Friday, December 28, 2018

The Absolute Best Records Of 2018


2018 was an interesting year to say the least.  From the highest of highs when my wife and I purchased our first house (with a dedicated music/records room) to the lows of watching the rest of the world seemingly burning down around us.  Once again I had a pretty great soundtrack to get me through everything.

It's probably no surprise that Hot Snakes tops the list this year, it's almost impossible to believe they wouldn't.  But I have to point out again just how great The Pretty Flowers album is.  It would likely have grabbed the top spot in any year that didn't have a John Reis band record released.  It's an incredible album that everyone really needs to go check out.

The top 10 is really strong this year.  Custody put out an unbelievably good album and followed that up with a great show that I was able to go see.  The Stayawakes also deserves your attention if they slipped under the radar.  I didn't even review Unlikely Friends this year as I didn't buy the CD in the hopes that it would eventually be released on vinyl.  It never was so I just ordered it.  I'll have a full review up in a few weeks.

Usually I have a top 30 list, but this year there just wasn't quite enough to fill it out since I don't count singles compilations (Marked Men, Carbonas) or reissues.  I'm uncertain as to why I had less records than usual.  Was it just a weaker year?  Am I getting older and more out of touch? Did I just not have as much disposable income due to the house purchase?  I'm not really sure.  I guess we'll have to wait until next year to see if this is a trend or a one year anomaly.

I'll be back writing my daily reviews on January 7th.  Until then, I'm just going to relax, enjoy some days off from work and sit on my couch and watch the New Japan Pro Wrestling Tokyo Dome show on January 4th.  See you next year.

01 - Hot Snakes - Jericho Sirens - Sub Pop (Listen)
02 - The Pretty Flowers - Why Trains Crash - Dirt Cult (Listen)
03 - Custody - Custody - Little Rocket (Listen)
04 - The Stayawakes - Dogs And Cats / Living Together - Bad Horror (Listen)
05 - Unlikely Friends - Crooked Numbers - Swoon (Listen)
06 - JD McPherson - Socks - New West (Listen)
07 - Hateman - Radio Hate - 1000% D.I.Y. (Listen)
08 - Clearance - At Your Leisure - Top Shelf (Listen)
09 - Superchunk - What A Time To Be Alive - Merge (Listen)
10 - Summerman - Fan - Super Capsaicin (Listen)

11 - Wild Animals - The Hoax - Waterslide
12 - Lawsuit Models - Off The Pavement - Snappy Little Numbers
13 - Down And Outs - Double Negative - Waterslide/All In Vinyl/Yo-Yo
14 - Hurry - Every Little Thought - Lame-O
15 - New Junk City - Same Places - Night Animal
16 - Songs For Snakes - Crystal Vapour Figure - Timid Crusher
17 - Cloud Nothings - Last Burning Building - Carpark
18 - V/A - A Tribute To Broccoli - Fixing A Hole
19 - Hooper - No Monument - Snappy Little Numbers
20 - V/A - 14 Soda Punx - Top Drawer

Other Records I Picked Up This Year:

Abolitionist - The Instant - 1859
Bedford Falls - Send More Bees - Brassneck/Dead Broke/Boss Tuneage
Carbonas - Your Moral Superiors - Goner (Singles Compilation)
Creeps - Beneath The Pines - It's Alive
Four Lights - Kobayashi Maru - Bomb Pop/Stardumb
Hard Feelings - Sideways - Dirt Cult
The Marked Men - On The Other Side - Dirtnap (Singles Compilation)
The Mr. T Experience - Shards Volume One - Sounds Rad (Singles Compilation)
The Mr. T Experience - Shards Volume Two - Sounds Rad (Singles Compilation)
Spells - Loose Change Vol. 1 - Snappy Little Numbers (Singles Compilation)
Treepeople - No Mouth Pipetting - Self Released (Reissue)
Soundtrack - Katamari Damacy - Mondo (Reissue)


Thursday, December 20, 2018

JD McPherson - Socks LP - Green Vinyl


New West (2018)

If you know me well, you probably know how much I love Christmas music.  While it seems that Christmas music can be a source of frustration for many, I have always embraced the warm sounds of songs singing the praises of Santa Claus.  I've be curating a playlist of Christmas songs for years now, fine tuning it constantly. Adding new songs, purging ones that don't quite cut it, it's a living breathing organism that I play with every year.  This year, I was able to add the best new addition I've found in ages, Socks.

I discovered this album on Instagram.  I follow a guitar maker called TK Smith and they posted a picture of this album on their feed.  As I picked up on the Joel Paterson Christmas album from them last year, I figured I would check out JD McPherson and see what it was all about.  What it's about is probably the best Christmas album released in the last forty years or so.  Every single song on this album is incredible and each deserves to be enshrined as classic Christmas songs going forward.

The album has a retro, 60s rock feel to it.  The tempo of the Beach Boys mixed with the energy of the Phil Spector Christmas album mixed with the vocal story telling of Gene Autry.  It's a conglomeration everything I love about Christmas records.  "All The Gifts I Need" has a horn accented swing feel to it, while "Bad Kid" is more of a Ventures-style (though with vocals) guitar track.

I've been debating which song on this album is my favorite and it tends to come town to the title track "Socks" and "Hey Skinny Santa."  "Socks" is a wonderful tale of disappointment in opening up the gift you've been waiting for all year only to find footwear waiting for you.  "Hey Skinny Santa" is a culinary tour of various cities and foods that Santa needs to make sure he's at the appropriate level of rotundness by the time the big day rolls around.

The thing about this album that makes it special is not only is it an incredible Christmas album, it's an amazing album period.  It's easily one of my favorite albums that has been released the entire year.  Even though this record will likely be relegated to December spins going forward, I can't fathom not listening to it every year for the rest of my life.  It's going to be a new staple of the season and I cannot recommend it enough.

JD McPherson - Socks:

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Lisa Marr with the Tranzmitors - In The Summer 7" - Yellow Vinyl


Top Drawer (2019)

This 7" is really great.  I have to be honest that when I heard that Lisa Marr (from Cub) was getting together with The Tranzmitors to release a 7" of primarily cover songs, I though it sounded neat, but not particularly necessary.  Since two of the covers are Cub songs, I wasn't really sure what a rerecording could add to the musical canon as the originals are already out there existing on their own quite nicely.  Well, I was wrong.  This 7" is so much fun on every level.

First up is "In The Summer," originally by the Fastbacks, a band I was embarrassingly late to the party on.  This version of the song by Lisa & Co. is pretty faithful to the original with the same sort of bouncy rhythms and dynamic guitar work.  While it's not a reimagining of the original, it succeeds based on the sheer joy that comes through on this recording.  You can tell that everyone involved loves this song.

Next up are two Cub songs; "Magic 8 Ball" and "Pretty Pictures."  These two interpretations are much more different than the originals than "In The Summer" is.  Both have a little more fuzz and distortion on the guitars and maybe just a pinch more volume than you may be used to.  In particular the new dueling vocals on "Magic 8 Ball" are excellent and worth the price of admission all on their own.  Wrapping things up is a new composition called "Salvation."  If this is a hint of what could come of a longer term collaboration between Lisa Marr and The Tranzmitors, all I can say is someone really needs to book that studio time right now.

Lisa Marr with the Tranzmitors - In The Summer 7":

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Marked Men - On The Other Side LP - Teal Vinyl, White Vinyl & Black Vinyl


Dirtnap (2018)

One of the bands I miss more than any other is The Marked Men.  Yes, the Radioactivity records are great and give me my biennial dose of Jeff Burke songwriting, but there was a certain magic that The Marked Men had that puts them apart from all of their members various other projects.  Since it seems unlikely that The Marked Men will ever make a new album, it is nice that they've finally released a singles compilation.

One thing that I particularly enjoy about this release is that it's actually a complete compilation.  So many bands put out these sorts of things and then leave songs off of them, a decision that I will just never understand.  But The Marked Men do it right and every single song from every single 7" is represented along with a couple of previously unreleased songs.  Even though I had all of the prior singles, I was still pretty excited to have them compiled onto one easy to listen to LP.  As much as I adore the 7" format, I just don't listen to them as much as I listen to LPs.  This album gives me the chance to give these songs the attention that they've deserved all along.

On The Other Side is almost as strong as any of The Marked Men's full lengths.  There is very little in the way of filler and some of these songs like "She Won't Know," "Oh My Pretty Face," and "The Other Side" are just flat out incredible. 

Even though I tend not to go as variant crazy as I once did, it was important to me to keep my Marked Men collection complete.  I bought both limited version on teal vinyl (/300) and white vinyl (/300) plus the standard black.  While I still wish that we will hear from The Marked Men again, On The Other Side is a pretty incredible finale to one of my favorite bands of the past fifteen years.

The Marked Men - On The Other Side:

Monday, December 17, 2018

Hollie Cook - Sweet Like Chocolate 7"


Merge (2018)

I subscribed to the Merge Born Under A Good Sign, 30th anniversary subscription thing.  The description of what would be in this subscription was somewhat vague, but I couldn't run the risk of a Superchunk release that I might miss out on.  After all, I really can't fathom a Merge 30th celebration that didn't include something from Superchunk.  I guess we'll have to wait and see what 2019 holds.

2018 brought the first surprise release from this subscription.  I received a 7" from Hollie Cook.  I don't know anything about Hollie Cook and have never heard of her prior to this 7".  I can say that this isn't my bag at all and it'll likely just be filed away in the collection.  The A side is "Sweet Like Chocolate."  It's an unoffensive little slab of light, reggae tinged pop.  There's nothing bad about it, but it's really just kind of there.  Background music maybe.  I don't know, it's a mid tempo song that exists in some tropical club that I'd never go to.

The B side is a dub version of the same song.  So it has more sound effects.  That's about it.  Hey, it's a free surprise as part of the subscription.  I'm certainly not going to complain that it was sent, but it isn't the sort of thing I would have ever bought on my own.

Hollie Cook - Sweet Like Chocolate 7":

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Blues Brothers - Briefcase Full Of Blues LP - Japanese Version


Atlantic (1978)

I made mention of this record in the 40th birthday tribute to Briefcase full of Blues I wrote a few days ago.  Unfortunately this Japanese version didn't show up in time for the group portrait.  Since it's here now, I figured I'd take a picture and write up something really quick.

I won't spend too much time talking about this record again.  It's great.  You probably know that already or at the very least, you know that I think it's great.  This version has the super cool Obi strip that's the standard for Japanese releases.  It also has liner notes that include the lyrics to every song in English and Japanese.  They even transcribed Elwood's speech thing during the "Can't Turn You Loose" introduction.  The little things like this are what fascinate me and make me collect multiple versions of certain records.

Sound quality wise, it sounds great.  It sounds a little bit crisper than most of the other versions I have.  I won't go so far as to say it's drastically different from any of the other pressings, but there is a clarity on this Japanese version that probably moves it to the front of the line.  That said, It was mostly the artwork that made me pick this up.

The Blues Brothers - "Soul Man":

The Blues Brothers - "Rubber Biscuit":

The Blues Brothers - "Messing With The Kid":

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Modern Goon - This Empty Space 7" - Red Vinyl


Snappy Little Numbers (2018)

I'm trying to do some end of the year clean up to get through the last few items that were sent to me to review this year.  I've been putting off this 7" as I haven't been sure what exactly to say about it.  I guess what it boils down to is that this is the very first release on Snappy Little Numbers that I flat out do not like, with no caveats.

There were times where something they put out wasn't exactly up my alley, but it had the hooks or some other positive characteristic that made me understand where they were coming from.  That way, I can at least acknowledge the skill of the band and recommend it to people who are more into that particular sub-sub-genre.

I can't really find anything redeemable about Modern Goon.  It's just blunt force, punk/hardcore.  There's lots of yelling, lots of guitar noises that I'm not positive can be classified as chords and there's just nothing remarkable about any of the four songs.  It seems like the sort of thing you could hear from any high school band playing at any VFW punk show in the country.  Sorry SLN, everything else is great, but this one isn't for me at all.

Modern Goon - This Empty Space 7":

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Cyber Bullies - Leather And Lazers Cassette


More Power Tapes (2018)

I'll admit it, while looking through the small pile of tapes I have looking for one to review, I chose Cyber Bullies because of what complete dorks these guys look like on their album cover.  I'm sure it's supposed to be some kind of ironic, tongue in cheek thing that I don't get.  But seriously, look at these dudes.  I have no words.

Musically, it's fast and sloppy, with really loud keyboards. I wouldn't go so far as to say the songs are catchy, but they're not offensively bad and in general breeze past pretty quick.  The vocals, however, are pretty awful.  I can't say that the singer is screaming, because that's not accurate, but he's yelping in a way that pretty close to screaming and it's high pitched and all over the place.

I don't seem to like many of the releases that More Power Tapes put out.  Occasionally there will be something nice and surfy, or maybe leaning towards power pop, but the bulk of it seems to be by weirdo punk rockers doing weirdo punk rock things that go sailing over my head.  Maybe I'm an old square now, but I cannot wrap my head around who this tape would actually be geared towards.

Cyber Bullies - Leather And Lazers:

Monday, December 10, 2018

Winstons / Invisible Teardrops - Split 7"


Snuffy Smiles (2016)

As I got ready to review this split 7", I had to look it up on Discogs to double check the year it was released.  I cannot believe this is from 2016.  I definitely haven't been sitting on this for two years, so maybe it was out in Japan for a while before I managed to pick up a copy.  It's not like me to be so behind on writing about a Snuffy Smiles record.

The Invisible Teardrops seem like an odd fit for a Snuffy Smiles release.  They have sound that reminds me a bit of Sedatives, in no small part due to the extremely prominent use of organ.  There's lots of good downstroked guitar chords that I like, but I'm not really into the reverb drenched, echo-y vocals.  Perhaps I was expecting something with a bit more pop punk behind it.

Winstons also aren't the sort of band I would typically associate with Snuffy Smiles.  With their jangly guitars and soul-style delivery, it's totally out of left field.  I like this a lot more than the Invisible Teardrops side as it has a vaguely Stax-esque flavor to it and I do dig that sound a lot.  It's just not the sort of release I'd expect from my favorite punk rock label of all time. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Otis Redding - Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul LP (From Definitive Studio Albums Box Set)


Atlantic (2017)

Over the next few months, I will be writing about each of the individual albums in the Otis Redding Definitive Studio Albums box set. It would be far too daunting a task to try to summarize so many great albums into one review for the entire set. Otis Redding is one of my favorites and each album deserves to be savored.

The third full length album from Otis Redding in this box set is the classic Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul.  I already have another version of this LP, but I'll probably let that one go now that I have this box set.  Otis Blue is pretty much nonstop hits from start to finish.  Whether it's on his version of "Respect" (quite different than Aretha's, but just as good) or the undeniable energy of "Shake" or Otis' take on the Rolling Stones classic "Satisfaction" every song on here is just amazing.

I would be hard pressed to pick my favorite Otis Redding album.  He has so many songs that are all so incredible, but if you wanted to argue that Otis Blue is the best, that's an argument that I would take seriously.  It's definitely one of my favorites.

Otis Redding - "Respect":

Otis Redding - "Shake":

Otis Redding - "Satisfaction":

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Cheap Clone - Barely Smile 7" - Green Vinyl


Just Because / Peanut Butter (2018)

I wasn't familiar with Cheap Clone prior to Just Because sending this record to me to check out.  I've ended up being pretty impressed by it.  And that is my favorite thing about someone sending me a record to review, you never know when you're going to stumble across new sounds that really click with you.

Cheap Clone definitely have a 90s indie rock feel to them.  There is a bit of a ramshackle feel to their jangly guitars that makes me think of a less boozy Replacements.  But that's kind of a lazy, half ass comparison and the band is very obviously not trying to sound like the Replacements with their dynamic harmonies and the way they seem to pursue the song's melody above all else.

Of the four songs, "430 Miles" is my favorite of the bunch.  Likely because it's the fastest, but also the vocal melody of the chorus really stands out from the other free.  It's an earworm in the best possible way.

Cheap Clone - Barely Smile 7":

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Great American House Fire - Promise Me Endings 12" - White Vinyl (/300)


Snappy Little Numbers (2018)

I have to say that I was completely taken aback by Great American House Fire when I put this record on the turntable.  I've come to expect plenty of great things from Snappy Little Numbers over the years, though in general, their releases have a pretty strong pop lean that is right up my alley. So I was quite surprised at how soulful this Great American House Fire EP is.

Musically, they seem to have one foot in the Jawbox school of punk rock witch crunchy guitar sounds and a penchant for start/stop riffs.  But the vocals layered on top of this are more in line with bands like The Ballantynes or something out of the 70s Stax catalog.  All I can say is it's just a warm, soul drenched delivery that is in pretty stark contrast to the music, but somehow works better than you'd think just reading that description.

On paper, I don't think this should work.  But when the record is actually playing and the songs are coming out of the speakers, it seems like this sort of pairing absolutely goes together.  Oh, this is also a really cool one sided 12" with a screen print on the B side.  So, it's sharp looking to boot.

Great American House Fire - Promise Me Endings 12":

Monday, December 3, 2018

Superchunk - Our Work Is Done 7"


Merge (2018)

Superchunk released another in their series of benefit 7"s recently and it features two new songs, one original and a cover.  I opted to get the black vinyl version of this 7" this time.  From the stats they posted online, it looks like there were actually less black pressed than the autographed, colored vinyl version.  While I am a sucker for colored vinyl, autographs aren't anything I really care about all that much.  With the holidays coming up, it was just easier for me to opt for the version that was $15 cheaper.  That said, the funds go to a good cause, so this is in no way me griping about any costs.  It's a benefit and people should give as much as they can.

The A side is a new Superchunk original called "Our Work Is Done."  It's almost great.  As a song, it's one of the poppiest they've done in a while.  It scratches every itch I have for a Superchunk song, and I probably like it more than any of the songs on their also great last full length.  But then there are the backing vocals by Fucked Up's Damian Abraham.  I don't know why they were added.  The harsh, hardcore scream along with Mac's higher pitched, melodic vocals is a total disconnect for me and it really drags down an otherwise incredible track.

The B side is "Total Eclipse" and that's a cover song that was originally done by Klaus Nomi.  I'm not familiar with Klaus, but a quick Google search brought up some pretty interesting videos.  The Superchunk version of the song is heavy on background guitar feedback, but that doesn't overtake the hook the same way that Damian does in "Our Work Is Done."  "Total Eclipse" is a perfectly serviceable Superchunk B side.  It's not incredible, but it's good and a solid addition to my ever growing Superchunk 7" collection.

Superchunk - Our Work Is Done 7":