Top Tunes ’18: Josh Antonuccio

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Wow! 2018 has come and gone, and it’s about time we reflect on our favorite sounds of the past year. Leading up through the end of the year, WOUB Culture will be spotlighting what various music-centric people throughout the region have been enjoying the most for the past 12 months.

Josh Antonuccio (Photo by Scotty Hall)

Josh Antonuccio is a Lecturer at Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication in the School of Media Arts and Studies and the host of the Nelsonville Music Festival Gladden House Sessions. He owns and operates 3 Elliott Studio in Athens, Ohio.

It’s astounding how much great music came out this year, in terms of sheer artist output and the exciting range of genre-stretching appeal. With a combination of newcomers, return albums, as well as a few re-interpretations and remixes, here is the list of my favorite music. If you want to listen to these selections, you can check out my playlist here:

1. Adrianne Lenkerabysskiss
Sparse, haunting, and deeply effective in its emotional storytelling. The lead singer/songwriter of Big Thief ventured out with this (mostly) acoustic offering that showcases her stellar confessional songwriting, carrying shades of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon.

2. Amen DunesFreedom
Damon McMahon’s newest outing is rife with sprawling introspection and melancholic production. An emotionally dense record with astounding songwriting. I’ve been waiting for this one to make its way to the marketplace and wasn’t disappointed.

3. Anderson .PaakOxnard
The LA neo-soul breakout yields another pop wonder after his magnificent debut album. Joined by a host of notable artists, including Kendrick Lamar (on album standout “Tints”) and Pusha T, the songs scintillate with delectable R&B and gorgeous soul.

4. Angelique KidjoRemain In Light
A re-imagining and complete cover of the classic 1980 Talking Heads album, the international superstar shines with her handling of album that seems tailor-made for her to interpret. “Born Under Punches” takes on an entirely new significance under Kidjo’s raging and magisterial performance.

5. Arctic MonkeysTranquility Base Hotel & Casino
The superstar U.K. band returns with a phenomenal album, meticulously subdued and jazz-infused, and pulling on elements of David Bowie and Nick Cave, with Danger Mouse inspired production flourishes. I haven’t been the biggest follower of this band in the past, but this album is worth the time.

6. Beach House7
I’ve been a huge fan of Beach House and they came back this year with another fine record. Spacious synths, spooling melodies, and Victoria LeGrand’s haunting vocals combine with a host of terrific songs. “Pay No Mind” and “Dive” are standout tracks.

7. The BeatlesThe White Album (50th anniversary re-issue)
A thoroughly pleasing and comprehensive offering (6 discs worth) of my favorite Beatles album. The re-mixes are jarringly spectacular (although purists beware) and outtakes make for a journey of both re-discovery and heart-felt surprises. The new mixes of “Long, Long, Long” and “Helter Skelter” made me fall in love with the band all over again.

8. Car Seat HeadrestTwin Fantasy
The thoroughly indie lo-fi rock band ventured out with their first “studio” record courtesy of Steve Fisk (the original self-produced version appeared nearly 8 years ago). Will Toledo and co. emerged with a melodic and guitar-driven masterpiece. The track “Bodys” had a fair share of repeat listens from me this year.

9. Caroline SaysNo Fool Like an Old Fool
This is one of my favorite discoveries of the year. Caroline Sallee’s voice is equal parts dream-like and delicate, traversing shimmering guitars and echoing soundscapes. Tracks “First Song” and “Cool Jerk” are standouts.

10. FatoumataDiawara Fenfo (Something to Say)
This is the first album of Diawara’s that I’d gotten turned on to, sometime in mid-2018. Filled with flourishes of smooth Afropop and experimental production, the album is a testimony to Diawara’s vocal mastery and her place as a rising artist in modern African music.

11. FlasherConstant Image
The D.C. punk band’s second release is teeming with crunchy guitars, melody hooks, and terrific anthemic vocal harmonies. “Who’s Got Time?” shows the band at their fist-raising best.

12. Forth WanderersForth Wanderers
The band’s first outing with Subpop records is a brilliant one, harkening to moments of indie rock glory. Tracks like “Company” and “Not For Me” shine with guitar-assured brilliance and Ava Trilling’s soaring vocals.

13. Haley HeynderickxI Need To Start a Garden
Heynderickx’s presence was ubiquitous this year, in large part because of this brilliant album. Her SXSW showcases were beyond capacity and for good reason. Her debut is exemplary of her meditative confessionals, harnessed by empathetic acoustic balladry and spacious band arrangements. Highlights include “Untitled God Song”, “Bug Collector”, and “Drinking Song”. A sensational debut album.

14. Half WaifLavender
Nandi Rose Plunkett’s outfit emerged with a beautiful and ethereal record here, equal parts lyrical immediacy and textured layers of production. Plunkett carries lush and modernized traces of Kate Bush and Laura Nyro.

15. HookwormsMicroshift
Guitar-laden psych rock with healthy doses of influences from the likes of Neu! and Yo La Tengo. There is a lot to dive into on this one. “Boxing Day” and “Static Resistance” are two favorites.

16. IceageBeyondless
Punk that is aggressive, sensitive, and full of intelligent lyricism, this Matador release was another exciting discovery for me this year. Dense with thick guitars and churning strings, standouts include “Pain Killer” and “the day the music dies”.

17. Janelle MonaeDirty Computer
One of my favorite modern artists and a true original, Monae’s Dirty Computer is a testament to Monae’s stand-alone talent. With guest appearances ranging from Pharrell to Brian Wilson, Monae crafts a singular pop vision here, combining stylized R&B, jazz, and seductive dance music, with lyricism that handily explores politics, theology, sexuality, and race. If I had a number one album of the year, this would be the likely contender.

18. Jon HopkinsSingularity
The English producer known for collaborations with the likes of Coldplay and Brian Eno released one of my favorite instrumental albums of the year. An expansive electronic album that delves deep into sprawling soundscapes and classical sensibilities.

19. Kacey MusgravesGolden Hour
Musgraves’ Golden Hour is a case study of exemplary country songwriting, crafting stories that almost effortlessly feel familiar and relatable. There is a palpable connection to both the joys and the heartaches in these tracks, with “Slow Burn” and “Lonely Weekend” landing as two favorites. A modern masterstroke and a validation to the power of Musgraves’ position as a singer/songwriter of the highest order.

20. Kamasi WashingtonHeaven and Earth
Washington blew my mind on 2015’s The Epic and has gone on to continue that trend. I can’t think of another contemporary jazz musician that I follow, or listen to, as much as Washington. Prolific in the scope of his sonic vision, the harmonic explorations here inspire awe.

21. KIDS SEE GHOSTSKids See Ghosts
Kanye West produced no less than five EP’s this year, all being released back to back. This was one of three that I had on constant replay, with this being my favorite. The partnership with Kid Cudi yielded some of my favorite tracks of the year including “Stay Strong,” the electrifying title track, and the propulsive force of “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2).”

22. Kronos Quartet/Laurie AndersonLandfall
A haunting and devastating exploration of dealing with the experience and aftermath of hurricane disaster. Interlaced with spoken word and sorrowful arrangements, the album forces a deliberation on the struggle to survive and contend with the impending crisis wrought from calamity.

23. Leon BridgesGood Thing
On Bridges’ second album, he expands on the 60’s soul palette of Coming Home to incorporate nuanced jazz and modern R&B to deliver an exciting set of songs. Drawing on further inspirations such as Luther Vandross and George Benson, tracks such as “Bad Bad News” and “You Don’t Know” demonstrate the vitality of his newly refined sound.

24. Lucy DacusHistorian
Dacus’ release on Matador is a showcase of her captivating voice as well as her keen sense of traversing the rock genre with individuality and feminine power. Her sophomore effort proves that she belongs firmly amongst the front lines of great rockers. Standout tracks include “Next of Kin” and “Addictions.”

25. MitskiBe the Cowboy
There is so much to love about this album, it’s hard to know where to start. Uncompromising, achingly transparent, and a mix of synth pop, churning guitars, and mercurial rock, Be the Cowboy is a revelatory album, demonstrating once again that Mitski is in a league of her own. Every track here is worth listening to.

26. Mr. FingersCerebral Hemispheres
Producer Larry Heard’s solo project, this astute (mostly) instrumental journey through jazz electronica became my first introduction to his work. Favorite tracks include the dripping chordal explorations in “Tiger Lounge” and the techno embraces of “Inner Acid.”

27. NasNASIR
The second of Kanye West produced EP’s to make my favorites list. Kanye’s production provides a compelling stage for Nas’ tested vocal agility. Standout tracks include the eviscerating social commentary of “Cops Shot the Kid” and the gut punch delivery of “Adam and Eve.”

28. Natalie PrassThe Future & the Past
Natalie Prass returned with this impressive follow-up (with the 2016 election derailing her actual 2nd album), a polished feminist statement with hues of pop and jazz. Prass’ lyrical prowess and the heightened production make for an album of sophisticated commentary. I caught her set at SXSW this year and these tracks scintillate with a sense of urgency.

29. Parquet CourtsWide Awake!
Parquet Courts are masters at creating the ideal indie rock subterfuge. Wide Awake! showcases the best of the band, with shades of angular 70’s punk rock and beyond. Standout tracks include the utterly danceable title track and the revved up “NYC Observation.”

30. Pusha TDAYTONA
Number three of the Kanye West produced EP’s to make my favorites list. Pusha T explodes off the canvas of West’s visceral production here. “If You Know You Know” is a brilliant opening track, with “Come Back Baby” showcasing his expansive approach.

31. RobynHoney
The pop icon’s return is a dazzling display of dreamy dance pop hewed in by irresistible songwriting. The near 20-year veteran shows little signs of slowing down nor hesitating to write songs that speak so poignantly to heartache and hope. “Ever Again” and “Between the Lines” are standouts.

32. Ryley WalkerDeafman Glance
A bold exploration in the shadowlands of jazz and folk, shifting structure and form in a musical stream of consciousness. With a team of incredible musicians, Walker follows up Primrose Green with a more challenging approach to his songwriting with staggering results. One need only listen to a track “Telluride Speed” to hear the mesmerizing journeys that Walker is capable of.

Chance The Rapper collaborator Saba’s solo effort may be one of my favorite rap performances of the year. Lyrically intense with jazz-infused backing, exudes prominence in both storytelling and style. Superb hooks and arrangement abound on tracks like “Smile” and “Broken Girls.”

34. ShameSongs of Praise
I remember the first time I listened to this, the sonics jolted me with an explosive immediacy. I was instantly asking “who is this and where have they been?” Gutteral vocals, knife-edge guitars, and a propensity for the post-punk prototype, Shame’s debut album is as good as they get. “Concrete” is one of my favorites of the year. Play it loud.

35. Snail MailLush
Another debut album, this one from Baltimore’s Lindsey Jordan. Just 18 years old, Jordan’s songs are pristine indie-rock, with anthemic choruses and chugging electric guitars. “Pristine” and “Heat Wave” are stand out tracks.

36. Soccer MommyClean
Forged as a DIY project in the bedroom, Soccer Mommy finds Sophie Allison breaking out in distorted defiance. There are so many great tracks on this album, showcasing Allison’s ability to craft memorable lyrics that break through with provocative angst. I love this album; another repeat listen for me through the year. “Cool” is one of my favorites here.

37. Sunflower BeanTwentytwo in Blue
I first saw Sunflower Bean at SXSW and then later caught them at the Nelsonville Music Festival. The trio has crafted an album of smart rockers and dreamy guitar pop gems, showcasing bassist Julia Cumming’s enthralling vocals and Nick Kivlan’s interweaving guitar lines.

38. Travis ScottAstroworld
The inescapable hip hop album of the year and easily one of the most discussed. Ambitious and wide-lens production gave this expansive album (17 tracks) the feel of a modern epic. Scott sets forth numerous standout tracks including “Stop Trying To Be God” and “Carousel.”

39. U.S. GirlsIn a Poem Unlimited
I got fairly captivated by this album later in the year. U.S. Girls (the culmination of a solo project launched by Meghan Remy) delivers an album that is abrasive, churning with distortion, and awash with Remy’s fervent vocals. “Rage of Plastics” and “Pearly Gates” are standout tracks.

40. Virginia WingEcstatic Arrow
I’ve got a soft spot for 90’s sonics in the mold of Stereolab and Virginia Wing hits that mark with adept aim. Electronic production, atmospheric horns, and lush female harmonies make this a stellar album. “The Second Shift” and “Relativity” are favorites.

Special Mention:

Sharon Van Etten “Comeback Kid”
No new album yet, but Sharon Van Etten emerged after nearly four years with her first single, a synth-drenched dance number that evokes the shadowy sonics of Siouxsie & the Banshees. A bold step forward and an unforgettable hook that weaves a memorable spell in less than three minutes.