Now Hear This! Issue #13 January 2019
The output of recorded music produced in 2018 continued a downward slide in quality, the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed. And now, there is scientific proof that music is less musical than it has ever been. This is due, mainly, to the proliferation of so-called “bedroom producers”, someone with a keyboard and a computer who has enough skills to make a song, but not necessarily the skills to make music.
A couple of people have asked what makes me think I’m an authority on music; to that, I answer that I’m not an authority, but a student of music – I’ve studied music going back as far as Gregorian chant, all of the classical music eras – I’m classically trained on viola and violin – I’m both a student and owner of most popular American styles, going back to Ragtime and early Jazz; I’ve lived long enough to see all styles of popular musics go in and out of style and come back – Hip hop is the last new American musical invention, and its’ legs stand largely on groundwork laid before it- I’ve listened to, studied and enjoyed music from all the corners of the globe, which has helped me to develop the large musical palette I have today.
The statement “there’s nothing new under the sun” is as true a statement as one can be when applied to music today. There are, of course, variations on a theme – Trap being the most prevalent variation right now – but I don’t know that we’ll see any more new styles come along any time soon. With that being the case, it means that as a reviewer, you get to slog through a lot of same-sounding, lame-sounding, musically deficient stuff. Over the course of eight articles produced in 2018, Now Hear This! reviewed 50 albums; many other projects were listened to, but I didn’t bother to review them because I didn’t think I needed to take the time to do so. This blog aims to promote good new music – I don’t want to be the Roger Ebert or Simon Crowell of music, the guy who doesn’t seem to like anything. So… with all that being said, here are my top picks in music (in no particular order) from 2018…
The Internet “Hive Mind”
Latest offering from this L.A.-based collective is a fine blend of lo-fi dance, Hip hop and sensuous R&B, and had the best R&B album title all wrapped up… until Georgia Anne Muldrow came along later.
Dead Can Dance “Dionysus”
This duo’s first album in six years is a heady concoction of their Medieval Folk combined with African, Asian, and Middle Eastern flavors; it earned the Best World Music Album of 2018.
This Kanye West-produced effort was brief, clocking in at just 27 minutes, but is an incendiary and powerful dissertation on the Seven Deadly Sins. It is my Best Hip Hop/Rap Album of 2018.
Arctic Monkeys “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino”
This indie Rock group took a wide left turn, and incorporated heavy doses of Lounge music into this fantasy concept about managing a resort on the moon. Oddly fascinating, this one garners my Best Rock/Alternative Album of 2018.
Georgia Anne Muldrow “Overload”
I discovered this artist on Blood Orange’s Negro Swan album, and I went on to check out this album, as well as her back catalog- she is a multi-faceted performer who uses aliases for different music projects- she raps, she does cosmic Jazz, and billed as herself, is Neo-Soul in the tradition of Erykah Badu. This one earns my Best Soul/R&B Album of 2018.
Kamasi Washington “Heaven & Earth”
The sophomore effort from this Jazz saxophonist is a sprawling 2 1/2 hour effort that is more focused than his even more sprawling debut. The addendum to this album, an EP called The Choice was included with vinyl copies of the album. For the third consecutive year, he has earned my Best Jazz Album of 2018.
Victory “The Broken Instrument”
A wonderfully uplifting and empowering album from NYC- based 23 year old guitarist and singer/songwriter some have compared to Nina Simone. This one was my Best Debut Album of 2018.
Thievery Corporation “Treasures from the Temple”
A collection of additional tracks produced from the sessions that produced last year’s The Temple of I & I, which was one of 2017’s Best Of’s… their leftovers are better than many artist’s best effort.
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite “No Mercy In This Land”
The second collaboration between Folk rocker Harper and Blues harmonica legend Musselwhite is a great collection of straight-ahead Blues, and earned my Best Blues Album of 2018.
Audio Dope “Audio Dope”
As Damian Marley’s Stony Hill was in the 2017 Best Of… list, this one is my wild-card release- I never reviewed this album in any of my articles. This is the moniker for an unnamed and faceless producer from Basel, Switzerland who works as part of the Majestic Casual collective of artists, whose musical aesthetic is chilled out grooves. I placed a couple of his singles on my iTunes Hot Tracks playlist last January, and then his full length debut dropped in February; initially, the entire project didn’t hit me, but it has found favor with me recently. The sound is mostly instrumental, downtempo, mellow Hip hop and Jazz influenced grooves, recalling the best 90’s Trip hop. Last month, he released Preserved, an EP of five new tracks. This album earns my Best EDM/Electronic album of 2018.
WHAT’S COMING AHEAD
The beginning of the year is typically a slow time for new music releases; it’s usually when I do much of my back cataloging. This year, however, there are a couple of new releases I’m already stoked for – of course, they’ll be reviewed here once they arrive. One of them is the new album from the The Specials entitled Encore; it is the first album of theirs featuring original lead vocalist Terry Hall in 37 years. It’s due out on 2/5…. the third album from New Orleans based guitarist/cellist singer/songwriter Leyla McCalla The Capitalist Blues is due 1/25; she is a first generation Haitian American who does Roots music and also explores and performs the Folk music of her native homeland… she is also a part of a collaborative effort that includes Rhiannon Giddens, among others, on a project called Our Native Daughters; the album Songs of Our Native Daughters will be released by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in late February.
As far as Now Hear This! goes, the blog is still undergoing changes to format and design, so you’ll be witness to that as it happens. I may begin doing more, shorter articles, reviewing and publishing reviews as the music is released, rather than creating the big article compiling everything I’ve heard. We’ll see… until next time, keep a song in your head, and joy in your heart.