Here is the best music we heard in the past year. Most, but not all, of Howie’s picks were released in 2018. Cory will explain his picks below.
Top 14 (in random order)
Wye Oak, “The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs” – Jenn and Andy are some of my favorite kinds of musicians; just so far out on their own trip that points of reference fade. There are familiar guitars and drums and synths, but they put them together in their own private, idiosyncratic way without losing groove, melody, or immediacy.
Kamasi Washington, “Heaven and Earth” – Washington balances his influences – bop, psych, Latin jazz, soul, the theme from the original “Star Trek” – differently on each track; with multiple listens the whole two-and-a-half-hour experience grows less overwhelming and more varied. Always good to spend time in his cosmos.
Cosmic Ground, “IV” / “relics vol.1” / “relics vol.2” – Dirk’s kosmische project and perennial Best Music We Heard favs Cosmic Ground had a productive year, with a new record (really a double) and two batches of old odds and ends. You’re into the Berlin school or you aren’t, and this won’t change your mind… but it might prove a gateway.
P.O.S., “Chill, Dummy” (2017) – “Next time you ask yourself where hip-hop is going, ask yourself: where am I going?” observed Mos Def in “Fear Not of Man.” P.O.S. is going to an arty-but-knocking place no one’s been before, and this is his transmission back. Five records in, and this dude sounds about ten times hungrier than your favorite rapper. (Doomtree #3 / 3).
Dessa, “Chime” – She’s back, with her leanest, feistiest batch of torch songs yet; the bangers bang harder, the ballads cut deeper. Reading this year’s book, “My Own Devices,” adds depth to an already-deep record. One of three Doomtree crew albums on my list this year; MSP out here killing it!
Young Bull, “Midnight Climax” – My hometown rock & rollers have been drinking hard at the Church of Lemmy between studio sessions where they put a polish on songs from 2015’s “Demo” plus some new ones (see closer “Chainwhipped,” which is exactly as heavy as the title sounds).
Helium, “Pirate Prude” (1994) / “Superball+” (1994) / “The Dirt Of Luck” (1995) / “The Magic City” (1997) – I rampage through an old band’s discography every year (several bands, usually) and this year it was Helium. “The Dirt Of Luck” is out of print on CD and it outrages me; we need to be talking about Helium at the level we talk about Quicksand or Throwing Muses or Hum, and I don’t think we are yet.
The Breeders, “All Nerve” – Up against the wall, probably my record of the year. I’d never have guessed they could do it in 2018, or how satisfying it would be to have an amazing Breeders record this far into the future. “Last Splash” and “Pod” will always loom large, but… honestly… this may be their best-*written* record. Period.
BUMMER, “Holy Terror” – KCMO’s bastard sons of The Jesus Lizard do it harder, faster, and shorter than you. Finding new and exciting ways to sound mega-pissed-off on stage, and be totally nice off, since 2012!
Janelle Monae, “Dirty Computer” – Her St. Louis show was the highlight of my musical year, hands down: crack band, phenomenal dancing, amazing visuals, and Janelle at the center of it all, magnetic. Doesn’t hurt that the excellent album is accompanied by a sci-fi “emotion picture,” either.
Shredders, “Dangerous Jumps” (2017) – P.O.S., Sims, Lazerbeak, and Paper Tiger toss off a quick one that somehow, to my ears, captures some Beastie Boy energy while sounding fresh as heeeeellllllllll. I get the sense it started as a lark but I could do with a follow-up as soon as they’re ready. (2nd Doomtree record I’m blurbing; may not be the 2nd you read!)
Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, “Wasteland” – A return to form plus some twists after 2015’s slightly uninspired “The Night Creeper.” There may be a bit of a concept lurking in the background, but for now I’m just enjoying the old school riffs and double vocals.
Yob, “Our Raw Heart” – Following a health scare (“scare” doesn’t do it justice; he could easily have died), Mike and the band return with a record that sprawls over every mode Yob has ever tried, from the harshest to the prettiest, and does them all at a higher level than before. This is the sound of masters, crafting unbridled brutality and beauty over 73 gripping minutes.
Jon Hopkins, “Singularity” – This record divides in half, with choppy, noisy bangers up front and near-straight ambient in the back half. Closing tracks “Luminous Beings” / “Recovery,” featured in an excellent episode of the podcast “Song Exploder,” stitch the disparate elements together seamlessly.
Condor – Unstoppable Power (2017)
Hiss Golden Messenger – Hallelujah Anyhow (2017)
Judas Priest – Painkiller (1990)
Robyn – Honey
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Sparkle Hard
Need to check out:
Low – Double Negative (which almost certainly would have made the main list if I had spent more time with it)
Below will be a sorta goofy list from your main man Cory, on account of we had a baby in late 2017 that was supposed to come out of my wife in February of 2018, so it was an “early surprise family baby.” (Howie was there when it all went down; ask him about the howls!)
That meant I was AWOL for the year-end list in 2017, for the first time… so now I have to be extra WOL this year.
Well anyway, this post is going well so far and it’s just the beginning. Here’s some stuff I got excited about this year (and maybe last year! ):
Look Park, “Look Park” (2016) – The album I was listening to on Spotify ended, and since I was driving, I let Spotify play me some other stuff it thinks I would like. Sometimes, like with Look Park, it works! I heard a few songs and was like “GD, that sounds like the dude from Fountains of Wayne, which would make me mad except the songs are so good.” And then I look it up and it’s Chris Collingwood from Fountains of Wayne (blonde guy). It’s folkier and organic sounding than FoW but it’s still got all that great songwriting.
David Brubeck Quartet, (full discography) (1946-2007) – This group exemplifies what I love most about jazz, especially the real moody “rainy-day Paris with coffee and a long-ass cigarette” type of vibe. I love music that makes me think of New York in autumn, and they’ve got a song called “Autumn in Washington Square.” I LOVE it.
Miles Davis, “Kind of Blue” (1959) – I keep thinking I already talked about this record, and it’s because I did in another guest blog post… but I haven’t yet for MFR I don’t think (You have. -h). Anyway, this album is perfect. Especially when you have aquamarine lighting and tea and some writing to do. A+.
People should really think about giving this kid a chance.
Ra Ra Riot, “Need Your Light” (2016) and “Valerie” (2013) – I always read their band name in articles about Vampire Weekend, so I didn’t want to listen to them. Their name is too cutesy and they look like a band that *thinks* they’re VW but aren’t as good at writing songs. I still think VW is better, but Ra Ra Riot is the real deal. “Water” is undeniable (although weirdly it does feature Rostam Banmanglij, former member of VW), and their cover of Steve Winwood’s “Valerie” is my jam of the summer.
Jamie xx, “In Colour” (2015) – After getting obsessed with Burial, my friend Jesse let me know that if I liked Burial, I’d probably like this. I’d tried to listen to it before, but didn’t get it. I wanted to give it another shot, so I put it on in the car home one day. The first track is “Gosh,” and it’s sorta silly but really fun, and when the subtle bass drops halfway through, it’s the best.
Steely Dan, “Aja” (1977) – I’m officially a dad, and thus, I’m slowly getting obsessed with records that my dad’s obsessed with. I always thought Steely Dan was cheesy dad-music because my dad’s the only person who ever listened to them around me, but I’d only heard the hits. Then I decided to listen to Aja because it’s so lauded, and the hype is real and founded. Currently obsessed with “Peg.” (It’s weird to love a band that always seems to be mocking me for listening to them, but here we are.)
Four Tet, “New Energy” (2017) – This isn’t majorly profound or anything like that, but it’s also perfect for listening to at night when you’re doing some writing or whatever. It sets the exact right curious-blissful-serene-spacy mood we’re all looking for so we can listen to it when we write bad jokes.