My Favorite Albums of 2018

This is a simple overview of my favorite albums of 2018. Naturally I am only able to comment on those albums that I had the time to listen to and to find my way into. Many lists have albums from Mitski and others on there that I just didn’t totally get into. The list that follows is a mixture of albums that a lot of critics adored and others that just stood out to me. You probably won’t like all of these, but I’m pretty sure you can find something here that turns you on.

#13: Deafheaven, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. On ANTI-.

Deafheaven’s first record since 2015 sees the band moving into more melodic territory, sort of. Deafheaven is basically black metal mixed with a little Slowdive and a little Sigur Ros. The songs are often long–the opener “You Without End” runs 7 and a half minutes and the showstopper “Glint” runs over 10. The album is said to be based on Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair and you can certainly hear ordinary corrupt human love in the lyrics, or you can just sit back and bask in the sound. Basically, cool people like Deafheaven. Do you want to be cool? I thought so.

I’m by no means a black metal completist so the comparisons won’t be perfect but…

RIYL: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Jesu, Pelican, Sigur Ros
Start With: You Without End, Glint, Honeycomb

#12: Metric, The Art of Doubt. On MMI/ Crystal Math Music.

I just love Metric and Emily Haines, so this is an easy one. Fantasies is a top 30 record of the millennium. The Art of Doubt doesn’t quite rise to that level, but it’s a kick-ass rocker through and through and “The Risk,” holy lord:

Was the risk I sent to you received?
All the words we say to be believed?
I’m already over the thrill of pursuit
Where can I take this risk I took with you?
Send this kiss to someone new?

Metric is historical high-level. I’m a Gemini sun with Mars in Leo in my 10th house. I am, basically speaking, not afraid of people. What you got? Yeah, color me impressed. However…there are three women I would be a bit daunted to meet. In order:

#1: Brit Marling, actress and creator of The OA.

#2: Emily Haines, lead singer of Metric.

#3: Kristin Stewart, actress in Personal Shopper.

RIYL: Chvrches, Broken Social Scene, Emily Haines, Lower Dens
Start With: The Risk, Dark Saturday

#11: Bad Moves, Tell No One. On Don Giovanni Records.

I wrote about Bad Moves extensively here: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/12/16/crushes-and-crushing-with-bad-moves-and-swearin/. Bad ass power pop with attitude, class, and sweetness. That’s quite a combination. And Emily Park is stunning. That’s my opinion, and I am correct.

RIYL: Dirty on Purpose, Daddy Issues, Swearin’
Start With: Crushed Out, Missing You

#10: Janelle Monae, Dirty Computer. On Bad Boy Records and Atlantic Records.

I really liked her last record, and her new one is a huge step forward. Janelle is a star, no question about it. This is a rollicking record with breadth and depth and takes multiple listens to plumb. Janelle is living in public with no apologies. The record is long and dense and encompass a range of moods. The best places to jump in are the fist-pumping tracks like “Django Jane,” which sees Monae spitting fire:

Yeah, yeah this is my palace, champagne in my chalice
I got is all covered like a wedding band
Wonderland, so my alias is Alice
We gon’ start a motherfuckin’ pussy riot
Or we gon’ have to put them on a pussy diet
Look at that, I guarantee I got ’em quiet
Look at that, I guarantee they all inspired

I can’t wait to see her live as soon as possible.

RIYL: Lykke Li, Funkadelic, Sly and the Family Stone, Lady Gaga
Start With: Crazy Classic Life, Django Jane

#9: The Hold Steady, Confusion in the Marketplace/ The Stove and the Toaster b/w Star 18/ Eureka b/w Esther.

This one is a bit of a cheat as it is not actually an album. These are the three two-song releases from The Hold Steady in 2018. If you aren’t a hardcore fan you these might have slipped beneath your radar. That’s a shame because there are some classic Hold Steady songs and some killer Craig Finn lines in these songs.

“The Stove and the Toaster” details yet another bad deal gone down, a classic Finn theme.

Got some new information from the chef and the chauffeur
The put the stash in the stove they keep the cash in the toaster
Down in Las Cruces they don’t play with jokers
I hope I still know you when this is all over.

Needless to say, the narrator and crew get burned by the chef and the chauffeur in the end. Yeah, it’s sort of Finn-by-numbers, so, basically the kind of lines other songwriters would kill for.

My two favorites here are #2 “Esther,” and #1 “Star 18.” Esther is a great song about a week long romance. It remains totally remarkable how much detail and color Finn can get across in a 4 minute song.

The party ended suddenly, suddenly it’s over
That left me and Esther all along and getting older
All alone and getting older and smoking in the street
Now everything is Esther and it’s been that way all week

Esther follows the transcendent “Tangletown” from 2017’s We All Want the Same Things as a precisely executed x-ray of a complex adult relationship. I like it a lot.

Best of all is “Star 18,” a top 10 all time Hold Steady track. It’s an upbeat rocker that would fit on Stay Positive (still my favorite record by this great band.). A tongue-in-cheek commentary on the music scene and a come on song at the same time, Star 18 features lines that help make the case for Finn as the greatest living lyricist under 70.

Sorry I’m late, I got caught in the mosh
With this dude that said he used to play with Peter Tosh
But he never brought it up again once I said, man, I don’t believe you

And

Hold Steady at the Comfort Inn
Mick Jagger’s at the Mandarin
Once you get good, you can get it wherever you are.

The Hold Steady gets it wherever they are, believe me.

RIYL: Rock ‘n Roll
Start With: Star 18

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The Thin Man, a Birthday Party, a Guardian Angel

Note: This is the final installment of the Thin Man in Singapore. You can read earlier installments here:

Chapter 1: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/10/16/the-thin-man-walks-into-a-bar-a-wee-legend/

Chapter 2: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/11/15/the-thin-man-on-assignment/

Chapter 3: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/12/05/the-thin-man-on-assignment-part-ii/

Chapter 4: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/12/30/the-thin-man-implements/

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You clean yourself to meet/ a man who isn’t me
You’re putting on a shirt/ a shirt I’ll never see
With letters in your coat/ and no one’s in your head
‘Cause you’re too smart to remember/ you’re too smart
Lucky you
The National

Dateline Singapore, Saturday 13:06 PM

The phone rings, jarring the Thin Man out of sleep. “Where the/ what the/ who the…” Images in shards–his grandmother’s house and he is six, sun streaming through a late afternoon window. He rolls over. No by god, a bed, an adult body within. He picks up the phone. “Uh huh?”

“It’s Alejandro. Your passport will be ready tomorrow morning and you’re on an Emirates flight to Rome via Dubai tomorrow at 9 PM. In the meantime Alice is having a birthday party and you’re invited.”

“Alice?”

“Miller’s secretary. You might have heard the rumors but she’s a cool cat and it’ll be fun. 17:00 at Chijmes. Be there.”

“Seriously? I don’t know Alice and, I’d rather just rest up you know.”

“Not an option. You’re not invited, more required. From Miller directly. Buck up man and see you at 5.”

Holy Jesus, another evening. The Thin Man rises, splashes cold water on his face and when this doesn’t do the trick, fills the sink with cold water and plunges his face into the water, eyes wide open. He exhales; water goes everywhere. He dabs at it with a hand towel. Breakfast is long over–lunch is a maybe. 20 minutes later he has showered and shaved and limps downstairs.

“Lunch is still open?”

The man’s smile masks a scowl. Rolling into a buffet that closes at 14:00 at 13:46 is no way to endear yourself to staff. He takes a seat by the window, wanders the buffet. Two bowls of mushroom soup, two watermelon juices, a roll with butter, salmon sashimi and an Americano. Vague feelings of humanity follow.

On his phone the Thin Man peruses “The Essentials of Casino Game Design” as he eats. This is more out of habit than interest–he has no desire to re-enter the gambling demi-monde. Reflex is a bitch. The waiter circles, pressing his point from 5 feet away. “I got you babe,” thinks the Thin Man. He makes marginal eye contact, figures he has another 20 minutes give or take. He resolves to relax into the spacetime as fully as possible before the waiter pulls rank. He has no desire to make trouble but at the same time, a customer is a customer and soup is soup. A game for two players. Eventually, he makes his move before the waiter is forced to make his.

“On my room please, 727,” he says, with studied nonchalance. Everything takes all afternoon.

Alice’s Party:

It takes 123 drinks/ and now she’s not so frightened
It takes 4 and 5 and 6/ and then she’s sick
But in the hour in between/ she feels holy and redeemed
Blessed and blissful/ painless and serene
Craig Finn

The Thin Man has a lot of flaws but he does clean up well. That’s a skill, a blessing, a bonus. Re-showered, shaved, and an app-assisted breathing exercise later, he shows at Chijmes on time and on point. Miller himself greets him with a slap on the back.

“Mr. Bishop, your work is appreciated. Much appreciated. I heard that you will be staying with the firm. Rome is beautiful this time of year. You are a lucky man.”

“It is my pleasure to be of service.” The Thin Man is not serious, yet not unserious. The work is the work and he has no other. “Anyway, happy birthday to Alice hey?”

“Hehe, haha. Alice, yes,” salivates Miller.

Another day, another passport thinks the Thin Man. Several people he doesn’t know are there. The crew moves to an outdoor restaurant; the usual wrangling over orders ensues and Long Island Ice Teas appear. There is no drink more perfectly positioned to cause trouble than a Long Island Ice Tea. The Thin Man downs two before the Nachos arrive. A waitress circles. “White or red,” she asks. “Both please” replies the Thin Man. It’s early and he has no intention of sticking with this group after dinner. Why not make the most of the moment.

The food is a B- at best. The drinks are loaded. The sun shines in the late evening. The usual Singapore rain squall has not appeared today. 6 PM, the magical hour, and the Thin Man begins to fade into the perfect liminality that only occurs between drinks three and four.

Titters from Alice. Winks from Alejandro. Miller sits straight up, what a spine. The Thin Man is bored. Time passes; the sun sets.

“One more?” asks Miller.

“How about the hotel bar?” says the Thin Man. The sooner near home the better. Miller covers the bill and tracks are made.

The Hotel Bar, Circa 20:10:

The Thin Man and crew enter the bar and the mood is boisterous. The Thin Man feels as thin as paper. He needs an ally. As his party makes its way to a table, he approaches the barmaid. Her tag identifies her as “May.” Always approach service workers with kindness and respect–they get so little of it it goes a long way.

“Good evening May. My friends and I are looking to enjoy the bar tonight. Only, I have been on the road for weeks and I’m a little tired.” He slips her a $50 bill. “I know bars don’t love to serve water, but if you could keep an eye on me and refill my water glass I’d be in your debt.”

May looks him up and down. “No problem,” she says. “Rely on me.” The Thin Man makes it to the booth where Company X holds court. Miller and Alice’s hands dance a protracted duet. Alejandro sits a foot away, just keeping an eye on things.

A round of drinks, another. May keeps her end of things and the Thin Man hydrates, for a while. A woman called Marta had introduced herself at dinner and slides into the booth next to the Thin Man.

“How do you know Alice?” she asks.

“I don’t.”

“Oh. I have a bet with Jeffrey over there. He thinks you are on his team.”

“On his team?”

“You know,” she drops into a stage whisper, “Jeffrey likes men.”

“I see. I don’t have a team,” replies the Thin Man. “I’m a free agent.”

“Not so fast,” interjects Alejandro, who seems to register everything that is said at the table. “You are on our team. You have a contract.”

“A contract? I haven’t seen anything like that. And besides I don’t see how that would be possible. Text is dead, or that’s what I’ve heard.”

“Don’t mind him,” says Alejandro, “he likes being heavily humorous.”

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The Thin Man Walks Into a Bar: A Wee Legend

Here comes a regular

Paul Westerberg

It’s predicted to rain on landing/ I predict we’ll have a drink

Paul Westerberg

Once upon a time in the lost city of Atlantis, a thin man rolled up looking a little the worse for wear. This was probably only to be expected; after all he had been sequestered on a submarine for a period of 22 years, or was it 27. After that long at sea, who can really tell?

It was approaching Halloween, and the proverbial Spooky Lady’s Sideshow was in full effect. The barmaids were called Eyes and Baby, their real names we presume. Or was she Baby Blue? In any case, the thin man and Eyes made eyes, in an innocent way, at least so the story is told.

Groggy as the thin man was, he had had a specialized role down then on the sub. You see, he was a bit of a mechanic, a card shark. Now, a card shark can work clean as well, and the thin man worked clean down there on the ocean floor. He saved his best moves for away games, just like Mike McD in that film Rounders. That’s an oldie but a goodie!

In one corner of the bar stood a pool table, where, of course, the nine ball is always on. The thin man could play a bit, although Eyes sized him up quick. A game was proposed, a game for two players.

But of course no game is really ever between two players alone. Baby Blue was watching—tough to tell her rooting interest. And the bar as a whole, the field so to speak, was tuning in to the frequencies of the game as the regulars made small talk and the travelers weak-tea passes at the local girls. Local girls are no push-over; sometimes folks get the wrong idea on that end. Certainly Eyes and Baby Blue could take care of themselves.

The game began; the thin man potted a few easy balls. Eyes surged back, she’d been around more than she looked. She was an expert at drinking what the punter was drinking. That’s a key part of the art of the barmaid, an underrated profession at the best of times.

The game was nine ball, what else? Eight ball is for rookies, a southerners game. The thin man hailed from the north and he knew a thing or two about sequencing. It goes with the territory of an undersea mechanic, after all.

The thin man was beginning to feel a bit ill–the combination of sea legs, Eyes’ Eyes, a cheeky Cognac or two, and the unfortunate wafts of burning tires from the docks (it all goes down on the docks, as is told). He carries on nonetheless, and takes a two ball lead when Eyes surges back, tying it up with only the 9 ball to go. It’s a touch and go situation. The skeletons muse over the action with as much interest as they can muster from beyond the great blue veil. The couple on the rail stops sniffing whatever they are sniffing, and ask the thin man to join them for a round. No time for that nonsense. Sea legs and beady cat eyes aside, the game is the game.

A couple of desultory shots bounce about as the players size each other up. Baby blue leans in; the skeletons whisper sweet somethings, even the bartender sneaks a peek. Everyone is getting paid, except the thin man. He is just there for the action.

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Song of the Day: Luna’s Tracy I Luv You

The song of the day today is “Tracy I Luv You,” from Luna.  Our operating assumption this month is that Luna is the best active band and that Craig Finn is the greatest active rock star.  We will continue to explore this assumption on the kibbitzer.

Tracy was first recorded for the Penthouse sessions (released in 1995), and left off the record.  It was later collected on the deluxe version.  The Penthouse version sounds pretty finished to me, however the band would hold it back and rework it for Pup Tent.  It is hard to say where the song would have been sequenced if it had made the cut.  Especially in the early version, it is not as uptempo as “Chinatown,” still the obvious single.  It would also not have fit well around “23 Minutes in Brussels,” which needs its own space.  I could see it sequenced second, with “Sideshow by the Seashore” moved to anchor the back half somewhere–but that’s party because I like Tracy better than Sideshow.  Or, it could have gone late–say 11th if Penthouse had had 12 tracks.  I like a really sneaky good song like Tracy second to last.  A good example of this move is on Lambchop’s Flotus, where “NIV” sits 10th and sets up the shaggy-epic “The Hustle.”  Here, Tracy would set up “Bonnie and Clyde,” maybe not a natural fit but I kind of like it.  The Penthouse version is only 3:50 though, while the Pup Tent version is 4:50.  4:50 is a better length to set up a song like Bonnie.

Anyway, the slightly more syrupy, marginally slower early version was redone and ended up on 1997’s Pup Tent.  I like the fact that the new version gets an one minute extended outro with the cascade of “doooo/ doo doo doo,” though I’m not sure that I don’t like the early version better.  Pup Tent’s sound was notoriously labored over, and in his memoir Wareham writes that Tracy was especially tough to get the vocal for.  Although the album was trying to record, Wareham writes that “Pup Tent was not our best record, but it was our best-sounding record, containing all kinds of sonic textures.”  He also told filmmaker Noah Baumbach in 2016 that “there are some really cool sounding things on Pup Tent; ‘Pup Tent’ itself, ‘Tracy I Love You,’ ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy.’ So, sonically, I love it.”  Indeed Tracy has stayed on the set list and established itself as one of the standouts of Luna’s catalog.

The song opens with a classic Wareham verse:

Tell me stories on my birthday
Buy me gifts on Halloween
She’s pretending not to know me
But I know where she’s been.

Nobody does needy/ cheeky/ sly/ sexy in quite the same combination as peak Wareham.

Two verses later we get another deeply quotable verse:

I spend too much time in airplanes
Eating peanuts and getting high
Don’t know why I can’t stop smiling
When I only need to cry.

It is this verse especially that I prefer on the Penthouse sessions–there is a weird stuttering reverb that almost pulls the vocal back in time–it’s like a car trying and not quite getting into third gear.  For the Pup Tent version, Eden’s guitar behind the vocal has been improved, and the vocal is much smoother.  To each their own–both versions rock.

Someday soon we’ll do a top 15 or 20 Luna songs, and it will be interesting to see where Tracy lands.  I’m thinking top 10 is in the cards for and it’s the song of the day, by a mile.

Works Cited/ Referenced:

Lambchop, Flotus.

Luna, Penthouse.

Luna, Pup Tent.

Salon.com. “The ultimate Luna interview: Noah Baumbach and Dean Wareham talk super-groups, the Velvet Underground and the history of one of New York’s greatest bands.”

Dean Wareham.  Black Postcards.

Breakdown: “To Beat the Devil”

Here comes the first “breakdown” on the kibbitzer. A breakdown is basically what the young folks these days call a “deep dive.” Only we’re not spending days falling through interweb rabbit holes to get there. That kind of action is reserved for “Tusk,” matters of that ilk. Tusk ilk is pretty thin on the ground.

Instead, a breakdown is just a close look at an item of interest. We’ll start with a couple of songs, see how the method wants to evolve. First off we’ll be breaking down Kris Kristofferson’s “To Beat the Devil.”

To Beat the Devil appears on Kristofferson’s self-titled debut album from 1970 on Monument. It is, by any standard, an astonishingly good record, featuring “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” and “Just the Other Side of Nowhere,” along with the ol’ Devil. That’s four absolute classics right there for ya.

{Sunday Morning features an opening quatrain that most other songwriters would trade their career for:

Well I woke up Sunday morning/ with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt/ and the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad/ so I had one more for dessert

I could play this game all day—Jason Isbell’s Southeastern features another couple life-work worthy couplets:

The first two lines of “Super 8”:

Don’t wanna die in a super 8 motel/ just because somebody’s evening didn’t go so well

And from “Different Days”:

Time went by and I left and I left again/ Jesus loves a sinner but the highway loves a sin.

We’ll do a Different Days breakdown a little later on. If I’d written a song that great I’d call it a career and sip martinis on the house for the duration.}

Sunday Morning and Bobby are probably objectively better songs than To Beat the Devil, yet what I like about this one is that Kristofferson states very clearly a kind of founding intention for his life in song and art, right out of the gate. The only parallel I can think of is Craig Finn’s The Hold Steady, whose first album Almost Killed Me kicks off with “A Positive Jam.”

Here’s the master telling it like it is:

I got bored when I didn’t have a band/ so I started a band/ we’re gonna start it with a positive jam/ hold steady.

Rock on Craig baby.

Anyway, let’s get to the focus of this piece. And if you’d like to experience it sans interpretation, here you go:

TO BEAT THE DEVIL

Kristofferson opens with a spoken intro.:

A couple of years back I come across a great and wasted friend of mine in the hallway of a recording studio. And while he was reciting some poetry to me that he had written, I saw that he was about a step away from dying, and I couldn’t help but wonder why. And the lines of this song occurred to me.

Here the singer is looking up at his idol who is both “great and wasted.” I wasn’t around quite yet in 1970, yet I can easily imagine Ginsberg’s “best minds” line hanging over talented folks across a lot of zones. Klosterman wasn’t quite there either (June 5, 1972–a mid Gemini of course), but he was close, and to indulge not for the last time in a little Klostermania, the zeitgeist seemed to be making people thirsty.

The singer receives some scraps of poetry, shards of shattered inspiration, and a song “occurs” to him. He doesn’t state it directly, however we imagine the song arrives fully formed, like “Pancho and Lefty,” or “Kubla Khan.” Thus, To Beat the Devil is also both an answer and an offer of redemption to his idol, who here is John(ny) Cash.

I’m happy to say he’s no longer wasted, and he’s got him a good woman. And I’d like to dedicate this to John and June, who helped showed me how to beat the devil.

The singer takes up the mantle of the master, and in so doing opens a possibility window onto redemption for his senior. This is no exaggeration—Cash also recorded To Beat the Devil in 1970 and we are basically stipulating that Kristofferson’s genius, descended from Cash while also original to himself, helped rescue Cash from addiction and the whole deal there. We won’t be deep diving into the archive on this one—as we said we’re just keeping it local and breaking it down, so you’ll have to take my word on it or search it up your own self.

Here’s the first verse, and we’ll tread a little lightly from here and let the words speak for themselves:

It was wintertime in Nashville
Down on Music City Row
And I was looking for a place
And to get myself out of the cold
To warm the frozen feeling that was eating at my soul
Keep the chilly wind off my guitar

A classic down and out in the big city piece of scene-setting. The singer is physiologically and psychologically frozen, a cold wind gusts across his art. The man needs a break. Read more