Happy new year, and welcome to the 2018 Bacon Top 31! I started counting down my top 31 albums of the year in 2009, so this year’s countdown marks my tenth such list. Ten years of listening to many many albums and culling from that experience the 31 best albums each year. By the end of the 2018 list, we’ll have collectively discussed 310 albums in that span — no doubt a larger number of albums than most readers even have in their personal collections.
The Top 31 began in 2009 as a form of promotional payment to the artists I was discovering and listening to (often illegally) for free. I don’t know how many actual album purchases resulted from my touting, but knowing that number was greater than zero helped me set aside the minor tinge of guilt I felt in not paying the artists directly for the music I was listening to. I was an avid show-goer back then, and I documented the shows I went to, writing about them for a handful of small-time Seattle blogs that got me into those shows for free.
Now, ten years on, profit-by-album-purchase for these artists is all but dead, as subscription-based streaming has taken over — note I now post a link to an auto-updating 2018 Bacon Top 31 playlist via Apple Music, if you happen to be a subscriber like me. Even listening to full albums, rather than individual songs, feels like it may be antiquated. (Be that as it may, I still prefer listening to an album from song 1 to the end.) Through streaming, the artists get a very small payment each time you listen to one of their songs, but it’s much less than they would have gotten through the purchase of a full, physical-copy album. Now, apparently, with the sale of recorded music no longer a viable way to make a living as a musician, the artists look to touring as their way to break even (at best); promoting these musicians and spreading the word about when they’ll be on tour is more important than ever.
I’ve grown in years and my family in number, so show-going doesn’t happen nearly as often as it used to for me. I like going to shows, but if I can’t have a comfortable seat near the front, I’d just as soon skip the live performance. So, the way I experience music now is almost exclusively as background to the everyday events of my life, and that has shaped my tastes: it’s now way more difficult to listen regularly to albums like These Four Walls, the phenomenal and phenomenally loud #5 album of 2009 by We Were Promised Jetpacks. Does my age cause me to prefer something more mellow to listen to, or does the nature of how I listen force my hand? Over the coming year I hope to look at this ten-year dataset to see if I can answer questions like these. I’m not sure what things I’ll uncover, but I’m excited at the prospect of the prospecting.
As for 2018, it was another shitty year, politically, but another amazing year, personally. The music I listen to every day continues to play a big part in my and my family’s lives. Unlike last year, when I struggled to claim any one album as “the absolute best,” this year poses a similar-but-different problem for me in the top spots of the list. I won’t go into any detail here lest I give too much away, and maybe things will be more clear towards the end of the month. All will be revealed eventually, but for now, here’s #31!
This One’s for the Dancer & This One’s for the Dancer’s Bouquet by Moonface
Spencer Krug, I can’t quit you. While his name isn’t a household name, you most certainly would recognize his unique, warbling vibrato. Krug is the extremely prolific singer/songwriter behind many albums I’ve listened to over the last 12+ years. He’s appeared four times in previous Top 31s, twice as Moonface (#27 in 2011, #23 in 2013) and twice as half of the unstoppable Wolf Parade (#17 in 2010 and #14 in 2017). If I’d been doing the countdown prior to 2009, his 2006 and 2007 Sunset Rubdown albums would have certainly been on the list, along with Wolf Parade’s 2005 and 2008 albums. I somehow missed his 2009 Sunset Rubdown and 2012 and 2016 Moonface albums, but I aim to go back and listen. I’ve also heard his two Swan Lake albums (2006 and 2009), but they’re the only albums in the bunch that haven’t stuck with me over the years.
That’s a lot of consistent output for one man. And unlike prolific songwriters like Mark E. Smith of the Fall or Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices, Krug seems to have found the secret sauce to keeping his bandmates happy and engaged through his prolifery: have multiple and different outlets for your creativity. Instead of alienating his bandmates and cycling from one session musician to the next, Krug puts out nearly an album a year and manages to stay in his bands’ good graces.
(Did you catch that? I just made up a word. Please reach out to my legal team for permission to reuse “prolifery” before you drop it into your own missives.)
This One’s for the Dancer & This One’s for the Dancer’s Bouquet, the fifth Moonface full-length, is typical Krug. Dreamy, meandering lyrics over a beautifully dissonant combination of digital and analog sounds. Keyboards, saxophones, vocoder and steel drums play large roles across the album. It’s magical, and well worth a listen on your favorite streaming musical subscription. As I write this, I’m starting to talk myself into thinking this album should be higher than #31 for the year. But this is where I placed it when I first cut the list (earlier today), so I’m going to stick to that — future regrets be damned.