Top Music Picks of 2018 (That I Actually Listened To)

2018 was a year of new music from established favorites, debut full-lengths from up-and-coming artists, and singles in advance of forthcoming releases

As 2018 comes to a close, so too does my time at KCR, at San Diego State, and in San Diego in general. Between bouts of crying and while avoiding thinking about returning to Canada (the land of arctic boredom and a much more affordable healthcare system), I’ve spent some time reflecting on the new music released in 2018 that has soundtracked my California existence.

Southern California is a melting pot for the surf, garage, and punk genres, music that’s perfect for cruising down the freeway in the sunshine to (check out the undercard for this year’s Tropicalia Festival lineup and you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about). As such, the majority of the new music I’ve been listening to and seeing live this year has come from bands based in California. However, the Golden State is almost always a stop for touring bands, so I’ve also had the chance to hear new stuff from those that hail from outside our perfect West Coast bubble.

So as a final parting gift to the loyal readers of my KCR blog posts (read: people on my Facebook friends list), I present to you: California Andrayah’s* favorite music released in 2018. As a fun bonus, I’ve included the most fitting freeways and neighborhoods to serve as a backdrop for your listening, based on my personal experiences. Let’s be real: you need a car to get around in San Diego, and since you can’t pick up AM 1610 all over the county, you’re going to need to play your own music if you can’t listen to San Diego’s Best AM/FM Radio Station according to The San Diego Union-Tribune 2018 Reader’s Poll. I’m talking about KCR here. It’s us. We’re the best.

*as an (un)interesting aside, every person I’ve met in California has pronounced my name like An-DRAY-ah. Technically, I am actually AN-dree-ah. I might stick with my new moniker, though, in an effort to try to convince myself I’m still in San Diego, going to Better Buzz four times a week and drinking alone at the Ugly Dog Bar when they’ve got a sour on special for $3 Tuesdays.

Records:

hoodratscumbags – Beach Goons

hoodratscumbags

Logan Heights’ Beach Goons released hoodratscumbags this August, and my introduction to the band was through this record on the day it came out. If you were lucky enough to catch them at The Live Wire, KCR’s new flagship concert series, back in September, you know that Beach Goons offers SoCal surf/garage rock with a Cumbia twist. hoodratscumbags marks the first release for Beach Goons in a couple years and the new record was highly anticipated by their fans. Founding member Pablo Cervantez sought to recognize Beach Goons’ Chicano/Mexican heritage with their new music, and songs like “Chunti” and “A.M.” really emphasize this influence.

Top picks: Vatos Tristes, Hrsb

Best use: Is it lame to listen to Beach Goons while driving down Logan Avenue? Maybe, but I’ve done it. Otherwise, hoodratscumbags is a good choice for driving around Ocean Beach. Consider playing it as you roll up to the Robb Field Skate Park so the skaters know you’re down with the local music scene. I recently bought my first skateboard, and this is a fact that I like to make known as much as possible.

My Own Mess – Skegss

My Own Mess

Australian garage/surf trio Skegss released their debut full-length back in September before embarking on a tour of their homeland with Chicago’s Twin Peaks. Maybe it’s Australia’s similar climate and its cultural emphasis on surfing, but My Own Mess fits right in with our SoCal music scene. It’s chock-full of slacker anthems about partying, watching TV, and fucking up. My favorite track on the record, “Margarita”, is one of those rare songs that I heard and instantly fell in love with, immediately qualifying it for Banger Status. If you’re a fan of bands like The Frights, SWMRS, or FIDLAR, you’ll probably be stoked on Skegss.

Top picks: Margarita, My Mind

Best use: Skegss is the band you want to start your day with. Not if your day consists of school or work, but when your day will be spent doing something fun, like laying on the beach or skateboarding. I have a skateboard now, so I can relate to this. My Own Mess is reserved for the 8 West (never the 8 East – this ain’t for driving home at the end of your fun day) on your way to the beach, or maybe the 5/805 North, if you’re bougie and heading to a beach in La Jolla.

I Don’t Run – Hinds

I Don't Run

This April, Hinds released I Don’t Run as a follow up to their debut record, 2016’s Leave Me Alone. Their sophomore effort is similar to Leave Me Alone musically, but it’s not a carbon copy. The all-girl garage rock group from Madrid, Spain digs a little deeper on I Don’t Run, and lyrically the songs get personal and serious at times. That’s not to say the music is slow and sad – the record still largely consists of the irresistibly fun and catchy songs Hinds is well known for.

Top picks: Tester, Rookie

Best use: Take a girls-only day trip to Los Angeles and put on I Don’t Run as you roll down Melrose Avenue scoping out your next Instagram photo op. Otherwise, a fun and semi-manipulative idea is to play “Tester” when driving with a guy who you suspect could be cheating on you, particularly for the lyric “Should I have known before you were also banging her?” I’m not actually speaking from experience here (give me a little credit), but I could see myself doing this. Or at least considering it.

Onion – Shannon and the Clams

Onion

I think Shannon and the Clams is one of the most underrated bands of our time. They blend doo-wop, surf, and garage rock into a unique sound that’s perfectly nostalgic, a sound that’s not often heard these days. I’m usually more of a music person than a lyrics person, but the lyrics on Onion‘s tracks stand out with their raw emotion and poignant themes. Set to the Clams’ signature retro instrumentals, the result is foot-tapping, danceable songs that are painfully beautiful underneath.

If I had to pick one record from this list to recommend to someone who hadn’t heard any of them, in the hopes that they would discover a new band to obsess over, it would be Onion. Send tweet.

Top picks: If You Could Know, The Boy

Best use: I like to listen to Shannon and the Clams during the rare times when I’m in 5:30 PM traffic, because I can be safely reckless and dance along to it while driving. A favorite spot is getting off the 163 and onto the 8, near Fashion Valley. It takes fifteen minutes to move half a mile – you can dance through the first five songs on the record while you wait.

The Dream and the Deception – The Aquadolls

The Dream and the Deception

Like Shannon and the Clams, I think The Aquadolls don’t get nearly the amount of recognition they deserve. The tracklist for The Dream and the Deception features nineteen songs that span the emotional spectrum, from sad to silly to pissed off. Singer, guitarist, and songwriter Melissa Brooks’ commitment to The Aquadolls is admirable – she self-released this record online in October and has plans to press it in on vinyl via her own label in the new year.

Top picks: Cigboi, Communicationissexy/Idkhow2communicate

Best use: My top picks above are fitting for driving home on the 94 East on a moody, rainy Friday night. You’ve left-swiped through everyone on Tinder and you’re feeling hopeless and lonely. “Why am I so alone?” you cry, as you ignore everyone and make no effort to meet people. Switch over to something more upbeat and positive, like “I’m a Star”, to remind yourself that you are, in fact, a star.

3 – Sextile

3

Good god, do I love Sextile. I love getting into music that’s a lot different than the usual things I listen to (see every other record on this list), and Sextile stands in stark contrast to the reverb-heavy surf rock that’s so popular in Southern California.  The Los Angeles based duo is not like anything I’ve ever heard – all the headbang-inducing and moshpit-inciting energy of punk with the added twist of a new wave dance beat. If you’ve ever wanted to go to a club and dance all night amid cool visuals, but you’re a bit too punk rock for something like that, check out Sextile.

Top picks: Spun, Paradox

Best use: Don’t listen to this in your car. See them live! Dance around in the strobe lights! Inhale the smoke machine smoke! Get slammed into and have your front row spot taken by a psycho ex! It’s all part of the experience.

Hypochondriac – The Frights

Hypochondriac

The Frights put out their third record, Hypochondriac, on Epitaph Records after signing with the punk label earlier this year. It’s quite a departure from 2016’s You Are Going To Hate This, and an even farther trip from 2013’s The Frights. Many of the songs are a lot softer and sadder, with the exception of the pop-punk/emo track “CRUTCH”. The new sound is good in its own right, but if you’re looking for the same surf-inspired tunes that put The Frights on the map, you’re going to need to look elsewhere.

Top picks: Alone, Whatever

Best use: The Frights will always remind me of driving on the 8 East and taking the College Avenue exit to get back to State (shoutout to “Cold” from The Frights for being my spring 2018 anthem). Otherwise, the driving vibe can vary: sometimes I’m shouting along angrily to “Over It” as I drive to the Taco Bell at University/College, sometimes I’m crying to “Goodbyes” on the 5. It’s a spectrum.

Singles:

“Drip” – The Marías and Triathalon

Drip

A definite outlier on this list, but if Statistics 101 taught me anything, it’s that…outliers exist? They validate your data? I don’t know. Anyway, this is a cool song. The Marías call themselves a “psychedelic soul” band, and Triathalon makes lo-fi R&B. The union of the two results in a multi-layered song that coalesces flawlessly – The Marías come in first with their signature funky-yet-smooth sound, Triathalon enters with a slowed-down, dreamy verse, and they link up in the outro. It is, in a word, a vibe.

Best use: This one’s a bit tricky. It’s definitely a nighttime song, but it’s not a party song. Play this at the end of the night, when you’re winding down and driving home after drinks at Sycamore Den in Normal Heights. The freeway is nearly empty and you can really feel the groove.

“Are You High?” – FIDLAR

Are You High?

Where can I download this damn song, FIDLAR? One of four tracks released by the band in 2018 (together with “Alcohol”, “Too Real”, and “Can’t You See”, from their upcoming third record Almost Free), it seems “Are You High?” was only released along with a music video on YouTube. It’s a shame, as this song is catchy as hell. It’s FIDLAR through and through, with strong guitars and lyrics referencing struggles with addiction. Guess you’ll just have to catch it at one of their live shows.

Best use: I’ve only ever listened to this on my Macbook while sitting in bed. So that, I guess.

“Glo Ride” – Hot Flash Heat Wave

Glo Ride

When I asked Nathan Blum and Ted Davis of Hot Flash Heat Wave (flex) if “Glo Ride” was indicative of what was to come for the band, Davis confirmed that their next record would be full of “headier, but still pop-oriented songs” like it. That appears to be the case, as they’ve since released two more songs that are in the same vein as this one. HFHW definitely seems to be heading in a more psychedelic direction, and “Glo Ride” is leading the way.

Actually, now that I’m listening to it again, this song is more similar to “Drip” than it is to the other music featured in this list. I’m not sure how this data affects the validity of my claims here. Oh well. Who really needs statistics? Just kidding. Stay in school, Aztecs.

Best use: I don’t really want to say this is a good makeout song, but… this is a good makeout song. Find a spot to park, and I’ll leave it at that.

Check out this Spotify playlist for all of the songs mentioned here.

Written by: Andrea Renney

Greta Van Fleet – “Anthem of the Peaceful Army” Album Review

A time when rock stars wore their hair down to their shoulders, and music allowed you to escape into heavy guitar riffs and deeply poetic lyrics. That is what Greta Van Fleet encompasses in their new album “Anthem of the Peaceful Army.”

The band faces constant comparisons to Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page causing a response of appraisal or in some cases backlash, and although there will always be critics out to say the worst, Greta’s first work was a radiant start to something beautiful. The band of brother’s first EP “From the Fires” caused a boom in the rock world landing them on lineups across the country from Coachella to Lollapalooza. They received approval from Elton John, Tom Hanks, and even Robert Plant. It is apparent when listening to the band that they are inspired by a dense vinyl collection from rock of other generations.

The album begins with the feverous song, “Age of Man;” its slow start entices listeners to embark on a 10 song journey. It is the first of many layers the band created on the album. The record quickly moves towards the hard rock sound they’re known for, as songs such as “The Cold Wind” and “Lover, Leaver” show their ability to successfully pull off complex guitar solos. To juxtapose these heavier moments, rock ballads such as “Anthem” and “You’re the One” bring a sense of peace and tranquility to the album by having acoustic guitars string the songs along. The record additionally finds a middle ground between these two styles; the songs “Watching Over” and “Brave New World” utilize some eerie guitar riffs which bridges the styles into something in between.

Unfortunately, the band still has some work to be done on creating a more personal and unique aspect to their music and lyrics; something bands like the Beatles, Nirvana, and Cage The Elephant have seemed to accomplish through drawing personal stories hidden beneath their epical lyricism. As it is their first full length album, in time there’s a strong possibility that they will be able to use their platform to discover their own unique sound and voice in the rock world.

Rock music of the 70’s was inspired by political and social strife. Currently, we are experiencing a similar social divide among us. Greta Van Fleet’s desire to bring back the themes and sounds of that time only makes sense. It is about time that a band takes the risk of continuing on a sound that got lost in the future generations. The band has the potential to excel, they now just have to prove to the world they are ready to take it.  

Written by: Kelly Kerrigan

Post Elvis – “Apocalypse Kid” Album Review

Post Elvis’ sophomore album, “Apocalypse Kid,” comes solely from the mind of Thomas Torres, and artistically, he’s bounding ahead towards musical greatness. Despite the album’s more experimental sound, especially when compared to his debut, Torres has crafted a riveting and cohesive listening experience for anyone who dares enter his musical wasteland.

In Post Elvis’ self-titled debut, Torres stated that people live in “an era of endless references, a dead pop cultural graveyard left for us to inspect.” Moving onto this latest project, it’s easy to see how heavily Torres leans into this idea, as he samples the familiar and the obscure to create something fresh and interesting. While Torres does utilize his well of pop culture references within his lyrics, the musical sound and style of “Apocalypse Kid” embraces the experimental. Songs such as “Delaware” begin with screeching alarms which transitions into a hip-hop beat, yet this doesn’t feel at odds with the droning, noise-rock of, “Wasteland Man.” Similarly, the 16-bit inspired “Max Pills” drops listeners straight into something that sounds as though it was remixed off an arcade machine just before it turns into a frantic dance song.

Sonically, this album sounds fantastic. Audiophiles may revel in the fact that Torres composed, recorded, mixed, and mastered this album himself; an impressive feat which is heightened when one notices the flairs added to this project. Hearing samples of swords, countdown timers, disconnected phonelines, and (dare I guess?) lasers(!) integrated into the tracks demonstrates Torres’ advancing skills as a producer. Even from the opening track “Live by the Bomb, Die by the Bomb,” and the album’s subsequent interludes, Torres works his magic layering, warping, and finally distorting sample after sample of speeches and soundbites. And fortunately, he doesn’t stop there, as he delivers complex songs which build and deconstruct themselves naturally, without ever overstaying their welcome. Even on slower songs such as “Know Equals Love,” the introduction entrances the listener in a dream-like state, as Torres builds the song up from a rough-sounding, drum pattern, to this almost upbeat-sounding movement whose notes all trail off like a question mark on an incomplete sentence.

Overall, “Apocalypse Kid” is a phenomenal next step for Post Elvis. However, for all intents and purposes, it needs to be noted that this is a bleak album. Tracks include Torres’ wailing, drawn-out, almost broken sounding instrumental recordings — even the “dance” track I mentioned earlier, “Max Pills,” has a frantic, almost anxiety inducing nervous energy pulsing throughout. Lyrically, the themes throughout this album are equally heavy, with dissociation, loneliness, and pain being the paths Torres prefers to lead listeners down. Should however, one believe themselves capable of stomaching the subject matter, then one will find an absolute gem of an album.

If you want more Post Elvis, you can look at him here…
 
Or hear his music on bandcamp at https://postelvis.bandcamp.com/

Back from the Dead: Citizen’s ‘As You Please’

Citizen has been an ever-evolving band since the release of their 2013 album, “Youth.” The dark themes paired with heavy instrumentation and lyricism made it a fan favorite. Songs such as “Sleep” and “The Summer” set the tone early for a band still craving experimentation.

In their second album, “Everybody is Going to Heaven,” Citizen took an even heavier approach. Mat Kerkes’s vocals were much more morbid with heavy bass instrumentation. The album was almost haunting. “As You Please,” however, is the perfect mixture of the pop punk and post-grunge sound Citizen has been dabbling in.

The album opens up with their lead single “Jet” which has to be one of the best songs on the track list. Fuzz-toned guitars manned by Ryland Oehlers and Nick Hamm steadily start the song off as the drums and bass create the full sound. The shoegaze-esque instrumentation is accompanied by Mat Kerkes’ well-developed voice. He shows off his pipes and even a falsetto in the chorus, proving he has matured as a vocalist. Tracks like “In the Middle of it All,” “World” and “Flowerchild” also show off his vocal talent.

Many fans love the nostalgic sound of “Youth,” but those who say it’s better than their most recent release are completely wrong. Here’s why. “As You Please” is a post-grunge effort with heavy yet atmospheric instruments that are crisp and well-defined. For example, “Fever Days” starts with ethereal plucking that was previously unheard in Citizen’s discography. A heavy bass-driven riff then cuts off the entrancing guitar as it subtly rings throughout the song. It fills up the empty sound accompanied only by sustained guitar notes and drums. Kerkes’ aggressive vocals is the last, satisfying touch to this perfect Citizen song.

“World” is another passionate song that is well written both musically and lyrically. With its bright guitars, crisp drums, rich bass and ambient backing vocals, the song is finalized with some of my favorite thought-provoking lyrics. In the post-chorus, Kerkes sings “Split me open/Let the air out/I’m your old friend,” with so much gut wrenching grit and emotion that I can’t help but shed a few tears. His songwriting is some of the most profound and eloquent out there and, for once, it forces me to pay attention to the words, not just the instruments.

“Fever Days” and “World” are definitely favorites for their unique musicality – which was missing from the band’s previous albums. I appreciate bands that aren’t afraid to experiment in different genres, but still maintain their established sound, like Citizen. “As You Please” shows fans that change is necessary. In a scene that tends to always sound the same, this album is step forward in musical experimentation and progress.

Favorites: “Jet,” “In the Middle of it All,” “Fever Days” and “World”

Least Favorites: “I Forgive No One” and “You are a Star”

Featured Image by Chloe Muro.