Popdose Single Premiere: The Lines Between Beth // James Get “Blurry”

Beth // James is an indie folk pop duo from Austin, Texas, a city where one can imagine 70 percent of the population is a member of an indie folk pop duo or group. Popdose first introduced loyal readers to the heavenly harmonies of Mikaela Beth Kahn (vocals, piano) and Jordan James Burchill (vocals, guitar) in early 2017 when we featured their ‘Lion Eyes’ single in our round up of the year’s most promising new artists. We caught up with them at the end of the year to take a preview of their 2018 plans.

Well, life didn’t turn out exactly as they planned. A full-length album didn’t (yet) pan out, but the duo started plotting out a much more important album – one for their upcoming wedding. Yes, the “will they or won’t they?” sexual tension that electrified their stage show finally reached a crescendo when they announced their engagement to fans on social media late last year.

Next month, the duo will deliver triplets (fraternal, not identical) in the form of a 3-song EP, Falling, available February 1, 2019 on all streaming services and download stores. In honor of the world premiere of their new single, ‘Blurry’, Popdose caught up with the lovebirds on the eve of their show tonight at the legendary Hotel Café in Hollywood. An official EP premiere party is scheduled for February 1 at the Cactus Café in Austin.

POPDOSE: Usually when bands get off the road, they need some time alone–you two got engaged. How did the proposal go down and what steps do you take to keep the romance and the music fresh? Then again, Buckingham Nicks turned their heartache into multi-platinum sales…. 

JORDAN JAMES BURCHILL: Yes! We got engaged in New York at Washington Square Park. It’s one of our favorite places to go whenever we’re in the city. Mikaela was totally surprised. It was awesome. We do spend a lot of time together but we never really get sick of each other. When we’re not playing shows or writing music, we’re out seeing friend’s shows in Austin or watching our TV programs (currently binging The New Girl on Netflix and True Detective on HBO). We do like our alone time though and definitely make time for writing and practicing separately. Whenever we have a night off, Mikaela’s trying out new recipes in the kitchen, and Jordan’s out playing music with friends. On the road we try to have a mix of work (playing shows, networking) and having fun. We always save up some money and go to a nice dinner together in whatever city we’re visiting.

How did ‘Lion Eyes’ make its way into the Spike Lee film, BlacKkKlansman? For people who will be catching it on VOD, where in the film can they hear it?

JORDAN: Sometime last year Mikaela saw an open call for independent music submissions on Spike Lee’s Instagram looking for music for his Netflix show She’s Gotta Have It. ‘Lion Eyes’ was the second song we ever wrote together. We got a call a few months later from Spike’s music director telling us that Spike passed on our song for the TV show but had been holding onto it for his new movie. We had completely forgotten about the submission and were shocked! We are so excited to have a small part in such an amazing and important movie. Our song is in a pretty tough scene to watch. It’s about halfway through the movie where a Klan member and his wife are talking in bed saying some really horrible things.

With two EPs behind you, and some big gigs ahead (like tonight’s Hotel Cafe show in LA and your official premiere gig in Austin), what songs do you add to flesh out the headliner set?

MIKAELA BETH KAHN: We’re definitely playing songs from our last EP and the new one, but we’ve also added some brand-new songs to the set. We’ve been writing a lot for our next record and some of the songs we’ll be playing will actually be on that. We’ve also really been digging Lennon Stella’s new EP (Love, me) lately and we cover one of her songs in our set. We made an Instagram video of it a few weeks back.

For the year ahead, are you eying a touring bus or is it still the two of you in the car? 

JORDAN: Definitely no tour bus but we’d love to get the full band to do a Texas tour sometime this year!

Do you sing to stay entertained on the highway? What albums do you bring with you (or stream)? 

MIKAELA: In the car we’ve been listening to a lot of Kacey Musgraves and Ruston Kelly – a power couple we look up to. We also love podcasts so we listen to a lot of Bill Simmons sports podcasts and true crime podcasts. We don’t really sing in the car unless we’re making up weird songs when we get bored (laughs).

Falling is available for preorder. Their debut EP, All in Life (featuring ‘Lion Eyes’) is available now.  

Soul Serenade: The Capitols, “Cool Jerk”


The summer of 1966. I spent it on the beach and Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Incredible music poured out of tinny sounding transistor radio speakers everywhere I went. The songs of that summer included “Paint It, Black” by the Rolling Stones, “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and the Shondells, “Sunny” by Bobby Hebb, “Sweet Talkin’ Guy” by the Chiffons, “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge, and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by the Temptations.” But the Tempts and their Motown colleagues were not the only ones pushing great music out of the Motor City. Because 1966 was also the summer of the Capitols.

They got together in 1962 as an actual band, as opposed to a vocal group, called the Caps. The original lineup included drummer Samuel George who was also the lead singer. Don Storball played guitar and sang backup vocals, and Richard Mitchell was the keyboard player who also sang backup. At the time, an Ann Arbor DJ named Ollie McLaughlin owned a label called Karen Records. When the Caps opened for Barbara Lewis, McLaughlin caught their act and signed them to his label. In 1963, they released their first single “Dog and Cat” b/w “The Kick.” The record had plenty of energy, just like their later singles would, but the lyrics were pretty childish and the Caps failed to find an audience for it. As a result, the group fell apart and the members went their own ways.

The 1960s were known for a number of dance crazes. There was the twist, the watusi, the frug, and many others. One of the biggest was a dance called the jerk. The jerk was more sexually suggestive than some of the others, so much so that in some Detroit clubs it was known as the “pimp jerk.” Storball could sense which way the wind was blowing and he wrote a song hoping to capitalize on the jerk craze. He was smart enough to worry that such a song might end up being banned on the radio so instead of calling it “Pimp Jerk” he called it “Cool Jerk.”

The other Capitols saw the potential in Storball’s song and decided to get back together. They got in touch with McLaughlin to give him the good news and to book some studio time. On March 14, 1966, they went into the studio and although “Cool Jerk” was not technically a Motown record, the backing group that day was none other than Motown’s legendary Funk Brothers. McLaughlin served as producer. There were supposed to be horn players on the record but perhaps fearful of the wrath of Berry Gordy, Jr. they failed to show up for the sessions. The session went on without them, the horn parts simply left out of the mix.

The Capitols

The “Cool Jerk” single was released two weeks later on Karen Records (it was eventually picked up by Atlantic for distribution) and it rose to #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 while reaching the #2 spot on the R&B chart. Not content to rest on their laurels, the Capitols released two albums in 1966 hoping to capitalize on the success of the “Cool Jerk” single. Both albums, Dance the Cool Jerk and We Got a Thing, were primarily made up of Motown and other soul covers. Neither album did very well although Dance the Cool Jerk managed to scrape into the Top 100 for a week.

The Capitols released eight more singles in the wake of their “Cool Jerk” smash. Only two of them charted and none higher than #65. As a result, the Capitols will always wear the one-hit wonder tag. In 1969, they broke up for good. Don Storball became a cop and still lives in Detroit. Samuel George died in 1982, and Richard Mitchell died two years later.

The Capitols may have only had the one hit but it’s a hit that has been covered many times over the years and one that has influenced generations of musicians. Among the artists doing their own versions of “Cool Jerk” were Todd Rundgren, the Tremeloes, the Coasters, the Outsiders, and the Go-Gos. The song has also been featured in numerous films including a memorable version that had Bootsy Collins performing the song backed by the Funk Brothers in Standing in the Shadows of Motown.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Ninety-Seven

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode Ninety Seven

Episode 97 is the first newly-recorded show of 2019, done on Rob’s birthday (!) and is no less than a stellar power-hour of non-stop smart, thoughtful conversation, a lot of comedy and informative elements, including a breakdown of the brilliant new album from Chris Korzen (under the name “Nezrok”); the deaths of several celebrities we grew up with to begin the year; a glimpse at MTV’s new series with Lindsay Lohan (!); the N.F.L. playoffs, of course, “In Our Heads” and a great deal more.

You’ll want to settle in and listen to this particular show – you’ll find an amazing array of things to enjoy and relate to…

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Ninety Seven

The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.

The Popdose Interview: Reverend Horton Heat’s Half New Band and Whole New Life

In the year 2019, some 33 & 1/3 years after they started (give or take), The Reverend Horton Heat is bigger than ever. This past November, Victory Records released the band’s 12th album, Whole New Life, described by front man Jim Heath as “the most positive material I have ever written. It focuses heavily on rock and roll but there is a human interest parallel – songs about growing up poor, vices, marriage, having children and walking the rapturous streets of America.”

The album landed high on my Best Albums of 2018 list and keeps getting better by the day. There are few sure things in pop culture these days, but the Reverend’s albums always entertain and their live sets are guaranteed to shake your booty and soak you to the bone. The mosh pits might be lively, but you’re not going to meet a nicer crowd anywhere on Earth.

With this new album and tour, two new members, drummer Arjuna ‘RJ’ Contreras and pianist Matt Jordan, join Heath and his trusty sidekick Jimbo Wallace (slapper of the stand-up bass). The band, one that plays up to 200 dates annually, is off on the road as we speak, preaching the gospel of rock and roll to the masses. Popdose caught up with Heath between gigs.

POPDOSE: In the early press for this album, you mentioned you were channeling a Sam Phillips/1950s vibe while recording Whole New Life. How did this recording experience differ from your time in the studio with the likes of Al Jourgensen and Gibby Haynes? 

JIM HEATH: I’m the producer and studio engineer on most of this record. I pretty much try to channel the energy from Sun Records all of the time. It’s hard to do. Those are great, great records. Sam Phillips was a genius. I think the pumping piano on ‘Whole New Life’ channels Jerry Lee Lewis.

I’m now getting more and more into tape. This album actually has some vintage style microphones and microphone amps that I built myself as well as a lot of old equipment. From a studio engineer point of view, my favorite recordings are Bill Haley and the Comets, Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline, Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio. If I could get the sound that Bill Haley and the Comets got, I’d do that all of the time. Fortunately, I can’t, therefore I’m forced to find my own thing.

These days, especially in Texas, people either feel like we’re living in heaven or hell; did the current social/political climate inspire the positive tone of the new songs?

JH: People need positivity in their lives no matter what’s going on in the news. My job is to make people smile.

Your guitars – and Jimbo’s — are as much the stars of show as the band – do you still play the same ones or do you upgrade with new models every few years?  

JH: Jimbo has been through multiple basses. I’ve been on the same Gretsch RHH 6120 since 2004. I’ve got several of my model of Gretsch, but there’s one main one and then another that I put heavier strings on for solo shows and some recording sessions. I’d love to dig my old guitars out of the closet, but I don’t have time!

Congrats on the new members – how long til they are immortalized with a theme song ala J.I.M.B.O? 

JH: Thanks. RJ and Matt are so much fun to play with. Super fun and they are both extremely talented musicians in their own ways. Awesome. 

I’ve been a fan almost since the beginning but clearly don’t have the stamina to enter the pit at one of your shows anymore – how are the crowds these days? Slowing down? Or are the new kids up front and the rest back at the bar?

JH: One thing that I think that Reverend Horton Heat has more than any band on the planet is diversity of the types of shows that we do and diversity among our fans. We’ll play a country place one night with elderly square dancers, then the next night we’re playing to a giant mosh pit of metal or punks, then the next night its hippies or something… I genuinely love anybody who is nice, respectful and willing to rock out! It’s really crazy. I’ll adjust our set list to the crowd as much as it takes, but it’s still our original songs and it’s a Reverend Horton Heat show. Of course, there’ going to be some rockabilly people at any Rev show too.

Quick aside – one of the all time coolest things I have ever seen at a live gig. At one of your shows at Metro in Chicago back in the day, a kid in the pit had his glasses knocked off mid-song everyone around him stopped on a dime until someone found them – and the pit picked right up once they were recovered. No question there, just awe at how cool your fans are.

JH: Right. One thing that all RHH fans have in common is they’re nice and have a good sense of humor. Well…most are nice.

As you get older, have your vices and habits on the road changed at all? Or are you still sticking with the classics? With this new style of raspier singing, how do you keep your voice fresh for 200+ annual shows? Does whisky help?

JH: No, whiskey does not help. I don’t drink before the show ever, but once we start, I’ve got a little cup of whiskey – hey, I want to have some fun too! But, yes, we’ve changed. We used to be pretty much of a 24/7 travelling party. Then, one day Jimbo and I had a long heart to heart and decided that we needed to be really on top of performing for EVERYONE – not just there to party with the old hanger-on’ers from ‘back in the day’. That discussion saved our career and maybe our lives as well. Professional singing coaches are amazed that I sing six nights on/one night off. I’m kind of surprised I can do it as well. I have to sleep a lot during the day when we’re on tour.

Viva Las Vegas is such a natural cover for the band, how has this version ever not ALWAYS existed? Has it been in the live set for a while? What inspired you to record it?

JH: It’s kind of a long story why we recorded it, but it does work very, very well with all sorts of crowds. It’s what we call a barn-burner.

Who’s heading out on the road with you this round? Any special guests as openers or on-stage guests?

JH: We’ve got Big Sandy with us a lot these days. He’s so busy with his band and regular gigs we can’t always get him. He is with us in January and February of 2019. We’re going to be doing a thing at the Ameripolitan Awards and possibly at Viva Las Vegas this year with Big Sandy as well. He’s a dear friend. We’re also excited to get Bloodshot Bill as a guest in the middle of 2019. As far as openers, there are too many to list. Voodoo Glow Skulls and The Delta Bombers. Hopefully more with Junior Brown and the Blasters.

I still feel the Heat on CD, always have, always will. But now that streaming is all the rage, have you made enough to at least buy a good beer with the royalties?

JH: The streaming thing is hurting artists, producers, musicians and everyone who makes recorded music. I hope that they figure out something more equitable very soon. In the meantime, my artform is music, which actually has very little to do with recording.

Whole New Life by The Reverend Horton Heat is available to buy on CD and Vinyl from your local, independent record store, if you’re lucky enough to have one nearby, or Amazon if you don’t.



Soul Serenade: Jimmy Soul, “If You Wanna Be Happy”

I chose this week’s song with some trepidation. It has been on my list of prospective features for a long time. The obvious reason is that on its surface, this song is a long way from politically correct and in the current climate that can generate more controversy than I’m interested in dealing with. But wait a minute. Let’s look a little below the surface. What is Jimmy Soul really saying in “If You Wanna Be Happy”?

First a little about the singer himself. Jimmy Soul was born in North Carolina and as you may have guessed, Soul was not his family name. James Louis McCleese was preaching by the time he was seven and singing gospel in his teenage years. It was his church congregation that gave him the “Soul” moniker.

Soul toured the south a variety of gospel groups and acquired some popularity in the Norfolk, Virginia area. It was there that he encountered Frank Guida who was a songwriter and producer ass well as being the manager of Gary U.S. Bonds among other artists. Guida thought that Soul would be a good substitute for Bonds on songs that Bonds had declined to record and when you listen to “If You Wanna Be Happy” you will notice a decided similarity to the sound of the Bonds hits. It’s a sound that has had a noticeable impact on producers and artists who came later.

Jimmy Soul

“If You Wanna Be Happy” was written by Guida along with his wife Carmella and Joseph Royster. It was based on a song called “Ugly Woman” that had been recorded by the Trinidadian calypso singer Roaring Lion in 1934. The record was released on Guida’s own S.P.Q.R. label and distributed by London Records in the United States. Despite the fact that the “ugly woman” lyrics got the song banned by many radio stations “If You Wanna Be Happy” shot to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May 1963. The single sold over a million copies and earned a gold record. It was the second hit for Soul who had scored with “Twistin’ Matilda” the previous year.

Jimmy Soul kept trying but he could never match the success of the two singles. He finally gave up his career as a musician and joined the Army. Sadly, drugs became a problem for Soul and landed him in prison in the 1980s. He died of a heart attack in 1988 at the age of 45.

Now about those lyrics. Yes, they’re hard to defend and yet the point of the lyrics is clearly that looks aren’t everything. It’s a positive message which is unfortunately delivered in a rather offensive way. And yet, in 1963, “If You Wanna Be Happy” captured hearts around the world with the unrestrained joy that leaped from the grooves of the record.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Ninety-Six

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode Ninety Six

2019 starts off with a resounding bang as Jon and Rob don’t slow down at all!  The boys immediately get to work, discussing and dissecting the anti-climactic vibe of the holiday season; the shameful GoFundMe scandal involving a homeless veteran; the government still being shut down, “In Our Heads” and a whole bunch more!

So kick off 2019 with your favorite podcast.  Jon and Rob continue to offer up the best and deliver every time.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Ninety Six

The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.


Suburban Metal Dad #802.5: “Christmas Time Was Here”







2018’s 50 Best Albums: An Apocalypse Survival Guide

While it’s safe to say most of us want to forget all about 2018, there are hundreds of incredible albums by stellar artists across the complete spectrum of genres that are worthy of soundtracking your 2019 and beyond.

After writing and ranking this year’s list, I noticed an ominous theme; welcome to your survival guide for the end of days — here’s hoping we make it to 2020.

As you may notice, I actually bought these albums on CD. A few publicists sent me digital advances and I still wound up buying the good albums on CD. I might be the last person on Earth who experiences music this way, but it’s still preferred. More compact, reliable, and easier to use than vinyl. Better sound quality than streaming, without commercials, buffering, subscriptions, outages, or impact on my data plan. Plus, while driving in the middle of nowhere or between large buildings or mountain hills, I can still hear my music just fine. That said, with labels giving up on the format–gone are the days where any thought was given to artwork, liner notes or design–I think I will bow out too in 2019. So here you go, perhaps my last-ever CD roundup…

#1: Smoking Popes • Into the Agony

When most of us think about alternative music in the 1990s, Seattle (where I currently live) comes to mind, but let’s not forget the explosion of Midwestern talent to emerge simultaneously from Chicago (where I lived then). Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair, Urge Overkill, Veruca Salt, and Material Issue all made a big splash, as did the Smoking Popes. While ‘Need You Around‘ was their biggest hit, thanks to plum placement on the Clueless soundtrack, the Popes were a live act to be reckoned with and their album Born to Quit was a ubiquitous as Cheap Trick At Budokan on the CD shelves of most of my friends at the time. The Popes full classic-era lineup is back on Into the Agony to clobber you with the one-two punch of singer Josh Ceterer’s Sinatra/Torme-esque croon and the pile driving rhythmic fury supplied by his brothers Matt and Eli along with drummer Mike Felumlee. In the darkest hours of 2018, ‘When You Want Something’ turned out to be the song that saved my life, a gift for which I will be forever grateful. ‘Little Lump of Coal’ is a spot-on global warming rallying cry, while ‘Melting America’ finally stands up and screams to the world what I (as an atheist) have been saying for years — the Republican Party is in complete defiance of the teachings of Jesus (love, compassion and inclusion). Perhaps Beto can use this as a campaign song next year.

#2: James • Living in Extraordinary Times

It’s been more than a quarter century since James started releasing epic singles, and here they are — more than a decade after their resurrection — releasing some of the best music of their career. Singer Tim Booth and bassist Jim Glennie have been on board since 1982, but most of the band has at least been around since the Laid heyday. Every performance on this disc, straight down to the best drums and percussion I’ve heard on any record in ages, is delivered with the passion and intensity of a fresh band on their first major label album; drenched in ambition with one shot only to prove everything to the world. But that’s just it, James are elder statesmen in this youth obsessed industry, taking on all challengers to the throne and showing em all how it’s done. If you’re going to go for it, go all in with deluxe edition of this album; it goes 16-tracks deep and never lets up on the torrent of melodic, cathartic, emotional, and urgent new pop classics.

#3: Johnny Marr • Call The Comet

I’ll be honest, when mom and dad got a divorce, I kinda lost track of dad; dad being Johnny Marr in this metaphor. But with mom, er I mean Moz, totally off the deep end, I’ve removed a Smiths reunion from my bucket list. Without such a dark cloud hanging over this record, I could finally, truly appreciate what a stellar singer and lyricist one of rock’s all-time best guitarists has become. While there’s no trace of the classic Morrissey/Marr sound on Call The Comet, it does sound a lot like what I imagine the Chameleons, Whipping Boy, and the Comsat Angels would sound like today if they were still evolving their sound and making new records.

#4: Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers • Bought to Rot

When the Against Me! singer announced she was signing to Chicago-based alt country powerhouse Bloodshot Records, I thought, oh wow, here comes her inevitable Lilith Fair record. The guess wasn’t too far off considering her homespun take of ‘Androgynous’ with Joan Jett and Miley Cyrus on Jett’s recently released Bad Reputation soundtrack. What Grace and her new band delivered was perhaps her most abrasive punk opus since Against Me! is Reinventing Axl Rose. But instead of treading back to that aggro-punk sound, Grace builds upon the songwriting craft she’s perfected across the past four Against Me! albums, three of which topped my year-end list in their respective years. Five of the 14 songs on the album have the word “song” in the title (‘The Apology Song”, “The Hotel Song”, etc.) bringing an almost poetry slam vibe to the mosh pit proceedings, with Grace in the spotlight venting, confessing, fooling and/or enraging her audience (case in point, one of the year’s best singles, ‘I Hate Chicago’).

#5: Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper • A Star is Born

Holy crap! Did Gagaloo actually release a 34-track new album? Well, once you weed out the 13 spoken word dialogue segues and the five Bradley Cooper solo songs, you’re still looking at a damn fine full-length Gaga record, one that ranks among the best in her decade-long career. The bigger shock here is the suite of Cooper-tracks, solos and duets — the dude can SAANG. Not only that, true to his character, these songs sound like actual, well weathered, classic rock smashes. I haven’t even seen the film yet, but can still follow along with the story (let me guess, it has a happy ending with those two driving off into the sunset). It was a major gamble to build a movie on original songs instead of going the Mama Mia route, but boy did it pay off. These songs are big enough to make me believe a stadium full of people would show up to hear them. And that Gaga, a bonafide superstar, could make us believe her character is a struggling singer is a testament to her acting, the script, film direction and songwriting.

#6: Paul McCartney • Egypt Station (Target Deluxe Edition)

I’ll admit, I am not the typical Beatles devotee. I have the Stereo and Mono box sets, but listen to Wingspan and Tug of War WAY more often. Egypt Station is a glorious new Macca Classic; 18 instantly toe-tapping songs, near double LP in size once you factor in the essential bonus tracks ‘Get Started’ and ‘Nothing for Free’ found on the Target-exclusive.

#7: Fernando Perdomo • Zebra Crossing

Every time a child laughs, LA-based producer, guitarist, singer/songwriter Fernando Perdomo releases an album, appears on someone else’s album, or hits the stage and jams with some of the biggest names in prog rock or power pop. Zebra Crossing, recorded last summer at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, is jam-packed with bonafide hits… had these songs been released in the late 70’s or early 80’s at the height of Paul McCartney & Wings, ELO, the Beach Boys, or Todd Rundgren (with whom Perdomo has actually worked). In 2018, Perdomo’s classic pop FM-radio ready originals provide a melodic breath of fresh air in a world where actual radio is a algorhythmic mish mash of over-processed digital product churned out by reality TV and TMZ stars.

#8: Reverend Horton Heat • Whole New Life

The Reverend, Jim Heath, and his trusty bassist sidekick Jimbo, have never released a dud album in lo their many years, but Whole New Life surely breathes new life into their storied career. It’s by far their best since the Al Jourgensen-produced must-have, Liquor in the Front. The Heat has steadily cooled from their “Psychobilly Freakout” phase that mixed blistering punk with classic rockabilly sounds. Today, like and El Dorado cruising down main street, they are veering closer and closer to becoming the reigning kings of pure rockabilly. But just as Prince Charles awaits his time atop the throne, Jerry Lee Lewis has no intention of giving up the rockabilly crown and is still performing shows in his 80’s. No need to fear, there’s room in this here town for the both of em, and with new classics like “Got It In My Pocket” and “Wonky”,  plus a long overdue cover of “Viva Las Vegas”, the Heat ain’t cooling anytime soon.

#9: The Interrupters • Fight the Good Fight

After hearing this band’s breakout hit, ‘She’s Kerosene’, I bought all three of their albums at once and digested them at the same time. It’s probably the perfect way to experience the passion and exuberance of this band (Aimee Allen leading the three Bivona brothers: Jesse, Justin and Kevin). If you’re into Joan Jett, Rancid, Tim Timebomb, and the whole Hellcat Records scene, you know what you’re getting into here. Instantly catchy and danceable punk with traces of ska and reggae, uplifting messages, rallying cries and a sense that just by listening, you’re part of tight knit community. ‘Take Back The Power‘ from their 2014 self-titled debut is the anthem of the decade, a messaged carried forward in fury with Fight’s 12 blistering new tracks, including ‘Title Holder’ and the Kerosene single which was all over the radio and the charts this year.

#10: Frank Turner • Be More Kind

Speaking of anthems, there probably wasn’t a more urgent, relevant, and needed album in this Trump and Brexit era than Be More Kind the title track and full album by Frank Turner and his crackling band The Sleeping Souls. When Turner released a 29-track collection called Songbook at the end of 2017, I thought that would be enough to digest for the next three of four years, but then mere five months later in May, he released a collection of new songs, including ‘Make America Great Again’ which reclaims those words for the cause of good. Turner views the world with a wide lens and zooms out to put our shit show in perspective with what’s happening in the US, Europe, South America and just about everywhere joyless division and populism is taking root.

#11: The Motels • The Last Few Beautiful Days

Martha Davis is to The Motels what Chrissie Hynde is to The Pretenders; the lineups will constantly change, but glorious sound remains the same. Some 35+ years on from her heyday (All Four One, Little Robbers), Davis’s lovelorn, cinematic voice remains ageless, and this collection marks a true return to form in terms of dreamy, new wave-adjacent, pop perfection with the right dose of weirdness. ‘A Long As’ proves Davis is still a top-rate lyricist, able to flutter hearts and inspire teenage crushes in fans of all ages.

#12: Steven Page • Discipline: Heal Thy Self Part II

“Things are about to get real, fucking nice,” sneers the former lead singer of the very family-friendly Barenaked Ladies. Hot on the heels of the on-stage reunion with his former band (at the 2018 Juno Awards), Page returns to the bountiful springs of his solo career, one that has out-paced the Ladies on every creative front for more than a decade. Just like Part I, Part II delivers another trunkload of new Page classics, filled with his signature wit, untethered by the pressures to remain on-brand with his former band.

#13: Culture Club • Life

Boy George and his Culture Club cohorts Roy, Mikey, and Jon don’t always release new albums, but when they do, it is well worth the wait. Life, arrives 19 years after their last record, Don’t Mind if I Do (which itself arrived 13 years after its predecessor From Luxury to Heartache). Instead of cashing in on nostalgia, Life is an utterly modern album filled with groovy, trippy new classics. In many ways, they outdo the Arctic Monkeys in a quest to create the alt rock lounge album of the year, especially on the silky ‘What Does Sorry Mean?’. And just when you think Boy George is being remarkably restrained, ‘Resting Bitch Face’ shows he can still drop a cheeky radio hit.

#14: Dua Lipa • Dua Lipa (Complete Edition)

OK, the original release of this album topped my 2017 albums list, but 2018 was the year where it became a worldwide sensation. Lipa combines sultry Amy Winehouse-esque vocals with Lady Gaga’s ability to deliver a show to 100,000 festival goers. Much like Gaga’s The Fame Monster, Dua Lipa Complete Edition tacks on an additional mini album’s worth of one-off singles from the year, including collaborations with Mark Ronson, Diplo, Calvin Harris, and Sean Paul.

#15: The 1975 • A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

For me, the 1975 has been a half-baked Killers knockoff since they debuted, delivering pleasing but forgettable alt pop fare. But then, as this album loomed, they declared it would be the most important album of their year, and pretty much everyone agreed, including me. See, the power of positive thinking. Inquiry features some of the year’s best singles, but it’s also a compelling album to take in as a whole, with diversions at every turn, perfect music for long commutes or scenic road trips.

#16: Claudia Brücken & Jerome Froese • Beginn

Propaganda’s 1985 new wave opus, A Secret Wish, is the album that just won’t die, so much so that co-lead singers Brücken and Suzanne Freytag took it on the road in 2018, under the moniker xPropaganda, on a tour with Heaven 17. Beginn has little connection to Propaganda, it continues the path of Brücken’s 30+ year post-Propaganda career, pairing her with a consistently surprising, eclectic, and left-field array of partners (Andrew Poppy, Thomas Leer, and OMD’s Paul Humphreys to name a few). With each collaboration, Brücken creates some truly beautiful, sophisticated and daring European pop. This time out, it’s Jerome Froese of Tangerine Dream, creating some of the most pop radio friendly music of his career, more on par with Saint Etienne than Dr. Mabuse.

#17 (TIE): Little Mix • LM5 / Brandi Carlile • By The Way, I Forgive You

Alas, due to an F-up with Amazon, the Deluxe Edition of Little Mix’s LM5–one that I assume appears to be a mini coffee table book (similar to James, Kylie, and Culture Club’s releases this year)–arrived after I shot all my other CD jewel cases for this year’s profile image. So I placed LM5 with their other stellar releases in tribute to them making the official “5 Club” on my CD wall. Mainstream girl groups aren’t typically my jam. I had pretty much bypassed the likes of Spice Girls, Pussycat Dolls, and Sugababes, until I discovered Girls Aloud whose five Xenomania-produced albums rank up there with ABBA in terms of the best pop released in my lifetime. I never thought it would happen again, but here we are five in with Little Mix. I first heard them when their anthem ‘Salute’ was the soundtrack for NBC’s Women’s Gymnastics coverage at the Olympics. The four members of the group may lack the name recognition of Mel B, Cheryl Cole, or Camila Cabello, but their singing is just as angelic, ambitious, and worthy of plentiful #1 hits. LM5’s regular edition includes the hit ‘Woman Like Me’ featuring Nicki Minaj while the deluxe edition features an even better empowerment anthem, ‘Woman’s World”.

And speaking of anthems…

Perhaps my top musical moment of 2018 was seeing Carlile and her band bring the house down with ‘Hold Out Your Hand’ as a one-off musical guest on Full Frontal With Samantha Bee. Thank heavens By The Way, I Forgive You is the title of the album from which the song came, because I have snoozed through much of my Greater Puget Sound neighbor’s storied career, including her hit album The Story (produced by T Bone Burnett) and the cover album it produced featuring Adele and Pearl Jam. I even missed her latest in-store performance at my local Easy Street Records (recently voted one of Rolling Stone’s 10 best record stores in America). Thankfully, she did not need my help for her career to reach new heights; the album reached #5 on the charts, the tour was a hit, and the rest is herstory.

#18: Maggie Rose • Change the Whole Thing

I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about Nashville’s Maggie Rose, but was told to drop everything and listen to her second album. I tend to hate country music, but this album reminds me just how good that genre can be when it’s full of heart instead of studio polish. Change also radiates with the glory and divine feminine energy of that first Indigo Girls album, you now, the one most dudes have in their record collections. As it steadily builds steam, it turns into a bonafide rock and roll record, reminding me of the days when Linda Ronstadt released bonafide rock and roll records. Perhaps with this album and it’s little bit of country, little bit of honey, and little bit of booty shaking, we finally have something everyone on the Right and Left can agree on.

And the rest…

Here are some short takes on the rest. Some of these records from early 2018 feel like they were released 2-3 years ago. I guess that’s because every week in the Trump era has felt like forever.

I intentionally skipped over some really good records that I bought from the likes of Arianna Grande, Kacey Musgraves, Bebe Rexha, Janelle Monae, and Camilla Cabello because they are already massive hits. I also skipped what I assume are solid records by Interpol, Franz Ferdinand and MGMT because I honestly forgot I had bought them and will rotate them back into rotation this month.

#19 • The Coral • Move Through The Dawn

We’re closing in on 20 years since The Coral, then a scrappy bunch of teenagers, released their psychedelic drenched, Mercury Prize-nominated, self-titled debut album (produced by Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds). That album remains one of the best debuts of all time and a total creative tour de force, viewing the late 1960’s through modern kaleidoscope eyes. Ever since, they’ve released totally charming, rootsy rock pop records that are occasionally brilliant but nowhere near the high mark they once set. This album is no different, there’s not a dud track in the bunch, each track is a joy — but it would be fun to hear them take some chances again.

#20 • The Longshot • Love is For Losers

Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong has enjoyed a stealthy side career throughout his reign fronting one of arena punk’s biggest bands. The Network, Foxboro Hut Tubs, and the prolific Pinhead Gunpowder are just a few of his side hustles with and without Tré Cool and Mike Dirnt.

Fresh on the heels of The Armstrongs, a one-off super group featuring Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, Billie Joe returned with a vengeance in 2018, releasing two albums worth of new solo material under the moniker The Longshot. Ever since juggernaut American Idiot made Green Day an “important” band and Billie Joe caved into his addictions (derailing the promotion cycle for their triple CD series (Uno, Dos, Tré), it’s more important than ever for one of rock’s brightest stars to find the joy in music without the burden of topping himself. The blistering and melodic song cycle of Losers amounts to one of the year’s most winning listening experiences. Dive deep into the three related EPs to find a triumphant rendition of the Plimsouls’ ‘Million Miles Away’.

#21 • Neko Case • Hell-On

Speaking of side hustles, Neko Case splits her time with the New Pornographers and her epic, genre liberated solo career, plus occasional one offs like The Corn Sisters and case/lang/veirs. Blacklisted, her first solo record after two with Neko Case & Her Boyfriends, remains one of the most haunting and beautiful albums of all time, and each platter since has taken listeners on dizzying adventures through her genius blend of folk, Americana, lounge, torch song, alt country, and rock and roll. Hell-On continues the trend, essential listening for Case diehards or a great entry point to her catalog.

22 (tie) Gorillaz • The Now Now / The Good, The Bad and the Queen • Merrie Land

If there’s any lingering doubt who won the Blur v. Oasis battle, the answer is Daman Albarn. In addition to keeping Blur on life support, with 2015’s epic The Magic Whip (arriving more than a decade after Think Tank), he’s fronted virtual band Gorillaz and a bonafide supergroup, the Good, The Bad and the Queen (featuring members of The Clash, the Verve, and Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s Africa). The Gorillaz album is much more mainstream alt pop, while the Queen project is much more droll Britpop. Both albums soundtrack the further decline of the British empire, helping those of us in Trump Country to share their Brexit misery.

#23 (tie) • The Fratellis • In Your Own Sweet Time / We Are Scientists • Megaplex

Both of these bands were on my “Lost Bands of the 2000’s” list, alongside the likes of Hot Hot Heat, The Zutons, Bloc Party, and Ambulance LTD. Their early hits, alongside The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, the Kaiser Chiefs, and the Strokes, ushered in what I thought was going to be a new era of oxymoronic mainstream alternative rock. But then, one by one, these bands disappeared. Well, until now. Both of these records herald a true return to form before each band ascends further into their own form of greatness.

#24 • Anderson Paak • Oxnard

I’ll admit, I stopped taking rap seriously after the mid-1990s. After that, everything just seemed to be a twitter war set to cheap beats and every video boiled down to people with money partying hard in poolside mansions. I had no idea who this Paak man was until his slew of media appearances, and I was sold in an instant. Paak has genuine skills on the mic all while rocking the drums like a hip hop Phil Collins.

#25 • Manic Street Preachers • Resistance is Futile

I’ll admit — I am kind of hit or miss on the Manics. I could live without their critically adored classic, The Holy Bible (1994) and turn of the century albums like Know Your Enemy. But Resistance is Futile shimmers with the same glorious and dangerous BritPop shine as Everything Must Go (1996) and This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours (1998).

#26 • Muse • Simulation Theory (Deluxe)

It’s been ages since Muse released ‘Knights of Cydonia”, the greatest song and video of all time. As time passes, they keep slipping, slipping, slipping into a poppier sound, but this generation’s Rush still packs a punch.

#27 • Ken Sharp • Beauty in the Backseat

In a perfect world, power pop savant Ken Sharp would have had his own Saturday Morning super show featuring Syd and Marty Kroft puppets, his smiling mug would adorn embossed metal lunchboxes with built-in Thermoses, his hits would headline K-Tel compilations on K-Mart endcaps, and he’d be regularly featured on the cover of Tiger Beat and Scholastic’s Dynamite magazine. In Ken’s world, David Cassidy remains the true king of pop and the 1970’s never ended. Beauty in the Backseat yet again hits the sweetspot for fans of the Partridge Family, Sweet, Todd Rundgren, and the Babys; its a wall-to-wall shag (carpeting) fest of sunshine pop, ideal for vans with star-shaped rear windows and AMC Gremlins in day glo green.

#28 • Lily Allen • No Shame

Much better than Sheezus, not as brilliant as her first two albums, but damn close.

#29 • Halo Circus • Robots and Wranglers

American Idol’s Salvadoran Sensation, Allison Iraheta, returns with her third record, second under the Halo Circus moniker. For more about it, read my review of the Best Singles of 2018.

#30 • Moby • Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt

In 1995, Moby told us Everything Is Wrong, but now look where we are. This lush, soulful album is like a warm blanket to cover our shivering bodies as we huddle in the fetal position until the Dems get a bankable candidate to the stage for 2020.

#31 • Fionn

As I pine anxiously for the next Louise Burns record to arrive like Eric Cartman waiting for the next Wii, the ex-Lillix guitarist turned Echo & The Bunnywoman for the new Millennium produces the debut by this Canadian sister act (Alanna and Brianne Finn-Morris of White Rock, BC). Much like The Pierces (USA) and the Bloom Twins (Ukraine), Fionn mixes dark, romantic and utterly adventurous themes into their harmonic, David Lynchian, folk pop. Don’t love them just because they are utterly beautiful and magazine cover stylish, in fact the trappings of beauty are addressed throughout Fionn’s 12 mesmerizing songs (including standouts ‘Magazine Face’ and ‘Tell Me I’m Pretty’).

#32 • Jack White • Boarding House Reach

Before heading back to mainstream rock and roll with The Raconteurs (two singles just dropped, a 2019 album is en route), Jack White let his freak flag fly with the most adventurous and risk taking embodiment of every band and album he’s ever fronted in his adventurous and risk taking career.

#33 • Blood Orange • Negro Swan

The uber remixer gets deep on a trippy long player. In a way, it’s like PM Dawn meets Steely Dan meets those Operator segues from Prince’s The Gold Experience. 

#34 • The Struts • Young and Dangerous

England’s The Struts are hell bent on becoming the biggest band on the planet the same way The Darkness once were. They have the chops, but neither of their albums have dented the Billboard Top 100 yet (2014’s Everybody Wants hit #99; this album peaked at #102). That said, with giant “should be hits” on each platter and a relentless touring schedule opening for the likes of Foo Fighters, I have a feeling they will eventually have the last laugh.

#35 • Robyn • Honey

Body Talk was one of the most innovative and rewarding albums of all time. It’s follow-up takes fewer chances and is more along the lines of Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor, but this clubby album still it has its rewards.

#36 • Smashing Pumpkins • Shiny and Oh So Bright Volume #1

Jeez — why not throw D’Arcy a bone and let her play on some tracks and appear in all the promotional pics? Her presence is why we could suffer through Billy’s bloated 33-minute live versions of ‘Silverfuck’. But with 3/4 of the band back on the B-train for the first time in 18 years, the vintage Pumpkins appear to be back… for now. While nothing here holds up to pre-Machina 1 greatness, it’s still Billy’s best new album since Zwan.

#37 • Belly • Dove

Holy crap, did we actually wait 20+ years for this album? I guess so. Well, we did have a lot going on. Dove splits the difference between 1995’s uneven King and 1993’s brilliant Star. 

#38 • Dream Wife and #39 • Thunderpussy

Similar sound, different sides of the pond. Unbridled, unabashed, unapologetic, and unforgettable riot girl punk for a new generation.

#40 • Blancmange • Wanderlust

80’s new wave darlings Blancmange released three epic albums in their heyday (each recently expanded to the gills within the 9-disc Blanc Tapes collection). Since then, Neil Arthur has been releasing on average of two albums per year under a variety of project names. They’re all enjoyable dark wave, minimalist electronic fare, including this one. Semi-Detached even topped my albums list in 2015.

#41 • Eminem • Kamikaze

I hate all the people who say they condone utterly offensive rap music because they like the beats. I love rocking out to this album but have yet to listen to whatever the hell Em is talking about this go round.

#42 • RSO • Radio Free America

I don’t think this relationship worked out (in the bedroom or on the stage), but their pairing finally put the first-ever Richie Sambora album into my record collection with this quite lovely collection of radio friendly arena rock. For the record, my only Jon Bon Jovi track to date is that Star Wars Christmas song. But I am a huge fan of guitar hero Orianthi, who has still yet to find the right album or project to realize her greatness.

#43 • Albert Hammond Jr. • Francis Trouble

Yet again, the non-lead singer of the once-bankable Strokes releases a better album than anything since his day job’s first two.

#44 • Kylie Minogue • Golden

I first heard of Kylie Minogue through a KMFDM diss track, but she’s steadily earned a permanent place in my heart. Golden goes a little bit of country with a healthy dollop of pop; it’s the perfect bridge for fans between Taylor Swift albums.

#45 • Arctic Monkeys • Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

Sometimes I love this, sometimes I hate it. But bless the boys for spreading their wings a bit.

#46 • The Damned • Evil Spirits

The Damned are pretty damned near invincible when it comes to their brand of punk; I saw em in concert some two decades after their prime and they blew the roof off the joint. Now here we are some 20 more years later. Evil Spirits shows they have no signs of slowing down.

#47 • The Ting Tings • The Black Light

We Started Nothing is one of the best pop albums of the past 20 years (featuring mega hits ‘That’s Not My Name’ and ‘Shut Up and Let Me Go’). This album takes a dark visual and sonic dark, but still yields plenty of subtle rewards at every turn.

#48 • Andrew WK • You’re Not Alone

Breaking news! Andrew WK likes to party. He’s also a damn fine motivational speaker. And when he’s not talking for free (he can’t help himself), he’s started a new religion; so here it is, a full album to spread the gospel of partying. Speaking of gospel…

#49: Pistol Annies • Interstate Gospel

Perhaps it’s the harmonies from heaven. Or the gorgeous fashion. Or the fact I will always be on Team Miranda versus Team Sheltfani? Steffon? Gwake? Anyhoo, this album ends my post and year on a lovely, soothing, and uplifting note… oh wait, I have one more slot to fill…

#50: Ministry • AmeriKKKant

I pretty much gave up on weird uncle Al from Filth Pig onward except for his pretty good Buck Satan side project which would have been even better had he gone full country instead of making it a Ministry Semi-Unplugged record. After wasting loads of punny album titles on George W. Bush, none of which came close to the brilliance of sampling his dearly departed dad on ‘N.W.O.’, Al is back with a much bigger fish to fry up in his pan. The first half of AmeriKKKant comes off as some of the best Ministry this side of Psalm 69, before going down the rabbit hole of egg sucking over-production. Al is such a genius, less is always more, but with so many sounds in the mix, his songs can get tiresome fast. I would love to see what he could do with a mere 12 tracks and give us some beats we can dance to, words we can make out, and just enough brain splitting guitars to inspire a government overthrow.

Dizzy Heights #50: Heat Beneath Your Winter – Dreams, Vol. I

The idea came, as a lot of my ideas do, from a Duran Duran song. Do I have enough songs to do a full show about dreams? As I quickly discovered, the answer was no. I have enough songs to do five or six shows about dreams.

Artists making their Dizzy Heights debut this week include Asia, Alice Cooper, Bram Tchaikovsky, Cliff Richard, Daryl Hall, A Flock of Seagulls, Freiheit, Paul Williams, The Posies, Pseudo Echo, Rainbow, and Emily Browning courtesy of the Sucker Punch soundtrack.

Thanks for listening!