Music to our ears
Free Press freelancers list their top albums of the year
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/12/2018 (1377 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Pop / Rock
1. Tell Me How You Really Feel, Courtney Barnett
Courtney Barnett is a literate, feminist chronicler of a post-literate age whose laconic, slacker sensibilities illuminate the universal with witty musings on the everyday, set to edgy, three-piece garage rock. The 10 songs here are sharp, vibrant and fascinating musings on the contradiction and anxieties of Barnett’s new lot in life.
2. Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, Jeremy Dutcher
Accepting the Polaris Prize in September, Dutcher proudly said: “Canada, you are in the midst of an Indigenous renaissance.” Work such as this is why. The 11 spellbinding songs here are rendered entirely in the Wolastoq language and Dutcher sets his classically trained operatic tenor against rich grand piano, stirring strings and modern touches such as a drum kit, subtle synth washes, some jaunty rhythms and even a hip-hop backbeat.
3. Dose Your Dreams, F***ed Up
While F***ed Up has always been considered a punk band, its musical vision on this 18-song epic knows no bounds, embracing a broad mix of roaring guitars, Damian Abraham’s barking yowl and elements of art and prog rock, avant-pop, chamber punk, disco and dance music, atmospheric synthesizers, industrial beats, choral vocals, orchestral strings and soulful horns.
4. Dirty Computer, Janelle Monáe
5. Hell-On, Neko Case
6. Joy as an Act of Resistance, Idles
7. Wide Awake, Rayland Baxter
8. Heaven and Earth, Kamasi Washington
9. All That Reckoning, Cowboy Junkies
10. Golden Hour, Kacey Musgraves
— John Kendle
Hip Hop / Alternative
1. Knock Knock, DJ Koze
Building a nuanced, yet whimsical sound much as he does in his sprawling DJ sets, DJ Koze’s Knock Knock exists in a dreamlike world, where taut minimal techno, left-field house, krautrock, disco, R&B and indie all exist together. Where sparkly disco cuts like Pick Up are a direct descendant of Daft Punk and Bonfire takes Bon Iver’s Calgary and flips it into a noisy minimal house number that sounds like a computer short-circuiting, Knock Knock is one of the purest artistic expressions of the year.
2. Bad Witch, Nine Inch Nails
While not exactly the sound of 2018, Trent Reznor seems to be approaching the next phase of Nine Inch Nails as a band with a new sense of urgency, unleashing a torrent of distorted synths and cavalcade of drum machines on its ninth studio album. Supported by a sensory-overloaded live show, 2018 was one of the band’s most high-profile years and shows there are still bands from the ’90s who aren’t on their victory lap.
3. Invasion of Privacy, Cardi B
Tekashi69 may be the self-declared King Of New York, but few people will argue that Cardi B is now the reigning Queen. While Cardi may have come up from the streets as stripper to Love & Hip Hop star, it would have been easy for her to coast on her singles. Instead, she stepped into the booth for Invasion of Privacy to show where she was and where she is going to be as the new Queen of the Big Apple.
4. Qualm, Helena Hauff
5. Singularity, Jon Hopkins
6. Compro, Skee Mask
7. Nothing is Still, Leon Vynehall
8. 15 Years of the Bunker, Various Artists
9. Take Me With You, Anthony Naples
10. FM!, Vince Staples
— Anthony Augustine
Roots / Country
1. Tomorrow Boogie, Mohair Sweets
As local high-energy rock man Colin Bryce says so long to Winnipeg this year, his final self-released gem leaves us all with grand memories of how unpretentious, powerful rock ‘n’ roll is made.
2. The Ice Queen, Sue Foley
Now living in Texas, the talented Canuck blues rocker proves stylishly that she can be rated among the finest and most inspired artists in the contemporary blues business.
3. Wild! Wild! Wild!, Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis
A match made in rockin’ hillbilly heaven, this killer duo proves that the album title is hardly hyperbole. And yes, Linda Gail is really Jerry Lee’s sister.
4. Drive By Feel, Black River Drifters
5. Dear Someone, Happy Something, Honey Hahs
6. The Countdown, Richard Lloyd
7. Kilonova, William Elliot Whitmore
8. How Do I Talk To My Brother? Ben Pirani
9. Pennsyltucky, Boys Called Susan and Bryan Russo
10. Happy Songs for the Apocalypse, Eric Corne and Walter Trout
— Jeff Monk
1. Yo Soy La Tradición, Miguel Zenón
This is a beautiful album of music based on Puerto Rican melodies. Zenón composed this music for his alto and the Spektral string quartet and the result is wonderful. At times, he soars over the strings and, at others, he gives the strings room for complex solos. There are depths here that reward each listen.
2. Invisible Sounds: For Kenny Wheeler, Ingrid Jensen & Steve Treseler.
Canadian trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and saxophonist Steve Treseler offer a tribute to late trumpeter Kenny Wheeler that is heartfelt, as they both worked with Wheeler. They arranged a playlist of Wheeler tunes for their quintet. The result is melodic and sometimes reflects the melancholic strain in some of Wheeler’s music. An outstanding album.
3. You Have Options, Francois Houle/Alexander Hawkins/Harris Eisenstadt
Clarinetist Francois Houle teams up with long-standing colleagues pianist Alexander Hawkins and drummer Harris Eisenstadt for this excellent trio album. Originally convened for the Vancouver Jazz Festival in 2014, they have played together regularly since. The melodic base moves through both gentle and more edgy tracks, but the accessible tone is constant. A real winner.
4. American Dreamers: Voices Of Hope, Music of Freedom, John Daversa Big Band
5. Live in Europe, The Fred Hersch Trio
6. Kenny Wheeler: Suite For Hard Rubber Orchestra, Hard Rubber Orchestra
7. Suite 150, Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra
8. Abundance, Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop
9. Temporary Kings, Mark Turner & Ethan Iverson
10. The Seasons, Ben Wendel
— Keith Black
1. Bye-Bye Berlin, Marion Rampal, Quatuor Manfred and Raphaël Imbert
This release by Harmonia Mundi plunges listeners into the decadent heart of 1930s Berlin, with its Weimar-era inspired music still as raw and alive as when the world danced on the brink of madness. French chanteuse Marion Rampal channels the spirit and ethos of legendary German cabaret singers Lotte Lenye and Marlene Dietrich and holds nothing back with Kurt Weill’s tango-infused Youkali, or Weill/Bertolt Brecht’s iconic Mack the Knife and Barbara-Song, among others.
2. Messiaen: Quatuor pour la fin du Temps, Raphaël Sévère & Trio Messiaen
Trio Messiaen, with guest French clarinetist Raphaël Sévère, breathes new life into Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du Temps, penned during the composer’s captivity at a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp that continues to resonate with apocalyptical overtones. The group’s simpatico sensibility is immediately displayed during opening movement Liturgie de crystal, laced with Messiaen’s idiosyncratic, delicate birdcalls through to the antepenultimate Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes, including its evocation of gongs and trumpets signalling end times.
3. Violin Concertos, James Ehnes
Brandon’s pride, multi-award-winning violinist James Ehnes turns his inestimable bow to a trio of contemporary works in this world première recording, including his spark-flying interpretation of Aaron Jay Kernis’s 2017 Violin Concerto, notably just nominated for a Grammy Award for best classical instrumental solo, with the Seattle Symphony led by Ludouic Morlot. However, the album’s poignant highlight is his performance of Bramwell Tovey’s Stream of Limelight, with the English conductor/composer dedicating the work to the Bradenton, Fla.-based violinist, whom he first heard in 1990 as a 14-year-old during Tovey’s tenure as Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra maestro.
4. Mirage? Concertos for Percussion, Dame Evelyn Glennie / Anne Manson / Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
5. Six Sonatas for Two Violins, Gwen Hoebig and Karl Stobbe
6. Englabörn & Variations, Jóhann Jóhannsson
7. Bernstein: Wonderful Town, Sir Simon Rattle / London Symphony Orchestra
8. Haydn: String Quartets Op. 64, The London Haydn Quartet
9. Schubert: Winterreise, Mark Padmore, Kristian Bezuidenhout
10. Scriabin: Preludes, Études & Sonatas, Vadym Kholodenko
— Holly Harris