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Mike Bennett writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2018: Mike Bennett

CHIRP Radio Best of 2018

Throughout December, CHIRP Radio presents its volunteers’ top albums of 2018. Our next list is from DJ and Board member emeritus Mike Bennett.

This is yet another year where I'm cognizant of how I simply don't have the time to listen to and absorb all of the music that I would like and love. And I listened to roughly 200 albums this year, at least once or twice through. These are the albums that I kept coming back to the most.


#1   What a Time to Be Alive by Superchunk (Merge)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Superchunk What a Time to Be AliveThis is the third album since Superchunk reactivated, and as terrific as the prior two were, this album uses the fuel of the current presidential administration for an inspired collection. The songs are classic Superchunk, with a bashing rhythm section, biting lead guitars, and strong melodies and hooks. These are songs that channel anger and frustration into something hopeful and inspiring. 21st century punk rock tailor made to fuel protest marches.



#2   Be the Cowboy by Mitski (Dead Oceans)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Mitski Be the CowboyI saw Mitski at the Pitchfork Blue Stage a couple years back, and the crowd spilled over to hear her bring the songs off of Puberty 2 to life. I was watching a star in the making. She could have made Puberty 3 (or Puberty 2 II?), but instead of continuing to update ‘90s alt-rock, she upped the ante with a musically diverse collection of songs filtered through a concept that is ideal for her keen observational lyrics. The concise tunes fly by and build resonance like a musical version of a Raymond Carver book.



#3   Your Queen Is a Reptile by Sons of Kemet (Impulse!)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Sons of Kemet Your Queen Is a ReptileThis percussive jazz quartet led by British-Bahan wunderkind Shabaka Hutchings plays politically motivated songs that have the power of punk rock. I never could imagine how commanding a saxophone, a tuba, and two drummers could sound, but the songs have a bit of New Orleans second line jazz, funk, Afro pop, and the Carribean exploding through the speakers. As with Superchunk’s album, the political motivation behind the album (how the British monarchy doesn’t represent black immigrants, conveyed through songs about notable black women) gives it an energy and center that never cools off.



#4   Look Now by Elvis Costello & The Imposters (Concord)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Elvis Costello & The Imposters Look NowThis is the most sparkling Costello record in a long time. The album balances Brill Building pop tarted up (including collaborations with Burt Bacharach and Carole King) with some songs that have an Imperial Bedroom vibe and a couple snappy tunes that sound like they could have performed before that touchstone album came out. The Imposters are fluid and enhance every tune, and Costello’s voice may sound better than it ever has.



#5   Isolation by Kali Uchis (Rinse/Virgin)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Kali Uchis IsolationThe 25-year old Colombian-American has been releasing singles and EPs and doing features for a while, and everything comes together on this sophisticated R & B album. Uchis covers so much ground, as everything from traditional R & B to jazz to funk to Latin music weaves in and out of the tracks. Uchis is an expressive singer and both her personality and cohesive sonic approach made this an album I kept going back to.



#6   Pink by CHAI (Burger)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

CHAI PinkI’m bending my rules a bit for this album, which came out originally in CHAI’s native Japan in 2017, but I’m fairly confident that had Burger Records not put it out here earlier this year, I never would have known about it. These four young women formed the band after attending university, and created a merger of post-punk and dance music that hits many reference points (Bis, Gorillaz, Yoko Ono, The Chemical Brothers, The B-52s, etc.), and it’s thrilling to hear. The band has a feminist message (neo-kawaii, which takes on beauty standards in Japan) and marries it to some of giddiest music around.



#7   Record by Tracey Thorn (Merge)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Tracey Thorn RecordThe Everything But the Girl singer’s fifth solo album is a career peak. It’s an engaging electro-pop chronicle, mostly melodic pop (at times as close to Saint Etienne as her former band’s music) with a couple more danceable numbers. What makes it truly special are the excellent stories that she calls “feminist bangers.” Somehow the songs are fizzy yet tinged with wistfulness, as she looks at key points in a woman’s life (I’m not sure how much is autobiographical), making songs that aren’t just catchy, but really tug the heart strings.



#8   Cocoa Sugar by Young Fathers (Ninja Tune)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Young Fathers Cocoa SugarThis Scottish trio continues to mix hip-hop, arty rock, and ambient noises in a blend like no other. They sing, they rap, they haunt. And on this album, they add a few more accessible, melodic numbers that are somewhat akin to TV on the Radio. It adds up to another invigorating package.



#9   Fenfo by Fatoumata Diawara (Shanachie)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Fatoumata Diawara FenfoThis is the second solo album from the Paris-based Malian singer-guitarist, who has worked with Damon Albairn, Bobby Womack, and Disclosure in the past. This is a great Afropop album that demonstrates how much Diawara has grown as a singer and songwriter. Her voice is soulful and passionate, and her music is rooted in Mali, but she freely integrates Western sounds into her songs, with blues, rock, and R & B informing some of the best tracks. Taking on both affairs of the heart and social problems, this establishes Diawara as a major force in contemporary African music.



#10   Blue Music by Sunshine Boys (Pravda)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Sunshine Boys Blue MusicMy favorite local record is this jangly, power poppish effort from a veteran trio. I used to see Dag Juhlin in The Slugs at Medusa’s, Freda Love Smith in Blake Babies at Lounge Ax, and Jacqueline Schimmel in Big Hello at Gunther Murphy’s, and here they are together, playing a fantastic batch of songs concocted by Juhlin, who is singing better than ever. His guitar alternately shimmers and burns, and the Schimmel-Smith rhythm section provides melodic support and sturdy beats as needed. These songs hit the same spot that the best Marshall Crenshaw and Tommy Keene songs, wonderful melodies with melancholy undertones.


Honorable mentions:

  • Marianne Faithfull -- Negative Capability
  • Negative Scanner -- Nose Picker
  • Neneh Cherry -- Broken Politics
  • Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 -- Black Times
  • Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever -- Hope Downs
  • Kacey Musgraves -- Golden Hour
  • Kamasi Washington -- Heaven and Earth
  • Teleman -- Family of Aliens
  • Anna Calvi -- Hunter
  • Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers -- Bought to Rot




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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2018

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