The Top 100 Albums Of 2018
Good things come to those who wait. Welcome to my annual attempt to be the very last Year-End list published before midnight, New Year’s Eve. Have I ever published this list on NYE before? If not, I’m pretty sure the 30th is the longest it has ever taken me to compose and post the yearly list of my favorite new music.
Unlike any year since I started doing this, I struggled to find 100 albums worthy of inclusion this year. According to Spotify, I listened to over 18,000 minutes of music in 2018, and in the month of December alone, I probably added another 5-8,000 minutes to that total. Almost every day at work I have been playing new releases trying to flesh out my list. Without getting too far in the weeds regarding my methodology, December alone introduced me to 11 of the albums that are included here. That is to say over 10% of this list was unfamiliar with me until I sat down on 12/1 and started putting it together.
Furthermore, Iâ€™ve been quite busy this year. You probably noticed that I have not posted more than concert reviews and food reviews for quite some time. There was a lot of travel required this year for various reasons, and when I’ve been around and unencumbered by work/social obligations I prefer unplugging from technology more than I enjoy sitting on my laptop. I ask that you please bear with me (or excuse me?), as I rushed my way through a lot of the mini-reviews youâ€™re about to read. I’ve had to juggle this between work life, home life, and two freelance gigs I picked up since Thanksgiving. This list is the result of maybe 3-4 intense writing sessions, and in all likelihood, I used the same descriptions multiple times, maybe even on two albums in a row.
That said, letâ€™s talk about this list. In terms of labels, there are a few interesting notes to make. Thrill Jockey placed five albums on the list this year, although only one of them was in the top 50. Kranky landed three albums on the list, as did The Flenser, Relapse Records, 20 Buck Spin, and maybe one or two others. The big winner this year from a label standpoint wasÂ Sacred BonesÂ who — once again — bested all others this year withÂ sevenÂ albums making the cut. If you guys need my Venmo address to send that kickback for all the free press, hit me up and I’ll send you my details.
I don’t normally keep track of genres, but I think it’s worth pointing out that by my count more than 10% of this list is rap/hip-hop for the first time maybe ever? I basically have my friend Mike to thank for that because I’m clueless when it comes to what’s new and popular in that world. For a few years now metal has dominated the list, and I think 2018 was more of them. I listen to a lot of heavy music, so that is to be expected.
Lastly, donâ€™t even thinking about pointing out any typos. I donâ€™t want to hear it. I work too hard at this and I don’t get paid for it, so I can only pay so much attention to the small things.
Enjoy the list. As always, let me know what you think in the comments. What did I get right, what did I get wrong, what did I forget, and what did you dig the most in 2018.
The Top 100 Albums Of 2018
#. Artist – Title (Record Label)
100. Demdike Stare – Passion (Modern Love) – They’ve come a long way since the era of horror ambient (Forest Of Evil) and the glorious weirdness of shit like “Hashishian Chant,” but I still try to give the duo a chance whenever they release something new.
99. Brian Eno – Music For Installations (Opal Records) – Considering the rest of this list, Eno has crafted what might be the most whimsical and pastoral album on this list. For fans of field recordings and super-chill times.
98. David Grubbs / Taku Unami – Failed Celestial Creatures (Empty Editions) – Simple guitars and electronics dance around each other beneath some pretty heady lyrics. I guess they’re inspired by a Japanese writer and some poets, none of whom I’ve ever heard of because they aren’t named Raymond Carver and didn’t write English/Japanese phrase books to help you pick up foreigners like, “Making Out In Japanese.” More musicians should be inspired by phrase books.
97. Okkervil River – In The Rainbow Room (ATO Records) – It’s nice to hear a Will Sheff album where his singing doesn’t immediately take you out of your headspace. Because this one is well-produced and kinda hazy and warm, and it’s a nice headspace in which to lose yourself.
96. Thunderon – Vultures (Self-Released)Â – Hi Ian, you’re welcome. Moving up in the world! You guys were 100 last year, now you’re 96. At thisÂ rate, you’ll have the #1 album of the year in about… 23 years. Is my math right on that? Anyway, for the rest of you, listen to Vultures here
95. Cultes Des Goules – Sinister, Or Treading The Darker Paths (Hells Headbangers) – Polish black metal, immense and laborious, the first song repeats the same riff for about 7 minutes and the other four tracks kind of follow suit. The singer sounds like Ian Curtis in corpse paint. It’s fine! Give it a shot.
94. Lykke Li – So Sad So Sexy (RCA) – It’s Lykke Li. It’s fine.
93. Alastor – Slave to the Grave (Riding Easy Records) – Swedish doom metal/psych rock hybrid that is quite likely to be found at Psycho Las Vegas or Roadburn next year (if they’re not already scheduled…I haven’t seen the lineups yet). Every song seems to go just how you expect it to, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Heavy Sabbath influence, proper stoner-y solos, what more do you want?
92. High On FireÂ – Electric Messiah (eOne) – The heaviest Motorhead record Matt Pike and friends have ever recorded. And, I think, the first one to ever make one of my Year End lists. Congrats, Mr.’s Pike and whatever the rest of your names are!
91. Urfaust – The Constellatory Practice (VÃ¡n) – Atmospheric black metal from The Netherlands, with lots of good drone-y elements to break up the more punishing sections.
90. A Place To Bury Strangers – Pinned (Dead Oceans)
89. Gucci Mane – Evil Genius (Atlantic Records) – It seems odd to place a major label album on this list, but alas…it’s Gucci. He actually landed two albums on my list this year. Impressive!
88. John Parish – Bird Dog Dante (Thrill Jockey) – Producer extraordinaire who has worked with PJ Harvey, Aldous Harding, Jenny Hval and many others records his first “proper” album of songs with vocals since…2009, was it? Almost ten years? This is a fantastic collection of accessible – if slightly off-kilter – singer-songwriter fare.
87. Pusha-T – Daytona (Def Jam Recordings) – I didn’t want to include this on my list, because I’d rather not have to mention its producer or compliment anything related to him, but it’s a pretty great album.
86. Current 93 – The Light Is Leaving Us All (The Spheres) – The group known as Current 93 keeps quietly releasing albums, cementing its legacy as one of the most important experimental bands of the last 30+ years. Make sure you also check out The Stars On Their Horsies, also released this year on the same label (The Spheres).
85. William Basinski / Lawrence English – Selva Oscar (Temporary Residence, Ltd) – Two great producers of ambient music, finally together in one place! Between this, the Beak> album, the Mogwai soundtrack for Kin and the Songs: Ohio “Travels In Constants” reissue, TRL had a fantastic year in 2018.
84. Oneida – Romance (Joyful Noise Records) – Man, a lot has changed since I lived in the NY/NJ area and used to see Oneida around town. This ain’t your Secret Wars-era Oneida. “All In Due Time” has the motorik rhythms we’ve come to expect, but is way more…dare I say listener-friendly? Track 1 on Each One Teach One this is not. Think Silver Apples, but with way better drums.
83. Tomb Mold – Manor Of Infinite Forms (20 Buck Spin) – What do you call this, exactly? Space Horror Metal? Sure, I’ll go with it. Space horror metal. If any of those three words excite you, check this one out. [Listen to “Abysswalker“]
82. Thou – Magus (Sacred Bones) – This record is on literally every “Best Metal Albums Of 2018” list, so go read one of those reviews if you don’t already know about this one. I’ve got like 80 more albums to write about.
81. Keiji Haino / Sumac – American Dollar Bill – Keep Facing Sidewaysâ€¦ (Thrill Jockey) – As if this could possibly be bad. It’s like the peanut butter and chocolate of experimental/avantgarde noise.
80. Hailu Mergia – Lala Belu (Awesome Tapes From Africa) – Remember several years ago when Tche Belew broke the Internet (and eBay) and became everyone’s go-to reference for hipster Ethiopian psych organ records? I shared a rip on this very blog just to capitalize on all those collector newbies Googling around for info on the record. Lala Belu is Mergia’s first new album in two decades. Check it out.
79. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter V (Young Money)
78. Efrim Manuel Menuck – Pissing Stars (Constellation) – For the uninitiated: The “voice” most commonly attributed to Godspeed You Black Emperor/A Silver Mt. Zion. His first solo album since 2011’s High Gospel, which – shockingly – didn’t make my list of the best albums from that year. This one is better. [Listen to “The State And Its Love And Genocide“]
77. Future – BEASTMODE 2 (Freebandz Entertainment) – Digital-only mixtape, but any Future is good Future, as far as I’m concerned.
76. Hookworms – Mciroshift (Domino Records) – No comment.
75. Arp – Zebra (Mexican Summer) – The most whimsical Arp has ever sounded! Whee!
74. Deadbird – III: The Forest Within The Tree (20 Buck Spin) – And the award for “Most post-Sabbath metal record by a band I’ve never heard before” award for 2018 goes to Deadbird! If you dig Pallbearer and Khemmis and all those guys, you’ll want to get your hands on this record.
73. Jenny Hval – The Long Sleep (Sacred Bones) – Yes, it’s just an EP. Yes, it can still be eligible in my “best albums of the year” list. I am usually loathe give anything with this kind of saxophone sound a recommended, but I love what Jenny Hval does and I can ignore the lame-ass sax if I focus on her voice and the rest of the instrumentation.
72. The Ocean – Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic (Metal Blade Records)
71. Migos – Culture II (Motown/Capitol) – Oh, how the mighty have fallen. It took just a year for Migos to slide from the top of my Year-End list to outside the top 70. Oh well. This is fine, I like listening to it while I run, but it doesn’t have nearly the same staying power as Culture.
70. Infant Island – Infant Island (Middle Man Records) – Infant Island is kind of like the Deafheaven (Roads To Judah era) of 2018. Their sound is a blend of black metal and shoegaze, maybe even a hint of Screamo?
69. Melody’s Echo Chamber – Bon Voyage (Fat Possum) – I’ve been waiting anxiously for a followup to 2012 self-titled LP, and this year it finally came. It’s less Rachel Goswell and more Beach House than the last one, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any worse. It’s just a little more poppy. So, if you’re reading this list in the hopes of finding good new music and you think it’s all too weird or heavy for you, start here. [Listen to “Breathe In, Breathe Out“]
68. Steve Hauschildt – Dissolvi (Ghostly International) – Guys, I’m still waiting for that big Emeralds reunion tour where the march table is filled with lots of new recordings. Until then I’m happy to continue traveling the spaceways with you individually…but let’s try to make that reunion happen in 2019, k?
67. The Field – Infinite Moment (Kompakt) – Every time I hear a really great electronic/ambient techno album and I see that it’s on Kompakt I think to myself, “Man I need to listen to more of the records they’re putting out!” Then I get distracted by some other shiny new object and forget all about it. Maybe this is the time I actually follow through and start listening to…like, Vermont or GusGus or Pole…
66. The Ex – 27 Passports (Ex Records) – I’ve gone back and forth on The Ex since being steered in their direction, sometimes thinking them one of the greatest bands in the world and at other times unsure whether or not I can make it through an album from start to finish. I guess when you’ve been around for like 40 years and released twenty-something albums that’s bound to happen. I speak without hyperbole when I say this is the best album of theirs I’ve heard. [Listen to “New Blank Document“]
65. The Necks – Body (Northern Spy) – There’s nothing better than following a band for the better part of two decades only to realize that their newest album is also their best. Most listeners/critics shit themselves over the middle section with the guitar “freakout” (by Necks standards) but the outro is where this 57-minute masterpiece really shines. Unbelievable.
64. Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of (Warp Records) – It’s hard to fathom Dominick Fernow (Prurient) helping create Daniel Lopatin’s most accessible record to date. Alas, here he is providing vocals on 3 tracks. When I saw Prurient in Boston ages ago he pretty much emptied out TT The Bear’s with his set. At the time I described it as “a half-naked man screaming into a microphone over some heavily distorted, echoed samples…the rest of his set, which I don’t believe he played to completion, was simply him screaming at the top of his lungs.” It wasn’t ideal considering I was at the bar chatting with Ian and a girl I wanted to sleep with at the time, but in hindsight I’m glad I can say I saw Prurient in that era of his career. Sorry. I should be writing about OPN here not Prurient. Oops!
63. Dr. Octagon – Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation (Bulk Recordings) – The first new Doc Oc record in 12 years!
62. Thought Gang – Thought Gang (Sacred Bones) – Was the third season of Twin Peaks one of the highlights of your year? Because it was one of mine, which means of course I was all-in when Sacred Bones announced Thought Gang. I tried spinning this a few weeks ago when I was going to have people over, but then the girlfriend realized what was playing and shot me a look like she was going to strangle me. If that’s not a ringing endorsement for how weird and awesome this record is, I don’t know what is. [Listen to “Woodcutters From Fiery Ships“]
61. Dead Can Dance – Dionysus (pias) – How the fuck does Dead Can Dance keep getting better. I honestly thought Anastasis was the pinnacle for them, but I think the middle section of “Act I” is as good as anything on that record…maybe not. Maybe I just want it to be? Either way, if you’re not all-in on Dead Can Dance by now, there is no hope for you. The 4AD shit is cool but production-wise still sounds a little too 80s for me at times. This one and Anastasis are bonkers.
60. Visigoth – Conquerorâ€™s Oath (Metal Blade Records) – I can’t tell if it’s awesome or “cute” that a band from Utah is carrying on the NWOBHM tradition so passionately. It’s pure fantasy metal, perfect for your next unironic D&D game.
59. Sumac – Love In Shadow (Thrill Jockey) – I feel like this one was a little divisive, in that if you like Sumac, you either loved this album or hated it. If I recall, Ian (my “in” on most new metal records) wasn’t a fan when it was released. Whether or not that’s changed since then I have no idea (and I’m too lazy to ask). I certainly liked this more than the Haino collab, that’s for sure.
58. Say Sue Me – Where We Were Together (Damnably) – This is one of the best indie pop/rock records of the year. Honestly it might be THE best, as I’m not sure if there are any others higher on this list. Straight out of Busan, South Korea. RIYL Yo La Tengo and Terror Twilight era Pavement.
57. Mount Eerie – Now Only (PW Elverum & Sun, Ltd.) – Phil Elverum and Co. released two pretty good albums this year, this one and (after). Do you like the Microphones The Glow, Pt. 2? If so, you’ll dig these songs.
56. Marisa Anderson – Cloud Corner (Thrill Jockey) – Solo guitarist creates beautiful, warm and inviting compositions. Thrill Jockey is responsible for four albums on this list already, and we’re not even halfway to #1. Is it too early for Label Of The Year honors?
55. Pig Destroyer – Head Cage (Relapse Records) – The best album they’ve ever recorded. Sure, it’s no Puig Destroyer, but it’s still great!
54. Low – Double Negative (Sub Pop) – Talk about a departure! I almost gave up on Low when they hired the guy from Wilco to produce them, but man am I glad I stuck with ’em. This one was produced by BJ Burton – who also produced their last album – but by the sounds of it, it might as well have been William Basinski. Crazy good. [Listen to “Dancing And Blood“]
53. Eigenlicht – Self-Annihilating Consciousness (Gilead Media) – I guess, upon its release, Self-Annihilating Consciousness instantly became one of the coolest records ever cut at Dub Narcotic Sound. Probably the heaviest (sorry Jon Spencer & Co.). It’s certainly more interesting than 99% of the drivel that comes out of that place (not counting Yume Bitsu & related!). Cool Pacific Northwest Black Metal. [Listen to “Berzerker“]
52. Wardruna – Skald (By Norse Music) – Ever year I struggle with whether or not a couple albums I want to include on this list should be included. I don’t know why I stress about it. I’m the only person making the list, the only one who gets to decide the rules, and I’m pretty much making them up as I go along. Nevertheless, I wasn’t sure if I should include Skald this year, because it’s a collection of solo pieces and Wardruna songs that have been performed in the years since the project started in 2003. It’s still good, though! And if I can include things like digital-only releases and EPs, I can include a cool-as-shit Norse pagan folk record I like.
51. Gucci Mane – El Gato: The Human Glacier (Atlantic Records)
50. Marsh Dweller – Wanderer (Eihwaz Recordings) – What’d Ian call this the other day? A symbolic follow-up to Cult of Luna’s Vertikal? I suppose that makes sense. The songs are very dynamic with how they rise and fall, with a good amount of electronics blended in amongst more traditional instrumentation. I guess they call this “post-metal.” Sure. I’ll go with that descriptor as well.
49. The Goon Sax – We’re Not Talking (Wichita) – Wanna know what’s scarce ’round these parts currently? Indie pop albums. I just don’t listen to that many at my age. Alas, The Goon Sax manage to sound like some of your favorite Antipodean jangle-pop bands of yesteryear in a Go-Betweens meets Chills/Clean kind of way. [Listen to “We Can’t Win“]
48. Dark Buddha Rising – II (Neurot Recordings) – Finnish psychedelic doom. That’s pretty much all there is to it.
47. The Body – I Have Fought Against It, But I Canâ€™t Any Longer (Thrill Jockey) – Ingeniously constructed out of samples of previous recordings. It’s the best combination of menace and finesse the duo has released since their collaboration with Braveyoung.
46. Shame – Songs Of Praise (Dead Oceans) – I’m pretty sure my dear friend LJP is going to kill me for not ranking this album higher, as she’s been singing its praises and hailing as the best record of the year for just about the entirety of 2018. Dark punk vibes aplenty, a couple tracks play with loud/soft dynamics deftly, and you’ll find some brilliantly venomous lyrics if you listen closely. [Listen to “Dust On Trial“]
45. Street Sects – The Kicking Mule (The Flenser) – What do you call this, industrial electronic punk? It sounds like what would happen if the Jesus Lizard embraced samples, John Carpenter scores, and comic books… with fuzzier vocals.
44. Uniform – The Long Walk (Sacred Bones) – My introduction to Uniform was the third season of Twin Peaks, which featured “Habit” and “Tabloid” from Wake In Fright. Somehow Uniform managed to record an even heavier album with The Long Walk which might very well be the most punishing album of 2018.
43. Bosse-De-Nage – Further Still (The Flenser) I really, really liked 2015’s All Fours, but I actually think I like Further Still more…which is saying A LOT. There’s an angsty grungy edge to this record that I love.
42. Daughters – You Wonâ€™t Get What You Want (Ipecac Recordings) – Of course the first Daughters record in eight years would be so good it would make you revisit their entire catalog, multiple times, and make you wonder what you were missing all those times you said, Hell Songs is pretty good, but what else is there? Almost Brainbombs-y in its complete and unflinching disdain for us (and themselves?), this is the catchiest, most-nihilistic thing I’ve heard in some time.
41. Anderson .Paak – Oxnard (Aftermath Records) – Mmm…funky.
40. Christina Vantzou – No. 4 (Kranky) – While not quite reaching the same heights as No. 2, this is easily the next best recording she and her collective have released. It’s deeply emotional, at times even unsettling, but always invigorating and beautiful.
39. Kikagaku Moyo – Masana Temples (Guruguru Brain) – Another Ian recommendation, this time NOT a metal album! It’s kraut-y with hints of jazz and even classical sprinkled throughout. Melodic, chill, and trippy, this is music for stoned summer road trips.
38. Sangre de Muerdago – Noite (Neuropa Records) – This is basically Spanish renaissance fair folk, but don’t let that detract you from giving it a shot. I thought the concept sounded stupid as well and I ended up absolutely loving it. [Listen to “Xuramento“]
37. William Fowler Collins – Field Music (SIGE) – What is a Swan Fungus Best Of [insert year here] list without a contribution from “friend of the blog” William Fowler Collins? Field Music is the followup to Tenebroso I’ve been waiting for since 2012. Blacker than black guitar drones for late nights in the desert. As haunting as it is stunning. When Aquarius Records used to use the phrase “blissed out” to describe records they’d do so in a way that evoked sun-dappled happy days, but when I say Field Music is blissed-out in a way that evokes cozy nights filled with intense dreams.
36. Tropical Fuck Storm – A Laughing Death In Meatspace (Joyful Noise Records) – “You Let My Tyres Down” might just be the best rock song of 2018. It’s certainly the one I’ve listened to the most this year. It’s as bleak as it is funny, narrated by somehow who is pathetically flawed. If ever a record could sound meticulously shambolic, this is it. I’ve had such fun listening to this one it’s forced me to go back and investigate The Drones, a band I’ve long written off for God knows what reason. I’d say that’s the mark of a great album. [Listen to “You Let My Tyres Down“]
35. Vince Staples – FM! (Def Jam Recordings) – I think Vince’s uncompromising vision demands more respect than maybe anyone else on this list. He’s clearly just making music for himself – regardless of whether it garners acclaim or not – and I love the hell out of that. It doesn’t hurt that his lyrics are gloomy as fuck. Two recipes for success IMHO: Uncompromising artistic vision and DARK.
34. Laurel Halo – Raw Silk Uncut Wood (Latency)
33. Jaye Jayle – No Trail And Other Unholy Paths (Sargent House) – The difference between Jayle’s first album and this one is startling. It’s far more complex, ghostly, and moody than its predecessor. Upon its release I ignored it because I wasn’t a huge fan of that first record…but this one floored me on my first listen. I’ve returned many, many times since, each time finding something new and invigorating I hadn’t noticed before. Hopefully his next record will be even better.
32. Domkraft – Flood (Blues Funeral Recordings) – When I first saw Domkraft at Psycho Las Vegas 2017 I fell hard and fast for ’em. Their two records (at the time) were instantly added to my Discogs “Wantlist,” and I’ve been especially enjoying The End Of Electricity. Flood is just as heavy, with some welcome psychedelia sprinkled throughout. Those flourishes are enough to maybe even make this one better than the last one!
31. Hilary Woods – Colt (Sacred Bones) – Stunning debut full-length that strikes some Lynchian/Badalamentian tones, which makes sense for a new Sacred Bones artist. I guess you could draw comps to Zola Jesus, Chelsea Wolfe and writers/performers of that ilk, but Woods’ voice is definitely singular. I was skeptical of this one when I first read the press release…but grew to really, really enjoy it. [Listen to “Sever“]
30. Julia Holter – Aviary (Domino Records) – As much as I love Ekstasis and Loud City Song, I think Aviary might be my favorite Holter record yet.
29. Khorada – Salt (Prophecy Productions) – What do you get when you take the vocalist from Giant Squid and juxtapose him to the guys from Agalloch? You get a couple disparate elements that one might expect from two very distinct groups, but by and large, you get a fantastic amalgam – the best of both words – that makes for an exciting first effort. It took me several listens to strip away my preconceived notions of what I wanted it to sound like (or thought it should sound like?), and appreciate it for what it is. Can’t wait to see what’s next…
28. Ancestors – Suspended In Reflections (Pelagic Records) – If this is the last Ancestors record – and I’ve heard there’s more than a good chance it is – the band has left us with an incredible testament to their talents, and probably the best thing they’ve released since Side 2 of Neptune With Fire. It’s far more subtle than In Dreams And Time, and I think I appreciate it more for that. Say it ain’t so, guys…
27. Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (Anti-) They got nominated for a fucking Grammy award. What am I going to write about this album that you haven’t already read in, like…Billboard or Pitchfork? [Listen to “Near“]
26. Zeal And Ardor – Stranger Fruit (Mvka/Radicalis) – I wasn’t sure how the “shtick” would age in the two years since Devil Is Fine first blew my hair back. Would it just be more of the same black metal and black folk music? Would there be any evolution? Would it just be more blast beats and spirituals? The answer to both of those questions, thankfully, are YES to evolution and NO to “just more blast beats and spirituals.” The production has improved, there’s a choir, the vision is more fully realized in just about every way. A brilliant sophomore effort. [Listen to “Stranger Fruit“]
25. Sleep – The Sciences (Third Man Records) – If you thought the first Sleep album in almost 20 years WOULDN’T be on this list, you clearly don’t know me. It’s no Dopesmoker (or should I say Jerusalem), but tracks like “Marijuanaut’s Theme” and and “Giza Butler” are more than just incredible song titles – they’re up there in the pantheon of the best riffs Sleep has ever committed to tape. I’ve been so happy to see them perform these songs live a couple times, and each time I come away respecting them and the tunes more. Don’t chalk this up to a cheap follow-up to Dopesmoker. That verse in “Giza Butler” that mixes DUNE and weed is pure genius.
24. Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs (Columbia Records) – I wasn’t a huge fan of I Don’t Like Shit… when it came out in 2015, so I was a teensy bit hesitant about this one upon release. Sonically it is abstract, which would normally feel at odds juxtaposed to his understated delivery, but this collection of tracks somehow clicks. I listened two or three times the day it was released, and have returned multiple times since. Each time I find a new little audio clips or chopped up samples I hadn’t yet noticed.
23. This Will Destroy You – New Other: Part One (Dark Operative Records) – Fans were treated to two albums from TWDY this year. Whether that was an intentional marketing thing or not, I have no idea. I enjoyed both “Parts” immensely, especially “Go Away Closer” on the first offering.
22. Drowse – Cold Air (The Flenser) – I didn’t think much of Cold Air until I saw Drowse live with Planning For Burial. That performance sold me on their sound, and I returned to the record with fresh airs and a newfound appreciation for what their bedroom Slowdive/Mount Eerie thing going on but with harder edges, maybe with a touch of Sonic Youth to dirty things up. If any of that sounds appealing to you, you’ll want to seek this record out.
21. Windhand – Eternal Return (Relapse Records) – When the first single from this album dropped, my initial reaction was, “Oh. The vocals are mixed louder.” My next thought was, “Oh. I really like that they mixed the vocals louder. The melodies actually have a chance to shine through.” Is it as good as Soma? I can’t say for certain, but I think this one is going to age really well, and by the time their next record comes out I could very well cite this as the standout record in their catalog.
20. Amen Dunes – Freedom (Sacred Bones) – Sometimes I think if I didn’t used to religiously read through each Aquarius Records (RIP) mail order list, there would be huge gaps in my knowledge of modern music. Had I not investigated DIA when they recommended it back in 2009, I would not have stuck around to try out Through Donkey Jaw, and I certainly would not have ranked Love the 8th best record of 2014. This one is even more catchy/accessible than the last one, but at this point I’m all-in on Damon McMahon and willing to follow him wherever he leads us fans/listeners in the future.
19. Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt (Bella Union) – Y’all know Spiritualized is my favorite band, so instead of talk about how this one has maybe one dud on an otherwise flawless album, I’ll throw a request out there: Someone get me a ticket to their show at the Troubadour in March? Secondary prices are still over $300 a piece and – right now – that’s a teensy bit too steep for me. K? Thanks. [Listen to “The Prize“]
18. Unreqvited – Stars Wept To The Sea (Avantgarde Music) â€“ My favorite atmospheric/depressive post-black metal Canadian one-man-band is back! Somehow, the artist manages to create triumphantly wonderous â€“ dare I say uplifting â€“ 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 “Stardust“]
17. Tangled Thoughts Of Leaving – No Tether (self-released) â€“ 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.
16. Saba – CARE FOR ME (Saba Pivot) – My buddy Mike recommended this so casually one morning on Chat that I almost ignored it. What I discovered upon following through with his request for me to hear it was an incredibly dark, powerful album that warrants all of our attention. It unfolds like a memoir as told through a series of brief vignettes, each one as poignant and unique as the next. In a year in which I probably listened to more hip-hop than I ever have before, this stands head and shoulders above others as one of the two most stunning efforts I heard.
15. This Will Destroy You – New Others: Part Two (Dark Operative Records) – I mentioned enjoying Part One a lot, but I liked Part Two much more. “Sound Of Your Death” and “Clubs” are the highlights, and were a joy to hear live when I saw them on their most recent West Coast swing.
14. Yob – Our Raw Heart (Relapse Records) â€“ Iâ€™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 â€œWolves In The Throne Room Or Bustâ€ metal phase, so I didnâ€™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.
13. Eneferens – The Bleakness Of Our Constant (Bindrune Recordings) – The atmospheric doom metal that Jori Apedaile unleashes under the moniker of Eneferens is so gut-wrenching and exhilarating I can’t help but geek out about his records. Much like In The Hours Beneath begins with the Slint-ian “Morning,” the new record commences with the four-minute opener “Leave,” a somber opening that sets the stage for the punishing doom that follows. If you’re a fan of the genre you have to dive into this guy’s records. He’s so fucking good at what he does!
12. CHRCH – Light Will Consume Us All (Neurot Recordings) â€“ 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 Iâ€™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 youâ€™re like me youâ€™ll probably dig this one as much as I do.
11. Emma Ruth Rundle – On Dark Horses (Sargent House) – This was one of my most anticipated releases of 2018 and it did not disappoint. Sonically you could say it pulls together the best elements of Marked For Death and Some Heavy Ocean, with tracks like “Darkhorse” and “Races” standing out as the best marriage of what those records offered. Lyrically, I think, is where On Dark Horses truly shines. Simply put, these are the best songs she has written to date. [Listen to “Darkhorse“]
10. A Story Of Rats â€“ The Immeasurable Spiral (Psychic Violence) â€“ 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, â€œWait â€“ why does that name sound familiar?â€ I guess itâ€™s possible Iâ€™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 itâ€™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 â€œThe two pieces of immense sonic architectureâ€¦ crafted to represent an unknown space where somberness and asphyxiation are of equal temperament.â€ If that sounds like your thing, jump on this ASAP.
09. Grouper – Grid Of Points (Kranky) – Itâ€™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, Iâ€™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 wonâ€™t be another four years before we hear from Harris againâ€¦
08. Bongripper – Terminal (Great Barrier Records) – Did you like Miserable? I liked Miserable. This one picks up where the last one left off, slightly more refined but mostly more of the same. You don’t always have to progress, you don’t always have to throw a wrench in your sound. Sometimes you just have to keep punishing your listeners, and this record does just that. A+
07. Khemmis – Desolation (20 Buck Spin) – If Absolution was a first foray into weaving multiple styles of metal/hard rock together, and Hunted was the record that solidified the Khemmis SOUND, Desolation is the perfect follow-up, it takes the best elements of the last album and expands upon them. The melodies are more accessible than ever before, the production is crisper, and the tempo perpetually charges forward. It’s a refined album that takes the best parts of Hunted and tweaks ’em ever so slightly to create a ridiculously good record. [Listen to “Isolation“]
06. Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy (Matador) â€“ 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. Soâ€¦ the follow-up to Teens Of Denial is a collection of songs weâ€™ve heard before, written and recorded years ago. That shouldnâ€™t matter. What matters is that the quality of those songs has been improved with this new version. Iâ€™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.
05. Noname – Room 25 (Self-Released) – Much like how my buddy Ian is my go-to for new metal, my buddy Mike is my go-to for new hip-hop. I think he hipped me to Noname’s Telephone by insisting I watch her NPR Tiny Desk concert. Then he picked up a copy of the vinyl for me, thus ensuring I would be listening to it regularly. So basically he shoved her down my throat on two separate occasions, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I love her flow, how it can be both innocent and commanding at the same time. I love the production, which again on this record is flawless. I flirted with making this my #1 album of the year just because from first listen to most-recent listen I find myself enjoying it more and more as it ages. Any of these top 5 albums could be number one on any given day. They are all wonderful. [Listen to “Don’t Forget About“]
04. Marissa Nadler – For My Crimes (Sacred Bones) – After the Emma Ruth Rundle record, my second most highly-anticipated release of 2018 was the new Marissa Nadler album. Sometimes I listen to her records and giggle when I recall seeing her perform at Tonic for the first time and thinking she sucked. The arc of her career has been truly astounding, and for as closed-minded as I can be about music I am thankful every single time I hear her voice that I did not cast her aside following that night at Tonic. I mentioned earlier how Bongripper just keeps punishing fans with more of the same sound and we love them for it. On the contrary, Nadler has taken her brand (for lack of a better word) of gothic folk and continued to experiment within that style in ways that make each successive album stand apart from those that came before. This ability to alter arrangements, subject matter, and production are a testament to her immense talent. She’s one of my favorite modern songwriters, and she keeps finding new ways to impress. [Listen to “For My Crimes“]
03. Tim Hecker – Konoyo (Kranky) – I could very easily imagine a world where the behemoth that was Tim Hecker’s Love Streams — with Ben Frost as studio engineer and choral arrangements by Johann Johannsson — could never be replicated or topped. And yet Konoyo is a phenomenal follow-up and one of the three best records I heard all year. It’s less dense than Love Streams, softer and more streamlined, and yet the end result is somehow just as invigorating and mesmerizing.
02. Anna Von Hausswolff – Dead Magic (City Slang) â€“ I can point to individual songs on Ceremony and The Miraculous that are epic and moving and wonderfully arrangedâ€¦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, andâ€¦Kate Bush? My points of reference would be highlights from previous Von Hausswolff albums, like â€œRed Sunâ€ and â€œOcean.â€ It is not an easy listen, full of heavy, blacker-than-black dirges, but it is also full of beauty and passion. Listen to the soft breathes of the pipe organ between notes. Stand in awe of the range of emotions in her voice. These songs are easily the most stunning and emotionally resonant she has recorded to date, and the sum total of its parts make this one of the two best albums of the year. And it would be album of the year were it not for…
01. Panopticon – The Scars Of Man On The Once Nameless Wilderness I & II (Bindrune Recordings) â€“ 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 bluegrass/folksy flourishes thing was a novel approach to metalâ€¦and until The Scarsâ€¦ it was my favorite record of Lunnâ€™sâ€¦ but Iâ€™m pretty sure this new one is my favorite. That might not sound like much of an endorsement, but when you love everything an artist has ever recorded and have to pick a favorite amongst them, it’s a big fucking deal. Which is to say this is a magnificent work worthy of the #1 spot on this list. If you can open your mind enough to listen to black metal and bluegrass, youâ€™ll be rewarded with a brilliant album that showcases just how many similarities the genres have, and how perfectly they can blend together to create something haunting, beautiful, and totally unique. Give it a shot. Tell me what you think. [Listen to “The Moss Beneath The Snow“]
Happy New Year to anyone/everyone reading this. If you’re a regular reader, thanks for hanging around and checking up on me for the past 13 years. I promise I’ll make a better effort to post more next year. Stay safe, have fun, see you in 2019.
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