Why did 2018 have to be so long? This year felt like 8 years shoved into one year. I don’t know why 2018 insisted upon this length. Other years got the hint and ended when they were supposed to like good years.
Plenty of people had rough 2018 and I feel for all of you who found yourself at the end of some awful legislation and prejudice. It is pretty terrible all the things that governments tried to direct. Yet I saw a thing happen almost in opposition to this negative news. My friends came together, artists came together to create whole new communities, not to pray upon, but to care for one another. The age of the singular genius artist appears to have passed in exchange for the far more democratic inclusion. Musically I saw that all over the place.
2018 for many of my favorite musicians was a productive year. Autechre’s “NTS Sessions 1-4” basically was the culmination of about 17 years’ worth of work. So much abstraction, so many rabbit holes, lead to a solid chunk of 8 hours to get lost within. I listened to NTS Sessions 1-4 for about a whole month, letting it wash over me. Pretty impressive that they perfected what they have been doing for years.
Low completely tore up their script for “Double Negative”. Decades into their career that began in the early 90s, they went electronic and into the most fragile territory they have ever explored, which really saying something for a band that makes itself that vulnerable. Tearing apart their arrangements, allowing noise to reign, while their vocals remain more poignant than after. I listened to this throughout my Midwestern autumn, seeing the colors change on the trees as their sound tore through my headphones giving me hope that traditions can change.
Of course, Will Long’s “Long Trax” would disagree, particularly the sampled Obama stating quite bluntly “Nothing’s Changed”. But the cold, clinical take is somewhat tempered by Palberta’s warm inviting mess of “Roach Going Down” where they give the No Wave style a much-needed injection of humor. A mixture of the two comes with the oftentimes snarky sarcasm of Jerry Paper’s yacht-rock concoction of “Like a Baby”. Both snide and a bit elegant, the album exists out of any discernible genre, instead being almost comically off-putting at times.
A complete wild joy comes from U.S. Girls’ effortlessly cool “In A Poem Unlimited” whose infinite hipness becomes apparent within the first few seconds. Mining similar territory is Christina Schneider’s latest opus, the inexplicitly named Locate S,1’s “Healing Contest” where she takes funk pop melting it down just a little bit. Pop culture basically gets fried with Shit And Shine’s latest incarnation, their hard-edged bad acid trip “Bad Vibes” where they literally sample one proud idiot stating “Yeah I’m on Acid!” in a way that feels too ridiculous to be true. A similarly dark vibe though with a bit more lightness to it Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s “Sex & Food” continues down a melted field with a dusty, lived in feeling.
Flipping the script are the optimistic ones. No Age’s “Snares Like A Haircut” is basically sun-soaked in a perfect mixture of SoCal loveliness. A complete blast comes by way of Kamasi Washington’s “Heaven and Earth” which is pretty much intended for getting lost in, in the headiest way possible. By far the highlight for me comes with the triumphant hopeful ode of “The Invincible Youth” I mean I even love the song title, and I particularly love the patient yet wild buildup. Stranger still is Kamasi Washington isn’t even the only jazz record on here. Out in Berlin they have Max Graef, someone whose efforts are helping Germany to become the purveyors of futuristic retro-70s jazz funk. “Lo Siento Mucho Pero No Hablo Tu Idioma” proves that Max Graef basically can do the weirdest things possible in a way that feels uniquely magical. Nor is he alone: Frank Bretschneider’s “Lunik” adds to the proud retro tradition, with his most personal musical statement and it is an absolute joy to behold.
Pure geometry makes Gábor Lázár’s “Unfold” experimentation meets the dance floor. For
years now he’s been moving away from the Russell Haswell-inspired noise to get closer to Mark Fell’s Sensate Focus material. With “Unfold” he even surpasses Mark Fell’s most recent work and I do not say that lightly. The pulsing rhythms of Bamba Pana’s “Poaa” are all about that physicality as well. Impossibly fast material, Bamba Pana never looks back but rushes forward in epic fashion.
Slowing things way down is Tim Hecker’s spacious scope of “Konoyo”. Another personnel
favorite of mine, Tim Hecker has been doing beautifully off-kilter work for years, yet his latest album is highly emotionally charged. Distance ought to be shrunk down between the listener and the musician, which made Jeff Tweedy’s “Warm” such a surprise. I remember “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and listened to their more recent work, but it has been a while since he moved me this way. I am glad to hear him back again after so many years trying to figure it out all over. While not as long an absence for me, Father John Misty got a bit of redemption for me with “God’s Favorite Customer”, after his last album which is so boring, I won’t bore you with the name of it. Trust me, it is not worth the brainpower required to remember it, or the effort to look it up. “God’s Favorite Customer” is the stronger album for that last misstep.
Redemption continues with Mark Kozelek’s self-titled album. He puts out about 80 albums a year now, but this one felt rather sweet by his standards. Essentially Mark Kozelek puts out Podcasts to music and calls them albums. Considering that I have a chapbook coming out next year inspired by his meandering storytelling, I had to include this one. Quite soulful and coming a bit out of leftfield for me, the Cradle’s “’Bag of Holding’” gave a dreamy affectionate approach. The mention of Boca Raton, the endearing arrangements, it feels so special and alive in a quiet thoughtful way.
I would recommend Gabriella Cohen to basically anybody. She has a great degree of fun, going for some timeless classic sound. Her lyrics have a wily humor to them as the whole album feels downright charm. If you do not smile at least once to this album you are dead inside, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you that. Car Seat Headrest of course is known for its strange English-major sort of lyrics, thus “Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)” should surprise no one as what they do they do seemingly so effortlessly.
Effortless takes a lot of effort, hence why the Internet’s “Hive Mind” breezy style positively shimmers and shines. I recommend listening to “Come Over” a couple of times, just because it is a blast, as is the album as a whole, but that one feels like the heart to me. The jerkiness of Parquet Courts goes the opposite direction, feeling akin to recording a nervous breakdown. It is a lot more joyful than it sounds.
I end this with a true joy to behold, the shoegaze majesty of Grivo’s “Elude”. For years I have hoped that shoegaze would return to my ears again and not just old 90s bands reuniting, but a new wave. Yeah, I have heard Deafheaven and a few others. But Grivo’s debut album “Elude” really asks everybody to play it as loudly as possible and let it all wash over them. I want shoegaze to return to the world, the next phase, the chill pill when everything lately feels so patently unchill.
- U.S. Girls – In A Poem Unlimited
- No Age – Snares Like a Haircut
- Frank Bretschneider – Lunik
- Will Long – Long Trax 2
- Jeff Tweedy – Warm
- Max Graef – Lo Siento Mucho Pero No Hablo Tu Idioma
- Shit And Shine – Bad Vibes
- Gábor Lázár – Unfold
- Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Sex & Food
- Autechre – NTS Sessions 1-4
- Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth
- Jerry Paper – Like a Baby
- Bamba Pana – Poaa
- Low – Double Negative
- Tim Hecker – Konoyo
- Palberta – Roach Going Down
- The Internet – Hive Mind
- The Cradle – Bag of Holding
- Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)
- Mark Kozelek – Mark Kozelek
- Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
- Gabriella Cohen – Pink Is the Colour of Unconditional Love
- Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer
- Locate S,1 – Healing Contest
- Grivo – Elude
Since I listened to an inordinate amount of music, here’s some EPs I also enjoyed in case album-length feels too imposing:
- Handy – Mature Single Despots EP
- Shit & Shine – Very High EP
- Evol – Wabbit Trax
- Jeff Witscher – Approximately 1,000 Beers
- Cvx – Zibaldone III of Cvx
Honestly, Handy’s “Mature Single Despots EP” might win not only for the quite frankly ludicrous multi-dimensional electronic bounces, but for the name of that EP alone. I have yet to see a title of anything even half that good to be honest, and I like to keep it honest. Right within the same vein is Evol’s “Wabbit Trax” another romp through their acid-soaked daydreams, only this time they use a ridiculously simplistic beat, bringing them closer to that acid house sound they mock with such admiration. Looping political sloganeering to great effect and continuing down the electronic path is Cvx’s “Zibaldone III of Cvx”, with the particular highlight of “Every Tyrant in History”.
Shit & Shine were fairly prolific this year, putting out a lot of stuff, much of it unreasonably obsessed with Steely Dan’s song “Black Cow”. I recommend everyone embrace this super-melted serious of funk grooves. Basically, if Shit & Shine put various AM R&B hits into a microwave it would sound this good.
Listen to Jeff Wischer’s “Approximately 1,000 Beers” which might be easily the strangest thing to come out of 2018 and makes the whole year worth it. Words escape me. Simply turn off everything and get lost in it.
Of course, I know I missed a lot of music too. No matter what, I always give top ten, top twenty, etc. lists a listen many weeks after it matter. While I know this list is up a bit late, I am curious to hear what you liked, what do you think changed your world for the better? For me the above helped me through a strange, confusing, but ultimately rewarding year so I am curious as to what did it for you.