Read a summary of the list below and click on the artists’ album cover to go to their music. Thanks! Happy New Year.
01. MID-AIR THIEF
Okay, so this list was compiled in the last couple of hours. I had a bout with cancer this past year and really fell behind on this blog. But that won’t stop me with this list. Mainly because there are some artists that need more love than I’ve seen in the current lists I’ve read. Some artists’ records were on the cusp for me: Stella Donnelly’s “Thrush Metal”, Doe’s “Grow Into It”, Vince Staples’ “FM!”, Sibille Attar’s “Paloma’s Hand” and even a record I received on cassette from a band called ING. All great listens. My favorite record of the year is “Crumbling” by the South Korean band Mid-Air Thief. I hadn’t heard of them or this record until late in the year when I saw it pop up on the twitter mentions of music and jazz writer Ted Gioia. As much as I hate the whole band-blending descriptive, the best way I could explain the music is if you put Sam Prekop’s solo record, Stereolab and Purity Ring together. But even that doesn’t cover the decidedly Asian atmospherics going off like fireworks every 20 seconds. It’s ingenious music. The gamer ping-ponging electronics, blending polyphonics into wild moments with a subtlety that never becomes gimmick. Honestly, I’ve never heard anything like it. I’m so glad to see Tirzah appear in the Top 5 of year-end lists from some pretty big music websites. It’s deserved. Mica Levi’s fingerprints are all over this wonderfully dark, seductive and honest record. Tirzah brought it out with her understated but moody vocals. Both have discovered a thing that many artists should note: No matter the sounds or noise, when repeated it becomes rhythmic, musical. They’ve taken the DIY aesthetic into the stratosphere. Birth of cool stuff here. “All I want is you / All of you / Gladly, gladly, gladly.” I received a link to a review stream of “Ex:Re” – but only a day or so before the release, but I haven’t changed my mind after a few listens. It’s flat-out awesome. Drunk in “New York”. I love everything about that song. Complex lyrics, deliberately messy, dark, poetic, surreal, raw, honest, untamed and beautiful like the best sides of Sun Kil Moon and Cat Power. I can’t begin to tell you how good a songwriter Elena Tonra is. I just had to write a bit on Rose Droll’s “Your Dog” because it’s shamefully getting passed over on so many best-of lists and I can’t understand why. It’s an astonishing record that manages to be tender, moving and emotive without always taking itself so seriously. Songs like the lovelorn “Happy Kitten” with it’s gorgeous piano runs and the breathy “Something of a Rabbit” left me speechless. “And when you come home / Come home to me!” But just when you get into one low-light mood, you get a track like “Boy Bruise” that rattles the soul, the ears and the feet. (Come on, music community. You need to do better at finding albums beyond, say, Ariana Grande. This happens every damn year. People getting paid to do this miss records like Sianna Plavin’s “Go On Now” in 2015, Wildhart’s “Shine” in 2016, mmpsuf’s 2012 work of genius, “Retina” and Tei Shi’s superb “Crawl Space” in 2017. Now, it’s “Your Dog”.) Too bad Rnie’s “Citrus” came out so late in the year. It’s a masterwork. Get on it quickly. I’ve been listening to it since it came out and just bought it on vinyl today. Amen Dunes’ “Freedom” is damn exquisite. “Skipping School” is golden anguish. That scatting in “Calling Paul the Suffering” is inspired. Low already know how I feel about their record, “Double Negative”. I expected it to be so experimental as to alienate the common music fan. It doesn’t. You can clearly hear the B.J. Burton production style on the vocals. It’s like listening to Tim Hecker with all that gorgeous disintegration — or Bill Morrison in music form. Yuno was a joyful discovery. He created one of my personal 2018 anthems: “Why For” with that monster vocal echo, thumping drum and guitar noise. “I guess I’ll be alright this time / But I, I need to be by myself / I mean, I sing for myself, I bleed for myself / I breathe for myself / But you’re still in my core.” Young Fathers’ “Cocoa Sugar” got me through some tough times, laying in a hospital, thinking I was going to die. Its unique sense of soul and non-religious spirituality took me places I thought I was losing. “You’ll never find your way to heaven / But you can follow me.” That Young Fathers’ verse is the essence of the message of great music: Forget the gods. Follow the artists and the tunes. – DeeRob