Shrine to Domestic Heroes, 2018
Favourite music of 2018
Shrine to Domestic Heroes is a playlist with what's bounced the most off my walls in 2018, regardless of year of release.
Here's the Spotify playlist.
Below, my comments:
"The Static God", The Oh Sees
It's been a long while since rock music made me jump off my seat, speed through traffic and bite off a chicken's head off in front of unsuspecting bypassers. If only they understood... Really, I'm jealous of anyone who's seen this band live. I can imagine myself headbanging in front of the band in hope of accidentally swallowing any of the band members' saliva. Not very hygenic, but I don't think music should be. 10/10 for this thunderous powerhouse of a tune.
"Je suis venu te dire que je m'en vais", Serge Gainsbourg
Ah, Gainsbourg. Genius, if you ask me. I first heard this track by pure coincidence on the radio while I drove solo for 4 hours after a fight with my girlfriend. It was a real "last night a DJ saved my life". I turned on the radio and the velvety voice of Gainsbourg enrobed me with the most beautiful, simple arrangement ever, helping me dissipate my clouded thoughts. This song still haunts me to this day.
Am I allowed to include a track of mine for the sole purpose of downright self-promo? Um, yes. This happens to be the "hit" track of my last solo album, "Clavo Zen". It's a plaintive cry in search of closure after the worst two years of my life. The slow, muddy, moving-forwards-but-feeling-backwards beat is a physical representation of what it was to lose my father and the shit that ensued. Painful to record, painful to deliver, but it certainly helps for some much needed release every time I listen.
"Chants et rythmes d'Orient: No. 11 Chant Armenian", G.I. Gurdjieff
Mysterious, faraway melody whose precious simplicity makes for a sometimes much needed respite from it all. I love the syncopated, human touch of the keys, which never sound tired. You almost forget it's a repetitive figure. Makes me want to be a better piano player. Oh, Gurdjieff also happens to be a mystic writer as well as a a fantastic composer.
"Helliconia", Kelly Moran
I bumped into this track while investigating contemporary vibraphone usage. In this case, it's a mix of bowed vibraphones with prepared piano. More of an interested listener thatn a downright fan of these experiments, I find "Helliconia" to be an elegant and dreamy soundscape which I find myself longing for many a time. The space it creates is mesmerizing and gives me the sensation of something dangerous, which I find to be always good in music.
"Flirted With You All My Life", Vic Chesnutt
As soon as I first heard this song, I knew immediately it was going on this list. The pulse, the crescendo arrangement, the sound of those strings, the vocal delivery... just blew my mind from the get-go. But I wasn't yet prepared for the outstanding lyrics. At first it sounds like Vic is singing about a long-lost love or a breakup, till you discover he's actually talking about his proximity to death. Being paralised from a young age, Chesnutt did not have an easy life and knowing he committed suicide less than a year after the recording of this song, makes for a chilling experience. Fugazi's Guy Picciotto on the electric guitar is also a huge plus. This is an astonishing handcraft of a tune.
"El Payandé", Conjunto Perú Negro
Another song that made it quickly on this list. This is a beautiful traditional afro-Peruvian song with the most haunting vocal delivery ever. You never seem to guess when exactly the singer finishes off each line. That's Lucila Campos singing about slavery with an angry, resignated tone, describing the hardships of toil and plunder. "Listen to me. All is not well". I always get the chills.
"Some Velvet Morning", Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood
How had i never heard of this song before? It's an odd tune in that it's two songs stitched together, one sung by the deep, throaty voice of Lee Hazlewood (à la Jonny Cash without the sunburn) and the dreamy, high-pitched voice of Nancy Sinatra. The first time you hear it, it's just odd, the way the two melodies have been glued together. It helps that the huge sounding orchestration makes for great, cinemascope narrative.
"Home", Colin Stetson
I've been listening to this song forever but I never grow tired of it. Simply put, it's my favourite performance ever. Baritone sax player Colin Stetson was recorded with over 20 microphones, some on his sax keys, some on his throat via contact mics, some metres away from the sound source, room mics, etc. Only whole takes were used. No overdubs. It's the uncanny use of mixing techniques, coupled with Stetson's circular breathing propelled sax armageddon, which makes the song something else. It reminds me of an orphaned ghost boat eternally looking for long needed mooring.
Another sparse track, which relies on nothing but a pocket synth with an arpeggiator. Sounds simple, but it's not... To come up with a compositioni that can be sustained throughout its duration with just two simple ideas is not easy to come by and, personally, something I aspire to. Enough of the loudness wars, enough of stuffing a track with arrangements and ideas. Sometimes it's best to stop, take a step back and leave things as they are, let them breathe.
"This Is America", Childish Gambino
So much has been said about this song. Yes, a lot of attention has been paid to the brilliant video and its hidden messages, but the track by itself stands on its own two feet with really smart, ever-changing ideas, a great groove and original unheard of arrangements. Oh, and if you think the video is cool, check out the live performance. To cry for...
"High Heel Sneakers", Tommy Tucker
Never has a blues song had so much swing. I adore the small syncopated "put on...", which would usually be sung a beat later. That small details makes me move my hips. It helps that Tommy Tucker's distorted vocal delivery takes you back to the day when dancing was done with another partner.
This shocker of a track takes you to a drug induced dance floor and makes you appreciate the act of solo, partnerless dancing. Loud as can be, uncompromising and in your face, it just makes for a great blast to the system. I love the details of using the sound of a dropped metallic chain on top of the already punchy snare drum. That's clever sound design right there. Anyone fancy an "E"?
"Óyelo de nuevo", Los Muñequitos de Matanzas
If I grow old and am still fit enough to perform, I'd want to play guagancó music till I die. My dream setting would be to play the "claves" and sing only during the chrous, which would allow for much free time on stage, wisely spent on moving my arthritic joints to the kaleidoscopic drumming. For me, Afro-Cuban guaguancó is one of the highest achievements in music. Just vocals and drums. Nothing is more ancient. Nothing is more modern.
"Music for 18 Hairdressers: Braids & Fractals", Ben Lamar Gay
What I love about this recording is that no matter how many times I listen to it, I just can't fathom how it was done. Whatever it all is, I am bewildered by the chunkiness of the song, it's playful stereo imaging, the plodding woody texture of the keys (what the fuck is that?) and the Harry Partch-like voodoo wind instrumentation. It's all a wild guess, but it might be better off to leave it that way.
"Stranger by the Sea", Adrian Younge
The first time I heard this I wondered how it is that this sounds so good, so unique. Of course, I later found out that Adrian Younge is a sworn enemy of everything digital and goes to great pains to record everything on tape. Not that I'm an anal retentive defender of analogic sound, but this track goes to show what happens when you forget the 1s and 0s. Everything just breathes. Great kudos to the lovely chord modulations and the all-girl choir. Nice touch.
"Sound & Color", Alabama Shakes
Another song with a brilliant, unique sonic personality. Engineered by the maverick Shawn Everett -famous for his enviable low end and unorthodox approach to recording- Alabama Shakes ride on his quest for cooky sonic experimentation and come up with a juicy composition that shows its craft proudly and allows for repetitive listening, not boring you once. Worth mentioning the fantastic groove as well as the refreshing drum sound. This is a memorable song where everyone on both sides of the sound desk are at their very best.
"People Take Pictures of Each Other", The Kinks
A perfect combination of lyric and song... Ray Davies has so many clever clockwork-perfect songs, it's hard to choose a favourite from his outstanding repertoire. But hats off to this track. The lyrical content is fun and original, commenting on the habit of parents endlessly taking pictures of their kids and the melancholy that comes with their viewing as a grownup. But still, it's bereft of any modern acidic overtones. There's a tinge of acceptance. Not an easy balance. The "don't show me no more, please" line just kills me.
"Che Che Cole", Willie Colón
Ah this track is a killer. A classic of salsa music before it became swamped in heavy brass arrangements and tacky musical direction, Willie Colón became a salsa lead singer by accident. His quest for proficiency at the trombone was met with derision by his bandmantes, who called him "Willie el malo" (Willie the lame one) which he spin-doctored to "Willie the gangster" (see album cover). Either way, this track is infused with that African spirit and sparkled with the Caribbean piano vamp and cowbell which makes you wish you had elastic bands instead of hips.
"Will You Promise", Ebo Taylor
I can't help listening to Ebo Taylor with a smile. Heart-warming, simple and sweet, this song is a great get-together track which should be played while the sun rises after a night of hard partying and drinking. I love the moving bass, the distorted and "Nigerian loud" metallic snare drum as well as the partnering of Ebo with his uncredited female counterpart, promising each other eternal love. It might not work in the long term, but who cares, it's the thought that counts.
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