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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
“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.


Favorite Albums of 2018 (Part 1)

I’ve made the jump to a two-part list this year. Making cuts is hard, and I still had to make some tough cuts. So, basically I made a top 25 albums. There are some special mentions here for some great EPs as well. This post/playlist will include those EPs and albums 25-11, and then part 2 will be dedicated to my top 10. My usual disclaimer with these year-end lists is that these aren’t really a “Best records of 2018”, but they are more “My personal favorites of 2018”. I make no claim to objectivity. These are the albums I connected with and most enjoyed this year. For those who have followed this blog for a while, then you know I enjoy a diverse array of music. I think this year-end list represents that well stylistically and geographically. There are 9 countries represented in part 1, and part 2 will add a couple more as well. Enjoy!

Listen here to Fortnightly Favorites 2018 (Part 1)

25. The Joy Formidable – Aaarth
Sometimes I think there’s nothing left in the rock trio format to surprise, and no new ground to break, but then there’s The Joy Formidable. This album engages and surprises at almost every turn, and with the quality of execution that the Welsh trio always live up to.

24. Jon Spencer – Spencer Sings The Hits!
Jon Spencer’s wild, howling blues is just so much fun. He’s just got an undeniable charisma paired with such solid talent. This was a late release, and it just snuck into my list. It’s such a blast though, and it definitely deserves its spot.

23. Kurt Vile – Bottle It In
I’ve like plenty of Kurt’s work in the past, but until last year’s collaboration with Courtney Barnett I don’t think he quite had a truly great full album. Man, this is it. He keeps the pace moving better, and highlights more what a great guitar player he is. Standout tracks here come one after another after another with Bassackwards, One Trick Ponies, Rollin With the Flow, Check Baby, and Bottle It In all hitting high for me.

22. Cloquet – Cloquet
At this point, I feel it would be a surprise if I had a year-end list without a Doomtree release or two. This time it was Paper Tiger whose album struck me. Paper Tiger paired up with vocalist J. Gunderson on this project, and it’s got a great, chillwave sound, but still with strong beats rising up throughout. Of course, this is possibly the least hip-hop that Paper Tiger’s productions have ever been, so it’s great to see him try something very different stylistically and have it come out so well. I’ve always enjoyed Paper Tiger’s solo releases, and this one is definitely a favorite. There’s one more Doomtree-related album that will be featured next week as it cracked my top 10.

21. Son Lux – Brighter Wounds
Can’t say much about this without saying that Dream State is just an amazing song. The rest of the album is good as well, but that is certainly the centerpiece. This was a bold, creative record that I found really absorbing at a few different points this year. It’s got such a sweeping and almost cinematic sound. With this being their second release as a trio (previously a solo project), it seems they are establishing Son Lux more as a full band.

20. Centavrvs – Somos Uno
This album was a strong hit for me immediately, and I had it in my top 10 early on. Centavrvs blend past and present so well that it comes out as future. My favorite moments on this record are when the horns come soaring through. They blend latin styles like cumbia, rancheras, bolero and salsa along with a little funk and electronica, and it comes out as a beautiful, cohesive whole.

19. Ocean Wisdom – Wizville
When UK hip-hop really started making their mark it became clear that you had to be fast to make it. While rapping fast is still a hallmark of the UK sound, it has diversified a lot. Ocean Wisdom can do it all. He’s faster than anyone else, and he can hold down a slow groove too. This was one of the most anticipated records in the UK hip hop scene, and it boasted some elite guest appearances including Method Man, Rodney P, Dizzee Rascal and Jehst. Many thanks to the Hip Hop Saved My Life Podcast with Romesh and Rupert for tipping me to this album.

18. Amen Dunes – Freedom
Sometimes I struggle to describe an artist’s sound in a way I’m satisfied with. Amen Dunes has something of light rock or fuzz-folk. There’s a light rasp to his vocals, but also it is soft enough to fit a laid back sort of sound. It’s something in between Jose Gonzalez and The Cave Singers maybe. This is one I might later think I should have ranked higher.

17. Olafur Arnalds – Re:member
The innovative composer/multi-instrumentalist from Iceland released another amazing record this year. One this new record, he implimented a groundbreaking new system called the Stratus Piano. He uses two self-playing, semi-generative pianos that are triggered by the playing of one central piano played by Olafur. The result is that the Stratus pianos, while following his lead, hit unexpected harmonies helping the artist think differently about his craft.

16. Loma – Loma
This album got a fair amount of play at our house. In part this is due to it being one of those albums that my wife and I found our tastes were alligned. I didn’t initially know who was in the group, and when I later learned that the lineup included Jonathan Meiburg of Shearwater I started making the connection in their sounds. I also got to see Loma play at Sub Pop’s 30th anniversary festival this summer. They were certainly hitting a sound no one else was that day. With all the punk rockers surrounding them, they had the audience absolutely transfixed.

15. Bombino – Deran
Bombino still has a steady blues groove and a seemingly endless supply of stellar guitar hooks. 2016’s Azel made my favorites list 2 years ago as well, and I said at the time that he made me completely rethink the guitar. I stand by that, and it seems his Tuareg blues or Desert Blues sound continues to progress beyond its old boundaries and incorporate diverse styles within itself. “The role of the artist is to help preserve culture even if this culture has no border. The guitar has always helped lost causes.” – Bombino (taken from the 2017 film, Residente)

14. IDLES – Joy is an Act of Resistance
Pure punk. Righteous anger directed into music. Straight-forward and aggressive, IDLES shouted a message of love and acceptance with ripping guitars and thundering bass and drums. Danny Nedelko was the early standout for me. It’s a lashing out against the culture of fear and division that’s been worming it’s way into politics throughout the US and UK. The message stays consistent throughout the album with tracks like Great and Samaritans.

13. Soft Science – Maps
All guitars set to phaser, wailing synth lines on top, and clear, soft vocals cutting through. The opening track, Undone, grabbed me right away. The Sacramento quintet had some excellent hooks throughout this record, and it sort of snuck up on me. When I started really putting this list together, I was sort of surprised how high I found I ranked it. It desreves its place here though with its weaving guitars and synths at some points offering a throwback sound and other points forging ahead to new ground.

12. Kikagaku Moyo – Masana Temples
What a discovery this was! Masana Temples is the 4th studio album from the Japanese psychedelic band, Kikagaku Moyo (the name translates to “geometric patterns”). Listening to this album is quite a musical journey, and some of the individual songs even seem that way. There a blend of psychedelic, funk, and rock, but elements of traditional Japanese music woven throughout. The cultural leap seems nonexistent because as different as this album is from my typical music, it remains easily approachable. Dripping Sun and Gatherings stand out for me, and, being the 2nd track and 2nd to last track, they help frame the whole album.

11. HOLY – All These Worlds Are Yours

This record was so close to being in my top 10 that I’m bound to question it next week. Listening to All These Worlds Are Yours is like listening to 10 movements of one long orchestrial piece. The soaring opener Night on Earth leads straight into and she breaks the day! A clarity and on straight to the end in a beautiful blend of ’60’s pop, modern garage rock with elements of chillwave swirling around. HOLY is mainly Swedish musician Hannes Ferm, but he has a host of talented collaborators joining him on this record.

EPs and series singles (no particular order):

Open Mike Eagle – What Happens When I Try To Relax
Following on an amazing full-length album with last year’s Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, Mike Eagle offered up a very solid EP this year. Justifiably, he was proud of the work he’d done. He tweeted a link to the release saying “It is 6 rap songs I’m releasing on my own record label that I’ll put up against any 6 rap songs that came out this year.” To be honest, that’s a fair assessment.

Moses Sumney – Black In Deep Red, 2014
This was a short 3 song release, but it had all the power of many albums that came out this year. Rank & File is easily among my favorite songs of the year. If this is a sign of things to come from Sumney, then I wouldn’t be surprised to have him among my favorites of 2019.

Joshua Burnside – All Round The Light Said
Burnside was among a crop of artists I discovered from the 2018 Hard Working Class Heroes festival lineup. The Irish festival has been establishing itself for bringing on a lot of young artists and up-and-comers. Burnside, in particular, struck me with this 4-song EP that blended traditional and experimental in his folk music.

boygenius – boygenius
Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers have managed to crack some of the top 10 lists I’ve seen so far, which is remarkable for a short 6-track release. They’ve really managed something beautiful here, and I fully understand the buzz around this project. The trio harmonize beautifully, and each takes strong turns in the lead role.

The Hold Steady – 4 two-song releases
It was close to the new year that The Hold Steady released their first 2 tracks with Entitlement Crew and A Snake In The Shower. They did the same thing 3 more times over the course of 2018, and it’s all very strong material. It was a great treat to get new Hold Steady throughout the year.

Sudan Archives – Sink
I don’t know when we can expect a debut full-length from Sudan Archives, but her releases continue to be incredibly high quality at whatever length. Her unique mastery of violin played as an R&B, afro-pop, jazz instrument sets her apart, and she just keeps expanding her sound and unveiling new talents.

Black Thought – Streams of Thought Vol. 1 & 2
Black Thought took the reins of a solo project that made headlines this year with Streams of Thought Vol. 1. The release was somewhat of a surprise as Black Thought had, until this year, never made a run at a solo career. It reminded people that he’s among the best rappers to hold a mic, and made us all hip-hop fans hungry for more. More arrived just a couple weeks ago with Streams of Thought Vol. 2. At 9 tracks, it’s almost a skimpy album rather than an EP, but the runtime isn’t long with 4 of the songs coming in under 2 mins.

HOLY – Night On Earth
HOLY – and she breaks the day! A clarity
Open Mike Eagle – Relatable (peak OME)
Sudan Archives – Pay Attention
Moses Sumney – Rank & File
Cloquet – Folded
Son Lux – Dream State
Kikagaku Moyo – Gatherings
The Joy Formidable – The Wrong Side
IDLES – Danny Nedelko
Jon Spencer – Fake
Kurt Vile – One Trick Ponies
Amen Dunes – Blue Rose
Centavrvs – Volar Muy Alto
Black Thought – Twofifteen
Ocean Wisdom – Eye Contact
Bombino – Tenesse
The Hold Steady – Star 18
Joshua Burnside – Paul
Boygenius – Stay Down
Loma  – Joy
Soft Science – Sooner
Olafur Arnalds – nyepi

The Fortnightly Playlist, December 2nd, 2018

Well, here we are in December. This will be the last regular Fortnightly Playlist of the year. I’ve been working on some extras in the last couple weeks. I’ve sorted out a top 25 albums this year, and also picked some shorter releases to include as well. Next weekend will be part 1, and will count down albums 25-11, and in two weeks I’ll do my top 10. I’m interested to know your favorites for the year, and would love to talk about them in the comments below.

Listen to the new playlist here!

As we reach the end of the year, there are some releases from 2018 that deserve some more attention before we close things out. Among those is the new album from Japanese, psych-rock band, Kikagaku Moyo. Their new record, Masana Temples, is a impressive, and blends psyc-rock, funk, traditional Japanese elements, and jazz. It’s well worth listening.

The new Amen Dunes record, Freedom, is another that I really ought to have featured by now. The album has a laid back approach, but still retains an edge to it. Freedom is a finely crafted album, and Damon McMahon took his time with this release. It came about 3 and a half years after his last full length, but it was well worth the time and effort. The end product is a high quality one.

Also in this edition, there are also some local highlights out in the Seattle area with Whitney Monge releasing her new EP, and with the debut album from Cold Soda (a new project featuring members of The Cave Singers). 2019 releases are on the horizon as well, and there are new singles out from The Dandy Warhols, Junius Meyvant, and Grandaddy.


Kurt Vile – Check Baby
Mark Knopfler – Good On You Son
Whitney Monge – Day n Nite
Black Belt Eagle Scout – Sam, A Dream
Kikagaku Moyo – Dripping Sun
The Dandy Warhols – Be Alright
Jon Spencer – Overload
Cold Soda – Anna May
Amen Dunes – Miki Dora
Junius Meyvant – Let It Pass
Saintseneca – Beast In The Garden
Cafe Preto – Tudo Na Minha Vida
Malibu Ken – Acid King
Fokis, Oh No – Practice Patience
Friction – Running
Black Thought – Conception
Chris Cornell – Sunshower
Kurt Vile – Rollin With the Flow
Grandaddy – Bison on the Plains