Once again, my favorite records of the year. Once again, I missed a ton of stuff and will likely find something that would have been in this list if I’d already heard it.
Best New LPs
1. Garcia Peoples–One Step Behind / Natural Facts
If Steven Hyden can cheat here, so can I. Garcia Peoples released Natural Facts early in the year and it immediately became a fixture in my weekly playlist. That album tightens the songwriting of their 2018 debut, Cosmic Cash, and beefs up the production. A fun album full of catchy songs. One Step Behind explores a different side of the band. The album has two songs. The 32 minute title track, featuring guitarist Tom Malach’s father on saxophone explores similar worlds as Terry Riley’s late ’60s and early ’70s works before slowly morphing into a more standard rock song that eventually gives way to more exploration. The second song, “Heart and Soul,” is a stunning piano ballad. Both albums are indispensable.
These five instrumentals live at the intersection of funk, psychedelia, lounge, and jazz. Yes, it’s kind of a twisted intersection. The tunes are anchored by bass and drum set, with congas, guitars, and synthesizers floating in and out. Fans of Tussle, Cavern of Anti-Matter, or Oneida will probably find a lot here to like.
3. Steve Gunn–The Unseen in Between
There was definitely a point in my life where I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me I would like this album. A record by a singer-songwriter? Right. But here we are. The main instrument is acoustic guitar, but at various points strings, bass, or the occasional drum kit underlie or weave through the guitar, supporting the song. An ethereal vocal floats through the top. The whole thing fills your head like a hazily-remembered daydream.
4. Boogarins–Sombrou Dúvida
Boogarins’ fourth album of space rock keeps the glitchy electronics of 2017’s tour-first release Lá Vem a Morte and fuses it with the hooks and memorable melodies of its predecessor, 2015’s Manual ou Guia Livre de Dissolução dos Sonhos, one of my favorite albums of the last several years.
5. De Lorians–De Lorians
This Japanese combo worships at the altar of Frank Zappa. This short instrumental album picks up where Zappa left off when he disbanded The Mothers and takes it into an alternate universe.
6. Chris Forsyth–All Time Present
Chris Forsyth has been making music in one guise or another for a couple of decades: solo, with his Solar Motel Band, in various duo, and more. Somehow I’ve missed it all up to now. I picked up this album after hearing his interview on the Brokedown Podcast. The album is largely instrumental with a couple of vocals. It starts with a couple of uptempo electric openers, before settling into largely more relaxed tunes, some acoustic, some more electronic, eventually ending with the almost twenty-minute “Techno Top,” a fantastic jam that is reminiscent of a slowed down motorik groove. Recently, he’s been touring with Garcia Peoples as a backing band.
7. The Mountain Goats–In League with Dragons
There’s something I’ve noticed about artists that are decades into their careers. Most try to play songs from throughout their discography and so only include a couple of songs from the new album. This is common knowledge. But sometimes, they really nail and they know it. You can tell when you see the tour and they play more than half of the new record. When I saw The Mountain Goats in Toronto in May, they played ten of the fourteen songs from In League with Dragons.
8. Trey Anastasio–Ghosts of the Forest
This is the sound of someone 35 years into his career taking a risk, stretching, and pulling it off. More personal than anything he’s made to this point, Ghosts of the Forest was written and made while Trey Anastasio’s oldest childhood friend was dying of cancer. Beautiful and moving.
9. Titus Andronicus–An Obelisk
One problem with writing epic concept albums is that the audience expects that every time out. This is not that album, but it’s full of great songs, which is enough to make it onto this list.
10. Rainbow Grave–No You
Napalm Death founder and Scorn co-founded Nik Bullen and former Doom/Sore Throat vocalist Jon Pickering join forces to pound out an album of ugly, sludgy music that is not designed to please, but to express its utter, utter disappointment in you.
Best New EPs
1. Guerilla Toss–What Would the Odd Do?
2. Flat Worms–Into the Iris
3. Nick Lowe–Love Starvation/Trombone
5. Naked Giants–Green Fuzz
Best Archival Releases
Grateful Dead–Dave’s Picks Volume 30: Fillmore East, New York, NY 1/2/70
This volume of Dave’s Picks catches the band right before the departure of Tom Constanten, just as they’re shifting from the psychedelia of the late 60’s into their Americana phase.
The Pop Group–Y
Released in a deluxe edition with live shows and alternate versions, and in a more stripped down version, this reissue of The Pop Group’s debut album sounds better then the version issued on CD in 2007. The standard LP version was half-speed mastered at Abbey Road and sounds amazing. It also includes the 12-inch single “She Is Beyond Good and Evil.” Crucial.
Frank Zappa–Zappa In New York (40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
Sadly, the original uncensored version including “Punky’s Whips” and the uncut “Titties & Beer” is not included here. Apparently, an uncut tape was not in the vault. But what’s included here is excellent: a fantastic-sounding version of the original LP mix (previously unavailable on CD), two discs of alternate performances that represent a version of every song played over the four nights (including a 28 minute take on “Black Napkins”), and a disc of bonus content that includes the original “Punky’s Whips” and the full unedited “Titties & Beer.”
Stereolab–Mars Audiac Quintet
Stereolab reissued all of their Elektra-era albums (1993 to 2003) this year, most with bonus tracks. All of the albums were remastered by guitarist Tim Gane and Bo Kondren at Calyx Mastering and released on 3-LPs, 2-CDs, and download. The earliest albums benefited the most from the improved sonics. Mars Audiac Quintet offered the best package of improved sound and bonus tracks, which include the tracks from the limited edition 7-inch included with the original issue, alternate mixes, and demos. The last three albums are also noteworthy for having significantly longer versions of some tracks (originally only on the vinyl, but now included on all formats).
Best of Last Year that I Missed
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever–Hope Downs
King Buffalo–Longing to Be the Mountain