Serge Gainsbourg & Michel Colombier, Le Pacha: Lots of people were dissing on Record Store Day this year due to reasons I never bothered looking up, probably legitimate reasons, but that certainly didn’t stop RSD 2018 from dropping some way cool gems. One of these was this long-lost 1968 soundtrack from Serge Gainsbourg from right in the heart of his God-level prime years. If you’ve never seen Le Pacha, then you’ve missed out on one of the most drop dead cool French noir fringe classics of all time. Want to know what the unearthed soundtrack sounds like? Just take a look at the cover. Yes, that’s a smoking pistol barrel being held like a classic Gitane. The key track here is “Requiem Pour Un Con”, which is so far ahead of its time that it’s still years out from the rest of us mired in the cultural mulch of 2018. Yes, that’s a hip hop break-beat going on there long before hip hop was even a thing. Yes, this is the first time Serge affected the sensually cruel purr-speak of his best-known songs. No, we have no idea what he is saying, but the words themselves aren’t really the point, are they? What matters is feeling, and what our dear boy Serge feels here is nothing but cooler-than-thou contempt for you and your whole scene, a ringing, generalized melancholy that no young model could ever alleviate, and that all-encompassing ennui that can only be achieved by a genius who knows he’s a genius in rumpled but expensive leisure wear, with a Rolls in the garage he doesn’t have a license to drive. Elsewhere on the disc we get wild, Indian-raga flavored instrumentals, chilled-out elevator-chic jams, and one of Gainsbourg’s only forays into soul music. If you think that sounds strange, then you really have no idea. Extra props are deserved here for Michael Colombier, one of Serge’s main studio sidekicks at the time, whose orchestration manages to be the one thing that orchestration never is: mischievous.
The Pitch: Put this on when you have that person who is way too young for you over for drinks, the one who still smokes and pouts more than speaks.
Uncle Acid, Volume 1: Brave, unabashed doomy sleaze sludge that could have been recorded in the darkest downer shadows of the witchy summer of 1969. Uncle Acid has been doing what they do for a good ten years at this point, and this reissue of their very first release proves that they were born this way. Equal parts Sabbath and “She’s So Heavy/Helter Skelter”-era Beatles, it’s amazing to hear just how well put together they were within just months of forming in a shack in the English countryside. Mind-crawler riffs, fuzzed-out organs, single synth lines boring into your synapses, utilitarian Bill Ward caveman drum-fills, a bass way funkier than it has any right to be, and lyrics praising the very spiders that made up their early fan base in the shack. A low-fi recording taken straight from cassette has been floating around for years, but this year’s multi-colored vinyl reissue rescues the melodies from the sludge, separates the instruments to let them do their weird things in full Technicolor, and stacks the often surprisingly vulnerable vocals to the darkened skies above.
The Pitch: We are the Devil, and we’re here to do the Devil’s business.
The Limiñanas, Shadow People: I’ve always meant to check this Frenchie duo out, and ten minutes into this thing, when “Le Premier Jour” starts to spiral out into twists and turns like a psychedelic sidewinder across a desert of bones, I was sold hard. This thing is worth it for the guests alone, with Emmanuelle Seigner dancing in society’s velvet snow ashes on the title track over a chorus that would best serve as a soundtrack for coming across an ancient stone-carved face on the underbrush of a cliff. Bertand Belin lights up “Dimanche” with typical eclectic flair, with stiff competition from a colorful organ line. And it’s great to hear Peter Hook doing something other than yelling Joy Division covers while pointing at an audience of head-nodding early 40-somethings freed for the night by babysitter fees. The Limiñanas dude has a perfect end-of-days beard and knows all the right shimmering psych chords, and his partner’s cooing vocals soar well over a multitude of terrains, from the morotik stutter rhythm and symphony of gothy keys in “Motorizatti Marie” to “The Gift” with its shimmery bliss like the summer of ‘86.
The Pitch: Otherworldly, gauzy psych bangers for people leaning against the doors on the night’s last Metro.
XXXTentacion, ?: Easily the least covered number 1 Billboard platinum smash hit generation-defining record of all time. There’s no denying that this kid had scary talent. It wasn’t a raw or undeveloped talent either, as it’s clear from the jump on this record that X is in full mastery of his singular craft. Easily the catchiest song I’ve heard in a decade or so, “Sad!” pulses with sheer dark R&B majesty, like “Thin Line Between Love & Hate” prettied up for modern consumption. Desolate teen romance anthems such as “Moonlight” and “Alone, Part 3” shimmer with a very organic-sounding melancholy just as doomed and effective as the Shangri-Las in their swaying prime, instantly shaming all the “I’m so, like, anxious and stuff” Soundclouders in all the lands. The kid was versatile as well, mixing in eloquent raps (“infinity (888)”) and even straight-up rage-rock (“Floor 555”) yet somehow keeping the record seamless and flowing in a finely woven tapestry of exposed-nerve musings and seemingly genuine new age self-help guru-isms. R.I.P.
The Pitch: Pac and Kurt meeting halfway to hell for a quick blunt.
Brian Jonestown Massacre, Something Else: The coveted Best Riff Of The Half Year 2018 hits you 20 seconds into “Hold That Thought” (the Soundcloud remix will be “Hold That THOT”), the opening track on this latest in a strong comeback run from the once written-off Anton Newcombe and his revolving BJM cast. With that down-strummed, multi-chord gee-tar line and an organ ringing clear like a misty Euro morning, this is Anton’s best song since “Open Heart Surgery.” Newcombe doesn’t generally do heartbreak, focusing instead on guru posturing, bushy sideburns, and his own unique brand of Molotov-heaving anti-modernism, but there is a true streak of heart-worn swagger running through this latest nine track collection. “I got no home in this world,” Anton croaks, his voice tearing apart at the seams in a moment of true expat isolation. “Psychic Lips” burns through with pure lived-in lysergic sunshine, the type of song you have to go through the wars, and emerge on the other side, to be able to make. The searing, off-kilter solo on “Skin & Bones” is enough to make you realize with a sudden start that our dear Anton is a very underrated guitarist, and “My Poor Heart” slaps hard with artistic outlaw fringe power, with “I live by day while you need a plan” being about the harshest dis slung this year. The glitchy jangle of “Who Dreams Of Cats” and the gooey psych landslide of “Silent Stream” are intriguing sidesteps that could have been anchors for albums on their own. Now 50, a little bit of grey in the shag cut seems to have done wonders for this one-time Terror Of San Francisco, letting hints of vulnerability bleed into the ever-potent Jonestown mix.
The Pitch: He’s no longer “On The Drugs That Killed River Phoenix”, but Anton Newcombe is writing the most expansive music of his expansive career.