Last week, it was the critics. Today, Local Spins features West Michigan musicians’ favorite albums of the year.
Recapping a year in music often reveals obscure gems, especially when musicians and bands are asked to make their picks for the best releases they’ve added to their personal playlists.
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Last week, Local Spins showcased “The Critics’ Picks,” giving its writers and contributors the opportunity to wax eloquent about artists ranging from Janelle Monae to Kacey Musgraves to Lindsay Lou.
But Local Spins also asked some West Michigan musicians to choose their faves from 2018, so today we publish another robust roster of tantalizing albums, songs and concerts, many of them featuring local and regional artists.
And come back on New Year’s Eve when readers get a chance to pipe in with their picks. You can still email your Top 5 list to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ve extended the deadline to midnight tonight (Friday, Dec. 28), with submissions entered into a drawing for a Local Spins gift package.
THE MUSICIANS’ PICKS: BEST MUSIC OF 2018
HANNAH LAINE (Earth Radio)
1. Chris Dave and the Drumhedz, “Chris Dave and the Drumhedz” you- This album made my jaw drop. There are so many twists and turns that the listener doesn’t expect. He pulls styles from around the world and combines them into sounds that we’ve never heard before. It’s innovative and exciting.
2. PJ Morton “Gumbo Unplugged Live” – The live version of the 2017 album gave me chills. I discovered the video recordings of Gumbo Live on YouTube, it made me laugh and cry. It is witty and emotional, and with so many musicians involved, the sound and emotional level is extraordinary.
3. Esperanza Spalding “12 Little Spells” – Esperanza is a genius and has taken her composition to a new level. This album is theatrical and deep and unlike anything I’ve heard before. She also released videos with each song that are interesting, incorporating the beauty of nature and creative digital design. She is very inspirational to many musicians including myself.
4. Justin Avdek “You Are What You Sleep” – I love working with Justin (also a member of Earth Radio) because he is so open-minded and willing to explore ideas more deeply and take them beyond the original thought. I am no longer surprised with what he writes – just amazed – because he is constantly looking for ways to make a song unique and to create new sounds. This album is just that – unique and atmospheric … and also very eerie, sounding like something from a different dimension.
5. Travis Swanson “When It’s Time To Say Goodbye” – Travis is a rare gem in West Michigan. He writes and plays with intention and a deep love and presence, and he does not limit himself. His first solo guitar album is filled with emotion, intellect, and spirit, painting a beautiful picture of the beginning of his journey.
BEST CONCERTS: Ghost-Note at Founders Brewing (Oct. 13) and the Detroit Jazz Festival (Aug. 31-Sept. 3) (Tie) – I saw some of my favorite musicians including Chris Dave and Esperanza Spalding at Jazz Fest with some of my favorite people, and Ghost-Note was mind-blowing!
CHAD HOUSEMAN (Tom Hymn)
1. “Oracle,” EEEKS (from Asuncion, Paraguay) – Met these buds through a friend with whom I recorded (so did they) out in Oracle, Ariz. This album is so fun and freaky and grew on me so much over the year. Someday I will go on tour with them and only fun will be had and joy will be felt.
2. “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” Courtney Barnett – When I first heard Courtney some five years ago, she immediately changed my life. This new record is a shredder. That ‘90s grunge that I grew up with comes through and would make Kurt Cobain and The Breeders smile.
3. mewithoutyou, “[Untitled]” – I’ve been into mewithoutYou for 16 years and they are probably the only band that I started following in high school and have still stuck with. This new record calls back to their heavier days and Aaron Weiss knows the way to my lyrical heart. Their drummer, Ricky, is probably my favorite drummer of all time and I’ve copied so many of his fills over the years. They are a true inspiration to me and they show me that rock ‘n’ roll does not have to die as you get older.
4. “Club Dread,” Majetic – Justin Majetich, formerly of Grand Rapids and fka Care, has expanded my mind and my heart with “Club Dread.” Justin brings an emotionally powerful experience through these songs. The crunch and the glitch and smooth sounds are really quite different than I what I usually listen to and I am grateful that this record came into my life. I also had the privilege of seeing Majetic perform all of these songs at Lamp Light Music Festival in GR this past fall. It was truly a moving and beautiful experience. If you get the chance to see Majetic perform live and I highly encourage you to do so.
5. “No. 1,” Major Murphy – These are my droogs. This is a record of bangers and anthems all the way through. These cats are from GR and I have the joy of hopping on congas with them at live shows every now and again. The album is super warm and the vocals are tender. If you like pop rock inspired by some true classics then this is for you. Go see them play sometime.
BEST CONCERTS: Janelle Monae, July 7 at 20 Monroe Live; mewithoutYou, Oct. 31 at The Pyramid Scheme – Janelle was an incredible huge choreographed production that didn’t let up for a moment. The entire band was on point and Janelle was incredible and inspiring performer. (Check out the Local Spins recap of Janelle Monae at 20 Monroe Live.) I’ve seen mwY probably around 15 times and they get me every time. This show was on Halloween and I was dressed up in a Stich costume (of Lilo & Stitch) and pretty much went straight to the pit as soon as I got there. They are always high energy and most of the crowd knows every word. Rock ‘n’ roll will never die and I will hopefully be up for moshing to them as long as they’re up on stage.
PETE LEWANDOSKI (B-Side Growlers)
1. Wood Brothers, “One Drop of Truth” – This trio of guitar and bass playing brothers Oliver and Chris Wood, along with percussionist Jano Rix, have definitely figured out the formula for hitting a groove in a variety of ways — acoustically, funky, jazzy, bluesy and rockin’ all come to mind. This newest (and sixth) release is no different, and the result is still great.
2. Angelique Kidjo, “Remain in Light” – This is a track-for-track remake of the 1980’s Talking Heads release. That’s remake, not cover, for Angelique does indeed create an album that is all her own. The strong influence of her native Africa along with her incredible strong voice makes for a unique experience.
3. Ry Cooder, “The Prodigal Son” – Icon Ry Cooder co-produced this release with his son, Joachim, who also handles percussion. It’s a wonderful mixture of old tunes done up with Ry’s keen sense of production, not to mention his incredible musicianship. He gives the gospel and blues covers an authentic treatment, but with a modern metallic sheen — kinda like steampunk traditional or something. Creating that kind of sound and choosing songs with lyrics that are still socially relevant results in a thoroughly 21st Century release.
4. Rory Block, “A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith” – After having just completed a bunch of tribute albums to male blues legends, Rory recently put out the first in a series honoring female blues legends, and Bessie Smith is definitely the place to start. Rory stays true to the sultryness of the originals with her vocals, and also provides all the instrumentation herself (guitars, bass, percussion). This is quite an undertaking, as many of Bessie’s ‘blues’ are really more jazz-like in their progressions. Nothing too unusual, but she accomplishes her goal of keeping great blues pioneers like Bessie Smith in the public eye and ear.
5. May Erlewine and The Motivations, “In the Night” – A very recent EP release containing just four songs, but what I’ve heard so far I like: fun, upbeat, intended for the dance floor. Been on my list to see, but the logistics just haven’t worked out yet, so glad to hear these few tracks to get a taste of that.
Best Concert: David Byrne at DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids, Aug. 8 – David Byrne, hands down! And concert is not the right word. Let’s say best visual/musical experience. And not just the best of 2018, but in a very long time. The man has remained as creative as ever and constantly re-visualizes what a live show can be. For those of you who weren’t there, think of the basic premise as a cross between a marching band and a Brazilian carnival party. The show involved 12 musicians, six of them percussionists — a perfect percentage! (Read the Local Spins review of David Byrne at DeVos.)
1. All Them Witches, “ATW” – There is nothing quite like these guys. They seem to have mastered the magic formula of combining fuzzed out heavy rock grooves, slow blues jams and psychedelia into a single, neatly wrapped package. ATW manages to keep the same vibes that they produced in previous records without any of the songs coming across as stale. ATW, obviously stands for All Them Witches; however, it might as well stand for All The Way because this album is best listened to ATW through. (Peter Slack)
2. Jack White, “Boarding House Reach” – Initially, I hated the record. Jack White has always been a purist. This album seemingly went against everything he once stood for. After listening to it once through, we joked saying things like “I feel like somewhere buried under all the ableton crap, there is a good record here,” and “It sounds like someone set ableton up for Jack, and he turned into a kid at a candy store.” However, over time the album has become one of our favorites. It’s bonkers, and off the wall, and so unlike anything he has ever done, that there’s nothing NOT to love about it. Another record here that you MUST listen to in its intended order. (Peter Slack)
3. Vulfpeck, “Hill Climber” – Another stellar record from the masters of new age funk, Michigan’s own Vulfpeck. These jazzy gentlemen have figured out how to blur the lines that separate bands like The Meters from artists like John Mayer, creating a sound that is truly unique, that we didn’t know we needed in our lives. Joe Dart’s bass playing is out of this world, most prominently on the track “Lost My Treble Long Ago,” but throughout the entire record. They also brought back world-renowned gospel singer, Antwaun Stanley, for the track “Darwin Derby.” 11/10. (Peter Slack)
4. The Hacky Turtles, “Sonder” – When The Hacky Turtles came back on the scene here in Grand Rapids, I’ll admit the name alone had me skeptical, but after seeing numerous concert listings and ravings from friends and fans I had to take the time to check them out. Sonder quickly became one of my favorite albums to drive around to, and seems oddly familiar even at a first listen. The production is so satisfying, the vocals powerful and gritty at times, and the lyrics come across as both introspective and lighthearted. These boys make me proud to be part of such a luscious music scene. (Ben Steer)
5. Ghost-Note, “Swagism” – This one is a beast, but a beast worth taming. Ghost-Note has toured through Grand Rapids numerous times with stops at Founders Brewing Co., and in their most recent stop I was fortunate enough to attend the jam. Even as a lone concert-goer, I felt at one with the eager audience that seemed to wiggle unanimously to the onslaught of prog-jazz that Ghost-Note dishes out so effortlessly. Featuring members of Snarky Puppy, this band throws down such ferocious grooves it’s not even funny. Swagism is littered with funk, reggae, rap, poetry, afro-beat, and most importantly, pocket. (Ben Steer)
Best Concert: Trombone Shorty’s New Orleans Threauxdown at Frederik Meijer Gardens, Aug. 22 – I wound up going to this show without knowing who all was playing, I was simply excited to see Trombone Shorty. The show started out with the New Breed Brass Band playing a “marching band” style set in true New Orleans street performer fashion. Next came the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which featured Kermit Ruffins on the trumpet, giving a beautiful rendition of “What a Wonderful World.” Galactic followed up with one of the funkiest sets ever to grace the Frederik Meijer Gardens Amphitheater. They brought out blues guitar legend Walter “Wolfman” Washington for a handful of songs, as well as featuring Erica Falls power house vocals throughout most of the set. Finally, the shows man of the hour: Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews. After playing an epic, jazz infused, funk filled set of booty shaking tunes, the crowd wasn’t going to let them leave without just one more song. At which point he brought out just about every vocalist and horn player that performed that night (including the entire New Breed Brass Band) to perform “The Saints Go Marching In” with New Breed Brass leading the largest conga line I’ve ever seen. (Peter Slack)
LAST GASP COLLECTIVE
1. Teyana Taylor, “K.T.S.E” – Teyana really show her true vocal skills on this record. Once looked at as just a pretty face, she solidifies herself as a force to be vocally reckoned with. Not to mention the simplistic production by Kanye that never crowds or gets in the way of Teyana.
2. Noname, “Room 25” – This overdue sophomore project was no disappointment featuring classic production by fellow Chicagoan Phoelix.
3. August Greene, “August Greene” – The supergroup of Common, Robert Glasper and Karriem Riggins: Hip hop + live instrumentation = FIRE.
4. J. Cole, “KOD” – The rapper never disappoints. “KOD” is an ode to the current sound of “mainstream” rap. Cole fuses his lyrical soulful approach with modern beats and the result is KOD.
5. Kanye West, “Ye”– Obviously, Kanye is Kanye, but this album really showcased some up-and-coming talent. Every appearance by 070 Shake is noteworthy. This young female MC from New Jersey brings a whole new aspect to the tenured Kanye sound.
Best Concert: Saturday night at 2018 Farm Block Festival in Allouez. Mich., Aug. 28 – So many inspiring performances for ourselves, The Go Rounds, and a super band that included some of the best musicians from all across Michigan that closed out the night. Unforgettable experience for sure.
MARC KANITZ (The Hacky Turtles)
1. Rainbow Kitten Surprise, “How to: Friend, Love, Freefall” – A beautiful chaotic battle of melodies and rhythms with lyrical stream of consciousness. Raw Energy.
2. Hop Along, “Bark Your Head Off, Dog” – Ignites the soul and drives it around for a few hours joyriding into the distance. It comes back charged up and ready for anything.
3. Anderson.Paak, “Oxnard” – A nasty drummer who talks with his rhythms, but lets his soul sing. You can’t help but smile. And you smile even bigger once you realize how big he was probably smiling while recording it. Contagious energy.
4. Mac Miller, “Swimming” – :'(
5. toe, “Our Latest Number” – The way the instruments weave in and out of time and rhythm with each other is incredible. We had the chance to see them at Thalia Hall in Chicago this year and tears were shed. This music makes you remember why you love music.
Best Concert: Rainbow Kitten Surprise at The Intersection in Grand Rapids, Oct. 15, 2018 – The energy and emotion was so overpowering. The lights were fantastic and Sam Melo knows how to dance to them. The show moved from Elevation to the big stage due to demand. On a Monday. I was pumped for them and had dove into all three of their albums after discovering them just this year. They were touring behind the release of their third album and are really hitting their stride as a group. Caroline Rose opened with swagger. What a way to start the week.
JEFF JROB ROBINSON
There was soooo much good music released this year from local and national artists as well, but since I can only name a few here they are:
1. Buddy, “Harlan & Alondra” – One of my absolute favorite albums of the year by this amazing new young talented artist from Compton, Calif. Even though Buddy is young, when you hear his music you get some of that old soul that is obviously in him and his music. Favorite tracks on album are “Young,” “Trouble on Central,” and “Black.”
2. J. Cole, “KOD” – With a release date that was on 4/20 of this year, and the title meaning “Kids On Drugs” I was very excited to hear what J. Cole really meant by the title. Talking about the constant problem of drugs nowadays in hip hop with the young culture, was right on point, and I think everyone should listen to this album. One of the best from J. Cole and of 2018. Favorite tracks are “Kevins Hart,” “Photograph,” and “ATM.”
3. Lady Ace Boogie, “Don’t Box Me In” – It was a great year locally as well, and what better way than to have a new album from Lady Ace Boogie? One of the best release parties of the year as well. The music on this album was very dope and in my personal opinion some of the best videos for the year also. She is a great one, no pun intended, lol.
4. Bas, “Milky Way” – “I’m out in Boca Raton,” One of my favorite songs from this album, and produced by a Grand Rapids native by the name of Sango. Bas is on a come up and it doesn’t hurt that he is on the label owned by the great J. Cole. I listened to this album more than a few times and it is still in rotation.
5. Willie The Kid, “Studio 28” – If you are from Grand Rapids Michigan then this title alone should bring back memories of one of the best spots in the city during its time. The production this album was all done by the amazing Troy Ceasar. Willie over Troy’s production is as smooth as it will get. I personally had a chance to hear it before its release date at a listening party here in GR, filled with some of the best talent we have here in the city. Favorite tracks are, “The Feeling of Winning,” “MC Sporting Goods,” and “Too Easy.”
Best Concert: Wu-Tang Clan in their entirety at A3C in Atlanta – Never have I seen them all on the same stage at one time, along with Ol Dirty Bastard’s son rapping his parts. SO DOPE if you are a Wu fan, and on top of that to see La The Darkman there with them as well. Grand Rapids for the win.
Honorable Mention for Albums: Mick Jenkins, “Pieces of a Man”; H.E.R., “I Used to know Her: The Prelude”; Black Thought, “Streams of Thought Vol. 1”
1. Gabriel Kahane, “Book of Travelers” – I not only love the music on this album but I also love the story. Gabriel Kahane packed his bags and took a journey across the United States on an Amtrak train the day after the 2016 election. He captures his conversations and the scenery of his trip with a truly original harmonic language with just his voice and piano. There are moments that sound like a cross between Arthur Russell, Nick Drake and Bela Bartok.
2. The Magic Lantern, “To The Islands” – I was recently tuned in to this band by some friends in the UK and instantly fell in love. To the Islands has gorgeous melodies, intricate yet supportive arrangements and poetic lyrics. Jamie Doe pulls it all off in an effortless and humble way and the accompanying music videos are equally beautiful.
3. Saba, “Care for Me” – Personally, I didn’t think that hip-hop could get any better this year than Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” but then again, it was a single and video sensation and there’s something to be said about the scope of an LP. Saba’s “Care for Me” hit me at just the right time as I was grieving the loss of a loved one this year. This album takes you through all of the stages – anger, emptiness, sadness. “I’m not mad at God, I just can’t get out of bed” he writes in “Calligraphy.” The shifting rhythms and moods are artfully executed.
4. Orquesta Akokan, “Orquesta Akokan” – An album of pure joy. I am not a connoisseur of big-band mambo but when I heard this record I thought “That’s it! That’s the sound.” The recording quality is impeccable and literally puts your mind on the streets of Cuba. My favorite track is “Un Tabaco para Elegua,” which starts with this amazing guitar sound before launching into a sultry Latin groove. I remember being obsessed with Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” as a child and something about the back beat and horn stabs on this particular track bring me back. A very visual record!
5. Lucy Dacus, “Historian” – I didn’t want to like it and I can’t really explain what it is but there’s something incredibly captivating about Lucy Dacus’s songwriting. The song “Night Shift” drew me in for 6 ½ minutes and made me go back for repeated listening. She’s certainly got serious songwriting chops and a mature delivery. It’s a really solid album and I am looking forward to seeing how her music develops.
Best Concert: The War & Treaty – Live at River City: Local Spins Session in Grand Rapids, Nov. 12 – My first time catching The War & Treaty live! The energy, power and vulnerability of their live performance is truly something to behold. It was even more special to see this band in such an intimate environment. The sound was great and their humanity made me want to be a better person. (Watch the HopCat presents Local Spins Live at River City session with The War & Treaty.)
DACIA BRIDGES (The Dacia Bridges Project)
1. Ice Cube, “Everythang’s Corrupt” – Ice Cube is tearing it up! I have to say, as an artist, I am not a fan of music to go political. (Dolly Parton said something like that some years ago.) But hip hop/rap has always been that way, as well as, expressing the challenges that life brings. “Everythang’s Corrupt” has an authentic Ice Cube sound and the production is awesomely smooth. I just let all the political talk pass. It’s a bootie dropper and a head snapper. One of my favorites from Ice Cube is the “Predator” record. This new record put me in a few different places and decades. I just started stomping in my big black Doc Martins when I heard the first beat drop. He features Too Short and just keeps it supa dupa cool! I think he had to get some stuff off his chest. Respect!
2. Nine Inch Nails, “Bad Witch” – I love the fact that NIN is staying true to its core and wiggin out a bit; the industrial beast is back. “Bad Witch,” I feel, has a growth that comes with age and I believe that’s also called, chilling out. I get that vibe with ‘Over and Out’– totally reminds me of my times in Hamburg, Germany, on the Reeperbahn. Good times, long nights, late mornings and just being experimental. That’s fun and that’s the crazy evolution of how to make interesting music. Bringing it all together, dirty!
3. Alice in Chains, “Rainier Fog” – Where would we be without Alice In Chains? AIC still has the talent to stay on their A-game. “Rainier Fog” is a wonderful melodic and throwback record, in my opinion, that keeps you engaged. For the rock/metal heads you just can’t go wrong. Some pieces have an older sound, but is that bad? Absolutely not! They execute their sound, lyrics, and manage to have you reminiscing about your life and choices you’ve made with it. Like they’ve
always done. We need them because rock ‘n’ roll ain’t dead!
4. Prince, “Piano and a Microphone 1983” – I think there is nothing to say but “How cool is this?” – especially when you’re a Prince fan. This collection of songs from 1983 is just a must have for any and all Prince music fans. The pure heart and talent of this man just vibrates and shines through those little dark black speakers. We know the songs, but haven’t heard them performed in this way, at least, not by him before this release. At the beginning of the 1980s, Prince started to knock down walls and he paved the road to a career that only some of us musicians can only dream of. I wouldn’t say it’s a masterpiece, but it’s a piece of work written and performed by a master of music.
5. Cypress Hill, “Elephants on Acid” – Cypress Hill still makes me, ‘Insane In The Membrane!’ “Elephants on Acid” reminds me of how hip hop/rap has to be a part of your life. Of course, this is all a matter of taste. As the years pass and new hip hop/rappers emerge, I find myself a bit bored with what I hear today. CH reminds you that they aren’t a pop group: They are the real deal. The first instant the record starts, you realize you start scrunching your eyebrows and you put your hard face and baseball cap on, and start pacing the room. It’s just what it does to you. The attitude is still in your face, straight up! The album is worth
your money, made for the love of making hip hop.
Best Concerts: Collective Soul at Freedom Hill in Sterling Heights on Aug. 7 and 20 Monroe Live in Grand Rapids on Oct. 14 – My best summer concert of 2018 I dedicate to Collective Soul. A friend of mine, Doug B., who is a huge fan, invited me to not one but two concerts – from an open-air show at Freedom Hill to 20 Monroe Live. Collective Soul brought grace, skill, love, humbleness, and just good music to the stage. They have managed through the years to keep it together. Great songs with powerful melodies which may seem somewhat easily structured, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s also very nice to see the brothers together on stage sharing their dream. Collective Soul has the anthem songs and the talent to bring their audience to life in any setting at any time.
THE MOXIE STRINGS
1. Jeremy Kittel, “Whorls” – Jeremy has been one of my biggest inspirations for many years. This album was several years in the making and its artistry was worth every moment we had to wait. (Diana Ladio)
2. Death Cab for Cutie, “Thank You for Today” – Great driving tunes. This album covers a range of emotions and has some instant sing-alongs. (Alison Lynn)
3. Tall Heights, “Pretty Colors for Your Actions” – We had the pleasure of seeing these guys at the lounge at The Intersection, and our guess is the next time they come through they’ll be at Van Andel Arena! They’re beautiful tunes with lots of cello (YES!) and stunning writing. (Alison Lynn)
4. Mac Miller, “Swimming”– Captivating lyrics and really great use of beats and sounds. (Alison Lynn)
5. Julian Allen, “Could U Be” – I’ve been waiting for someone from the Michigan scene to enter this beautiful world of trancey EDM and beats-driven poetry. He does it masterfully. (And yes, it’s no surprise that two of our top albums this year were produced by Tyler Duncan! Mad props to our buddy Tyler.)
Best Concert: Theo Katzman in Galway, Ireland – This was wild! I happened to be in Galway and walked by a poster advertising his show the next night. It was so amazing to see a room on the other side of the world rise up for our Theo. They were mesmerized and it was no surprise why. It was honestly one of the best shows I have ever seen. I was so proud to be friends with him 🙂 (Diana)
THE CORN FED GIRLS
1. John Prine, “The Tree of Forgiveness” – I waited with nervous anticipation for Prine’s first solo album of his own tunes to come along in 13 years. He’s my favorite songwriter and I figured it’d be good. But… what if it wasn’t? What if he finally swung and missed? I needn’t have worried. The old guy’s more than still got it. He weaves words better than anyone. Highlights include “No Ordinary Blue,” “Egg and Daughter Nite, Lincoln, Nebraska” and “Summer’s End,” which features the following lines: “Valentines break hearts and minds at random, That ol’ Easter egg ain’t got a leg to stand on, Well I can see that you can’t win for tryin’, And New Year’s Eve is bound to leave you cryin’.” Geez. Left me cryin’, indeed. (Darcy Wilkin)
2. Brian Koenigsknecht, “Roswell” – Top shelf songwriting and production. Collaborations with musicians from the Michigan music community bring a lot of magic to this recording. Five stars! (Phil Barry)
3. Neil Young, “Roxy: Tonight’s the Night Live” – A snapshot of a master songwriter playing new songs for the first time live. A raw and powerful performance from Neil and his all star band. “So I’ll stop when I can, Find some fried eggs and country ham, I’ll find somewhere where they don’t care who I am” (Phil Barry)
4. David Byrne, “American Utopia” – If you like David Byrne, here is another gem, and full of timely words of despair, hope and wisdom. “How the rumor got started, one can only guess, And the truth don’t mean nothing if you ain’t got the cash, A credit card mommy, an invisible dad, Career opportunities that you never had.” (Jay Gavan)
5. Hymn For Her, “Pop-n-Downers” – The latest collection from Lucy Tight and Wayne Waxing, a talented duo with a fantastic range. They are capable of putting on an amazing live show and their albums are equally impressive. My personal favorites on this one are Human Condition, a rocker with a message about people’s true nature and First Clown on the Moon, cause its super sweet. Anyone who is a fan of this band will also be happy to see November on the list, on old Lucy Tight classic. The sounds are amazing, the arrangements are expansive and they both sing like angel-demons. Dig it. (Mike Fuerst)
Best Concert: The Bootstrap Boys at Farmfest, Aug. 12 – It was a scene right out of a really good nightmare. Classic country telecaster twang literally called out to the crowds of campers settling in for the night. I moved like a zombie in the direction of the Feedbag Cafe, where the flashing neon and loud drunken banter tried to but could not conceal the excellence of Big Jake’s voice and the band’s driving, dangerous and infectious rhythm. It was an odd time and place to be treated to such an outstanding and fleeting gift of music. (Jay Gavan)
Gabriel Kahane, “Book of Travelers” – Gabriel Kahane is one of my top 10 favorite artists. A multi-instrumentalist and a songwriter, he has a way of creating narrative with architecture, history, and human nature. The day after the 2016 election, he got on a train and traveled 8,000 miles collecting stories from fellow passengers, and “Book of Travelers” was born. It’s an album that took my breath away. Though fairly simple in its instrumentation – oftentimes, it’s just his voice and his piano – the modulations, lyrical content, and emotional impact are too complex to really put into words. The song “October 1st, 1939” compares light-hearted, optimistic passages from a grandmother’s diary as she escaped Nazi Germany, to the traveling thoughts of the reading descendant – all while creepy, hammered piano strings set the scene of terror that underscored the time. I highly recommend this album to anyone who needs a minute, anyone who wants to hear a good story.
Neko Case, “Hell-On” – Neko Case is ALSO one of my top 10 favorite artists. In the past five years I’ve kept journals, and I devote about 10 pages in each one for lyrics that I can’t get out of my head. Case is a regular visitor of those pages. Tragedy struck while this album was being recorded: Her house burnt to the ground, and almost nothing was salvageable. The next day, she laid the vocal track for one of her songs, called Bad Luck. She’s kind of my idol. There are so many winners on this record, a record that she produced herself. My favorite song, however, has to be “My Uncle’s Navy.” It’s probably one of the most gut-wrenching songs I’ve ever heard. The raw honesty both in her voice and in her lyrics literally made me burst into tears while pumping gas somewhere on tour in Ohio. If you want an album that pulls off band-aids you put on your shotgun wounds and heals you … this is it.
BROCKHAMPTON, “Iridescence” – Written and recorded at Abbey Road studios in just 10 days, this record feels like a project that was years in the making. I love how the group switched out their usual pop-sensible hooks for a much more honest and direct approach to songwriting. Plus grade A production from the groups in-house producers; the beats and instrumentals are rich and vibrant, filled with odd selections of samples and synthesizers. There are points in this record where I am shocked by the delivery and potency of the lyrics.
Father John Misty, “God’s Favorite Customer” – Sonically rich and lyrically honest, the album itches multiple scratches at once. The track list is a mix of upbeat strummer tunes and somber piano ballads. I’m always surprised when the album ends as quick as it does. The musical narrative makes it feel longer than it’s 38 minute run time.
Superorganism, “Superorganism” – This album is such a ride. I was immediately drawn in by similarities to some of my favorite early 2000’s bands like The Go! Team, and The Books that I haven’t heard in a long time. The sonic textures are a beautiful collage of natural and synthesized samples, and the somewhat apathetic lyrics and delivery are balanced by the band’s spirit in the singalong choruses. I love listening to this album because it feels like there’s so much creativity and personality pouring out of it. There’s no pretension, just has a wonderful collaborative spirit.
The War and Treaty, “Healing Tide”– Michael and Tanya’s voices blow me away. Ranging from country soul to Americana to rock and gospel, Buddy Miller’s production and the legendary musicians on the album lay a tight foundation that grooves and grows without feeling too big or overproduced. I love the quiet moments but my favorite parts are where Michael and Tanya’s boundless energy runs rampant, like at the end of “All I Wanna Do.” I actually feel tired imagining every ounce of blood, sweat and tears poured into the performance of these songs.
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