Monday, December 10, 2018

My Top 30 Tracks Of 2018

There are not going to be any huge surprises here today. I mean, if you've followed my site the last year, you could almost have guessed some of these entries. That said, there was a lot of fantastic music released in 2018, a lot of great songs. In about a week, I'll be offering up my Top 20 Albums Of 2018 list. And while that may contain a few surprising choices, for now, enjoy this list of my top songs of the year, in no real order.

Kenixfan's Top 30 Tracks of 2018

1. "Still Alive" by The Spook School (from Could It Be Different?)

The Spook School kicked 2018 off with a bang, with the energetic Could It Be Different? on Slumberland Records. The record was full of life-affirming indie-anthems, as I explained here, and "Still Alive" was one of the best.

2. "What a Time To Be Alive" by Superchunk (from What A Time To Be Alive)

I've been a Superchunk fan for a quarter-century now and even I was surprised at how vital What A Time To Be Alive was. The Merge Records release, reviewed by me here, was full of timely, and punk-y numbers and the title track seemed like the best selection to highlight here.

3. "The Club" by Hinds (from I Don't Run)

Hinds finally dropped their second album this year, and while I Don't Run did show signs of a more mature sound, the band's music was every bit as compelling and invigorating as it had always been. The first single from the album, "The Club", positively rocked, a subtle rock-funk number that seemed like a masterpiece to me back at the start of 2018, as I probably gushed in my review of the album.

4. "Dylan and Caitlin" by Manic Street Preachers (from Resistance Is Futile)

There were so many great songs on Resistance Is Futile that I felt a real challenge here in picking just one. Still, this ode to Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin, with The Anchoress singing the wife's part here, really hit a nerve with me, taking me back to being an idealistic 17-year-old clutching a book of Thomas' poetry in high school. I raved about Resistance Is Futile back in April here, but, in truth, this song is the one that I seemed to play the most in 2018.

5. "When My Stars Sleep It's For Ages" by Red Hare (from Little Acts of Destruction)

The latest album from Red Hare (ex-Swiz, Dag Nasty) rocked my socks off in 2018. The Dischord release is one I gladly reviewed here earlier this year, and it's a record that popped and soared with a surprising amount of energy.

6. "Make Me Feel" by Janelle Monae (from Dirty Computer)

This was Janelle Monae's year, and not least because of her good taste in choosing projects, or the excellence of the forward-looking Dirty Computer. At her very best here on this contender for single of the year IMHO, Janelle adds a cute-as-fuck Tessa Thompson to the video to showcase not only a monster hook, but Janelle's skills that have (rightfully) earned her comparisons to Prince. If he had an heir, it's Monae.

7. "Mainland" by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (from Hope Downs)

Hope Downs, the debut full-length from Australia's Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever was every bit the record us fans of this band's earlier EP's had been eager to hear. I probably mentioned back in June in my review of the album, how much I loved this song, and what an absolutely cracking live band this lot are.

8. "Cicada" by La Luz (from Floating Features)

Floating Features saw La Luz broaden their unique surf-y sound in some subtle ways. I loved the record, as my review explained, with one of the standouts for me being the surging "Cicada", a song that had a great, fun video.

9. "Skim Milk" by Flasher (from Constant Image)

The debut full-length from D.C. band Flasher, Constant Image, reviewed by me here, was a neat updating of New Wave and post-punk forms, with tracks like "Skim Milk" burned into the memory because of a great hook.

10. "Selfies in the Sunset" by Gruff Rhys (from Babelsberg)

The Super Furry Animals front-man released perhaps his best, most concise solo record this year, in the elegant Babelsberg. I think I said in my review what a superb number "Selfies in the Sunset" was but I'm saying it again.

11. "Future Me Hates Me" by The Beths (from Future Me Hates Me)

The title cut from the latest album from New Zealand's The Beths, "Future Me Hates Me" is a blast of bright power-pop of the sort that indie-pop desperately needs more of. The rest of the album is great too, as I wrote here.

12. "Waiting for Summer" by Smokescreens (from Used To Yesterday)

The superb "Waiting for Summer" from Smokescreens is a standout on an excellent record, Used To Yesterday, reviewed by me here. The Slumberland Records band made this sort of hooky indie work so well that it was impossible not to love this single, and the rest of the record.

13. "Betting on the Sun" by Bird Streets (from Bird Streets)

I'll admit that I picked up Bird Streets because I heard Jason Falkner was on it. But I came away loving the release from main-man John Brodeur. While the whole album is good, "Betting on the Sun" positively soared, a fact I highlighted in my review.

14. "Nothing I Can Say" by Tony Molina (from Kill The Lights)

The newest album from Tony Molina is a brief bit of brilliance. Full of the sort of songs that seem the direct heirs to the legacy of what was heard on albums from The Left Banke or The Zombies, the cuts are all short but excellent. "Nothing I Can Say" is a standout from yet another Slumberland Records release that I loved in 2018.

16. "How Long Will This Last?" by Blossoms (from Cool Like You)

This single caught me off-guard late this year. A neat blend of The Feeling and The Killers, the single from the U.K. band Blossoms was instantly catchy and instantly a fave of mine this year.

16. "Kill Yourself Live" by Mudhoney (from Digital Garbage)

The grunge legends returned this year. Mudhoney dropped the superb Digital Garbage on Sub Pop and the release saw the band offer up acerbic, smart, and blistering rock with the sly "Kill Yourself Live" being a standout on the great record.

17. "I'm A Lover (At Close Range)" by Escape-Ism (from The Lost Record)

Ian Svenonious offered up a second Escape-Ism record this year on Merge Records and while I loved The Lost Record, I was also a bit unnerved by it. I think that's sort of what Ian wanted here, with stuff like "I'm A Lover (At Close Range)" serving as a good example of the kind of claustrophobic indie found on this record.

18. "Deep Belief" by The Chills (from Snow Bound)

The newest release from The Chills, Snow Bound, on Fire Records, was a record full of spry, energetic indie-pop. Still, it was the elegant ballad "Deep Belief" that shone as one of the very best things Martin Phillipps has written in ages. I raved about the track when I reviewed the album, and I made a point to ask Martin Phillipps about writing the song, when I interviewed him last Fall.

19. "First Date" by St. Lenox (from Ten Fables Of Young Ambition And Passionate Love)

St. Lenox offered up another singular album in Ten Fables Of Young Ambition And Passionate Love, with "First Date" being one of the best compositions on the record. Andrew Choi (St. Lenox) is making some of the most unique indie-rock today and thank goodness for that.

20. "That's When I Feel It" by Richard Ashcroft (from Natural Rebel)

I haven't followed Richard Ashcroft's career much since "A Song For The Lovers" but darn it if "That's When I Feel It" didn't immediately grab me. Catchier and less ponderous than a lot of his back-catalog, the tune is a joy.

21. "Gray Blue Green" by Dot Dash (from Proto Retro)

Heck I could have picked any song off of Proto Retro the newest record from D.C.'s Dot Dash because the album is just that good and full of rich power-pop gems. Still, having heard "Gray Blue Green" live before the record came out, and in an even rougher mix from the band, it seemed like the obvious choice for this list.

22. "Usual Freaks" by Chemtrails (from Cult Of The Sacred Calf)

London band Chemtrails dropped their debut full-length in 2018 and while nearly any song on Cult Of The Sacred Calf could have made the cut for me, I went with the spindly, glam-racket of "Usual Freaks" for this list. The track, like so many from this band (and others on the fine PNKSLM label), is warped-indie, a skewed pop hit from a realm where Ziggy and Slade are still ruling the tops of those pop charts. Divine!

23. "Qi Velocity" by Peel Dream Magazine (from Modern Meta Physic)

The debut release from Peel Dream Magazine, Modern Meta Physic, was a superb approximation of early Stereolab, which made perfect sense considering that Peel Dream Magazine are on Slumberland Records, the label that introduced so many of us here in America to the early singles of Stereolab some decades ago. All that being said, "Qi Velocity" was a haunting bit of business, and clearly one of the most memorable tracks of 2018.

24. "Laughing Man" by Papercuts (from Parallel Universe Blues)

The latest album from Papercuts, Parallel Universe Blues, was yet another superb offering from Slumberland Records in 2018, and one which served up a whole lot of great music. When I reviewed the album, I was hard pressed to single out just one highlight from the album, but "Laughing Man" is exceptionally catchy and effervescent.

25. "Queen Anne" by The Moles (from Code Word)

The Moles brought forth an unruly-yet-magnificent set in Code Word this year. When I reviewed the record, I stressed the disparate styles on the release. And yet even so, some numbers seem quite accessible. "Queen Anne" is a catchy bit of business, perfect indie-pop as far I'm concerned.

26. "See My Field" by Guided By Voices (from Space Gun)

Robert Pollard is having a bit of a renaissance at the moment. Even while hyping up a few releases for 2019 during his current concert stops, he is rightly leading the band through recent winners like "See My Field" while on tour. The number is one of the best selections on Space Gun, reviewed by me here, and that's saying something since any Pollard-penned release is full of equally high-caliber gems.

27. "Sunshine Rock" by Bob Mould (from Sunshine Rock)

Sunshine Rock won't be out on Merge Records until February but Bob Mould thankfully shared the title track earlier this year. The song is positively glorious, the sort of soaring guitar-rock that sees Bob once again draw inspiration from his own past (Sugar and Husker Du), as well as the best numbers from The Who.

28. "By My Side" by Young Romance (from Don't Look)

The second album from Young Romance, Don't Look, was an expansion of the sounds on the band's debut. With so many good songs here, as I explained in my review, it's hard to focus on just one cut but "By My Side" seemed a nice encapsulation of the band's unique shoegaze-y appeal.

29. "Bay Of Pigs" by Des Demonas (from Bay of Pigs EP)

Des Demonas didn't drop a new album in 2018 but they did unleash a ferocious single. "Bay Of Pigs", the A-Side, was a recent live favorite. While the whole garage rock-as-done-by-The Fall-vibe is still present here in the band's attack, there are new bits too, snatches of electro-pop and post-rock jostling for pole position. More details on the EP here.

30. "Don't You Know" by Durand Jones and The Indications (from American Love Call)

The new album from Durand Jones and the Indications won't even be out until March of next year but "Don't You Know" arrived late this Fall. The cut knocked my socks off! A neat blend of The Chi-Lites and modern rock-soul, the song is elegant and easy to love and I can't wait to catch up with everything this band has recorded.

[Photo: Hinds by Alberto Van Stokkum]

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Beyond Hidden Words: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Moderate Rebels

The new album from London's Moderate Rebels, Shared Values, dropped on Everyday Life Recordings last Friday. The record is a bit abrasive but within reason, melodies jutting up against angular post-punk flourishes.

Even as numbers like "The Value of Shares" and "Faith and Science" suggest bits and pieces of acts like Pere Ubu, The Fall, and The Raincoats, the lighter "Facade" goes down easier, hooks not entirely submerged under New Wave affectations. Similarly, "Beyond Hidden Words" nicely nudges things into other directions, brief indications of a Joy Division-like sheen heard throughout the song. Elsewhere, "Have To Save Myself" and "Eye In The Sky" offer up hints of American acts like Television and Sonic Youth, the sound of Moderate Rebels here more accessible even amidst brief, largely safe excursions into the truly transgressive.

Shared Values is a decent record, and one that indicates that Moderate Rebels have crafted a compelling sound, even if it's one that owes so much to many acts from the glory days of post-punk. If the band's influences remain crystal-clear, at least the resulting music stands on its own as something cohesive and compelling.

Shared Values is out now via Everyday Life Recordings.

More details on Moderate Rebels via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Colin Williams]

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

It Will Never Be Simple: A Brief Review Of Two New EP's From Guided By Voices

When I saw Guided By Voices a few months ago in D.C., front-man-slash-legend Robert Pollard kept telling the audience about the band's many intended releases for 2019. One of those, Warp and Woof, is due out in April even as 2 EP's featuring songs from that record will be available to buy as of this Friday. Of course, even as I'm typing this, the band is hyping up another release: Zeppelin Over China, and that record drops on February 1.

Now as for these 2 EP's, let's start with 100 Dougs, the home of earlier single "Cohesive Scoops", a bright bit of power-pop business. And while 100 Dougs starts with the dirge-y "Bury The Mouse", a recent live favorite, it closes with the lovely "It Will Never Be Simple", an instrumental that recalls both Reckoning-era R.E.M. and earlier offerings from The Durutti Column. The track is sublime, as is the very fun "Coming Back From Now On", a stadium rock stomper.

The second EP that's going to drop this Friday is called Wine Cork Stonehenge and it starts with the superb "My Angel", a number that wouldn't have sounded out of place on last year's Space Gun. The cut is very nearly eclipsed by the great "Skull Arrow", think Bee Thousand-era stuff spruced up to be more crunchy. Elsewhere, "The Pipers, The Vipers, The Snakes" is glorious, equal parts angular post-rock tinged with flashes of real glam glory.

I'm thrilled to report that Bob Pollard and the boys in Guided By Voices are on such a roll. Pre-order 100 Dougs and Wine Cork Stonehenge via the links below. And then, fasten your seatbelts and get ready for a Guided By Voices-riffic 2019!

More details on Guided by Voices via the band's GuidedByVoices.com, or from the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: GBV in DC by me, 2018]

Born To Its Image: A Quick Review Of The New Chemtrails EP

London's Chemtrails continue to push the envelope with their unique blend of indie-pop and glam rock. The band's newest EP, Cuckoo Spit, will be out this Friday via PNKSLM, and it is a remarkable release, as one might expect from this group and this label.

While the title cut climbs an ascending figure like that found on some of the band's best, earlier numbers, "Born In Its Image" expands the Chemtrails sonic palette with subtle additions to the group's approach. The tambourine and percussion hark back to singles from the C86 boom, even as the main hook treads a path somewhere between Love and Rockets and early Blondie. It's aces, really. Elsewhere, "Vultures" surges with purpose, while the nicely-titled "Tedium's Jaws" marries a nearly Queen-like sense of guitar-rock with a very cool vocal turn from leader Mia Lust. As Laura Orlova cranks out the big guitar riff alongside Mia's performance, a fan of this band is rewarded with a song that soars like so many of the best Chemtrails songs soar, even as bits and pieces in this one suggest a richer mix of influences creeping into the group's music. Cuckoo Spit ends with the more languid "Pink Fog", an appealing mix of Syd and Bolan over a more expansive melody.

In the space of just a few years Chemtrails have managed to emerge with a truly distinct sound. And Cuckoo Spit certainly rewards those of us who've been following this PNKSLM act from the start. You might be able to hear things here on this latest EP from Chemtrails that seem familiar, hints of past gems from the popular genres of the Seventies and Eighties, but so much of this music is so richly unique that it still surprises.

Cuckoo Spit is out on Friday via PNKSLM.

More details on Chemtrails via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited band photo from band's Facebook page]

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Heads Up About This Fab New Christmas Song From St. Lenox

Fresh from recording one of the best records of 2018, Ten Fables Of Young Ambition And Passionate Love, out now via Anyway Records, and reviewed by me here, St. Lenox (Andrew Choi) has returned with a superb Christmas song called... "Christmas Song", conveniently. The tune is, like most of what this guy produces, buoyant and full of the sort of energy of life that too much American indie is sorely lacking.

As Andrew has explained elsewhere, the narrator of the song is an unreliable one, but it doesn't necessarily matter as the lyrics -- "Don't fade away again, it's almost Christmas" -- retain the sort of poignant power his best songs usually do. It helps that the tune here is elegant, flashes of Charlie Brown piano-chords stretched out under Choi's plaintive vocal performance. "Christmas Song" is exactly the sort of Christmas song you'd expect St. Lenox to release and I can't offer higher praise than that.

"Christmas Song" is out now via Amazon, iTunes, or the link below.

Follow St. Lenox via the official website, or his official Facebook page.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Play New Video Here From Durand Jones And The Indications

It was about 25 seconds into "Don't You Know?" from Durand Jones and the Indications when I knew I was a fan of the band. The tune sounds a whole lot like stuff I heard on the radio and at home as a kid, namely The Delfonics, Curtis Mayfield, and The Spinners. And it is, quite frankly, one of the best singles I've heard in the second half of 2018.

The song, with its video set at a race track, is the first taste of the band's new album, American Love Call, which drops on March 1 via Colemine Records and Dead Oceans. You should probably pre-order it now. And then go play this a few more times.

Keep track of Durand Jones and the Indications via the band's official website, or their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Rosie Cohe]