Monday, December 31, 2018

Songs for Cineastes: 2018 Edition

Cardiff-based Gwenno Saunders

Click here for the 2017 edition. Links lead to my concert previews for The Stranger.

Top 10

1. Gwenno - Le Kov (Heavenly-PIAS)
Le Kov marks two stunning solo albums in a row from ex-Pipette Gwenno Saunders. If 2014's Y Dydd Olaf, inspired by Owain Owain's  dystopian novel from the 1970s, was the more ambitious release, the follow-up marks an artist firmly in control of her powers. The Welsh Cornish language has rarely sounded lovelier.

2. Meshell Ndegeocello - Ventriloquism (Naïve-Believe)
Ndegeocello's 2014 paranoid-funk cover of Whodini's "Friends" merely hinted at this brilliant reinvention of 11 pre-millennial R&B and funk classics. The singer and bass player at her sensual, soul-stirring best.

3. Lorelle Meets the Obsolete - De Facto (Registros El Derrumbe)
There'll never be another Broadcast, but on their fifth full-length, this Ensenada-by-way-of-Guadalajara duo (Lorena Quintanilla and Alberto Gonzalez) conjures up a similar sense of magic and mystery. Mixed by Cooper Crain (Bitchin Bajas) and mastered by Mikey Young (Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Total Control): México goes motorik.  

Meshell Ndegeocello
4. Kacey 
Golden Hour (MCA Nashville)
From the electro pop of "High Horse" to the rustic psychedelia of "Slow Burn" to the stadium tour with Harry Styles, Musgraves' creative risks rankled purists, but the CMA Award for album of the year confirms that her resemblance to Bobbie Gentry is more than just skin deep.  

5. DRINKS - Hippo Lite (Drag City)
It was a good year to be Cate Le Bon--or a fan of the Welsh polymath--as she co-produced Deerhunter and hit her stride with White Fence's Tim Presley on their second, even-better-than-the-first record.  

6. Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer (Bad Boy)
After establishing her acting bonafides in 2016 (MoonlightHidden Figures), Monáe emerged in 2018 as a "free-ass motherfucker," an orientation reflected in the Prince-inspired "Make Me Feel" and the Georgia O'Keefe-on-ecstasy "Pink" video with pal Tessa Thompson.  

7. Exploded View - Obey (Sacred Bones)
Berlin-based Anika launched her career as a solo artist, so it came as a surprise when she joined forces with two Mexico City musicians to form this transcontinental trio. Their discography to date isn't a repudiation of the stark sound she established with BEAK's Geoff Barrow, but a more textural version marked by unnerving shows in which the cool blonde segues from quasi-catatonic to confrontational.  

Lorelle Meets the Obsolete
8. Kelly Lee Owens - Kelly Lee Owens (Smalltown Supersound)
On her enchanting debut, the Welsh producer whispers sweetly over diaphanous clouds of synths and gently pulsating beats. It's Charlotte Gainsbourg by way of Juana Molina through a Giorgio Moroder haze. 

9. U.S. Girls - In a Poem Unlimited (4AD)
Meg Remy, the American-born sonic architect behind this Toronto noise-pop project, takes recognizable elements, including girl-group harmonies and soul samples, and scrambles them into something new and unfamiliar, like Ronnie Spector fronting the Residents. On her riveting new album, she references male-generated works about men, like Hamlet, to interrogate male power and female agency.

10. The Nels Cline 4 - Currents, Constellations (Blue Note)
Cline, a guitarist and composer with free jazz (Charlie Haden, Julius Hemphill) and alt-rock roots (Wilco, Mike Watt, Thurston Moore), brings playful prog-punk energy to his second Blue Note outing.  

Note: All comments from my 2018 Pazz & Jop ballot.

11. Amen Dunes - Freedom (Sacred Bones)
12. The Breeders - All Nerve (4AD)
13. Wussy - What Heaven Is Like (Damnably)
14. Cat Power - The Wanderer (Domino)
15. Brownout - Fear of a Brown Planet (Fat Beats)
16. Yo La Tengo - There's a Riot Going On (Matador)
17. Pistol Annies - Interstate Gospel (Sony Music Entertainment)
18. Ambrose Akinmusire - Origami Harvest (Blue Note)
19. Ashley Monroe - Sparrow (Warner Bros Nashville)
20. The Necks - Body (Northern Spy)
21. Khruangbin - Con Todo el Mundo (Dead Oceans-Night Time Stories)
22. Blood Orange - Negro Swan (Domino)
23. Ty Segall - Freedom’s Goblin (Drag City)
25. Wooden Shjips - V. (Thrill Jockey)
26. Young Fathers - Cocoa Sugar (Ninja Tune)
27. Oh Sees - Smote Reverser (Castle Face)
28. Hop Along - Bark Your Head Off, Dog (Saddle Creek)
29. Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - Sparkle Hard (Matador)
30. Kamasi Washington - Heaven and Earth
(Shoto Mas Inc.-Young Turks)

Kim Deal of the Breeders at Showbox Sodo
31. Becky Warren - Undesirable (Becky Warren)
32. Ty Segall and White Fence - Joy (Drag City)
33. Escape-ism - The Lost Record (Merge)
35. Parquet Courts - Wide Awake (Rough Trade)
36. Serpentwithfeet - soil (Secretly Canadian)
37. Wayne Shorter - Emanon (Blue Note)
38. Cameron Knowler - New & Old (Blue Hole Recordings)
39. Soccer Mommy - Clean (Fat Possum)
40. Black Belt Eagle Scout - Mother of My Children (Saddle Creek)
41. Low - Double Negative (Sub Pop)
42. Sarathy Korwar - My East Is Your West (Gearbox)
43. Joan Shelley - Joan Shelley (No Quarter)
44. Warm Drag - Warm Drag (In the Red)
45. Julia Holter - Aviary (Domino)
46. Anne Malin (FKA Fawn) - Fog Area (Anne Malin)
47. Robyn - Honey (Konichiwa-Interscope)
48. Charles Bradley - Black Velvet (Dunham-Daptone)
49. Cale Brandley with Triptych Myth - Finding Fire (Birdwatcher)
50. Marie Davidson - Working Class Woman (Ninja Tune)

Top Reissues & Compilations
1. Bobbie Gentry - The Girl from Chickasaw: The Complete Capitol Masters (Capitol Records Nashville)
2. Prince - Piano and a Microphone 1983 (NPG Records)
3. Marvin Pontiac - Greatest Hits (Northern Spy)
4. Martin Newell - The Greatest Living Englishman (Captured Tracks )
5. Mike Simonetti - Solipsism (2MR)
6. Haruomi Hosono - Cochin Moon (Light in the Attic)
7. Redd Kross - Teen Babes from Monsanto (Merge)
8. Princess Nokia - Metallic Butterfly (Remastered & Expanded) (Rough Trade)
9. Destroyer - Thief (Merge)

Top EPs
1. Jenny Hval - The Long Sleep (Sacred Bones)
2. Mazzy Star - Still (Rhymes of an Hour)
3. Munya - Delmano (Luminelle Recordings)
4. PI Power Trio - The Walk (Birdwatcher)
5. Little Dragon - Lover Chanting (Ninja Tune)

Top Singles

1. Kacey Musgraves - "Slow Burn" (MCA Nashville)
What it says on the label.

2.  Kendrick Lamar, SZA - "All the Stars" (Top Dawg-Interscope)
Wakanda forever.  

3. Janelle Monáe - "Make Me Feel" (Bad Boy)
It's hard to imagine that "Make Me Feel" would exist without Prince's "Kiss," but Monáe ups the ante with Hereditary-like tongue-clicks as a rhythm track--and words never heard in a Jehovah Witness's Bible.

4. Childish Gambino - "This Is America" (mcDJ Recording-RCA)
Donald Glover's incantatory recitation would work without visuals, but Hiro Murai's video represents America in 2018 as acutely as the newsreel footage in Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman. Utterly unnerving.

5. Brownout - "Fear of a Black Planet" (Fat Beats)
Public Enemy's production team, the Bomb Squad, spun hiphop gold from funk filaments, so it's only right and natural that these Austin instrumentalists would strip the PE track down to its funky essence.

6. Khruangbin - "Maria También" (Dead Oceans-Night Time Stories)
The very definition of sinuous.

7. Ashley Monroe - "Hands on You" (Warner Bros Nashville)
The year's sexiest song...and even better than anything on Pistol Annies' not-at-all-bad Interstate Gospel. "I wish I'd a pushed you against the wall, locked the door in a bathroom stall..."

8. Angelique Kidjo - "Born Under Punches" (Kravenworks) 
"Look at these hands," Kidjo asks commandingly, turning the words of David Byrne's (presumably white) government man inside out. "All I want is to breathe," sighs the Beninese-born singer.

9. The Internet - "La Di Da" (Columbia-Sony Music Entertainment) 
The spirit of early-'70s Stevie Wonder infuses this breezy track.

10. Little Dragon - "Lover Chanting" (Ninja Tune)
A summery wisp of a thing. "Do you wanna be my girl, I wanna-wanna-wanna be your ma-a-an." That's about the gist of it.  

Also worthy of note: Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel (Mom+Pop), Cruel Diagonals - Disambiguation (Drawing Room), Jacco Gardner - Somnium (Polyvinyl Recording Co), Ross Goldstein - Eighth House (Birdwatcher), Hinds - I Don’t Run (Mom + Pop), In-
solito Universo - Folk Experimental de Venezuela (Olindo), The In-
ternet - Hive Mind (Columbia), Jo Passed - Their Prime (Sub Pop), Angelique Kidjo - Remain in Light (Kravenworks), The Limanas - Shadow People (Because Music), Samara Lubelski - Flickers at the Station (Drawing Room), Dave McMurray - Music Is Life (Blue Note), Melody’s Echo Chamber - Bon Voyage (Far Possum), MGMT - Little Dark Age (Columbia-Sony Music Entertainment), Papa M - A Broke Moon Rises (Drag City), Pusha T  - Daytona (GOOD-Def Jam), Shamir - Revelations (Father/Daughter), The Shifters - Have a Cunning Plan (Trouble in Mind), Colin Stetson - Hereditary (Original Motion Pic-
ture Soundtrack) (Milan), Sudan Archives - Sink (Stones Throw), Szun Waves - New Hymn to Freedom (Leaf Label), Dean Wareham vs. Cheval Sombre - Dean Wareham vs. Cheval Sombre (Double Feature), and Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Sex & Food (Jagjaguwar).

Endnote: More images and videos to come.  

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