Best Albums of 2018 (First Half)

I posted my 26th Annual Albums of the Year Report just after Thanksgiving 2017, as is my usual practice. This means that late May of 2018 should be the regular time for my annual six-month report on the subsequent year. But it’s a dreary Saturday in Chicago today (again), I’m getting back into a more regular travel mode in a couple of weeks, and there’s a wealth of goodness to cite for the five-plus months behind us . . . so today seems a good day to get the list out, even if it’s a couple of weeks early.

So behold! The 16 albums that have moved me most in 2018 (thus far) are listed below, alphabetically by artist. No full reviews for now, but each link will take you where you need to go to explore the artists and albums in question. I see a few in here that have the scent and gravitas of “Album of the Year” material about them, but we shall see what the next six months bring. One thing I’ve learned over the years in doing and documenting these sorts of things is how much my opinions can change in a six month period, as early faves wear out their welcomes, or things rise up the ladder due to repeated listening. Happy listening to each of these discs now, in any case!

Beach House, 7

The Body, I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer.

Che Guevara T-Shirt, Seven Out, Pay the Don’ts

The Damned, Evil Spirits

Drinks, Hippo Lite

Ezra Furman, Transangelic Exodus

First Aid Kit, Ruins

Goat Girl, Goat Girl

Anna von Hausswolff, Dead Magic

HOGG, SELF-EXTINGUISHING EMISSION

Hailu Mergia, Lala Belu

Ministry, AmeriKKKant

Napalm Death, Coded Smears and More Uncommon Slurs

No Age, Snares Like a Haircut

Sons of Kemet, Your Queen Is a Reptile

Xylouris White, Mother

My Top 200 Albums Of All Time (2018 Update)

A couple of years have passed since I last refreshed my all-time favorite albums list, and when a friend recently noted that my alleged Top 200 roster actually contained 202 entries, I figured it was time for an update.

I’ve been keeping a master list of favorite albums since the very early ’70s, when I was a grade school Steppenwolf fan. My tastes have evolved dramatically over the years (though I still like Steppenwolf), so I review and update this list periodically, dropping things that haven’t aged well, and adding new things that excite me and seem to have staying power.

For many years, this was a “Top 100 List,” but as I’ve gotten older, I feel entitled to expand the roster beyond the century mark, since I’ve listened to a whole lot more music now than I had when I was younger. I also used to exclude “Greatest Hits” and other compilation or live albums, but I’ve gotten less uptight about that, too, since for some artists, their best work may have appeared on singles that only saw long-form release in the form of “Best Of” collections.

So here’s the update, in alphabetical order by artist name. As soon as I post this list, I will invariably change my mind about something, but that’s the beauty of updates, right? Watch this space in 2020 to see what I got wrong this time!

  1. AC/DC: Back in Black
  2. Allison, Mose: Swingin’ Machine
  3. Bauhaus: The Sky’s Gone Out
  4. Beef: Stink, Stank, Stunk
  5. Beefheart, Captain and the Magic Band: Clear Spot
  6. Beefheart, Captain and the Magic Band: The Spotlight Kid
  7. Beefheart, Captain and the Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica
  8. Birthday Party: Junkyard
  9. Black Flag: Damaged
  10. Bogmen: Life Begins at 40 Million
  11. Bonzo Dog Band: Keynsham
  12. Bonzo Dog Band: The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse
  13. Bowie, David: “Heroes”
  14. Bowie, David: Low
  15. Bowie, David: Lodger
  16. Bowie, David: Blackstar
  17. Burning Spear: Marcus Garvey
  18. Bush, Kate: Hounds of Love
  19. Butthole Surfers: Hairway to Steven
  20. Butthole Surfers: Locust Abortion Technician
  21. Camberwell Now: All’s Well
  22. Camper Van Beethoven: Camper Van Beethoven
  23. Cave, Nick and the Bad Seeds: Henry’s Dream
  24. Cave, Nick and the Bad Seeds: Tender Prey
  25. Chance The Rapper: Coloring Book
  26. Chap: Mega Breakfast
  27. Che Guevara T-Shirt: Everyone That’s Dead Was Obviously Wrong
  28. Check Engine: Check Engine
  29. Christian Death: Catastrophe Ballet
  30. Clash: Combat Rock
  31. Clutch: Elephant Riders
  32. Clutch: Robot Hive/Exodus
  33. Clutch: Psychic Warfare
  34. Coil: Love’s Secret Domain
  35. Coil: Backwards
  36. Coil: Horse Rotorvator
  37. Coil: The Ape of Naples
  38. Collider: WCYF
  39. Cramps: Bad Music for Bad People
  40. Cypress Hill: Cypress Hill
  41. Dälek: Absence
  42. Dälek: Gutter Tactics
  43. Davis, Jed: Small Sacrifices Must Be Made
  44. Death Grips: Ex-Military
  45. Death Grips: Government Plates
  46. Department of Eagles: The Cold Nose
  47. Devo: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo
  48. Dogbowl: Flan
  49. Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment: Surf
  50. Dunnery, Francis: Tall Blonde Helicopter
  51. Eagles: Desperado
  52. Earth, Wind and Fire: All n’ All
  53. Einsturzende Neubauten: Halber Mensch
  54. Einsturzende Neubauten: Haus der Luge
  55. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Tarkus
  56. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Trilogy
  57. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Brain Salad Surgery
  58. Eno, Brian: Here Come the Warm Jets
  59. Eno, Brian: Another Green World
  60. Eno, Brian: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
  61. Eno, Brian: Before And After Science
  62. Fall: Hex Enduction Hour
  63. Fall: Imperial Wax Solvent
  64. Family: Bandstand
  65. Family: Fearless
  66. Fear: The Record
  67. First Aid Kit: Stay Gold
  68. Fleetwood Mac: Future Games
  69. Fleetwood Mac: Bare Trees
  70. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours
  71. Focus: Live At The Rainbow
  72. Fripp, Robert: Exposure
  73. Funkadelic: Maggotbrain
  74. Funkadelic: American Eats Its Young
  75. Gabriel, Peter: Peter Gabriel (III/Melt)
  76. Gang of Four: Entertainment!
  77. Gay Tastee: Songs for the Sodomites
  78. Genesis: Duke
  79. Genesis: Abacab
  80. Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
  81. Goat: World Music
  82. Good Rats: Birth Comes to Us All
  83. Good Rats: Tasty
  84. Grand Mal: Binge/Purge
  85. Grateful Dead: American Beauty
  86. Grateful Dead: Workingman’s Dead
  87. Hall, Daryl: Sacred Songs
  88. Hall, Terry and Mushtaq: The Hour Of Two Lights
  89. Hanslick Rebellion: The Rebellion is Here
  90. Hawkwind: Doremi Fasol Latido
  91. Hawkwind: Space Ritual
  92. Head, Jowe and the Demi-Monde: Diabolical Liberties
  93. Hitchcock, Robyn and the Egyptians: Element of Light
  94. Human Sexual Response: 14
  95. Human Sexual Response: In a Roman Mood
  96. Husker Du: Zen Arcade
  97. Jarre, Jean-Michel: Equinoxe
  98. Jesu/Sun Kil Moon: Jesu/Sun Kil Moon
  99. Jethro Tull: Songs From the Wood
  100. Jethro Tull: The Broadsword and the Beast
  101. JethroTull: Heavy Horses
  102. Jethro Tull: Thick as a Brick
  103. Jethro Tull: A Passion Play
  104. Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures
  105. Joy Division: Closer
  106. Juluka: Scatterlings
  107. Kamikaze Hearts: Oneida Road
  108. Keineg, Katell: Jet
  109. Killdozer: Twelve Point Buck
  110. King Crimson: Starless and Bible Black
  111. King Crimson: Red
  112. King Crimson: Live in Chicago
  113. King Crimson: Lizard
  114. Korn: The Paradigm Shift
  115. Kraftwerk: Trans-Europe Express
  116. Kraftwerk: Minimum-Maximum
  117. Kurki-Suonio, Sanna: Musta
  118. Laurels: L
  119. Melvins: (A) Senile Animal
  120. Michael Nyman: A Zed and Two Noughts (Original Soundtrack)
  121. Minutemen: Double Nickels on the Dime
  122. Mitchel, Joni: For the Roses
  123. Mitchell, John Cameron and Stephen Trask: Hedwig And The Angry Inch
  124. Mos Def: The Ecstatic
  125. Mould, Bob: District Line
  126. Napalm Death: Time Waits For No Slave
  127. Napalm Death: Utilitarian
  128. Napalm Death: Apex Predator — Easy Meat
  129. New Order: Movement
  130. New Order: Power, Corruption and Lies
  131. Octopus: Restless Night
  132. Parliament: Chocolate City
  133. Pas/Cal: I Was Raised on Matthew, Mark, Luke and Laura
  134. Pere Ubu: The Modern Dance
  135. Pere Ubu: Terminal Tower
  136. Phair, Liz: Exile in Guyville
  137. Pink Floyd: The Dark Side of the Moon
  138. Pink Floyd: The Wall
  139. Prieboy, Andy: The Questionable Profits of Pure Novelty
  140. Prieboy, Andy: Upon My Wicked Son
  141. Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet
  142. R.E.M.: Life’s Rich Pageant
  143. Renaldo and the Loaf: Songs for Swinging Larvae
  144. Replacements: Let It Be
  145. Replacements: Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash
  146. Robbins, Marty: Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs
  147. Rolling Stones: Exile on Main St.
  148. Roxy Music: For Your Pleasure
  149. Rundgren, Todd: Healing
  150. Rush: Signals
  151. Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel: Nail
  152. Sepultura: Roots
  153. Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols
  154. Shriekback: Oil and Gold
  155. Simon and Garfunkel: Sounds of Silence
  156. Six Feet Under: Warpath
  157. Small Axe: A Shot to the Body
  158. Smiths: Hatful of Hollow
  159. Smiths: Louder Than Bombs
  160. Snog: Last of the Great Romantics
  161. Sonin, K.: The Definition of Stupidity is Doing the Same Thing 34 Times and Expecting Different Results
  162. Special A.K.A.: In the Studio
  163. Steely Dan: Aja
  164. Steely Dan: The Royal Scam
  165. Steely Dan: Can’t Buy A Thrill
  166. Steppenwolf: Gold
  167. Swans: Filth
  168. Swans: Holy Money
  169. Talking Heads: Fear of Music
  170. Television Personalities: Closer to God
  171. Thighpaulsandra: The Golden Communion
  172. This Heat: Deceit
  173. Tosh, Peter: Mama Africa
  174. Tragic Mulatto: Italians Fall Down and Look Up Your Dress
  175. Tsukerman, Slava et. al.: Liquid Sky (Original Soundtrack)
  176. Utopia: Utopia
  177. Utopia: Swing to the Right
  178. Van Halen: Van Halen
  179. Various Artists: If You Can’t Please Yourself, You Can’t Please Your Soul
  180. Vek, Tom: Luck
  181. Wailer, Bunny: Blackheart Man
  182. Wall of Voodoo: Happy Planet
  183. Wall of Voodoo: Seven Days in Sammystown
  184. Wasted: We Are Already in Hell
  185. Weasels: Uranus or Bust
  186. Weasels: AARP Go the Weasels
  187. Ween: Quebec
  188. Ween: The Mollusk
  189. Who: Who’s Next
  190. Wings: Band on the Run
  191. Wings: Venus and Mars
  192. Wire: The Ideal Copy
  193. Wire: Silver/Lead
  194. XTC: Black Sea
  195. XTC: English Settlement
  196. Yes: The Yes Album
  197. Yes: Fragile
  198. Young, Neil and Crazy Horse: re-ac-tor
  199. Zappa, Frank and the Mothers of Invention: One Size Fits All
  200. Zappa, Frank: Joe’s Garage, Parts I, II and III

Che Guevara T-Shirt, “Seven Out, Pay The Don’ts”

If you trawl back through my website, you’ll find a fair number of fond mentions of Che Guevara T-Shirt, a venerable, unusual, and ever more exceptional noise rock band from Albany, New York. That list of enthusiastic cites gets one entry longer this month with the release of the group’s seventh record, Seven Out, Pay The Don’ts, a five cut slab of dense, deep delirium that slams and knots its way to transcendence over a tangled 34-minute run.

CGT was formed around 2005 by Albany-scene veterans K Sonin and Matt Heuston, and the group’s earliest lineups and releases hewed to a fairly traditional guitar-bass-drum-vox paradigm, though their music was more elliptical, mathematical, and challenging than what the sneaker-gazing brigade was mostly offering at the time. Sometime before their stellar 2013 breakthrough album, Everyone That’s Dead Was Obviously Wrong, Heuston and Sonin dramatically reinvented the group’s sonic palette and approach by setting aside their customary instruments (bass and lead guitar) and taking up a pair of baritone guitars in their stead.

That instrumental change was substantial and transformative, allowing the pair to create a dynamic front line of equally-equipped sonic adventurers, taking their winding explorations of mutated riffs and atonal licks in directions that I’ve frankly never heard probed before, on stage or on record. 2016’s Tsarskoye Selo found Sonin and Heuston working out a trio format with drummer John Olander with exceptional results, as the early frantic rhythms slowed a bit, the songs stretched out more, the interplay of the baritones became more baroque and bizarre, and the grinding riffs just got positively huge.

How do you build on that trend line of success? In CGT’s case, they decided to add even more power and heft to the mix by recruiting bassist Chris Reach into the band, and then commissioning Justin Pizzoferrato (whose C.V. includes work with such noisy icons as Dinosaur, Jr., Lou Barlow, The Pixies, Kim Gordon, and many others) to engineer their sessions. I know I’ve already used a lot of superlative adjectives in framing this review, so to get a sense of the results of these systemic adjustments without me repeating myself, take all of those descriptors used thus far and add some more “-ers” and “-ests” to them, and you’ll get the general gist of the outcome. It’s a really, really good record, at bottom line, and its power and punch is palpable.

Opening track “Scar Tissue Abscond” leaps out to blocks so quickly that you feel like you’re in the middle of a mighty song ten seconds into the track, as Sonin exhorts that “No one will hear me scream / No one can hear me sing” over a Titanic descending riff that eventually resolves into an intricate, up-and-down, voice-and-bari figure built around the most dense lyric on the disc. “Triplet” adds a bit more swing to the mix in its early going, loosening the claustrophic hold a bit, then devolves into a fabulous skronky-meets-carny duel at the upper ends of the baritones’ range in its mid-section, before stomping itself to death in its own juices with an ending just as abrupt as the album’s start.

“Rose Hips” is the first of two nine-minute plus numbers at the back end of the record, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “pretty,” it does contain some melodic elements that sweeten the thunderous syncopations framing its construction. Sonin’s voice floats ghostly atop this one, murmuring that “it’s no use being awake when you’re not here, rose hips tease my eyes, hide . . . ” While I can’t quite say that this song (or anything that CGT do) is rich in traditional guitar solos, I will note that the extra sonic space provided by the new bass guitar does allow for more clarity and exploration in the high end of the register, and that’s used to most fine effect here.

“Hot Little Number” is almost exactly what it says it is, a crunchy stomper of a song that builds and builds to something just shy of a visceral crescendo, then stops without the expected moment of release and resolution at its tail. The unsettled taste at that point is a perfect launching point into the clamorous swirl of album-closer “Song,” which alternates silences, concussions, unresolved chords, atonal figures, and unexpected changes into a wild excursion of perfectly planned chaos. “In the sickness inside, I wrote my song,” sings Sonin in the album’s final lyrical stanza, before a three-minute feedback workout carries the record into an exhausted void of its own making. Wow.

It ain’t easy listening, that’s for sure, but it is highly rewarding, and marks another move up the quality Y-axis as Heuston, Sonin and their evolving cast of cohorts push their sonic envelope ever closer to its tearing point with each subsequent release. I am glad to note that this new record and their complete back catalog are now readily available on iTunes and other standard outlets, as they’ve been a bit hard to come by in the past on a variety of less stable platforms. I highly recommend Seven Out, Pay The Don’ts, and then encourage an exploration through the CGT archives for those of you who like to be stirred and challenged in your musical choices. And I certainly look forward to hearing what they come up with next time they hit the studio, as I expect them to swing big and connect again, making my record collection one disc better in the process.

Click the album cover to score your own copy of the disc from Noreaster Failed Industries.

The Fall: A Top Ten List

A continuation of thoughts from And This Day: Mark Edward Smith (1957-2018) . . .

Marcia and I spent the past week in Hawai’i. On the (long) flights between Maui Kahului and Chicago O’Hare, I spent much of the time with headphones on, deeply appreciating a setlist of about 50 Fall Songs that I’d culled after the unfortunate early passing of Mark E. Smith in January. The (long) travel time provided a good period of focused listening and reflection on the amazing body of work that MES (as he’s regularly referenced among Fall fans — and why I use “JES” in my own short-hand notes) left behind for us all. I was equally moved by “classic” songs composed by a young man full of piss and vinegar, and by latter day works, when mortality had clearly intruded in the songwriter’s consciousness.

MES’s funeral took place while we were in Hawai’i, and his sisters released a statement today on The Official Fall Website that read:

We would like to thank family, friends and fans for all their kind words, condolences and memories about our brother Mark. Also, the N.H.S and staff who treated Mark throughout and Mark’s partner Pam who loved, cared and cherished our brother. Mark fought a long and hard battle after his diagnosis of terminal lung and kidney cancer.  He took every treatment going, which could be brutal at times and left Mark with some horrible side effects. Mark was such a strong man and hated letting his fans down and tried to carry on regardless against all advice. Mark had a great life and loved and lived it to the full and always by his own rules and we, as his sisters were privileged to be part of it too. Mark is at peace now and pain free, but we, his three sisters have been left heartbroken and will miss our big brother very much.

Barbara, Suzanne and Caroline.

I was very sad to learn what took Mark away from us, as it made clear the struggle he’d endured in recent months/years — and removed any “he died peacefully in his sleep, and he never knew what was coming” wishful thinking from the mix. His end was hard, and that makes his final album(s) and concert(s) all the more meaningful and amazing, as he was obviously creating and performing with full knowledge that he did not have much time remaining to do so, and was suffering in the process. MES was truly inspiring until the very end. I doff my cap to him, again and again, and I thank him for all the joy he provided me and so many other Fall Fans over the years.

I should note that Fall Fans are a diverse, global lot with myriad interests (musical and otherwise), though if anything binds us (beyond our obvious love for the Fall’s music and the musicians who made/played it), I would offer that it’s a love of list-making, data gathering, analysis and/or debate — as perhaps best evidenced by the ways in which the most seemingly mundane topics regarding The Fall routinely receive deep and thoughtful dives over at the Fall Online Forum (FOF), where I was long a regular contributor. Since MES’s death, I’ve read and digested boodles and boodles of tributes and lists and stories at the FOF and elsewhere, many of which I agree with, and many of which . . . well, not so much.

There are about 520 songs that have been recorded or played live by The Fall over the past 40 years, and as my own final tribute here to Mark E. Smith and The Fall, I offer my personal “Top Ten List of Greatest Fall Songs Ever” below. I’m defaulting to studio album versions for the links embedded in my list, though many Fall Fans will often cite Peel Session or other live versions as definitive. There’s no right answer, ever, when it comes to The Fall.

If you value my tastes and recommendations and want to learn more about The Fall, then these may be good places to start investigating. But if these don’t do it for you, then I most heartily recommend you explore any of the other 510 songs, as I’ll wager there’s a gem in the canon somewhere that will appeal to you, and once you establish that initial connection, it will itch and itch at you, and you will want to hear more (or all) of it, I promise.

#10. “Dr Bucks’ Letter” (2000, from The Unutterable)

#9. “Mountain Energei” (2003, from The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country On The Click))

#8. “Who Makes the Nazis?” (1982, from Hex Enduction Hour)

#7. “Weather Report 2” (2010, from Your Future Our Clutter)

#6. “Alton Towers” (2008, from Imperial Wax Solvent)

#5. “The Container Drivers” (1980, from Grotesque (After The Gramme))

#4. “Fall Sound” (2007, from Reformation Post TLC)

#3. “Fantastic Life” (1981, from Lie Dream of A Casino Soul (single))

#2. “Blindness” (2005, from Fall Heads Roll)

#1. “Noel’s Chemical Effluence” (1995, from The Twenty-Seven Points)

And This Day: Mark Edward Smith (1957-2018)

Legendary English singer, songwriter and group leader Mark E. Smith of The Fall died this morning, some four decades after embarking on one of the most remarkable careers in modern music history. The Fall’s studio canon is sprawling and epic in its depth, breadth, variety and quality, while the group’s live performances have given generations of rock scribblers fodder and thrilled countless punters with the chaotic, organic greatness the group concocted on their best nights. (Though even their worst nights were delicious chaotic marvels on some plane).

I have long been a big fan of The Fall (very professional), citing them as my favorite band for many years, and I wrote in glowing terms about their last studio album, New Facts Emerge, just this past August. It was their 31st or 32nd album, depending on how one feels about their 1981 release, Slates. (Whether that’s an EP or an LP is a deeply divisive topic among certain sectors of The Fall’s fandom). (Though it is an EP, for the record). The group had announced a (very rare) set of American dates last fall to support their new disc, and played a few English gigs after the album’s release, but cancellations (including all of the U.S. shows) were rife. Smith’s onstage appearance during his final concerts (wheelchair bound, arm in a sling, face terribly swollen) was cause for alarm for some — while others saluted the great man for honoring his commitments, doing his job, and being with the audiences who loved him, doubters be damned. I tend to side with the latter camp.

The Fall have been routinely and tediously cited by the music press for their high rates of personnel turnover over the years, but Smith had worked with a stable bass-guitar-drum lineup for over a decade before his death, and my admiration and respect for those three (Keiron Melling, Dave Spurr, and Peter Greenway) is most high, especially for helping their boss rock hard as his own body was failing him. They had their own unique Fall Sound, and some of their records rate as favorites among the long lines of vinyl, plastic, and digital bits that have entertained and awed me for decades. Bravo, gentlemen. You made a glorious racket and were a very fine Fall group.

Regarding their chief, I have long considered Mark E. Smith to be the same sort of musical genius as George Clinton, or Captain Beefheart, or Brian Eno, or David Thomas. They are all organizers and shepherds with very clear visions of what they want from their songs, along with the persuasive skills to extract stellar performances from musicians who might never before nor ever after ascend to such heights. None of those aforementioned visionaries are ace guitarists, or skilled keyboardists, or deeply technical arrangers, or even particularly good singers, but the players they surround themselves with — their teams — are managed in such deft ways as to spark and deliver brilliance, time and time again, in original and often highly unusual styles.

Mark E. Smith was also that greatest of literary devices: a character. Quotable, irascible, intelligent, badly behaved except when he wasn’t, wearing his opinions on his sleeve, sharing his tastes with anyone who’d talk to him, largely unfiltered, mostly impolitic, deeply irreverent, consistently cantankerous, and entertaining to the Nth degree, always. I just liked watching and listening to him talk, even if I couldn’t understand what was coming out of his mouth much of the time. There’s none like him that I know, and none likely to ever fill such a unique creative niche, for so long, so well, again. Well done, Mark. Well done, indeed.

On a personal front, I’ve spent well over a decade as an active member of the Fall Online Forum, one of the most bizarrely delightful digital communities I’ve ever had the pleasure to haunt, and the depth of commitment and passion that cabal devotes to the group that binds them is extraordinary. (I most recently wrote about the “FOF” in my 2017 Year in Review, here). As it turns out, I had put myself on a sabbatical from the Forum just a short time ago — which is interesting (to me), because I did the same thing in the prior online community where I spent most of my (online) time prior to the FOF, just before its own inspiring light died. I don’t know if my radar is sensitive to that sort of impending change or what, but it’s a bit deja vu and disconcerting feeling for me right now, in any event. I do wish my friends at the FOF well. This is a world-jolter there, and here.

At bottom line, it’s the end of an era for The Fall: who are always different, and now never the same again . . .

Mark E. Smith with the last of the lads in the Fall. They were a good crew, and served him well to the end. RIP.

 

Best Albums of 2017 (Addendum): “In The Presence of Presents 2017” by Jed Davis

I usually do my annual “Best Albums of The Year” report in late November or early December, before the craziness of the year end, and because it usually takes me more than a month to decide that I want to include something on the list anyway. (Here’s the 2017 Best List, the 26th consecutive annual one I’ve published). The downside of this approach, of course, is that sometimes I miss some truly worthy late-in-the-year releases, and those don’t get captured on the report. That happened in the waning moments of 2017, so let me tell you about one more essential disc from the year that was . . .

Jed Davis, In the Presence of Presents 2017: If you search for Jed Davis on this blog, you get a lot of results, because I consider Jed to be one of the finest songwriters of the past quarter-century, and he’s a damned fine musician, artist, singer, and writer to boot. A real renaissance rocker. Jed actually did get a mention in the introduction of the 2017 Best Albums list, as I cited The Hanslick Rebellion (they are one of Jed’s bands) with Single of the Year for their zeitgeist-defining “Who’ll Apologize For This Disaster Of A Life?” But damned if Jed didn’t slip in a year-end album-length surprise with the third of his occasional In the Presence of Presents series (now issued in 2003, 2006, and 2017), and it’s a corker.

Here’s the concept: each edition of In the Presence of Presents includes one holiday themed original song, paired with nine non-holiday covers. Simple! But, of course, in such an endeavor, song selection, arrangements, and performances make all the difference, and Jed’s three-for-three again on those fronts this time around. To give you a sense of the breadth of the covers, he’s got songs by (among others) The Beach Boys, Juliana Hatfield, Jobriath, Judee Sill, Patrik Fitzgerald, Yaz, and Kendrick Lamar. (In the last two cases, actually, that’s only one song, and it’s a mashup made in heaven). And then there’s “Wonder Woman,” by Billy Joel’s so-awful-it’s-amazing early band Attila. It is a thing, for sure, and Jed and ace session drummer Joe Abba make it an even better thing, absolutely.

Abba appears on several tracks, as does indie-superstar guitarist Avi Buffalo, while The Hanslick Rebellion, Anton and Lewis Patzner (Judgment Day), and Maryanne Fennimore appear on a cut apiece. Jed provides his usual display of sure-fingered playing on organ, guitar, bass, piano, Rhodes Piano Bass, percussion and the dreaded Baldwin Fun Machine, which brings the perfect amount of period cheese to Beach Boys’ deep cut “Busy Doin’ Nothin'”. He’s also in fine voice throughout the proceedings here, with some excellent harmonic arrangement making things sweet when they need to be, often with a little dash of bitter for leavening. Mmm, that’s good.

Speaking of harmonies: this year’s original Jed Davis holiday song — “Peditum Quod Festum Nativitatis Delevit” — is performed in Latin with but eight voices, and its narrative revolves around one of the very few things that have amused human beings from all cultures since deepest antiquity, and will no doubt continue to amuse us until we’re eventually wiped from the face of the earth (hopefully not in 2018). You’ve gotta hear it to believe it, and I know you too will be amused when you do. Ho ho ho!!!

Oh! And did I mention the part about “presents?” Well, this is one to us from Jed: you can nab it all for free by clicking on the album cover below. (And then get the earlier installments by clicking on these links: 20062003). (And then explore the amazing collection of albums Jed has helmed over the years involving a truly unbelievable collection of musicians at The Congregation of Vapors).