Beating my Chinese New Year deadline by nearly two months, here is my list of favorite records of the past 12 months. Was it this year that the music blog officially died? It seems like more are going dark, and fewer are starting up. I shall endeavor to do better this year. This year also saw the really bad idea of labels not including downloads with copies of vinyl records. If you are one of those labels, please reconsider. I love the download card! My record player does not travel well and I hate buying stuff twice.
1. Lime Crush – Sub Divide (Fettkakao)
Finally, an LP to follow up this Austrian band’s ace 2015 7”. Sharp, punky numbers full of spite, humor and a little sax. All three songs from that single smartly resurface here and a surprise vocal from Calvin Johnson at the end ties the it all together.
2. Spirit of the Beehive – Hypnic Jerks (Tiny Engines)
Hypnic Jerks (I love that title) is the third LP from this Philly band. It has elements of Deerhunter, Lilys, Brainiac, Swirlies and many other unsung, underground darlings in my record collection.
3. Dumb – Seeing Green (Mint)
Most would file Dumb under Pavement/Parquet Courts, but I dig way these Vancouver underground rockers’ punky songs evoke Big Boys, sport an offbeat sense of the absurd and (probably) make an unintentional nod to Stewart Copeland’s alter ego Klark Kent.
4. Shopping – the Official Body (Fatcat)
For album number three (why does nobody call the third album their junior effort) Shopping rip it up and start again. Not exactly, but they employed Edwyn Collins to produce the record. Their brand of dancy post-punk benefits from an infusion of Orange Juice to make it their most accessible record yet.
5. Jonathan Fitoussi & Clemens Hourriere – Espaces Timbres (Versatile)
This duo employ vintage modular synthesizers to create ambient landscapes that share topographical similarities with Kraftwork’s Radioactivity and Eno’s ambient stuff. Rarely does ambient music feel so powerful, but this record is juiced with the ability to make one feel they are floating into other realms.
6. Free Love – Luxury Hits (Full Ashram)
The Glasgow duo formerly known as Happy Meals smartly change their name to Free Love for their debut LP. Luxury Hits is 80’s style synthpop made with updated tech and the song Playing as Punks may be my favorite song of both 1988 and 2018.
7. Sons of Kemet – Your Queen Is a Reptile (Impulse)
I didn’t even know that the Impulse label still existed as a label that put out new stuff. This is the group’s third album and its tuba, trombone, sax, clarinet attack spans Mingus, Jamaican ska/reggae, Coltrane and Sun Ra. Remarkable, even for non-jazz aficionados like myself.
8. Shannon Shaw- In Nashville (Easy Eye Sound)
Is it ok to say that I like this better than any Shannon & the Clams albums? The Shaw – Auerbach collaboration reminds me a little of accomplished pop-psych that came out of the Del Shannon – Andrew Loog Oldham collaboration.
9. Flasher – Constant Image (Domino)
I love how this DC band blend Hometown influences like Unrest and Holland with Three O’clock style paisley underground into a brilliant record that goes against the current grain. If this came out 25 years ago it woulda been on Teenbeat fer sure!
10. Gwenno – Le Kov (Heavenly)
For her sophomore album Gwenno has switched from singing in Welsh to singing in Cornish, a minor detail probably for most of us who speak neither. Whatever language she sings in, Gwenno excels at the lingua franca of krautrock-psychedelic-soundtrack strain of rock.
11. Datenight – Comin’ Atcha 100MPH (Drop Medium)
Anyone remember that Box Elders record from a ways back? This reminds me of it. the way it employs a DIY pop aesthetic that could easily be described as influenced by Flying Nun, yet being American they rock a little like the Replacements too.
12. Goat Girl – S/T (Rough Trade)
London’s Goat Girl sound like a 1980’s 4AD band from the United States. Translated, that means think Throwing Muses and Pixies. Throw in a little PJ Harvey and Gallon Drunk and you’re only missing Steve Albini, who apparently was too busy playing poker to records their debut LP.
13. Knife Knights – 1 Time Mirage (Sub Pop)
Former Seattleite shoegazer Erik Blood worked with Ishmael Butler on the last few Shabazz Palaces albums, but Knife Knights sees the duo formalize their partnership under a new moniker. This is strange trip into some alternate universe inner space that leans more towards Shabazz style sonics than Blood’s tremolo inspired miasma. Nevertheless, it’s an exciting exploration into something brand new.
14. Virginia Wing – Ecstatic Arrow (Fire)
This is the first Viginia Wing I’ve bought since EP on Faux Discx. I love it. Touches of Taken by Trees, Hector Zazou, and Broadcast, the latter which (as you can probably tell) seems to be so prevalent in my listening tastes lately.
15. Crepes – In Cahoots (Spunk!)
Post rock with a side of jazzy psychedelia to keep you on your toes from this Australian band. Favorite track has to be Bicycle Man, which sounds like a bastard descendant of Tomorrow’s My White Bicycle.
16. Red Red Eyes – Horology (WIAIWYA)
This year I’ve felt a strong Broadcast influence in the rock continuum and UK duo Red Red Eyes are another piece of anecdotal evidence for my case. It’s not a Broadcast tribute mind, Horology is moody, mysterious, trippy and not afraid to borrow from Massive Attack and Serge Gainsbourg either.
17. Honey Bucket – Furniture Days (See My Friends)
The indie scene in Portland seems to have dominated the rival Seattle one in recent years and Honey Bucket (along with Mope Grooves and Woolen Men) have been at the core of its rise. Furniture Days is a herky-jerky tour de force with nods to the Fall, the Elephant 6 collective and Jonathan Richman to name a few.
18. Massage – Oh Boy (Tear Jerk)
I feel like lots of big cities have an underground indiepop scene that hides from the mainstream on purpose. For example, Los Angeles jangle poppers debut is a beauty that has a real Bus Stop Records feel to it. That lowa City label had such a great aesthetic…the Sneetches, Honeybunch, Bag-O-Shells, the Springfield’s and Velvet Crush to name a few.
19. Wimps – Garbage People (Kill Rock Stars)
This Seattle trio has more ideas, songs, riffs and humor than their self-deprecating presentation leads you to believe. Garbage People will make you laugh, think and dance all at once. A difficult feat rarely even attempted by the most accomplished band.
20. The Shifters- Have a Cunning Plan (Trouble In Mind)
Was the plan to make folks think you are influence by the Fall and the Clean when you were only mildly familiar with them. Lightening often really does strike twice and the old folks don’t have a monopoly on bareback riffs and off kilter melodies, they only had the benefit of being born first.
21. Anna Burch – Quit the Curse (Polyvinyl)
Burch was in the Sarah Records influenced Failed Flowers with Fred Thomas of Saturday Looks Good to Me. Here debut solo album has a nod or to towards K Records, specifically Lois Maffeo, with its 90’s style indiepop and understated sardonic pop.
22. Insecure Men – S/T (Fat Possum)
The new band from Saul Ademczewski formerly of Fat White Family is light, playful and unassuming, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. With a name like Insecure Men and sounding like it they were influenced by Harry Nilson, the Lightening Seeds, Love & Rockets and Captain Sensible, Ademczewski an his collaborator Ben Romans-Hopcraft stay on the pop rails just barely.
23. Green Seagull – Scarlet Fever (Mega Dodo)
From the If it ain’t baroque then surely its psychedelic school of 60’s rock revivalism, comes Green Seagull’s debut LP. Both of last year’s excellent singles reappear here to re-mezmerize, but there are many new songs drenched in kaleidoscopic harmonies and 12 string guitars that are just as worthy.
24. The Roves – S/T (One Man Movement)
This London band’s debut album is a jangly throwback to classic 60’s pop records that were packed with two and tree minutes pop songs and not a dud to be found in the bunch.
25. Olden Yolk – S/T (Trouble In Mind)
I always wonder when a member of a band, say Shane Butler of Quilt, starts another band, what does that mean for the other band? Are they kaputt, or just taking a break? Bultler is joined by Caity Shaffer and they come off sounding like a long lost 60’s California folk group that has a thing for the German motorik beat. A near perfect combination of the two and my new chocolate & peanut butter.
26. Kikagaku Moyo – Masana Temples (Guruguru Brain)
The popularity of this Japanese psychedelic band appears to be on the rise and Masana Temples should continue that upward trajectory. Far east raga styles collide with motorik, Stereolab loopiness combine to generate feelings of heightened awareness or comfortable numbness depending on your needs.
27. Rolling Blackouts CF – Hope Downs (Sub Pop)
I never can remember whether it’s Coastal Blackouts Rolling Fever or Rolling Coastal Blackout Fever or some other combination. I usually just refer to them as that Australian janglepop band that reminds me of the Close Lobsters, Go-Betweens and three or four Flying Nun bands. And if I didn’t know any better I might guess that Cappuccino City has some Prefab Sprout in it.
28. Part Time – Spell #6 (Burger/Tough Love)
David Loca’s Part Time consistently puts out quality 80’s inspired pop records and Spell #6 is no exception. Apparently this one got a little extra studio attention instead of being a bedroom affair. Rightfully, as this bunch of songs warrants the extra effort.
29. The Orielles – Silver Dollar (Heavenly)
I’ve seen the Orielles described as being, baggy, shoegaze and C-86. They’ve been compared also to the Pastels, Pink Floyd, Belly and Orange Juice. For the record I’m not going to add to that confusing list of comparisons. I will say that this trio’s debut album is strong in the pop department and has something for nearly everyone.
30. Kelley Stoltz – Natural Causes (Banana & Louie)
The well from which Kelley Stoltz draws his water must run deep and have an endless source, because the guy has continuously and reliably made great pop records for the past 15 years.
31. Paint – S/T (Mexican Summer)
I wonder if when a member of a band goes and makes solo album, does he or she think they’re making a top record or do they just have something that needs to be release outside of the confines of the band? Allah-Las guitarist and singer Pedrum Siadatian is Paint and his Kevin Ayers sounding record is quite nice for those inclined to like those sorts of things.
32. Young Scum – S/T (Pretty Olivia)
I always imagined that Kurt Cobain’s Cardigan wasn’t very comfortable and Itchy Sweater confirms my suspicions. Sorry, that was a very inside baseball sentence. Just know that this young Richmond, Virginia band effortlessly blend Aztec Camera, St. Christopher, and Pains of Being Pure At Heart into something that is entirely their own.
33. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake (Rough Trade)
The new PC’s album was produced by Danger Mouse, reminds me of the Beastie Boys Check Your Head era funk and Spoon’s sparse percussive pop. Wide Awake might be their best since Light Up Gold.
34. Beach House – 7 (Sub Pop)
Baltimore’s Beach House are a prolific duo and their many records seem to have building up to their seventh appropriately titled album. If you recall late period Cocteau Twins when they were at the height of their ethereal powers, then you will no doubt already own this.
35. Clearance – At Your Leisure (Topshelf)
Up until now in this Chicago band’s career, I thought Clearance had a bit too much love of Pavement. On At Your Leisure the band stretch a bit into Feelies and REM territory to surpass anything they done in the past.
36. Ural Thomas & the Pain – The Right Time (Tender Loving Empire)
Down the I-5 in Portland, Oregon Ural Thomas & the Pain have made a throw-back soul record that could have come out on Daptone or Colemine (and would have enjoyed more notoriety). The Right Time has some stone cold classics on it, but like so many of the best things in life it has flown under the radar of the masses.
37. Papercuts – Parallel Universe Blues (Slumberland)
I’ll be honest, I hadn’t really paid too much attention to Jason Quever’s Papercuts until Slumberland scooped them up and I read a review that compared them to 80’s Los Angeles Paisley Underground scene. No matter what style you tag it with, the songs are top notch and the ethereal washes of vocals and guitar are just icing on the cake.
38. The Goon Sax – We’re Not Talking (Chapter Music/Wichita)
After seeing this Australian trio live this fall, We’re Not Talking fell down a bit in my estimation. They were so elementary, that I just couldn’t get past the idea that they may not be playing their instruments on this record. Is there an indiepop version of the Wrecking Crew? Whatever the case, this album has some really good song and descent playing, but I’m skeptical.
39. Cavern of Anti-Matter – Hormone Lemonade (Duophonic)
Tim Gane’s post-Stereolab groop puts it all together on their third album. It’s full of experimental Kraut excursions and just enough song structure to keep it from going off the rails.
40. The Purrs – Destroy the Sun (Swoon)
Weird how you can’t find this record in a single Seattle record store, or at least I didn’t. It’s a shame, because these guys should be considered a Seattle institution. Destroy the Sun takes some Love & Rockets and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and mixes it with the band’s own knack for melody and great guitar licks to be the best Purrs LP since The Chemistry That Keeps Us Together.
Tomorrow Syndicate – Future Tense (Polytechnic Youth)
Say Sue Me – Where We Were Together (Damnably)
Amor – Sinking Into a Miracle (Night School)
Woolen Men – Post (Self-released)
The Beths – Future Me Hates Me (Carpark)
The Chills – Snow Bound (Fire)
Blues Lawyer – Guess Work (Emotional Response)
Math & Physics Club – Lived Here Before (Fika/Matinee)
Cut Worms – Hollow Ground (Jagjaguwar)
Pete Astor – One For the Ghost (Tapete)
Freak Genes – Qwak Qwak (Drunken Sailor)