It’s here. Again. The time of year when I think, “Hey, I’ll compile my top 10, which will be an easy piece that won’t require much thought.” And then, as soon as I start making my list, an all out brawl erupts inside me, eventually leading to banging my head against the keyboard until all the buttons pop off, and I throw my laptop through the window and set the whole thing on fire, screaming at the sky with both fists raised and confident that I’m only moments away from transforming into a werewolf, bloodthirsty and ready to take down all of civilization before sunrise. But then I grab a cup of tea, switch album five to six, move eight up to two, and surrender to a final blessing of “That’ll do pig. That’ll do.” So here is part one of three for my top 10, in no order whatsoever.
Wax Fang — Victory Laps
Sometimes we seek escapism, a need to regain the sanity to get through the next day, and sometimes, when those days are looking especially dark, we take solace in the nothing — a mirror image reflecting who we are, but proof that we’re not alone and there’s still life in the fight. Wax Fang’s Victory Laps opens with a song called “Pusher” that’s helped me through more than a few of those moments this past year. It’s a song with angles that change depending on what side of the mirror you’re on. Is the “Pusher” a Trump-like figure, selling the apocalypse like a drug dealer with the line “Let me control ya,” or is it a life coach with a gut-punch blast of inspiration? That Scott Carney is once again playing the mad scientist at the wheel, getting to the answer becomes a game that takes you on a fantastical chase, riding shotgun through the twists and turns of Wonka Hell, and eventually to a road that snakes off into an uncertain future. From the beginning, you’re presented with a question: “If it’s the end of everything, then what are we fighting for?” The answer is never spelled out, but you’re given more than enough anthemic firepower to decide for yourself. A cliffhanger for the sequel?
Slowdive — Slowdive
My introduction to Slowdive doesn’t start in 1991. I first became aware and curious when they announced their reunion, 20 years after calling it a day. On one hand, I had already missed the dance, but on the other, I didn’t have the attachment that we so often do to an artist’s early catalog that frequently gives us a deaf ear to their later work. When I eventually did take the slow dive (Sorry-Not-Sorry) into their first three LPs, I enjoyed everything I heard, but with the release of their self-titled reunion record, I heard everything that I wanted them to be. Slowdive is a piece complete, a work of art that captures all of their past strengths that were never able to be articulated with youth. There is patience-as-wisdom in these songs, and the dream-like soundscapes they help make famous float effortlessly around the notes. “Sugar For The Pill” may be one of the best songs of the year, but it’s just barely ahead of “Star Roving.” For the sake of fans old and new, for the sake of music, I pray this is more than just a one-time deal.
Waxahatchee — Out In The Storm
We love breakup albums. We write books about them, think-piece essays destructing the songs birthed from a human situation, one usually spent in private moments of arguing, yelling, crying and heartache. And because we didn’t get to witness it, we’re left to pour over the details in our headphones. I’m amazed artists give themselves to us at all. But they do it, often as cathartic closure for themselves. Sort of like when you torched that shoebox full of keepsakes. Katie Crutchfield, the force behind Waxahatchee, went through her own relationship turmoil and while her decision to put it all into song allowed us to get a diary-like peak, Out In The Storm plays more as an album of empowerment, of getting back on your feet, getting your life back, and coming out better, stronger and more self-assured than before. It’s like she drew us in with the enticement of gossip, but it was really a smoke screen to show us that we’re best when we believe we’re worth it. It’s not the first time it’s been written, but with her guitars at 11, it’s rarely been this fun of a listen.