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2018 has been a strong year for instrumental music. Like his 2015 triple-album The Epic, Californian saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s Heaven and Earth (Young Turks) is a monumental jazz, soul and funk record, kicking off with an incredibly exciting version of the Fist of Fury theme tune.
The otherworldly Bellowing Sun (Paradise of Bachelors) from Mind Over Mirrors — aka US composer and musician Jaime Fennelly — is similarly ambitious, an aural document of a year spent living alone on Cape Cod watching nature’s rhythms and cycles.
In Britain, Toby Hay released two superb albums of contemplative acoustic guitar music — his solo The Longest Day (The State 51 Conspiracy) and The Hawksworth Grove Sessions (Cambrian Records) with the equally talented Jim Ghedi.
Two antipodean acts made a big impression on me, the hyper-confessional and whip-smart bedroom synth-pop of New Zealand’s Chelsea Nikkel on Princess Chelsea’s The Loneliest Girl (Lil’ Chief Records) and Melbourne’s Rolling Blackouts CF, with their brilliant full-length debut Hope Downs (Sub Pop).
If you are pining for the kind of propulsive, literate indie guitar music that fellow Australian band The Go-Betweens perfected in the 1980s, then Hope Downs, written by the band’s three gifted songwriters, will not disappoint.
The spoken word section of the propulsive An Air Conditioned Man is particularly affecting, while the perfect Sister’s Jeans is as good as anything Grant McLennan and Robert Forster ever wrote.
In the US, many artists have released music responding to the rise of Donald Trump and the dangerous political, economic and social forces that this has unleashed.
The folky The Lookout (Bella Union) from Laura Veirs, which addresses the turmoil of the post-election US, is another reminder of just how good a songwriter she is, while Ezra Furman’s audacious electro-pop Transangelic Exodus (Bella Union) is a wild, Springsteenesque ride escaping gathering authoritarian forces.
Most forceful of all is Marc Ribot’s incendiary Songs of Resistance 1942-2018 (Anti-Records), which finds the veteran New York City-based guitarist inviting a host of artists, including Tom Waits, Steve Earle, Tift Merritt and Sam Amidon, to help make sense of and fight back against Trumpism.
I’m fairly sure another song like The Big Fool, a frenetic take on the increasingly desperate climate crisis which cites WB Yeats’s The Second Coming, British economist Lord Stern, folk legend Pete Seeger and the work of beat poet Alan Ginsberg, won’t be recorded any time soon.
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