The Best of 2018 (So Far)

With the ending of each year come the inevitable “Best Of” lists. It’s a very tiring time for writers and reviewers. And readers. So, to make life easier, I’m presenting the best music of 2018 (so far). Perhaps if we find something sufficiently exciting we won’t need to do this again in December.

Like a comfortable shirt covered with paint and food stains, They Might Be Giants have nourished my soul for more than 30 years. These prolific songwriters create a vast arsenal of music, so much that some of it’s bound to be good, or even great. But beyond the mere volume of their material, TMBG are a talented duo, crafting quirky and engaging pop tunes by the dozens. I’ve enjoyed but not been blown away by their recent albums, until now.

TMBG

I Like Fun, an album whose name is rather difficult to ascertain from the album cover, is not necessarily typical TMBG fare, but it is a great pop rock album. Each and every song, from the somewhat Beatlesque machinations of I Left My Body to the hints of Queen mated with Esquivel in Mrs. Bluebeard to the outright weirdness of the title track, this is one catchy, foot-tapping cornucopia of fabulous music. I give it an 8.4 on the Richter scale.

But wait, there’s more.

No Age is a noise rock duo that has been around for some time now, although they are new to me. Their fifth and latest release, Snares Like a Haircut, has the best title I’ve heard in quite some time, but it’s also filled to the brim with good ol’ sloppy garage punk and roll. If Husker Du and The Replacements had hooked up after an art gallery opening, No Age would have been the resulting spawn.

NoAge

The band’s sound is steeped in distortion, but more along the lines of muddy guitar chords than heavy metal guitar riffs. Styles range from the fuzzy dream pop of Send Me to the Ramones-like Popper to the aggressive yet catchy Soft Collar Fad. Kind of sloppy, kind of lo-fi, but the music is still melodic and catchy. An unusual and enjoyable find, I give it a 7.2 on the Richter scale.

To be sure, there will be more great albums released in 2018, but come the end of the year They Might Be Giants and No Age will definitely sit near the top of my best-of-the-year list. So get your Christmas shopping done early (Note: If you want to check these items out and give them as temporary loans for Christmas, please wait until December) and stay tuned for more spectacular music from 2018.

Listen Up! Spring New Music Arrivals

Faded collage of six album covers with the text "Listen Up!" printed over them.

Chase away the clouds with some great new music arrivals. Place your holds now:

Starchild & the New Romantic – Language (Ghostly International) – Down-tempo funk with a retro feel. Artist Bryndon Cook’s music may be a nod to greats like Prince, P-Funk, and Michael Jackson, but the album is far from derivative. It’s more of a homage to those who have come before with the sincerity of a creative and talented musician blazing his own path past the monuments.

Soccer Mommy – Clean (Fat Possum Records) – Dreamy, folky, a little gritty. Singer/songwriter Sophie Allison took what was more or less a home-grown scene of her making via her uploaded music and re-recorded her material into a robust full-length release for a wider audience. The album still has the intimate, personal feel of her earlier recordings, but is more fully realized with the backing of a band. Her material is stripped down, autobiographical, and highly relatable – giving you a window into the life of this very talented young artist on the rise.

Meshell Ndegeocello – Ventriloquism (Naive) – Ndegeocello’s vocals are spare, layered over production that has an almost dreamlike, ambient feel. Her work features interpretations of RnB hits that anyone who came of age in the 80s or 90s will recognize. Each track is less of a cover and more of a reinvention; there is a warmth and mystery to each that makes me think of them as throwback lullabies.

Shopping  – The Official Body (Fatcat Records) – A post-punk concoction that’s a little surf rock, pop, and new wave all in one. If the B-52s and The Slits had a love child, it would sound a little like this album.

No Age – Snares Like a Haircut (Drag City, Inc.) – Lush, full bodied noise-rock. No Age’s fifth studio album shows a maturity of sound that has developed over 13 years of collaboration. The mingling of beauty and turmoil creates an explosive mix of highly enjoyable tracks. Is polished roughness a thing? If so, they’ve nailed it.

Screaming Females – All At Once (Don Giovanni Records) – Alt rock with venue-dominating vocals and a punk vibe. Another release from a veteran act making the list, this is the 11th album for the Screaming Females. Clearly they haven’t lost a step as they continue to push the boundaries of generefication. Special treat for the fans of Fugazi – Brendan Canty makes a guest appearance on drums.

Dabrye – Three/Three (Ghostly International) – Hip hop with strong electronic production. Producer Tadd Mullinix returns to his Dabrye moniker after a long hiatus. His time ‘off’ has been fruitful for his work in different electronic music ventures, but fans of his hip-hop material have long been awaiting this latest release. Three/Three does not disappoint. This album boasts a long list of collaborators staying true to Mullinix’s Michagander roots by highlighting Detroit-area MCs new and old in particular.

Lindi Ortega – Liberty (Shadowbox Music, Inc.) – Dramatic ballads with a Spaghetti-Western flare. Ortega’s beautifully-emotive vocals lend an air of mystery to her tracks. Grab this album and be taken along on a wild ride as each track tells a tale of loss and salvation. I have a soft spot for albums that tell a story and this one delivers a Country Gothic tale worth hearing.