Funny thing (to me at least) is as much as I consider myself a pop-culture connoisseur, the one tent of it I tend never to wax poetic on is music. Where I find that in review of print media, film, and TV all lend itself easily to good or bad — with plenty of grey area between the two — music has long felt an area safe from my I’m right and if you disagree you’re wrong mentality. Why? Because from an early age I found it easy to understand the notion of music taste. That certain songs, genres, and formats could be loved by one person, tolerated by another, and loathed by a third.
As an example, sitting in the family room of my Grandma Mickey and Papa Bernie as they listened to the symphony… I could visibly see their enjoyment of the melancholy cacophony my ears where whispering to me was boring. And then, on the ride home, my mother blares You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) by Jimmy Sommerville — rewinding the cassingle after each play to enjoy it again long before “repeat” was a button on our stereos. My father, to date, owns only a handful of music — he is more apt to listen to literal silence or news radio if he is in control of the speaker-box. Yet amidst what anyone might assert as having no foothold to the larger musical world, my love of music is as much as part of my identity as my love of literally all other mediums combined.
I can go years without needing to read a comic. My Netflix and Hulu queues are choked with shows I know I’ll love that will remain unwatched as I make my way through my 813th viewing of the entirety of Scrubs. To date, I’ve still not seen dozens of mandatory films I should have absorbed years ago. But rest assured: whenever it is time to truly work on anything in my life — be it a comic book I’m drawing, design I’m completing for a client, or even just visiting the gym — music is on and affixed to my head so-as to ensure no other sound makes its way into my sphere.
With that preamble in place, I wanted to call out some music that I stumbled over in 2018 — be it new, or just new-to-me — and share some thoughts about why it wriggled its way into my head and didn’t leave.
The Eels — Novocaine For the Soul, Saturday Morning, and Last Stop: This Town
Thanks in part to having a Sirius XM free subscription (thanks, new minivan!) I fell over The Eels on the Nineties on Nine channel. As much as I grew up right smack-dab in the middle of their heyday… I’d never heard the band prior. Easily because my ears are still attuned the sonic landscape they stomped around, these three tracks enjoyed a litany of airtime in my ears since finding them.
Paul McCartney — Come On To Me
Paul’s Flaming Pie holds a high spot in my “Deserted Island” album list. So it should come as little surprise then that this song was a favorite on first play through. From the Ringo-esque wash the window cymbal-drum-cymbal-drum drone, to the late Beatles’ horn sweeps… the song is like a greatest hits of McCartney all snapped up into one song. For the record, my head says I’m a “George” fan first, but I’d be lying if I said Paul wasn’t played far more.
Slash / Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators — World On Fire
I didn’t like Guns N’ Roses. At all. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” sounds better covered by literally anyone else. Yet, something about Slash’s greasy-sweaty dad-band release this year just hits the groove and never lets up. Comprised of bits and pieces of bands I’ll never listen to, the “World On Fire” album sits in the same place I let Green Day occupy with their Foxboro Hot Tubs flight-of-fancy. The album sounds like a supergroup where only one member might be recognizable by anyone not owning a jean jacket with sewn-on patches and a faint smell of dollar beers. Every song bleeds into the next one. And taken together, they are a mélange of yester-rock that sounds like it should have been a series of B-Sides on any number of better bands’ singles. Yet here it is on my list, held in high regard as a singular source of shit-rock I’m proud to play too loud as I drop my kid off at school.
half•alive — still feel.
That I even had to type the band as they present themselves — with unnecessary bullet, and period at the end of the song-title — makes me ashamed to share them. But I’d be lying if I didn’t find their groovy Saint Motel pastiche completely amazing. The stutter-stop drum machine over I-Don’t-Know-How-Many-Synths is completely infectious. Joined in with a music video (which I swear was filmed and finished identically to about 4 other indie bands this year) that was all kinds of hipster-chic, and I couldn’t escape the grasp of it.
They Might Be Giants — Literally too many things released to list this year.
Frankly I should have made an entire article revolving around TMBG. I’ve been a fan of theirs since Particle Man and Istanbul (Not Constantinople) were playing in heavy rotation on Tiny Toons. Each year, the band has a very special way of releasing their wares for the entire year. I can’t really say more on the subject. In fact, I have several cards in my wallet preventing it. But suffice to say… for a band that was rocking in 1984 to have released no fewer than three albums (including a double disc set) this year alone should be all I need to say as to their continued relevance and auditory hold on my ear-space. But if you need a suggestion to look up? I’m happy to oblige. Start with “I’ve Been Seeing Things” and see my tomorrow for more.
Robbie Williams — Andy Warhol
The bad boy of a British boy band in the nineties would wind up fired from the group and land as one the most powerful performers in the United Kingdom ever since. With his heart on his sleeve across album after album, Mr. Williams has taken some time to himself in the recent past. Releasing tracks off the cutting room floor split between three discs (and 5 years between them), one might have postulated that when all the ecstasy wore off… Robbie was riding off into the sunset until Take That took him back for a fourth last-tour-ever. But no! Tracks like “Andy Warhol” prove than even songs left in the bin by the Brit are infectious and astoundingly danceable. I tripped over the barely-a-video on YouTube while trying to impress my 2 year old. And ever since, I’ve dropped this track into playlist after playlist.