Monday, December 31, 2018

Favorite LPs of 2018

On the new radio broadcast, we focus on 50 years ago. AM hasn't turned its back on modern music, indeed we're seeing tinges of a rock renaissance, Americana at its best and a vibrant alternative scene. I mentioned that with the new show on iHeart Radio, AM would now post only on Tuesdays and Fridays. I lied. There will definitely be those posts twice per week, but in between, I'll still throw in my 2 cents. It's the end of the year, after all, time to celebrate the best LPs, or at least my faves, for 2018.

The Arctic Monkeys' Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino isn't getting rave reviews on TripAdvisor. The views are sublime, but the food's no better than the Taco Bell on earth. This isn't typical Arctic Monkeys, btw, and it contains none of the sophistication of Alex Turner's side project The Last Shadow Puppets, but this bachelor-pad romp shows Spiritualized how it's done. It's an album for a near-future where technology is better but everyone's still miserable. No one's been this unhappy since Morrissey. You gotta love it.

If you don't care for the vibe at Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino, even if you love the music, then Beach House's pre-apocalyptic 7 is for you. Here's an all-night dance party for the end of it all (a la Prince's 1999). Aggressive and articulated layers of synth and guitar make for a far less spacy world than the Arctic Monkeys, if equally mesmerizing, and Victoria LeGrand's dream pop vocals provide a glimmer of hope in this melancholy to further cornfuse the vibe. If I owned a space station, this is the music I would play in the lobby. 

When we last heard from Death Cab For Cutie, it was 2015's Kintsugi, the last LP on which Ben Gibbard was in his 30s. Does that matter? Maybe when you're 40 you try harder. From the Decemberists to Copeland, the music I was in love with in the naughts is aging. Kintsugi was enjoyable if unremarkable and without Chris Walla, where Death Cab would head was shaky ground. As a diehard DC fan, Kintsugi was fine if aged fare, but Thank You For Today is my favorite LP since Narrow Stairs, and that makes me happy. The album's best tracks are front-loaded. "I Dreamt We Spoke Again” is hypnotizing in its rhythms. "Summer Years" is a gorgeous tune where Gibbard ponders: "And I wonder where you are tonight/ If the one you're with was a compromise/As we're walking lines in parallel/ That will never meet and it's just as well", wow. The uptempo and playful "Gold Rush" radio single continues the good vibe. Things slow down for "Your Hurricane." Side B opens with the pensive "Autumn Love", where Gibbard croons "And if I capsize it's alright/ 'Cause I've been feeling too invincible/ I need to know depths deeper than the deepest of connections". "Northern Lights" is another highlight, with a nice (Cure-reminding) instrumental drive. The album closes with the defiant "60 & Punk", where Gibbard comments "When I met you I was 22/ Trying so hard to play it cool/ But there was so much that I needed to say/ And nothing came out the right way", and we are left wondering who this song is about? Interestingly, I have always been a Pet Shop Boys' loyalist and apologist. Forgetting the EDM of recent years, PSB has been the thinking man's dance band. When I first heard Thank You For Today, I thought it was PSB returned to form. I'm older too. My hearing may not be as good.

After all these years of following Andrew McMahon's career, I consider him a good friend; one I can rely on, though we parted ways a bit with Zombies on Broadway (my daughter and my wife loved it). With the new album, though, we've made our auld lang synes. I love Upside Down Flowers. You will too. It's a culmination of everything Something Corporate and Jack's Mannequin and takes what's best from AM in the Wilderness.

When for the first three, maybe five LPs Elvis Costello's aim was true, his work after Get Happy, even the critical fave Imperial Bedroom, has been haphazard in a way that Woody Allen's films are. There are touches of brilliance, often, and yet there are misses as well. But on Look Now, Elvis's first LP with the Imposters in ten years (and his 127th overall) features over-the-top production and EC's best songwriting in recent memory. He's always had one of rock's best voices, and these songs serve his instrument particularly well. Whether he's crooning theatrical Burt Bacharach or Carole King co-writes or belting out the post-punk stylings he invented in the late 70s, this is the best LP from late 2018.

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