The Best Music We Heard In 2018

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)

Honorable Mention:
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! ):

Last Weekend’s Soldering

Carried three projects across the finish line last weekend (and currently am working on some others):

From left to right:

  • Drew’s late-’90s black Russian EHX Big Muff (a version 7 per Kit Rae, if I recall).  This thing sounds amazing; medium gain for a Muff, not too scooped in the mids.  It wasn’t working at all; replacing the footswitch got it going, plus I modded it to accept external power (originals are battery-only), flipped the PCB around (originals are mounted backwards), and got the original knobs back on.  The pot shafts are all in various stages of bended-ness and the pots could fail any time, so this is a studio piece.  It’ll be sad when they do because the shafts are narrow, and the cool knobs only fit on those shafts, so when the time comes for replacing the pots it will probably need new knobs
  • Malekko Helium octave fuzz/distortion.  I modded the input cap, selectable via the toggle toward the lower left on the side, which makes it a lot more useable in live performance and tracking.  Sounds great for single-note riffs but has been limited to studio use; I think this mod might earn it a permanent place on my board!
  • Mr. Furious Audio Inverting JFET amplifier.  My Mars Lights bass sound (GK pickup > Boss OC-20 > EHX POG > Music Man Sixty-Five) is out of phase with my Orange amp, so I built a simple inverting near-unity-gain (slight boost) JFET stage pedal to run in the bass signal path to put it back in phase.  Sounds like almost nothing on its own, but the whole rig sounds better when the speakers push and pull at the same time

The Secondary Mix Reference Position

Before mixes make it to the car or the stereo or the clock radio, I test them on the washing machine.

With a newly rendered mix playing on my computer speakers, this position is off-axis and and above the near-mono sound source. It reveals imbalances and other problems that aren’t immediately apparent on my carefully placed stereo studio monitors. I’ll go back and forth between the monitors and this speaker/position combination several times when I’m working on a mix before it’s ready to test elsewhere.

I’ve spent a lot of time here in the past month, with more to go. The good news is that I have one song sounding great everywhere, and can apply some of what I’ve done there to the rest.

Dark Satellites and the Beer Jesus from America

Trailers for Matt Sweetwood’s latest film The Beer Jesus From America are out:

Stone Brewing’s rock ‘n’ roll co-founder, Greg Koch, who was nicknamed “Beer Jesus” by the a Berlin tabloid newspaper, is taking his business to Germany on a mission to oppose the most beloved industrial beer in the world and join Europe’s craft beer revolution. Will he succeed? Greg must first challenge the established beer culture in a country where brewing has been restricted by the infamous 500 year old beer Purity Law . However, in his quest to fight mass market beer, it turns out that Greg has even bigger obstacles to overcome, from struggles with bureaucracy to cultural differences and stubborn traditionalism.

Besides being a cool film, we can finally talk about the music in the second clip above; it’s Dark Satellites!

Matt had put temporary tracks of too-famous-to-license So-Cal punk into a rough edit of the film, and this past summer he approached Cole for recommendations of artists who could submit music he could use in the final cut.  We decided it would be fun to break in Drew’s new garage/studio by taking a shot at it ourselves, and two instrumental tracks we wrote and recorded made it into the film.

We had fun writing and recording things with a specific purpose and parameters in mind, and are excited to see the documentary when it comes out.

Ham-Throated

This is a fantastic paragraph of music journalism, emphases mine:

[System of a Down’s] second album, Toxicity, succeeded, improbably, in a radio environment that favored simplistic formulas. Max Martin had stamped popular music with his surefire songwriting brand, ushering in a cross-genre rush of structurally identical singles from the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, and Britney Spears. System of a Down competed with the bros of Nickelback, Creed, and Staind on the alternative charts, bands that dressed up the Martin school of pop with power chords and ham-throated vocals. Most of their songs took the form of the confessional: Men apologized to women and to God for their sins, which tended to include substance abuse, emotional neglect, and general chauvinism. Post-grunge incubated a strain of sincerity so obsequious that no amount of nostalgia has yet to rehabilitate it. It lives on as a punchline that itself has grown passé.

Sasha Geffen