So here is my year end list for 2018. I don’t think much of the cardinality of a countdown when it comes to assessing art and music, who am I to judge? But I can play with the form as well as the next guy, I don’t put too much into numbers and rankings really, from me or anyone else for that matter. Suffice it to say this is the stuff that got my middle aged ass grooving in 2018 and although there are numbers assigned to each, it’s in no particular order for the most part. I am also 100% sure I have missed something I loved listening to, sorry for that…..
Descending order is to be all dramatic and stuff, definitely not in descending value. I hate this format. It makes me itch. I’m doing something different next year.
20. Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John
A cover version of a song you may have dismissed for whatever reason in the past, will let you hear that song with new ears. One of my all time crushes Juliana Hatfield serves up 14 tracks in tribute to one of her own heroes growing up, Olivia Newton John. This is a tribute only Juliana could do and maybe it took the hindsight of a 30 plus year career to pull it off in a way that allows Juliana to loan some indie cred to these songs and to honor them and the career of ONJ without stooping to smirking hipster irony. Look, it’s always about the songs isn’t it? These songs are all wonderful and Juliana’s sweet and often fragile voice serves these songs perfectly.
Highlights: “A Little More Love”, “Physical”, “Magic”
19. John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness
John Prine sounds like America doesn’t he? His first album of original songs in a decade is like listening to a friend sit back in a old overstuffed chair telling you stories that keep you captivated from the first word. As one would expect from Prine, the point of view is weary from the passing of time and the rigors of just staying alive on this planet as we all march toward our eventual mortality, I mean who else would write a song about a nursing home and make you smile while listening to it? John Prine is a treasure and I feel like no matter how much I go back and listen to him, that I’ve still missed the train. Maybe that’s the point.
Highlights: “Summer’s End”, “Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone)”
18. Rosalía – El Mal Querer
My Spanish is just not good enough to be able to understand what is going on in this album from a lyrical perspective but that’s just fine. Flamenco-Pop artist Rosalía is such a break through star in her native Spain that this, her second album, has been released on a major label, not some boutique imprint, and maybe it’s because of the modernity she brings to the table on this release. At times embracing pop and at other times branching into experimentation. This is a compelling album from an interesting artist and sometimes it’s freeing to not know every word spoken. You Americans should try it.
Highlights: “Pienso en Tu Mirá”, “Bagdad”
17. Thunderpussy – Thunderpussy
As much as I find Bob Lefsetz interesting, he’s wrong about one thing; rock aint dead. Not as long as these women from Seattle have anything to say about it. Thunderpussy are unabashed rockers with the chops to back up the bravado. A modern day Runaways without the unfortunate jail bait subtext, to steal a phrase from Paul Westerberg, Thunderpussy “rock like murder” and they do it without resorting to antics. Molly Sides is one of rock’s best vocalists. I hope to get to see this band soon out here in the east coast. We need em. Play this album loud, I do.
Highlights: “Fever”, Velvet Noose”
16. J Mascis – Elastic Days
What I love about J Mascis’ solo albums is that they sound exactly like what they are, a sort of chilled out Dinosaur Jr. album. His unique voice is perfectly suited to this more stripped down format, althought I would never have predicted my saying it, at some points, like in the perfectly lovely “Web So Dense” his voice is almost pretty sounding. Dino Jr fans waiting for the classic Mascis guitar solo needn’t worry, he pops one in just about every song. This is a very nice record.
Highlights: “See You At The Movies”, “I Went Dust”, “Sky Is All We Had”
15. The Trend – J Marc Memorial Show (Live)
This one is personal. The great and wonderful Matt MacHaffie calls The Trend “Syracuse’s last great punk rock band” and he knows what he is talking about because I was there back in the day when a genius named J Marc Patenude fronted the blistering punk rock outfit The Trend, with a catalog of loud, fast songs that were heavy on the foibles of teen life in 80’s, when J Marc was tragically killed in a car crash it seemed that The Trend would die with him. Decades later The Trend have risen and play shows from time to time and let me tell you, when you see The Trend play its like a punk rock hurricane of fun. What rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be, recorded at Syracuse’s legendary Moletrax studio this CD gives you a little taste of what I’m talking about.
Highlights: “Bandaid”, “Don’t Talk To Her, She’s Just The Maid”, “Peer Pressure”
14. Screen Test – Through The Past Brightly
If you had a top down summer playlist that didn’t include “Notes From Trevor”, you were doing it wrong. Screen Test are a bellwether band for me, the offshoot of the legendary and unstoppable Flashcubes have released a must have collection of pure pop for all people. Gary Frenay will always be one the best power pop song writers of all time and for me, up there with the best that genre has to offer. Arty Lenin is Mr. Perfection on Guitar and one of the great pop singers as well. Recommended for fans of any good power pop, I’m thinking of The Records (RIP John Wicks), or The Raspberries and while we are speaking of the Raspberries, the whole thing was produced by Raspberries producer and Screen Test/Flashcubes drummer Tommy Allen, for my money Tommy is in the drummers holy trinity along with Misters Moon and Burke. These inspired humans have been making noise for as long as I’ve been seeing live music and every note these guys play is a delight
Highlights: “Notes From Trevor”, “Best Seller”, “Make Something Happen”
13. Natalie Prass – The Future And The Past
I’m bopping in my seat as I write this to one of the best groove oriented albums of the year. Natalie Prass has such a smooth and instantly likeable voice you almost don’t notice when the lyrical content is directly confronting the dark times of the nation it was recorded in. Resistance you can dance to that reaches back to the best of 90’s R & B without being a nostalgia trip.
Highlights: “Short Court Style”, “The Fire”
12. Strange to Look At – EP
Mysterious and dramatic, Syracuse’s Strange to Look At have released the most unique and interesting CD of the year. There is nothing else that sounds like them. Sounding like the bastard spawn of Portishead, and Goldfrapp if they mated in a Hammer Films retrospective, Strange To Look At produce hauntingly romantic mood music that you can groove to. If this were a right and just society “Tie Me” would already be on any decent taste making radio outlet. My home town’s most buzzed about band. I cant wait to see what they come up with next, but you know, no pressure or anything. My favorite new band of recent memory.
Highlights: “Tie Me”, “I Only Dream of You”
11. Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer
I always have so much trouble with Father John Misty, I loved his first album right away, but I had to be pulled kicking and screaming into his next two, on God’s Favorite Customer, his fourth, he’s made me a believer again. An album full of great songs that do seem to be a bit of a post modern take on soft rock of the 70’s, at time sounding like a disciple of Lennon but more often like what Ryan Adams snakily called “Elton John on LSD” and is that a bad thing?
Highlights: “Please Don’t Die”, “Mr. Tillman”
10. Hollie Cook – Vessel of Love
Hollie Cook is rock royalty, her father is Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook, her mother is a well respected background vocalist, her godfather is Boy George, that’s a lot of pedigree to live up to and Hollie does more than hold her own with her rocksteady reggae flavored tropical pop. This is the CD to play in your backyard while your having that summer drink in the shade. Vessel of Love sounds like the lush vacation in the sun you were dreaming about. You know about me and reggae right?
Highlights: “Angel Fire”, “Survive”
9. Leon Bridges – Good Thing
It seems folly and shortsighted, in my opinion, to try to pigeonhole Leon Bridges as some kind of 60’s throwback with a Sam Cooke obsession. It would be a far better musical world were we ALL so obsessed. Bridges continues to carve his own niche in R ‘n’B or in the unfortunately labeled “neo soul” genre. What I hear is an artist who loves music that came before him and honors it in the same way a jazz player carries on that also unique to America tradition and brings his own take to the artform. Bridge’s has one of those velvet smooth soul voices that stops you in your tracks with a groove that will have you dancing in your kitchen, like I just did.
Highlights: “Bad Bad News”, “Beyond”
8. U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
Meghan Remy’s fantastic collection of post punk perfection has been in heavy rotation for me since it came out. Her charming vocals often camouflage a sardonic world view, as in the Blondiesque M.A.H which is a criticism from the left of an American President but not the one you’re thinking of. Recorded with an collective of other members of the Toronto music scene. In a Poem Unlimited is an album that will remind you of 60’s pop, ABBA, and 80’s New Wave, and modern electropop sometimes all on the same song.
Highlights: “Rosebud”, “Velvet 4 Sale”
7. boygenius – EP
It is a cruel world indeed when a recording as good as this is a painfully brief as it is. The collaboration of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker has produced a product of such great songwriting and singing that when the six songs are done, you’re left thinking “is that all there is?” This is a beautiful sounding collection. Full of emotional weight and angelic harmony, this is every bit the successor in concept to the fantastic case/lang/veirs collaboration a couple years back.
Highlights: “Bite The Hand”, “Salt In The Wound”
6. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
In political conversations the old saw goes “we get the leaders we deserve”. We know that’s bullshit, especially now because nobody deserves the leaders we have currently in the US but it is true that we get the art we need, when we need it, sometimes whether we know we need it or not. Wide Awake! Is definitely the art we need at the current moment, sometimes, ok maybe a lot of times, reminding you of Pavement, sometimes reminding you of The Minutemen, it would be easy to write Parquet Courts off as a throwback but that would be wrong. “Mardi Gras Beads” slips into a 60’s psychedelia vibe like something off of a Nuggets compilation while “Total Football” is what The Hold Steady might sound like if they dropped their Springsteen fixation and cranked out a punk rock rabble rousing shout along song. Great songs, great lyrics and a total blast to have at max volume as you drive too fast. A really great album and Fuck Tom Brady indeed.
Highlights: “Total Football”, “Tenderness”
5. Belly – Dove
I was an enormous fan of Belly back in the 90’s, entirely mesmerized with their dreamy pop sound and oftentimes enigmatic lyrics. When they broke up following the commercial disappointment of their criminally under appreciated sophomore release King I felt like American music buried it’s best kept secret in it’s own backyard. 24 years later they have regrouped and have not missed a step. Hearing Dove is like having an old friend back, one that’s come back to you older, wiser and with the maturity that only experience can give. Tanya Donnelly’s voice is still one of my favorites in music.
Highlights: “Shiny One”, “Army of Clay”, “Stars Align”
4. Mitski – Be The Cowboy
Mitski’s latest album is her most pop oriented and in many ways her most ambitious. Fourteen short, punchy songs that touch on a variety of influences play out like a series of fourteen personal monologues about relationships and life in general. Sometimes with a forlorn country flavor like “Lonesome Love” or like a twisted Bacharach sound on “Me and My Husband” which starts with an exasperated heavy sigh.
Highlights: “Washing Machine Heart”, “Nobody”
3. The Kennedys – Safe Until Tomorrow
In a career full of outstanding albums to say that Pete and Maura Kennedy have released their best yet is a strong statement, but that’s just what they did. A CD full of their trademark master class level songwriting with tracks that run the gamut from jangle pop perfection to countrified toe tappers about spicing up a cup a coffee. There is even a couple laments of the current political moment in time that are done with such hope and subtlety. Resistance without being jingoistic. Maura Kennedy’s crystal clean voice even pulls off a cover of Midnight Train to Georgia that would make Gladys Knight proud. (Inside baseball: I asked Maura if she is her own Pips on the song, she is.) Pete Kennedy is a guitar virtuoso and master arranger. This album is positively delightful.
Highlights: “Safe Until Tomorrow”, “Is Anybody Listening”, “Don’t Talk To Strangers” everything else.
2. Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth
The most talked about jazz release in recent memory is an ambitious undertaking that makes for exhilarating listening. This thing is over two hours long and touches all the things that are in my kind of cosmic wheelhouse at the moment. Soulful playing, throwing in some R & B flourishes now and again and all wrapped in a kind of spiritual wrapper that makes this album one I have not been able to stop listening to. It’s worth the effort to dig into.
Highlights: “The Invincible Youth”, “Testify”
1. Root Shock – Many Paths EP
You know me, I love them. For me, music is an emotional thing and It’s got to have a rhythm that carves into your very soul and frees your ass to move. In these days of so much angst and anger, I was looking for the medicine these people are cooking up with their bouillabaisse of reggae flavored soul. I have made it my avocation to try to bring everyone close to me into this appreciation with me, I’ve had some luck doing that and everyone who I have brought with me has been insanely impressed because these guys are the best live band playing today, full stop. Many Paths is five songs of radio ready perfection and the best recorded output by anyone this year. I’m not writing this because (full disclosure) I am friendly with members of this band, I’m writing this because it’s true. Find out for yourself. https://rootshockmusic.com
Highlights: The whole EP is a highlight, but if Ripple doesn’t give you goosebumps you should go get a full psychological workup.
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