Music as a resource and the best of 2018

Long overdue, this is my annual for my music tribe.  In case you missed it, turns out 2018 was a spectacular year for music old and new.  And if you are reading this piece, wondering how it relates to coaching, the simple answer is that music can rewire our brain, it can relax us, it can uplift us, and it can make us receptive to new ideas (there a longer explanation in my best of 2017 music blog).

I didn’t quite realize how much wonderful music existed until I started doing my research for this piece. There is no real consensus across my regularly listened to Podcasts, Magazines, Websites about the best albums of 2018 – likely a product of the diverse choices out there.  I’ll try to navigate this for you, while recommending some of the music I have loved, the music that has enabled me to relax, to rewire my brain, and generally be a better person than I was without music.

Key Topics

  • Recommended music from 2018
  • Recommendations from Liverpool
  • Mindfulness playlists
  • Relevant reissue worth seeking out
  • And some sources for further exploration

Key recommendations

The short version has 11 records worth checking out (should be 10, but the UK’s Mojo magazine had 75 records in it’s top 50, so I figure 11 is more than reasonable):

  • Low – Double Negative
  • Big Red Machine – People
  • Lucy Dacus – Historian
  • Brandi Carlile – By The Way, I Forgive You
  • Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
  • The Decemberists – I’ll be Your Girl
  • First Aid Kit – Ruins
  • Kamasi Washington – Earth and Heaven
  • Julia Holter –  Aviary
  • Tracey Thorn – Record
  • Snail Mail – Lush

A little more detail

Just like 2017, 2018 had some great records by female artists.  This includes but is not limited to:

Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour.This seems a long way from her early work “Same Trailer, Different Park’.  A sense of optimism and possibility shine through. – I recommend ‘Oh, What a World’. For me, it has just the right amount of positivity to get your day started..

Lucy Dacus – Historian. Her second album, kind of crept up on me – I thought it was just OK when I first heard it, but after multiple listens the confidence, the great voice and the big sound shine through. 

Tracey Thorn – Record. She was the voice of Everything But the Girl – I last saw them at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia in the 1990s. It’s a really mature album dealing with feminism, growing old, and London (her home) losing it’s way as it becomes even more expensive and unattainable for many. I heard her interview on NPR with Terry Gross and was immediately drawn to the intensity and the beauty of the music.

Julia Holter –  This has been recommended in numerous place.  It carries serious hints of the Cocteau Twins, and Siouxie and the Banshees.  

Brandi Carlile – ‘By The Way I Forgive You’.  I am a big fan of all her work.  This album however seems more committed, more direct and more urgent.  Some of the reviewers talked about it being an album grounded in these divided times. Best thing I can say, it sounds like the Avett Brothers at their best.  Check out ‘Most of All’ or ‘Hold Out Your Hand’ as a starting point.

Snail Mail – ‘Lush’.  I don’t know anything about the band, but music has me remembering the best of the Sundays with a more modern feel.

Essential music

I start with selections that show up in many lists.  It suggests that they transcend boundaries more than some of the other artists:

Low – Double Negative.  I’ve liked this band for many years now, this album takes them to a new level. Interesting use of distortion and sparse instrumentation, adds up to a really innovative sound.  One warning, the distortion is so evident on some tracks that my son asked if the record was damaged when he first heard it…

Big Red Machine – People.  A collaboration between Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner of the National.  I bought the vinyl album after it was recommended to me. I played it a lot in 2018, and it has just grown on me, more and more.  Check out People Lullaby and Forest Green. It’s a wonderfully atmospheric album – I really wish this had been Bon Iver’s 3rdalbum.

Honorable mentions:

The Decemberists – I’ll be your Girl.  A perennial favorite of mine with a slightly updated pop sound. ‘Everything is Awful’ has been used more than once in our house as a source of stress relief.

Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth.  This is a serious work of art (4 vinyl records). It’s a wonderful modern jazz album, but it seems something more.  Listen to ‘Will you Sing’ to discover this jazz musician escaping the perceived bounds of the label.

And from Liverpool (my hometown) 

I loved discovering the work of Nick Ellis– he’s often compared to Nick Drake, which helps identify his genre.  It’s great that another famous son (the other Paul from Liverpool) wowed the James Corden Carpool Karaoke show this last year, but I would love for the next generation to get a little more attention. Look out for Red Rum Clubin 2019.

Music recommended by my sources (where I’ve heard 1 song)

  • Australia’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever– An Air Conditioned Man from ‘Hope Downs’
  • Elvis Costello– Stripping Paper from ‘Look Now’
  • Mali’s Fatoumata Diawara– Nterini from ‘Fenfu (something to Say)’

Music recommended by my sources (I’m yet to explore)

  • Janelle Monae– Dirty Computer
  • Soccer Mommy– Clean
  • Jon Hopkins– Singularity
Courtesy of Cori Bloom (at Teachers Pay Teachers)

Choices for mindfulness and self-care (thanks NPR)

For reference, here’s the 2017 list (thanks to Andrea Cockfield for putting it out there on YouTube )-

My new list for mindfulness, taken from 2018:

  • Kamasi Washington –  Will you Sing?
  • Big Red Machine – People Lullaby
  • Low – Fly
  • Snail Mail – Let’s Find an Out
  • Julia Holter – In Garden’s Muteness
  • Olivia Chaney – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
  • Ólafur Arnalds –re:member
  • Jóhann Jóhannsson – Heptapod B
  • Jon Hopkins – Echo Dissolve

Amazing Reissues

Some wonderful music was reissued in 2018:

  • We got to hear the 50 year old Beatlesdemos from the White Album– I remember George Harrison referring to Beatles outtakes as someone’s attempt to scrape the bottom of the barrel.  I had an idea that he never understood the value of these outtakes because he was there to experience it.  These demos confirm that perspective for me.  It’s like being there hearing them give life to these songs.
  • Bob Dylan – More Blood More Tracks.  For anyone with a passing relationship with Dylan this is worth exploring. 1975’s ‘Blood on the Tracks’ is an amazingly rich album, dense with lyrics and sound – this version is the one Dylan rejected, only to rerecord most of the tracks again for official release. To me it sounds well worthy of it’s own release – with simpler arrangements and some subtle variations on the ‘final’ lyrics.
  • Finally, 2018 saw the re-release of 2 albums released a few months apart in 1971 by 2 former Beatles (just over a year after the break up). John Lennon’s Imaginehas been re-released many times since. It is arguably one of the best solo Beatles albums, and this time we get to enjoy new demos that give us insight into his creative process.  The other was the much less-celebrated (Paul McCartney’s) Wings – Wild Life – at one point, Rolling Stone actually called it ‘appalling’.  It also includes demo tracks that for me, reveal just how strong some of these songs really were – ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Dear Friend’, ‘Wild Life’ probably would have made it onto a Beatles album.  As a Beatles fan I’m imaging some Sliding Doors moment where songs from both albums are sitting side by side on a 1971 Beatles album – maybe a more fitting epitaph than ‘Let It Be’ .

If you need more

One of my sources is NPR’s All Songs Considered – if you have an hour, take a listen to their end of year show:

They have some interesting choices, and they talk a great deal about the importance of music as a provider of self-care, and they finish with Lucy Dacus’s Nighshift from ‘Historian’.

UK’s Mojo magazine is a great source for me (enabled me to discover Kamasi Washington).

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