s packed with love songs like “If It Feels Good (then it must be)” and “Bet Ain’t Worth The Hand” that will melt even the coldest heart.
Mipso “Edges Run"
Mipso came together as a band when they were all students at UNC-Chapel Hill. They grew up musically playing local clubs, festivals and street fairs. “Edges Run” is the first record the band recorded outside of North Carolina. They told WUNC that recording in Oregon helped them take another creative step forward. This new record adds drums on nearly every song, further moving the band towards a pop Americana sound. Eric Hodge explored the title track on WUNC Music’s Songs We Love podcast.
Neko Case “Hell-On"
There was a point in 2018 when “Bad Luck” by Neko Case was THE song on WUNC Music.It’s an unforgettable tune that Case told NPR was written and recorded while her home in Vermont was burning to the ground.Her Chapel Hill performance at Carolina Performing Arts sold out in hours.
HC McEntire “Lionheart"
HC McEntire’s “Lionheart” is her solo debut and was an opportunity for the Durham based musician to work with friends like Angel Olsen, Amy Ray, Tift Merritt, William Tyler, Phil Cook and others. The record is both personal and profound featuring songs like “Quartz in the Valley” and “Wild Dogs.” Pitchfork called the Merge Records release “..the sound of a woman newly believing in who she has always been.”
Courtney Barnett “Tell Me How You Really Feel"
In the title track to her stunning 2018 release, Courtney Barnett sings “I like very much being here with you / But you see, all this small talk is killin’ me.”The Australian born singer/songwriter is as direct as they come.Barnett is on tour in early 2019 but only has two US dates scheduled, both in Texas.The rest of her tour takes her to Peru, Chile, Mexico, Argentina and Japan.
Superchunk “What a Time to Be Alive"
The Chapel Hill band Superchunk is back with a fury.“What a Time To Be Alive” is the band’s first studio album in 5 years and was widely heralded as the best protest album of 2018.The band’s singer Mac McCaughn told WUNC’s Songs We Love Podcast that he wrote most of the record after the 2016 elections and that the music is intentionally angry,"...when you're singing about this kind of thing, and feeling these kinds of things, this is the music that comes out.”
Death Cab for Cutie “Thank You For Today"
Death Cab for Cutie’s “Thank You for Today” is the band’s 9th album. After more than 20 years as a band they continue to make vital music. Singer Ben Gibbard is self-reflective in this latest record singing, “It’s nothing righteous being 60 and punk / But when you’re looking in the mirror do you see / The kid you used to be?” Death Cab for Cutie will be in Durham in January to perform live on WUNC for Chris Thile’s Live From Here.
Brandi Carlile “By The Way, I Forgive You"
Brandi Carlile has a huge voice and it’s in rare form on the 2018 release “By The Way, I Forgive You.” NPR’s Fresh Air said about the record, “…opting to reject bitterness, self-pity or revenge, Carlile's form of forgiveness in her music and in these real-life gestures carries a mighty strength.” The first single “The Joke” was a big hit for WUNC Music early in the year.
Wye Oak “The Louder I Call the Faster it Runs”
Wye Oak’s music could be described as dreamy, folk inspired, noise pop. NPR Music said the Merge Records artists are “…forging an audacious creative path” with this new record. The record’s title track “The Louder I Call the Faster it Runs” got heavy play on WUNC Music in 2018.
Janelle Monae “Dirty Computer”
Janelle Monae was included on NPR’s 2018 list of the 21st Century’s Most Influential Women. Monae labels herself “the American nightmare,” “the American dream,” and “the American cool.” She’s breaking boundaries culturally and musically and her 2018 record “Dirty Computer” will remain one of the favorites at WUNC Music.
Mt. Joy “Mt. Joy"
Mt. Joy was named one of NPR Music’s 2018 Slingshot Artists of the year. At times they could pass for a classic rock band with straight ahead songwriting and a solid backbeat but at the same time they ooze originality. The band will be on the road for much of 2019 with shows next Spring in Virginia, DC and Atlanta.
Phil Cook “People Are My Drug"
Durham’s own Phil Cook was the consummate sideman in 2018 performing with Hiss Golden Messenger, Tift Merrit and The Blind Boys of Alabama.But with his second solo record “People Are My Drug” he steps out to lead a batch of songs that exude joy and communicate some hard truths.He played the WUNC Music stage at Hopscotch 2018 and knocked the crowd over.
Mountain Man “Magic Ship"
It’s been 8 years since the last full-length record by Mountain Man.During the interim all three members settled in North Carolina and Amelia Meath’s other band Sylvan Esso became a global phenomenon.Self-described as “aggressively quiet” this new record sounds like it was recorded live in a living room.Shortly after its release, “Magic Ship” was named by NPR Music as an “…album you should hear now.”
Anderson East “Encore"
Anderson East is a fixture on the Nashville scene and his “Encore” record explores a range of moods from intimate to bombastic. The mix of reinterpreted covers and originals includes Ed Sheeran’s “All On My Mind” that rocks big strings and a chorus that hangs on with a “…white knuckled grip.”
The Dead Tongues “Unsung Passage"
The Dead Tongues is the songwriting name for Ryan Gustafson who’s spent time living in the Triangle and more recently Asheville NC. Of his new record he told WUNC’s Eric Hodge, “I was trying to make it as simple as possible.” The result is a richly layered folk inspired record full of carefully crafted songs. In addition to his solo work, Ryan spent part of 2018 working as a sideman with Hiss Golden Messenger and Phil Cook.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones “Young Sick Camellia"
In 2018 St. Paul and the Broken Bones took a step beyond the retro-soul, high volume grooves that they used to burst on to the music scene.NPR Music described this new record as verging on “…straight up disco” (but in a good way).Lyrically the songs explore everything from werewolves to local weather.
Sarah Shook and the Disarmers “Years"
With this second full-length record as a bandleader Sarah Shook is equal parts bark and bite.Rolling Stone described the songs as “… some of Shook’s most memorable melodies to date.”It was a breakthrough year for the Disarmers.They spent much of 2018 on the road but Sarah managed to stop by WUNC to talk about her brand of punk and outlaw country.