Usually when I pen this year-end review I spend a number of paragraphs lamenting another move to a new town, changing my job, or some other horrendous life event that upended my year.
Not this year, y’all. I’m happy to report that 2018 has been super smooth sailing. Picked up a college teaching gig in addition to my normal research gig, still got the same lady friend and we are talking about getting a place together in the summer of next year once our leases are up. Did a TON of traveling (domestically), and caught a bunch of shows as well (see the list of shows at the end of this document.) Family is healthy and happy. My one and a half year-old nephew is still the cutest kid in my universe.
Yeah, 2018 has been good.
Of course it wasn’t all rainbows and cookies. I worked on a political campaign that got shellacked, and watched in some semblance of horror as the electorate in my county re-elected a racist sheriff, and did not get as soaked by the blue wave as many other places across America. So there is work to do on that front. And, of course there’s all the shit happening with the Federal Government. In a few days, the Smithsonian is going to close while our lawmakers are still trying to point their fingers harder in the direction of blame at the other, (falsely) hoping it will engender support. Unfollowing” all my friends on Facebook this year has helped. I still have an active account but I only use it to keep my social and event calendar synced with my phone. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made (though I am gonna post the link to this write-up on my FB wall, so my hypocrisy is not lost on me).
But whatever. It’s been a good year and I am here for it! The only thing that will be left after pecking out this year-end review will be to make good on my 2018 New Year’s Resolution and commit 10 phone numbers to memory!!
::2018 Songs of Note Playlist::
For your “listen while you read” pleasure, I am including a playlist of my standout tracks of the year. The tracks go in reverse order, that is, the standout track from each of “the elevens” will be at the top of the playlist, and the closing track will be the standout from the number 1 record on the list below. Fun times, yeah?
::The Twenty Elevens::
“The elevens” are listed here in alphabetical order so as not to weight one release as closer to #10 than the next. In reality, any one of these “elevens” could probably be swapped out for #10 depending on how I am feeling on a given day…but here is how it shakes out on this day:
6 String Drag ::TOP OF THE WORLD:: Raleigh, North Carolina alt-country pioneers 6 String Drag won 2018 with a double-dose of music. First, they re-released their seminal 1997 record HIGH HAT to celebrate its 20th anniversary, while simultaneously dropping their first record of new music in three years with TOP OF THE WORLD. Prior to 2015, the band had been largely dormant. TOP OF THE WORLD also marks the band’s first recording with new, shit-hot guitarist Luis Rodriguez and drummer Dan Davis, the band is as tight as ever, and showcased their skills this past December to a largely virgin audience at the annual White Water Tavern Holiday Hangout in Little Rock, Arkansas. But for us old heads, if you liked HIGH HAT, there is a LOT of sounds for you on TOP OF THE WORLD
Standout Track ::Wrong Girl::
Belle Adair ::TUSCUMBIA:: Combine all your favorite things about Big Star, the Byrds, Muscle Shoals, and the south and you have Belle Adair’s TUSCUMBIA. Fans of chime and jangle will rejoice at the sound of the guitars on this record. Recorded at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the vibe of that building coupled with the pop sensibilities of the fellas in Belle Adair made for a solid marriage. This is just a nice, two-windows down jam for springtime kinda record. Much Rickenbacker! Such yay!
Standout Track ::Marooned::
Drew Beskin ::NOSTALGIA PORN:: This Athens, Georgia-based prolific bastard not only released a killer record with last year’s CHA CHING MACHINE, and who once contributed songs to The District Attorneys, PURSES, and Party Dolls, has returned in 2018 with more saccharine power pop that pays more homage to Memphis and Big Star than Athens’ REM. Beskin continues to produce a high quality product.
Standout Track ::Suspicion From The Start::
Bonny Doon ::LONGWAVE:: In the mid 90s, bands like Pavement and Guided by Voices made music that had critics and reviewers tossing around the term “slack rock” because of a lazy and oft sloppy musical delivery that somehow worked. Detroit’s Bonny Doon deserve a spot in that company. The songwriting duo of Bobby Columbo and Bill Lennox trade songs back and forth over 40 minutes of rollicking songs that make you want to do that thing where you drive with the windows down, arm in the wind, letting the wind pick up your arm in a wave-like motion for miles and miles…that is still a thing, right?
Standout Track ::I Am Here (I Am Alive)::
Boygenuis ::BOYGENUIS:: When news broke that Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus would be forming a supergroup, the corner of the internet where all the indie rock kids hang out shattered into a billion pieces. Rightfully so. There is nothing unexpected on this six-song EP. Its only failing is that it is too short. Two more songs from each artist and might-could have had a full Boygenius LP. Hopefully there is more to come, if for no other reason than that the world needs more Julien Baker songs with a full-band treatment.
Standout Track ::Stay Down::
Andrew Bryant ::AIN’T IT LIKE THE COSMOS:: At the 2017 White Water Tavern Holiday Hangout in Little Rock, Arkansas, Andrew Bryant took the stage with a Danelectro Guitar and boutique tube amplifier and proceeded to break the hearts of anyone who was listening. The songs were sparse and heavy, and elicited several whispers of the name “Jason Molina.” Prior to covering “Hammer Down”, Bryant did indeed talk about what a heavy influence Jason Molina has been on his writing. The sparse songs heard at the White Water Tavern that night have been given a full band treatment on COSMOS, but there is still a beautiful loneliness to them. It may be Bryant’s hollow voice, which (probably intentionally) resonates a sort of defeat even on the upbeat tunes. Jason Molina wrote a lot about ghosts. Andrew Bryant may be seeking a muse in Molina’s - and I am here for that.
Standout Track ::The Price Was Right::
Neko Case ::HELL ON:: Neko Case makes a hell of a return with HELL ON. The record is a nice blend of classic Neko Case stylings (i.e., “Halls of Sarah”, “Bad Luck”, and “Last Lion of Albion” - check out the Song Exploder Episode on the latter) and a newer, different sound that showcases Case’s talent and ability to shake up her foundation (i.e., “Sleep All Summer”). A solid effort by one of music’s strongest songwriters.
Standout Track ::Last Lion of Albion::
Dawes ::PASSWORDS:: Admittedly, the last two Dawes records have left a lot to be desired - especially when you compare recent output to the band’s stellar first three records. It was clear that principal songwriter Taylor Goldsmith was approaching his songwriting from a different direction on 2016’s WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE (though the track “Roll With The Punches” was one of the year’s best IMHO). However, PASSWORDS is a bit of a return to form - just not quite all the way there. Still, there is likely a hell of comp to be culled out of Dawes’ recent output.
Standout Track ::Crack the Case::
Death By Unga Bunga ::SO FAR SO GOOD SO COOL:: By the time we reach the end of this year-end list, it will be clear that 2018 was the year that riff-heavy rock-n-roll returned to heavy rotation for these ears. Imagine Thin Lizzy were a five-piece band, and instead of being Irish, they were Norse as fuck - you’d have Death by Unga Bunga. Delicious riff-driven poppy rock -n-roll complete with harmonized guitars, and sick finger tapping. And this is their fifth LP. So if you like what you hear, dig in to the band’s back catalog for more!
Standout Track ::Soldier:: [Note: The guitar solo starting at 2:50, with the harmonized finger tapping at 3:13 is perfection].
The Dirty Nil ::MASTER VOLUME:: Like the riffy Death by Unga Bunga - the Dirty Nil also brings riffy, Thin Lizzy-esque rock-n-roll, Hamilton, Ontario Canada-style. However, unlike the former, The Dirty Nil is only a three-piece. MASTER VOLUME is apropos as the album title as there is a LOT of sound coming out of this power trio of guitar, bass, and drums. Don’t sleep on the band’s cover of the Metallica classic “Hit the Lights” from the 1982 debut record KILL EM ALL [Note: I am not linking the original song and record because fuck Metallica, and fuck you, too, Lars].
Standout Track ::That’s What Heaven Feels Like::
Father John Misty ::GOD’S FAVORITE CUSTOMER:: In the Drive By Truckers’ song “Ghost To Most,” Mike Cooley sings the line “saving everybody takes a man on a mission with a swagger that could set the world at ease…” After seeing Josh Tillman’s Father John Misty this past summer, it’s possible Cooley found his candidate. Seeing an artist live can completely color how one experiences an artist’s recorded work - for better or worse. This was a case for the better as it made Father John Misty’s latest album-length spewing of Gen X. malaise much more palatable. In some worlds, GOD’S FAVORITE CUSTOMER and PURE COMEDY might make one hell of a double album with the similar themes of societal exhaustion after clinging to a myriad of false promises.
Standout Track ::Mr. Tillman::
Hurry ::EVERY LITTLE THOUGHT:: While heading to DC for a Nada Surf show, Spotify did that thing where it suggests music after whatever you’re listening to ends. At the end of the latest Hop Along record, Spotify played Philly-based Hurry’s song “Hanging On” with its Teenage Fanclub, fuzzy, power pop guitars and vocal phrasing not unlike John Davis’ from Superdrag and the Lees of Memory (listen to the way singer Matt Scottoline sings “I’m already hangin on…”) for an example. A mental note was made and the album was later spun. Turns out “Hanging On” was the perfect taste of what Hurry had to offer. Big guitars, lush vocal harmonies, and lots of power pop melodies. Since Philadelphia has recently been cranking out some big names in indie rock as of late (Hop Along, Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs), it is easy to overlook some of the other amazing acts that call the City of Brotherly Love home. Don’t sleep on Hurry if you’re a fan of Teenage Fanclub, Nada Surf, Superdrag, or the Bigger Lovers.
Standout Track ::Separation::
Marie/Lepanto ::Tenkiller:: This one almost came in at #10, but in the end, it was ‘thinly’ [pun intended] edged out. This record evokes a lot of near-and-dear imagery given it’s roots in the Ozarks (Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma) where the songwriting duo of Will Johnson [centro-matic, South San Gabriel, a million other bands] and Justin Peter Kinkel Shuster [Water Liars] have ties. Johnson and Shuster’s voices perfectly compliment one another over songs that sound like they could be outtakes from a lost Crazy Horse session, while also offering softer morsels, like Shuster’s finest song to date, “Tenkiller.”
Standout Track ::Tenkiller::
Mess ::COMFORT CREATURE:: Baltimore Maryland is known for its enduring punk scene, largely overshadowed by New York and DCs hardcore scenes that gained traction in the 80s and 90s. Indeed, Baltimore still boasts a stalwart punk scene, but there is also a budding scene of kids who are starting bands that embrace their parents music: grunge. In that spirit, Mess sounds like they’ve been ingesting a steady diet of Sunny Day Real Estate, Hum, Dinosaur Jr., Codeine, and Seaweed. Don’t be dismayed by the scant 4 songs on this EP, which clocks in at 21 minutes. This record is nostalgia heaven for those who grew up watching 120 minutes, looking for the next ‘it’ band. Also check out the band’s 2017 release TREE, whose 7 songs could easily be sequenced with the four songs on COMFORT CREATURE to create an LP-length playlist.
Standout Track ::Worrybody:: [Note: Frederick, Maryland readers - check out Mess at Cafe Nola on January 5th, 2019]
Mr. Husband ::SILVERTONE and OCEAN PINES:: We’ve opined about the budding, yet underground music scene in Frederick, while simultaneously lamenting the lack of a proper venue (see the end of this post for a review). A pillar of the Frederick music scene is Kenny Tompkins, or as he would say: “but that’s Mr. Husband 2U…” Tompkins released two full-length records this year under his Mr. Husband moniker; SILVERTONE, with it’s full, three-piece band treatment delivering dreamy pop songs that any fan of the Beach Boys/Brian Wilson could find common musical ground and OCEAN PINES, a lilting, quiet, solo effort drawing from Tompkins love of classic country music and Hawaiian steel guitar. Lots to love here from a talented individual with a broad musical and songwriting palate.
Standout Tracks ::Living in Dreams (SILVERTONE):: ::Stranger for a While (OCEAN PINES)::
Ovlov ::TRU:: Man…if you cue up Ovlov’s TRU, make sure nothing valuable is nearby and/or not tethered down, because the huge opening guitars of “Baby Alligator” might have you thrashing around the room in an instant. SUUUPER fuzzy and BIG guitars are abundant alongside dirty, distorted, buried vocals. This is the band’s first record in 5 years, as they’ve apparently had some difficulty keeping things together during the decade they’ve been around. Like the band’s history, TRU sounds like a record that could split apart at the seams any moment. It’s glorious. Hell, even Pitchfork liked it! We recommend paring this record alongside Mess’s COMFORT CREATURE for a nostalgic fuzz-buzz.
Standout Track ::Short Morgan::
Nick Piunti ::TEMPORARY HIGH:: Last year, Tommy Stinson released ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN via his Bash and Pop project. Fans of the Replacements rejoiced as the songs on ANYTHING tickled their Replacements-depraved ears. If those ears still thirst for that sound, you may want to give Nick Piunti’s 2018 release TEMPORARY HIGH a spin. This record seemed to come from out of nowhere, with little to no acclaim, despite Piunti putting roots in his native Detroit’s power pop scene starting back in the 1970s. This record is worth a listen if you enjoy 70s power pop and Replacements-style rock n roll.
Standout Track ::You Invented Hell::
S. Carey ::HUNDRED ACRES:: Folk may recognize the name S.[ean] Carey as one of the 437 musicians accompanying Justin Vernon on stage with Bon Iver. Carey’s music comes from the same corner of the musical spectrum as Vernon’s. Its distant, layered, and atmospheric landscape is easy to get lost in while listening. This is a great “cold weather” record and was much enjoyed this past winter.
Standout Track ::Rose Petals:: [Note: fans of Will Arnett’s Netflix show Flaked may recognize this song from S2]
Sloan ::12:: Not many bands can say “this is our 12th record.” Alas, Canadian power-pop stalwarts Sloan released record number 12 and what a ride it’s been since 1992’s SMEARED. When a band has such a vast catalog, it is tough to avoid playing the “it’s their best since…” game, but this record does seem to be stronger from a musical and songwriting standpoint than some of the band’s more recent releases. These ears think that 12 combines all the best elements of 1998’s NAVY BLUES and 1999’s BETWEEN THE BRIDGES; pop hooks for days, three and four-part vocal harmonies, oooohs and ahhhs, sing-along choruses, and fucking hand claps! All wrapped in a modern-day classic rock canvass painted by the likes of KISS, The Beatles, The Kinks, and Boston. So if that is the Sloan of your heart’s desire, give 12 a spin.
Standout Track ::The Day Will Be Mine::
The Rank Stranger’s Top Ten Records of 2018
10. Thin Lips ::CHOSEN FAMILY:: Philadelphia, y’all!! Killin it in 2018. Thanks to Frances Quinlan, who, at a Hop Along show earlier this year at the 9:30 Club, introduced multi-instrumentalist Chrissy Tasjian as having “a badass band called Thin Lips…” When CHOSEN FAMILY was released in July, it immediately found heavy rotation on the Spotifys. Tasjian crafts catchy pop punk songs that become the earworms you enjoy having stuck in your head. The record starts with Tasjian relating a story about her six-year old self having a dream about seeing a naked woman, waking, and running downstairs to consult her mother, noting that she was afraid she was gay - she was frightened because she didn’t want to go to Hell. Now, as an open member of the LGBTQ community, her songs speak to relationships that span the spectrum. For example, arguably anyone can relate to songs with titles such as “I Know That I’m the Asshole” or “Sex is Complicated” or “What’s So Bad About Being Lonely”. The guitars on this record are huge, which are punctuated by a two-coats-of-paint-tight rhythm section (who are a joy to watch on this Audiotree performance - that bass, y’all!). Pumped to see Thin Lips at Songbyrd Music Cafe in DC on January 28th with Delaware’s Grace Vonderkuhn! If you take a chance on ONE record listed here, let it be this one.
Standout Track ::South America::
9. Leon Bridges ::GOOD THING:: If you read a barrage of “best of” lists that have been published, several have listed Janelle Monae’s DIRTY COMPUTER as one of - if not their favorite - record of the year. They herald how Monae took some of the difficult events of her life and set them to pop music inspired by icons such as Prince and Michael Jackson. Maybe these folks didn’t pay attention to Leon Bridges’s GOOD THING, but you could literally replace her name with his and swap the album titles and the same rings true. On GOOD THING, Bridges gambles on a hard 180 degree turn, abandoning his Sam Cooke comfort zone and putting up 10 songs flavored with contemporary and throwback R&B and pop - some songs in the style of Prince (If It Feels Good [Then It Must Be]), and Michael Jackson (Forgive You; You Don’t Know). The songs deal openly with the difficult subject of a romantic relationships - a topic he was nervous singing about because, given the autobiographic nature of the songs, his mother would learn about some behaviors that she would not agree with. But with this leap (musically, personally, and nervously), GOOD THING settles into a stride…then to a swagger that might take a few attempts to love, but will be worth the effort.
Standout Track ::Beyond::
8. Jim Shorts ::HALO REPAIR:: The third local/regional release on this list (see Mr. Husband and Mess above), Frederick’s Jim Shorts, the project of recent Chattanooga Tennessee expat David Haynes, tugs at all the heartstrings I possess tuned to my love for Built to Spill. Haynes is not bashful about citing Built to Spill and Doug Martsch as influences, but one spin of HALO REPAIR and you wouldn’t need him to relate this fact. These songs traipse territory often found on the more Americana/Alt-country releases often filling these ears: travel up and down long highways to get back to a loved one. Indeed, Haynes chronicles his road trips between Chattanooga (where he was attending school) to Frederick, Maryland (where his now-wife was living). On these long trips, Haynes had a lot of time to think and write. Some songs (i.e., “24,000”) are directly about getting back to see his wife, others are about talking to yourself (“Meet the Author”) which you can imagine happens quite a bit on long, solo road trips, and learning what happens after we die (“Broadcasting Cosmic Silence”). Though only in his mid-twenties, Haynes has forty (40!) individual releases on his bandcamp page. HALO REPAIR is leaps and bounds the most realized effort to date.
Standout Track ::Tree of Life, MD::
7. Superchunk ::WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE:: Not much to add to what’s been said elsewhere about Superchunk’s latest, and 11th album in their 30-year career as a band. Eleven songs, 32 minutes, and punk-as-fuck. These songs eviscerate the current Presidential administration and point out the absurdities of 2018 America. When President Trump was elected in 2016, there was a call to musicians and artists to use their craft to create a rallying message. Not sure that Superchunk achieve that goal with WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE, but I sure as hell want to fuck a lot of shit up when I listen to this record!
Standout Track ::Black Thread::
6. John Paul Keith ::HEART SHAPED SHADOW:: “Throwback music” can be hit or miss. Some groups have capitalized on it - like soul artists Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, or Charles Bradley (RIP to both), or country artists such as Sturgill Simpson, Zephaniah OHora, and Margo Price. For other artists, such as the aforementioned Leon Bridges, the throwback style didn’t last (and perhaps the same could be said for Sturgill). Some of these artists have been accused of capitalizing on a fad; however, this is not the case for Memphis songwriter John Paul Keith. Though he’s dabbled in pop rock (Stateside), and alt-country with a really early version of the V-Roys, Keith seems to have found his calling in crafting a Memphis style rock-n-roll that not only pulls from various legends that stood on the black-tape ‘X’ in Sun Studios, but also attempts to preserve their legacy by incorporating their sound into his original songs. HEART SHAPED SHADOW is JPK’s first full-length solo record since 2013’s MEMPHIS CIRCA 3AM - and a LOT has happened in those five years. Relationships started. Relationships ended. More relationships started. More relationships ended. Band members came and went. New bands were formed (Motel Mirrors). Songwriters Block. Much of the five years is documented in HEART SHAPED SHADOW. The songs are simplistic, but not simple, familiar but new. And his band, including now longtime drummer Shawn Zorn, and veteran bassist Preston Rumbaugh, and Memphis giant Rick Steff filling on on keys are absolutely on fire. This might be the most fun record on this list.
Standout Track ::Leave Them Girls Alone::
5. Pinegrove ::SKYLIGHT:: First, we can side-step a discussion about the accusation levied against Pinegrove’s Evan Stephens Hall nor the post-mortem take after the band’s hiatus because SKYLIGHT was completed and set for release before all this went down. Records are a snapshot of a band at a specific time. Numerous factors contribute to the singular magic during a recording session that cannot be captured at subsequent recording sessions or on subsequent records. That said, SKYLIGHT stands in a parallel world, unmarred by the fallout and rebuilding since the #MeToo accusation. Pinegrove’s 2016 CARDINAL (now out as an expanded edition) was a juggernaut for musical partners Evan Stephens Hall and Zack Levine - one that amassed to sold out tours, world travel, and the purchasing of a house-turned-studio in upstate New York, a quieter change from the band’s home base spanning New York City and Montclair, New Jersey. Before the media fallout, the band was perched in their new house/studio, recording songs new and old for the anticipated follow-up to CARDINAL. The songs on SKYLIGHT still feature the same shape-like, circular lyricism Hall favors (i.e., “Take a rectangle and tangle your head” on “Intrepid”) or conjuring imagery from prior records with mentions of a “cardinal” and “ampersand” in “Rings”. Indeed, new recordings old songs (i.e., “Angelina”) are more fully realized. Lyrically, the record eerily seems to be written from the perspective of someone holed-up, or walled-in from an outside world that is bright, loud, and generally caustic. If only the narrator could just stay inside all day and hang out with the friends he loves, maybe it will all be ok. Clearly the narrator is navigating a new world that is wholly different from the one familiar to him just a few years ago. Since the release of SKYLIGHT, Pinegrove has successfully completed a mini tour, and has all but sold out all shows on their current tour. Despite the atmosphere currently surrounding the band, whether justified or not, Pinegrove definitely enhances their already strong catalog of music with SKYLIGHT.
Standout Track ::Darkness::
4. Bat Fangs ::BAT FANGS:: The year of the riff continues. North Carolina by way of Washington DC band Bat Fangs isn’t reinventing the wheel with their riff-driven rock n roll, but they’re definitely crafting their own, better model by building on existing blueprints. The duo or Betsy Wright (Ex Hex) and Laura King (Flesh Wounds) crafted a blistering record - 9 songs clocking in at 25 minutes - that draws from female rock icons such as Pat Benatar, Heart, and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Wright can slay a guitar, and King’s drumming could cause an avalanche if she’s not careful. This record is HUGE in all the right ways and makes me wish I still had my old 1986 Chevy Camaro. Hell, I might even take up smoking Marlboro reds and hanging out front of the local arcade…or [insert 80’s badass imagery here]. After seeing Bat Fangs open for Superchunk early on in 2018, and watching Betsy and Laura just own the stage - giving Superchunk a run for their money - I hoped - and still hope - that every parent with a teenage daughter will 1) See Bat Fangs live, 2) buy their daughter(s) the Bat Fangs record, 3) buy their daughter(s) a guitar, bass, or drums and 4) hope the daughter(s) put two and two together, form a bitchin rock band, and show all these sad bois how shit gets done!
Standout Track ::Boys of Summer::
3. Ruston Kelly ::DYING STAR:: Nashville Tennessee typically conjures up a certain image. The neon lights of the touristy bars and honky tonks along Broadway, aging country music stars bedazzled in sequins and Nudie suits singing at the Grand Ol Opry, or maybe arena-sized venues with massive concerts featuring names like Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, and Florida Georgia Line. But there is another Nashville. A darker, smaller-scale Nashville on the east side of the river where scrappy bands get gigs at the 5 Spot, close down the bar at Mickey’s, then stumble home just hours before the sun comes up, coming down from a string of consecutive nights drunk and/or high. This is the Nashville featured on Ruston Kelly’s DYING STAR. Though for all the rough edges around DYING STAR’s narrators (many of whom are probably Kelly himself), there is an certain polish, or ‘Nashville sheen’ to this record that almost disconnects the story from the song. Rightfully so, as Kelly, who has been a songwriter in Nashville for more than a couple years, signed a record deal with Rounder Records (typically a label for bluegrass artists, but has branched out to a more roots music-based palate under president John P. Strohm), and the label seems to have really opened the purse as Kelly created this record. In addition, Kelly’s songs have been recorded by Tim McGraw and the Josh Abbott Band - and though not yet released, “Trying to Let Her” (from DYING STAR) has been recorded by Kenny Chesney. So the “Nashville sheen” on DYING STAR shouldn’t be all that shocking. But the songs…and Kelly’s voice, which sounds like some mashup between Kurt Cobain and A.A. Bondy cuts right through that sheen like a smoker’s cough. Ruston Kelly has a hell of a story to tell…from kicking hard drugs and alcohol, his marriage to Americana darling Kacey Musgraves, and touring with his pedal steel guitar playing father Tim Kelly, DYING STAR is just the start to Ruston Kelly’s story. Since hearing this record, on the days I wake up with a song in my head, 90% of the time it’s a song from DYING STAR.
Standout Track ::Mockingbird::
2. The Beths ::FUTURE ME HATES ME:: In 2016, a quartet from New Zealand dropped a five-song EP called WARM BLOOD. It was stellar. At a glance, with a name like “The Beths”, the band may have been misconstrued as a 60s vocal girl group ('i.e., the Shirelles, the Shondells, etc). But the opening guitar lines from “Whatever” quickly put that assumption to rest. Before the year would end, WARM BLOOD would disappear from Spotify and other streaming/music sites. Thankfully, under the direction of the fine folks at Carpark Records, not only did WARM BLOOD resurface on streaming sites, but so did the Beth’s debut LP FUTURE ME HATES ME. Y’all…this record is pure kiwi power pop goodness. Primary singer and songwriter Liz Stokes sighs her awkward tales of reckoning - with relationships, with past mistakes, and with…well, “Whatever.” Stokes, flanked by lead guitarist and FUTURE ME producer Jonathan Pearce, drive the songs with crisp and crunchy guitars while rhythm section Benjamin Sinclair (bass) and Ivan Johnston (drums) hold down the fort. If you catch the Beths live, prepare for an adorable and awkward display of humility, gentleness, and fucking badass musicianship. They’re a must-see if they come near your town. My tickets for their DC show on March 2nd have already been purchased! Hopefully touring drummer Katie Ham will be smacking the brass again!
Standout Track ::Not Running::
1. Adam Faucett & the Tall Grass ::IT TOOK THE SHAPE OF A BIRD:: Adam Faucett’s voice is an Arkansas treasure. On his finest record to date, Adam Faucett and his band the Tall Grass (consisting of bassist Jonathan “Johnny D” Dodson and drummer Chad Conder) wring another slate of songs out of the humid air and arid silt of the eastern Arkansas flatlands. These songs, like much of Faucett’s catalog, would be an ideal sountrack to a muggy summer float trip down some Arkansas river. The characters in these songs would be the people you might see along the bank…a dysfunctional extended family trying to care for one of their own who was orphaned after both parents died and her brother went off to Africa (“King Snake”) or the world weary folks trying to kick various addictions (“Dust”). The songs on BIRD ponder navigating life as an outsider (“Ancient Chord”; “Living on the Moon”) and grinding through year after year, setback after setback all in the name of doing what you love. For example, many of us can probably identify with the opening lines of “Axe” where Faucett sings “Put an axe to the same oak since early ‘01, she still stands tall, unaware, all I’ve done…” The songs, though covered in a gritty, gnarly, surface all contain a diamond within: Faucett’s voice. High, lonesome, booming, angry, timid - it matches whatever emotion the song presents. And Dodson and Conder perfectly match the tone of the song…be it full-throttle through a rapid or lilting along in calm water. This is Adam Faucett & the Tall Grass at their absolute best.
Standout Track ::King Snake::
Shows Attended in 2018
Since moving to the DC Metro, I’ve had to learn a few things…most importantly that if I want to see a show in either DC or Baltimore, I will need to buy tickets in advance, or the show damn well may sell out. Even with being shut out of a few here and there, I still managed to attend 52 shows in 2018 (counting the three-day multi-act, multi-stage White Water Tavern Holiday Hangout as one). Here are the shows attended with the bracketed number being the show number, followed by the date, the band(s)/artist(s), the venue, and the city.
. 01/19/2018 Middle Kid/Violet Ripken/Mess; Cafe Nola, Frederick, MD
. 02/15/2018 Superchunk/Bat Fangs; Ottobar, Baltimore MD*
. 03/07/2018 Nada Surf; the Black Cat, Washington DC*
. 03/09/2018 Grace Vonderkuhn/Double Motorcycle/Gorpho; Guido’s Speakeasy, Frederick MD
. 03/30/2018 John Paul Keith/Motel Mirrors; Railgarten, Memphis TN
. 04/19/2018 Julien Baker/Tancred; The Chameleon Club, Lancaster PA*
. 04/20/2018 Marie/Lepanto/PSALMSHIPS; DC9, Washington DC
. 04/21/2108 The Decemberists/Tennis; The Anthem, Washington DC*
. 04/24/2018 The Darkness/Diarrhea Planet; Ram’s Head Live, Baltimore MD*
. 04/25/2018 Durand Jones & the Indications/Aztec Sun/Super City; The Ottobar, Baltimore MD*
. 04/26/2018 Sarah Shook & The Disarmers/Zephaniah OHora; Pearl Street Warehouse, Washington DC
. 04/30/2018 Modest Mouse/Mass Gothic; The Anthem, Washington DC*
. 05/02/2018 Jim Shorts/Cheshi (acoustic)/Too Soon Jokes; The Ottobar, Baltimore MD
. 05/05/2018 Middle Kid/Lucas Laws @ Frederick Friends Fest Memorial to Colleen Magrann Morin; Friends of the Eagles, Frederick MD
. 05/05/2018 Ani DiFranco/Gracie & Rachel; 9:30 Club, Washington DC*
. 05/18/2018 Mr. Husband/Michael Nau/Ghost Baby; 11:11 Cafe, Frederick MD
. 6/12/18 Snail Mail/Bonny Doon; Black Cat, Washington DC*
. 6/14/18 The Beths/Lavender; Songbyrd, Washington DC*
. 6/16/2018 Strange Wayne/The Stereophonic Heartbreak/ Middle Kid; Cafe Nola, Frederick MD
. 6/17/2018 Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks/Lithics; The Black Cat, Washington DC
. 6/21/3028 Lee Bains IIII and the Glory Fires/Bad Moves/The Sniffs; Songbyrd, Washington DC*
. 6/22/2018 Ghost Baby/Aether Fields/ Lucas Laws; 11:11 Cafe, Frederick, MD
. 6/27/2018 Zephaniah OHora; Stage on Herr, Harrisburg, PA*
. 7/12/2018 Snail Mail/Bonny Doon/Romantic States; Parkway Theater, Baltimore, MD*
. 7/14/2018 John Moreland/Old Heavy Hands; The V Club, Huntington, WV*
. 7/21/2018 Jim Shorts (solo); Cafe Nola, Frederick, MD
. 7/22/2018 Chatham County Line/Kate Rhudy; Ram’s Head On Stage, Annapolis, MD
. 7/26/2018 The Hold Steady/Beach Slang; Union Transfer, Philadelphia, PA*
. 7/27/2018 The Smashing Pumpkins/Metric; Royal Farms Arena, Baltimore, MD*
. 8/1/2018 Father John Misty/Jenny Lewis; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC*
. 8/9/2018 Qiet; Pearl Street Warehouse, Washington D.C.*
. 8/13/2018 Jim Shorts/Suggested Friends (UK)/Flooring; Soap City (House Show), Frederick, MD
. 9/15/2018 Ghost Baby/Cheshi (solo); Area 31, Frederick, MD
. 9/15/2018 Mr. Husband; Cafe Nola, Frederick, MD
. 9/17/2018 Neko Case/Thao Nguyen; Whitaker Center, Harrisburg,PA*
. 9/21/2018 Dinosaur Jr.; The Black Cat, Washington DC
. 09/29/2018 Vita and the Woolf/Super City; The Ottobar, Baltimore, MD*
. 10/5/2018 Baby Razors; Guidos, Frederick, MD
. 10/06/2016 The Thing: Cosmic Hallitosis, Flooring, Jim Shorts, Middle Kid, Cheshi, Mr. Husband; Frederick, MD*
. 10/10/2018 Leema/serpentwithfeet; The Ottobar, Baltimore, MD*
. 10/12/2018 Adam Faucett; Capital Ale House, Richmond, VA
. 10/14/2018 The Beths w/ Nowadays; Songbyrd Cafe and Music House, Washington DC*
 10/17/2018 Middle Kid (solo)/Silent Old Mts (solo) 11:11 Cafe Frederick, MD
. 10/27/2018 Ruston Kelly w/ Katie Pruitt; Jammin Java, Vienna, VA
. 10/27/2018 Cheshi w/ Fun Boys; Cafe Nola, Frederick, MD
. 10/31/2018 Rasputina; City Winery, Washington DC*
. 11/16/2018 Amasa Hines w/ Hermeda; Songbyrd Cafe and Music House, Washington DC*
. 11/29/2018 Gurf Morlix; White Water Tavern, Little Rock, AR*
. 11/30/2018 through 12/2/2018 The 2018 White Water Tavern Holiday Hangout; White Water Tavern, Little Rock, AR*
Friday 11/30/2018: Matt Woods; Isaac Hoskins and the Glass Mountain Orchestra; Kim Nall & The Fringe; DEADnettles; Tim Easton; 6 String Drag; Lee Bains and the Glory Fires
Saturday 12/1/2018: Songwriter in the Round at Lost Forty Brewing featuring Kevin Kerby, Isaac Alexander, Todd May, and Tim Easton.
Saturday 12/1/2018: Hangout at the White Water Tavern; Dazz & Brie, Hanmel on Trial, Stephen Neeper and the Wild Hearts, J Kutchma & Chasing 76, John Calvin Abney, Slobberbone
Sunday 12/2/2018: Shane Sweeney, Jim Mize, John Paul Keith, Joshua Ray Walker, Cary Hudson, Brent Best
. 12/7/2018 Baby Razors, Little Lungs, Mess; Guido’s, Frederick, MD
. 12/11/2018 Jim Shorts (David solo), Vista Kicks; DC9, Washington D.C.
. 12/15/2018 Baby Razors, Hex Girlfriends, Cheshi; Cafe Nola, Frederick, MD
*Indicates a show where the ladyfriend accompanied me. This is why our relationship works. She is the bist!!!