Friday, January 5, 2001

McQ's Best Of 2018 Vol. 1 - Best Of The Best

Okay, here we go once again, with the opening salvo in Nancy and I's annual celebration of all that was great in the music year just passed.

As always, we begin with this year's edition of Best Of The Best, which highlights my personal choices for the very top singles and albums of that year regardless of genre, though there's a few notable exclusions this time

Neither Janelle Monae's Dirty Computer or Kacey Musgraves' Golden Hour, surefire top ten albums of 2018, are represented here as Nancy profiles them in her upcoming Favorites mix.

Rival Consoles Persona, my favorite pure electronic album of 2018,  is also absent just because it's material felt better suited for a later electronic music only mix.

And aside from Kali Uchis's Isolation, none of 2018's top contemporary pop or hip hop top efforts made the cut, not because there weren't several worthy titles (especially, to my ears, Noname's Room 25, Pusha T's Daytona, Serpentwithfeet's Soil, and the Kid Cudi/Kanye West collaboration Kids See Ghosts), but because both of my children asked to contribute a mix to this year's collection and gravitate towards those two genres almost exclusively.

Luckily, though, these exclusions allowed me to double-down on tracks from my two favorite records of the year (Parquet Court's Wide Awaaaaake! and Confidence Man's Confident Music For Confident People) and dig deeper into the three genres that, at least to my aging sensibilities, stood out most - punk, electro-pop funk, and female driven indie. The end result is one of the most energetic and groove-oriented Best Of The Bests I've offered up in several years.

I hope you enjoy!

On The Songs/Albums/Artists Represented On This Mix:

1. Negative Space - Hookworms: My favorite psychedelic pop song of the year from my favorite psychedelic album of 2018, Hookworm's third and final full-length release Microsoft. With its epic, weird opening three-and-a-half-minute anthemic build - similar in design to Tame Impala's Be Above It but about five times more propulsive - Negative Space was the only 2018 song I seriously considered to kick this whole thing off!

2. Wide Awake - Parquet Courts: From 2018's best psychedelic album to my choice for 2018's best album period.  Parquet Court's Wide Awaaaake! captured the turbulent, divisive, helter-skelter feel of America's present day Twitter-fueled Trump-era and the seething anger behind the Millennial/Boomer divide better than any album I've heard to date, and somehow - thanks in large part to Danger Mouse's fantastic, palette-broadening production - manages to be an absolute blast of a listen in the process. We'll hear at least a half-dozen songs from this brilliant record, by far the best and smartest lyrical effort of the year, over the course of these mixes, but start first with the band's playful, super-funky, maybe-mocking-maybe-not paean to millennial hyper-wokeness here.

3. Boyfriend - Confidence Man: Bands don't come campier than Confidence Man. By design, they sing of nothing of importance. Every note they play, whether borrowed from the likes of Primal Scream, LCD Soundsystem, The Ting Tings, Moon Unit Zappa, The Scissor Sisters, Right Said Fred, Junior Senior, The Talking Heads or who knows God else, is derivative as all hell. And half the deadpan jokes this collective of former Aussie psych-rockers turned bubblegum electro-poppers try to land (and they try a lot) fall flat as a pancake. And yet, despite all this, there was no more entertaining or funky or better front-to-back listen released in 2018 than the band's full-length debut Confident Music For Confident People. My second favorite album of the year, anchored around the dueling performance personas of a dumb-as-a-brick rock star and a Regina George-styled teen-bitch-goddess, the band's stated mission of making it feel safe - in this poptimist era of unattainable Beyonce/Gaga/Grande/Timberlake dance skill perfection - for the dorks and nerds and rhythmically challenged of the world to return to the dance floor is accomplished to the fullest. If you can embrace the over-the-top silliness, you won't find a more infectious listen from 2018.

4. Pain Killer - Iceage: I'm an absolute sucker for songs of a well-defined genre that introduce a untraditional arrangement and then pull it off completely. This searing track from Copenhagen punk act Iceage's fourth, best, and widest-ranging full length Beyondless is such a song - augmenting the band's gnarly, mumbly, lo-fi attack with an overpowering marching band horn line and marvelously seedy, drawling supporting vocals from Sky Ferreira to glorious effect. And what an awesome chorus lyric for a song about a toxic relationship neither party has the desire to leave - "I rue the day, you became my pain killer!"

5. Me And My Husband - Mitski: While Janelle Monae's perfect-for-the-cultural-moment Dirty Computer topped the aggregate polls in 2018, it was actually New York singer-songwriter Mitski's third studio release Be The Cowboy that was named best album on the greatest number of individual lists, and it only takes a few listens to understand why. Though adorned with some unusual (goofy) indie production touches, at its core Be The Cowboy offers up such a rich collection of sharply constructed confessional songs that it legitimately flirts with becoming the latest era-defining female singer-songwriter album in the proud lineage of Joni Mitchell's Blue, Carole King's Tapestry, Liz Phair's Exile In Guyville, PJ Harvey's best works, and Courtney Barnett's Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit. My choice to represent the album here, Me And My Husband, is not album's most celebrated song, but something about its staccato piano rhythms and brass support and hopeful yet grounded take on a young marriage just worked for me.

6. Talking Straight - Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: In a very lean year for jangle pop, Melbourne, Australia's Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever's full-length debut Hope Downs was really the only go-to choice.  Crafted with a clear Go Betweens sensibility, this understated charmer will appeal to just about anyone who likes their guitars numerous, gentle, dexterously interwoven, and chiming.

7. Does Your Dreams - Fucked Up: Another punk number that comes at the genre from an entirely unexpected direction, the title track to Fucked Up's wildly ambitious sequel to their 2011 concept album David Comes To Life finds the Canadian band perfectly counter balancing lead singer Damian "Pink Eyes" Abraham's hardcore vocals with one of the coolest disco grooves since The Stones' Miss You.

8. Miami - Kali Uchis: My favorite cut from Columbian-American Kali Uchis's full-length debut Isolation, which gets my vote for the best contemporary pop album of 2018. It's a record that somehow manages to be both clearly of its era and full-on retro at the same time, loaded with latin flourishes and contemporary production touches, but also repeatedly resurrecting the confessional R&B sensibilities of Amy Winehouse's Back To Black and the cheeky pop of Lily Allen's Alright, Still .

9. Fly - Low: It almost never works likes this! Bands just don't drop one of their best and most daring albums twenty-five years and twelve records into their career. But that, with their 2018 release Double Negative, is exactly what Minnesota indie/slowcore legend Low has done. Taking their traditionally slow, mesmerizing, folksy sound and jamming it into an electronic blender, the band has stumbled upon something utterly unique - a Aphex Twin-inspired cacophony of glitches and violent volume manipulations that nonetheless still draws the band's amazing vocals into sharp relief. The undisputed art-rock champion of 2018, Double Negative is a challenging record that demands many listens before its logic settles in, but it's an absolute must for any fan of the band, the aforementioned Aphex Twin, or Kid A-era Radiohead.  Oh, and Fly here, the album's most accessible track, is my choice for the best song of 2018. I think it's musical perfection.

10. This Old House Is All I Have - Against All Logic: Staying in the electronic wheelhouse, probably the best combination of funk and electronic music in 2018, outside of Confidence Man's bubblegum shenanigans, was found on Against All Logic's 2012-2017.  The act, another recording pseudonym for ultra-prolific Chilean DJ Nicolas Jaar, is probably my second favorite album in his entire multi-side-project spanning discography after his 2013 release with DARKSIDE Psychic.

11. Rage Of Plastics - U.S. Girls: 2018 was another great year for female artists, and no exclusively female-fronted effort last year won me over more than Chicago-born/Toronto-based indie-veteran Meghan Remy's commercial breakthrough as U.S. Girls, In A Poem Unlimited. One of the strongest front-to-back listens of the year, In A Poem Unlimited presents a wide array of styles ranging from Bowie-esque Thin White Duke funk (Rage of Plastics here and Velvet 4 Sale), ultra-smooth contemporary electro-pop (Rosebud), freakout jams (Time), Stevie Nicks-ish west coast soft rock (Pearly Gates), and Blondie-inspired new wave (M.A.H.).

12. Almost Had To Start A Fight/In And Out Of Patience &
13. Freebird II - Parquet Courts: A tandem of tracks from Wide Awaaaaake! that demand to be heard together. The first number is the album's strongest representation of the frayed-nerve psyche of our divided nation today, where an ugly political argument with who knows who lurks around every corner. But the followup track, the perfectly titled Freebird II, takes a surprising turn to the deeply personal, especially for an album otherwise locked in on large-scale systemic and geo-political concerns. Lead singer Andrew Savage's recollection of he and bandmate brother Max's childhood growing up with their drug-addicted mother, it's a song of personal emancipation, but one that comes at a dark, dark cost. To save himself, Savage must jettison any emotional concern he still has for his unchangeable, troubled mother's welfare. It's only later in the album, on the patience pleading Death Will Bring Change, that Freebird II's broader thematic relevance and the logic behind co-opting the Lynyrd Skynyrd title becomes clear. Savage isn't just singing about turning his back on his own mother, he's calling upon his fellow millennials to reject the entirety of the boomer generation (or at least boomer politics, methods and beliefs, both right and left) in exactly the same way.

14. Heatwave - Snail Mail: From generational division to timeless romantic angst, one of 2018's more compelling indie breakout stars was Maryland guitar prodigy Lindsay Jordan, who began performing and self-releasing material as Snail Mail early in her high school days, and finally released her proper full-length debut Lush last year at the ripe old age of nineteen. Though a student of Helium/Wild Flag lead guitarist Mary Timony, it's actually as an intuitive rhythm guitarist that Jordan shines best, but I did pick her most lead-driven track Heatwave for this mix here. Her critically adored 2018 hit Pristine will make an appearance on a later mix.

15. Concrete - Shame: They may lack the lyrical and thematic sophistication of Parquet Courts, the visceral force of IDLES, or the outside-the-box daring of Iceage and Fucked Up, but UK newcomers Shame may have the best core sound of 2018's impressive gaggle of punks.  With every note rooted in pre-Eno U2, The Jesus and Mary Chain, or most frequently, Johnny Rotten's PIL, fans of first wave punk and post-punk will find much to like on the band's debut Songs Of Praise, starting with my favorite track from the album Concrete here.

16. Vi Lua Vi Sol - Kamasi Washington: It says a lot about how great your first two releases were when your latest effort feels like a significant drop in quality and still manages to be one of the best twenty albums of its year, and that's exactly what LA saxaphonist Kamasi Washington's latest two-and-a-half hour jazz opus Heaven and Earth is - a let down coming on the heels of 2015's era-defining The Epic and 2017 EP Harmony of Difference, and still a record stuffed with memorable moments.  Aside from awesome disc one closer One Of One, which falls right in line with what was heard on The Epic, most of Heaven And Earth's best tracks are its most daring stylistic departures - the stirring rework of Bruce Lee's Fists Of Fury theme song, the John Williams-esque The Space Travel's Lullaby, and the divisive track Vi Lua Vi Sol here, which brackets the album's best extended solo with unusual but stirring vocoder-filtered vocal passages. The song definitely has its jazz purist detractors, but I admired it for best capturing the essence of The Epic while simultaneously sounding the most radically different from it.

17. Great - IDLES: Here's the difference between this exciting new generation of punks and those that came before. The sound and fury may feel the same, but this generation doesn't want to stick it to the man, they want to stand up and be the mensch, genuinely committed to community building as opposed to nihilistically tearing things down. And on their fantastic, anti-Brexit, jet roar of a sophomore LP Joy As An Act Of Resistance, IDLES announced themselves as the most important British act of the moment. Though far from the most lyrically sophisticated act ("Islam didn't kill your hamster"), IDLES' treatises on celebrating and accepting diversity, taming toxic masculinity, self-acceptance no matter one's flaws, and replacing time spent on social media with actual human interaction hit with a force, conviction and directness that is impossible to deny. I went with the song that best represented the album's celebratory premise here rather than its standout track (that being the immigration-championing Danny Nedelko), but the bottomline is for fans of punk, the album as a whole is an absolute must.

18. Fascination - Confidence Man: One more from party album of the year Confident Music For Confident People to wrap things up on an upbeat notethis time the record's ecstatic Screamdelica-inspired closer.

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