The Top Ten Albums Of 2018…So Far
On my drive to work this morning I was listening to the Made Out Of Babies album The Ruiner and thinking to myself, “Man…remember a couple years ago when there seemed to be a glut of incredible albums – like the Julie Christmas / Cult of Luna record – coming out all year long? What record from 2018 has really moved me? Anything?” I thought for a second, then snapped back to reality just as I nearly rear-ended the car in front of me.
June has come and gone, and now 2018 is half over. Have you made the most of it? I…probably haven’t. In the first six months of this year, I have flown back to the east coast and attended a Hawaiian wedding, but other than that I’ve stayed relatively close to LA doing boring shit. I’ve been keeping my annual running list of “Best New Albums,” but it seems light compared to years past. Once or twice last month I took time to mull over the document in preparation for my “Top Ten Albums…So Far” list, and I couldn’t come up with ten I have enjoyed enough to include. I asked Ian for recommendations on multiple occasions, but he literally only listens to metal these days and sometimes I like a good pop/rock/rap/whatever palate cleanser in between all the blast beats and guttural vocals.
So, here I am. Half of 2018 is behind me. It’s time to reflect on the best music of the year, whether I like it or not. Like I always say, “It’s never too early to start planning for December’s annual Year-End list.” I don’t think I’ve ever said that, but I think it to myself sometimes. Anyway, here’s what I’ve dug most so far this year. Sometimes the top 10 stays the same between now and December, and sometimes there is upheaval. Who knows who it’ll go this year.
Here we go! If you click the artist and title you should be taken to their Bandcamp page. Please consider supporting these artists.
The Top Ten Albums Of 2018 (January – June)
10. Grouper – Grid Of Points (Kranky) – It’s hard to believe that four years have passed since Grouper (Liz Harris) last released a proper studio album. At just 22 minutes long this is more EP-ish than LP-ish, but at this point, I’ll take whatever I can get. I started following her career back in 2007 at the suggestion of Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, and continue to relish whatever I can get my hands on of hers. Yes, even ten-plus years later. Sparse piano arrangements and multi-tracked vocals create an airy, uneasy atmosphere as arresting as it is stark. Hopefully, it won’t be another four years before we hear from Harris again…
09. Tangled Thoughts Of Leaving – No Tether (self-released) – For a perfect example of why this list was so hard for me this year, look no further than the inclusion of No Tether. It was literally released three days ago, and yet here it is! I listened to it twice today at work on a recommendation and, voila! Straight from Western Australia (North Dandalup to be precise) is a brilliant and unique recording that sounds kinda proggy, sorta post-metal with a touch of Zombi thrown in for good measure. As the year progresses I might find myself playing this one even more, as my first impression has been overwhelmingly positive. [Listen to “The Alarmist”]
08. CHRCH – Light Will Consume Us All (Neurot Recordings) – I was chatting with Ian recently about my struggles with this list. He stated that it would be relatively easy for him to compose a Best Of The Year So Far list. The difference between us, currently, is that he listens to so much more metal than I do. And he does not discern between sub-genres quite like I do. The metal on my list skews more towards doom metal or post-metal than it does black metal, and I think CHRCH is a great example of the style of metal I’ve been digging recently. The songs are on the lengthier side, sonically there are highs and lows, and the vibe is sufficiently dark/creepy. I much prefer nuance to unrelenting blackness, so if you’re like me you’ll probably dig this one as much as I do.
07. Yob – Our Raw Heart (Relapse Records) – I’ve tried to give Yob many chances through the years. Back in 2009/2010 copies of The Great Cessation used to come into the store on an almost weekly basis from one of the local Southern Lord guys who traded in product for quick cash. I was still in my “Wolves In The Throne Room Or Bust” metal phase, so I didn’t connect with what I heard. Clearing The Path To Ascend was much better, as it landed at #58 on my Best Of 2014 list. Several years later, Our Raw Heart has clicked, and I find myself listening to it quite often while at work. The vocals can still be distracting (and not in a good way!) but overall I really, really like this record a lot. [Listen to “The Screen”]
06. A Story Of Rats – The Immeasurable Spiral (Psychic Violence) – In 2013, Vastness & The Inverse ranked #4 on my list of the best albums of the year. Since then it has been all quiet for the former trio (now a duo) from the West Coast. Suddenly one day a couple months ago, a new album dropped. This is going to sound terrible, but when I was told there was a new A Story Of Rats album my initial response was, “Wait – why does that name sound familiar?” I guess it’s possible I’ve listened to so much music between then and now I totally forgot ASOR existed. In that sense, The Immeasurable Spiral makes me feel like an asshole because it’s so damned good. I should have been expecting another killer record from these guys. The sound is super dark, heavy ambient (synths galore!) that is creepy as fuck. The Bandcamp one-sheet describes it as “The two pieces of immense sonic architecture… crafted to represent an unknown space where somberness and asphyxiation are of equal temperament.” If that sounds like your thing, jump on this ASAP.
05. Khemmis – Desolation (20 Buck Spin) – I wrote about Khemmis last week so I’m not going to take more time to fawn over this record. Instead, you can take a look at some photos and read some words about their recent gig here in Los Angeles. Then go listen to/buy the record. I’ll just say, they’re getting better and better with each successive album. When Hunted came out I was shocked at how much better than Absolution it was, and now with this new record they’ve once again raised the bar. I hope I can continue to love and anticipate more new music from these guys for years to come.
04. Unreqvited – Stars Wept To The Sea (Avantgarde Music) – My favorite atmospheric/depressive post-black metal Canadian one-man-band is back! Somehow, the artist manages to create triumphantly wonderous – dare I say uplifting – black metal, as reliant on crystalline synths as it is on blast beats. Is Kosmiche black metal a term yet? If not, we should try to make that a thing. Unreqvited can be one of the forebearers of the genre. [Listen to “Anhedonia”]
03. Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy (Matador) – I feel slightly uneasy including this on my list, as it is a re-recording of an album that originally came out in 2011. Thankfully, I set the rules around here. So… the follow-up to Teens Of Denial is a collection of songs we’ve heard before, written and recorded years ago. That shouldn’t matter. What matters is that the quality of those songs has been improved with this new version. I’m sure when he was recording it in his bedroom (or wherever) Will Toledo might have been dreaming about one day having the ability to record these songs properly, with a full band. I would argue that lyrically and thematically it is even more masterful than Teens of Denial. Considering I named that album the best of 2016, the fact that I think this one might be even better should be telling in regards to how much I enjoy it. [Listen to “Twin Fantasy (Those Boys)”]
02. Panopticon – The Scars Of Man On The Once Nameless Wilderness (I and II) (Bindrune Recordings) – Perhaps the most ambitious album on this list, the new one from Austin Lunn is split between half black metal and half Appalachian folk. When I first heard Kentucky I thought the whole black metal with folksy flourishes thing was a novel approach to metal…and until The Scars… it was my favorite record of Lunn’s… but I’m pretty sure this new one is my favorite. Which is to say it’s magnificent. If you can open your mind enough to listen to black metal and bluegrass, you’ll be rewarded with a brilliant album that showcases just how many similarities the genres have, and how perfectly they can blend together.
01. Anna Von Hausswolff – Dead Magic (City Slang) – And yet! That’s not even the best album of the year (so far…). I can point to individual songs on Ceremony and The Miraculous that are epic and moving and wonderfully arranged…but Dead Magic is a full album of sonic wonder, easily the best collection of songs yet recorded by Anna Von Hausswolff. It sounds like a cross between Swans, the Dead Can Dance album Anastasis, and…Kate Bush? My points of reference would be highlights from previous Von Hausswolff albums, like “Red Sun” and “Ocean.” It is not an easy listen, full of heavy, blacker-than-black dirges, but it is also full of beauty and passion. It is easily the most stunning and emotionally resonant work she’s recorded to date, and by far the best album I have heard so far this year. [Listen to “The Mysterious Vanishing Of Electra”]
As always, let me know if I’ve missed anything. What are you listening to? What have you heard in 2018 that moved you? Let me know either here in the comments or on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram. Cheers, Y’all!
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