If Toxic Planet wasn’t already the soundtrack to a killer skate video from the Worble crew, it would be a perfect soundtrack to a raucous coming-of-age comedy from the 1980's. The songs on this album manage to perfectly replicate that era of new-wave synth pop without ever feeling too derivative. It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite track off this album, so instead I’ll just talk about what feelings are evoked by a selection of faves: for feel-good dancing, be sure to check out the sublime “Everybody Party Tonight.” For the angsty youth, check out “Living in Hell.” For depressed adults like me, “Bad Feeling” is a great way to wallow. And for a hopeful denouement, there’s the inspiring “We Got it Goin On.” There are so many fantastic moods on this album that listening to it feels like a real journey despite its short length. Overall 2018 was a great year for music, yet amid some fierce competition Cobra Man’s Toxic Planet was both my favorite surprise and most-listened-to album. Absolutely incredible stuff from the LA-based duo; I can’t recommend it highly enough.
The world lost a true legend in 2017: Charles Edward Bradley, aka “The Screaming Eagle of Soul,” who also went by “Black Velvet” when he made a living as a James Brown impersonator, passed away of cancer at age 68. His final album reclaims his old moniker, and cements his place in the pantheon of soul music’s all-time-greats. If you’ve been following Bradley’s career with Daptone Records, you’ll feel right at home with Black Velvet, which mainly consists of tracks leftover from previous studio albums, but this is far from some mere collection of B-sides and curiosities. Instead it’s yet another modern classic of the genre, beautifully crafted and absolutely brimming with the man’s incredible passion for music. I particularly loved his cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” on here, one of my all-time favorite songs that gets reinterpreted so stunningly it becomes hard to imagine it sounding any other way. Black Velvet is a truly fitting sendoff for the legendary Bradley; the bitterness of loss combined with the beauty of the art he left behind makes for a truly incredible and moving experience listening to this album.
While Like A Baby is Jerry Paper’s debut on the legendary Stones Throw Records, the artist formerly known as Zonotrope has been putting out great stuff since at least 2009. Through some fun self-mythologizing, Zonotrope’s spiritualist-electronica begat Jerry Paper, and a new era in soft-jazz dawned out of his desire to find a “less orthodox alternative spirituality.” Like A Baby is a pure joy to listen to from start to finish, from the upbeat “Your Cocoon” to the sarcastic theology of “My God.” Jerry’s music consistently toes a line between humor and sincerity that creates an incredible, unique experience for listeners. This album is staying in my rotation for a long time for a lot of reasons, but mainly because it offers something I can’t get anywhere else.
“Offering something I can’t get anywhere else” isn’t exactly what draws me to The Beths, but here we have a perfect example of stellar execution elevating a genre to new heights. Straight out of New Zealand with their debut album, alt-rockers The Beths had to overcome a lot to stand out in this age of 90's nostalgia. The title track of Future Me Hates Me immediately demonstrates they’re up to the task. With sharp, witty lyrics and tight instrumentation, The Beths lay down the gauntlet, almost daring other alt-rock bands to pull off such a trick. Upbeat banger “Uptown Girl” manages to evoke the lovable pop-punk of early Green Day without making me want to claw my ears off, while “Little Death” swells and builds to an incredible chorus that gets me air-drumming to an embarrassing degree. This is 90's alt-rock, but better than you remember it.
Next up: 2019! Thanks for reading!