Here it is. Our obligatory year-end review. The following is an unranked list of albums that caught, and kept, our attention in 2018. Let
Sam Gendel & Sam Wilkes – Music For Saxofone And Bass Guitar / Wilkes: Two exceptionally strong records from the always reliable LEAVING Records. Both on his own and with saxophonist Gendel, bassist Wilkes creates foggy microclimates of sound and invites a slew of guests (including Louis Cole, Brian Green, and more) into the warm mist, leading to a surprisingly vulnerable pair of records that prove the gooey emotional power of avant-garde jazz. (buy)
Yoshinori Hayashi – Ambivalence: Is this electronic music? Is it samba? Is it jazz? Is it classical minimalism? It’s hard to say what, exactly, is happening on Ambivalence, but it’s one of the most intriguing and beguiling records of the year. At times, Hayashi comes across as a Henry Flynt figure, blurring the line between process and composition. But transcendence seems to be the point here, not merely a happy byproduct, and the Tokyo producer uses everything at his disposal to get there. He arranges African percussion, modular synth patches, Reich-ian phasing patterns, singing bowls, rattled bells, and more into a kind of tapestry of ecstasy that makes him sound like Pharoah Sanders with a copy of Ableton. (buy)
Makaya McCraven – Universal Beings: Makaya McCraven does one thing, and he does it extremely well: he edits. On his third release in the past two years, the Chicago drummer and producer recorded live improvisations with stars of the London, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles jazz scene, then processed them all into mostly unplayable soundscapes of beats, horns, and grooves – preserving both the sanctity of live improv and that of computer music at the same time. Universal Beings is his sharpest release yet, proving McCraven’s ear for sonic detail and erasing any speculation that the scenes pushing jazz forward at the moment might be more interested in competing than cooperating (buy)
Amen Dunes – Freedom: Following 2014’s breakout, Love, Amen Dunes’ Damon McMahon made arguably one of the most talked about records this year – Freedom – something that is entirely a groove unto itself. His music has been described as “outsider gospel” and “mystic folk,” and, sure enough, on the breathtakingly singular “Blue Rose,” he sings “We play religious music / I don’t think you’d understand, man.” If it sounds pretentious, it probably is. McMahon carries himself with a confident swagger that answers to no one but himself, celebrating and critiquing in the same breath the hypocrisy that seeps through the world, a bleary-eyed prophet preaching and preying on his subjects alike – the grimy underworlds of creeps and crooks, cocaine and sex, false idols and the act of looking in the fucking mirror. That he’d title a song where fawns over a high school-aged dropout “Dracula” reflects this duality with great potency. Amen Dunes is religious music – it embraces and encompasses all. The good, the bad, the ugly. All the while never forgetting that, somewhere, “there’s an ocean where you are.” As Denis Johnson wrote, “the work of a person’s life was to drink it.” (buy)
Sandro Perri – In Another Life: The title track to Sandro Perri’s first lp in seven years runs twenty-four minutes long – the centerpiece in an album that otherwise only contains three differently imagined versions of another song, “Everybody’s Paris” (Destroyer’s Dan Bejar takes the cake on that one). Perri refers to this approach as his “experiment in infinite songwriting.” It works. His songwriting increasingly elliptical, it demands close attention and repeat listens. And across this expansive and cosmic piece, bubbling swirls of minimalist synth, astral guitar moans, and glistening flashes of electronic squeaks and shimmers cements Perri’s place as our space age Arthur Russell. (buy)
Sarah Louise – Deeper Woods: Best known for her unfathomably great solo guitar work, Deeper Woods is the sound of Sarah Louise finding her voice. Tangling—or untangling—the roots of Appalachian folk with more typically exploratory music, the songs are propulsive, droning, and hypnotic. Louise is the ideal cosmic shepherd, with a voice as lithe as her guitar playing is impressionistic. Truly stunning modern folk music, equal parts reverential and revelatory—firmly rooted in the earth, but with eyes fixed up at the night sky. Her forthcoming album can’t come soon enough. (buy)
Richard Swift – The Hex: “All the angels sing, Que Sera Sera.” Fans waited almost a decade for Richard Swift to release proper solo follow up to his synth meets classic pop classic The Atlantic Ocean, but its arrival in the form of the scuzzy, echoey, and all-together lovely. The Hex was tempered by the late songwriter, sideman, and producer’s passing. But still, what a
Nathan Salsburg – Third: Ace guitarist Nathan Salsburg’s latest (perhaps greatest?) LP Third is a purely solo affair. No guests or vocals to be found here – just Salsburg and six strings. But there’s a lot of music to get lost in. Each of Third’s ten tracks is a perfectly constructed and intricate miniature, revealing more and more depth and detail upon repeated listens. He calls to mind many of the great brit-folk guitarists of days gone by (Nic Jones’ seaworthy lines, Richard Thompson’s devastating technique, John Renbourn’s easy lyricism), but at this point, Nathan is his own man. You could pick him out of a hundred players, so distinctive is his casually brilliant fingerpicking. (buy)
Ben Lamar Gay – Downtown Castles Can Never Block The Sun: When Int’l Anthem dropped Ben Lamar Gay’s debut in May, they billed it as being culled from seven albums the Chicago cornettist had put together over the previous seven years. At the time, it seemed like a nice (if dubious) bit of legend-building, and a way to add thematic unity to remarkably diverse collection of tracks that bounces from free-jazz to minimalism to heady beats. Now that those seven albums are starting to trickle out, Downtown Castles is an even-more-impressive introduction to Gay’s incredible shape-shifting abilities, and his swaggering command as an arranger. Put him in, coach, he’s ready to play. (buy)
North Americans – Going Steady: Nine tracks of lush fingerpicked guitar that slowly expand through a web of droning synthesizers. More music for the gloaming — once the long, hard work day is complete and all that can be mustered is a seat in the old Lawnlite chair with a cold High Life, some EZ Widers, and a fresh sack of what have you. Two big thumbs up for Patrick McDermott and Driftless Recordings. (buy)
Blake Mills – Look: Most readily known for his talents behind the booth as a sought after producer, Mills own work historically worked a vein of smart, fluid, Americana. Not so here. An instrumental album, at five tracks, Look finds Mills amidst a world of shimmering textures, all framed by vintage Roland guitar synthesizers. Immersive and exponentially rewarding, the set’s 25 minutes may initially play as ambient, but make no mistake, Look is much more than a passive aural excursion. (buy)
Yo Lo Tengo – There’s A Riot Going On: Like all Yo La Tengo albums, the daringly titled There’s A Riot Going On is a world unto itself. But if you had to pick an analogue from the band’s ever-expanding catalog, it would have to be 2003’s Summer Sun. Recorded by multi-instrumentalist James McNew, Riot shares a certain sensibility with that LP, boasting spacious/spacey layers, tumbling rhythms and flickering balladry, all with the friendly ghost of Sun Ra overseeing the proceedings. There’s also a notable lack of Ira Kaplan’s signature guitar skronk. But as its title suggests, one thing Riot is not is placid. Even in its loveliest moments, there’s a restless tension lurking beneath every note here, a vivid reflection of our tense times. (buy)
Peel Dream Magazine – Modern Meta Physic: One of the more true inheritors of the mantle of Stereolab to emerge in some time, this debut album from Joe Stevens under his Peel Dream Magazine name (note the John Peel reference) was significant enough to gather the interest of Slumberland Records, a fact which on its own is enough to make an aware listener know an artist is worth a chance. In a year full of great albums packed with great individual songs, Modern Meta Physic is an album of an evolving mood, spending its 40 minute run time putting you in a place that is as much a creation of some abstract sense of past as it is a channeling of the present. (buy)
Kamaal Williams – The Return: Following his split with drummer Yussef Dayes, with whom he collaborated in the excellent abbreviated duo Yussef Kamaal, the London keyboardist expands on his already considerable talent on his debut as a bandleader. His playing is swishy and Herbie Hancock–esque, and his tones are fat and juicy; they squeak like a wet balloon being forced into a pipe. Still, what makes The Return special is its looseness of spirit. With production cues reminiscent of Anderson Paak and Kaytranada, it’s equal parts beat tape and jazz odyssey. (buy)
Alice Coltrane – Spiritual Eternal: A decade after her passing in 2007, Alice Coltrane is experiencing a major resurgence in interest and influence. First came Luaka Bop’s compilation of devotional music recorded at her ashram, 2017’s The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda, as well as a small handful of performances inspired by her spiritual music. Now, Real Gone’s collection of the music Coltrane recorded for Warner Bros. showcases her ambition, and her attempts to challenge the norms of both jazz and traditional classical music in the final secular recordings of her career. Thick, bluesy romps are offset by squealing quasars of synth, string quartets bow to Coltrane’s elegant harp, and heavy organ drone through everything, all of it suggesting an evolution of the sound she crafted for Impulse! in the ’70s, and a preview of the ecstasy she’d generate years later. (buy)
Amaro Freitas – Rasif: Brazilian pianist Amaro Freitas likes to imagine the 88 keys laid out in front of him as a very long set of drums. Accordingly, he shapes circular, muscly patterns, banging out samba rhythms with a classical precision that recalls Vijay Iyer. His band, meanwhile, seem to enjoy nothing more than taunting him by twisting their own chord changes into tighter and tighter spirals and daring him to keep up. Spoiler alert: he does. (buy)
Hailu Mergia – Lala Belu: Ethiopian accordion/keyboard wizard Hailu Mergia had a grand rediscovery a few years back, with the repressing of his 1985 cassette Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument, a sinewy blend of accordion, Rhodes piano, and Moog Synthesizer that carries the same analog mystery of early works from Mulatu Astatke and Mammane Sani. The release sparked wider interest in Mergia’s music, prompting the artist to start playing out again, and this year sees his first album of new material in two decades. Lala Belu finds the lost legend in fine form and, with the help of tight, spartan rhythm section, adapting his “classical” styles into a new age, reimagining Ethiopian Tizita with breathy woodwind tones and jazzy space-age funk. The great wizard has woke and he’s ready to party. (buy)
Kikagaku Moyo – Masana Temples: Japanese collective Kikagaku Moyo comes through with another masterful set of psych that delivers all the vintage thrills of yesteryear without resorting to the genre’s clichés. This is the sound of a band that has reached an elevated level of musical interplay, able to switch moods and vibes at the drop of a hat but keeping things cohesive and focused at all times. Hot tip: the hard-touring Kikagaku Moyo is also one of the most satisfying live acts on the circuit today — don’t miss ‘em if they’re coming through your neck of the woods. (buy)
Unusual Sounds – The Hidden History of Library Music: There have been a fair amount of Library Music compilations over the years, but Unusual Sounds may be the most purely enjoyable one of them all. Released in conjunction with author/collector David Hollander’s book of the same name, the grooves are endless, the moods massive. The collected tunes are glorious hybrids, where swooping strings meet superbly psychedelic fuzz guitars, where new age bliss blends with impossibly funky rhythm sections. A world of pure imagination where anything is possible and nothing is forbidden. (buy)
Sitka Sun – S/T: Sitka Sun introduces itself as an Afrobeat record – and in some ways this is true. But it’s also not, as the six genre-bending tracks contort the record into something else, something hard to categorize. And it’s all the better for it. While the flagship number “Yes Yes Forward” evokes lead musician Patrick Murphy’s inner Fela, it soon dissolves into a swaying, psychedelic vehicle breaking freely into looser, spacey-er jams that would not seem out of place at an erstwhile Bay Area be-in. (buy)
Meg Baird / Mary Lattimore: Ghost Forests: Ghost Forests is a perfect blend of Baird and Lattimore’s distinctive styles, with the former’s haunting voice and Britfolk-inflected guitar complemented at every turn by the latter’s elegant harp and subtly adventurous electronics. The stately “In Cedars” is a standout, with Lattimore cascading gently behind Baird’s beautifully layered vocals – a wintry landscape of pure sound. The LP is fleeting, clocking in at just about a half-hour. But Ghost Forests is as deep as they come. (buy)
Damien Jurado – The Horizon Just Laughed: At the conclusion of the majestic Maraqopa trilogy, and four consecutive records with Richard Swift behind the boards, Damien Jurado decided to take the reins himself on the subtly orchestral and gorgeously melancholy The Horizon Just Laughed. That Swift would pass on mere months after the album’s release made the whole situation feel even more significant. Jurado and Swift immersed themselves in a psychedelic, hallucinatory world on the Maraqopa trilogy, but the horizon indeed just laughs, and fate stretches its legs out to trip you up, as though the borderline of their fantasy world had been watching with a detached amusement all along, waiting for our protagonist to return to a more sobering reality. When Jurado does step through the door, he finds himself back in a misty morning of a weary world where Charles Schultz and Charlie Brown exchange letters detailing their mutual late life struggles. Characters populate the album from front to back, showcasing Jurado’s beautifully empathetic and inspired vision of a world and its inhabitants more reflective of ourselves, and, as revealed on the hauntingly prophetic album highlight “The Last Great Washington State,” one with love and appreciation for what and who we have, while we have them, and afterward still. (buy)
The Necks–Body: A year-end is not the place for a debate about the influence upon jazz of the streaming-inspired random-shuffle of modern listening, but this year the Necks entered the conversation with an emphatic “nope.” Many album-length instrumentals end up feeling self-indulgent, strung together by bonds and threads the listener will never find. Not so with Body. Every minute of the Australian trio’s 20th album needs every other minute. On that weight alone, Body is a remarkable accomplishment. It is, however, the near stranglehold of concentration the eddy of jazz coaxes from a listener that shifts the record into temporary timelessness; a blissful hour of suspense and intrigue. (buy)
Low – Double Negative: Low’s 12th album is awash in noise – static, electrical hum, broken down electronics. Over 11 songs, these forces work to obscure Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s voices, wrapped together as always in close harmony. Recorded at Justin Vernon’s April Base with producer BJ Burton, the album implodes the Low template and builds something terrifying and confusing in its place. Many songwriters have attempted to document the pressing anxiety of our overloaded information age; with Double Negative, Low processes the ugliness of our age without abandoning their signature haunting beauty. (buy)
John Coltrane – Both Directions At Once: “If there was anything like perfect harmony in human relationships, that band was as close as you can come,” Elvin Jones said of the classic John Coltrane Quartet (which consisted of Jones, Coltrane, Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyner). We got a surprise from that long-gone group this year with the release of Both Directions At Once, a mostly unheard studio session from 1962. It might not be a “lost masterpiece” to put up against the Coltrane Quartet’s best efforts, but it is still damn good, as we get to hear another example of the group’s extraordinary interplay. Perfect harmony, indeed. (buy)
Charles Mingus – Jazz In Detroit: These newly unearthed 1973 tapes come from jazz bassist/composer Charles Mingus’ latter days (he passed away in early 1979), but they are practically bursting with life. The man was seemingly incapable of coasting, and here he leads a crackling band through several sets of incomparable Mingus music, including stellar renditions of “Pithecanthropus Erectus” and “Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk.” The peak, however, might be the 25-minute slow jam “Noddin’ Ya Head Blues,” which shows what a group of incredible musicians can do with the simplest of ingredients. Spellbinding. (buy)
Ornette Coleman – The Atlantic Years: Ornette Coleman wasn’t on Atlantic for long — the albums collected here were all recorded between 1959 and 1961 — but he didn’t need a long time to make his mark on Ahmet Ertegun’s label. In two quick years, Coleman and his group emerged as sharp new voices in jazz, reinvented their sound, then reinvented the entire genre. Nearly sixty years of experimentation later, the music on The Atlantic Years still feels revolutionary, but what emerges on this box is just how deeply the Coleman group could groove. As Ben Ratliff says in the liner notes, this is booty music. (buy)
African Scream Contest, Part Two – Benin 1963-80: The long-awaited follow-up to the classic 2008 comp highlights the incredible diversity of sounds coming out of Benin in the 1960s and ’70s. There’s afro-funk galore, along with nods to afrobeat and highlife, disco, soul-jazz, and even occasional hints of West African blues. You even get a little muted Cab Calloway–style bopping in the form of Ignace de Souza and the Melody Aces’ “Asaw Fofor.” An essential look at the music of a country often overshadowed by its larger neighbors. (buy)
Jess Sah Bi & Peter One – Our Garden Needs Its Flowers: The easiest line on this reissue of a 1985 classic is simply to call it what it is: two singer-songwriters from the Ivory Coast performing country songs of their own composition. But Our Garden Needs Its Flowers far outstrips its relative novelty. Sah Bi and One are melodicists of the highest caliber; there’s a mixture of communal warmth and personal alienation here that’s so sharp it almost hurts to hear, and they deliver their songs through high, keening vocal harmonies that suggest Simon & Garfunkel circa “The Boxer.” Occasional percussion, willowy harmonica, and a few warbling guitar leads fill in the space and give the record a bit more emotional oomph, but Sah Bi and One’s voices are the stars lighting this fading firmament. (buy)
Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo: A couple albums in, it’s still amazing to think that Khruangbin hail from a small Texas town. Their hypnotic psychedelic hooks give way to popping snare hits and sparse – almost mystic – vocal phrases. What’s all the more impressive, is how their globe-trotting sounds have resonated with quite a number of folks, selling out shows across the country. A true testament to the fact that people want to hear juicy cuts, stellar musicianship, and grooves that will make them move. Light one and lean into it. (buy)
Aqueduct Ensemble – Improvisations On An Apricot: Some beautiful, beguiling sounds. This one is kinda like a classic ECM LP that’s been chopped, screwed, glitched and dubbed out. It goes beyond being a gimmick, though – Improvisations On An Apricot is an immersive listen, filled with rich tones and enveloping ambiance. There are gentle, peaceful vibes throughout, but it never turns into sonic wallpaper; there’s something new, fresh and weird happening from moment to moment. (buy)
Simply Saucer – Cyborgs
Bodega – Endless Scroll: One year after another band tried a grand theme album about social media and online culture, BODEGA appeared with something much more sharp and contained. At 33 minutes, Endless Scroll has a sense of humor about itself as well, which makes the social commentary land cleaner and more sharply. Opener “How Did This Happen?!” turns a litany of protest observations on their head, while “Name Escape” does a good job of describing the odd close-distance of social media. And Bodega even manages to write the year’s best song that has the title “Can’t Knock the Hustle.” A killer debut that makes them a band to keep an eye on. (buy)
IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance: A continuation of the conversation that began on their debut, last year’s Brutalism, Bristol, UK post-punk quintet IDLES didn’t stop to catch their breath. Aggressive, Joy’s 42-minute runtime does
Barry Walker – Diaspora Urkontinent: Reviewing Diaspora Urkontinent, the second solo album from Corvallis, Oregon’s Barry Walker Jr, we noted: “Given the chance, the sound of any instrument can conjure up the sensation of drifting. But few tools seem as equipped for the job as the pedal steel guitar.” Walker’s pedal steel pulses make for hypnotic listening. There’s a uniform delicacy to his soulful playing — whether he’s conjuring up pan-Polynesian exotica or stepping on the distortion pedal to provide acid-drenched country. (buy)
Carl Stone -Electronic Music from the Eighties and Nineties: Armed with a sampler, turntables, and polymath mind, Carl Stone spent the 1980s and ‘90s building complex, long stretching works that blur the lines between ambient and classical. This collection from Unseen Worlds features some of his best works, like the looping “Banteay Srey” (which feels like it could be whalesong from a particularly zoned humpback) and 1988’s jaunty “Sonali.” (buy)
Swamp Dogg – Love, Loss, & Auto-Tune: Iconoclastic, irreverent, and prescient, Swamp Dogg is no stranger to bold experiments, zany stunts, and telling it how it is. He is an original indie music biz hustler, a distinctive studio producer, and an unabashed but truly soulful crooner. With all that in mind, Love, Loss, & Auto-Tune is an inspired and deeply charismatic moment for Swamp Dogg. He’s performing in a “synthetic world,” where the album’s namesake vocal effect is utilized to delightful excess; Swamp Dogg’s swaggering vocals and whimsical, raunchy panache are counterintuitively elevated by a process that “automates,” reshapes, and obscures the natural born timbre of a human voice. For example, the self-deprecating, sad sack drama of “I’ll Pretend” is perfectly inflated by Ryan Olson of Poliça’s striking, synth-heavy production, all the while a ghost image of a bluesy, live band take of the song hangs transparently in the mix. (buy)
Jeff Tweedy – WARM: With his book, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) – a Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc, Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy opened up like never before, revealing not only the tricky ways his songs work, but inner truths about the man who wrote them. That openness bled right into WARM, his first-ever proper solo work. Playing most everything himself, these songs touch on all the corners of his catalog: some country here, deconstructed pop there, a little Guthrie-
Mountain Man – Magic Ship: The highly anticipated follow-up to Made the Harbor doesn’t disappoint. On their magnificent new album for Nonesuch Records, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, Amelia Meath, and Molly Sarle draw textured, hair-raising harmonies from a bountiful well of originals and covers, sung both with instrumentation and A Capella. There is a transportive quality to their voices and to these recordings. As soon the sisters start, the listener is carried to the back porch of a small farmhouse at the end of a dirt road, or to the top of a knoll as the fog lifts at daybreak.
Beatles —The Beatles (White Album): 50 years later, you’d figure it would be impossible to still be surprised by the Beatles. But the oversized box set presentation of the White Album actually accomplishes that aim. Though it’d be ill-advised to swap out the originals for Giles Martins’ 2018 mixes, they do provide a thrilling new way to hear the wild sprawl of the Beatles at their most diverse, crisp, clear, and cleaned up for modern ears. But it’s the Esher demos, featuring the Fab Four gathered in the intimate setting of Kinfauns, Harrison’s bungalow in Esher to hash out new songs, that make this set
Gumba Fire: Bubblegum Soul & Synth Boogie in 1980s South Africa: This latest excursion from Soundway Records finds the label beaming out eighteen glittering and never-before-heard tracks of 80s bubblegum soul and electro-dance. It’s a revelatory listen, crossing a wide range of sounds, all of them bursting with an eagerness to be heard. Songs from groups like the Survivals and Hot Soul Singers are glowing technicolor disco with an analog minimalism that glimmers and grooves in its roots to earlier forms of afrobeat and highlife. It’s a mighty rich bounty, with a fascinating spectrum of pure proto electro funk; grooving, rough-hewn soul; psychedelic disco and beyond. (buy)
Haruomi Hosono – Cochin Moon, Hosono House, Paraiso,
Brigid Mae Power – The Two Worlds: Brigid Mae Power’s stark, gothic-folk commands full attention on her latest work, with droning chords, pulsing drums reminiscent of Moe Tucker’s dark, innovative approach and, elsewhere, lighter brushes of percussion and delicate dances across ivories, painting her world-weary song in hazy, pastoral colors. Power’s gorgeous and subtle compositions swirl with an honest existential optimism and unique approach to form that was more than welcome in these most uncertain times. (buy)
Kitsos Harisiadis – Lament in a Deep Style: Record collector Chris King’s latest journey into the ecstatic music of the Greek region of Epirus brings us the incandescent clarinet of Kitsos Harisiadis, who recorded a handful of rare 78 sides in the late 20s and early 30s. His vibe is simultaneously pastoral and futuristic — Harisiadis never left Epirus and spent his days primarily in rural settings. But listening to his blazing lines, you can imagine free jazz pioneers like Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman nodding along in agreement. (buy)
Neil Young – Roxy – Tonight’s the Night Live: A totally righteous archival release from Neil Young – the debut performances of his classic Tonight’s The Night lp, recorded over the course of a couple of extremely boozy nights on the Sunset Strip in 1973. Roxy – Tonight’s The Night Live is an absolutely essential addition to songwriter’s ongoing Performance Series, giving listeners a front-row seat at these historic gigs. You can smell the reefer and taste the Jose Cuervo. Tied together with Neil’s sleazoid banter, the whole package paints a portrait of a songwriter climbing out of the wreckage to create some truly powerful art. Everything may be cheaper than it looks, but this one’s priceless. (buy)
Jerry David DeCicca – Time The Teacher: “Watermelon,” the second track on Jerry David DeCicca’s Time the Teacher, is an ode to – you guessed it – watermelons. With an almost
Lonnie Holley – Mith : In a time when many seek to speak truth to power, Lonnie Holley speaks power to truth. Mith rings with a keen sensitivity; it is a vibrant and vital collection of meditations, spells, and sermons on Being, race, America, technology, and time. Holley’s spectral incantations, layered like rings
Prana Crafter – Bodhi Cheetah’s Choice: William Sol, the music brain behind the ragged electric glory that is Prana Crafter, is described as a roamer of forests. On Bodhi Cheetah’s Choice, he enters some mystical portal in these woods, one that exists on a deep and dark acid plane, not unlike the Wild West purgatory of Neil Young’s Dead Man score. Sodden with sinister blues tones and galloping atmospherics, Sol emerges as a singular voice here – an alchemist of dark voodoo boogie that is entrancing and hypnotic. This sleeper release is, as WFMU’s Jeff Conklin puts it, “not so much an album as it is a channeling.” (buy)
Mark Renner – Few Traces: In our interview with Mark Renner earlier this year, he cited Eno’s Another Green World and Bowie’s Berlin trilogy as influential high school soundscapes. Apart from that making him immediate AD simpatico, it reveals a young maturity in embracing quiet ambiance and reflective electronic landscapes. With Few Traces, Brooklyn’s RVNG Intl. (constantly killing the game) compiled rare and unreleased material of Renner’s from 1982 to 1990. And while a myriad of influences come through, not least the burgeoning guitar-driven New Wave and jangle pop New Zealand, it’s Renner’s purely instrumental moments that seem to freeze time. “James Cowie (The Portrait Group),” an ode to the Scottish painter, finds him channeling Harold Budd, Penguin Café Orchestra, and Syrinx all in one sweeping breath. (buy)
Scientist and Prince Jammy — Scientist and Jammy Strike Back!: While there’s a surprising dearth of pinging laser sounds on this mid-’80s collab between two dub heavyweights that was reissued this year in the U.S., the title is still instructive. Much in the way the Star Wars franchise lowered the barrier to entry for nascent sci-fi fans by leaning heavily on personality, Scientist and Prince Jammy-produced bright, welcoming tracks that take their sweet time heading to outer space; this is not the deep-nod beyond of their mentor Prince Tubby, but a kinder, gentler approach to dub that’ll have you purring like a Wookiee. (buy)
Preacherman – Universal Philosophy: Preacherman Plays T.J. Hustler’s Greatest Hits: Like David Bowie or Madonna, Tim Jones slinks in and out of different personas to deliver his songs: Midi Man, Iron Board Band, Preacherman. But it’s hard to imagine Madge or the Thin White Duke going as deep in on a concept as Jones did with his T.J. Hustler character. A puppet who accompanied Jones as he played synth, Hustler offered cosmic sermons over future funk compositions. While Luaka Bop’s excellent collection of their rare, DIY sides can’t capture the no doubt bizarre sensation of coming across Preacherman performing in a Vegas lounge, it does provide insight into his odd Age of Individualism ethos. (buy)
The Advisory Circle – Ways Of Seeing: Another winner from the ever-reliable Ghost Box label, Ways Of Seeing finds Jon Brooks turning his camera on
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – Sparkle Hard: “I will not be one of the watchers/I will not disappear,” Stephen Malkmus sings on “Middle America,” one the best songs from his seventh solo album. The elder indie statesman doesn’t have much to prove (as if he ever sang like someone who did) but he and his band aren’t resting on laurels here. Riffing on sunshiny pop, country balladry — with Kim Gordon in tow! — prog workouts, and extended jams equally indebted to the Dead and Neu!, Malkmus gets in where he fits in. Clever as ever but warmer, too. (buy)
Minami Deutsch — With Dim Light: We’re eternally grateful that Kikagaku Moyo / Guruguru Brain co-founder Go Kurosawa tipped us off to these Japanese cats last year. The band’s self-titled debut was more or less different variations on the motorik beat. This is not that. With Dim Light oscillates between heavy psych rock, jazz fusion, motorik, and disco funk, all projected through a reverent kosmische gel. Here’s hoping that they make it stateside sooner than later and that LP3 is not too far off. (buy)
Technicolor Paradise – Rum Rhapsodies and other Exotic Delights: This two-hour collection of psychedelic exotica from the folks at Numero Group is more or less perfect for any occasion. Especially those that involve fresh fruit, a blender, white rum, mescaline, hot coconut oil and a large velvet couch. Enjoy. (buy)
Yung Wu – Shore Leave: When you’ve made one perfect record, why make another? Shore Leave, originally released in 1987, is Yung Wu’s sole long-player (though a covers album has circulated privately). It’s a
Ty Segall— Freedom’s Goblin: Last January, Segall guested on the AD’s SIRIUS XM show shortly before this album dropped. Hearing what he selected and played during the two-hour set felt akin to a roadmap into his muse and bit of blueprint to Goblin. Which wouldn’t mean shit if the record wasn’t good. But it is, and it’s still in my car’s CD player 11 months later, which is to say: I know this record. Spread over the course of two LPs, you get the gentle Ty, the Crazy Horse Ty, the damaged art-pop Ty, the vengeful TY, the post-hardcore Ty, and even a jazz-skronk Ty. Oh yeah, there’s also a bitchin’ cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Every1’s A Winner”. (buy)
Kadhja Bonet—Childqueen: Luxurious chamber R&B from this classically trained artist, who despite her overflowing talent doesn’t like “calling herself a musician.” With ethereal songs like “Another Time Lover” and the absolutely brilliant “Delphine,” Bonet belongs in the orbit of genius weirdos such as Thundercat and Adrian Younge. Which is likely why you’ll find her featured on Oxnard, the new album from another true mastermind, Anderson .Paak. Keep an eye on Kadhja. (buy)
Arp – ZEBRA: Arp’s Alexis Georgopoulos has fully come into his own with his latest album, ZEBRA. In dismissing the notion of genre or borders, he has created a seamless soundscape of crystalline synthetics, glimmering
Long Hots – Monday Night Raw: One of the great revelations of this year was the cassette-only debut from Philadelphia’s Long Hots. Named after the flagship show of professional wrestling, the mischievous trio channels the beer guzzling attitude of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin more so than, say, the flag-saluting family-friendly ethos of John Cena. This is the kind of raw, primal scuzz that would make Moe Tucker proud and, lo and behold, they cover her version of Little Richard’s “Slippin’ and Slidin’.” It’s a charming lo-fi bedroom closer that channels The Raincoats and VU equally, and makes this writer psyched as shit for what these ladies have up their sleeves next. (buy)
Benni—I&II: Clad in a chain mail coif and Sun Ra inspired robes, Benni’s persona should not be divorced from his sound. Benni I & II is canonically akin to the soundtrack of an ‘80’s arcade game or Com Truise or something of the ilk, but it’s his fixation on space/time/technology removes it from the realm of
Gwenifer Raymond – You Never Were Much of a Dancer: Before her days as an American primitive solo guitarist and banjoist in the tradition of John Fahey or Glenn Jones, Brighton’s Gwenifer Raymond played in punk bands. Tellingly, there’s a certain fury to her playing. Compositions like “Sometimes There’s Blood” and “Oh, Command Me Lord!” race by, and even when her recordings take on a mournful tone (“Off to See the Hangman, Pt. 11,” “Laika’s Song”) there’s an intensity lingering at the edges, a reminder that while the blues and punk were separated by decades, they’re spiritually connected as music of the dispossessed and disenchanted. (buy)
Michael Hurley — Living Ljubljana: A big sack of oysters for fans of ‘ole Snock. Recorded in March of 1995 at KLUB K4 in Ljulljana Slovenia, this Feeding Tube Records release is a snapshot of primo Hurley, fresh off the release of Wolfways and touring Europe for the first time with a spritely boogie band of Robert Michener and Mickey Bones. Included are fantastic renditions of “O My Stars,” “Letter In Neon,” and “I Paint A Design,” all tunes that have matured with Snock into his prolific and active ripe age. Deeper cuts like “Turay Turay” and the rare cover of “Driving Nails In My Coffin” harken back to a rambunctious Hurley of yore. (buy)
Bill Frisell —Music IS: Pulling from songs dating all the way back to his 1982 debut, Music IS almost functions as a “greatest hits” by guitarist Bill Frisell. But his commitment to reinventing them — each song is played solo — speaks to Frisell’s power as an interpreter and master of reinvention. Recorded Tucker Martine and produced by Lee Townsend, it’s an intimate snapshot of a timeless artist. (buy)
Jay Bolotin—No One Seems To Notice That It’s Raining: In the 1970s, a veritable who’s who of songwriters proclaimed singer/songwriter/woodcutter Jay Bolotin’s songs, including Mickey Newbury, Merle Haggard, Porter Wagoner, and Kris Kristofferson, and others. Despite the high profile praise, his name remains a secret word passed between those in the know. Thankfully, the fine folks at Delmore Recordings have made a visionary set of songs he recorded between 1970-75 available to all, which should do plenty to bring light to his dark, poetic songbook. As gothic and spooky as
Nathan Bowles – Plainly Mistaken: In our review of Nathan Bowles 2016 long player, Whole and Cloven, AD’s Tyler Wilcox pondered: “Is banjo futurism a thing? Probably not, but if it was Nathan Bowles would be leading the charge.” With his latest, it may have finally become a thing. The recorded debut of Bowles trio—bassist Casey Toll and CAVE percussionist Rex McMurry—Plainly Mistaken immediately sounds lightyears ahead of its predecessor, with minimalist rhythmic leanings and Bowles vocals drifting up front and center into their first appearance on record as well. And as they drift out, the man’s mastery of his main instrument comes into full focus with droning Appalachian séances that bloom outward into revelatory jams. There’s a lot to love here, from the pastoral glee of “Fresh & Fairly So” to the sci-fi polka freakout that is “Ruby /
Daniel Bachman —The Morning Star: On the ambitious, challenging and beautiful The Morning Star, solo guitarist Daniel Bachman lets some of the noise of the world in. The album kicks off with “Invocation,” an almost 19-minute drone collage that is at times migraine-intense, at others soothingly beautiful, with snatches of unidentifiable voices that sound plucked from the howling, angry nether regions of talk radio drifting in at points – voices that show up again in less subliminal form on the harrowing, guitar-free “Car.” On the otherwise lovely “Song For The Setting Sun III,” Bachman’s deeply felt playing is interrupted by the distant strains of a passing police siren. Bachman doesn’t stop and start again, though; he almost duets with the siren, a perfect moment of synchronicity. (buy)
Kamasi Washington —Heaven and Earth: Kamasi Washington’s Heaven and Earth presents two complicated, spiritual concepts reflected as album sides with confidence, righteousness, and progressive nuance. Clocking in at a cool 2.5 hours, the tenor saxophonist takes us on a cross-genre journey that is spellbinding and hardly cumbersome.
Ohmme – Parts: The first full length from Chicago’s Ohmme is the exact kind of follow-up that you pray for on the heels of a debut EP as good as theirs.
Various Artists — Soul Diesel Vol. 2: Jazz Dispensary continues its flawless streak of releases with a Record Store Day comp of soul-jazz cuts that skirt bossa nova (Rusty Bryant’s “Cootie Boogaloo”), vibe-happy workouts (Cal Tjader’s “Mamblues”), and muscly drum power (Idris Muhammad’s immortal “Wander”). This is high-grade easy-going music, sun-splashed and tension free but heavy enough to get you moving. (buy)
Bob Dylan — More Blood, More Tracks -The Bootleg Series Vol. 14: It’s a golden age for Dylan fanatics – and a gluttonous age as well. For the past few years, like clockwork, we’ve been gifted with massive boxed sets that unravel – and somehow deepen – the mystery and magic behind the songwriter’s storied career. By comparison to recent Dylan archival digs, the latest Bootleg Series release is relatively digestible, coming in at just six discs that unveil the NYC recording sessions for Blood On The Tracks. The album is often thought of as one of Dylan’s most personal works, but listening to these raw tapes, you may be struck by his single-mindedness and overall intention; this isn’t
Bitchin Bajas – Rebajas: Seven CD (yes, CD) collection of the Bajas story so far. Nearly seven hours of material from 2010’s auspicious Tones And Zones to last year’s boundary-pushing Bajas Fresh, and every cosmic stop in between. Minimal, spiritual, and heady—it’s all inside the box. Chart the ever-expanding circle that is these Chicago synthesizer phreaks and try to guess their next move. Or just dust off your car’s CD player and watch it turn into a spaceship. (buy)
Yuzo Iwata —Daylight Moon: Extremely tasty jams via Yuzo Iwata, a Japanese guitarist who sadly passed away shortly after the release of Daylight Moon this year. Iwata takes the listener in all kinds of (primarily instrumental) directions, each one radical and heady. There are thumping Velvety boogies, Bardo Pond-worthy zoners, achingly strange ballads, feedback-laced
Perth County Conspiracy – S/T: Intended only for broadcast on the CBC and never commercially available, Perth County Conspiracy arrived alongside the Columbia Records debut of the Stratford, Ontario group of musicians, poets, and actors. More straightforward than the acid folk collage of Does Not Exist, but every bit as good. Three covers (a requisite Dylan effort, a
Pearls Before Swine – Balaklava: On the heels the untimely death of leader Tom Rapp and last year’s glorious mono reissue of their unrivaled debut, Drag City go back to the primeval well and revisit the second Pearls Before Swine masterpiece. Scathing 1968 psych-folk that’s way more fire and damnation than it is peace and love. Rapp’s unmistakable lisp and lyrics anchor ever-encircling arrangements from the Pearls and a bevy of NYC session players. Seriously dark backward-looking protest music that makes most everything else from the era sound like bubblegum. (buy)
Cave — Allways: Chicago’s Cave have always been masters of rhythm — and Allways is perhaps their most locomotive (dare we say danceable) collection yet. When the beat kicks in on the
Ryley Walker — Deafman Glance/Lillywhite Sessions: A big year for the Ry-Dawg indeed. Not only did Walker craft his finest album to date, Deafman Glance, which syncs up his
Prince —Piano & A Microphone: Prince’s way-too-soon passing inevitably sparked rumors of a flood of unreleased material from his vault finally seeing the light of day. Piano & A Microphone, however, is a somewhat slim offering from the vaults. But it’s a mindblower nonetheless. As the title suggests, it’s as stripped down a portrait of the artist we’ve yet heard, with Prince medleying a bunch of soon-to-be classics, live in the studio circa 1983. He almost certainly never intended for us to hear this stuff, but he still plays and sings like his life depends on it, segueing beautifully from originals (“17 Days,” “Purple Rain”) to inspired interpretations (Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” and the traditional “Mary Don’t You Weep”). A revealing look behind the curtain… (buy)
Parades Against Parades – Driving Me Stoned: Unreleased mid-’00s Brian Jonestown Massacre/Spaceman 3 worship, filtered through the wasted Canadian prairies. The title tips their hand—from the slow, burnt opener “Heading Up To Head Down” to the unrelenting eleven-minute closer “Wasting All My Time,” Parades Against Parades bring the Exile-era Stones swagger and a heavy dose of Velvets/MC5 workouts. The kind of band that you knew wasn’t long for the
Kurt Vile – Bottle It In: Philly’s finest Kurt Vile adds another bangup album to his canon of seemingly ad-libbed psychedelic folk-rock. Bottle It In sounds a bit of a marriage from his previous two standouts: you’ll hear some scuzzy tracks a la Wakin On A Pretty Daze, alongside dusty, desert country numbers a la b’lieve i’m goin down. Whatever your favorite version of Vile is, there’s something here for you. The near 10-minute roller “Bassackwards” is some of his finest work to date, featuring zany lyrics only he can deliver, all whipped up in the haze of a dreamy, wandering guitar refrain that’ll spin you around. “Come Again” is another one worth mentioning. A plucky banjo jam that feels oh so right whether you’re sipping your Sunday cup of mud or pouring a weekend nightcap. (buy)
Steve Tibbetts – Life Of: In the biographical notes that accompany Life Of, Steve Tibbetts’ ninth album for German label ECM, the guitarist notes of his 12 string Martin acoustic guitar: “That Martin guitar is now, almost a half-century old, with the frets almost worn flat – and I keep the strings old and kind of dead, something I got from Leo Kottke…the instrument has a mellow, aged sound, with its own peculiar internal resonance — like it has a small concert hall inside it.” Life Of is like being invited into that hall. Accompanied by percussionist Marc Anderson, cellist Michelle Kinney, occasional piano, and samples of Balinese gongs, Tibbetts bends and arcs his instrument’s strings, producing a sound that’s unmistakably his. (buy)
One Eleven Heavy – Everything’s Better: The political tenor of 2018 might make the year an incongruous one for a US/UK rock supergroup to call their album Everything’s Better, but don’t miss the forest for the trees. It’s precisely because the turmoil of our modern day that One Eleven Heavy, songwriters James Toth (Wooden Wand) and Nick Mitchell Maiato (Desmadrados Soldados De Ventura), along with bassist Dan Brown (Royal Trux), drummer Ryan Jewell (Solar Motel Band), and pianist Hans Chew (Steve Gunn, Hiss Golden Messenger), carve out a space for joyful noise amidst the chaos. Everything’s better when the music works, and theirs, which gleefully combines the chooge of the Band with the range of the Dead and NRBQ, works in abundance. (buy)
Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs Present Paris In The Spring: Released by ACE Records at the beginning of June, we played this compilation all summer long. And trust, it was a lonnng summer in Los Angeles. Compiled by Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, the two-LP Paris In Spring is without a single misstep, documenting the sounds floating within the zeitgeist circa 1968-1973. Over the span its 22 tracks, the whole gang’s here: Jean-Claude Vannier, Jane Birkin, Michel Polnareff, Serge Gainsbourg, Janko Nilovic, Jacques Dutronc, Nino Ferrer, et beaucoup plus. Faites-vous plaisir! (buy)
Träden – Träden: You don’t always have to teach an old dog new tricks, not when the tricks are this good at least. Fronted by Träd Gräs och Stenar’s Jakob Sjöholm alongside a cast of younger Swedish psych rockers, Träden’s debut, translated into English as “The Trees” hums with hippie energy and radical intent. It’s frequently laidback, but never lazy. Like settling into the perfect rhythm on a long hike, it ambles along of its own accord. Recorded at Sjöholm’s countryside “musical workshop,” it’s supremely natural stuff. No preservatives, just good clean grass, trees, and stones. (buy)
Uneven Paths – Deviant Pop From Europe 1980-1991: Last year, the Netherlands-based reissue outfit Music From Memory released one of our favorite compilations, the wonderful and exquisitely strange Outro Tempo: Electronic And Contemporary Music From Brazil 1978-1992. This year, they followed it up with a deep dive into outsider pop music from Europe that deconstructs and reassembles what “pop music” can be, revealing a spectrum that elegantly and artfully glides through exotica, proto-electronic spoken word mantras, glossy synth jams, and diamond draped fat boogie beats. If this is pop from the wrong side of the tracks, who would want to be right? (buy)
Cool Maritime – Sharing Waves: It’s hard to think of an artist name, album title, and cover that does a tidier job of summing up the music contained within. L.A.’s Sean Hellfritsch’s modular-synth meditations are constructed with an elegant simplicity; following their curves can feel like tracing a perfectly drawn circle with your finger. The music here babbles past slowly, and like a stream shrouded by a forest canopy, it gleams as the light shifts overhead. Guiding it all is a gentle, open-hearted spirit that makes Sharing Waves the kind of musical environment you want to lie down in for a while. (buy)
Sarah Davachi – Gave In Rest: Gave In Rest finds drone composer Sarah Davachi awash in “secular mysticism,” carving out beautiful holy spaces suited for even the most hardline nonbeliever. Drawing on her visits to cathedrals and church in Europe and inspired by her arrival in Los Angeles, Davachi lets her Echoplex treated piano and organ suites unfold in gorgeous slow motion. Though Davachi herself isn’t religious, it’s hard not to hear rapturous and even healing qualities in gorgeous songs like “Third Hour” and “Gilded.” (buy)
Big Red Machine — Big Red Machine: Big Red Machine is a project born out of love for downsized collaboration from two architects of stadium-sized indie-rock bands. Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Aaron Dessner (the National) have literally noodled on this project for years and 2018’s self-titled release is their most expansive recorded output. This is an ethereal listen, straight up; a record to get lost in. You’ll gravitate to new territory upon every subsequent spin, and you’ll certainly hear connections to their day jobs. Vernon is front and center with his penchant for complicated, programmed textures, and Dessner paints around his partner’s vocals with flowery, delicate soundscapes. (buy)
Glenn Jones – The Giant Who Ate Himself: Glenn Jones continues his unbroken winning streak of sublime solo guitar LPs. Jones’ intricate playing has perhaps never sounded better, recorded by Laura Baird with a richness that makes you feel as though you’re enjoying a private performance. And the compositions on The Giant Who Ate Himself are gorgeous, as per usual, with Jones mining a deep vein of fingerpicked gold, eulogizing a rapidly disappearing America. (buy)
Joseph Shabason – Anne: This gem nearly slipped through the cracks, as late year releases sometimes do (see Gloria Barnes). Shabason, who has performed saxophone with Destroyer and the War on Drugs, builds on his engaging Western Vinyl debut, Aytche, both musically and thematically. Anne finds him gracefully navigating a heavy topic; his mother’s Parkinson’s disease. Shabason includes interviews with her; juxtaposing her thoughts on the condition with intricate ambient compositions that sound like Eno scoring a John Hughes film. It’s equally therapeutic and claustrophobic. Shabason is a true artist. (buy)
The Other Years – S/T: The ingredients are familiar: keening fiddles, interlocking banjo
Switched On Eugene: Something was in the water up in Eugene, Oregon. Documenting the composers, tinkerers, and electronic songwriters that made up the Eugene Electronic Music Collective in the 1980s, this collection from the good folks at Numero Group abounds with homespun loveliness. The sounds here range from new age (Peter Kardas) to pop (
Unicorn – Laughing Up Your Sleeve: Twenty previously unissued demos from the criminally underrated British act, recorded in 1973-74 at David Gilmour’s home studio (dig his laconic pedal steel on a sublime version of “Sleep Song”). Directly inspired by American folk and country rock, Unicorn still
Ursula K. Le Guin & Todd Barton – Music And Poetry Of The Kesh: Made to accompany Le Guin’s faux-ethnography, Always Coming Home, and originally released on cassette in 1985 with some versions of the novel, Music And Poetry Of The Kesh is the musical document of an imaginary Pacific Coast people. With her friend and collaborator Todd Barton, Le Guin offers a journey through gorgeous instrumental pieces, field recordings, folk songs, and poetry in invented languages. No matter its source material, the music truly speaks for itself—the album’s highlight ”A River Song” is effortlessly its own sublime version of the very best avant-garde and minimal music. (buy)
Ditto – In Human Terms: An experimental minimalist from the Texas hill country, Charles Ditto self-released In Human Terms on his own label in 1987. He calls it “nootropic deconstructed pop minimalism,” and it slots nicely with the spacey ambient worlds of Michele Mercure, Pauline Anna Strom, and Savant. Picture round shapes floating through a light fog and you’re in the right astral territory. (buy)
Ken Boothe — Freedom Street: Don’t be fooled by the tough guy on the cover or the “White Man in Hammersmith Palais” shoutout. Released in 1970 and reissued this year by Real Gone, Freedom Street is a vocal masterclass from Boothe, who pleas for peace on the opening title track with the rough richness of Otis Redding (and takes his own swing at “Satisfaction” five years after Otis’ own soul-stirring cover). A fantastic set of socially minded rocksteady, and a great introduction to one of Jamaica’s finest singers. (buy)
James Booker — The Lost Paramount Tapes: Legendary sessions tracked almost entirely live in one night at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, CA in 1973. Booker is absolutely on fire, and he’s joined by the band of bands; bassist Dave Johnson and New Orleans Legends such as drummer, John Boudreaux; guitarist, Alvin “Shine” Robinson; percussionists, Jesse “Ooh Poo Pa Doo” Hill and Richard “
Bruce Springsteen – Album Collection Vol 2: It’s understandable if the period covered by the Boss’ Album Collection, volume two: 1987-1966 doesn’t immediately inspire you to rush out and pick up the lavish vinyl box set, remastered and housed in a replica tweed guitar case. But while Springsteen’s output in the late ‘80s and ‘90s is written off by even some hardcore fans, the work here features some of his strongest, most honest writing. Including Tunnel of Love (perhaps the best Boss album..ever?) and the Chimes of Freedom EP from 1987, 1992’s Lucky Town, Human Touch, and the live In Concert/MTV “Plugged” special, 1995’s The Ghost of Tom Joad, and 1996’s Blood Brothers EP, this set finds Springsteen stepping someone away from the biggest rockstar in the world title to become something even more fascinating: a songwriter willing to take apart his own myths and those he’d constructed about the world around him. (buy)
Laraaji — Vision Songs: Culled from cassettes the new-age maestro self-released in 1984, Vision Songs finds Laraaji in something like singer-songwriter mode. While the bright zither tones that have always marked his work are present, we’re also treated to a rarity: his voice. Gated in echo and reverb, it slaps back and forth against the hissy production’s limited sonic range, making this feel almost like the new-age answer to rockabilly. Unsurprisingly for a man who could appear on an album cover smiling into the sun — in 2016, no less, the least-sunny year on record! — the Laraaji of Vision Songs is gentle, encouraging, and full of open-hearted warmth. (buy)
Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids – An Angel Fell: On An Angel Fell, tenor saxophonist Idris Ackamoor articulates the fervor and urgency of the present political moment with his most recent (re)incarnation of The Pyramids, his storied group from the ’70s that imbued spirited improvisation with a conceptual-art underpinning. Sonically, these compositions are unafraid to reach out–way out–or to satisfy with a propulsive beat and resplendent theme. Opener “Tinoge” is built on just that, ensnaring the listener into an album-length voyage traversing Afro-Beat, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Futurist, and dubbed-out flights. These references, however, are imperfect and ultimately melt into the band’s adroit, intimate ensemble work and contemporary resonance. This is a mighty jazz combo with deep roots in the Bay Area scene; listen for the powerful unison leads shared between Ackamoor’s sax and Sandra Poindexter’s violin. (buy)
David Shire – The Conversation OST: David Shire’s minimal and haunting piano-led score for the perpetually underrated 1974 Francis Ford Coppola thriller. Deceptively simple piano themes that evoke the loneliness and paranoia of Gene Hackman’s Harry Saul. Mysterious, gripping, and always slightly askew. The complete score available on vinyl for the first time ever, thanks to the unwavering Trunk Records. (buy)
Buck Curran — Morning Haikus, Afternoon Ragas: Thematically divided between sun-dappled acoustic sketches and darker, electric blues meditations, the second solo album from Arborea’s Buck Curran suggests impossibly peaceful days. Dedicated to his children, the lp features both composed and improvised material, from the smoky “Taurus” (written with Peter Green in mind) to the haunting folk song “Dirt Floor,” which finds Curran’s acoustic flurries accompanied by vocalist Adele Pappalardo. Never showy, Curran’s playing rewards patience and deep listening; it’s as personal a guitar soli record you’re likely to hear this year. (buy)
Bugge Wesseltoft & Prins Thomas — Bugge Wesseltoft & Prins Thomas: With his New Conception in the 1990s, Norwegian jazz pianist Bugge Wesseltoft dressed up his stately keyboard runs with techno and electronica textures. Now, with his countryman Prins Thomas, he’s refined the concept. Along with a small handful of Norway’s best jazz players, the duo gathered at Oslo’s Rainbow Studio (an old ECM standby) and put together a meticulously polished set of exploratory, sparkling jazz that’s been prodded, skewed, and tweaked with such nuance, it feels like a dance record Manfred Eicher would be proud of. (buy)
Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog – YRU Still Here: “Subtlety is not my forte,” Ribot said when we spoke with him earlier this year. If we’d been discussing certain parts of his varied and expansive catalog, we might have argued. But when it comes to Ceramic Dog, his agit punk trio with Shahzad Ismaily and Ches Smith, Ribot mostly eschews nuance in favor aggressive funk, deconstructed flamenco, and scathing punk. Check “Fuck La Migra,” to pick up the vibe, a spicy sopa of gang vocals, horns, swinging drums, and acid-soaked guitar. (buy)
France Chébran Vol. 2: Thirty years before they’d anchor the World
Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs: Thebe Neruda Kgositsile started his career rapping about unspeakable things, and a decade later, he’s still at it, only his verses have long abandoned the horrorcore shock of his early days in favor of painfully honest truths. Focused on the death of his father, the South African poet and activist Keorapetse Kgosistile, sampled on “Playing Possum,” and his “uncle,” trumpeter Hugh Masekela, sampled on “Riot!”, Some Rap Songs employs jittery, avant-garde loops that threaten to subsume his poetic words, but Earl climbs over the top of them to cut to the core: “Why ain’t nobody tell me I was bleedin’?” (buy)
Gloria Barnes – Uptown: This album was reissued in 2017, but it was late November, so we’ll count it because, damn. Props to the Colemine heads for dusting off this diamond and making it available to those of us that can’t afford to spend over $3k on a record. Barnes’ vocals hit you in all the right spots, the songs are top notch, and did we mention that she’s backed by AD favorite, Lee Moses, and the Ohio Players. If you haven’t heard it yet, what on earth are you waiting for? (buy)
Doug Paisley – Starter Home: With warmness akin to records by Gordon Lightfoot or John Prine, Starter Home, the fourth album by Toronto singer/songwriter Doug Paisley makes it clear that the man knows his way around a song. Singing about the little moments that make up a big life, his songs can function like lullabies or tear in your beer country & western weepers, often within the same song. Paisley writes the kind of songs that feel like they’ve always existed, carved out of oak and softened by time. (buy)
Jeff the Brotherhood – Magick Songs: With Magick Songs, Jake and Jamin Orrall wander deeper into, and at times beyond, the psychedelic labyrinth they opened with Global Chakra Rhythms, while also exploring some of the poppier sensibilities of their early career. Both are fruitful trips. “Camel Swallowed Whole” is a hypnotic rock song that would have stood out on any of their most successful albums. “Locator” is a mesmerizing
Jim White – Waffles, Triangles, and Jesus: White’s first album under just his own name in six years finds him making one of the strongest sets that he’s produced. He pulled from an expansive back catalog of unrecorded songs that results in something like a stylistic best-of from his 20+ year career. The sweet spots are when White bites on his buried penchant for catchy tunes – chiefly the absolutely stunning “Far Beyond the Spoken World.” “Reason To Cry” revisits his ability to channel lyrical writing akin to a Hawthorne short story, and the finale, “Sweet Bird of Mystery,” a 14-years-later revisit of his 2004 song “Bluebird.” A great addition to an amazing career. (buy)
The Mattson 2 – Play “A Love Supreme”: Coltrane’s masterpiece turns out to be a surprisingly pliable thing. Jared and Jonathan Mattson have already proven themselves as purveyors of acid-tinged jazz, but their guitar-and-drums approach to one of the most treasured albums of the 20th century makes it a bold experiment before the needle even drops. Using the original as a point of departure, though, they move easily from Bitches
Sam Gendel – Pass If Music: Sam Gendel’s alto sax explorations are striking exercises in restraint. Pass If Music (one of his many projects this year) finds him using silence as an accompanist. An instrument of mysterious intentions, it slips through a woozy, late night cocktail of warped, resonant hushes, industrial drives, and, on tracks like “East LA Haze Dream,” bleary glances of a sunset mirage; all pinks and oranges like watercolors pooling into one. As the record submerges further into deep space undulations and warping echo chambers, we find Gendel expanding the horizon of the horn into greater latitude, bringing together the collective power of sound, space, and silence. (buy)
Carl Weingarten – Living in the Distant Present: Originally self-released on cassette in 1985, St. Louis, Missouri’s Carl Weingarten often sounds like he could have lived next door to Harmonia’s castle in the German countryside. His gentle Fripp-inspired guitarwork drifts over slowly swelling synths. Whatever lines may exist between “ambient” and “new age” virtually disappear here; this is a visionary take on the concept of rock electric guitar. (buy)
Sons of Kemet – Your Queen Is a Reptile: Lead by occasional Sun Ra Arkestra saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, London combo Sons of Kemet offer a particularly brawny form of mutant jazz on their Impulse! Records debut. Equally drawing from free jazz, Afrobeat, calypso, dub, and
Wet Tuna – Livin’ The Die: Seriously zonked out debut from the relatively new duo of Matt “MV” Valentine and Pat “P.G. Six” Gubler, who’ve been playing together for years in some incarnation or another. One part cosmic, one part rural, Livin’ The Die rambles,
Luby Sparks – S/T LP / (I’m) Lost in Sadness: Both Luby Sparks’ self-titled LP and (I’m) Lost in Sadness EP arrived this year with little fanfare, which is surprising considering a) the current level of enthusiasm for Japanese music, b) both were produced by Max Bloom of Yuck, and c) they’re fantastic. It’s safe to assume these kids have been on a steady dose of Loveless, Heaven or Las Vegas, Disintegration, and NME C86. But rather than regurgitating the remnants of those
Listen All Around – The Golden Age of Central and East African Music:
A treasure trove of East African sounds, this set collects and lovingly restores recordings archivist Hugh Tracey made in the Belgian Congo, Zanzibar, Kenya, and Tanganyika between 1950-1958. With all the care associated with releases by Atlanta’s Dust-To-Digital, this collection teems with vibrant energy, featuring rumba,
Charnel Ground – S/T: An inspired/incendiary power trio team-up of Kid Millions (Oneida), James McNew (Yo La Tengo) and Chris Brokaw (Come, Codeine, many more). There are plenty of blowouts — “The High Price” is a total rager, with Kid and McNew laying down a demonic beat and Brokaw coughing up shards of glorious riffage and white-hot feedback. But the album isn’t all thrash-and-burn. “Playa del Ticia” and “Skeleton Coast” are both sunshine-infused pop numbers. Best of all is the closing self-titled epic, with the band finding an elevated plane of sonic conversation over the course of nearly 18 wonderfully transporting minutes. (buy)
Matthew “Doc” Dunn – Lightbourn: After lending his crack band The Cosmic Range to Meg Remy’s excellent U.S. Girls album earlier this year, Toronto’s weirdo country troubadour Matthew “Doc” Dunn released the sublimely soulful Lightbourn under his own name. Handling all instruments and vocals on his own, with some backup from Remy and Jennifer Castle collaborator Isla Craig, Dunn’s smooth vocals evoke golden-hued touchstones from Jerry Jeff Walker’s “About Her Eyes” to early Jacket, and even a hint of George Harrison, had he made an alternate, spacey-er All Things Must Pass. His lush and shuffling psychedelic-soul arrangements allow his existential ruminations to stretch out, making for one of the more surprising and inspired releases of the year. (buy)
Phosphorescent – C’est La Vie: In the five years that lapsed between Phosphorescent records, Matthew Houck married his lover and bandmate Jo Schornikow and started a family. No, this isn’t Houck’s New Morning, but it does find him in a state of domestic bliss, albeit not without lingering existential concerns. The wolves are still, and always, at the door, and Houck seems to call to them on C’est La Vie’s wordless, chanting opener “Black Waves / Silver Moon.” (buy)
Pat Ament – Songs: An impossibly rare early 1970s Colorado singer-songwriter affair reissued by Grapefruit Records. It’s an intimate, immersive listen, with lyrics pitched somewhere between Cohen and Dylan, warm Wurlitzer vibes and Ament’s lovely, lonely vocals. Ament is a celebrity in the rock climbing world, of all things, but he could have easily made a career in music. Either way, Songs is a revelatory collection that shouldn’t be overlooked. (buy)
Michael Nau and the Mighty Thread – S/T: Now three records into his “post-Cotton Jones” discography, Nau has named a new band. They are the Mighty Thread, and they don’t take their title lightly. There is a cosmic and positively radiant thread that runs through all of Nau’s work, his glacial cosmic Americana exuding AM shuffles, lo-fi exotica, and dreamy folk pop. Album opener “Less Than Positive” leaps out of the speakers with an assurance that charmingly belies its title, while flip-side standout “Funny Wind” finds Nau singing to his true north, the one that’s always run through the thread, looking for “a little bit of shelter from the empty space.” (buy)
Julee Cruise – Voice of Love: If we are handing out “well done” trophies to labels this year, I’d like to nominate Sacred Bones for making a vinyl issue of this album a reality. Originally released in 1993 during the CD era, a proper vinyl issue has long been overdue, and the label handled it beautifully. Like her debut, Cruise’s second record was again produced by the pairing of Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch, and – as always – it’s their world we wholly and voluntarily slip into when we press play. (buy)
Drinks – Hippo Lite: Surprisingly overlooked sophomore effort from the polymath pair of Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley. Improving on its predecessor, Hippo Lite splits the difference between White Fence’s daylight psychedelia and Le Bon’s ever-evolving solo work. Genuinely odd—yet endlessly catchy—songs that seem to have not been written, but rather untangled. It’s all here on “Real Outside,” a circular and ever-shifting exercise in musical world building. Who knew deconstructed art rock could sound so damn poppy? (buy)
Cornelia Murr – Lake Tear of the Clouds: “It may sound simple/but for me it’s new.” On her debut lp, songwriter Cornelia Murr takes familiar elements of folk and blue eyed soul and configures them into something wholly her own. Produced by Jim James of My Morning Jacket and featuring a Yoko Ono cover, her songs bring to mind the Omnichord expanses of Broadcast and Stereolab, but Murr’s honesty and soulful beauty belong to her, and her listeners, of course. (buy)
Pill – Soft Hell: Pill is a busy band. Their debut EP was released only three years ago, but since then they’ve poured out an additional two albums and an EP, culminating with Soft Hell, their best release to date. Being one of the few bands to solidly and successfully work a horn as a major aspect of their sound, they stand solidly outside of the obvious parts-comparison of bands like Morphine, and instead stride into something channeling swagger and noise, a riveting embrace of the dark in analyzing a modern life. (buy)
Tommy Guerrero – Road To Knowhere: San Franciscan Tommy Guerrero is no stranger to motion as an ex-professional skateboarder. He made strides in that industry as both a skilled concrete assassin and entrepreneur, and his musical project certainly follows suit. Road To Knowhere is an album full of instrumental good-time tracks that have no boundaries. Latin grooves, funked up soul, and heady psych; this one glides over the speakers with a throwback nostalgia that is both welcome and needed during these exhausting times. (buy)
Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!: Though they’ve expanded their sound considerably since 2014’s Sunbathing Animal, Parquet Courts seemed to lose the razor-sharp sense of purpose that allowed them to slice through all comers in the process. Wide Awake! finds them back in top form without sacrificing their aesthetic gains. Songwriters Andrew Savage and Austin Brown are more distinct from one another than they’ve ever been — for Savage, this is a return to the thoughts-per-second punk of the early records, while Brown has pushed both his lyrics and his music further into impressionism — but they’re both singing urgent love songs about dedicating yourself to the beautiful strangers in your midst. It’s a notion that leaps off the lyric sheet, too, as the band pushes themselves through electro-samba, outer-space dub, and bashing hardcore with equal aplomb. (buy)
KPM – Recorded Library Music: Fans of Brian Bennett and Alan Hackshaw take note. Earlier this year, reissue label Be With Records announced its forthcoming partnership with the
Bonny Doon-Longwave: Speaking to us in March, Bobby Colombo of Bonny Doon said, “When you – if you – listen to our music, there’s a lot of self-critique and doubt, and questioning. That could be construed as negativity – I don’t think we do, though.” That kind of self-awareness is self-evident, and is the theme behind Longwave‘s ten tracks. But for an album full of wistfully declarative, introspective sentences, Bonny Doon left ample room for their take on spaced-out, captivating, catchy music. This one-two punch – confidence in self-doubt, and a strolling groove – helped Longwave arrive as one of the most fully-formed debuts this side of the millennium, and demanded repeated listens, both this year and beyond. (buy)
Elephant Micah – Genericana: The authentic and the synthetic mingle on Joseph O’Connell’s 12th album under the Elephant Micah banner. From synthesized waves to Crazy Horse-esque raves and digital folk epics, O’Connell never settles into one mode. Like Arthur Russell, who serves as as a spiritual guide here, O’Connell understands that genre is nothing more than a tool to be used or even discarded. The album’s title recognizes our homogenized culture — O’Connell disassembles and puts things back together with a careful grace. (buy)
Nap Eyes – I’m Bad Now: Nova Scotian quartet Nap Eyes are practically rock critic bait: smart songs played with reverential nods toward the Modern Lovers, Velvet Underground, and the Feelies. But it’s not just the witty wisecracks and slightly distorted guitars and make I’m Bad Now one of the best albums of the year. Few songwriters write about malaise with as much charm and empathetic chill as Nigel Chapman. “Oh I can’t tell what’s worse/The meaninglessness or the negative meaning,” he sings with an existential sigh on “Every Time the Feeling.” But the trick lives in the way he twists away from frustration toward enlightenment with the next line. “But I figured out a way/To get on with my life and to keep on dreaming.” (buy)
Wooden Shjips – V: Wooden Shjips’ aptly titled fifth album serves a heavy dose of warm, gauzy psychedelia. Embodying the psychic spectrum of a nighttime desert drive, a lost weekend in the valley of beyond, the band alchemizes atmospheric ripples of ragged glory guitar, sorcerous waves of synth, free jazz skronk, and blissed out boogies. It was a more than welcome collection this past scorching summer, emitting its freak out transmissions across high noons and blood moons alike. (buy)
Ted Lucas – S/T: A much-needed repress of this privately pressed 1975 singer-songwriter classic. Side one is an absolute masterclass, with half a dozen of the finest songs ever committed to vinyl. “It’s So Easy (When You Know What You’re Doing),” “I’ll Find A Way (To Carry It All),” and “It Is So Nice To Get Stoned” are especially unassuming, quietly moving, and endlessly listenable. The second side shifts gears, primarily dedicated to a long pair of instrumental passages, with the highlight “Love & Peace Raga” offering an enlightened and serene point of departure. All in all: Essential. (buy)
The Goon Sax – We’re Not Talking: We’re Not Talking: A band of 19-year-olds from Australia who have a knack for incredibly thoughtful and structured indie pop, the Goon Sax’s second album is a tremendous reflection of the leaps and bounds the band has taken over its short life. They fall very easily into the grand tradition of Australian and New Zealand indie bands without batting an eye, which is both to be expected considering member Louis Forster is the son of Robert Forster of the Go-Betweens, but also a bit of a surprise since his reported musical awakening was not his dad’s band, but Green Day’s American Idiot. “We Can’t Win” is the album’s understated masterpiece, something that both evokes and transcends its teenage story and authors, much like the album as a whole. (buy)
Marisa Anderson – Cloud Corner: Another winner from Marisa Anderson, whose singular guitar stylings just seem to get more deeply felt with each new release. Cloud Corner has moments of almost unbearable sorrow (the aptly named “Lament”) alongside passages that let the light in (“Sun Song”). But wherever Anderson goes, you’re always in good hands. She can break your heart with just a few notes, and then bring you back up with a few more. (buy)
Mind Over Mirrors – Bellowing Sun: The solar system is an awful big place, but synthesist and composer Jaime Fennelly makes it feel close enough to touch on Bellowing Sun. Cosmic but tied to the ground in sublime ways, Fennely and his cast of collaborators — which include Janet Beveridge Bean of Freakwater, Jim Becker of Iron and Wine and Cailfonej, and Jon Mueller of Death Blues and Volcano Choir — create drones evoking cosmic majesty. (buy)
Voices of Mississippi – Artists and Musicians Documented By William Ferris: From his youth in the 1950s through the 1970s, Mississippi folklorist William Ferris traveled his home state, from porch to porch, recording and preserving the sights and sounds of his community and neighbors. “It’s about searching for your voice, and for me that voice is embedded in black and white voices on the farm where I grew up, and not wanting to lose those voices,” Ferris is quoted as saying in Scott Barretta’s “In Quest of Southern Voices,” an essay included in Dust-To-Digital’s Voices of Mississippi, a remarkable box set that features two discs of gospel and blues, including recordings by Mississippi Fred McDowell, Sonny Boy Watson, Lovey Williams, and many more, a disc of interviews and stories from the likes of Alice Walker, Barry Hannah, BB King, and more, and a disc of documentary films recorded between 1972-1980. A powerful collection that speaks to the power of amplifying voices too often unheard. (buy)
Hiss Golden Messenger – Devotion: Songs About Rivers: Following 2017’s most excellent Hallelujah Anyhow, M.C. Taylor’s Hiss Golden Messenger takes a victory lap with a beautiful 4-LP box set of early records remastered (Bad Debt, Poor Moon, Haw), as well as a standout rarities collection (Virgo Fool). These tracks – many of them exposed and bare – are the roots with which he’s built a catalog of timeless folk, all the while solidifying himself an essential figure in the modern day American songbook. (buy)
Warren Sampson – Traveller: Warren Sampson’s Traveller, released in extremely limited quantities in 1987, is a wonder, taking listeners on a journey through misty/mystical landscapes reminiscent of Brian Eno’s On Land or Jon Hassel’s “Fourth World” reveries. But even though those comparisons are of a certain bygone age, Traveller (recorded from the late 70s through the mid-80s) sounds startlingly up-to-date, with Sampson weaving ghostly electric guitar and analog synths into a gorgeous tapestry. A private press ambient masterpiece. (buy)
V/A – Give Me My Flowers (Nashboro Gospel Comp): Produced by Third Man Records, and compiled by maestro Mike McGonigal, this essential compilation celebrates the glory days of the legendary gospel label, Nashboro Records. Former grocer and jukebox operator Ernest Lafayette Young built the enterprise from his little record store on 3rd Ave in downtown Nashville, TN. Groups like the Hightower Brothers and the Consolers were recorded in a makeshift studio above the shop and at a radio station during off hours, resulting in pure, passionate platters that kept listeners coming back for more. (buy)
Grant Green – Slick! Live at Oil Can Henry’s: A very pleasant surprise — a sparkling, previously unreleased 1976 radio broadcast from guitarist Grant Green, taped in Vancouver, BC towards the end of his all-too-brief life. Green is best known for his dazzling run of Blue Note LPs in the 1960s; by ’76 he was kind of in the wilderness, without a label and dealing with a transformed musical landscape. But this newly unearthed performance on Resonance Records proves that he still had the goods, whether it was showing off his bebop bona fides on the opening “Now’s The Time” or getting deeply funky on a lengthy, blissful medley that masterfully mixes Stanley Clarke, the Ohio Players, Bobby Womack, Stevie Wonder, the O’Jays into a delicious brew. (buy)
Wes Montgomery – In Paris: The Definitive ORTF Recordings: Resonance Records has been digging up a number of previously unheard recordings from the legendary jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery in recent years. Their latest addition is more familiar, but it’s just as essential. These 1965 live recordings have circulated in innumerable forms over the decades, but never in such stellar sound quality and never with the Montgomery estate’s blessing. Whether you’ve heard this unbelievable performance a hundred times or you’re new to it, Resonance’s edition is as advertised: Definitive. (buy)
Rosali – Trouble Anyway: “I Wanna Know,” the lead-off track from Philadelphia singer-songwriter Rosali’s fantastic Trouble Anyway, floats along for five minutes on just two hypnotic chords. But the song’s straightforward sonic drive is complicated by the turbulent mixed emotions beneath the surface, with lyrics that shift from tough to vulnerable, from restless to soothing. Trouble Anyway doesn’t disappoint after its powerful opener. Bolstered by an all-star cast of Philadelphia-adjacent musicians, the eight tracks soar and shimmer. (buy)
Jennifer Castle – Angels of Death: Angels of Death, Jennifer Castle’s most remarkably potent and poetic work to date, finds the Canadian songstress at the height of her powers, staring down mortality with a country-soul grace that is both elegiac and celebratory. Her songs mourn and rejoice, embracing the transformation of time, the eternal constellation of growth and decay and growth again. (“Look at her, she’s practically dancing”). Castle channels the lunar radiance of Emmylou Harris and the heartfelt barroom blues of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, quietly gleaming with a rustic beauty and a deep, patient understanding of the mystic. This record is a genuine masterpiece. (buy)
Hollow Hand- Star Chamber: Hollow Hand is the nom de tune of Brighton, UK based singer-songwriter Max Kinghorn-Mills. Following an exceptional string of self-released 7”s last year, Star Chamber expands on the homebrewed folk and psychedelic pop swirl of the artist’s previous work. Think: Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt, Syd Barrett, Ray Davies. A home recorded affair, Kinghorn-Mills describes the album as being inspired by “nature, beauty and above all positivity”. All of which sounds pretty good in the manic world that is/was 2018. (buy)
Mary Lattimore – Hundreds of Days: Originating out of a two-month residency in the hills above San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, Lattimore’s third proper solo album is another stunning statement from the now Los Angeles-based harp explorer. Adding a number of instruments (including her own voice) to the equation, opener “It Feels Like Floating” might be her most realized work yet—eleven and a half minutes of unfolding bliss that is unrelenting in its beauty. As healing and exploratory as the very best ambient music, Hundreds Of Days is another bold leap forward for the already innovative national treasure. (buy)
Kath Bloom & Loren Connors – Restless Faithful Desperate: The first of a series of long-overdue vinyl reissues of the remarkable albums folk singer Kath Bloom made with underground guitar explorer Loren Connors. Utterly belying its 1984 release date, Restless Faithful Desperate casts Bloom’s plaintive voice and steady fingerpicking alongside Connor’s mournful and abstract playing. Achingly sad and evocative music with moments of utterly transcendent beauty. A distillation of the true spirit of life—equal parts challenging, devastating, and triumphant. (buy)
John Hulbert – Leap Frog: Following Ryley Walker’s discovery and Tompkins Square’s subsequent reissue of guitarist John Hulburt’s 1972 private press lp, Opus III, comes the rediscovery of lost tapes containing Hulburt’s 1998 follow-up, Leap Frog. Dug up by Hulburt’s sister, the album showcases the guitarist’s late mastery – a delicately intricate rambling of solo acoustic guitar. Album highlight “Metric Joy” is a sylvan crest of the simple pleasures the instrument can conjure when placed in the right hands. (buy)
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs: RBCF’s first proper full-length album is a fun run of 10 tracks, skillfully crafted by a young quintet of Aussies. Following two beachy EPs (Talk Tight, The French Press) the band treads similar territory sonically (think: jangly, catchy rock n roll), while leaning into some heavier themes. Masked by buoyant melodies, hooks aplenty, thumping rhythms, and thoughtful harmonies, lyrics like these (from “Bellarine”): “Cool air off northern “water, two years since I’ve seen my daughter. The fish are biting every line but mine…seems like rum is taking all my time,” show a written wisdom that adds depth to these summer-tinged jams and a reason to hit play any damn time of the year. (buy)
Wye Oak – The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs: It’s been ten years since Wye Oak’s debut, and the evolution of this band has been a master class in finding pathways forward. Their sixth album finds the band developing the sounds they first explored on 2015’s Shriek and ending up with even better results. The album is one of the band’s best approximations of a classic rock songwriting style. “Lifer” is a Joni Mitchell song enveloped in the reverberating envelope of Jenn Wasner’s guitar work, while “It Was Not Natural” finds Wasner and Andy Stack channeling the feel of Christine McVie’s stately pop compositions. This far into their career, they’ve taken a place among indie rock’s more established canon in a way that makes their work feel like part of an ongoing and gorgeous tapestry. (buy)
Myrrors – Borderlands: This year saw a renewed focus on the humanitarian crisis at the US/Mexico border, with the prospect of a wall serving as an apt metaphor for the division that many seek to institute there. Enter Myrrors, a Tucson psychedelic collective whose sound disintegrates demarcation lines between kosmische, drone, folk, minimalism, and free jazz. Theirs is a borderless sound, a utopian work of imagination that sees lines on a map as nothing more than constructs to be disregarded in favor of raw humanity. (buy)
Orchestre Abass – De Bassari Togo: Heavy, organ-drenched afro-psych via early 70’s Ghana. Rediscovered by Analog Africa after decades of neglect, these tapes shine a light on what the label calls “The Islamic funk belt” – where West African music from Northern Ghana to Northern Cameroon mingled with Islamic influences and, in the case of Orchestre Abass, Bassar elements from Ghana’s neighboring Togo. This can be heard in full force throughout this collection’s six fire tracks, pulsating with an exuberant rhythm that reflects the region’s dance of fire ritual, t’bol, where the initiated dances barefoot across hot coals in front of the most important members of his clan. There’s smoke here, for sure. (buy)
Oruã – Sem Bênção / Sem Crença: Like their friends in Boogarins, Rio de Janeiro’s Oruã are in hot pursuit of a distinctly Brazilian form of psychedelic rock. But where the former group often push through to bright, open vistas, Oruã’s music is more claustrophobic, darker, and murky; even when the group pretties things up — pasting in ideas from Japanese ambient, American indie rock, and classic British psych — everything is still coated in a layer of grime. That goes double for singer Lê Almeida, whose gorgeous vocal melodies hang from these songs’ muddy frames like Spanish moss. Elsewhere, they chop up vocal samples, send agitated and fed-back guitars chasing around one another in a circle, and generally scrape away at every conventional sound they allow themselves to make until we’re left with something like the obscured face on the cover: it’s recognizably human, but subverted into something impossible. (buy)
Joseph Spence – Bahaman Folk Guitar: Music from the Bahamas, Vol. 1: Originally released by Folkways in 1959 and reissued in celebration of the label’s70th anniversary, Bahaman Folk Guitar (field recorded in 1958 by blues lodestar Sam Charters) is the document of an immensely singular guitar player. Accompanied by his cursory singing and stomping foot, Spence conjures uniquely individual versions of folk songs of varying origins. Buoyant, joyous, and unusually long songs (all but one are more than five minutes in length) that more often than not sound like four hands playing guitar, not just two. Mesmerizing. (buy)
Theotis Taylor – Something Within Me: In its original state, Something Within Me simply featured Brother Theotis Taylor singing and playing piano. Mississippi mensch Bruce Watson pulled the gospel master from obscurity and added a crack band to the mix, dressing Taylor’s songs in a Sunday coat sewn with funk and blues. However, the crown jewel here is “Steal Away,” left in its earlier arrangement. Taylor’s honeyed tenor drifts atop his delicate piano stylings, which are strangely akin to that of Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou. Both are divine, so no surprise there. (buy)
Terry Callier – The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier: Terry Callier’s 1964 debut record, The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier, was not to be released until 1968. In that four-year lapse, the counter-culture had largely moved on from the folk and blues scene from whence Callier came, but that wouldn’t change the time-stopping earnestness of his booming baritone and deft, jazzy approach to fingerpicking. The record received the deluxe reissue treatment this year, including five previously unreleased alternate takes and liner notes by AD’s own Jason P. Woodbury. Callier would go on to more fully embrace and fuse soul, psych, and funk (looking for the “Candyman” and so forth), but as Woodbury puts it, this is “a document marking a particular moment, capturing a young man in his element, his voice and songs timeless.” (buy)
Maxine Funke – Silk: The long-overdue and richly rewarding third album from the criminally underrated New Zealand folk singer. Hushed and unadorned singing paired with fascinating and intricate guitar playing, and some of today’s finest songwriting. Truly incredible songs that continually reveal themselves, and even a few unexpected electronic sketches. The kind of once in a generation talent that makes you want to shake strangers in the street and tell them about her. Don’t wait for the Sibylle Baier-like rediscovery thirty years from now—Maxine Funke is here now. (buy)
Danielson – Snap Outtavit: New Jersey’s Danielson return with a brief EP that packs in enough hooks, riffs, and thematic scope to sustain a whole long player. “Dry Goods Dry Power” rumbles with neo-psychedelic swing; “Pendulum Mania” builds like a miniature prog-rock epic; “Who Hears Twell Van Dunder” recalls the freak folk Danielson Famile presaged way back in the 1990s. Homespun and confounding in a good way, this new set of songs by Dan Smith and crew is an appreciated gift. (buy)
Tim Rutili & Craig Ross – Choke: The last collaboration between Craig Ross (known for his work with Spoon, Shearwater, Patty Griffin, and Robert Plant) and Red Red Meat/Califone leader Tim Rutili was a longform drone, Guitars Tuned To Air Conditioners. But while their latest takes a more traditional path, calling the songs presented on Choke straightforward requires adjusted terms. Even as the duo play with pop traditions — see the infectiously catchy title track — they do so with experimentalist verve. Crossbreeding glam rock boogies, slow dance numbers, AM gold melodies, and sputtering noise, Ross and Rutili build something singular, a joke about the end of the world made to sound as sweet as picking up your favorite song through radio static. (buy)
John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness: This man is a legend. The Tree of Forgiveness is a classic Prine record. There are love songs, funny songs, political songs, sad songs, heavy songs, and all of the above songs. “Summer’s End” is an instant classic and a damn tearjerker. “Egg and Daughter Night (Crazy Bone)” is one of the funniest songs you’ll ever hear. Buy this record, see the man live, and all that jazz. And John Prine, don’t you dare think about opening the Tree of Forgiveness anytime soon. (buy)
Environments – App: In the late 1960s, Irv Teibel was making field recordings in Brighton Beach for a film project by his friend, the NYC based multimedia drone voyager Tony Conrad. The captured sound of waves, however, were disappointingly unrealistic. Teibel’s quest to conjure a more natural, organic soundscape led him to cut, collage, and process his wave recordings into a more seamless, immersive sonic condition: the “Psychologically Ultimate Seashore.” Teibel’s conceptual intrigue with music concrete blossomed into the Environments alongside the ’60s waves of environmentalism and mindfulness. The LP series were the first commercially successful ambient sound recordings, part-real, part-imagined audio landscapes smartly designed to aid focus, sleep, meditative states etc. To celebrate Environments’ legacy as a progenitor of New Age and atmospheric styles, the Numero Group reissued the collection as a mindfulness iOS app–a surprising move for the primarily vinyl focused archival label, and an ingenious re-contextualization of this retro-futurist “gebrauchtsmusik” that recapitulates the series’ initial novelty. However captivating Teibel’s tale, the Environments app now illuminates an anthropocene landscape where “Dusk in the Okefenokee Swamp” and a “Summer Cornfield” are mediated by an inescapable layer of sleek, fabricated hardware and playfully nostalgic software. (buy)
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21 thoughts on “Aquarium Drunkard :: 2018 Year In Review”
Thank you for this very extensive overview! Much appreciated.
Great work guys – especially on the jazz. My pet peeve these days is year-end lists that include the one groupthink jazz record du jour like Kamasi. No disrespect to the other K-Dawg, but it seems silly to include a single jazz album on a list. Either you’re in it or you’re not, but there is obviously of wealth of amazing jazz records every year, so to include a single entry seems so lazy. Best list I’ve seen this year by far – bonus credit for no dollar signs in the name of a single artist.
Holy shit guys! This is probably your most diverse and interesting list ever and they’re always great. Especially happy to see the shout out to the burgeoning UK jazz scene. My record of the year: Amen Dunes. My favorite music site: AD. Thanks.
Wish y’all would look at what Julian Casablancas is doing with the Voidz, from tyranny to the 2018 Virtue, some incredible stuff and I’d love to see what y’all think,
But as always I am very excited to go through the year in review; A gold mine every year that I look forward to
Great to see a list that is not all the usual suspects. And to see an artist I knew back to the 80’s(Craig Ross), and what he has done since, and what he is doing, now. If there was a list it might have appeared on, this might have been it. I’m speaking of Tunde Olaniran’s Stranger.
I’ll be peeling through this list for the next 4 months. Great, great releases here! Many of these are on my personal favourites list, but a lot of these records I still need to explore. Thank you
What a great list. Lots of stuff I missed and am glad to have found. And I’ll add that “Tunnel of Love” is absolutely the best of the Boss.
Tons of great releases on here. You forgot one of the absolute best though.
Broncho “Bad Behavior”
As has (somehow) become a tradition of mine, here’s the whole list as a massive (2045 songs; 146+ hours) Spotify playlist: https://open.spotify.com/user/rainvt/playlist/1nBb5Mdfk9emyZOkEL65G2?si=c5xZVXwcQxabZJPV7Bf7Gg
See the linked blog post for notes.
Also, note one typo: Ben Lamar Gay – Downtown Castles Can Never Block The Sun is listed as Downtown _Temples_ Can Never Block The Sun above.
This list is absolutely incredible. So many albums that haven’t made other lists this year that, being a man with discerning tastes, I knew were incredible from earlier this year Thanks for the re-affirmation, haha! But seriously, this list rules. I’m very excited to go through it comprehensively and find some stuff I didn’t hear on the first go-round. Way to go, AD.
Despite your joy that Julee Cruise finally made it to vinyl, Sacred Bones and Rhino really botched this by handing it to the lumbering doofuses at Rainbo, who either refuse or are incapable of pressing a proper vinyl release of anything. I can’t even count how many albums from that plant were defective this year, and the Cruise was no exception as it was wildly off-center. It amazes me how many vinyl releases pressed in America are absolute junk.
sorry to hear that, mine plays beautifully
was literally just listening to it!
Stellar list. So diverse and can’t wait to explore the artists I am not that familiar with. Having completed my own top 20 list, I know the hard work put into this and it is appreciated.
I always have mixed emotions about the AD year end list.
It always has some of my favorites of the year.
It always points me in new directions.
It ALWAYS ends up costing me a packet….
Thanks again. I think.
Hi there guys!
thanks for this… looking foward to hear some of the records you put here.
Cheers from Argentina
Not a comment, but wondering if I can get your mailing address. Someone did a nice review last year on an album – Signs of Seasons (song-Sails Across the Sea) and I would like to send a new release of an album of original songs. There were requests in the comment section asking how to hear more or get information. I would send that with the album. Please let me know.
Anyone know where to get some of that Parades Against Parades? It appears that Cardinal Fuzz Shop won’t sell the digital version. Need this album in my life NOW.
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