TOP CONCERTS OF 2018
1. David Byrne (April 18, Reynolds Hall) With its innovative staging, terrific setlist and heartfelt performances by Byrne and his crew, this was one of those all-too-rare shows that felt historic even in the moment.
2. Simple Minds (October 21, the Pearl) The band’s first-ever visit to Las Vegas included songs from nearly every part of the band’s history—and while the songs were vintage, the enthusiasm driving them was fresh and immediate.
3. The War on Drugs (April 11, Brooklyn Bowl) This show felt like sitting around a campfire—comforting and intimate.
4. Fantastic Negrito (June 29, Bunkhouse Saloon) And this one felt like crawling inside a bonfire. The singer delivered pillars of flame from his tongue and gyrated wildly to fan them into a blaze.
5. St. Vincent (September 22, Life Is Beautiful) Even from within the confines of a festival set, Anne Clark can wrest away your reality and re-orient it with herself at the center.
1. David Byrne (April 18, Reynolds Hall) From the staging to the setlist, everything about the ex-Talking Heads man’s Smith Center stop was smartly conceived and adroitly executed, just as a visit to a Performing Arts Center ought to be.
2. Sunn O))) (August 19, the Joint) Hooded drone wizards Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson contributed the most polarizing—and for me, most effective—set at this year’s Psycho Las Vegas fest, a 75-minute wash of hypnotically heavy guitar.
3. Car Seat Headrest (July 22, Bunkhouse Saloon) Will Toledo ballooned his indie rock outfit’s lineup from four to seven for this Downtown gig, and made memorable use of the additional firepower.
4. Phish (November 2, MGM Grand Garden Arena) Halloween’s Kasvot Växt í Rokk costume went down as the most unique of the Vermonters’ nine Vegas sets, but this Night 3 show was the most consistently enjoyable, from rare gems to lengthy, meaningful jams.
5. Kikagaku Moyo (March 7, Beauty Bar) San Diego trio Earthless headlined, technically—and literally hogged the light show for itself—but this spacey Tokyo psych quintet had us seeing stars for weeks afterwards.
1. Phish (November 3, MGM Grand Garden Arena) Much like how Return of the King amassed 11 Academy Awards as a way of honoring the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, the ambitious jam band’s climactic fourth night tops this list as the capper to a stunning Halloween run.
2. St. Vincent (September 22, Life Is Beautiful) Annie Clark shone the brightest at LIB, demonstrating remarkable command of the stage, her band and a festival-best setlist.
3. At the Drive-In (May 28, Punk Rock Bowling) For a set so divisive to the PRB faithful, the El Paso quintet sucked in those still in attendance with both its post-punk pluck and singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s aerodynamic performance.
4. The War on Drugs (April 11, Brooklyn Bowl) Adam Granduciel’s inspired rock classicism went down as easy as a Guinness while causing an IPA-like head buzz.
5. Khruangbin (November 7, Vinyl) In front of a remarkably packed crowd, the instrumental trio from Texas struck a chord with its tender and transcendent psych-funk.
1. Queen + Adam Lambert (September 7, Park Theater) No one could fill in for Freddie more graciously than Lambert, and there was no refrain more powerful than “Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?” from “Under Pressure.”
2. The Smashing Pumpkins (September 2, T-Mobile Arena) Speaking of Bowie, Billy Corgan and company’s “Space Oddity” was but one memorable, indulgent moment from this arena-rock marathon.
3. Fleetwood Mac (November 30, T-Mobile Arena) Only a dedicated Lindsey Buckingham fan could have found any flaws in this celebration of melodic, classic pop-rock.
4. Stevie Wonder (August 3, Park Theater) What would it take to get Stevie to sign on for a long-term residency at Park MGM? Make it happen.
5. Panic! At the Disco (August 18, T-Mobile Arena) The always fabulous Brendon Urie proved he really can do it all in the biggest homecoming of his career.
1. Arcade Fire (September 23, Life Is Beautiful) This nonstop dance party that took fans on a ride from the early days of Funeral to the decadent, disco-charged sounds of the group’s newer material.
2. David Byrne (April 18, Reynolds Hall) The barefoot Byrne brought down the house with an artful show that spanned the decades, though his voice sounded like he hadn’t aged a day.
3. Destroyer (July 23, Bunkhouse Saloon) Enigmatic singer Dan Bejar dug deep into his catalog and shared new songs in this unforgettable, solo-acoustic performance.
4. Rhye (April 8, Brooklyn Bowl) The soulful singer’s voice defies reason, and his live band—complete with a trombone, violin and cello—pushed this performance over the top.
5. Janelle Monáe (June 26, the Pearl) Django Jane, the ArchAndroid, Electric Lady—whatever you want to call Ms. Monáe, she delivered a message of hope and inclusivity in style.
TOP ALBUMS OF 2018
1. GoGo Penguin, A Humdrum Star This Manchester jazz trio delivers techno-inspired breaks and melodies on acoustic instruments, skirting chaos and achieving transcendence.
2. Beach House, 7 The Baltimoreans take a welcome turn into shimmering, SoCal-style pop goth … and it kinda feels like they always belonged there.
3. Amen Dunes, Freedom Damon McMahon’s deceptively fragile voice powers an astonishingly robust portfolio of songs—new classics that feel like I’ve been living with them for years.
4. Robyn, Honey I always thought of Robyn as an extraterrestrial disco robot; with Honey, she confounds my previous assumptions, except for the one where she makes great freaking disco.
5. Parquet Courts, Wide Awake! Sometimes, instead of trying to escape the day-to-day drag, you need an album of twitchy, joyful, f*ck-off rock tunes about facing it head-on.
6. Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer It’s ambitious—sometimes overly so—and deeply in debt to Prince, but the songs that aim highest hit their targets, and even the near-misses groove hard.
7. Soccer Mommy, Clean Sophie Allison’s jagged, elegant debut LP is a signpost driven into fresh ground, boldly declaring “watch this space.”
8. Khruangbin, Con Todo el Mundo It’s a rare album that can so effortlessly paint beautiful pictures on the insides of your closed eyes.
9. Daphne & Celeste, Daphne & Celeste Save the World In which English techno-pop whiz Max Tundra digs a forgotten bubblegum duo out of obscurity and writes/produces it a perfect pop gem.
10. Jean-Michel Jarre, Equinoxe Infinity The 70-year-old French electronic music pioneer still has a few things to teach us about constructing epic sonic landscapes.
1. Julia Holter, Aviary Holter The LA-based experimentalist doesn’t just write, sing and play keyboards here; she creates an entire universe of sound and thought, into which listeners can dive deeply without ever running out of territory to explore.
2. Mary Halvorson, Code Girl The nimble NYC guitarist and next-level jazz composer launches an otherworldly quintet with this double-album, most notable for the expansive range and artful phrasings of vocalist Amirtha Kidambi.
3. Tim Hecker, Konoyo Yet another avant ambient epic from the Montreal maestro, this time broadening his sonic palette further by adding traditional Japanese instruments to his array of head-clearing electronic hardware.
4. Binker and Moses, Alive in the East? London jazz duo Binker Golding (sax) and Moses Boyd (drums) brought on a gaggle of guests (including saxman Evan Parker and harpist Tori Handsley) for this live 2017 session that perfectly straddles the line between free and rhythmic.
5. Calexico, The Thread That Keeps Us The Tucson, Arizona, collective’s latest roots-rock pastiche plays like the socially conscious, modern-day sequel to Los Lobos’ Kiko you never knew you needed.
6. Lucy Dacus, Historian At age 23, the Virginia-born Dacus has emerged as one of indie rock’s most reliably interesting voices after a 2018 that saw her release an EP with supertrio Boygenius and this sizzling sophomore solo LP.
7. Thou, Magus Doom, sludge, prog and grunge (with black metal vocals, to boot) collide on the Louisianans’ latest unrelenting slab of heaviness, with an equally empathetic lyrical soul.
8. Kali Uchis, Isolation The Colombian-American neo-soul singer recruits a diverse cast of supporting characters—from Thundercat to Damon Albarn to Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker—but it’s her energy, attitude and songwriting chops that unify and uplift Isolation’s many parts.
9. Witxes, Orients Frenchman Maxime Vavasseur weaves an apocalyptic ambient tale that manages to soothe even as it scares.
10. Litku Klemetti, Taika Tapahtuu I have no idea what she’s singing, which only adds to the distinctive, addictive charm of this swirling Finnish psych-prog entry.
1. Sons of Kemet, Your Queen Is a Reptile A fiercely political and invigorating work that both honors the legacy of historical black women figures and—like many British outfits of late—pushes jazz well beyond its assumed borders.
2. Balun, Prisma Tropical This fanciful and intricate masterpiece is a love letter to the band’s native Puerto Rico and the musical colors of the Caribbean.
3. Jon Hopkins, Singularity An appropriate title, as the English electronic wizard solidifies his peerlessness with a percolating, experimental and mesmeric work.
4. Tracey Thorn, Record Those writing off synth-pop as fluff clearly haven’t heard Thorn’s circumspect and assertive narratives, full-bodied production and burrowing melodies.
5. Amanda Shires, To the Sunset The steadily ascending Nashville singer-songwriter scales new heights and makes it sound so effortless in the process.
6. DJ Healer, Nothing to Loose The vinyl copies have long been snapped up, so hit Youtube to stream this Laurie Anderson-sampling, ambient breakbeat salve by the German producer also known as Traumprinz.
7. Robyn, Honey The Swedish tunesmith and dancefloor mover proves once again that nuance and depth can work in pop music.
8. Low, Double Negative A surprising—and welcome—change of musical direction by the indie act, which transmogrifies its traditional minimalism and creates an otherworldly soundscape.
9. Troye Sivan, Bloom You’ll find not the Golden Globe-nominated “Revelation” here, but 10 other superbly crafted and deeply affecting ambient pop songs by the rising, openly gay Aussie talent.
10. Jorja Smith, Lost & Found This confident balladeer stands atop the also-flourishing British R&B scene, accentuating her soulful jams with jazz and hip-hop brushstrokes.
1. Jonathan Bree, Sleepwalking The avant garde New Zealander, formerly of twee duo The Brunettes, blends his tongue-in-cheek wit with brooding, sexy lounge pop. It doesn’t get much better than this.
2. Moonface, This One’s for the Dancer & This One’s for the Dancer’s Bouquet Not only does Spencer Krug’s latest album include my favorite track of the year (“Minotaur Forgiving Knossos”), it serves as his Moonface project’s swan song—pinging between a vocoder-laced story about a lonely Minotaur and the Wolf Parade member’s signature experimental rock.
3. U.S. Girls, In a Poem Unlimited Meghan Remy and her band provided a memorable 2018 Neon Reverb set, and this LP allowed me to experience the group’s swanky, funky prowess over and over again.
4. Mitski, Be the Cowboy 2018 was the year I found myself purposely not listening to sad music (that’s self-care, right?), but songs like “Lonesome Love” and “A Pearl” proved irresistible.
5. Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer Tipping her hat to late mentor Prince, the ArchAndroid returned with another playful, sci-fi themed full-length, while tackling issues of race, social justice and sexuality.
6. Mac Miller, Swimming The late rapper was just 26 when he died, a month after releasing a record that oscillates between his dualities: the charming, laid-back MC and the pained being within.
7. Blood Orange, Negro Swan Melding downtempo tracks about growing up as a queer black youth in London with monologues by trans-activist Janet Mock, Dev Hynes creates a body of work as essential as it is beautiful.
8. Shamir, Resolution From the opening riffs of “I Can’t Breathe” to the final moments of “Larry Clark,” the Vegas-born artist takes us on an emotional, reverb-laden journey spotlighting anti-blackness, police brutality, mental health issues and more.
9. Rhye, Blood The soulful singer followed up his debut Woman with another set of steamy, sexy songs; there isn’t an obvious hit like 2013’s “Open,” but “Phoenix” comes awfully close.
10. Screaming Females, All at Once Frontwoman Marissa Paternoster’s searing lyrics accompany bigger, bolder riffs, but the emotional pull of songs like “Deeply” resonates most on this breakup album.
THE YEAR IN LOCAL MUSIC
It’s been a big year for Las Vegas Valley-born music, with plenty of noteworthy releases from homegrown artists spanning a variety of genres. One of 2018’s best and most vulnerable local releases came from pop-punks Mercy Music back in July. On Until the End of Your World, frontman Brendan Scholz weaves jangly, pop nuances with raw, self-flagellating lyrics. Add in Scholz’s masterful electric guitar, and the result is loud, fast and powerfully emotional.
Back in September, Hassan released the powerful single “Can I Be Black” off his 2018 album Not Him Again. The rest of the record explodes with the rapper’s blunt humor—tracks like “1-900-Go-F*ck-Yourself” sizzle with biting rhymes and sinister guitar and piano riffs—and features some of Vegas’ best MCs: Trade Voorhees, Nat the Lioness and Phil A.
The year also marked a rebirth for singer and multi-instrumentalist Ted Rader, who fronts Ted Rader and the Magic Family. The group released two standout psych-rock albums in 2018, March’s Murder Mart and April’s Magical Mystery Detour. The Magic Family quickly rose to the top of Vegas’ music scene (it’ll open for Black Moth Super Rainbow here in March), and the group has already teased a new album in the works.
Earlier in the year, former Left Standing guitarist Jesse Pino released the EP Signal Received with his alternative pop-rock band Jesse Pino & The Vital Signs. The band put on a fiery release show in February and powered through 2018 opening for bands like Beach Slang and Spanish Love Songs.
Country/rockabilly outfit The Delta Bombers dropped their fourth studio album, Pressure and Time, and spent much of the year on tour, making stops in Finland, France, Germany and Spain. They’ve already got a southwest tour in January and February of 2019 on the calendar.
It was quite the busy year for Vegas rock band The Dirty Hooks. The group released a new EP, Kiss the Devil and Run, and landed a touring slot opening slot for Stone Temple Pilots during the spring and summer.
The Acid Sisters’ Elayna (vocals) and Nick Thompson (guitar) had a huge 2018, giving birth to a baby and then their band’s debut, self-titled LP, a nod to their psychedelic influences new and old.
Pop group Boiis released a sophomore record, The Project Generation, in November. The concept album addresses how an individual’s trauma can impact society at large and how we can all heal with a bit more love and understanding.
Desert rockers Dark Black got in just before 2018 ended with the digital release of its Dissolve EP (it officially drops on January 4), featuring the studio debut of percussionist/synth player Rocky Stevenson. With its stoner-emo grunginess and slick production (think Cloud Nothings), Dissolve finds Dark Black challenging itself and experimenting, with memorable results.
Notable 2018 solo efforts included “heart-hop” rapper Ekoh’s LP, The Detour and the Demi Lovato remix of his single “Sober.” Suicide// Hotline, aka Justin Williams of punk outfit The Social Set, released the emo EP Winter, Jessica Manalo released her single “Travel On,” Sonia Barcelona released “Whatever” and Cromm Fallon of The Van der Rohe dropped two digital singles: “The Next One” and “Scars From You."
TOP SINGLES AND STANDOUT TRACKS OF 2018
1. Childish Gambino, “Feels Like Summer” Bino’s dreamy update of Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” was twice misidentified by its fans--first as a smooth summer jam, then as an oblique kind of diss track (largely owing to its animated music video, which featured cartoon renditions of popular rappers and entertainers; it is, by the way, the second-best video of the year, after Bino’s own “This Is America”). But the warnings are right up on top where anyone can hear them: “Every day gets hotter than the one before / Running out of water, it’s about to go down.” Bino sings about overpopulation, pollution, colony collapse, street violence, the end of everything—and he concludes with a vulnerable, falsetto “I hope we change.” The message is as simple and genuine as Gaye’s, though the stakes are much higher.
2. Jungle, “Heavy, California” “One day / she’ll take / the world / from you.” So begins three solid minutes of bonafide, blissed-out disco, golden as a SoCal sunset. The London-based Jungle may be trading heavily in 1970s nostalgia here (and on the rest of its 2018 For Ever LP), but who cares where a beat comes from, when it feels this good?
3. Kendrick Lamar and SZA, “All The Stars” The end theme from Marvel’s Black Panther fills multiple roles: It’s handily the James Bond-style love theme the character deserved; it’s a seemingly effortless duet between two of the biggest talents currently alive; and it’s the most mesmerizing track that’s played on commercial radio in who knows how long.
4. Fantastic Negrito, “Plastic Hamburgers” I probably don’t need to explain to you why we currently need a fire-spitting maximum-blues number about the current state of the world whose chorus goes, “Let’s break out these chains / let’s burn it down.” I’ll just tell you that it’s right here, and it’ll make your life better.
5. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, “Hunnybee” The Portland, Oregon-based band refashions “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)” into a brighter, funkier bop, but keeps the original’s yearning for connection and a sense of place.
6. GusGus, “Fireworks” The drums don’t find their way into this head-nodder for a full minute and a half, and you barely notice; that’s how solidly made this house charmer is. It’s as bright and colorful as its namesake.
7. Ty Segall, “Despoiler of Cadaver” “It sounds like a forgotten Of Montreal dance number,” said my friend Spencer shortly after this Ty Segall dropped last January. He’s not wrong, but it also has notes of the late-1980s goth crap I grew up with: a little bit Tones on Tail, a wee bit Shriekback. Generally I’m a sucker for songs about dead guys getting revenge on the jerks who profaned their corpses. Who isn’t?
8. Orbital, “P.H.U.K.U.” Orbital’s tonic against Brexit (the title unpacks to “Please Help U.K.; Urgent”) doesn’t have to be anything but upbeat and anthemic (those “remain” protests aren’t going to soundtrack themselves), but as always, the Brothers Hartnoll bring something extra: the feeling of excitement and immediacy that comes from being a part of the history that’s currently being made. An anonymous voiceover even spells it out for you: “I say what you do about the world! It’s poison! And it’s sick! And you want to get out of it!”
9. Soccer Mommy, “Cool” As punchy and laconic as its title, “Cool” belongs to a great tradition of bored-sounding lady rockers, from Nancy Sinatra to Liz Phair, who are trying to warn you off of that girl you’re chasing, the one who’s gonna rip you apart just for the fun of it. You’ll never listen to the message, of course, which is why the song is refined every few years. This is its latest, most perfect iteration.
10. David Byrne, “Everybody’s Coming to My House” Every now and again, David does something that sounds so much like Talking Heads that you can't help but succumb to it.