As we near the halfway mark of 2018, I began to evaluate this year for significant album releases. Outside of live albums released by Neil Young (from a concert nearly 50 years but still good) and John Mellencamp (a collection of recent live recordings), none of the truly big artists today have released new music. If you go back to the beginning of December 2017, you will discover that U2 dropped Songs of Experience, which was one of the band’s more wish-washy album. Let’s face, some of music’s biggest names have sat out 2018 thus far.
So far, Bruce Springsteen has sat down for the past four years without releasing NEW music. But, I will give him a pass, since he has been performing on Broadway. Then, we are now going to feel the losses of Prince, David Bowie, Tom Petty and George Michael, since we will probably only get “recently discovered” material from the latter three at best, while we might see the beginning of a great run of Prince albums as the family hires curators for his famous Vault. As a matter of fact, it was announced that a previously unreleased album from his purple badness will finally be released in 2019. I am very excited by this news, since, according to http://www.princevault.com, there are tens of unreleased albums reportedly sitting in The Vault.
Then the artists who are positioned to take the baton from the previous generation’s heroes are silent. Supposedly Kanye West is releasing a new album in the upcoming weeks, but how many years has that been said? Where is Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Pearl Jam, Green Day, Jay-Z or Lady Gaga? I know, Taylor Swift and Eminem, two critical darlings, released albums during the 2017 winter holidays, but they stiffed. We are in some need of excitement.
Well, there have been a handful of truly good albums released so far in 2018, but they have been dropped by commercial unknowns. Earlier this year, I dedicated a whole blog to a great new artist Kai Danzberg’s album Pop-Up Radio, which is holding up well as the year progresses. The problem is he is a totally independent artist. You can download his album on Bandcamp, but you will not find his CD in a store anywhere, except maybe in his native Germany. Still, I have five albums that have been logging much time in my CD player and streaming sites.
Thus far, my favorite of these five is by an artist who has been unfairly overlooked, although her past three albums, including this new one, are excellent albums carrying the DNA of Prince, George Clinton, TLC and Outkast. The artist is Janelle Monáe, and her new album is Dirty Computer. The woman is multi-talented, and you probably saw her acting in the great movie Hidden Figures. Miss Monáe has created her most mature set of songs in her all-too-brief career. She is a world-class songwriter, singer and rapper. Her music shows off her influences without ever being derivative. The highlights of the album are the all-too-short title song recorded with Beach Boy visionary Brian Wilson, “Crazy, Classic Life,” the true 21st century girl power anthem she recorded with Zoë Kravitz “Screwed,” “I Like That” and “Americans.” But, this talented woman has never had a Top 10 hit song! How is that, when so much crap is clogging up the charts each week? Music lovers unite behind this talented woman!
Over the past couple of years, there has been something of a swelling underground of what is referred as neo-soul acts. These people are heavily influenced by the smooth R&B sounds popularized in the Seventies in places like Philadelphia. I am talking about artists such as Al Green, the Spinners, the Chi-Lites, The O’Jays, etc. Newer artists like Mayer Hawthorne, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, among many others have been blazing this trail for a long while. Recently, Leon Bridges, whose music sounds as if he had discovered unreleased Otis Redding songs, and Lake Street Dive, a quartet of white musicians who remind one of early Fitz & the Tantrums but with a female lead singer. Both released new albums in the past couple of weeks and find them expanding their sonic palettes in natural ways that will appeal to the Boomers who slow danced to this type of music, as well as the Millennials who preferred a bass to nearly any other instrument. Now, neither album was a groundbreaking in the genre as Raphael Saadiq’s 2011 release Stone Rollin’, but they are both great examples of this whole neo-soul category.
Now, if you prefer your music to be on the pop side of things but find today’s radio pop hits a little too sugary for your teeth, then I have two relatively new independent pop groups for you. The first band is The Go! Team. Everything about their sound should not work, but somehow it does. Either these people are complete Dr. Demento nuts, or they possess some sort of Frank Zappa-esque perverted sense of humor. First, they lay down infectious melody after infectious melody. But, it’s what they add over those melodies that makes me fun and blows my mind. One minute they are breaking down the barriers between hip hop and pop/rock, and the next the are using marching band instruments to play one terrific pop song. The band is not afraid of trying something out, giving their songs a cheerleader type of chorus (think of the 80s song “Mickey”) but maintaining some sort of pop sensibility and you have The Go! Team. My suggestion is simple, find their album Semicircle and play it. Then, report back to me with your analysis. Everything tells me I should hate it, but I love it!
My final new album worth seeking out is When My Heart Felt Volcanic by The Aces. First off, apparently there have been many bands who have had the name The Aces, so be careful during your search. Now, if you love the all-sister group HAIM, this band is for you. The Aces are an all-female quartet, not that it really matters. But, there is something about them that reminds me of the Bangles. It could be the singer, or the fact that this collection of songs would fit on the Bangles’ Everything album. The bottom line is that this four ladies are a tight band who are NOT prefabricated in any way, shape or form. The album is flawed, but that’s what makes them so endearing to me. I actually have an Eighties flashback every time I play their CD. They are not power pop but are a rock band with pop instincts. I cannot wait to follow this band into the future.
So, as May winds down, schools begin to let out and summer rolls in, I have identified four more albums worth seeking out. I am not worried about the year yet. There is still time for more great music to be released. I guess after doing research on the history of rock music, I keep awaiting those landmark years to happen since it has been a very long time since the last one of those years happened. Here’s to my five favorite albums of 2018, as well as the music about to be released over the next seven months. I am sure thing will pick up soon.