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Albums of the Year

A touring musician and music writer lists his top picks.

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Low "Double Negative"
The fruits of a remarkable reinvention of this long-running and well-loved band, "Double Negative" is to previous Low albums what "Kid A" was to "Pablo Honey." Taking cues from ambient and drone artists such as Ben Frost and Tim Hecker while still retaining the band's trademark harmonies and stately melancholia, "Double Negative" is as bold as it is divisive, and an ideal soundtrack to a long, cold winter.

 

 

 

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Mountain Movers "Pink Skies"
Connecticut's Mountain Movers create modern psychedelia that conjures the artsy bleakness of early Sonic Youth, the ear-ravaging meltdowns of High Rise and the stoned choogle of your favorite Velvets bootleg. The rhythm section of drummer Ross Menze and bassist Rick Omonte expertly hold down the thick, motorik groove while guitarists Dan Greene and Kryssi Battalane engage in guitar tangles occasionally punctuated by cryptic, existential lyrics. Battalane often steals the show: Not since Ben Chasny's "Six Organs of Admittance" has an artist so captivatingly walked the line between dexterity and destruction. Definitely one to watch.

 

 

 

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Grateful Dead "Pacific Northwest '73-'74: Believe It If You Need It"
Speaking of the Dead, if you're eager to learn what the fuss is about and are looking for a point of entry, you could do a lot worse than this three-disc compilation of live Dead captured during one of its many peak periods. Culled from a much larger 19-disc set, this sampling of tunes performed from 1973 and 1974 is a revelation, presenting both the band's fearless improvisations and its infamous and soon-to-be retired Wall of Sound stage setup in perfect clarity. Pay special attention to the magnificent rendition of "Bird Song" and the longest-ever "Playing in the Band," the latter of which at 46 minutes operates as a sort of Grateful Dead primer-within-a-primer.

 

 

 

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Fossil Lickers "S/t"
Fossil Lickers is a young group that really nails the old-timey vibe of the County Records catalog without resorting to pastiche, and writes beautiful original tunes to boot. Check out "Goat Won't Go." How a bunch of millennial whippersnappers from Houston are able to so capture the essence of mountain music is beyond me, but capture it they do. All told, this is probably my most-played album of 2018.

 

 

 

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Autechre "NTS Sessions 1-4"
When you listen to Autechre, you are listening to more than mere music. You hear mechanical insects laying waste to cities, glass factories achieving sentience and tearing forests to bits, and rogue Pac-Man ghosts attempting to burrow their way into your eardrums to take a large chomp. "NTS Sessions" — an eight-hour box set recorded live over the span of several weeks on NTS Radio — is the duo's greatest achievement so far. Listen casually and you may hear only the sounds of algorithms and machinery, but listen closer and the group's background in electro, hip-hop and dance music becomes strikingly apparent. Bill Graham famously said of the Grateful Dead: "They're not the best at what they do. They're the only ones that do what they do." I think this just as easily applies to Autechre.

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