My Top Albums Of 2018

Wow! For the past couple of years, I’ve started my “albums of the year” post lamenting that it had been a “down year”, and that I had trouble even finding 10 albums to put on this list. No so this year – 2018 was an embarrassment of riches!

Part of that is due to the rise of French pop music. For decades, French pop was an easy target of ridicule for English speakers. And for good reason: French acts were often fronted by dudes who looked more like a Little Caesar’s manager than a pop star, wearing a leather Member’s Only jacket, chain-smoking and singing English lyrics phonetically. But bands like Air and Daft Punk changed all that. Thereafter, French music could be as cool as the coolest bands from London or NYC. And it shows in this list.

It was also kind of fun that this year’s top three albums had a fight to the death for the #1 spot. The past couple of years have been fun and all, but there was always a clear front-runner for the top spot.

Below are my ten favorite albums of 2018. The list comes directly from my Last.fm stats; I have, however, tinkered with the order a bit. After the list are a few honorable mentions, followed by the raw data from Last.fm.

My Top Albums of 2018

10) CHVRCHES – Love is Dead– How the mighty have fallen… in a way. 2015’s Every Open Eye was my #2 album that year, barely missing the top spot to Purity Ring’s insanely great Another Eternity. So the hype machine was in full gear when “CHV3” was announced in January. But the album came out… and it was “just OK”. All the elements of what makes CHVRCHES great are still there – everything just feels slightly “off”. I saw them live in October, and the set list was heavy on Love is Dead tracks. It was a good show… I just don’t have the connection to this album I had with their first two.

9) Public Memory – Demolition – Robert Toher – performing as Public Memory – is a Brooklyn-based musician who creates music that’s… kind of a beautiful, yet gloomy, mix of early Clan of Xymox atmosphere with the tribal beats Dead Can Dance sometimes played with. The 2016 debut album, Wuthering Drum, was fantastic, if dark. This album follows up on that nicely. OK, so it probably isn’t the kind of thing you’d put on at a party. But it’s a solid – beautiful – effort.

8) NONONO — Undertones – Like a lot of people, I discovered Swedish band NONONO thanks to their 2013 hit “Pumpin’ Blood”. I kept my eye on them as they put out a good single from time to time – enjoyable, but nothing top write home about. Imagine my surprise when Undertones came out earlier this year and it was a solid, all-around album. Don’t get me wrong – it won’t change your life or anything. But it’s absolutely worth checking out on Spotify!

7) Grand Blanc – Image Au Mur – Grand Blanc arrived in my life in a big way earlier this year when I discovered “L’amour fou” from their 2016 album Mémoires Vives. Then, out of nowhere, Image Au Mur showed up! This album may lack a banger like “L’amour fou”, but I think it’s a better album as a whole, more coherent and cohesive than Vives. And the songs that should be hits – like “Los Angeles” are pretty tight. But my favorite track from the album is this tune that almost reminds me of something The Raveonettes would have done a few years ago:

6) Metric – Act of Doubt – Metric is one of those bands where I like a song of theirs every few years, but never seem to like their entire albums. They’ve tinkered with their sound over the years, but they seem to be in a good (confident!) place with Art of Doubt. It’s new, yet familiar, and for some reason, the whole thing clicks with me in a way that their previous albums – even the ever-popular Synthetica and Fantasies – simply did not.

5) Sexores – East / West – It’s kind of a strange cultural imperialism that I’ve never really thought much about South American music. I guess I assumed that South Americans all listened to some form of tejano or samba music, depending on their proximity to Mexico and Brazil, respectively. And I even thought this knowing that Morrissey is strangely popular in Mexico. That’s what makes it so surprising (to this honky) that a band like Sexores should come from Quito, Ecuador… yet largely sound like so many other European bands I love. Check this out – they could be any hip band from Brooklyn, London or Stockholm. The rest of the album is equally great, too:

4) Pastel Ghost – Ethereality – Vivian Moon, founder and sole full-time member of Pastel Ghost, makes lush, ethereal, sumptuous, diaphanous, otherworldly, gossamer electropop. The music kind of reminds me of an “angelic Ladytron”, a kind of breathless electronic heaven that should be more popular with the people who chose the pop music for TV, movies and commercials. One track in particular, “3NDL3SS”, sounds like something that, had it been used in an iPod commercial in 2008, would have caused hundreds of thousands of people to google “synthy song in iPod commercial”. My only complaint is that, while the album as a whole is tight, it does tend to get a bit “samey” in the middle. It’s still fantastic though!

3) The Perfect Kiss – Filter – And now… the Battle Royale for the album that will reign supreme in 2018! Have you ever wondered what a synthpop album would sound like if it were made with modern recording and production techniques, but on vintage equipment? Well, wonder no more: British writer and producer Joe Moore teamed with vocalist Holly Vanags to create one of the best albums of the year, all on circa 1985 equipment. It sounds both modern and retro at the same time somehow, and influences seem to come from all sides. Listen carefully and you can hear CHVRCHES, OMD, Visage, Yazoo and Human League. It’s terrific, and nothing shows it off more than the lead track, “Glitches”, which is probably my second favorite song of the year!

2) Therapie TAXI – Hit Sale – Every so often an album comes along and seems to perfectly capture the time in which it was made. I call these “zeitgeist albums”, and the difficult thing about making one is that they’re almost impossible to make on purpose. If you tried to make an album about 2018 you’d have songs about Brett Kavanaugh and #MeToo, and that album would sound as dated as a Capitol Steps album five years from now. All this is a lengthy intro to say that Therapie TAXI’s debut album – Hit Sale, a nice bi-lingual pun, since it means “dirty hit” in French and could mean “selling out” in English – perfectly captures 2018 in 46 minutes. It’s songs about Tinder and Uber and drinking too much and ex-boyfriends – and some songs are so profane they make even me blush. But here’s the thing: to call this album “catchy” is a gross understatement. THIS ALBUM HAS MORE HOOKS THAN A BASS PRO SHOP. I don’t speak French. I look up the lyrics (in French) and translate them into English. I still can’t really sing along, even though I’ve heard some of the songs a hundred times. But I just. can’t. stop. listening. It’s THAT GOOD, folks!

1) You Drive – You Drive – Ya ever have an album pop-up out of nowhere and just GRAB YOU and refuse to let go? Welcome to 2018’s album of the year! You Drive is Matthew Steven Pusti (who records under the name Makeup and Vanity Set) and Jasmin Kaset (daughter of noted country\Christian songwriter Angela Kaset). They do electronic music together. It’s awesome. End of story. I love every song on this album – it’s only been out since August, and it’s already #2 on my all-time albums list! But nothing quite captures their song like the opening track, “New”:

Honorable Mentions

With the caveat that “EPs and singles aren’t albums”:

Clara Luciani – Saint Victoire
Computer Magic – Danz
Den-Mate – Loceke
Farao – Pure-O
Fickle Friends – You Are Someone Else
Future Synths – Now
Korine – New Arrangements
Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
Train to Spain – A Journey
Julia Holter – Aviary
Geowulf – Great Big Blue
Still Corners – Slow Air
Lykke Li – So Sad So Sexy
Peine Perdue – Tokyo En Morceaux
Cœur de pirate – En cas de tempête, ce jardin sera fermé

Lastly… it’s a single, not an album.. but I’m SO HAPPY that Postiljonen has a new single out, with a new album to come in 2019! I love you guys SOOO MUCH! Bring on the new year!

Continue reading “My Top Albums Of 2018”

Tumblr Update

OK, so it took a bit longer than “a couple weeks”, but I have completed the move of my “pretty pictures” companion site from Ello to Twitter. I’ve added a link to the “Social” linkbar at the top of the page, but here’s a direct link:

http://jimcofer.tumblr.com/

The site is kind of sparse at the moment – I’ve queued up my old Ello pictures to post 3 a day. It’ll take a month to post them all, and I’ll mix new stuff in as inspiration strikes.

Check it out!

RANDOM SONG: “Exit (The Wrong Way)”

My favorite band, Marsheaux, has spent most of 2018 quietly reworking some of their old tracks. For example,  “Exit”, the opening track from 2009’s Lumineux Noir, is now “Exit (The Wrong Way)”:

I’m not here
There’s no bright light
Sounds like fear
In your white eyes

I see you through your skin
Stay close, let me lead
Now open, feel me in
Say my name, let me in

Come to me, take my hand
To the exit, to the end

Quick Update

Hi folks!

As you’ve probably heard by now, Google is shutting down Google+ in the near future.  I’ve gone ahead and deleted my Google+ account, removed the Google+ link from the social widget at the top of the page, and disconnected the option to share my posts to Google+. Out of the hundreds of visitors this site gets every day, I’m sure the two of you who actually use Google+ will be disappointed. But this is out of my hands.

Also, over the next couple weeks, I’m going to be moving my “random pictures site” from Ello to Tumblr. You may remember that Ello launched as a Facebook competitor in 2014, as a response to [whatever thing Facebook was doing at the time that made everyone mad and promise to quit the site]. It wasn’t successful, so transitioned to a Pintrest-like site for artists. Since I don’t actually “create” anything – just repost pictures of pretty models & actresses and land- and cityscapes – I feel like I don’t “belong” there any more. I have some visitors coming in from out of town next week, and once they’re gone I’m going to sign up with Tumblr, find a decent theme, and move my old posts there. I’ll keep you posted!

Thanks!

Jim Cofer
Brigadier General, Pecan Pie Army

The Last Battle

Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945. Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies on May 7, 1945. Between those two dates, the last battle of the European theatre happened. And it was one of the strangest battles in history.

* * *

There’s a small village of around 400 people in western Austria called Itter. Itter would be a completely unremarkable place, except for a castle on the edge of town. Given the imaginative name Schloss Itter (which literally means “Castle Itter” in German), the building dates to at least 1241, although sources indicate that the castle may have been built by 1204, and there were likely other buildings on the same spot as far back as the 900s.

Schloss Itter
Schloss Itter in 2010. Photo via Wikipedia

In the 1930s, the castle was owned by a man named Franz Grüner. After the Nazis annexed Austria in the Anschluss of March 12, 1938, Grüner rented the castle to the German government, which held meetings and retreats there. For a few months in 1942, it was home to the “German Association for Combating the Dangers of Tobacco”, who no doubt held the most boring parties ever.

However, on February 7, 1943, SS Lieutenant General Oswald Pohl seized the castle outright on orders of his boss, Heinrich Himmler. Himmler wanted to turn Schloss Itter into a prisoner-of-war (POW) camp.

But not just any old POW camp. This was a POW camp for VIPs, and some of the earliest inmates included former French president Albert Lebrun, former Italian prime minister (and anti-Fascist) Francesco Nitti and André François-Poncet, who had been the French ambassador to both Germany and Italy in the run-up to the war. These people were quickly transferred elsewhere, however.

* * *

During the invasion of France, the Germans captured a number of high-profile French citizens. They would later uncover several ministers of Vichy France who were secretly plotting with the Allies.

Thus, prisoners at Castle Itter included former premiers (prime ministers) Édouard Daladier and Paul Reynaud, Michel Clemenceau, son of former premier Georges Clemenceau, former army commanders-in-chief Maxime Weygand and Maurice Gamelin, right-wing leader François de La Rocque, trade union leader (and future Nobel Peace Prize winner) Léon Jouhaux, Charles De Gaulle’s eldest sister, Marie-Agnès Cailliau, and Jean-Robert Borotra, one of the most famous tennis players in France, who had served as Minister for Sport for Vichy France before trying to escape and join the Allied forces. In addition to these VIPs, many of their wives were imprisoned too, and the Germans had transferred a handful of Eastern Europeans from Dachau to Itter to handle household tasks like cooking, cleaning and gardening.

Castle Itter was no paradise, but by all accounts, if you were going to be trapped in a German POW camp in World War II, Itter was the place to be. VIP prisoners were given the nicest rooms and had free reign to walk anywhere on castle grounds, including the extensive library. The food was reportedly the best of any POW camp. And the 25 SS soldiers charged with guarding the place – mostly older men with little or no combat experience – were later described by prisoners and “nice” or “friendly”. Perhaps the guards were well aware of what a cushy posting they had, and didn’t want to screw it up.

Despite this, the French prisoners were openly hostile to each other. Reynaud and Daladier were sworn enemies, so it was like having Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at your office’s mandatory team-building retreat. What’s more, both Reynaud and Daladier couldn’t stand Weygand, who had surrendered the bulk of France’s army to the Nazis on June 17, 1940. And it should go without saying that the right-wing La Rocque and the Communist union leader Jouhaux didn’t get along, either. The VIPs split into three groups and avoided each other as much as possible. At meal times, the prisoners sat at different tables: the Weygands, the Borotras, and La Rocque at one table, Reynaud, Christiane Mabire (Jouhaux’s secretary and future wife), Gamelin, and Clemenceau at a second table and everyone else – “the neutrals” – at a third. Continue reading “The Last Battle”

The Swedish Girl

I watched a Danish series on Netflix a while back – The Rain – and noticed that the lead actress, Alba August, vaguely reminds me of someone from my past.

Alba August
(Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

The Swedish Girl moved in to my neighborhood the summer between junior and senior year. She was 15½, and thus needed rides to and from school until she could get her license. Since she was cool and lived just down the street, I offered.

And that’s what our relationship was: I picked her up (some mornings) and brought her home (most afternoons). For several weeks. That’s about it.

Now I’m not gonna lie and say I didn’t have any feelings for this girl. But here’s the thing: for one, she was younger, 15½ and still firmly in school, while I was about to graduate. We lived in the same neighborhood, so there was the possibility of post-break-up awkwardness . And, to be honest, I was sick of the Duluth High School drama by that point: why date someone at your school and deal with the 90210 bullshit when you can avoid it entirely by dating someone from a different school?

Having said that, I loved every second I spent with The Swedish Girl. I took her to school and brought her home, and we made each other laugh and listened to cool tunes along the way. Sometimes she’d draw me pictures as a thank you for toting her. It was probably the sweetest, most innocent relationship I’ve ever had: a cute Swedish Girl was drawing pictures for me and it was fucking adorable.

But then I did something – insulted a friend of a friend of The Swedish Girl. I think? I never really knew, which is kinda what pissed me off so much when she dumped me as a friend: I never knew why it had to end.

My last interaction with The Swedish Girl came a year or two later.

It was a Saturday, and my friend Jamie and I had gone to Little Five Points for lunch and to check out the action. Heading back to Gwinnett, we got on the Downtown Connector northbound at Boulevard. I got over a couple lanes, then had to brake for traffic. I looked over at the car to my right, only to see The Swedish Girl. She pulled down her sunglasses and raised her eyebrows a couple times in a faux flirt. I, amazed by the coincidence,  just smiled at her like a moron. The Swedish Girl then gestured at the traffic ahead and mouthed the words “Wanna race?”

Still stuck in idiot mode, I nodded.

So The Swedish Girl just floored it. She had one of those nicer Accords – the “sporty one” is, I believe the correct Man Term for it. Within seconds, she was off like a rocket, weaving through traffic. It took my Jetta a bit to catch up, but when I finally did, it was neck and neck.

Up the Connector.

Past North Druid Hills Road.

Past Clairmont Road.

Past Shallowford Road.

Doing 90+ mph through it all, dodging cars like they were asteroids in a video game.

The Swedish Girl and I would sometimes look at each other as we passed the other, sometimes smiling, sometimes smirking. It was like a really, really bizarre type of flirting:

Troy Weirdest Boner

It was also one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done in a car. And I’m not proud of it now. I coulda killed someone. But hey, at the time, it was just Saturday fun.

Fun, that is, until I finally came to my senses sometime after 285 but before Jimmy Carter Boulevard. There was a bottleneck in traffic, and The Swedish Girl and I had to pass a car. She broke right, while I broke left around the car. But I chose incorrectly: traffic in that lane had slowed considerably, with no way to switch lanes. I was boxed in and could only watch while The Swedish Girl sliced through traffic ahead. She was soon gone from my sight completely.

Which was fine, actually. I remember turning to Jamie, my heart pounding a hundred miles an hour, and saying something like “Oh my God! What did we just do? Man, if the cops had caught us I woulda been screwed. What the hell was I thinking?”

So that’s that. I saw The Swedish Girl turning into, or out of, my neighborhood from time to time, but that was all. If The Swedish Girl ever stumbles across these words, I genuinely hope you’ve had a wonderful life. Because, for a couple months in 1988 you were the coolest.