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 to 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… 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, samba or pan flute music, depending on their proximity to Mexico, Brazil and Peru respectively. And I even thought this knowing that Morrissey is strangely popular in Mexico. That’s what makes it so surprising (to me) 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 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 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 styles 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 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 wordy way to say that Therapie TAXI’s debut album – Hit Sale, a bi-lingual pun, since it means “dirty hit” in French and “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 two people. One is Matthew Steven Pusti, who records under the name Makeup and Vanity Set, and who did the soundtrack for the excellent Atlanta Child Murders podcast, Atlanta Monster. The other is 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”

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

A Random Memory

Back in the 80s, some time after my family moved from one end of a suburban Atlanta county to another, a married couple moved in a few houses down. The husband was, I think, a former big wig in the Air Force. He’d retired and moved to Atlanta for a new job. Somewhere between 6 months to a year after they moved in, their youngest son failed out of college and moved back in with his parents.

I worshiped this guy. I was a 14 year-old dork, and he was a cool 20 year old guy who’d been away… in college! He liked all the cool bands, movies and art. Cool literally oozed out of this guy. And he especially dressed cool – I started wearing a single rubber bracelet – yes, the same ones Madonna would wear 20 per wrist back in the 80s… just ‘cos this guy did, too.

Now, I’m not gonna lie and say we were friends. He didn’t know anyone in Atlanta when he first moved there, and I was “the kid down the street who liked Bauhaus too, and was good for a laugh on a Tuesday night”. Still, we hung out fairly often, at least for a few months until he got connections to people his age in the city.

And so: in 1985, when I was 14, this dude invited me to see Love and Rockets with him. He bought me a few beers – another cool thing about the guy was that he’d been grandfathered into the drinking age hike, so could buy beer at 20. And I, being 14 and with little alcohol experience, got blitzed.

The venue was a “cinema & drafthouse” that was converting to live music, so security was kind of lax. About halfway through the show, I drunkenly crawled up on stage and propped myself up against the speaker next to David J. He looked down at me, but did nothing. Since I – 5’9″ and 117 lbs soaking wet – didn’t seem like a threat, neither did security. So that’s where I sat for about half the show.

Afterwards, my friend, who’d brought his fancy 35mm camera, magically convinced the back doorman that we were from Creative Loafing, the city’s alt-weekly. We got backstage and hung out for a bit, which was cool. But then the party moved to the Winnebago the band had rented. After a while inside, I realized wasn’t feeling so hot, alcohol-wise. So I stepped out of the RV for some fresh air. While standing there, I got the idea of doodling on the side of the RV with a Sharpie I’d brought. A few minutes later, Daniel Ash poked his head out the door. Instead of getting angry, Ash laughed, came outside and drew on the RV for several minutes with me before they left.

Somewhere I have a fuzzy, black & white photo of our “artwork” on the side of the Winnebago.

My Top Albums Of 2017

Another year, another list of my favorite new albums!

So… 2017 was a strange year for music. There were a handful – emphasis on “handful” – of albums I loved… and quite a few I listened to once and promptly forgot. I also finally noticed a trend that’s been building for a few years: I’ll find a great new album one year, like it enough to put on my “best of” list, but only truly “discover” the album the following year. Fully half of my overall most-listened to albums in 2017 – five of ten – were from 2016.

Below are my ten favorite albums of 2017. As I’ve done the past couple of years, 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 2017

10) College – Shanghai – College isn’t a “band” exactly; it’s a “project” headed by French musician David Grellier. He’s worked with acts like Minitel Rose, Electric Youth and Anoraak, and, under the name “Mitch Silver”, he’s been a member of Sexy Sushi since 2004. If you don’t keep up with European electronic music, that might not mean a lot to you, but trust me: the guy has deets. And beats. Ironically, that’s one thing Shanghai lacks: beats. It’s a moody, atmospheric affair, one that could be mistaken for a soundtrack album. It’s not my favorite thing College has put out, but it was good enough in a lean year to sneak onto this list:

9) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Echo of Pleasure – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are one of those bands where I either love or hate each individual song. Some songs I listen to over and over again; others I listen to once, never to hear again. The Echo of Pleasure is a pretty solid album all around, though. Good job, guys:

8) Furniteur — Perfect Lavender – Furniteur is a bit of a mystery. It’s at least one blonde girl from Washington DC. There are two guys who perform on stage with her… are they part of the band? Musicians only hired when she plays live? Who knows? Her\their various webpages – Bandcamp, Twitter, Last.fm – are quite vague about who they are. But that’s not important, really. All I know is, I’ve played them a lot since they showed up on a Spotify “Discover Weekly” list. Perfect Lavender is an awesome, and surprisingly solid, album. A lot of times albums start off well, but lose steam halfway through (I’m looking at you, Bryan Ferry), or they only have 1 or 2 good songs to begin with (I’m looking at you, Primitive Radio Gods). Unlike the bulk of synthpop artists, where you’re ready to play someone else’s album about halfway in, this album surprises you when it finishes. “I listened to the whole thing? Nice!”

7) Me The Tiger — What Is Beautiful Never Dies – A SWEDISH band on my top ten list? NO WAY! That’s a joke, son: seems like half the bands I listen to these days are from Sweden. Anyway, Me The Tiger isn’t quite like the rest of the Swedish bands I listen to. It’s not “slow, dreamy” synthy stuff. Instead it’s loud, in your face, and slightly abrasive. Instead of the calming vocals of Mia Bøe (Postiljonen) or Anja Oyen Vister (Flunk), Me The Tiger’s Gabriella Åström is loud and, at times, almost shouty. Not that that’s a bad thing – it’s just that Me The Tiger will never be on anyone’s “best chillout songs” playlist. Having said that, the band does get quite a bit “samey” after a while. Still, a pretty sold effort from these Swedes:

6) Johnny Jewel — Windswept – Johnny Jewel is the driving force behind Chromatics, one of my “Top Five” bands at the moment. No band out there can create an atmosphere quite like Chromatics and Jewel can. And there’s no better example of this than Windswept, a collection of songs Jewel wrote (and collaborated with others on) for the recent Twin Peaks revival. Have a listen to the title track, heard over the end credits of episode 5, and throughout episode 6:

5) Kid Francescoli — Play Me Again – Marseilles’ Kid Francescoli returns with another kick-ass album (their 2014 debut, With Julia, was #2 on my “best of” list that year). Any why not? This is solid pop music, folks! Look, I get it. I really do: for decades, French pop music was an easy target for English-speakers to make fun of, with dated Italo disco-style beats behind a chain-smoking, “not nearly as cool as he thinks he is” Frenchman singing phonetically in English. Yes, yes… I know. But French pop has come a long way in the past few years, thanks to acts like Kid Francescoli. Have a listen to this (and yes, before you ask, on the album the singer does not use the words “backwards mother lover”):

4) Maud Geffray — Polaar – Maud Geffray is a French musician and producer. And the lead single off this album, also named “Polaar”, is fantastic. A big part of the reason I knocked this album down from #2 on my scrobble list to #4 on the album list is because those scrobbles were dominated by “Polaar”. That, and much of the album consists of variations on “Polaar” (“In Your Eyes”, a duet between Geffray and Flavien Berger, is just a heavily-remixed version of “Polaar”, for instance). Still, when this album hits, it hits hard:

3) Sylvan Esso — What Now – College radio loves Sylvan Esso… and you should, too! There’s no “sophomore slump” here – just ten kick-ass tracks in a row! The lead single, “Radio”, is a scathing indictment of FM radio… and is exactly the same vibe Katy Perry swung at and missed in “Chained to the Rhythm”. Yet, this album is somehow a mystery: it makes fun of pop music, yet is an excellent example of the genre. Take notes, Katy Perry. Sorry for the live version of “Radio” below, but I guess the foul language in the official music video triggers YouTube’s “adult” filter, which WordPress’ embedding tool doesn’t like. But that’s OK, though: one of the best shows I saw last year was Sylvan Esso, so here’s a taste of what their live show is like:

2) Washed Out — Mister Mellow – OK, let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: yes, this is an album to smoke weed to (see: music video, below). Let’s not pretend it isn’t. And yes, listening to this album in “enhanced mode” is probably better than listening to it sober – there’s a lot of “noise” in this album that will just kind of… annoy some. But that doesn’t make this just a stoner album. Ernest Greene has been the flag-bearer for the chillwave movement, and this is something he does not take lightly. All of the tracks on this album are finely-crafted pieces of art, and if this “visual album” isn’t quite as good as 2013’s Paracosm or 2011’s Within and Without… it’s only because Greene took a swing at a concept album. Whether it’s a home run or foul ball is up to you.

1) Saint Etienne — Home Counties – Saint Etienne have been one of my favorite bands since the late 90s. They are, in my estimation, the “longest-running” band I still like (as opposed to bands like Depeche Mode or Duran Duran, which I consider “nostalgia acts” to the chagrin of friends). Home Counties – named after the counties that surround London – is a “day in the life” tour of the area… and it’s one of Saint Etienne’s best albums. They’re getting up there in age – Sarah Cracknell turns 51 in April – so one has to wonder if this might be their last album. If so, what a way to go out! For some reason, this album, to me, echoes their entire catalog. “Dive”, for example, reminds me of their early, “60’s revival” work, while “Underneath the Apple Tree” seems to hearken back to the “electronic English folk” era of Tiger Bay. And the album’s best song – “Out of My Mind” – is a total belter, made all the better by the (ironic?) fact that once you hear it, you won’t be able to get it out of your mind. Bob, Pete and Sarah have spent 27 years searching for the perfect pop song, and they might have just found it. I adore this album from start to finish, and you will, too!

Honorable Mentions

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

Heaven – Lonesome Town EP
Public Memory – Veil of Council EP
Pale Honey – Devotion

Continue reading “My Top Albums Of 2017”