Contributors from Pedal Fuzz have weighed in on their favorite albums of 2018. there was (thankfully) no shortage of excellent music released this year. We hope you give these artists a listen, a share, and maybe even smash that ‘buy’ button on Bandcamp or at the counter of your local record store.
***note***these are listed in order they were sent to the editor
Dustin K. Britt
David Byrne, AMERICAN UTOPIA
Father John Misty, GOD'S FAVORITE CUSTOMER
Florence + The Machine, HIGH AS HOPE
Gorillaz, THE NOW NOW
Mary Lattimore, HUNDREDS OF DAYS
Neko Case, HELL-ON
Troye Sivan, BLOOM
The Nels Cline 4 – Currents, Constellations – Nels Cline is one of those figures that’s always been on my peripheral. His name has floated around progressive independent music for decades. His association with Wilco didn’t cause me to go through his discography. This record just popped up this year, a little promotion from a devotee helped a lot. Seeing him play at Big Ears this past year solidified my interest.
Currents, Constellations is fascinating, the interplay between Nels and technical wizard Julian Lage keeps pushing the music forward, sometimes noisy and sometimes jazz freak-out. It’s a perfect gateway record, not all the way jazz and not all the way progressive rock. After listening to the record for a few weeks I ordered the last two Lage records and a couple Cline ones. Julian Lage’s Modern Lore is also on my best of 2018 list.
Similar Fashion – Portrait Of – I don’t know anything about this band. I don’t know where they come from. I have no context other than a simple post from the producer, John Dietrich of Deerhoof fame. Just that last bit of information caused me to click on the link, a task any music fan can do dozens of times in a day when the music is in front of you all the time. Another Bandcamp link, nah…I’ll pass.
Thankfully I clicked on the link and heard a record I immediately loved. It was energetic and progressive, a little silly even. How many records reference the TV show, Scandal? One thread going through the record is this quasi-Raymond Scott feel. He’s the guy who wrote a lot of music for Looney Toons, and I love him. Imagine Bugs Bunny chasing Foghorn Leghorn through a forest while a small group of music majors raised on jazz and rock and roll score it. The best songs on the record are full of exuberance and sugared up energy.
Oh Sees – Smote Reverser – Oh Sees have a lot of records. They might have too many records. Because they have so many records it becomes difficult to get excited about a new one. Although I listen to all of their new records I don’t buy them automatically. I feel like I need to sample them. Recently they’ve been going through this tour of the outer fringes of rock and roll subgenres. You know, last year’s record was the folk record with psychedelic touches. They’ve done the garage record with psychedelic touches. Smote Reverser is their early 70’s hard rock record with psychedelic touches.
When trying to describe the record, I feel like I have nothing positive to say about it. At the core there’s the usual really loud Dwyer leads over the top of everything. You know they’re coming, they’re always there, it should be an annoying cliché but they sound so good. His tone is delicious. Mix in dueling drums and an interest in letting songs unfold for no particular reason, and it’s a record to fall into.
Palberta – Roach Goin’ Down – This is a punk record. It’s ragged and personal and it feels like it could fall apart at any moment. Sometimes I think the musicians are superb players, while on other songs I feel like it’s the first day of them playing their instruments. The songs are short blasts of postpunk joy that could have been made in 1980.
While I’m enthralled with this record, and enjoyed them immensely when I saw them live in Raleigh, I worry about them. I worry that this perfect moment will be ruined if they become a little more adept at their instruments. Taking away some of the passion in their playing might neuter their effectiveness. A better scenario might be for them to break up and move onto other things leaving this batch of songs as their only work.
New Optimism – Amazon to LeFrak – New Optimism is basically Miho Hatori, most notably of Cibo Matto fame. It was a record I didn’t know existed until I started down a random google search hole. It was one of those days where think to yourself, “Oh, I wonder what they’re doing” and then six hours have past. Not setting out to find new music by her and then there it is, was like a wonderful present. Unfortunately it’s only an EP. Unfortunately I haven’t heard anyone talk about the record at all. It came out in July and I worry it’s already buried under mounds of other new releases. Googling Hatori again I realize she has produced a full length record I didn’t know anything about. This last surprise was released in October.
The music on Amazon to LeFrak is right in line with her work in Cibo Matto and her painfully underrated Ecdysis from 2005. The music is colorful and dancey, vibrant and a little quirky. I hope this flurry of creative continues into the New Year.
In 2018 I listened to and focused on music from films as much or more than straight-up albums. Here are my favorites, they’re all magnificent and worthy of your time.
Favorite Film Scores & Soundtracks
Hereditary - Colin Stetson
Suspiria - Thom Yorke
Black Panther - Kendrick Lamar
A Star Is Born - Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper
Vox Lux - Sia / Scott Walker
Revenge - ROB
Kin - Mogwai
Thoroughbreds - Erik Friedlander
Eighth Grade - Anna Meredith
*Honorable mention* Halloween (2018) - John Carpenter. I mean, it was great to hear The Theme loud & revved up/industrialized in a theatre, but not really doing much new here if I’m being honest. Love to John Carpenter forever though!
There was much that I ‘liked’ this year in music but less that I ‘loved’ (gonna blame that partially on a shortage of deep listening time). I also had a few instances where live greatly outweighed the record, no matter how much I tried to listen. So rather than list out 40 albums, here are the ones that really affected me, so much so that I even have physical copies of 90% of these.
Bill Frisell - Music Is
The Nels Cline 4 - Currents, Constellations
The Messthetics - s/t
Mary Lattimore - Hundreds of Days - Meg Baird & Mary Lattimore - Ghost Forests
Yo La Tengo - There’s A Riot Going On
Shane Parish - Child Asleep In The Rain
Low - Double Negative
Marisa Anderson - Cloud Corner
Mind Over Mirrors - Bellowing Sun
The Sea And Cake - Any Day
Oh Sees - Smote Reverser
Julian Lage - Modern Lore
***I just picked up The Hex by Richard Swift and Mattson 2 Play ‘A Love Supreme’ but as they haven’t gotten a full spin yet I can’t include but they sound mighty fine so far.
Favorite Pop Song
*I don’t really listen to much modern pop music but this song slays and instantly appealed to me the first time I heard it.
Patrick Wall’s Top Ten
Knee Meets Jerk, or: In Which a Semiretired Music Critic and Journalist Offers Brief, Non-Critical and Non-Sequitur Thoughts on His Favorite Music of 2018. Because, Hey, Music Is Personal and Subjective, Right?
*Results listed in alphabetical order and subject to change.
Bad years look better when they’re gone.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt more unstable — professionally, personally, psychologically — in my life than I did in 2018. In the past eighteen months, I've moved twice — from a new home to an old home to very, very far away from home. I bounced from a solid if unexciting job to no job to high-paying but infrequent freelance jobs to steady and cool but low-paying jobs to a high-paying but stressful and wholly unfulfilling job. Commutes went from long car rides to long bike rides and long walks to long train and subway rides. As summer faded to fall and turned to bitter winter, the world just felt increasingly, incontrovertibly, ineffably doomed. New homes didn’t feel as such. Old ones seemed gone, unable to be returned to — no man, Heraclitus mused, can step twice in the same stream.
If things were roiling internally, they weren’t any better externally. The planet is doomed. The authoritarians won. The world got colder. Some of my friends got cancer. Some of them, their cancers came back. Some of my friends got sad. Some of them came to the brink of death. Some of them got help, got better. Some of them didn’t make it through the year, taken either by illness or by their own hands, their voices now silhouettes, never coming back.
All this is to say: I have done far less critical listening this year than in the past. My time is more limited. My tastes are broader and more tolerant now than when I was a quote-unquote critic, but they’re harder to fathom. The things I connected with this year, I don’t know that I could explain why. I don’t know why Cave’s “San’Yago” spoke to me on the same level as Janelle Monae’s “Make Me Feel,” Jeff Parker’s “Blackman,” They Might Be Giants’ “Last Wave,” The Fearless Flyers’ “Ace of Aces,” Superchunk’s “What a Time to Be Alive,” The Messthetics’ “The Inner Ocean,” Fucked Up’s “Normal People.” I don’t know that I can qualify why none of the records those songs were on made the list below, or why I connected with those records in times of existential crisis. (Though, were I to give it some good, critical though, Monae’s Dirty Computer would probably grade out as the best of the year.)
How do we measure out our worst years? What defines them, shapes them? What do we reach for when everything feels bad? What do we reach for when we just need things to get better? The sensitive among us, we to turn art — the gear-minded among us, to music, in particular. But how do we code ourselves to forget, when the music we listened to — the music we connected with the most — brings us back to those places?
If you’re lucky, you get to close that part of yourself off and forget about it. If you’re luckier, you don’t. You recognize those sounds — those emotions — when you hear them again. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to close that part of yourself off and forget about it — but you’ll recognize those sounds when you heard it again. You just need to realize that you were lucky enough to have heard them in the first place.
So here are eleven records released in 2018 that I listened to that I enjoyed more than the other ones I listened to that were released in 2018. These are the records that provided some small comfort, and that will reinforce, in the years to come, that bad years look better when they’re gone. We hope.
Rafiq Bhatia, Breaking English [Anti-]
The Body, I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer [Thrill Jockey]
Khruangbin, Con Todo El Mundo [Dead Oceans]
Julian Lage, Modern Lore [Mack Avenue]
Low, Double Negative [Sub Pop]
Makaya McCraven, Universal Beings [International Anthem]
Mount Eerie, Now Only [P.W. Elverum & Sons]
Ohmme, Parts [Joyful Noise]
Miles Okazaki, Work [self-released]
Tangents, New Bodies [Temporary Residence Limited]
Ryley Walker, Deafman Glance [Dead Oceans]
Patrick Wall is an infrequent contributor to Pedal Fuzz. Sometimes, people pay him to write things. He used to live in North Carolina; he currently lives in Massachusetts. The record he actually listened to the most this year? Psychic Temple’s Plays Music for Airports.
This year I listened to a lot of music that did not come out recently. BUT. I did have some favorites in 2018.
The National - Cherry Tree Vol. 1
The National - Boxer Live in Brussels
Big Red Machine - S/T
Cat Power - Wanderer
Waxahatchee - Great Thunder
Speedy Ortiz - Twerp Verse
To make this as absolutely accurate as possible and to allow for any sudden last minute submissions, I am writing this at 8pm on New Year's Eve.
My best of 2018:
Guided By Voices - Space Gun (Rockathon Records). This has already become one of my touch stone GBV albums, in roughly the same status as Mag Earwhig! or Class Clown Spots a UFO or even Vampire on Titus. Fifteen concise psych pop rockers, not a micro second wasted.
Adrian Legg - Live (self release). Adrian is surely one of the two or three best finger style guitarists on this planet, and for nearly forty years he has been traveling and performing solo gigs at house concerts, coffee bars, pubs and anywhere ears will listen. As wonderful as his playing and composing can be, his arduous fans know that his eloquent, story like song introductions are half of the appeal of seeing him in person. This is perhaps the first time that Legg has released a live album with these stories intact. His ruminations lately have concerned greed, materialism, racism, and the destruction of the environment, all from the perspective of a sagely septaugenarian that has traveled the world many times over, but they are as beautiful as his delicate, astounding guitar playing.
Julia Holter - Aviary (Domino Recording Co.). Holter's third album takes an extraordinary leap from the intelligent chamber pop of her previous work to spooky, other worldly avantgarde. Since so many music reviewers tend to make lazy comparisons to Kate Bush when writing about Holter, imagine if “Lionheart” had jumped straight ahead to “The Dreaming” with 21st century technology. Batshit arrangements and sonic freakouts, lysergic orchestral pile ups that come from outer space, on first listen it all sounds like a mess in places, but hang in there, your brain will thank you.
Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer (Atlantic). Composer/singer/dancer/actress/ time travel enthusiast Monae can be high on concept sometimes but she is even higher on melody, groove and astoundingly great vocal performances. I haven't yet taken the time to dissect what all of this “means” in terms of her commentary about contemporary society and what not, but it sure sounds superb. I suspect that she isn't even close to her peak yet, either.
Lilac Shadows - Brutalism (Diggup Tapes). This Durham, NC quartet has apparently done cassettes and digi downloads before but this is on a bona fide high quality vinyl LP in beautiful packaging. Flavors of “Movement”-era New Order and classic 4AD make this music nerd proud to share some geographical proximity with them. Excellent live band too.