2018 was a wreck of a year for me, and I’ll be glad to see the backside of it. As always music was the silver lining, and I’ve put together a playlist of the best everything 2018 had to offer us.
1. Astpai – “Feel Your Pain” – True Capacity (Jump Start Records)
“I try to remember the words to each positive song that I ever heard / I think and begin with Samson and Finn, but I end up with Oberst and Quinn”
Astpai’s True Capacity easily takes the cake as my favorite record of 2018. When I started thinking about this playlist, “Feel Your Pain” was the first track to come to mind. Singer/guitarist Zock’s lyricism and ability to turn particularly emotive phrases makes for particularly captivating music and “Feel Your Pain” showcases that talent.
I wasn’t sure the four-piece could live up to their 2015 record Burden Calls, a seminal record for me personally, but True Capacity topped it easily. Their raw, bittersweet lyrics were everything I needed to survive a tumultuous 2018.
Capture The Flag follows up War on Women’s breakout self-titled 2015 record, building on it with driving rhythm, thrashy guitar, and vocalist Shawna Potter’s signature powerhouse voice. “Silence is The Gift” showcases the band’s complete range. It simmers from a muted bass-and-guitar opening to a full-on crash-filled rager complete with winding, nearly creepy guitar riffs. Also, it’s wildly fun and exhilarating to sing along to.
The full-length is a great response to their debut, and to the male-dominated narrative in our shows, festivals and stupid year-end playlists.
I’ve got a big ole soft spot for The Penske File’s harmony and take on infusing folk with punk. Rather than slow everything down, The Penske File isn’t afraid to keep up the pace while writing unassuming, storytelling music. Salvation follows their 2015 full-length Burn Into The Earth with a rather understated reception, but I’m betting lots of folks are going to kick themselves for not discovering this three-piece earlier.
While “American Basements” is probably a bit on the cheesy side of the album, it successfully stirs up the feeling those little basement shows give you: Part secret club, part frat party for the uncool kids, and part family reunion. Just about every eastern Canadian band you know cut their touring teeth playing basement and small club shows along the snowy I-94, I-69, and I-696 triangle. Every Canadian band ends up as honorary Michiganders, and The Penske File is no exception. Here’s to hoping 2019 brings me more basement shows, preferably featuring The Penske File!
4. Dead To Me – “Fear is The New Bliss” – Fear is The New Bliss (Self Released Single)
“Wake me up, when their eyes open to the real problems / Sober enough to finally solve them”
If there ever was a dance track on this playlist, “Fear is the New Bliss” would be it. DTM’s ability to weave desperate, dark lyrics with upbeat guitar riffs and sing-song melody is uncanny. Normally I’d chastise a band for slow dripping new music out to us the way Dead To Me has over the last few years, but this track is such a banger that I can give it a pass. If this is what the bar for their fabled upcoming full-length is (rumors say 2019!) then sign me up.
5. Red City Radio – “In The Shadows” – SkyTigers (Red Scare Industries)
“I always feel like I was drowning / Drowning and I reach for air / Reaching for a hand that I now understand was never even there”
Red City Radio’s EP and first Red Scare release SkyTigers emphatically embraced their Western, Oklahoman roots but no track did it with the vigor that “In The Shadows” has. Coupled with peak four-part harmony, chugging, hard-riffing guitar and packed with devil references, it’s a perfect bit of western punk – a sub-genre that just doesn’t widely exist. It’s the lyrical grit and genre crossing we’d expect from Merle Haggard, not a punk band.
I’d usually say a five minute song is about two minutes too long, but that extra time give the track its pièce de résistance – the breakdown at 3:55. Anyway, will someone please tell me how Dallas makes that rattlesnake noise, because that shit is so rad I can’t stopped being stoked on it.
Pittsburgh’s Worlds Scariest Police Chases released their third record aptly titled Ablum 3, and while they maintained their jokester reputation they also managed to tackle tangible issues with explicitness. Evolving as a band is a difficult task, especially for bands that have built reputations on any sort of schtick (see every pop punk or political punk band) but WSPC took the challenge head-on. Ablum 3 is still packed full of riffs on popular punk bands (see: “How to Glean Everything and “Modernbaseballiswar”) but doesn’t shy away from their more serious side.
“Trigger Warning” is a great example of the band using their trademark aggression and shock value to tackle real life incidents of sexual assault and how quickly we tend to turn a blind eye to it when musicians we like are involved.
7. Dave Hause – “Shaky Jesus (Acoustic)” – September Haze (Self Released)
“She taught me focus and taught me how to praise / Like some holy Adderall”
This pick is kind of a cheater, because I listened to Dave Hause’s 2017 full-length Bury Me In Philly so much this year. I’m a dummy and completely whiffed on it last year. Fortunately Hause released an EP this past fall that included one of my favorites from Bury Me in Philly: Shaky Jesus. While the EP version is a muted, acoustic take on the track it encapsulates Hause’ lyrical wit and stellar songwriting.
Spanish Love Songs exploded this year and folks fell into two camps: people who love ’em and people who don’t have any emotions and therefore can’t relate to them. I fall in the first category, and had a hell of a time picking just one song from Schmaltz for this playlist. Even after picking “Otis / Carl” I still couldn’t decide what lyric I loved most.
Schmaltz is full of emotive, intense lyrics that still manage to maintain their relatability. In a music scene full of inside jokes and quick quips it’s gratifying to know those feelings of deep depression, joy, sadness and human experience are still ubiquitous. After loosing someone I was once close to this year, “Otis / Carl” hits home in a deeply humbling way.
Dig on the whole playlist here: