Friday, December 28, 2018

RIB's 2018 Album of the Year:
Caamp -- Boys

2018 and Everything After

For a quarter-century, “August and Everything After” has been a symbol of the unbreakable bond I share with my oldest friend. Shawn and I met a decade before the record was released, as 4-year-olds running around an apartment complex in upstate New York, but we were traveling together in Colorado when the Counting Crows debut was the rage. I recommended he pick it up. He did.

Fast forward nearly another decade, and we’re in a biker bar in Hagerstown, Maryland. We’re hiking the Appalachian Trail, and they’ve let us set up our tents in the grass outside. Beer and bar snacks never taste better than when you’ve been trudging up and down mountains in the summer heat for days on end. Music never sounds better.

One of us found “August and Everything After” on the jukebox. It’s likely a bit apocryphal, a shared myth we like to repeat, but I swear we played the whole damn album. “I know every single word,” one of us said, and, as the story goes, we proved it. Whether it was the whole album, or half, or just a couple songs, we belted it all out, not missing a beat.

We were 23 and singing along to my first Album of the Year; “August and Everything After” was the very reason I decided, as a 15-year-old in 1993, to start naming an Album of the Year each winter. I needed a way to name how special it was to me.

When I turned 40 this summer, we went to Nashville to celebrate. We played “Anna Begins” in the wee hours of the morning at the house a group of us had rented for the occasion. But Shawn and I had a new record to bond over, too, to sing along with in Music City, a record I’d discovered that had immediately made me think of Shawn. He was on assignment in Honduras when I sent it to him.

He loved it. I loved it. We love it.

And so my Album of the Year comes full circle. Twenty-five years later, Caamp’s “Boys” — a record that screams Shawn to me — is my 2018 Album of the Year.

Caamp, who I saw this summer at the Newport Folk Festival, are a group of 20-something lifelong friends, but I swear they didn’t look a day over 15, at least not banjo player/backup singer Evan Westfall. They were the first act of the day, and don’t play with the gravitas of a guy like Charlie Parr, or the inventiveness of Loma, whose debut record is my Album of the Year runner-up, but they play music that strips away cynicism. Songs for the morning, to open the window curtains to. Songs about new love and enduring friendship.

Some years I feel like quoting lyrics endlessly in these columns. And I could do that. It’s certainly deserving. But this time, there’s only one line I feel like repeating, a line that brings me back to bars with Shawn, or in the woods, or in canoes, dealing with broken hearts and family hardships, or even to a tiny mound of dirt near a fence corner that seemed so big to us as kids we called it Memory Hill and invented a million games to play on it.

“Don’t let yourself go crazy, you’re good for another round,” is the line. “It’s only love — and it hurts.”

It’s a song of comfort. It’s a song called “Song for a Friend.”

The old magic never dies.

Past winners:

1993: Counting Crows -- August and Everything After
1994: R.E.M. -- Monster
1995: The Innocence Mission -- Glow
1996: Dave Matthews Band -- Crash
1997: U2 -- Pop
1998: R.E.M. -- Up
1999: John Linnell -- State Songs
2000: Radiohead -- Kid A
2001: Bjork -- Vespertine
2002: Wilco -- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
2003: Bonnie "Prince" Billy -- Master and Everyone
2004: Wilco -- A Ghost is Born
2005: Sufjan Stevens -- Illinois
2006: The Decemberists -- The Crane Wife
2007: Radiohead -- In Rainbows
2008: Shearwater -- Rook
2009: Animal Collective -- Merriweather Post Pavilion
2010: Laura Veirs -- July Flame
2011: PJ Harvey -- Let England Shake
2012: Animal Collective -- Centipede Hz
2013: Mogwai -- Les Revenants
2014: Sun Kil Moon -- Benji
2015: The Tallest Man On Earth -- Dark Bird is Home
2016: Bon Iver -- 22, A Million
2017: Bjork -- Utopia

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