We are just past the halfway point of 2018. It’s been a fantastic year of new music thus far, so it’s a good time to look back at some of my favorite releases in my annual “In Case You Missed It” mid-year edition of RecommNeds. As in the past, I’ll run down 10 of my must-listen picks from the first half of the year, five being albums I’ve already featured in a 2018 column that I want to make sure you give a whirl and five that you may or may not have heard, but just in case you missed it … hopefully, there’s a little something for everyone.
Before we get to the picks, I want to remind you that all of this year’s RecommNeds albums are compiled in this Spotify Playlist, which is updated weekly. I’ve also put together a playlist of my 50 (or so) favorite albums from the first half of 2018. Hopefully, you find something new-to-you in there that hits you in that spot. Who knows, maybe your new favorite band is lurking in one of those playlists? I’d also like to mention that I am always on the lookout for excellent new music that might not be on my radar. Please hit me on Twitter with anything you think I should be listening to, that I might have missed. Without further ado, here are my 10 #ICYMI picks for the middle of 2018 (in alphabetical order).
Elephant 9: Greatest Show on Earth
Coming up first is Elephant 9’s Greatest Show on Earth. A good one to start with, because this might be one of the more JamBase-friendly discoveries of the year so far. For fans of bands like Medeski, Martin & Wood or the Benevento/Russo Duo, this Norwegian trio brings some thrilling jazz-rock fusion jams. Hopefully, you took my advice when I first featured this earlier in 2018, but if not, don’t make the same mistake twice! Listen to Greatest Show on Earth on Spotify.
Gitkin: 5 Star Motel
Sometimes there’s an album I think everyone’s gonna love and my enthusiastic recommendation lands with a thud. Oh well, can’t win ‘em all. Other times I’ll pass around a new discovery and get nothing but “Whoa! What is this!?!?” excitement. The latter was the uniform reaction I’ve gotten to anyone I’ve hipped to 5 Star Motel from Gitkin. Gitkin travels around the world in musical fashion, fusing together all sorts of ethnic flavors into a single album of incredible and thoughtful instrumental grooves. It’s hard to capture all that’s going on in this one, but it’s absolutely one of my favorites of the year and I think you might dig it as well. Listen to 5 Star Motel on Spotify.
GoGo Penguin: A Humdrum Star
The newest album from GoGo Penguin did not make it into a RecommNeds column this year. The British jazz trio has been featured here before, but may have outgrown the under-the-radar status. With good reason! But, if they aren’t blipping on your must-listen screen, let’s change that with A Humdrum Star — a brilliant record, top to bottom. Combining traditional piano trio jazz with modern electronica themes, it feels like they have taken a leap forward that transcends any genre or labels. Highly recommended. Listen to A Humdrum Star on Spotify.
Here Lies Man: You Will Know Nothing
One of my favorite new bands of the past couple of years is Here Lies Man. The Antibalas spin-off appeared in RecommNeds last year with their debut self-titled album and are already back with a very impressive follow up in You Will Know Nothing. The group takes traditional afrobeat and whips in some heavy-fuzz and a dose of psych-rock to create a serious new sound that’s somewhere in the overlap between boogie, zone-out and fist-pump. Which is to say, it’s pretty awesome. The new album takes things even further with new muscle and new directions. Long story short: you should be listening to Here Lies Man. Listen to You Will Know Nothing on Spotify.
Joan As Police Woman: Damned Devotion
I don’t want to forget all the wonderful songwriting that’s been put out in 2018. Joan Wasser has been playing music as Joan As Police Woman for a couple decades by now and continues to put out excellent, if not underappreciated albums. I don’t necessarily want to say that her newest record, Damned Devotion, is her best, but, well, it’s pretty damned great! Soulful and groovy and, at times, very personal, nearly every song on here is a keeper — with a couple all-timer masterpieces in there. Much to love here, give it a listen and let me know what you think. Listen to Damned Devotion on Spotify.
Khruangbin: Con Todo El Mundo
Well, Khruangbin has come a long way since they were first featured in the Weekly RecommNeds with their debut album. More people know how to pronounce their name and even more people are as smitten with their easy-listening grooves as I was when I first heard them. Their follow-up is an outstanding sophomore effort that’s put them on the map for good. Still, in case you missed it, let me give you one more chance to check out Con Todo El Mundo, the otherworldly, sexy-as-heck funk by way of Thailand and Texas and all points in between. Listen to Con Todo El Mundo on Spotify
Sam Lewis: Loversity
I have spent a good chunk of the first half of 2018 on a mission to get as many people as possible to listen to Loversity, the newest release from Sam Lewis. In fact, my efforts have led to some entertaining circular recommendation stories. Anyway, a little bit louder for those in the back: “Listen to Sam Lewis’s Loversity!” As I said when I first featured it last month, it’s “a masterpiece of soulful country-rock … so go listen and fall in love and spread the word.” Do it! Listen to Loversity on Spotify.
Mythic Sunship: Upheaval
“Wait!” you say, “I’m here for the heavy jams (preferably from Denmark)!” All right, all right, heavy Eurojams you want, heavy Eurojams I’ve got. Released on the blow-your-mind-everytime El Paraiso label, Upheaval, the newest album from Mythic Sunship is four extended tracks of deep mind-altering jamming of the highest degree. This one came out back in January, so there’s a chance you might have missed it, or haven’t picked it up in a while. I think it’s time to rectify that. Tune in and drop out. Listen to Upheaval on Spotify.
Michael Rault: It’s A New Day Tonight
While I often tend to hit the extremes here at the RecommNeds from the longest psych-jammers, to the quietest ambient, to the most personal songwriting, there’s plenty of love for the middle ground. Michael Rault’s new record, It’s A New Day Tonight, is an epic that combines killer songs and just enough classic rock explosions. Every track is something to dig into and savor. I didn’t find a good spot to feature this one in any column yet this year, so this is as good a time as any to make sure you don’t miss it. Absolutely one of the year’s best! Listen to It’s A New Day Tonight on Spotify.
Erika Wennerstrom: Sweet Unknown
Every year there are one or two albums that you just keep coming back to over and over again and each time it just seems to get better and better. So far this year that album for me has been Erika Wennerstrom’s solo debut Sweet Unknown. On the closing track, “Gravity,” the Heartless Bastards frontwoman sings “Getting to know myself in a way I’ve never known” and that just about sums up this very personal record. Each song feels like witnessing another step in an intense cathartic personal discovery. Also, they’re all amazing, grow-on-you songs top to bottom. A truly powerful release and a perfect one to end on. I hope you make some new discoveries of your own. Listen to Sweet Unknown on Spotify and let me know what you think.