Rockin’ Records–Check These Folks’ Rock Records!: A Weeded-Out, Rearranged, Expanded Top 120 for 2018 (and Not Just Rock) (October 3, 2018, Columbia, MO)

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I’ve updated my sprawling list of very strong records released in 2018 with some really sharp new releases from September (see the above slideshow for most of those–plus I’ve bolded them below), plus I’ve trimmed some items that just weren’t hanging through further listening. Highlights?

A new record by the Aussie band Tropical Fuck Storm that may assist you with your stored rage and despair.

JLin’s terrific follow-up to the amazing dance record Black Origami, a bit of a soundtrack entitled Autobiography.

A stunning exhibition of lyrical flow and shining intelligence, riding atop a sparkling stream of beats, by the Chicago rapper Noname: Room 25 (approved by my students, who are no dummies).

The latest entry by the Nigerian-American MC Fat Tony, representing for Houston, TX, as well, 10,000 Hours, which stands with Room 25 as a bit of a shot across the crowded hip-hop bow. Mother Wit, in full effect, in both cases.

A haunting, raging, energized Cajun-rock slab from south Louisiana, courtesy of Lost Bayou Rambler fiddler Louis Michot’s Melody Makers side project: it’s called Blood Moon, and it’s storming up my chart.

A desolate, beautiful release by an old soul-music vet who’s never been associated with that first adjective and has a complicated relationship with the second: Swamp Dogg’s Love, Loss, and AutoTune. It’s a joke–and it’s not.

…and the second record from an exciting, smart band from Brisbane (just kids–including one with a Go-Between pedigree), The Goon Sax. It’s called We’re Not Talking:

  1. Tracy Thorn: Record
  2. CupcaKe: Ephorize
  3. Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed
  4. Tropical Fuck Storm: A Laughing Death in Meatspace
  5. JLin: Autobiography (Music from Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography)
  6. Zeal & Ardor: Stranger Fruit
  7. Noname: Room 25
  8. Sly & Robbie and Nils Petter Molvaer: Nordub
  9. Orquesta Akokan: Orquesta Akokan
  10. Michot’s Melody Makers: Blood Moon
  11. Pusha T: Daytona
  12. Elza Soares: Deus É Mulher
  13. John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness
  14. Blood Orange: Negro Swan
  15. Chloe x Halle: The Kids are Alright
  16. The Internet: Hive Mind
  17. Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer
  18. Parquet Courts: Wide Awake!
  19. Berry: Everything, Compromised
  20. JD Allen: Love Stone
  21. Superchunk: What A Time to Be Alive
  22. Mary Gauthier and Songwriting with Soldier: Rifles and Rosary Beads
  23. Toni Braxton: Sex & Cigarettes
  24. Joe McPhee: Imaginary Numbers
  25. Nidia: Nídia É Má, Nídia É Fudida
  26. Fat Tony: 10,000 Hours
  27. Swamp Dogg: Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune
  28. Subtle Degrees: A Dance That Empties
  29. Daniel Carter: Seraphic Light
  30. Alice Bag: Blue Print
  31. The Necks: Body
  32. Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar
  33. Quelle Chris & Jean Grae: Everything’s Fine
  34. Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis: Wild! Wild! Wild!
  35. James Brandon Lewis: Radiant Imprints
  36. Mitski: Be the Cowboy
  37. Sons of Kemet: Your Queen is a Reptile
  38. Lisbon Freedom Unit: Praise of Our Folly
  39. The Goon Sax: We’re Not Talking
  40. Grupo Mono Blanco: ¡Fandango! Sones Jarochos from Veracruz
  41. Ken Vandermark / Klaus Kugel / Mark Tokar: No-Exit Corner
  42. Knife Knights: 1 Time Mirage
  43. Angelika Niescier: The Berlin Concert
  44. Young Mothers: Morose
  45. No Age: Snares Like a Haircut
  46. Kids See Ghosts: Kids See Ghosts
  47. Sidi Toure: Toubalbero
  48. Wynton Marsalis & Friends: United We Swing–Best of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Galas
  49. Jonghyun: Poet / Artist
  50. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Hope Downs
  51. Dave Holland: Uncharted Territories
  52. Halu Mergia: Lalu Balu
  53. Mekons 77: It Is Twice Blessed
  54. Jeffrey Lewis: Works by Tuli Kupferberg
  55. Bombino: Deran
  56. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids: An Angel Fell
  57. Rapsody: Laila’s Wisdom
  58. Sarayah: Feel the Vibe
  59. Maria Muldaur: Don’t You Feel My Leg—The Naughty Bawdy Blues of Blu Lu Barker
  60. Jinx Lennon: Grow a Pair
  61. The Thing: Again
  62. Tierra Whack: Whack World
  63. Lori McKenna: The Tree
  64. Nas: Nasir
  65. Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse
  66. Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel
  67. Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy
  68. Makaya McCraven: Where We Come From (Chicago x London Mixtape)
  69. Evan Parker, Barry Guy, and Paul Lytton: Music for David Mossman
  70. Salim Washington: Dogon Revisited
  71. Beats Antique: Shadowbox
  72. Jon Hassell: Listening To Pictures (Pentimento, Vol. One)
  73. Charge It to The Game: House with a Pool
  74. JPEGMAFIA: Veteran
  75. The Beths: The Future Hates Me
  76. Various Artists: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…and Rights!!!
  77. Apolo: Live in Stockholm
  78. Mdou Moctar & Elite Beat: Mdou Moctar meets Elite Beat In a Budget Dancehall
  79. Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing
  80. Wussy: What Heaven is Like
  81. Kiefer: happysad
  82. Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism
  83. Freddie Gibbs: Freddie
  84. Kamasi Washington: Heaven & Earth
  85. Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy
  86. Shopping: The Official Body
  87. Cypress Hill: Elephants on Acid
  88. Dana Murray: Negro Manifesto
  89. Shame: Songs of Praise
  90. Henry Threadgill: Dirt..and More Dirt
  91. Ceramic Dog: YRU Still Here?
  92. Marc Ribot: Songs of Resistance 1942-2018
  93. The Coup: Soundtrack to the Film Sorry to Bother You
  94. Van Morrison & Joey DeFrancesco: You’re Driving Me Crazy
  95. Various Artists/Sahel Sounds: Field Recordings
  96. L.E.S. Douze: The Stoned 1
  97. Kendrick Lamar, et al: Black Panther—Music from and Inspired by the Film
  98. Tal National: Tantabara
  99. Rodrigo Amado (with Joe McPhee): History of Nothing
  100. Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog
  101. MAST: Thelonious Sphere Monk
  102. Tirzah: Devotion
  103. The Chills: Snowbound
  104. Eddie Daniels: Heart of Brazil
  105. Big Freedia: Third Ward Bounce
  106. Old Man Saxon: The Pursuit
  107. Amy Rigby: The Old Guys
  108. Busdriver: Electricity Is On Our Side
  109. Lonnie Holley: MITH
  110. Del McCoury Band: Del McCoury Still Plays Bluegrass
  111. Dr. Michael White: Tricentennial Rag
  112. Migos: Culture II
  113. Yo La Tengo: There’s a Riot Goin’ On
  114. The Carters: Everything is Love
  115. Sleep: The Sciences
  116. The English Beat: Here We Go Love
  117. Princess Nokia: A Girl Cried Red
  118. Santigold: I Don’t Want—The Gold Fire Sessions
  119. Nicki Minaj: Queen
  120. Chad Popper: A Popper People

OLD MUSIC NICELY OR NEWLY PACKAGED

  1. Sonny Rollins: Way Out West (Deluxe Reissue)
  2. Neil Young: Roxy—Tonight’s the Night
  3. Erroll Garner: Nightconcert
  4. Various Artists: Voices of Mississippi—Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris
  5. Prince: A Piano and a Microphone
  6. Various Artists: Listen All Around–The Golden Age of Central and East African Music
  7. Gary Stewart: “Baby I Need Your Loving” / “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yester-Day”
  8. Peter Brotzmann and Fred Lonberg-Holm: Ouroboros
  9. Oneness of Juju: African Rhythms
  10. Bruce Springsteen: 1978/07/07 West Hollywood, CA
  11. The Revelators: In which the Revelators perform live renditions of selections from the Billy Childish songbook
  12. Against All Logic: 2012-2017
  13. Grant Green: Live at Oil Can Harry’s
  14. Entourage: Ceremony of Dreams—Studio Sessions & Outtakes 1972-1977
  15. Kuniyuki Takahashi: Early Tape Works 1986 – 1993 Volume 1
  16. Various Artists: Africa Scream Contest, Volume 2
  17. Wussy: Getting Better
  18. David Bowie: Santa Monica ‘72
  19. Mulatu Astatke & His Ethiopian Quintet: Afro-Latin Soul, Vols. 1 & 2
  20. Various Artists: Two Niles to Sing a Melody—The Violins & Synths of Sudan

Holiday (September 11-17, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

I am on a Billie Holiday tear. John Szwed’s revelatory book, Billie Holiday: The Musician and The Myth is the culprit. Szwed’s intent–to strip away calcified notions about the great singer, examine the concrete artifacts (musical, literary, historical), close-listen to her art and rebuild a fuller, more complex and authentic picture of her–is pretty largely realized (though Szwed admits to mysteries that are unlikely to be successfully parsed), and the book’s clearly and passionately written as well. Among the many surprises is Szwed’s “rehabilitation” of Lady Sings the Blues, Holiday’s memoir written with (some say by) William Dufty; of course, I’m about to crack it today after years of turning my nose up at it due to its professed disconnection from truth. Also, I loaded the CD changer with multiple Holiday disks, primarily my favorites from Columbia’s Essential series and the argument-starter Lady in Satin.

Listening to Holiday for hours on end Friday, I thought back to an experience I once had in the classroom. We were reading a text that featured a lynching, and I thought my students might be stimulated to interesting thoughts and feelings by Holiday’s studio version of “Strange Fruit.” These were 10th graders who had not previously succeeded in English, and they’d self-segregated themselves when choosing seats on the first day; the class was roughly 50% white kids and kids of color. For my part, I was utterly convinced the Holiday was not only the greatest jazz singer of all-time, but impossible to dislike; I was equally convinced the subject matter would be powerful to both “halves” of the population.

I played the track on a clunky portable CD player I’d checked out from the media center, but the sound was pretty good. “Strange Fruit,” in the unlikely case you haven’t heard it, does not exactly produce exuberant moods in the listener. It creeps out of the speakers and its horror unfolds funereally—Holiday doesn’t enter until relatively late, and this delay had the students looking quizzically at each other: “Did dude play the right track?” Also, pre-WWII jazz was not and is not high schoolers’ music of choice; I sensed a stiffening in the ranks. But then Billie took over, and the students’ turned their eyes to the song’s lyrics, which I’d copied for them. I was hypnotized by the precision of her delivery as it was applied to the subject matter–and of course, since I was still a green idiot, I assumed they were, too.

I paused a couple of beats after the song ended, then launched a very broad query: “So, what did you think of her singing?”

“SHE’S THE WORST SINGER I’VE EVER HEARD IN MY LIFE!!!!!”

The answer, yelled angrily by one of my quietest students, a young lady named Toni, froze me in my pedagogical tracks. I am sure my eyes bugged, and that my jaw slackened. I had been punched in the face, and I’d been leaning into the punch to begin with. Sadly, I was also expecting that, since she was a woman of color, she had to like Holiday’s singing. (I’ve evolved.)

I was so stunned that I have little recollection of my response. I ‘d become reasonably reliable in dignifying students’ responses (that now sounds to me like a condescending enterprise), so I’m sure I tried to figure out, or have her help me figure out, what she meant, but she was adamant, much snickering abounded, and the next thing I clearly remember is getting (desperately) to the actual lesson. But later, at home, I sniffed to Nicole, “The kid thought Billie Holiday was the worst singer she’d ever heard–can you believe that?”

So what’s the point? Well, Szwed’s sharp analysis of Holiday’s hard-to-pinpoint style makes clear that Holiday was not always easy on the ear: her delivery was frequently sharp, raspy, crying. Her timing was consistently eye- and ear-popping, but that’s a subtler thing to hear unless perhaps you’re a musician yourself. It occurred to me that, actually, young Toni was in fact listening intelligently and had no need of her response being dignified. From a reasonable perspective, her assessment had an anchor in fact–well, not that she was a horrible singer, but that, in the context of what Toni had listened to, the worst she’d heard. 28 years later is not a satisfactory response time for recognizing a teaching mistake–but better extremely late than never. Sorry, Toni! (We’re Facebook friends.)

Tony's

Friday nights, Nicole and I often head out to Tony’s Pizza Palace, a family-owned pizza joint we’ve been patronizing for most of our nearly 30 years together. We always sit in the booth that abuts the window with a bullet or pellet hole in it (look closely at the above photo and you can spot it). We always order a cold pitcher of Bud, two small Greek salads, and a Tony’s Special (green pepper and sausage). We always get a little caught up with the server, and check in with the head honcho, a charming young man named Daniel whom I taught the same year as Toni, featured above. Then we grab an additional libation, go back home, sprawl out on the couch, and meditate upon three of four specially selected tracks. It’s relaxing, stimulating, fun, and the perfect transition into the weekend. True to form, we followed our ritual last Friday, and selected the following three tracks, the first two of which we’ve worn out in the past, the third indicating I still couldn’t get Szwed and Lady Day off my mind.

To evoke our beloved NOLA, and to electrify our ears, minds and bodies:

To revisit a romantic favorite from our days of penury:

To engage with pure desolation–but also with an alert artistic mind at the end of its rope:

 

During the weekend, I chose to explore the work of a young Chicago MC one of my current students had begged me to check out. Perhaps still feeling guilty from my earlier revelation, my conscience was the driver, but this young lady, from Oklahoma City by way of Salt Lake City, was, like Toni, right (only less problematically). I loved her recommendation so much I bought some of the artist’s work. She goes by the handle of Noname, and she’s something–smart, mischievous, funny, and skilled. I’ll go out an a limb and say she’s gonna be a star. Thanks for the tip, Juniper!

The new one (soon to appear way up on my annual list):

The previous one:

 

Coming attractions: I’ve assigned my comp class the following listening, reading and viewing for our next semi-Socratic (you’ll recall my reportage on our Mitski’s Be the Cowboy lesson last post). Feel free to engage if you need some homework!

How Dev Hynes Became a Miracle Worker for R.&B., Pop, and Everything Else You Can Imagine (Lizzy Goodman, New York Times Magazine)

Premature Evaluation: Blood Orange, ‘Negro Swan’  (Briana Younger, Stereogum)

Blood Orange builds a refuge for black stories on the exquisite Negro Swan (Judnick Mayard, The Onion AV Club)