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2018's Best Music from Iowa Public Radio's Studio One

Bao Ngo, High Road Touring; Olivia Bee, SubPop Records; Matador Records; Kevin Burt
Graphic: Katelyn Harrop
From Left to Right: Mitski, King Tough, Car Seat Headrest, Kevin Burt

2018 was a standout year for music of all genres, and Iowa Public Radio’s expert team from Studio One is here to walk you through some of their favorites. 

On this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe is joined by Studio One hosts Mark Simmet, Tony Dehner, and Bob Dorr for a look back at the last 365 days of music. 

Check out "IPR's 2018 Top Tracks" playlist on Spotify to hear the Studio One team's picks, plus 2018 highlights from the rest of Iowa Public Radio's staff across the state. 


1. Car Seat Headrest -- Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

Will Toledo began Car Seat Headrest as a solo project, releasing his music on Bandcamp in the beginning.  Now, with increasing critical acclaim and a record deal with Matador, Toledo remade his 2011 lo-fi album titled Mirror To Mirror.  The hi-fi version of those same songs is titled Face To Face, and the two albums together are dubbed Twin Fantasy.  The music is epic and ambitious, with lyrical themes of identity and gender in the context of a particular relationship.  

SONG: “Bodys" 

2. Tune-Yards -- I Can Feel You Creeping Into My Private Life
This is aother band that began as the solo project of one artist, in this case Merrill Garbus.  Tune-Yards is all about percussion and rhythm utilized in the service of Garbus’ observations of herself and her world.  She even addresses white privilege and cultural appropriation (perhaps her own) on the album.   

SONG:  “Heart Attack" 

 3. Superorganism -- Superorganism

Superorganism consists of five musicians from five different countries who met and interacted online, eventually writing and recording music together.  The main voice of the band is Japanese-born teenager Orono Noguchi.  Their debut album is fun and inspiring, and might, perhaps be called psychedelic kids’ music.   
SONG:  “Something For Your M.I.N.D.”

4. King Tuff-- The Other

Once again, an artist and a band, King Tuff specializes in a tuneful, West Coast neo-psychedelic garage rock blend that really came of age on The Other.  Philosophical ruminations on the state of things from King Tuff on multiple instruments, assisted here and there by fellow West Coasters Ty Segall, Jenny Lewis, Mikal Cronin and others.   

SONG:  “Psycho Star”

5. Mitski -- Be the Cowboy

Mitski Miyawaki’s 2018 album has achieved widespread acclaim, especially in the indie rock world.  The Japanese-born multi-instrumentalist writes assured, succinct songs.  Mitski tells us how she feels with music that is expertly arranged and richly produced. 

SONG:  “Washing Machine Heart”


1.  Neko Case -- Hell-On

Neko Case has had a long career as an Americana-influenced singer-songwriter and as a member of The New Pornographers, one of the all-time great pop/rock bands. She collaborated with friends, former bandmates and others on Hell-On, a record that demands your full attention. This album feels personal but not exactly autobiographical, explores a variety of sounds, and is anchored by Case’s legendary powerhouse vocals.

SONG:  “Last Lion of Albion”

2. Bettye LaVette -- Things Have Changed

A collection of Bob Dylan covers from one of the world’s best blues/soul/R&B singers. The songs on this album were personally chosen by Ms. LaVette and range from lesser-known songs in the Dylan catalog to some of his “greatest hits." Already known for her ability to interpret rock music and her collaborations with rock musicians, Ms. LaVette and her band force us to think about these songs in a whole new way.

SONG: “The Times They Are A-Changin’”

3. Courtney Barnett, Tell Me How You Really Feel
Having officially graduated to “full-on rock star” status, Courtney Barnett’s third album in three years is a little darker and a little more low-key than her breakout 2015 LP or last year’s collaboration with Kurt Vile, but the great turns of phrase and exuberant guitar playing are still there. Definitely a record that rewards repeated listening.

SONG: “City Looks Pretty”

4. Arctic Monkeys -- Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino

Arctic Monkeys are well-known for loud electric guitars and punk/garage sounds, so the band’s fans expected more of the same when they announced their sixth album would be released in 2018. Instead, the band released one of the year’s most polarizing records: a piano-driven concept album about a luxury resort on the moon. The result is fascinating, and recommended for both devoted Arctic Monkeys fans and anyone who’s willing to take a chance on something a little different.

SONG: “Four Out Of Five”

5. Shannon & The Clams -- Onion
The Oakland, California-based band Shannon & The Clams combine a wide variety of influences to create their sound: classic R&B, surf, 1960s girl groups, ‘80s punk and more. Their latest record is one of the best pure rock n’ roll releases in years, and is a blast to listen to from beginning to end.

SONG: “The Boy”


1.  Kevin Burt -- Heartland & Soul 

The biggest blues story in Iowa is Kevin Burt. Burt won the International Blues Challenge, got to record with Kid Anderson and Jim Pugh, and released his first Internationally distributed album, which is in the top 10 on all the blues charts I've seen in it's first few weeks of release. Heartland & Soul is the name of the CD. I hope Santa brings you a copy this year. I am SO proud of Kevin. Huge talent, hard work, perseverance, humble/thankful attitude.

SONG: "Real Love"

2. Curtis Salgado & Alan Hager -- Rough Cut 

A couple releases from early in the year are on the "must have"  list. Acoustic album of the year is the duo of guitar player Alan Hager and multi Blues Music Award winner, soul singer/harmonica player Curtis Salgado. The disc is Rough Cut. Some classic songs by Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters and Sonnyboy Williamson, but mostly new songs written by Salgado/Hager including this one.

SONG: "So Near To Nowhere"

3. Nick Moss Band with Dennis Gruenling -- The High Cost of Low Living

The other early in the year release on the "must have" list, especially if you're like me -- in love with the classic Chicago sound of the 50s-60s/guitar and harp player small bands. This CD marks the return to the blues for Chicago guitar player Nick Moss (who's been off on a Rock and Soul tangent in recent years) coupled with harp player Dennis Gruenling. 

SONG: "The High Cost of Low Living" 

4. Colin James --  Miles To Go 

I'm embarrassed that I've really only "discovered" Canadian bluesman Colin James in recent years, despite his winning virtually EVERY major Canadian Blues award. Great guitar playing and strong vocal phrasing within his traditional blues style. 

SONG: "I Will Remain"

5. Danielle Nicole -- Cry No More 

Danielle Nicole had a new release in 2018. It seems to be at the top of all the blues lists in what's being called the Contemporary Blues Category these days. I've been watching Danielle's career evolve since the 90s when she would sing a few songs with her mom and dad's band (Little Eva & The Works) at a bar in Kansas City that I played every 6-8 weeks. Followed by a band named The Nortons and then international acclaim with her brothers in Trampled Under Foot. Not only is she a great singer and mesmerizing figure on stage, but she's a groove monster on bass too.

SONG: "Hot Spell"

6. Joyann Parker -- Hard To Love  

Minnesotan Joyann Parker is a totally self produced artist who represented Minnesota in the International Blues Challenge. She co-writes her own songs and also does a tribute to Patsy Cline show when she's not bluesin'! 

SONG: "Envy"

7. Ivy Ford -- Time To Shine

Ivy Ford has been around the Chicago scene for a few years. Ford writes all her own songs, plays all the guitar parts on her Time To Shine CD and is scheduled to be at the Central Iowa Blues Society Winter Blues Fest in Des Moines on Feb. 2. 

SONG: "Girls Night"

8. Heather Newman -- Burn Me Alive

Heather Newman's Burn Me Alive CD is her first, although she's been playing for over a decade, and it won her a Blues Blast Award for Best New Artist release. She too writes her own songs and is the bass player in her band. Heather is also scheduled to appear at the CIBS Blues Fest on Feb. 2. 

SONG: "Share Your Love"

9. Big Harp George -- Uptown Cool 

OK, so favorite blues release. I'm a harmonica player wannabee, so is it any wonder my fav is by a harmonica player? Standard 10-hole harp or chromatic harmonica, acoustic or electric, insightful and humorous lyric content by a former criminal defense attorney, award-winning professor of law at UC Hastings College of the Law, and expert commentator on law and politics in the Middle East. George Bisharat is his name, he's known as Big Harp George.

SONG: "Alternative Facts"

Bob's Backtrack Pick: The Beatles -- 50th Anniversery remix/remaster, The Beatles 

As far as Backtracks is concerned (new releases of music that is AT LEAST 25 years old) There were a couple that are certainly "must haves" including the latest in the Bob Dylan Bootleg series-More Blood On The Tracks and the 50th Anniversary Remix/Remastered plus demo disc of The Beatles White Album. This is one of the demos that I like better than the original album release.
SONG: "Honey Pie - Esher Demo" 

Bob's Holiday Pick: JD McPherson -- Socks

There were many great 2018 holiday discs. Eric Clapton's Happy Xmas and Rodney Crowell's Christmas Everywhere are on the best holiday list, but the best of this year's holiday releases is the all new, original songs disc by rockabilly/Americana artist JD McPherson.

SONG: "Socks"

Hear all of these tracks and more staff picks through this specially created end-of-year playlist from Iowa Public Radio.


Katelyn Harrop is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa