The Fortnightly Playlist, April 21st, 2019

It’s an exciting playlist this time around. Lately I’ve been really struck by the new singles from Operators, Aldous Harding, Sinkane, Holy Ship, Versing, and HAELOS, as well as the new albums from Lizzo, The Black Tones, Stephen Malkmus, and Little Simz. It’s a wide array of sounds, and I’m loving it myself.

~Listen here~

I think we often miss artists that just aren’t on our own radars, and that is a big part of why I do this. I enjoy sharing things I find, and maybe someone will find something here that they wouldn’t have otherwise come across. I think in terms of race we often get caught up in discussing what is Black culture and White culture and how they interact. Meanwhile, there are very under-represented people making amazing things. Black Belt Eagle Scout grew up in the Swinomish Tribal Community not far from where I live now. Her early influences in music were her family’s native traditions and local rock bands like Nirvana and Hole. Discovering her music last year is a reminder to me to seek out things new things and not just stay in the same circles I’ve occupied before.

Sinkane’s new single, Depayse, is a striking one, and makes me very excited for new music from the Sudanese-American. The immigrant experience is a very prominent and important theme in Sinkane’s music. That experience of being intimately tied to multiple places, and, in a way, multiple identities makes for a very unique and beautiful music. For those who have been reading here for awhile, you know that Sinkane’s Life & Livin’ It was my favorite album of 2017, and I’m very happy to see new music from him again.

Shawn Smith, a local legend in Seattle scene passed away on April 5th. Two weeks ago, I had my post pretty much set to go, and did not really know how to fit him into it in an appropriate way. Shawn was friends with his more widely known Seattle cohorts from the ’90’s to present, but also was a regular at small venues like The High Dive where he could be found whether he was on the bill or not. When KEXP was doing their tribute to him, they had people sending them unreleased material of Shawn’s. It seems that this was just something he would do. He would send someone a song that he wrote and recorded because he was thinking of them, or was asking their opinion. It’s a loss felt by everyone in the Seattle scene, and involves a prominent issue of our culture today. Shawn passed from complications with diabetes, and those complications had been exacerbated by the fact that he could not afford healthcare. This time I decided to close the playlist with two songs from differenct projects he was involved in: “For Those Gone On” by Pigeonhed, and “Through The Day” by Brad. I also would like to share this video of him playing live at The Crocodile.

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Tracklist:
Operators – Faithless
Open Mike Eagle, 2 mello, Inverse Phase – Beatdown City (We Gon’ Whup Yo Ass)
Epic Beard Men – Sand Dunes
Little Simz – Offence
The Budos Band – Old Engine Oil
Stephen Malkmus – Come Get Me
Fruit Bats – The Bottom of It
Courtney Barnett – Everybody Here Hates You
Black Belt Eagle Scout – Loss & Relax
Versing – Tethered
Holy Ship – Night Aquatic
Marshmello, CHVRCHES – Here With Me
Haelos – End of the World Party
Spellling – Under the Sun
Aldous Harding – The Barrel
Sinkane – Depayse
Fuse ODG – Outside of the Ropes
Nilufer Yanya – Baby Blu
Lizzo – Jerome
Little Simz, Michael Kiwanuka – Flowers
The Black Tones – Ghetto Spaceship
Modest Mouse – Poison the Well
Caracara – Learn Your Love
Titus Andronicus – (I Blame) Society
Pigeonhed – For Those Gone On
Brad – Through the Day

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The Fortnightly Playlist, April 7th, 2019

Another full 2 weeks, another batch of new music. Americana folk, punk, chamber folk, grunge, goth, funk, rap, blues and soul crammed into one playlist again. New singles from Greys, illuminati hotties, Craig Finn, Quivers, and Sinkane, and new albums out from Cochemea, John Vanderslice, and Lady Lamb all here. New collaborations as well with Marissa Nadler & Stephen Brodsky, Karen O & Danger Mouse, and Phoebe Bridgers & Conor Oberst (Better Oblivion Community Center). New releases from Andrew Bird, Ibibio Sound Machine, and Strand of Oaks also featured again.

Listen Here!

As mentioned before here, Andrew Bird’s newest album is titled My Finest Work Yet, and while I’ve only given it a couple solid, straight-through listens so far I think it very well may be. “Bloodless” might be my favorite Andrew Bird song ever, and it is far from being the lone highpoint. The multi-instrumental virtuoso seems to be at his best on every instrument, and his voice actually sounding better than ever here. Other favorites on the record are “Don The Struggle”, “Fallorun”, and “Bellevue Bridge Club”.

Quivers may have one of my favorite songs this year. It’s a shimmering guitar-pop that from the outset has a U2-esque quality with it’s steady, insistent rhythm and and bright guitars. “You’re Not Always On My Mind” builds into a beautiful song, and it has certainly struck me more than their previous material. The Australian quartet is certainly a band to watch for in the near future.

Glen Hansard, Strand of Oaks, illuminati hotties, and Cochemea definitely among my favorites this week. To close things out, I think it needs to be said that illuminati hotties is the best bandname to come along since The Dandy Warhols.

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Tracklist:
Greys – These Things Happen
illuminati hotties – I Wanna Keep Yr Dog
Quivers – You’re Not Always On My Mind
Strand of Oaks – Visions
Man of Moon – Ride the Waves
Marissa Nadler, Stephen Brodsky – For The Sun
Perry Farrell – Pirate Punk Politician
Kool Keith – Blast
Ibibio Sound Machine – I Need You To Be Sweet Like Sugar (Nnge Nte Suka)
The Budos Band – Veil of Shadows
Cochemea – Mescalero
Maria Magdalena – Tropic
Sinkane – Everybody
Fakuta – Juntapena
Lady Lamb – Deep Love
Andrew Bird – Cracking Codes
Better Oblivion Community Center – My City
Josh Ritter – Old Black Magic
Jenny Lewis – Little White Dove
The Lumineers – Gloria
Craig Finn – Something to Hope For
Glen Hansard – Fool’s Game
Karen O & Dangermouse – Turn the Light
John Vanderslice – Enter the Void

The Fortnightly Playlist, March 24th, 2019

Well, someone has to be willing to champion some of the weirder music, right? This edition of the playlist does really go all over the place stylistically. It kicks off with a double shot of Ibibio Sound Machine, and twists and turns its way through Funk, Afrobeat, Electro, Thrash, Balkan Folk, Americana, Modern Rock, Math Rock, Indie Folk-rock, Hip-Hop, R&B, and Desert Blues.

Listen Here!

Seattle-based, gypsy-thrash band, Kultur Shock have released their latest album, D.R.E.A.M. Kultur Shock have never been a band to shy away from their roots or their message, and this record is no different. It kicks things right off with “Refugee”. A driving punk song railing against the selfish and prejudiced treatment immigrants receive in the US, and no one escapes the scathing indictment… “And what about you, my correct friend on the left? Would you like to hang out or see our children on a playdate?”  Musically, this is a relentless record. Driving guitar, screaming fiddle, a wide array of vocal stylings, and a tight rhythm section.

Rosie Tucker’s new record is beautiful. It’s an emotionally rich album that feels personal, but it also is full of humor and wit. I have to say her work has an honest feel to it. Throughout the tracks you’ll find embarrassing admissions, feeling laid bare, opinions that couldn’t be said in person and ended up in songs. It’s a bold and sincere Indie-rock effort, that is really finding its way into my go-to albums this year.

Other favorites this edition are Wintersleep, Strand of Oaks, the new collaboration between Iron & Wine and Calexico, and Hatchie. Oh yeah, and I think Ibibio Sound Machine has my favorite album so far in 2019. Enjoy!

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Tracklist:
Ibibio Sound Machine – I Will Run
Ibibio Sound Machine – Just Go Forward (Ka I So)
Panda Bear – Dolphin
The Chemical Brothers – Got To Keep On
John Vanderslice – Spectral Dawn
The Claypool Lennon Delirium – South of Reality
Kultur Shock – Haram Para
Fontaines DC – Roy’s Tune
Strand of Oaks – Final Fires
Calexico, Iron & Wine – Father Mountain
Rosie Tucker – Fault Lines
The Tallest Man On Earth – The Running Styles of New York
Hatchie – Without a Blush
Wintersleep – Forest Fire
Foals – Exits
Vel The Wonder – Deep End
Gifted Gab – That Way
Solange – Almeda
Tartit – Afous Dafous
Kultur Shock – Refugee

The Fortnightly Playlist, March 10th, 2019

Looking at this finished playlist makes me realize I’ve been really into upbeat groove-based music lately. Blues and funk elements all over the place. New albums from Chaka Khan, Galactic, Kel Assouf, and Gary Clark Jr. certainly steer things in that direction, and new singles from The Black Keys, Ibibio Sound Machine, and Mdou Moctar keep up that trend.

The playlist is here

Chaka Khan’s new record came out last month, and it has some seriously good tunes. It’s her first release in 12 years, and it blends together various eras of pop music including funk, disco, and hip-hop. By now, of course, Chaka Khan is a legend known as the Queen of Funk. Her career spans back to her first release in 1973 as the lead singer of the band Rufus, and now includes 9 Rufus albums and 13 solo releases. While the new record is quite short, it is very good to know that Khan — turning 66 this month — is still giving us new material of such high quality.

One of the albums I’m really looking forward to is Ibibio Sound Machine’s upcoming third full-length release, Doko Mien. The London-based group draws on many different style of traditional and modern music in an absolutely fascinating way. There’s a reason that all three singles so far have found their way onto these playlists. I find them to be a highly unique group that manages to blend West African funk and disco with electro and post-punk like no other group I’ve come across. The band takes its name from the family history of singer Eno Williams. Though she was born in London, she spent much of her childhood in Nigeria where her mother’s native language was Ibibio.

Other favorites this week include Kel Assouf, this incredible Shakiah tune, the new Filthy Friends single, the new Black Keys single, and the new Wintersleep single.

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Chaka Khan – Don’t Cha Know
Galactic – Already
Galactic – Everlasting Light (feat. David Shaw and Nahko)
Shakiah – 3718
Vel The Wonder – Luck
Dessa – Grade School Games
Nicola Cruz – Obsidiana
Ruben Blades, Making Movies – No Te Calles
Filthy Friends – Last Chance Country
Strand of Oaks – Ruby
Hiss Golden Messenger – Watching the Wires
Cochemea – Mitote
Mdou Moctar – Kamane Tarhanin
Kel Assouf – Tenere
Gary Clark Jr – Low Down Rolling Stone
The Black Keys – Lo/Hi
Ibibio Sound Machine – Guess We Found A Way
Hiss Golden Messenger – Everybody Needs Somebody
Wintersleep – Into The Shape Of Your Heart
Black Mountain – Future Shade
John Vanderslice – Will Call

The Fortnightly Playlist, February 24th, 2019

There’s a wide variety of styles this edition, which reflects my listening lately. A little more World music, more neo-classical, some hip-hop and dance… really just a bit of everything. There’s a new Czarface record out, as well as new records from Lazerbeak, Vieo Abiungo, Ladytron, Gary Clark Jr, and Cass McCombs. There’s also new singles from John Vanderslice, Eliza Shaddad, Jamila Woods, Flock of Dimes, Gaye Su Akyol, and Tacocat.

Luther is the new full-length record from Lazerbeak. It’s his first solo album since 2012’s Lava Bangers, but of course he’s been far from unproductive since then with his fingerprints being all over every Doomtree-related release that comes out. Also, last year saw him collaborate with Chicago-based rapper, Longshot, on a record called Parades. The new record has a much more patient and atmospheric sound than his more typical big beats that come to the front of his more hip-hop oriented material for P.O.S, Sims, or Shredders. The tracks tend to be more builders than straight bangers on this one, but it makes for a great listen straight-through.

My big discovery this week was Gaye Su Akyol. Her blend of funk, synthpop, blues and electronica with Turkish flair has really struck me as some of the most fun music available today. It’s full of energy and brings together eastern and western styles in ways that could only be done by someone fully immersed in both. The big, bold hooks here really draw you in, and it’s the sort of thing you can’t help but move to.

Other favorites in this edition are Cass McCombs, Nicola Cruz, Flock of Dimes, Ibibio Sound Machine, and MADMADMAD.

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Tracklist:
Bruno Bavota – Passengers
Lazerbeak – Fathoms
MADMADMAD – Gwarn
Ibibio Sound Machine – Wanna Come Down
Flock of Dimes – The Sisters
Madeline Kenney – Helpless
Porter Ray – Mask of Control
Jamila Woods – ZORA
Eliza Shaddad – Don’t Speak
We Were Pirates – You Don’t Owe Me Anything
Plain Sails – Made of Glass
Ladytron – Far From Home
Nicola Cruz – Siete
John Vanderslice – I’ll Wait For You
TacocaT – Grains of Salt
Fontaines DC – Too Real
A.A. Bondy – Images of Love
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – Deli
Hey! Douglas, Gaye Su Akyol – Ayva Cicek Acmis
Gary Clark Jr – What About Us
Czarface, Ghostface Killah – Powers and Stuff
Vieo Abiungo, William Ryan Fritch – Cobble Together
Joshua Burnside – Desert Wine
Cass McCombs – The Great Pixley Train Robbery
Teen Daze – Endless Light

The Fortnightly Playlist, February 11th, 2019

A day late, but not a song short. Difficult to fit everything in that I wanted to this edition. There’s a lot of excellent music coming out. New records from Blockhead, The Dandy Warhols, Steve Mason, Beirut, and Deer Tick, and new singles coming from Andrew Bird, Florence + The Machine, Lucy Dacus, and The Mountain Goats.

Listen Here

Andrew Bird has released the 2nd single now leading up to his upcoming release, and he’s sounding better than ever. Bird is the sort of artist that is so wildly multi-talented that it is almost infuriating for any amateur-musician-turned-amateur-blogger, but also you can’t help but admire him. I first came across his music about 10 years ago, but recently I realized just what a catalog he has amassed. his upcoming record, My Finest Work Yet, will be his 15th studio record. I see no reason yet to disbelieve the title.

There was one artist that I featured twice on the very first Fortnightly Playlist I made. It was early 2016, there were 10 songs, and 2 of them were from Lady Lamb’s album After. Well, Lady Lamb (Aly Spaltro) is back again releasing her first single since 2016’s Tender Warriors Club. True to form, the new single is exactly the things that made her stand out to me in the first place. Energy and honesty, unexpected turns and intricate weaving lines. I definitely look forward to more from her.

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tracklist:
Junius Meyvant – Lay Your Head
Lady Lamb – Even In the Tremor
Florence & The Machine – Moderation
Haelos – Kyoto
Hembree – Culture
Blockhead – Slippery Slope
The Dandy Warhols – Thee Elegant Bum
Malibu Ken – Corn Maze
Death Valley Girls – Disaster (Is What We’re After)
Gary Clark Jr – I Walk Alone
Steve Gunn – Vagabond
Deer Tick – Run of the Mill
Bear’s Den – Fuel On The Fire
Steve Mason – Spanish Brigade
Beirut – Gallipoli
Ritual Howls – Alone Together
Lucy Dacus – La Vie En Rose
Andrew Bird – Sisyphus
The Mountain Goats – Younger
Ex Hex – Tough Enough
Mekons – Lawrence of California
Erika Wennerstrom – Twisted Highway
Jeff Johnson & Phil Keaggy – Cappadocia

The Fortnightly Playlist, January 27th, 2019

New music this year is coming thick and fast already. Pedro The Lion, Sharon Van Etten, Steve Gunn, Junius Meyvant, and The Twilight Sad all have new albums out, and there are singles out from Strand of Oaks, Cherry Glazerr, Rosie Tucker, Teen Daze, and Wintersleep. New collaborations have been announced as well. Karen O and Dangermouse have a single out together, and there’s the new Malibu Ken project between Aesop Rock and Tobacco that I’ve been loving this week.

There is a spotify playlist here.

Tim Showalter went through a difficult period after the release of the last Strand of Oaks record, Hard Love. The album was a follow up to 2014’s breakthrough record, HEAL, and was thus under more public scrutiny than past work. It was this not quite satisfying experience that led to a low period for Showalter. As has become more public now, he went through a severe period of depression to the point that he seemed convinced that he would not make music again. His friends from the band My Morning Jacket heard that he was not well, and made themselves available during a break on their tour. They contacted him offering to be his backing band on the next Strand of Oaks tour. There’s a reminder in here for everyone. You know people who are struggling, and sometimes they really need someone to reach out. In this case, My Morning Jacket may have indeed saved a life. The new single, Weird Ways, has been something I’ve found more impactful than any Strand of Oaks song before it. The album is set for release in March.

One of the weirder and most interesting albums so far this year is Malibu Ken. The project is a collaboration between indie-rap vocabulary king, Aesop Rock, and psychedelic electro-mastermind, Tobacco. If you’re familiar with the previous works of these two, then you’ll find a lot of familiar sounds here. Neither artist has needed to compromise much to make something totally different here. The music sounds like Tobacco, and the rapping sounds like Aesop. That said, the music tyipical of Aesop’s previous work doesn’t sound at all like this, and Tobacco hasn’t previously had anyone rapping over his songs. It sounds so unlike other hip-hop, and it sounds so in the wheelhouse of each artist. They landed on something special here, but it might be a bit weird for mainstream adoption. In any case, I’ve been enjoying it a lot.

Other favorites here include Junius Meyvant, Sharon Van Etten, and Cherry Glazerr. What’s your favorite new music in 2019?

Tracklist:
Aurora – Gentle Earthquakes
The Cranberries – All Over Now
Rosie Tucker – Gay Bar
Priests – The Seduction of Kansas
Cherry Glazerr – Wasted Nun
Pond – Daisy
Teen Daze – Spring
Sharon Van Etten – No One’s Easy To Love
Malibu Ken – Sword Box
BVA, Leaf Dog, Illinformed, Smellington Piff – Fanning the Flames
Karen O & Dangermouse – Woman
Antonioni – Creature Feature
Wintersleep – Beneficiary
Pedro The Lion – Clean Up
The Twilight Sad – Keep It All To Myself
Broken Bells – Shelter
Strand of Oaks – Weird Ways
Steve Gunn – Morning is Mended
Junius Meyvant – Across the Borders
Son Volt – Devil May Care
Los Bonsais – No Quiero Salir!
Malibu Ken – Tuesday

The Fortnightly Playlist, January 13th, 2019

New Year, New music. This edition is almost entirely new singles from the past few weeks. The first big release date is right around the corner with a number of albums coming out on the 18th. Pedro the Lion, Sharon Van Etten, Toro y Moi, Steve Gunn, Deerhunter, and Malibu Ken (Aesop Rock and Tobbaco) all releasing albums on the 18th, and all have been featured on this blog either in this edition or in previous editions.

This past year, David Bazan came to a point in his career where he stated simply that he “needed to be in a band again.” So after a long time away, his collaborative project, Pedro the Lion, returned. Bazan was the only constant in the group, but it was something that was always a group rather than a Bazan solo. The separation between this solo work and Pedro the Lion work seems more significant to Bazan than to anyone else as really many of the themes, and often the musical style fits without noticeable differences. Even so, collaborative writing, composing and performing simply takes on a different feel. There’s a lot of excitement surrounding their return this year.

It’s been 5 years since her last full-length record. She released one EP, made several appearances on the Netflix show Twin Peaks, made guest appearances for other artists, and in 2017 she had her first child. All in all, she’s been plenty busy, and that’s not stopped her from re-inventing her sound in considerable ways. The new singles she’s released so far show a lot of growth and diversification in her work, and there’s a lot to look forward to with the new album.

New singles out also from Cass McCombs, The Dandy Warhols, Ibibio Sound Machine, and Guided By Voices all rounding things out this week. Enjoy!

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Tracklist:
Galactic, Princess Shaw – Going Straight Crazy
Ibibio Sound Machine – Tell Me (Doko Mien)
The Dandy Warhols – Motor City Steel
Guided by Voices – The Rally Boys
Pedro The Lion – Quietest Friend
Sharon Van Etten – Seventeen
D’Angelo – Unshaken
Cass McCombs – Sleeping Volcanoes
Steve Mason – Stars Around My Heart
The Fearless Flyers – Ace of Aces
Gary Clark Jr – This Land
Heavy Lungs – Jealous
The Chemical Brothers – MAH
Lazerbeak – Winging It
Coathangers – Bimbo
Cass McCombs – Estrella
Steve Mason – Walking Away From Love
Sharon Van Etten – Jupiter 4

The Fortnightly Playlist, December 30th, 2018

Another year wraps up, and so it seems right to have some looks ahead to 2019 and some looks back on 2018. There are a couple late album releases this year by Ultra Suede and Porter Ray that very good, and there are a number of albums set to release in early 2019 as well. New singles from Bob Mould, Broken Bells, Andrew Bird, Haelos, Grimes, Pedro the Lion, Amanda Palmer, and The Raconteurs give us a lot to look forward to early on. I also included in this edition a number of songs from artists who passed away this year. Some were tragic losses of young artists, and others were the passing of legends with long and storied careers. There are a lot of influential artists that we lost this year, but I’ve decided to include a few here.

Listen Here!

Otis Rush was among the premier innovators and creators of Westside Chicago Blues. Since 1956, Rush was known for his blistering guitar work and super-intense vocals, and was always accompanied by tighter than tight band. Otis Rush final tour was cut-short in 2003 by a debilitating stroke, and was never able to return to the stage. He passed away in September at the age of 83.

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The Buzzcocks were among the most influential first wave punk rockers, and they have all the hallmarks of what we now think of as signature early punk sound: Sharp melodies, driving guitars, and biting lyrics. Pete Shelley’s lyrics were some of the smartest and best of the era. Shelley passed away earlier this month of a heart attack at age 63.

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The loss of Delores O’Riordan was an early shock of 2018. It was a bitter loss. The Cranberries were in the midst of making a new album at the time. Delores was 46, when she died in January of accidental drowning.

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On May 9th, social media accounts of members of Frightened Rabbit began to alert people that lead singer, Scott Hutchison, was missing, and there was concern that he was in a fragile state at the time. He was an artist whose lyrics had always dealt with pain and depression, and artist whose words had helped strengthen those with similar struggles. Of the artists included here, his career was at its most vibrant. I’ve often included Frightened Rabbit here on this blog, and it was extremely sad to learn of Scott’s death at only 36 yrs old.

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It seems only right to begin and end the playlist this time with Aretha Franklin. Undoubtedly the most well-known artist to pass this year, and arguably the greatest voice in the history of recorded music. Her passing brought into focus that she was among the most influential artists of all-time.

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Favorite Albums of 2018 (Part 2), The Top 10

I’m excited for this one. There were so many good releases this year that I needed to do two parts because I couldn’t not include the albums I featured last week. That said, there was no edging out these 10 from the top positions. So here are the albums that caught and held my attention the most this year.

Here’s the playlist!

10. Busdriver – electricity is on our side
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This is easily one of the most challenging and, in some ways, difficult albums I’ve featured this year, and that shouldn’t really come as too much of a surprise when one considers Busdriver’s career and catalog. Regan Farquhar started rapping very young, but he developed a very eclectic style from a wide array of inluences. Electricity is on our side sees him at times in full improvisational-jazz mode, scatting while the music careens through complex time signatures. At times you might think of this a jazz album with the way his sung lines run neck and neck with trumpet at times slightly ahead and at times slightly behind, but he can snap into a more straight-forward hip-hop groove unexpectedly and suddenly, and seems to take pleasure in delivering particularly difficult lines with stunning clarity. It’s not an easy album to listen to at times, but it is so worth it.

9. Balún – Prisma Tropical
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This was considered one of the most anticipated Hispano-American albums of the year by many music media outlets, and the initial single, La Nueva Ciudad, hit charts in 8 countries. The Puerto Rican quartet is now based in Brooklyn, NY, and the change in locale has brought a lot of changes for the group as they now take on themes of the stateside Puerto Rican experience. Their electro-indie sound has continued to develop beautifully over the past 12 yrs, and they’ve mastered their blending of electronic beats and acoustic percussion. Angelica Negron’s voice floats overtop of everything beautifully, and the overall sound weaves between complex and simple, layered and sparse, modern and traditional. They execute this cleverly and seemlessly, and it’s a truly fantastic album.

8. Big Red Machine – Big Red Machine
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This new collaboration between Justin Vernon (Bon Iver, Volcano Choir) and Aaron Dessner (The National) has been played a ton in our house. Engaging at every turn, but also a laid back, relaxing and just dowright beautiful album. My favorite track serves as a great cross-section of the whole album. Forest Green has a mix of acoustic drums and electronic beats, a slow and simple bass riff that stays constant through the whole song, light guitar riffs that float in and out, and effects-laden vocals floating over the top. It’s a record that sinks into you, and you feel it.

7. Eliza Shaddad – Future
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Eliza Shaddad’s voice caught me this year, and her debut solo full-length album had an immediate pull for me. The first couple tracks on Future gave the record a moody beginning, but it develops to more positive themes as well. Shaddad brings a well-rounded approach to her songwriting having worked with and written for a wide variety of artists and poets. She brings all this experience to the table in this record, and the result is a debut that sounds like a seasoned artist with a large back-catalog to delve into.

6. Angelique Kidjo – Remain In Light
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Taking on a classic cover has a particular challenge for an artist, and taking on the task of re-imagining an entire classic album and putting it through the lens of your own artistry is a true feat that many artists may not be up for. Angelique Kidjo is more than up to the task. She took the Talking Heads’ acclaimed 1980 album Remain in Light and made something her own. While the songs stay true to the original material in many ways, I don’t listen to this as if Kidjo is covering another artist’s material. Kidjo herself said that from the time she first heard Remain In Light she knew it was “an African album”. She’s certainly not wrong. The Talking Heads and producer, Brian Eno, drew inspiration and influence from Fela Kuti’s 1973 album Afrodisiac. Maybe what Angelique Kidjo did was simply bring things full circle for a record that always had a heart in West Africa, or maybe it is more of a ping-pong effect bouncing from Fela Kuti in Nigeria to The Talking Heads in New York to Angelique Kidjo in Benin.

5. Dessa – Chime
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Dessa called dibs on 2018 pretty early on. Good Grief had been released in the fall of 2017, and it was at first unclear if that was a stand alone single. It was clear, though, that Fire Drills was leading her to a big year. Dessa is part of the staunchly independent hip-hop collective, Doomtree, and it can be a long road for independent artists to have the reception that Dessa had with Chime. I got to see her at the largest venue of the first leg of her tour, and she thanked fans for the support by noting how unusual it was to see a Doomtree artist in a large theater rather than a small bar. Dessa is the only one on this list to also be among my favorite authors of the year. Her memoir-in-essays, My Own Devices, is listed among NPR’s top books for the year, and gave insight into her entire catalog of music. She’s always been excellent as a lyricist, and her writing in essays is insight how deep that talent runs.

4. Middle Kids – Lost Friends
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Sing-alongable. Now, I’m not sure how legit that is as a term, but it gets the point across. Middle Kids have a strong talent for writing songs that you immediately want to sing along with. Mistake is the prime example. The first time I heard the song, I was already singing along to it by the second chorus… singing along to a song that I’d never heard before. This runs through the whole of the album. Please, Never Start, On My Knees, Bought It, and Edge of Town all feature this infectious and anthemic quality. They do this without sacrificing any of the depth of their songs. They are relatable, hopeful, desperate, heartfelt, honest and genuine.

3. Marlowe – Marlowe
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“We got the 17th wonder of the world right here… We got the 19th wonder too.” This collaboration between Seattle producer, L’Orange, and North Carolina rapper, Solemn Brigham, was a revalation for me. It has a classic hip-hop sound featuring classic looping methods and rooted in soul. I’m not alone in finding this to have a vintage sound. I felt justified in the assessment when I shared it with a friend, and he said it reminded him of Paul’s Boutique. Then later I read Pitchfork’s review declaring it “spirited, old-school rap.” L’Orange’s production builds a perfect structure designed for any rapper to succeed with, but I also frind Solemn Brigham to have such a solid charisma and enthusiasm that it’s hard to find much criticism here. It’s such a great listen.

2. Ry Cooder – The Prodigal Son
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Music archivist, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and slide-guitar genius, Ry Cooder, has always held a special place for me. I’ve been a guitarist for over 18 yrs now, and he’s my all-time favorite guitar player. But there’s more to this record than that. This is an artist with a career over 50 yrs long releasing his most complete and excellent record of his career. Ry is an artist that has never turned down a challenging project. He’s worked with Captain Beefheart, The Rolling Stones, John Lee Hooker, Ali Farka Toure, Manuel Galban, VM Bhatt, Taj Mahal, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Mavis Staples, Buena Vista Social Club, Ibrahim Ferrer, and Bill Frisell, and he takes all of this experience to this record. A hallmark of Cooder’s music is his talent for weaving original songs in with both classic and obscure American folk songs. This has never been so seemless as it is on this record. Straight Street, You Must Unload, and Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right could not be more timely, and his version of I’ll Be Rested When The Roll Is Called (a song he co-wrote with Mavis Staples for her 2007 record) fits nicely as well. Among my favorites on this record are Jesus and Woody and the title track.

1. Brandi Carlile – By The Way, I Forgive You
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“I think that what makes [the songs] appear so focused is that sort of for the first time we carved the pieces of the stone away from the sculpture that didn’t fit. We usually have a little bit of a collection of these kind of straight-to-the-heart-of-the-matter kinds of songs, but then we put other songs around them that are easier to sing and easier for us to cope with. […] This time we just really pointedly let those songs fall away, and the ones that were left were the ones that were most difficult to sing. We knew that that was the record.” -Brandi Carlile Live on KEXP on March 27th, 2018.
There’s hardly anything that I can say of this record that says more clearly than that why I loved it so much. By The Way, I Forgive You addresses issues of family dynamics, politics, addiction and forgiveness; things that seem to haunt our culture presently. Forgiveness, in particular, is a strong theme running through this record, and Brandi had a lot to say on this as well. Later in the same interview I quoted above she said, “I just noticed that the word has gotten diluted. It’s gotten a little bit diluted by a perfectionist society. It’s become kind of an evangelical buzzword, hashtag blessed, kind of word when it’s really a filthy-radical, difficult, impossible thing to do that it might be the very reason why we’re even here on earth; just to learn how to do it.” This comes through fully on the album. It is thoughtful and full of passion. No voice could make you feel it more than hers. It’s a record that has the ability to change a person.
Brandi is finally seeing more recognition for her work with this album, and has 6 Grammy nominations. Now, I often don’t have much faith in the Grammys in terms of getting things right, but this is encouraging. Here’s a little more about the nominations.