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.
Not sure why but for some reason over lunch I got interested in old labor songs. This one was particularly bleak. Apparently, it is intended to be sung over “My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean.” As our administration erodes labor and environmental protections for the inexplicable sake of bringing back coal mining, it pays to have a look back at how bad it really was.
Song: My Children are Seven in Number
Lyrics: Eleanor Kellogg(1)
Music: to the tune of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”
My children are seven in number,
We have to sleep four in a bed;
I’m striking with my fellow workers.
To get them more clothes and more bread.
Shoes, shoes, we’re striking for pairs of shoes,
Shoes, shoes, we’re striking for pairs of shoes.
Pellagra(3) is cramping my stomach,
My wife is sick with TB(4);
My babies are starving for sweet milk,
Oh, there as so much sickness for me.
Milk, milk, we’re striking for gallons of milk,
Milk, milk, we’re striking for gallons of milk.
I’m needing a shave and a haircut,
But barbers I cannot afford;
My wife cannot wash without soapsuds,
And she had to borrow a board.
This song was originally posted on protestsonglyrics.net
Soap, soap, we’re striking for bars of soap,
Soap, soap, we’re striking for bars of soap.
My house is a shack on the hillside,
Its doors are unpainted and bare;
I haven’t a screen to my windows,
And carbide cans do for a chair.
Homes, homes, we’re striking for better homes,
Homes, homes, we’re striking for better homes.
They shot Barney Graham(5) our leader,
His spirit abides with us still;
The spirit of strength for justice,
No bullets have power to kill.
This song was originally posted on protestsonglyrics.net
Barney, Barney, we’re thinking of you today,
Barney, Barney, we’re thinking of you today.
Oh, miners, go on with the union,
Oh, miners, go on with the fight;
For we’re in the struggle for justice,
And we’re in the struggle for right.
Justice, justice, we’re striking for justice for all,
Justice, justice, we’re striking for justice for all.
Because we shouldn’t deceive ourselves. The digital age has provided too many opportunities for people who shouldn’t necessarily be putting out records and flooded whatever market may exist, reducing opportunities for everyone.
It’s like the famous tragedy of the commons, “an economic theory of a situation within a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently and rationally according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting that resource.” So, I just quoted Wikipedia. Strike two, maybe.
So here I am, acting in my own self-interest and behaving contrary to the common good, through my second collection of songs for Mark Maynard’s Saturday Six Pack Radio show. For those who don’t know, I wake up every Saturday, improvise a song and send it to him for airplay later than evening. It requires little work from me, no financial investment, and gives me something to do besides mope in my Nairobi apartment about what my life has become.
Enjoy (if you can). You can find it here on Bandcamp and even purchase it if you are feeling particularly sorry for me.
Here’s the video for the lead track.
Since I’ve arrived here in the Gambia, I’ve been searching for music. Unfortunately, I’ve come up dry every night. Last Thursday, I heard music from behind the research compound, but was too tired to pursue it and, really, you can never be sure. Sometimes things sound cool through the echoes, but you might follow the sounds only to find Kenny Rogers being played for tourists.
Last night, I heard it again, and decided to chance it. It was so loud and chaotic, it sound like it might be a live band. I leave tomorrow, so this is my only chance.
I followed the sounds out to the back of the compound and found a group of old ladies gathered on plastic chairs around a giant stack of speakers, blaring out some kind of ultra hard beats. A kid with a laptop was DJing but it looked like people were just arriving. The scene was bizarre. Old ladies and grandkids politely chilling out to heavy beats through a wall of speakers.
I decided to go back later. I was wary. It could be some religious thing. It’s Islam here, but still…
When I went back, it was total chaos. This is definitely NOT a religious event (in the Abrahamic sense) and most certainly NOT a tourist event.
More people had arrived and were standing in a circle watching young dude do impossibly athletic dances while an old man MC egged them on and called other people to join. I had heard stories of dancing in West Africa and I have to say the stories are absolutely true. The young guys were the craziest, but kids, old ladies, women in fancy dresses and old men all got in the circle and showed their moves off and every time, people would go nuts with approval.
All to an energetic soundtrack that would get the cops out in a second in the US. I had never seen anything like it.
At one point, a blindfolded guy dressed as a woman comes out hold a dead chicken in one hand and money in the other. He does his chicken dance over a money pot and starts handing out notes to whomever is brave enough to get close to him. After the money runs out, he starts doing this thing where he leans over just barely touching the ground, seemingly suspended in air. Eventually, he disappears and returns out with a giant cinder block balanced on his back and does the same thing again. I have no idea what it was about but it’s clear that there’s order to this chaos.
After people start showing their moves again, a guy tries to get me to go into the circle. I’m like “no way.” I’m not going to be that bad dancing white guy. Some kids are egging me on trying to show me moves and cheering and laughing when ever I try. I should have tried harder. Music is a wonderfully great thing.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a camera on me, but I did get an audio recording and a couple of pictures with my cell phone. I’m am most certainly coming back to West Africa.
In no particularly order at all, here are my favorites for 2014:
Bohren and der Club of Gore – “Piano Nights” – There’s something fascinating about people who graduate from hardcore, with its rigid rules and narrow forms, to more cerebral musical efforts. While “ambient jazz” conjures up images of new age office soundtracks, Bohren and der Club of Gore are like a horror show, where the characters are unaware of the supernatural nature of their predicament and ignorant of what lays in store.
Trap Them – “Blissfucker” – On the surface, New England’s (now Seattle) Trap Them are fairly conventional, but they give themselves enough room to prevent a zero sum competition for sonic space, allowing the listener to fully appreciate their monstrously violent sounds. Not for the faint of heart. Play on 12.
Taylor Swift – “1989” – I only first heard this record a couple of days ago but I nearly cried when I heard “Shake it Off’s” (near) perfection. Taylor Swift tries to offer herself as a slightly ditzy and social awkward lady of (white) people, but clearly she is so much more. Americans love very exceptional people who try to pass themselves off as unexceptional. In this respect, Swift is more than exceptional. While it is tempting to dismiss her, upon inspection, you realize that there’s a lot going on here. Words and notes are carefully chosen to simplicity and efficiency and she’s clearly loving every second of the entire process. While a couple of tunes could stand to be cut (such as the horribly trite, “Welcome to New York“) “1989” is a fantastic record. At 25 and with no signs of drug or sex scandals, we should expect several more decades of top notch music from an enigmatically gifted artist.
Goatwhore – “Constricting Rage of the Merciless” – I love this band. New Orleans metal which channels the best of early Slayer, Motorhead, Venom and Nuclear Assault, Goatwhore don’t sacrifice loudness for efficiency, drawing a brutal and listenable balance of both while, appealing to my old man, old school metal soul.
Swans – “To Be Kind” – Well, it’s the Swans, whose repetitive, mesmerizing and driving structures never fail to disappoint, even as grandparents. Post Jarboe Swans is every bit as great as their heyday in the 80’s and 90’s, but with the benefit of sagely brevity and modern production skills. Some bands suffer from being able to hear them. The Swans, on the other hand, require clarity because every sound counts.
St. Vincent – s/t – This one is hard to pin down, pop? Dance? Avant? Difficult to parse out all of the parts of this glorious hodge podge of everything, but the listenability of her latest effort and her formidable vocal and songwriting talents of Annie Clark can’t be denied. Word is that she was the opening act for the Black Keys. I hope that she blew them off the stage every night.
Arch Enemy – “War Eternal” – With Angela Gossow planning to leave to spend time with family and be normal, the future of Arch Enemy was uncertain. Finding a replacement for Angela’s impossible combination of invincible vocal chords and super model looks should have been out of the question, but it appears that Canada had been grooming a replacement all along. In many ways, “War Eternal” isn’t much of a departure from the rest of Arch Enemy’s output, but they have to be credited for consistency. It’s too much to expect radical diversions from the formula for a lot of heavy bands, particularly when the formula works so well.
Triptykon – “Melana Chasmata” – Just about everything that Tom Warrior does is amazing and this is no exception. While the transition away from Celtic Frost is fairly dubious given that everything that Warrior does sounds like Celtic Frost, we can ignore the monikers and imbibe in the brutal violence of his musical output.
Sunn O))) and Ulver – “Western Horn” – Ulver were one of my favorite black metal bands. Sunn O))) are, well, Sunn O))). The combination of these two should, theoretically, be nothing short of fantastic. Turns out, that’s completely the case. After having the great pleasure of seeing Stephen O’Malley with Keiji Haino this past April and been sufficiently blown away, this collaboration was a great surprise.
Yob – “Clearing the Path to Ascend” – Yob have to be consistently one of my favorite bands. There is a group of great active metal bands right which include, for example, Mastodon and Baroness. Yob strips away the Floydisms and the acoustics and boils it all down to a freebase of heaviness without sacrificing skill and power. Listening to a Yob record from beginning to end will rewire your brain in the best way possible.
I really have no clue. I think I’m too distracted by the utter awfulness of this musical crime against humanity. Can we really give Lavigne that much credit?
Is this racist? Somewhat odd given the themes of the song (submissive Japanese women ready to commit to her man “unconditionally”), but at least a step above the first clip.
Is this racist? I’m willing to say probably. Japanese girls bowing down to the white lady at the beginning kind of throws me over the edge. At least some locals got a paycheck….
Is this racist? Though I have to credit Styx with teaching me the first Japanese I ever learned, watching this video now does give me the shivers. Japanese people as army of mindless, though secretly cunning robots (with big teeth a la Breakfast at Tiffany’s) ready to infiltrate and destroy America’s sacred classic rock world.
Is this racist? Kobota Toshinobu and EXILE in blackface. I’m pretty sure Kobota and EXILE are both great fans of American soul and plenty of Japanese stars have tried to look like white people in the past so I’m hesitant to call this racist, but painful, nonetheless.
I’ll leave it up to the reader to discuss, but THIS is DEFINITELY racist:
“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.
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“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”