Monday, December 10, 2018

End of year top 10 thing

After last year, I don't think I'll be asked to contribute my statistically insignificant two cents to the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll again (does the Voice still exist?), but here 'tis for the edification and enjoyment of anyone who cares. Influenced, no doubt, by the fact that for most of the year, I was working in a record store again, for the first time in many years. Also listening to the radio. In no particular order:

Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour. This won top honors at CMA; go figure. A pop record with country touches (banjo, steel) amid an almost dub production (thanks for that perspective, John Nuckels). One of her co-writer/producers is the son of Barry Tashian from the Nuggets-era Remains. "Oh What A World" is my song o' the year for extramusical reasons.

The Young Mothers - Morose. An unlikely hybrid of hip-hop, free jazz, and grindcore, with an all-star at every position, led by the titanic bassist/Austin-based Oslo expat Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (The Thing). If Public Enemy, Ornette Coleman, and Napalm Death had a love child, it'd sound like the Young Mothers. Featuring my hero, Jonathan F. Horne, on guitar. Also the best live band I saw this year.

Nels Cline 4 - Currents, Constellations. Speaking of six-string heroics, a few years ago, Nels Cline and Julian Lage played the most guitar I've ever seen anybody play, as a duo at Oak Cliff's Kessler Theater. Here they add a rhythm section and some edgy writing ("Imperfect 10"). The quieter moments here conjure the spirit of '70s ECM stalwarts John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner.

Ralph Carney/Chris Butler - Songs for Unsung Holidays. Former Tin Huey bandmates Carney (Tom Waits) and Butler (the Waitresses) convened to pay tribute to "silly bands" like the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah with this collection of paeans to invented holidays, highlighted by ace songcraft and nifty playing. Sadly, Carney died in an accident at home before it appeared. This year, Butler also released another worthwhile collection of his brainy, idiosyncratic pop-rock toonage, the aging-and-mortality focused Got It Togehter.

Kikagaku Moyo - Masana Temples. Fourth album from a new-to-me Japanese quintet, which grabbed my attention on KNON's Tuesday Morning Blend with a sound like an unheard '70s Krautrock track from Amon Duul II or Guru Guru (although those in the know inform me that their countryman Cornelius is also an audible influence). Proof positive, as if any more were needed, that psychedelia is timeless. I'm sorry to say I missed their performance at a tiny club in Dallas. Next time, they'll probably play a bigger room.

Sarah Ruth - The Shape of Blood to Come. A new watershed for the busy Denton experimentalist, this one finds her combining her classically-trained, razor-edged vocalismo and rustic instrumentation with a variety of ensembles both acoustic and electronic (including members of Pinkish Black, Wire Nest, and Dim Locator). An intriguing melange of Western Gothic and apocalyptic noise.

John Coltrane - Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album. An unexpected delight, this previously unheard album -- from a year where Trane's releases were a collection of ballads and collaborations with Duke Ellington and singer Johnny Hartman -- finds the "classic" quartet poised midway between the rigor of their '61 Village Vanguard dates and the spiritual apotheosis of A Love Supreme. The leader, Tyner, Garrison, and Jones are all stupendous, and even the stacked alternate takes of "Impressions" don't overtax the listener's attention.

Dead Can Dance - Dionysus. Less song-oriented than its predecessor Anastasis, more world music and less medieval than their earlier work, this is really Brendan Perry's show, based on an ecstatic experience and informed by pulse and percussion, with Perry and Lisa Gerrard vocalizing in an invented language, blending their voices with computer-generated sounds. It's music for a healing ceremony. This year, Gerrard also appeared on BooCheeMish, the first recording after a long hiatus from The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices.

Shannon Shaw - Shannon in Nashville. Frontwoman for garage rockers Shannon and the Clams gets together with Black Key Dan Auerbach (wearing his producer's hat) and creates, of all things, a modern-day equivalent of Dusty in Memphis. She's got the pipes and songs, and this LP quickly supplanted D'Angelo's Black Messiah as our "Beta Band" (High Fidelity allusion) record for in-store play.

Alice Cooper - Live from the Astroturf. The lovingly-captured and exquisitely-packaged document of a wish fulfillment gig I missed. The surviving members of the Alice Cooper Group reunite at what was supposed to be a book signing in a Dallas record store, whose owner just happens to be an ACG Uberfan who crowd-funded this release. Things like this, and Third Man's An A-Square Compilation, could give Record Store Day a good name.


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