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Idles’ ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance.’ Is Aaron’s Top Album Of 2018

Idles' 'Joy As An Act Of Resistance.'

Idles’ ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance.’

This was the year that I came to the realization that I’m so far removed from whatever the culture-music zeitgeist is that I’m not even bothered about it.

I dove deep into numerous Best Of 2018 lists (Pitchfork, Guardian, NPR, Metacritic, etc) and what I found there left me mostly unmoved. A certain amount of this was from a weary I’ve-heard-this-all-before cynicism. It’s a music writer position I try to fight against constantly, but I’ve been around long enough, seen enough trends and have a deep enough collection and knowledge base that the ol’ “I liked this band better back when they were called [insert era appropriate punchline]” isn’t just a lazy criticism, it’s often also a real truth.

I won’t admit to being jaded just yet. After all, if your rap record sounds like something from 1998 and it reminds me of the best of 1998, I’m still here for it. It’s the lesser versions of a thing I can’t abide by. And it felt like I heard a lot of those this year.

Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much of my music listening capital trying to witness the greats perform live in recent years, but my interest in anything less than the masters of their craft in any given genre/scene/trend is rapidly disappearing.

At this point I’m mostly chasing the unique, the unusual and the just-that-much-different than what’s normal. The good news is there’s still lots of that to go around and I still found tons of great new music to listen to this year.

Here’s my official Top 10 album list for 2018:

10) Sol Invictus — Necropolis

I had a lot difficulties with this album and none of them were because of the music itself. Necropolis is a fascinating album, a collection of spoken word prog-folk story-songs exploring the dark, murderous corners of London and the Thames River. It’s a penny dreadful in musical form and a fascinating concept and listen. No, the problem is with band leader/sole official Sol Invictus member Tony Wakeford. Having known little about the band before this album, some cursory reading reveals that Wakeford has had past flirtations with the far-right fascists of the National Front in addition to some flirtations with far-left ideologies as well. I can’t tell if he’s a radical, a searcher, a confused hippie, or something in-between (officially he says he’s “unequivocally opposed to fascism, racism, anti-semitism and homophobia”), but that uncertainty about Wakeford himself casts an uncertain shadow on what is otherwise a genuinely intriguing album.

Watch “Old Father Thames”

9) Spain — Mandala Brush

The standard by which I judge all freak-folk-jazz is Tim Buckley’s Starsailor album. It’s insane and perfect because it’s insane. Spain’s Mandala Brush is kinda like what would happen if someone smuggled a copy of Starsailor into a Christian summer camp and all the kids listened to bootleg tape copies at night after their lessons on how dinosaurs are only 5,000 years old.

Watch “Maya In The Summer”

8) Phantastic Ferniture — Phantastic Ferniture

It doesn’t feel like a coincidence that Australian three-piece Phantastic Ferniture are on the same label as Alvvays (Polyvinyl). But where Alvvays are for bedroom headphoned introverts, Phantastic Ferniture rep an extroverted flipside. The band’s self-titled record is a bit of a grower but “Fuckin ‘n’ Rollin” is a straight anthem and “Uncomfortable Teenager” and “Dark Corner Dance Floor” tap into some pretty universal feelings.

Watch “Fuckin ‘n’ Rollin”

7) Vince Staples — FM!

Vince Staples is my favourite rapper under the age of 40. That might be a backhanded compliment, or a self-own maybe, but it’s not meant to be. He’s consistently intriguing, he’s always going for it production-wise and most of all he seems to be actually trying to “art.” Yes, the idea of an album as a faux radio station is a little bit corny, but there’s a lot to like here, including “FUN!,” “Feels Like Summer” and “Don’t Get Chipped.”

Watch “FUN!”

6) The Myrrors — Borderlands

So, this year I found out this thing I’ve been listening to for years, nay, decades, actually has its own genre — “psych drone.” Arizona’s The Myrrors would qualify as charter members in this genus. Propelled by heat shimmers, Borderlands pokes at the imagination and takes you to places more conventional desert rockers aren’t brave enough to go.

Watch “The Blood That Runs the Border”

5) Marie Davidson — Working Class Woman

Remember how I was saying that if you’re gonna sound like the past you better be amazing at it? Well, Marie Davidson is that. Her acid house/techno/electro/whateverthekidshaverebrandeditthesedays takes me back to having to call hotlines on flyers on Saturday nights so I could figure out where the shuttle bus was going to pick us up and take us to some dank rave in some dank warehouse/studio space. Now that I think about it, that was a pretty sketchy time.

Watch “Work It”

4) Young Galaxy — Down Time

If Young Galaxy have indeed packed it in for the foreseeable future, they’ve gone out on their shield. Down Time is a defiant, beautiful electronic record that takes the band to places one could have never predicted during their early-2000s Montreal indie scene rise. There’s a not-particularly-subtle undercurrent of fuck you to Down Time, complete with allusions to the sinister machinations of the music industry and the band’s new status as a fully independent recording act. Yet Down Time never gets bogged down in boring biz-related bitterness, instead offering up a shimmering we’re-above-it-all best heard on the entrancing “River” and flag-planting “Frontier.”

Watch “Frontier”

3) Avulsions — Expanding Program

If you had told me at the start of the year that some Cure tribute band from Saskatoon was turning Blade Runner fan fiction into songs — and that they would be ice cold amazing — I would have eaten a bullet from Deckard’s blaster. And yet here we are.

Watch “The End”

2) Woolworm — Deserve To Die

There’s only a very narrow sliver of ’90s-style “alternative” rock that I truly care about. If I were to fence it in it’d include the shoegaze of Catherine Wheel, Sonic Youth’s mid-period “sellout” DGC albums, PJ Harvey catsuit rock and all the Jesus & Mary Chain records they made once everyone stopped caring. I have no idea if members of Vancouver’s Woolworm give a shit about any of these acts, but listening to Deserve To Die fits in a very complimentary way next to them. There are strong doses of self-loathing and an eerie preoccupation with death and loneliness about Deserve To Die that feels particularly on the nose if we’re playing the time travel game. I listened to this record more than any other this year. Which may say a bit too much, but its noise and grind felt cathartic.

Watch “Deserve To Die”

1) Idles — Joy As An Act Of Resistance.

It’s been a long time since I felt a new band as deeply as I have since discovering Idles. Joy As An Act Of Resistance. is like a blinding, violent beam of angry light setting the darkness aflame with its personal politics. This Bristol band’s post-punk/rock/hardcore/whatever is like a musical shield for anyone who feels “other” in any way. Their ultimate act of resistance has been to make fight songs for the misfits of the world to scream along to.

Watch “Colossus”

Other album lists…

2017 Top Ten — Land Of Talk’s Life After Youth is #1
2016 Top Ten — Daniel Romano‘s Mosey is #1
2015 Top Ten — SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart’s SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart is #1
2014 Top Ten — Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is #1
2013 Top Ten — M.I.A.’s Matangi is #1
2012 Top Ten — Dirty Ghosts’ Metal Moon is #1
2011 Top Ten — Timber Timbre’s Creep On Creepin’ On is #1
2010 Top Ten — The Black Angels’ Phosphene Dream is #1
2009 Top Ten — Gallows’ Grey Britain is #1
2008 Top Ten — Portishead’s Third is #1
2007 Top Ten — Joel Plaskett Emergency’s Ashtray Rock is #1
2006 Top Ten — My Brightest Diamond’s Bring Me The Workhorse is #1
2005 Top Ten — Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Howl is #1
2004 Top Ten — Morrissey’s You Are The Quarry is #1
2003 Top Ten — The Dears’ No Cities Left is #1
2002 Top Ten — Archive’s You All Look The Same To Me is #1
2001 Top Ten — Gord Downie’s Coke Machine Glow is #1
2000 Top Ten — Songs: Ohia’s The Lioness is #1
1999 Top Ten — The Boo Radleys’ Kingsize is #1
1998 Top Ten — Baxter’s Baxter is #1
1996 Top Ten — Tricky’s Maxinquaye is #1

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Daniel Romano’s ‘Mosey’ Is Aaron’s Top Album For 2016

Daniel Romano's Mosey

Daniel Romano’s Mosey

For a certain demo of music fans (mine) 2016 was a year defined by a number of the all-time greats dying — David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, Merle Haggard, Phife Dawg, Glenn Frey, etc — which provided strong motivation to make sure I saw concerts from a number of elder musical statespeople like John Fogerty, Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett, Robert Plant, Arthur Brown, Pagliaro and Bruce Springsteen.

It might be a by-product of pursuing this Before They Die list, but I definitely felt out of step with the music critic hegemony this year when it came to what the best records were. The kids these days all like the pop music and as much as I respect a more politicized Beyonce, this immaculately manufactured and marketed mega-pop world holds little sonic intrigue to me.

There were a number of bubbling under acts who did make music I found intriguing, though. Monomyth, American Lips, Elephant Stone, Fresh Snow, Doomsquad, LAL, EONS and U.S. Girls were just some of the Canucks who made fabulous albums. International acts James Hunter Six, The Avalanches, The Last Shadow Puppets and, surprisingly, The Rolling Stones, all made music of intrigue as well. There were also a couple wildly different compilations that really captured me, the Polyvinyl Plays Polyvinyl label tribute and Music of Morocco: Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959, an utterly fascinating curated collection of Moroccan street musicians recorded in 1959, were both exciting listens.

That said, there were other records that moved me more than these. Which I will explain further below.

Here’s my official Top 10 album list for 2016:

10) Jim James — Eternally Even

On My Morning Jacket lead singer Jim James’ second solo album he goes all psych soul with a number of keyboard-y space outs that sound mighty good when you listen to them on headphones.

Watch “Here In Spirit”

9) Duotang — New Occupation

This album was quite a creeper hit for me. There’s a not-so-subtle theme to this record that revolves around aging and having to give up your rock ‘n’ roll dreams because you never made it. I’m not unaware of how such a theme can work its way into the subconscious of a modestly employed freelance writer of a certain age. The thing is, in making a record about having to give up and get a real job because the dream is dead, they’ve actually shown that the dream isn’t dead. Because they’re still making music. That’s a good lesson to take into 2017.

Watch “Karma Needs To Come Around”

8) Preoccupations — Preoccupations

It hasn’t been lost on me that Preoccupations, the band formerly known as Viet Cong, haven’t exactly been appearing on a lot of year-end best-of lists. I’ve noticed in part because I like Preoccupations‘ heavy post-rock a tad more than I liked the last Viet Cong record. And I suspect Preoccupations are getting punished politically for their bumbling navigation of the controversy around their old band name. Empirically, though, this is a really good record and anyone whose sartorial philosophy is “only wears black t-shirts” will find much to appreciate here.

Watch “Memory”

7) Vince Staples — Prima Donna

Chance The Rapper is wack. The best rap record this year was this half-record by Vince Staples.

Watch “Prima Donna”

6) Michael Kiwanuka — Love & Hate

I’ve got this thing about retro sounds and revivalists: basically, if you’re a half-decent imitator of a musical form I like, I’ll probably like your act. For example, if you’re a competent Black Sabbath surrogate or a Jesus And Mary Chain knock-off I’m all-in. But just because I’m all-in that doesn’t mean I think you’re actually good. It just means you’re a good copycat.

What I need from revivalists is something more. Michael Kiwanuka’s old school soul record Love & Hate is full of “more.” It’s a big symphonic throwback to the grandest moments of Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield, but the focus and concerns in songs like “Black Man In A White World” and its title track are entirely now.

Watch “Love & Hate”

5) Charlotte Day Wilson — CDW

Charlotte Day Wilson was another one of my deep headphone trips this year. In her case it was all about her smoldering voice. It’s a truly wondrous instrument and her song “Work” is the perfect venue for it.

Watch “Work”

4) Drive-By Truckers — American Band

Before American Band I didn’t really understand the hype about Drive-By Truckers. My tolerance for roots rock is pretty low and even though I didn’t dislike DBT, they’d done very little that moved me. Then this album happened. A heavy narrative exploration of America’s ugliest features, American Band tackles topics like race and class with the same righteous zeal of a Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar or Tom Petty. That’s lofty company, but those are the people they match on this album.

Watch “Surrender Under Protest”

3) Casket Girls — The Night Machines

One of the most exciting, confounding, mysterious and wonderful albums I heard all year was Casket Girls’ The Night Machines. To the best I can figure they’re two sisters from Savannah, Georgia who play the sort of gloomy keyboard rock that Emily Strange would make if she bailed out of art college in her third year “because it’s all bullshit.” Whether it’s wistful (“Sixteen Forever”), surreal (“Mermaid College”) or bristling (“Tears Of A Clown”), The Night Machines makes for a deeply magical trip.

Watch “Tears Of A Clown”

2) Black Mountain — IV

Whenever I read one of those “rock is dead” thinkpieces one of the first things I always wonder about is “what rock music is this writer actually listening to?” Because if you’re judging “rock” based on, I dunno, the last Disturbed album, then sure, you probably have an argument. But if Disturbed are what you consider to be proper rock music in 2016, well, um, there’s some cognitive dissonance going on.

There was amazing rock music in 2016 and the best of it was Black Mountain’s IV album. When I first heard IV back in April I called it “a hurtling, mind-warping journey” that “investigates some of classic rock music’s most thrilling tropes, all with controls aimed straight towards the cosmos.” I stand by those words still. Let there be rock.

Watch “Mothers Of The Sun”

1) Daniel Romano — Mosey

In all my years of listening to and reviewing albums I’ve given out maybe a dozen perfect ratings for albums so beautiful, so unique and so unimpeachable that I know in my heart that in five, 10 or 20 years from now I’ll still feel the exact same way about them.

I don’t grade any reviews I write on Risky Fuel, but if I did Mosey would be one of those albums. Bob Dylan, Lee Hazlewood, Leonard Cohen… these are impossibly high benchmarks to match, and yet here we are. Daniel Romano’s Mosey was my favourite album of 2016.

Watch “Valerie Leon”

Other album lists…

2016 Top Ten — Daniel Romano‘s Mosey is #1
2015 Top Ten — SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart is #1
2014 Top Ten — Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is #1
2013 Top Ten — M.I.A.’s Matangi is #1
2012 Top Ten — Dirty Ghosts’ Metal Moon is #1
2011 Top Ten — Timber Timbre’s Creep On Creepin’ On is #1
2010 Top Ten — The Black Angels’ Phosphene Dream is #1
2009 Top Ten — Gallows’ Grey Britain is #1
2008 Top Ten — Portishead’s Third is #1
2007 Top Ten — Joel Plaskett Emergency’s Ashtray Rock is #1
2006 Top Ten — My Brightest Diamond’s Bring Me The Workhorse is #1
2005 Top Ten — Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Howl is #1
2004 Top Ten — Morrissey’s You Are The Quarry is #1
2003 Top Ten — The Dears’ No Cities Left is #1
2002 Top Ten — Archive’s You All Look The Same To Me is #1
2001 Top Ten — Gord Downie’s Coke Machine Glow is #1
2000 Top Ten — Songs: Ohia’s The Lioness is #1
1999 Top Ten — The Boo Radleys’ Kingsize is #1
1998 Top Ten — Baxter’s Baxter is #1
1996 Top Ten — Tricky’s Maxinquaye is #1

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