As 2018 drew to a close, one of the hottest headlines in all of music was whether Michigan’s own Greta Van Fleet deserves the chart-topping attention it’s getting as the second coming of Led Zeppelin. Regardless of the polarizing opinions of publications like Pitchfork, the healthy discourse drew overdue attention to the truly original sounds emanating from our state. Artists with longstanding ties to West Michigan in particular, like Nashville transplants Nathan Kalish and Lindsay Lou, both released outstanding LPs this year to widespread acclaim.
Meanwhile, Albion folk-gospel duo The War and Treaty issued one of the most emotionally moving records in recent memory. Here in West Michigan, unity and strength rang through the depth and diversity of our local music community. The year found different music scenes collaborating in new and defiant ways, while long-time artists released career-defining masterworks that elevated and inspired others. Here’s some of the best of what we heard this year.
In a year when the idea of borders weighed heavily on everyone’s minds, veteran Latin alternative ensemble Cabildo returned with a much-needed set of boundary-blurring, globally conscious music. The collective’s first LP in 12 years translates to “Without Borders,” and it dares to defy all of them. A rallying call for the resistance, the record effortlessly shifts between genres and rhythms, driven by a renewed spirit and the band’s virtuosic playing.
Perfectly capturing the uneasy chill masking many millennials’ ever-present anxiety, the jangle-pop style of Grand Rapids trio Major Murphy sounds simultaneously modern yet retro. Admittedly pulling from some of the great soft-rock bands of ’70s radio, the group has made a debut all its own, with refreshingly light harmonies that comfort like the memory of a warm summer breeze — even when winter is coming.
Although technically released in late 2017, this debut from frontwoman Valerie Salerno and company roared through the year with the sort of fuzzed-out fury that never stops reverberating in your chest. Self-described as “trench-funk,” the band enlisted the legendary Steve Albini (of Nirvana fame) to record this seven-song blast, and his expert touch channels the band’s unbridled energy into a seamless but sludgy package.
Lady Ace Boogie
Don’t Box Me In
Having already defined her own sound on her fantastic 2015 debut, Feel Good Music, Grand Rapids MC Lady Ace Boogie returned with this genre-defying triumph that should forever cement her as one of the absolute best rappers to come out of West Michigan. Effortlessly changing up styles and bringing in a host of other top local talent — from rising vocalists like Dayz, Alexander Lynch and Callab to fellow GR icon Rick Chyme — she continued to reshape the game and break down every barrier put in front of her. Long live the Queen!
White Lighter Myth
Named after the ominous urban legend associated with the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and other legends who died too young, this follow-up from Muskegon pop-punk trio Southpaw shakes off any bad luck vibes with a blast of pure bliss rock ‘n’ roll. The record bristles with the urgency of Warped Tour-era emo, and has catapulted the band onto tour dates across the country.