Tuesday, January 1, 2019

My Fave Records of 2018

It was, despite all the drama and tension in the world, a pretty good year for music. I loved some new records by old favourites, and made some new discoveries this year. What follows is an unorganized list of my fave records

Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel (Mom + Pop/Milk Records)

Barnett’s always been a heck of a wordsmith, but her latest has some of it’s most pointed lyrics yet: songs about depression, anger and being overwhelmed by the big city. Her musical chop have grown by leaps and bounds too: witness the way “City Looks Pretty” slowly fades into blues, or the loose janging rock of “Crippiing Self Doubt…”

Bill Frisell - Music Is (OKeh)

On a solo album where he digs deep into his back pages - check out his version of “Rambler” - Frisell shows himself to still be one of the most interesting jazz guitarists in the business. This isn’t him leaning back on 50s rock and pop; he plays against himself (via overdubs, natch) and does everything from pretty, sparse instrumentals to harsh slashes on his guitar. A treat.

Steve Tibbits - Life of (ECM)

Wonderful jazz guitar, atmospheric and engaging at moments, and at others I wondered if this was something ECM kept in the can from their 70s heyday. Tibbits’ playing has matured nicely, and like ECM peer David Torn, he’s found a nice balance between acoustics and electronics. Perfect for driving around late at night.

Sky and Robbie - Nordub (OKeh)

On this, the legendary rhythm section hooked up with Nils Petter Molivar, and made a really excellent record. Dub rhythms fade in and out, as do trumpets and keyboard. Everything’s awash in a mist, and sounds pop in and out. It’s constantly engaging, and is one of the most ambitious dub records I’ve heard in a while.

R+R=NOW - Collagically Speaking (Blue Note)

With hip-hop infused rhythms and grooves, this jazz record sounds fresh and completely of this time: there’s no knowing glances to 70s fusion, or to old-school bop, but constantly forward-facing music that pushes forward and has an interesting list of guest stars: Terry Crews, Amanda Seales, Omari Hardwick. Packed with nice grooves and good playing, it’s a standout in a year full of some good jazz records.

Donny McCaslin - Blow (Motéma)

Thanks tp his partnership with David Bowie, McCaslin seemed like he was about to blow up a couple of years ago. Instead, he waited a couple of years and delivered an engaging album that’s somewhere between jazz and rock: “What About the Body” is propelled by rock rhythms and vocals, but on “Break the Bond” he falls back onto post-bop, with a performance that goes all over the place: slow and moody to exciting and quick. Throughout, he walks this line that straddles straight-ahead rock and fusion-informed jazz. It’s exciting, and his playing is on point throughout.

Milk and Bone - Deception Bay (Bonsound Records)

With the trap beats and their wonderful vocal harmonies, Laurence Lafond-Beaulne and Camille Poliquin have a worthy follow up to their debut record. “Daydream” comes in like a haze, building into a pop banger, while “The Flood” is stripped down to minimal piano and drum beats, letting their vocals shine. It’s reminiscent sometimes of fellow Canadian act Purity Ring, but never derivative: it’s more like they took their ideas and built off of them. Don’t sleep on this one if you like dream pop.

Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer (Atlantic)

Slick R&B, with nice touches of electronics and funk grooves, Monae’s latest seems like it should finally be the record that propels her to stardom. With a strong set of pop tunes - “Take a Byte” is the sort of thing I bet Madonna would have killed for - and guest turns from some fellow heavyweights (Zoe Kravitz, Brian Wilson, Pharrell Williams), it was an early contender for album of the year, and it’s held up throughout the year. “Pynk” has a pretty good video, too. 

Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour (MCA Nashville)

Easily my favourite country album of the year. Musgraves songwriting has matured with her strongest set yet, and the arrangements - with touches of keyboards and synths, drums that kick in out of nowhere - are unexpected and refreshing among Nashville’s cookie-cutter music assembly line.

Kamaal Williams - The Return (Black Focus Records)

On his first album since Yussef Kamaal split up, Williams goes deep into 70s fusion territory. “Salaam” builds up into something Herbie Hancock or George Duke would be proud of, while “Broken Things” mixes skittering beats, Williams’ stuttering electric piano and builds into a funky burner. But I think the live version of “Situations” shows something interesting: his slow piano playing rings and chimes, and never falls into the same funk grooves, but instead shows his playing turning inwards and being introspective. It’s an interesting look, and one wonders if there’s more in this vein for him in the future.

Kamasi Washington - Heaven and Earth (Young Turks)

Yet another epic of a record from Washington and his band, his latest has him dabbling in standards and deep grooves alongside his more usual big-band style jazz. His version of “Hub-Tones” goes deep into latin-grooves and features some killer trumpet work; “One of One” builds up with his frenzied playing against a backing choir and cascading rhythms. I think he sometimes wears his influences a little on his sleeve - compare this to Max Roach’s solo albums for Impulse - but that’s hardly a bad thing. Don’t forget to look for the hidden third disc tucked away inside the CD sleeve.

Keys and Krates - Cura (Dim Mak)

They’ve been kicking around the fringes of the pop/R&B scene around Toronto for years, but only now gotten around to a proper debut record. It’s been worth the wait: slick electo R&B beats, wonderful guest vocals, and sample-instrumentals that put them right alongside fellow heavyweights like Keytranada or Badbadnotgood.

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