GLS Year In Review: Daniel Picks His Top 10 Local Records of 2018
Over the course of the last year, it’s been an absolute joy to serve as one of the editors for Georgia Local Spotlight. Working with our editor-in-chief, Sarah-Anne, and our staff of dedicated and immensely talented volunteer writers has been a challenging, but continually thrilling and horizon-broadening experience - one that has expanded and refined a long list of skill sets for me, and introduced me to some of the best music being made anywhere. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that - I truly believe that the state of Georgia is home to some of the most creative, gifted, profoundly thoughtful and genuine artists in the world today, and I’m immensely proud to have come to know many of them thanks to my work with GLS.
It’s quite fair to conclude that 2018 was an explosive year for Georgia local music - one that has been marked by one outstanding, noteworthy release after another. And with that in mind, you might be able to imagine how difficult it was to select just ten local records to call my personal favorites. However, after careful consideration and countless revisions, I eventually arrived at the list below. Take it with a grain of salt, and if you’re interested in checking out all that our most recent collective trip around the sun had to offer in the way of local music, by all means, don’t stop here. There’s more compelling, powerful art that has been and is being made than any one person (or organization) can keep track of.
So with all that being said, and without further adieu, here are my top ten local EPs/albums of 2018. Some I’ve reviewed previously, some I’ve only recently even given a proper listen. But all are phenomenal records that had a profound impact on me, personally, in one way or another.
10. Hard Fabric - The Best Part of Being Young, the Worst Part of Growing Up
I did myself a terrible disservice by putting off giving this warm, clever, heartfelt indie/folk LP from Atlanta’s Hard Fabric a spin for the longest time, and I’m glad I finally set aside the time to check it out earlier this month. Better late than never, right? Simply on a strictly musical level, “Best Part” is superb. Chill, laid-back, house-show-sing-along-ready melodies abound, and the LP features several intriguing shifts of mood, texture, and instrumentation. However, it’s Brendan Roberts’ earnest, reflective lyrics that chiefly command my attention. Not only are they consistently sharp, witty, observant, and downright poetic, but they brim with a rare, priceless, hard-won optimism. Roberts emphasizes compassion, cooperation, and care (both for others and for oneself) in his songs, and when he’s not tackling themes of wide-reaching cultural significance, he’s exploring equally important ideas concerning personal growth, development, and discovery, reflecting on the opportunities for self-improvement to be found even in times of pain and discomfort, treating difficult emotions with grace, humor and sensitivity. On top of all of that, “Best Part” is also exquisitely mixed and expertly produced, offering listeners a distinctively organic, stripped down, but finely nuanced sound that perfectly compliments intimate, introspective nature of Hard Fabric’s music.
9. Jay Americana - Like You’ve Seen a Ghost
I learned of Jay Americana and got into their music thanks in no small part to my longtime friend Carson Pace of The Callous Daoboys. Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure Carson even knows that he’s responsible for the introduction, but he certainly is. His advertising of the mixed-genre shows the Daoboys have played with Jay, and his very vocal support for their work in the Atlanta DIY scene convinced me to sit down and listen through a song or two, and that was enough to pique my interest. I kept tabs on Jay, and it wasn’t long before the summer of 2018 had arrived, and with it, Like You’ve Seen a Ghost. Revolving, for the most part, around themes of loss, isolation, regret, and crumbling relationships, the album is poignant and moving, and though it’s one of the most concise releases on this list (clocking in, overall, at just eighteen minutes or so), the record manages to convey a lot in the time allotted it. Featuring contributions from and collaborations with a wide array of additional producers and artists, but never failing to maintain a sense of unity, consistency, and coherence, Like You’ve Seen a Ghost is a testament to Jay Americana’s formidable talents not only as a writer and performer, but as a curator of unique sounds with an ear for those who share their artistic vision.
8. Indigo Innuendo - Happiness Illusion
Indigo Innuendo is one of those rare bands that seem to come out of nowhere like a bolt of lightning. With the release of their outstanding debut EP Happiness Illusion earlier this year, the band arrived in style, boasting a fully realized, richly textured sound that I tend to describe as a sort of dark, dreamy art rock. Lyrically, Happiness Illusion touches on questions of critical existential significance, daring listeners to consider exactly what it means to be truly happy, and whether or not the ideals traditionally associated with happiness in the context of western culture can actually lead us there. It’s intense subject matter, I know, but thankfully, for those who might not feel like getting too terribly philosophical by diving into the songs’ text, there’s plenty of infectious melodies and captivating grooves to go around and carry one through, regardless of whether they’re fully invested in the EP’s concept or not. Either way, this record is a rewarding listen, and one that I’ve returned to frequently as the last several months have unfolded.
7. Sarah and the Safe Word - Red Hot & Holy
Have you been feeling feverish lately? If so, it could be that you have a cold, thanks to Georgia’s unpredictable weather patterns, and need to see a doctor...but it could also be that, perhaps, you’ve just been listening to this top-notch EP from Sarah and the Safe Word on repeat (like pretty much everyone else in the Atlanta music scene since its release in late October) and are merely experiencing the natural symptoms of falling in love with a band and a record that are quite honestly unlike anything else around. Safe Word’s unmistakably massive, highly eclectic and theatrical “cabaret rock” sound is on full display across all 7 of Red Hot and Holy’s constituent tracks.. Lead singer Sarah Rose’s vocals - full as they are of emotion and intrigue - make each song all the more captivating (which is really saying something, because songs about pirates and Ghost Rider-style satanic race car drivers are already pretty damn interesting to begin with), as do the lush, cinematic string arrangements of Susy Reyes and Courtney Varner and Beth Ballinger’s jazz-tinged piano playing. Add to all of that the group’s rock and roll heart - fellow GLS contributor Kienan Dietrich’s impeccably tasteful guitar playing, Maddox Reksten’s powerful basslines, and Sam Freeman’s tight, driving work behind the drum kit - and you’ve got a particularly potent “bitch’s brew” (to reference a lyric from Red Hot and Holy’s closing track, “Lit Cigarette”).
6. Starbenders - Julian
Between joining grunge legends Alice in Chains for their tour in support of Rainer Fog and heading off to Japan for a string of headlining dates following the signing of a brand new distribution deal, it’s safe to say 2018 has been one hell of a year for Atlanta’s resident glam rock gods Starbenders, and the arrival of Julian is what kicked it all off. I first listened to the EP shortly after its release in January, and it’s been in regular rotation ever since. All the things that make Starbenders a force to be reckoned with are present on Julian, from Kimi Shelter’s quirky, aggressive vocals and explosive guitar playing (which melds seamlessly with that of Kris Tokaji, the band’s second guitarist who more often than not plays lead), to the pounding, monolithic grooves laid down by the rhythm section of bassist Aaron Lecesne and drummer Emily Moon. The band’s songwriting is, as always, incredibly strong, and each track on the EP is every bit as catchy as it is powerful, marked by massive, spellbinding melodic hooks and pure attitude.
5. Spurge - Spurge
I’ve long striven to be an advocate for Georgia’s progressive/experimental artists, so naturally, when GLS received a review submission email from a self-described “psychedelic prog” band called Spurge, my interest was piqued, and the decision to check out their new record was an easy one to make. With my first listen through the eponymous LP, it instantly became one of my favorite releases of the year. A bold, thrilling, delightfully unpredictable and highly creative musical journey that winds its way through lavish post rock soundscapes, sporadic mini-suites that draw on the avant garde jazz tradition, earthy folk ballads, and live jams that are vaguely Grateful Dead-esque, Spurge is a remarkable album from a remarkable band, and principle composer and bandleader Jen Hodges has a lot to be proud of.
4. Ryan Buck - 10-13
As a bass player, I find Ryan Buck’s 10-13 to be both inspiring and infuriating. The EP is inspiring because it’s quite simply one of the finest experimental metal/jazz fusion records I’ve heard from anyone, anywhere in quite some time, and because Buck’s prowess as a composer and a player is utterly jaw-dropping on every level. It’s infuriating because I will never, in a million years attain the same level of technical mastery and sonic creativity that Buck possesses. Oh well. I suppose I should just learn to be content basking in the unmatched brilliance of a bass legend in the making.
3. Hymnal Moths - Be Felt
The title of this sophomore LP from Hymnal Moths is apt, because it’s an album that is not merely meant to be heard, but indeed felt. A meticulously crafted exercise in melancholy, Be Felt is deeply, profoundly moving - the Platonic ideal of a southern gothic/post rock release. Subdued ambient electronics ebb and flow, lending a ghostly quality to each track’s minimalist folk instrumentation and gentle vocal melodies. A haunting listening experience from start to finish, Be Felt sees the duo of Clayton Dean and James Merritt craft something truly unforgettable.
2. Satyr - Neutrino!
Satyr’s meteoric rise to prominence in the Atlanta DIY scene has been the result of ceaseless hard work and unwavering dedication to the perfecting of their craft. Though it certainly helps that the progressive post hardcore powerhouse comprises some of the most obscenely talented musicians on the east coast, the band’s rapid growth in 2018 can primarily be attributed to their uncompromising love for what they do. And anyone who’s listened to their debut EP Neutrino! - which hit the web at the beginning of the year - is most likely quite aware that it is this passion that sets the band apart. Neutrino! Is a whirlwind of angst and ambition that manages to connect on some level with everyone who hears it, and it’s for that reason that the record has caught the attention of literally thousands of devoted fans.
1. Tenth Row - Rest Well
Out of all the local records released in 2018, I would argue that few, if any, possess the same degree of urgency and emotional power as Tenth Row’s long-awaited debut EP Rest Well.
A heart-wrenching tribute to the band’s dearly departed original lead vocalist, Kevin Scheidt, Rest Well is a devastating triumph - a work born from intense grief and overwhelming love that one cannot listen to and come away unchanged. Loud, raw, and defiant in the face of tragedy, Rest Well captures the most fundamental essence of a band on a critically important mission, relentlessly driven by their collective passion to keep the memory of a dear friend - and an artistic genius - alive.
Top photo: Atlanta Spotlight Photography