Best of 2019/Honorable Mention 2019

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@@@ The Muslims: Mayo Supreme (Don’t Panic Records, 2019) Three South Asians (two female, one male) tear it out with all the energy and attitude of classic punk. Great playing, outstanding singing and lyrics. As punk as some of my favorite punk shit of all time. Favorite track: The Stew.

@@@ The Good Ones: Rwanda, You Should Be Loved (Anti-, 2019) An acoustic record by survivors of the genocide in Rwanda. It’s hard to put a non-cliche word on this music — heartbreaking is a good place to start. Simple guitar parts and beautiful singing. Start with track 2, Despite it All I Still Love You, My Dear Friend.

@@@ Loscil: Equivalents (kranky, 2019) A super engaging and slow ambient record. Meticulously layered into one giant cloud that pulls you in. The word Equivalent appears in every track title and the record has a pleasing sameness to it sonically. Something at this slow pace in today’s world is super welcome. Pick whatever track and dive right in.

@@@ Canalon de Timbiqui: De Mar Y Rio (Llorona, 2019) Similar in style and beauty (minimalist, acoustic, incredible singing) as the Good Ones record but with female singers and marimbas at the center of the record. Some folks just let the music out of their bodies.

@@@ Kelly Moran: Ultraviolet (Warp, 2019) One of the best records I’ve heard that combines electronic and improvised music. I find the blend of prepared piano and synthesizers mesmerizing to listen to. A lot of electronic music can sound overly processed and sterile and that’s avoided here. At the same time post classical prepared piano records can be a bit uptight and that’s avoided here as well. The idea of this record being a bit John Cage and a bit Tim Hecker is an apt description.

@@@ The Garifuna Collective: Aban (Stonetree, 2019) A cultural mash of Caribbean musics — places like Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. The Garifuna are a people in that region and this music is a unique mash of Carribean, Brazilian, and African influences. Rhythmically on fleek for sure with more gorgeous singing. Check out the effortless groove of the third tune Hamala.

@@@ Andre Bratten: Pax American (Smalltown Supersound, 2019) Tight, funky and minimalist techno out of Scandinavia. The distinguishing feature here is the focus of the arrangements. At first glance there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot going on but if you listen just below casual beats are shifting and sounds are coming and receding in waves making for a subtly dynamic record. Bears up to repeated listens for sure, I have it on now for the umpteenth and I feel its freshness revealed.

@@@ Nathan Corder/Tom Weeks: Black Mamba (Wolf’s Blood, 2019) Slotted as a hardcore record on Apple Music it is a saxophone and guitar free jazz record that is accurately self-titled in the below track. Trash music in the highest sense of the word. I never really understood or got Cecil Taylor’s music but I get this. The third track, Gripped, is killer.

@@@ Wyxz: Yiy (Self-released, 2018)  Not available on Apple Music (possibly other streaming music stores)  this is both brutal, mental and cerebral.  If this doesn’t get your blood pressure up you might be dead.  Accelerated tempos, manic and jumpy ass guitar sounds, it’s Frank Zappa with a Red Bull shot into its eyeball for a quick hit.

HONORABLE MENTION

@@@ Brittany Howard: Jaime (ATO, 2019) Much more appealing to my ears than her previous work with Alabama Shakes. Interesting sonically and arranged with more daring than 99% of today’s major label music. Just a tiny bit of jazz mind makes this stand out.

@@@ Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka (Polydor, 2019) A soulful re-enactment of classic late ’60s, early ’70s soul music by this British singer. Standard concious lyrics, and groomed sounds. A slight update/upgrade to these classic sounds would have put this on the best of year list.

@@@ Deafkids: Metaprogramacao (Neurot, 2019) A tad slow out of the gate it gets into it’s own definition of a wicked shred by the fourth tune, Mente Bicameral. There’s not a lot of new non-metal rock and this formula could be a way forward.

@@@ clipping.: There Existed an Addiction to Blood (Sub Pop, 2019) clipping. is sharp as a tack on this Seattle hip hop record out on Sub Pop. Sonically it leans a bit away from hip hop and more towards electro and I feel that. Those fresher sounds reframe his music as something more than standard hip hop.

@@@ Danny Brown: uknowwhati’msayin (Warp, 2019) I like Brown’s style– he’s got an odd delivery and his lyrics are most definitely left field. He’s street and quirky ass odd at the same time. I like the track with Run with Jewels and Killer Mike’s turn on the mic is a standout. I found the middle of the record to be hotter than the beginning.

@@@ Bonnie Baxter: Axis (Haisu Mountain, 2019) You have to be able to admit the chopped up nature of our present day digital reality, as well as our shattered attention spans to enter into this organic electronic music which sounds really ancient and super today at the same time. It’s raw and unfiltered like good honey. Highlight: No DICC.

@@@ Toko Telo: Diavola (Daniel Brandt, 2018) This guitar heavy folk music out of Madagascar is my best music pick for corporate stooges. It’s just straight beauty with gorgeous interwoven guitar playing and soaring vocals. Check out the third tune Zaza Samondrara for a taste.

@@@ Kaleta and Super Yamba Band: Medaho (Ubiquity, 2019) One part African blurred and mashed up with one part classic American funk (including old school wah wah guitar shredding. Check out the second song, Mr. Diva and go from there.

@@@ Bug Martin: Gutterball (Pyrrhic Victory, 2019) Starts a bit slow but it’s on the list here due to the fourth song, Hypocrite’s Rag and the fifth, Jim Rodgers’ Blues. Very well executed update/homage to lonesome classic country.

@@@ Saint Abdullah: Mechanical Flirtations (True Aether, 2019) Holding down that space where electronic music meets improvised music. Also the inclusion of Iranian music (this record is a project between two brothers in Brooklyn and Tehran) makes this a unique effort. Outside of that interesting fact the music hits viscerally, just the way I like it.

@@@ Tobe Nwigwe: The Originals (Tobe Nwigwe, 2018) A first generation Nigerian-American MC from Houston that mashes up dancehall and hip hop with an undercover African flavor to it. His microphone work is sharp and combined with his excellent lyrics he is a force to be reckoned with. His sounds are as focused as his lyrics.

@@@ Logistic Slaugher: Corrosive Ethics (Logistic Slaughter, 2016) If I’ve never heard a metal band like this I’m guessing most listeners out there have not either. It’s not about the extreme sounds of the band, it’s that the singers sounds like a pig trying to sing jazz — he bounces up and down on rhythmically over the band, it’s quite mad.

@@@ Buzzherd: Buzzherd EP (Self-released, 2019) 21 minutes of roughness. Remember kiddies it’s not about who is the roughest, it’s about how it’s all put together. I tend to gravitate to the pissed singers rather than the cavemen and that’s what’s happening here.

@@@ Oli XL: Rogue Intruder, Soul Enhancer (Bloom, 2019) I would describe this as sci-fi electro funk with trippy, glitched bits on top. Chopped and delayed vocal samples, slick beats and slightly dubwise sounds in the arrangement constitute the formula here. The fourth track here, Mimetic, is a highlight but the depth and space of this record works for me.

@@@ Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Ghosteen (Ghosteen Ltd., 2019) The sounds contained on this record are mesmerizing and superlative. However, Cave’s transformation into some sort of emotional advisor/New Age philosopher is slightly less welcome to me as an occasional annoying line pulls me out of the sounds.

Protesting Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer on year end lists!

I’m all for folks showing who they are in their music and I’m all for equal rights, racial equality, economic equality, etc, but at the end of the day I want banging music that I return to.  I don’t find that in Dirty Computer.

This track below (by Janelle Monae) meets all the requirements and the fact that this track was somewhat suffocated (read about it here) and Dirty Computer is on the year end lists as the best of this year says everything that’s wrong with the music business and the music PR, and music journalism.  Too much about the personal lives and identities of the performers and not enough on the music.

I would rather listen to 1999 and to this tune as a combination of music and politics than the restrained and detached music on Dirty Computer.

Best of 2018

**** not arranged by preference ****

1. Courtney John: Ecosystem (Soul Fire, 2017)

A perfectly crafted combination of old school roots reggae flavors with a great band and a singer I like a whole bunch. The band is tight and relaxed simultaneously with space for organ solos, guitar business, etc.

2. Guy One: #1 Best (Philophon, 2018)

A unique large ensemble African record from Ghana that sports elements of Afrobeat this record smokes from beginning to end. Great playing, great singing and high energy. This is about as good as music gets. I have spun the fuck out of this record all year.

3. Melissa Laveaux: Radyo Swivel EP (No Format, 2018)

It must suck to be a Williamsburg indie hipster and see how a Haitian Canadian woman who lives in Paris does your hipster indie songwriter thing better than you could dream of.

4. Magrudergrind: II (Relapse, 2016)

All the players in the band are above average and they are tighter than a welldigger’s ass in the middle of the winter but it’s the drummer who takes the gold star. He thrashes, he sprays, he grooves, he drives the bus.

5. Irreversible Entanglements: Irreversible Entanglements (International Anthem, 2017)

This free jazz trio plays really well but the woman on the microphone doing the spoken word part is the star here and they burn all the way through. She coughs up more than a few cutting lines, especially in the first piece. Check it out.

6. Los Texmaniacs: Cruzando Borders (Smithsonian Folkways, 2018)

This is a beautiful and super musical mariachi record regardless of the politics involved here. Needless to say Trump is a fucking asshole and I’m a fan of Mexican culture. I’m particularly impressed with the accordion player but I’m super into accordion. Everybody in this band plays and sings at a super high level.

7. The Ballantynes: Liquor Store Gun Store Pawn Shop Church (La Ti Da, 2013)

If you took the Blues Brothers and put ’em in flannel shirts and gave them a lot of any old school white trash beer and removed the horn section and the frat boy bullshit you would have something very close to this record. It’s a guitar driven soul/rock record with a lot of guitars, a male and a female singer that both do good work with a slap-tastic ramped up band.

8. American Lips: Kiss the Void (Ancient Fashion, 2017)

It’s not easy to make a mainstream hooky rock record and have it sound fresh. These guys do a good job of recreating an early ’80s half punk/No Wave kind of thing but with a pop sensibility and plenty of hooks.

9. 700 Bliss: Spa 700 (Don Giovanni, 2018)

Organic electronic production and a pleasantly confrontational African American female MC/singer/spoken word artist headline this EP. A friend of mine says this has a retro electro feel but I’m not schooled enough in old school electro to know.

10. Tim Hecker: Konoyo (Kranky, 2018)

Tim Hecker’s new record, Konoyo, is dark. And it’s also unsettling. It’s also extremely well put together and beautiful. It is an ambient music record without drums or over rhythms with an emphasis on metallic sounds and bell like sounds

11. Shad: A Short Story About War (Secret City, 2018)

The lyrics on this record outperform — smart, conceptual, well thought out. It’s called a concept record but I think that’s bogus. Just because an MC is intelligent enough to connect warmongering with capitalism does not a concept album make. It’s called thinking motherfuckers.

The arrangements here are really good with no particular bent except maybe a retro thread — there are some jazzy sounds and mellow ones and there are more driving and urgent arrangements (for example the tune clipped below).

12. Vaudou Game: Otodi (Hot Casa, 2018) A tour de force of all funk genres with an absolutely ripping drummer and fantastic band energy. It’s hard to believe humans can be this funky.

13. Open Mike Eagle: Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (Mello Music, 2017)

I got to this hip hop record at the very beginning of this year but have struggled as to whether to put it on the ’17 or ’18 list so I’m going to put it on both as it’s that good. Incredibly well done lyrics and ear catching (but not poppy per se) arrangements take listeners to a whole ‘nother place. I can’t begin to praise the way this record is put together and executed, it’s hip hop and beyond hip hop at the same time.

14. Paul de Jong: You Fucken Sucker (Temporary Residence, 2018) In an era of shiny, happy people taking our civilization right over the cliff de Jong mixes the personal and implies the political with a tune like You Fucken Sucker. In addition to that nugget of true indie misery the ambient pieces towards the back of the record could be portraits of the opioid mind or the economically downtrodden or the millions of disconnected folks out there. Life is messy as fuck but rarely does that mess make it onto wax and the interwebz. DISCLAIMER: I worked on this record and I work with this musician.

15. Hernan Sama & Marcelo von Schultz: Sonidos desde el camp para los animales y la vida salvaje (Self-released, 2018)

What makes a great free jazz hit? It’s a slippery question. This self-released sax/drums set ticks all the boxes for me. A little Ayler, a little Mu Sessions and just a freshness to the playing or a desire to play what other people might expect.

16. Tal National: Tantabara (Tal National/Fat Cat, 2018) I don’t usually go for the super stuffed songs but the melodic complexity of the guitarists combined with the drummer and the active singers makes for a glorious hot African mess. When they lean into the central grooves of the tunes it is ecstatic in nature.

17. Gouge Away: Burnt Sugar (Deathwish Inc, 2018) I have a soft spot for the angry female punk singers. Though these guys get into more than straight ahead power chord punk bashing they sport a classic up in your grille attitude. I don’t idolize the gent but it has that ragged Nirvana Bleach era energy and the drummer here kills it. They all kill it.

18. Babylon Trio: Habibi (Rebel Up, 2018)

Iraqi refugee musicians tear it up with Arabic street music flavored with euro club flourishes and some of the cheesiest and partyistic synth patches in years. The energy and the messiness of it is so refreshing. It’s ‘I don’t give a fuck’ messiness and not ‘I can’t play straight’ messiness.

Best of 2018 Pick 11

Shad: A Short Story About War (Secret City, 2018)

This hip hop record is most certainly the first record I’ve loved that has been traced back to NPR.  I can’t stomach the music picks of the New York Times or NPR but this record is great.  A hat tip to my friend Daniel for hipping me to this record.

The lyrics on this record shine — smart, conceptual, well thought out.  It’s called some sort of concept record but I think that’s bogus.  Just because an MC is intelligent enough to connect warmongering with capitalism does not a concept album make.  It’s called thinking mothefuckers.

The arrangements here are really good with no particular bent — there are some jazzy sounds and mellow ones and there are more driving and urgent arrangements (for example the tune clipped below).

Shad is a great MC with a friendly voice.  The tunes bounce back and forth between more militant and darker tunes about war (such as the third tuneStone Throwers (Gone In a Blink)) and more partyistic celebrations of blackness that will not be played at Trump Nazi rallies.

Regardless of Shad’s voice or the arrangments the draw here remains the lyrics.  Nobody in any genre of music is talking about war and capitalism and race and the environment in this manner.  All in a soulful and non-pretentious style.  When he busts out the line ‘they see people run, so they run, they see people die so they die’ — you can’t fuck with that.

Check it out.

 

Best of 2018 Pick 10

Tim Hecker: Konoyo (Kranky, 2018)

I’ve learned over and over again that most music listeners consider themselves sophisticated but yet they are prejudiced against dark and unsettling music.  Folks will watch anything — violence, sinister shit, horror movies, etc but at the end of the day their preference is for shiny, happy music.  And I could give a flying fuck for that preference and continue to recommend records of extremely high quality without regard for vibe.

Tim Hecker’s new record, Konoyo, is dark.  And it’s also unsettling.  It’s also extremely well put together and beautiful.  It is an ambient music record without drums or over rhythms with an emphasis on metallic sounds and bell like sounds.  There are other sounds but these sounds are core to the record.  The pace is slow without being glacial.

Writing about ambient music is similar to writing about jazz — it’s very difficult to do without sounding like a pretentious dickhole.

This is a great record for the moment we are living in and folks should check it out.  I listen to hundreds of records each year and this record is one of the best I’ve heard this year.