Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats
Tearing at the Seams
This was a party record that turned out to be more than a party record. I got their previous LP as a gift from a friend, who bought it for me blind. I’d never heard any of their songs nor expressed interest in so doing; he just thought I’d like it. When was the last time that happened to me? A Frank Sinatra box set I received in 2001?
Anyway, I loved it and then found this next record even more compelling. For me, they evoke Sly and the Family Stone and Van Morrison, with a little bit of James Brown and Chris Stapleton. That’s just about the oddest combination of groups I can conjure, but it all works here. It sounds like there are 20 people in this band, which is why the songs always sound like they’re burning down a house in which they’ve just thrown a kegger. I can’t see why that should appeal to me. One doesn’t support roguish behavior in most cases, but there’s also something wise in this record, something sweet I can’t quite (obviously) name.
The Horizon Just Laughed
I want to say ‘no surprise here,’ or some such thing since records by Damien Jurado have topped my best of lists in more years than any other artist. I’ve been a fan since his first record came out in 1995. But actually it is surprising, to me anyway, that an artist has managed to impress, surprise, and move me year after year for my entire adult life. This year was no different, except in that the album was accompanied by a host of critical accolades, topping year-end lists all over. The record is a great place to start with the catalog, moreover. Much of it reads like a love-letter to Washington, my home, which Jurado just left, itself a fairly sure shortcut into the good graces of this partisan.
The songs are literary, highly allusive and again, timeless. Much of this could well have come out alongside Velvet Underground and no one would bat an eye. That it came out in 2018 instead shows just how long a game Jurado is engaged in.
Here was another instance of my finding music in ways I’d long since despaired of. I was in a record shop thumbing the stacks with my daughter, when a song came on the house system. Man, this is great, I thought. And then the next song, which sounded like it was from a different band: a girl singer this time. And then then next, by yet another band, this time sung in French. I had to ask the guy what awesome playlist this was. He said “Little Joy.”
“What, like, all the songs you’ve played in the last fifteen minutes were from the same band?”
I bought the only copy they had.
The record came out a few years ago and I missed it the first time around. No matter, since it might just as easily have been made in 1960’s Paris and 1970’s Rio or 1990’s New York. It’s just cool, swinging, melodic, and cyan-tinged. I wish it weren’t a side-project of so many super-groups and that they’d make more records, but I’m thankful for this one, and for record shops.
Sometimes my year of listening is characterized by a throwback record that I obsess over long enough for it to figure in my most-played albums of the year. A few years ago, I listened to Driver Eight, which came out in 1997, practically non-stop. But then, I’d liked Driver Eight at the time of its release, so nostalgia figured. The case of Definitely Maybe is a little different. I loved Oasis’ 2nd and 3rd records but this one never did anything for me, until this year. On a plane, probably to this conference, I saw the documentary Supersonic (dir. Whitecross 2016). It was catnip for me. Part of the appeal probably has to do with comments the narrator makes toward the end of the film where it is suggested not only that a band as big as Oasis will likely never exist again, but that it couldn’t. The music industry is so fragmented, the number of bands so explosive, the way we consume music so diverse and so individual, that a movement so large scale is probably impossible. I was in England in the 1990’s and recall sitting in pubs when an Oasis song came on the jukebox. I’d never seen so many people go so crazy over anything, let alone so many of them hold so dear the same thing. The band is brash and rude, but the movement around them is compelling to me mostly due to the unity it inspired, and apparently, inspires still. After watching the film, I listened to this record, the one most featured therein. Multiply that listen by around 50 and you have a fair bit of my 2018.
There are a couple of other records that I’m excited about just now, but I have no way of knowing whether they’ll be definitive in the way these above have, and that is the point of these lists for me: not to trumpet my preferences as to who released the “best records of 2018” but to remember what my life was like year by year, and to do that by tracking its soundtrack.
Did any of these records move you likewise? What did I miss?
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