I’m not going to pretend that I listen to a whole lot of new music, nor do I strive to keep up with emerging trends and sounds. As a matter of fact, if it isn’t from that ultra-heady decade between 1966 and 1976 I’m not going to have much knowledge of it at all. Hell, this isn’t even officially Niche Appeal’s favorite records of the year since I find myself alone at Niche headquarters with everyone else spread to the winds of their respected realms, Tina recovering from a round of intense interviews, David shamed by his loved ones away from the site due to our rampant pettiness and abhorrent cynicism (#FreeDavidCasey), Dave communing with his trees in Westchester. But I do, from time to time, stumble across something new that I like, and there was perhaps a bit more of that going on this year than in the last few. I couldn’t get to 50 like most of the other sites (or 100 or 198 or 6,002) but I can probably get to 20 as long as I’m allowed to include one reissue. And I will. Because there are no rules.
So here it goes, in no particular sensible order, Niche Appeal’s (or, well, just my) favorite records of this soon to be dead Year Of Our Lord 2018.
Uncle Acid, Wasteland
What would it have sounded like had Neil Young fully followed through on his brief Manson-flirtation in early 70s tracks like “Canyon Blues”, shifting away from the Harvest path and straight off the deep end into full-scale riff-tastic Sabbath worship? Well, it most likely would have sounded a little something like Uncle Acid on their fifth album. Having moved on from the cult killer slasher rock of their early period and onto an exceedingly interesting esoteric bent, your fave perv Uncle really lets the loose here on tracks like “Shockwave City” and “Bedouin”, stacking mindbender solos, conjuring Beatles echos on the choruses, and espousing a profoundly paranoid and fully riveting take on the modern day while still keeping one buckskin fringe boot firmly planted on the 70s streets.
Psychedelic and swaggering, morphing and expanding even while proudly trapped within trad rock boundaries, this record sees the Iceagers gleefully blowing up their prickly punk beginnings and unspooling into a very exciting Beyond. If the Stones of 1973’s “Heartbreaker” kicked up a jam session with The Birthday Party, it might sound something like “Hurrah”, “Painkiller”, and the eight other wigged out bangers on this, probably my most played LP of 2018. And I’ve never skipped a single track.
Behemoth, I loved You At Your Darkest
Creepy child choir choruses, towering riffs so stacked they border on ethereal, and the type of proud adolescent blasphemy that hasn’t been part of the metal scene since the church burning 90s. Behemoth offered a massive dose of exactly what I needed to hear from them after an absence of three years that felt more like twenty. Tracks like “Bartzabel” and “Rom 5:8” hone in on grooves so deft that they seem to quake and shift even though they’re essentially standing in place. And extra props for the psyched out pagan regression on display in the “God = Dog” video.
Serge Gainsbourg, Le Pacha (Reissue)
A classic 1968 soundtrack that finally saw official release this past summer. Lead track “Requiem Pour Un Con” 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 actress 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 mischievous orchestral flourishes. If you think this all sounds strange, then you really have no idea.
Arctic Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
What did The Suits at whatever major label monolith the Arctic Monkeys are signed to think when Alex Turner handed over this record? You have to feel for them, really. They just wanted some riffs and crisp drums. They just wanted stacked choruses about part time models. They just wanted a few smartphones-in-the-air-at-the-festival ballads. All they wanted was AM 2, but what they got instead was a sprawling, loungey, glammed-out mess of paranoia and Luddite impulses. Turner croons, struts, coos, and bleeds deliberately clunky lyrical triplets (“Nobody’s on the street, they moved it all online, as of March”) over a rich bed of space freak elevator music like the type you hear in 70s movies about future times. The reviews of this thing were either gushing or entirely hateful, the true sign of a classic. Mark my words, ten years from now bands will be citing this glorious splatter of ideas and impulses as a key influence.
The Voidz, Virtue
What do you think Julian Casablancas’ mom thinks of the Voidz? For over a decade her son was the type of artistic success story that makes a boomer mother proud. Her boy was shaggy and uncouth, sure, but in a way a 60-something can understand, not much different than, like, The Stones or Velvet Underground or whatever. The same went for her boy’s music, which never strayed too far from the tried and true guitars/drums/bass/cool dudes in leather aesthetic. She could put her son’s music on at any dinner party, beaming proudly, and even the staunchest Deadhead at the table could hum along to those Strokes choruses. Plus, he never had to borrow money with all those festival appearances. But midlife crisis come in many shapes and colors, and 2018 finds her boy sporting some sort of purple mullet and Warriorz outfit, screaming Pak Pop choruses over heady synths and guitars so processed they’re in danger of shorting out into the ether. Is this the craziest record ever released by a major artist? Maybe not, but I can’t think of any quite as schizophrenic as this. Julez’ mom may be confused, but I’m nothing if not intrigued.
The Limiñanas, Shadow People
Ten minutes into this record, when “Le Premier Jour” starts to spiral out into twists and turns like a psychedelic sidewinder across a desert of bones, you just know these two Frenchies are onto a great thing This disc 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. I love the French.
Immortal, Northern Chaos Gods
Grim and frostbitten kingdoms rise up from the very first note, winter warfare erupts from tundra to tundra, ancient barren forests call out with promises of enchanting curses, horrid churches tumble to the ground and in their wake rise original pagan shrines suppressed far too many centuries. The Blizzard Beasts are back, my friends, and they cometh with underproduced epics such as “Called To Ice” and “Blacker of Worlds” and “Grim and Dark” which have added ever so much misplaced joy to my life over the past six months since they were unleashed upon this blackened earth.
Cullen Omori, The Diet
Sugar rush junkie pop choruses, louche lyrical flourishes, savage kiss-offs, and lovelorn swagger. The pretty kid really swung for the fences on this thing, and the songs have the unusual juxtaposition of being both Rungren-esque grandiose and fully slacker through and through. These are some of the best lyrics I’ve heard in a very long time. “Girl don’t fuck me, just because you’re lonely.” And has anyone ever come up with a chorus that better sums up a long term relationship than: “You do so many things, and I love ya’ for it, but I usually forget”?
Clara Luciani, Sainte Victoire
If it walks like Francoise Hardy, and it talks like Francoise Hardy, and it looks like Francoise Hardy, and it…well, here’s where the plot twists, because Clara Luciani has a sound that diverges from the reserved monotone minimalism on display through much of Francoise’s catalog, a lush, grandiose sweep that conjures castle-lined provincial Euro streets in a light mist. Complicated missed connections and generalized longing abound, and on standouts like “La grenade” and “La dernière fois” it sounds as if her heart is about to leap right on out of her body. This is goose bump music of the highest order. Dear god I love the French.
Fuzzed-out stoner doom riffs, outer-stratosphere trip hop, classic rock posturing, and 70s Euro art house soundtracks collide. “The Brazilian” creeps like a stalker on a dark side street in a deserted business district. “Brean Down” comes with enough weighted ennui to sink several Titanics. If the tingling, searching, quietly eviscerating “Birthday Suit” isn’t played, in full, over the closing credits of a dark indie crossover sometime soon then it’s the world’s loss. “Harvester” sounds like what would happen if the post-Syd Floyd had still tried to follow their madcap founder’s path, a saucer full of stately grooves grounded by a rock solid chorus and a nagging, underpinning bass line that keeps the track from taking off into Dark Side territory. Closer “When We Fall” sounds like what might have happened if Mamas and the Pappas had teamed up with the Byrds and the results were covered by The Bangles. And although The Beak> Brothers rudely ignored our request for them to immediately dissolve Portishead and Robert Plant’s band and whatever other side projects they dabble in to concentrate on Beak> full time, this is still one of the coolest albums of the decade, let alone the year.
Beach House, 7
Remember when everything Beach House touched sounded as if it was recorded in some sort of cathedral? Well, those days are over and the dream master duo seems to be all the better for it. This collection of tracks is noticeably earthbound, with the seams showing in daring fashion. It’s like a magician revealing all the smoke and mirrors behind his tricks only to expose something far more metaphysical and gravity-defying than his established act. Tracks like “Drunk In LA” and “Pay No Mind” are among their best, and on “Woo” and “Black Car” the Beach Boy & Girl flex a Byrdsian glaze that feels like nothing short of a revelatory new direction.
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 pop 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.
Melody’s Echo Chamber, Bon Voyage
Any project pairing Dungen with Melody Prochet is just bound to be some craziness, but who could have expected this monstrosity? Are those trap beats interrupting psych folk drones? Are those motorik rhythms supposed to bubble up under all that gentle baroque delicacy? Did someone splice a number of different tracks together in seemingly nonsensical fashion to make up the majority of these “songs”? And what in god’s good name is going on on “Desert Horse”? And just why, and just how, does it all sound so fucking great against such seemingly insurmountable odds? And did I mention I love the French?
Goat Girl, Goat Girl
Have Pete and Carl heard this? And if they have, then do Carlos and Pig Man understand that they’ve been bested at their own Libertines game by five scrappily confident, supremely paranoid, and mind-bendingly talented London gals who can shift from loud/slow trad dynamics to heavy-hearted balladry to fuzzed out ambient jams in the space of five colorful minutes? Another question: Am I the only one who loves the jazz interludes even more than the showcase songs? I can’t be, can I? Just the fact that these Girls Of The Goat may have an acid jazz side project in them makes them one of the top bands to watch in the present moment.
Baxter Dury, Etienne De Crecy & Delilah Holiday, B.E.D.
Easily my favorite modern day artist, Baxter Dury had the record of the decade in 2017. And although the Night Chef didn’t have a solo long player out this year he still managed to slither onto the scene through the vehicle of this funked out sleazefest of a collaborative project. When it comes to Baxter, I’ll take what I can get, and here Mr. Maserati blesses us with the synapse-rattling crypto-funk of “Centipedes” and the vulgar, grandiose sprawl of “Tai Tois”. If these are indeed just throwaway tracks on a side project, then our favorite Shipping Tycoon has potentially too much in store for us on that next LP. Take a deep breath.
Halo Maud, Je Suis Une île
Ok, I’ll just say it one last time: I fucking love the French.
Dead Can Dance, Dionysis
Named after the Greek god of wine and pleasure, steeped in European pagan traditions and rites, laced with Latin bird calls, sung in no discernible existing language, this is DCD at their most defiantly mystical and progressive. Certain snatches of this double LP sound like they’re about to slide off the edge of the earth, and those are just the more readily accessible sections. In college my friends and I would make fun of Volvos with Dead Can Dance stickers, but now I see that those mocked modern savages were right all along. Equal parts scholarly and primal, ancient and postmodern, esoteric but weirdly accessible, this is stunning proof that colossal and uncompromising works of art can and will exist within these culturally stifling years we’re suffering through.
Marianne Faithful, Negative Capability
An old junkie warhorse being trotted out for perhaps her final race, Marianne Faithful is one of the most remarkably consistent artists of the 60s generation. Think about it. Marianne’s chamber pop early hits were the sauce. Her disco-era Broken English comeback, including that coked-out SNL appearance, was a thing of great wonder. And since then she’s put out a consistent stream of continually great solo records. This is another one. Nick Cave somehow manages to not steal the show on “The Gypsy Faerie Queen”, one of her best originals in a long time, and the covers here, including an epochal take on “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and a revisiting of her first Jagger/Richards cash-in hit, “As Tears Go By”, are truly definitive. I hope that somewhere Keef and Mick are hearing this and seeing where they went wrong after 1981.
Blueface, famous cryp
This kid just rapped “Mop the floor, hide the wet sign just to catch him slippin'” and you’re still out here talking about Kendrick?
Happy New Year.