Best of 2018

Whew! This took a lot longer to compile than I thought. As I’d said previously, it was a banner year for great music and it was tough to narrow it all down to my favorite top fifteen albums and songs! This time I went with the albums and songs that (I believe) I not only listened to the most, but the ones I kept coming back to time and again because they were just that enjoyable. Many of them were also part of my writing session heavy rotation.

I’ve also added my silly side lists of releases that may not have hit the top spots but certain got notice in other ways.

TOP 15 ALBUMS
15. The Decemberists, I’ll Be Your Girl
14. Eric Bachmann, No Recover
13. The Beatles, The Beatles (Super Deluxe Edition)
12. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Wrong Creatures
11. Wye Oak, The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs
10. Metric, Art of Doubt
9. Arctic Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
8. Shame, Songs of Praise
7. Failure, In the Future Your Body Will Be the Furthest Thing from Your Mind
6. The Neighbourhood, The Neighbourhood / Hard to Imagine the Neighbourhood Ever Changing
5. Lucy Dacus, Historian
4. Snow Patrol, Wildness
3. Johnny Marr, Call the Comet
2. GoGo Penguin, A Humdrum Star
1. Bob Moses, Battle Lines

TOP 15 SONGS
15. The Damned, “Standing On the Edge of Tomorrow”
14. Arctic Monkeys, “Four Out of Five”
13. Parquet Courts, “Wide Awake”
12. The Decemberists, “Severed”
11. Sylvan Esso, “Parad (W/M)E”
10. Johnny Marr, “Hi Hello”
9. Death Cab for Cutie, “Gold Rush”
8. Local H, “Innocents (Edited for Television)”
7. GoGo Penguin, “Raven”
6. Lucy Dacus, “Addictions”
5. K/DA & Madison Beer & (G)I-DLE, “Pop/Stars”
4. tUnE-yArDs, “Heart Attack”
3. Lucius, “Woman”
2. Bob Moses, “Heaven Only Knows”
1. Snow Patrol, “Life On Earth”

BEST NON-ALBUM SINGLES AND EPS
Sylvan Esso, “Parad(W/M)E”
Failure, In the Future EP
Failure, Your Body Will Be EP
Failure, The Furthest Thing EP
Local H, “Innocents (Edited for Television)”
Various Artists, Universal Love – Wedding Songs Reimagined EP
Prince, “Nothing Compares 2 U”
Childish Gambino, “This Is America”
Weezer, “Africa” / “Rosanna”
Matt Nathanson, Pyromattia EP
Dave Grohl, Play EP
Live, Local 717 EP
Nothing But Thieves, What Did You Think When You Made Me This Way? EP
boygenius, boygenius EP
K/DA & Madison Beer & (G)I-DLE, “Pop/Stars”
Mutemath, Voice in the Silence EP

BEST ALBUMS TO BLAST WITH HEADPHONES
Shame, Songs of Praise
Preoccupations, New Material
Pinkshinyultrablast, Miserable Miracles
Soft Science, Maps
Cloud Nothings, Last Building Standing

BEST RETURN AFTER A LONG HIATUS
The Breeders, All Nerve
Tracey Thorn, Record
Andrew WK, You’re Not Alone
Jesus Jones, Passages
Belly, Dove
Arctic Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
The Get Up Kids, Kicker EP
The English Beat, Here We Go Love
Dubstar, One
Robyn, Honey
Dead Can Dance, Dionysus
The Good, the Bad & the Queen, Merrie Land
Art Brut, Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!

BEST ACOUSTIC/REWORKINGS ALBUM
Lucius, Nudes
The Naked and Famous, A Still Heart
Beach Slang, Everything Matters But No One Is Listening (Quiet Slang)
Alt-J, Reduxer
St Vincent, MassEducation

BEST BOX SETS AND REISSUES
Wire, Nine Sevens
Bow Wow Wow, Your Box Set Pet: The Complete Recordings 1980-1984
Black Box Recorder, Life Is Unfair
The Cure, Mixed Up (Deluxe Edition)
Guns n’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction (Super Deluxe Edition)
Public Image Ltd, The Public Image Is Rotten (Songs from the Heart)
Various Artists, C89
Prince, Anthology: 1995-2010
Various Artists, Live Aid
Phil Collins, Plays Well with Others
John Lennon, Imagine (The Ultimate Collection)
Semisonic, Feeling Strangely Fine (20th Anniversary Edition)
The Beatles, The Beatles (Super Deluxe Edition)

…and that’s it! Hope everyone has a wonderful, fun-filled and rockin’ 2019!

END NOTE! I’ll be taking a bit of time off from blogging, starting in January, for personal reasons. I’m not sure how long this hiatus will last, but I’m not going to be making any scheduled posts for a while. I will try to post here every now and again, though I most likely won’t have them on any strict schedule. As always, thank you for following, and I hope 2019 treats you well!

See ya on the flip side!

2018 In Review, Part I: January – March

Originally I was going to go with a favorites-of-2018 post and follow it up with my end of year mixtape list, but while I was going over the releases this past year I found I just could not do it justice with only one post.  Yes there were that many excellent albums out this year!

So instead, I’m doing a four-part post for the last four posts of the year with an overview of all the albums, singles, and EPs (and there were surprisingly many of the latter two!), focusing on each quarter.  I’ll then follow up with my mixtape post on the 31st.  Each post is going to be pretty long, so these should keep you entertained!

Starting with Q1, January to March…

BØRNS, Blue Madonna, released 12 January.  Quirky alternapop that’s fun to listen to without being precious or cloying.

Sylvan Esso, “PARAD(w/m)E” single, released 12 January.  A single-only follow up to 2017’s fantastic What Now, it’s light and fluffy fun.

Shame, Songs of Praise, released 12 January.  Amazing and melodic punk similar to the really cool stuff you’d hear on 120 Minutes back in the late 80s   I absolutely love this album.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Wrong Creatures, released 12 January.  Their best record yet — full of power and emotion and finely tuned into great songs.

tUnE-YaRdS, I can feel you creep into my private life, released 19 January.  “Heart Attack” is up there as one of my favorite tracks of the year.  Merrill Garbus is so much fun to listen to.

Django Django, Marble Skies, released 26 January.  A strange band with an irresistibly catchy sound.

GoGo Penguin, A Humdrum Star, released 9 February.  Rarely does an album blow me away this completely.  Inventive jazz that infuses all different kinds of genres.  One of my favorite albums of the year.

Lucy Dacus, Historian, released 2 March.  A fantastic songwriter, I keep coming back to this album again and again.  One of my favorites of the year.

Lucius, Nudes, released 2 March.  “Woman” has to be my favorite song of the year; it’s so delicate and sparse, yet it wields so much power and emotion and the dual vocal melody is so perfect that it continues to give me shivers.

The Naked and Famous, A Still Heart, released 9 March.  A stripped-down collection of their singles and album cuts, it’s a lovely and relaxing record.  This one got some major play during my writing sessions.

The Neighbourhood, The Neighbourhood, released 9 March.  They’ve gotten bolder and more experimental with each album, and this one nails it.  

Editors, Violence, released 9 March.  One of my “I will buy anything they release” bands, they didn’t let me down.  

The Decemberists, I’ll Be Your Girl, released 16 March.  One of their most heartfelt albums and one of their best.  So many great tracks on this one.

Meshell Ndegeocello, Ventriloquism, released 16 March.  She takes her favorite 80s soul and pop songs and brilliantly makes them her own.

Jack White, Boarding House Reach, released 23 March.  I was surprised at how great this album was!  I’m a passive fan, but this one is one of his best.

Preoccupations, New Material, released 23 March. This band gets better and better with each release.  They can switch from Slowdive-y shoegaze to Wire-y punk seamlessly.

Failure, In the Future EP, released 30 March. An unconventional release, in which four parts of a full album drop each quarter, and they pulled it off perfectly.

**

Coming Thursday: 2018, Q2!

Mixtape: Listen in Silence XXIV

Yes, the current volume of Listen In Silence is number twenty-four.  Not bad for a mixtape series I started back in 1988, yeah?  Missed a few years in between, but I’m glad to say after I resurrected it, it’s still going strong.  The links are for the YouTube videos because I can’t be arsed to attempt to build a Spotify playlist right now.  Enjoy!

Side 1
1. John Hardy, “Hidden Title Theme”
2. Gorillaz feat. George Benson, “Humility”
3. Bob Moses, “Heaven Only Knows”
4. Mitski, “Nobody”
5. Death Cab for Cutie, “Gold Rush”
6. The Kooks, “No Pressure”
7. Eric Bachmann, “Daylight”
8. tunng, “Crow”
9. Metric, “Dark Saturday”
10. James, “Many Faces”
11. Lucy Dacus, “Night Shift”

Side 2
1. Death Cab for Cutie, “I Dreamt We Spoke Again”
2. Gorillaz, “Tranz”
3. tunng, “Dark Heart”
4. Dog Party, “Operator”
5. Nothing, “Us/We/Are”
6. Paul McCartney, “Fuh You”
7. The Neighbourhood, “Softcore”
8. Jungle, “Happy Man”
9. Failure, “Heavy and Blind”
10. Art Brut, “Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!”
11. The London Suede, “The Invisibles”
12. ShadowParty, “Celebrate”
13. Mogwai, “We’re Not Done (End Title)”

Favorite Tracks: The Boys of Summer

It’s that time of year again. The time when I get all nostalgic about the end of a season, when I talk about how the days are getting shorter, the weather’s getting cooler, and all the kids are back in school.  When I start binge-listening to Cocteau Twins and other early 4AD bands.  When I get another one of those itches to write moody poetry and song lyrics.  And of course, when I start reminiscing about all the great albums that came out in the fourth quarter during my record store years.

Well, I could go on about those things, but I think I’ve already done them enough times for the time being, so I’ll spare you those entries for now.  Heh.

On the other hand, I will say that “The Boys of Summer” is quite possibly the best end-of-summer song ever written.

It started out as an instrumental demo written by Mike Campbell (guitarist for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers), initially for inclusion somewhere on their Southern Accents album but unused.  After hearing Don Henley needed some music, he let him listen to the demo, and almost immediately, Henley had words for it.

It’s not just a song about the passage of time, however.  It’s not a song about wondering where childhood went, although on the surface there is that theme.  It’s more about, as Henley said in a Rolling Stone interview, the idea of aging and questioning the past.

In a way, it might have a passing similarity in theme to The Motels’ “Suddenly Last Summer”, but in all honesty, it’s more similar to The The’s “Jealous of Youth” in terms of theme.  It’s not a happy song, but neither is it a sad one.  It’s about coming to terms with the age you’re presently at, and all the conflicts that come along with it.  Feeling too old to embrace the wonder of summer, but too young to let it go.  Feeling frustrated when the signs of age sneak up on you unexpectedly — even if it’s in the form of a sticker of a nonconformist band’s logo on the bumper of a high-end car.

It’s a gorgeous melody, all told.  It’s high and hopeful, yet sad and lonesome at the same time.  It’s fast and tense, yet so delicately produced that it feels fragile.  Even the punk cover done by The Ataris in 2003 retains that mood, changing only the bumper sticker to Black Flag’s, making the song all the more poignant for us Gen-Xers.

2018: Favorite Tunes of the Year, So Far

All the cool kids and music blogs are doing it, so I might as well do the same!  Here’s some of my favorite tunes for the first half of 2018.  It’s been an interesting year for releases… lots of new names mixing in with the current ones, as well as a few classic bands making a welcome return after a long hiatus.

The Neighbhourhood, “Dust”. First popped up on their To Imagine EP and then as a bonus track on the deluxe version of their self-titled album. This is not the pop of “Sweater Weather” but the weird synthpop of 1981. I love the direction this band went in. I especially like the way they ended this track.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, “Little Thing Gone Wild”. Wrong Creatures is a fantastic record from start to finish, probably my favorite of theirs at the moment. I love the groovy unhinged blues of this particular track.

tUnE-yArDs, “Heart Attack”. Such emotion and power behind this track! I love cracking this one up whenever it comes on. It’s in my top 5 right now.

GoGo Penguin, “Raven”. I’m usually never this excited about a jazz band, but these guys blow me away every time I listen to them. They blend trio jazz and drum-and-bass beats so amazingly well on this track that by the time it’s over I wish it was still going.

Lucius, “Woman”. An absolutely gorgeous vocal duet. I love where the melody and the lyrics go with this one. It kind of reminds me of how the Indigo Girls’ vocals often play off each other, with a bit of Lennon-McCartney thrown in.

The Decemberists, “Severed”. The band goes in an unexpectedly weird and creepy direction — Colin Meloy states that it was a deliberate move to sound like their early influences like the Cure — and they pull it off well.

The Damned, “Standing On the Edge of Tomorrow”. I love how they’ve decided to revisit their early 80s sound here — this would fit quite nicely on Phantasmagoria or even The Black Album — and gave it a modern twist.

Snow Patrol, “Life on Earth”. This one tops my list so far, for many reasons. It feels like a song that’s needed right about now, as well.

I should probably post my favorite albums so far as well…maybe I’ll do that on Thursday! 🙂

A few favorite moments…

A little while back, Pitchfork posted an article in which some of their staffers list their favorite moments in certain songs.  This of course got me thinking of some of my own favorite moments…  I’m sure I could come up with a huge list, but off the top of my head, these are the ones that I come back to the most.

The Beatles, “A Day in the Life” at 2:45 — the transition between Paul’s “woke up/fell out of bed” sequence and the last verse by John, when John’s ‘ah-ah-ah’ vocals crossfade with the brass section. It’s a brilliant bit of mixing there.

Failure, “Daylight”, at 2:11 — The last verse of this doom-laden mindtrip goes from swirly dreamlike dystopia to face-punching guitar and drum crunch. Keep going and you get a hell of a great soaring guitar solo as well. This song is meant to be listed to as loud as you can get it.

Failure, “The Nurse Who Loved Me”, the last minute and a half. There’s something mathematically perfect about this ending that I love, where every beat is where it’s supposed to be…. and then drops out at the last few seconds for the last line.

The La’s, “Looking Glass”… at 5:00 — the point just after one of the final rounds of the chorus where the song breaks down, a calm moment in the music where Lee Mavers sings a plaintive ‘la-la-la’, just before the final extended instrumental round finishes off the piece. This moment inspired the “Listening” live scene near the end of Meet the Lidwells.

Lush, “Nothing Natural”… at 3:44 when the song stops cold and changes direction, the guitars leading the way, and at 5:00 when the bass drops out for another soaring moment.

Depeche Mode, “Stripped (Highland Mix)”… another soaring moment, this time at 3:53 when most of the instrumentation drops out, leaving only the various sequencer licks playing, until moments later when the drums slam the song back down to earth.

Love and Rockets, “Sweet Lover Hangover”… the band breakdown and David J’s bass bringing them back up to speed.

*

No fear, dear readers…it’s been a long weekend full of a lot of events, so hopefully I’ll be back up to speed with more exciting posts on Thursday!

Science Fiction in Music

This coming weekend at BayCon I’ll be moderating a panel called ‘The Next Generations of Science Fiction and Fantasy in Music’. I thought it was high time to talk a little bit about how SF/F has influenced music over the last couple of decades, not just aurally but visually. I’ve been talking with my co-panelists the last few days on this and I’m sure we’ll have quite a bit to talk about!

You can check out more about the con at my other blog, especially this post right here.

Meanwhile, here’s a few examples of bands, songs, albums, and styles we’ll be talking about.