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.

Best Music of 2015 Part Deux

So little good new music, so much time to listen…. Strike that, reverse it.

album montage deuxI am genuinely surprised at the amount of enjoyable albums coming out in 2015, many by groups that I’ve never heard before. Last month we discovered 6 newly-released ear-tapping recordings and now, to make an even baker’s dozen, we present 6 more in what I like to call: Best Music of 2015 Part Deux.

Hollywood Vampires by Hollywood Vampires
This album features fabulous hard rocking versions of covers, including My Generation, Jeepster and Whole Lotta Love. The band is led by Alice Cooper (yes, that Alice Cooper), Joe Perry (yes…) and Johnny Depp (aye). Individual songs employ many other big name musicians such as Paul McCartney and Joe Walsh. I did not expect this release to be my bottle of pilsner, but these creative versions of beloved songs make my brain tingle in all the right places. 3 stars. Out of 3.

Still by Richard Thompson
Richard Thompson, although not a household name, is certainly one of the greatest guitarists alive. He also writes stunning songs and has a memorable and perfect voice. Rocking for over forty-five years, he puts out another great album with Still. Thompson’s music includes Gaelic influences and a bit of folkishness, but he rocks away as needed. Discover him and then check out his extensive back catalog. 2.5 stars. Out of 3.

Tomorrow is My Turn by Rhiannon Giddens
Rhiannon is the female member of Carolina Chocolate Drops, an old-timey hokum string band. She sports an amazing voice and with this solo album expands genres to include hip-hop, blues, and more. If you like a strong female voice, check this one out. 2.5 stars. Out of 3.

Policy by William Butler
Butler sings/sang/sung for Arcade Fire, who hit their pinnacle a few albums back with Neon Bible. And since I haven’t enjoyed their new stuff so much, I had no expectations for Butler’s solo outing. Quelle surprise! Featuring music that is surprisingly different from Arcade Fire, Butler delivers an enjoyable album that is strong from start to finish. Styles range from good old-fashioned rock and roll to quirky 80s rock, and beyond. Nicely done, Mr. Butler. This is an excellent effort that breaks away from the shadow of an established band and creates a personal voice. 3 stars. Out of 3.

What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World by The Decemberists
A bit more delicate than my typical listening fare, The Decemberists deliver dreamy, subtle indie/folk/rock. This Portland group has averaged one album every 2 years since 2002, so their catalog is already deep and impressive. If you’re looking for a quiet, feel-good experience, you could do worse than What a Terrible World. 2.5 stars. Out of 3.

Glean by They Might Be Giants
Hard to believe these lads have been around since the early 80s. Although their music inhabits a wide variety of styles, TMBG have a distinct sound, largely defined by the lead singer’s unique voice. As usual, songs contain weird weird lyrics, are often strangely child-like and boldly go where one does not expect. If you like past albums, you’ll probably groove to this one as well. 2 stars. Out of 3.

There you have it, a veritable potpourri of aural pleasurefulness. So get ready to drop the needle on that platter and crank the attenuator to twelve and beyond.