December, when music journalism turns to year-end best of lists, countdowns and reflections on the year past. For me though, music isn’t measured in 10 best lists or how many times I listened to a record.
It is measured in moments and that feeling I get when first being blown away by a record or by a show that takes me out of everyday life or the privilege to have a great conversation with someone I am a fan of.
This past year offered a lot of those moments, from incredible interviews to unforgettable shows. This is my best in music of 2018. There is no best song or best album. But these are the artists, the moments and the conversations that shaped my year in music.
Florence + The Machine, Artist Of The Year
This is a pretty simple choice. There were a lot of strong artists, albums and live shows in 2018, but no one put them all together the way Florence Welch and her Machine did in 2018. It began with the slam-dunk choice for album of the year, High As Hope. Ambitious, poetic, intelligent, emotional, grand, gorgeous and stunning, High As Hope is a masterful collection that can be, at times, rocking like in the infectious lead single “Hunger” and at other times, breathtakingly beautiful, as on the soaring “The End Of Love.” She then backed it up with a successful tour characterized by night after night excellence and a series of high-profile festival dates including Life Is Beautiful and Outside Lands. Of all the twenty-first century alternative stars to emerge none have grown more than Welch, who continues to push herself musically to new heights. And in 2018 she climbed higher than ever.
Nick Cave, Rock God
Consider this a lifetime achievement award because otherwise every year I’d have to give best live show to the astonishing Nick Cave. A year after coming to the 6,000 seat plus Greek Theater and delivering a spiritually profound meditation on life and death anchored by the stunning The Skeleton Tree, Cave came back though L.A. and blew the roof off the legendary Forum, causing a sonic explosion that venue probably has not seen since Zeppelin played there in the ’70s. At 61 years old, Cave is at the absolute peak of his songwriting and performing and he is being recognized now by fans and peers alike for a career that is unlike almost any other in music. I’d say Cave is like a cross between Leonard Cohen and Iggy Pop in the way he combines poetry and punk but that is too simple. He is simply Nick Cave, the coolest man in rock in 2018.
Dave Grohl, Rock Star Of The Year
Like Nick Cave, Grohl could take home this award every year. But in 2018, it felt more relevant than ever. Whether it was barbecuing for firefighters battling the California wildfires, encouraging fans to vote and playing drums for Beck at Swing Left or leading round two of the Foo Fighters fest Cal Jam, Grohl was a ubiquitous presence in 2018. And what makes him the embodiment of the modern rock star is no one has more fun everyday than Grohl, a reminder we can all use on a daily basis.
Steve Perry/The The, Comeback Of The Year:
Former Journey frontman Steve Perry released his first album in 25 years and The The performed their first tour in 18 years. So how do you choose one? You can’t, or at least I can’t. Two very different artists, but both possessing the same integrity and artistic drive that led them to walk away from music and return only when they had something to say. And in the case of Perry’s Traces album and The The’s stunning comeback tour, both proved more than worth the wait and only enhanced the legacy of each. Hopefully this is the start of a long second run for each and not just a one off.
Neil Diamond, Nice Guy:
Six months after retiring from touring due to Parkinson’s, Diamond surprised Colorado firefighters with a private performance. That is absolutely keeping in character with Diamond, also a massive dog lover who has very publicly encouraged shelter rescues over the years. But this honor, is, for me very personal. In June of this year my mom passed away. I have been fortunate to know Diamond for many years and before she passed away he sent her a personalized get well message that she shared with countless friends with pride before she passed. So whether it was publicly or privately for fans, Diamond continued to give back as he has for 50 years.
Billie Eilish, Breakthrough Of The Year
As I just wrote about after Eilish’s sold-out run in L.A. Eilish is a phenomenon. You’ve heard the staggering number of a billion streams, read all the interviews, heard “You Should See Me In A Crown” everywhere. But as I wrote it is the fandom and frenzy Eilish inspires that is most exciting and inspiring. And just like Dua Lipa, a fellow young pop star making the genre much more exciting than it’s been in years, it’s the swagger and complete authenticity that stands out and bodes well for a long run.
Paul Simon, Farewell Tour Of The Year
This year began as the year of the farewell tour with countless acts announcing they were saying goodbye to the road in 2018. But no one did it with more grace, class and beauty than Paul Simon on a nightly basis. Taking listeners on a magical three-hour journey through his five-decade long career, Simon made fans laugh and cry as he delivered the beauty of songs like “American Tune” and “Homeward Bound” and dance with glee on “Graceland” and “Boy In The Bubble.” It was a fitting and elegant farewell to the road from one of America’s all-time greats.
Gary Clark Jr., Live Show You Cannot Miss in 2019
Clark’s considerable prowess as a guitarist has been undeniable from the start. But on his superb new album, due next year, his writing and vocals have evolved to match the stunning guitar work. The results are powerful on record and live they are mind blowing. Clark previewed much of the new material on a recent tour including four sold-out nights in L.A. They were definitely in contention for best shows of 2018. And in 2019, after he and his band have had time to learn the material, wow. This is your tip for 2019. Do not miss this show.
Alison Wonderland/Patti Smith, Best Interview
I was lucky to have a lot of great conversations this year. Slash, Grohl, Billy Corgan and Rod Stewart all stand out considerably. But these two very different interviews were unforgettable for very different reasons. Smith is an inspiring activist, a rock icon who lifts the spirits of any and all in her wake. In these difficult times her resolve and optimism are even more forceful and necessary. And it is inspiring in a different way a 71-year-old rocker has the best music account on Instagram, check it out. Her account reflects the openness and enlightenment Smith brings to her music and art. She is a national treasure. And Wonderland is another breakout star, a fast-rising DJ who is equally open in the ups and downs of life on the road and in music. And her enthusiasm for music and life is infectious.
Alanis Morissette/Hootie & The Blowfish, Most Anticipated Comeback Of 2019
This is another honor looking ahead. But it’s nice to have so much to be excited for in 2019 musically and let’s face it, the ’90s are cool again and these are two of the most iconic artists of that era. Morissette showed this year, coming back after eight years, she is ready to reclaim her place as one of the most compelling figures in music. Her Arroyo Seco set was masterful. And she is reported to have new music next year, which hopefully will lead to more dates. And Hootie, come on. If you’re not excited to see “Only Wanna Be With You” on their just-announced 44 date U.S. tour, well, that is your problem. Millions of the rest of us will be smiling and singing along all summer.