The 2018 election has passed, which in my weird little world also means I’ve closed the book on October’s new music.
The pace of significant new releases slows in November, and virtually halts in December. So, that year-end ranking of top music should be almost complete.
A number of October releases will be on that list.
Cursive, one of the most difficult to define indie rock bands out there, returned to form with the alternately sinister and beautiful “Vitriola.” Perhaps the best way to describe Cursive is that it sounds like The Decemberists, only more edgy, loud and deranged. “Vitriola” vaults right toward the top of Cursive’s eight-record catalog, and will likely be in my top 5 for 2018. It’s that good.
Speaking of good, Lucy Dacus has had a great 2018! Her second album, “The Historian,” released in March, just might be the best of 2018. Not far down the best-of list will be Dacus’ collaboration with fellow indie-folkers Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers, the self-titled debut EP by Boygenius, released last week. Boygenius melds the best of Baker’s, Bridger’s and Dacus’ immense talents. And, boy, is it genius!
Cloud Nothings followed their stellar 2017 release “Life Without Sound,” with the equally strong “Last Building Burning.” Where “Life Without Sound” successfully meshed Cloud Nothings’ raw punk sound with their melodic tendencies, “Last Building Burning” focuses on the frenetically paced guitars, drums and screams. It’s gloriously loud. The Cleveland rockers are clearly in their prime in this later half of the decade.
Tokyo Police Club is as consistently good of an alternative guitar rock band as any out there these days, released the predictably fantastic “TPC” in October. Speaking of consistently strong alternative guitar rockers, the British band Basement is among them, and its latest release, “Beside Myself,” is also among the year’s best.
Weakened Friends, a fuzzy, grungy band from Portland, Maine, made a strong impression with their debut full release, “Common Blah.” The Struts showed they’re worthy and poised for big things with their impressive second release, “Young & Dangerous.” And Justin Courtney Pierre shows plenty of life after Motion City Soundtrack on his MCS-lite debut release, “In The Drink.”
But it’s taken me 360-plus words to get to what I really wanted to tell you about October music, and that is about the new releases from Twenty One Pilots and Greta Van Fleet. One of them will be on my year-end best list, one will not.
Twenty One Pilots is one of those bands that found their way to arena-sized shows without many music critics noticing. Your kids probably have been listening to them for years.
After two well-under-the-radar releases, Twenty One Pilots burst onto the alt pop scene with the brilliant 2013 release, “Vessel,” followed by the power pop mega-record “Blurryface” in 2015. Lead singer/rapper/keyboardist/guitarist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun make energetic, melodic and anthemic power pop. More than that, Twenty One Pilots routinely take interesting risks, switching tempo or style within tracks.
There’s more of the same on “Trench,” but here the band dials down the energy and cranks up the musical craftsmanship. The record’s 14 tracks bounce around stylistically from hard rock to rap to ballads to blues, even sounding a little like Prince in some parts.
“Trench” isn’t Twenty One Pilots’ best record, that remains “Vessel.” But it’s their most consistent, and proves the duo has staying power.
Whether Michigan hard rock newbies Greta Van Fleet have any staying power remains to be seen. But the Led Zeppelin sound-a-likes have certainly drawn a lot of attention with their two EPs in 2017 and now their debut full-length, “Anthem of the Peaceful Army ,” released in October.
Most of the attention from music critics has been brutal. The notoriously prickly Pitchfork roasted “Anthem of the Peaceful Army” in one of the most visceral reviews I’ve ever read, giving it a 1.6 out of 10. Hey, hey, mama!
A friend of mine, who shall not be named, said of the record, “I didn’t need to listen to much of it to lose interest. They were cute for a minute.”
I get it. Greta Van Fleet sounds so much like Zeppelin in so many ways that it’s easy to discount it as a glorified tribute band. But if you loved Zeppelin – heck, if you loved ‘70s classic guitar rock – GVF is at the very least a fun throwback to those times.
I actually think the band has a lot more to offer. The band’s members, three brothers and a drummer, are still in only their early 20s and teens. When we saw GVF open for The Struts just a little more than a year ago in a Libertyville bar, some of the band members were skipping their high school prom to tour.
In the 18 months since then, GVF has gone from bar band opener to selling out the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago for multiple nights. That’s a short amount of time, and a lot for kids to handle.
That said, “Anthem of the Peaceful Army” is not a great record. It’s equal parts fist-pumping rock and pretentious kitsch. But it’s undeniably fun, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Yes, the kids will have to develop a sound that is more their own than Robert Plant’s and Jimmy Page’s. I’m willing to give them a little time to find it.
If you’ve read this and are interested in hearing tracks from any of the artists I’ve mentioned or others that stood out in October, there’s a playlist linked to this story online.
Jeff Rogers is a former Editor for Sauk Valley Media and current director of the Illinois Press Foundation. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.