2018 was a fantastic year for music in just about every genre imaginable. I have tried to boil down my favorites, but I will most assuredly miss either some I might have forgotten or some great records I have yet to hear.
In any case, here we go. The list is in no particular order.
- Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 – “Black Times” – What a monster this record is. While the record promo makes a huge deal out of Carlos Santana’s cameo on the title track, he could just as easily be any other guy with a guitar playing on the most aggressively dance-able record in years. I am normally not a fan of afrobeat, but while this record is afrobeat-esque due in no small part to the presence of Fela Kuti royalty (Fela Kutis band), Seun imbues a driving power that this music always deserved. Standouts: Bad Man Lighter, Kuku Kee Me.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGtxf07vE2U
- Yob – “Our Raw Heart” – And raw this is indeed. I barely got out of the crushing first track, which I listened to on repeat for a couple of days. The rest of the record is as good, punishing soundscapes of heavy sludge, with not an ounce of cheese. Yob has long been a favorite of mine since 2005’s “the Unreal Never Lived” and the band continues to be a mind altering exploration of sound.
- Ammar 808 – “Maghreb United” – Someone, somewhere made the claim that Tunisian born and European based Sofyann Ben Youssef was a space alien come to earth in the search of the lowest bass imaginable. I can’t really disagree. Youssef takes traditional Tunisian tunes and merges them with modern(ish) electronics seamlessly. The songs aren’t simply academic explorations but as fresh, powerful and as exciting as one would expect the originals to be had not the cruel poison of cultural preservation put them in a stale corner. Really a fantastic record. I loved his other band Bargou 08. Can’t wait to hear more from him.
- Ekuka – s/t – Holy jesus is this a good record. I can’t get enough of it really. Ekuka Morris Sirikiti is a presumably well known mbira player from Uganda, apparently so well known that people would record his performances off the radio and listen to them on repeat. It is unknown whether Ekuka actually put out his own record, but this compilation of second hand recordings is probably more than sufficient. The bent sounds of the mbira, with all it’s spider web undertones and warped resonance, along with his bizarre foot contraption for the beat, make this sound like some kind of brilliant darkwave as filtered through the shores of Lake Victoria. I have yet to convert anyone to the cult of Ekuka, but if you are willing, I am here to convert you. Fantastic.
- Mehr Ali and Sher Ali – “Qawwali, the essence of desire” – Do you need a reason to live? Then listen to side A of this record on repeat and hear the sounds of the entire human experience, from joy, to sadness, to longing to savoring what it is to be alive.
- Deafheaven – “Ordinary Corrupt Human Love” – I like sound. I like sound a lot. I like a lot of sound. And Deafheaven do not disappoint me. While some may disregard Deafheaven as testosterone fueled dudes in tight black pants, I think they miss the point. Deafheaven are black metalish, yet subdued and atmospheric, much like another favorite of mine Ulver.
- Sarah Davachi – “Gave in Rest” – I really liked the ambient weirdness of “All My Circles Run” so I was incredibly excited to see that Davachi had a new record out, just about the time I heard that one. Collages of acoustic and orchestral sounds reaching out to touch the sliver of light coming over the horizon on a morning in January in Michigan, just past the solstice…. that’s what I think this sounds like and I love it.
- Prince – “Piano and a Microphone 1983” – Yeah, so this isn’t from 2018 and had been rolling around on the bootleg circuit for quite sometime, but I am a Prince latecomer. While I always thought he was interesting, I never really got his genius until the man died, unfortunately. The first track on this, with the mighty, mighty Prince on the piano and a mic might actually bring tears to the eyes. It is just that good.
- V/A – Music of Northern Laos – This is part of a two part series, one featuring music from Northern Laos, and the other music from the South. Without at all being dismissive of the Southern record, the Southern record wins. Haunting female chants and slow dance swing horns, this is a great collection of sounds to to send you into a haunting ethereal space that you haven’t been to before.
- John Coltrane – “Both Directions at Once” – Not much needs to be said here.