Well, here it is. I listened to nearly 500 new releases this year, and as with any amount of music that size I found some things I truly love. I am excited to share them with you in the hopes that we agree, disagree, or I can introduce you to something new…or all three. The order is not important here. I adore all of these albums and I won’t diminish that by comparing them to each other. Writing about every single one would be exhausting (for both me AND you), so I plan to write about the first ten that come to mind and let the rest speak for themselves.
To everyone who somehow participated in this website in 2018, thank you. This was my first year doing consistent reviews and I couldn’t have had more fun. See you all in 2019!
Words cannot describe the excitement I felt when Daughters, after eight years since their flawless self-titled album, released “Satan in the Wait” as a lead single back in July. The seven-minute epic dethroned “Cheers, Pricks” as the band’s longest song, and ventured into dark, unfamiliar territory with its post-punk influenced guitar slices and repetitive structures, all areas that were further explored on the masterpiece that is You Won’t Get What You Want. I won’t hesitate to say that this record deserves every single ounce of the exorbitant praise being thrown its way. From the nightmarish mood-setting on “City Song” to industrial-plagued noise rock tracks like “Long Road, No Turns” and “The Reason They Hate Me” to frenetic fretboard attacks that hearken back to the band’s earlier work on “The Flammable Man” and “The Lords Song,” everything is exactly what it needs to be. You Won’t Get What You Want is a confident entry in the awe-inspiring artistic evolution that is Daughters’ discography, and easily joins the others in my endless rotations.
Green, a beautiful color. I began my review of this double CD a month or so ago with the words “I’m fairly certain I will remember the first time I heard Green Ways for the rest of my life.” I stand by that assertion. Lambkin and O’Dwyer have captured something both familiar and impossibly unique with this album, adopting an unparalleled minimalistic approach to music-making to convey so many different scenes, emotions, and sensations. The listener is trapped inside the portable recorder the artists used to capture these sounds, but the effect is anything but limiting; we are there when the audience erupts into applause at the end of a bizarre group performance, we are there when the soft plinks of an old piano shakes the ground, we are there in that bustling crowd of people in a lively Irish town. Green Ways, despite its unapologetic sparseness, oozes with more things than music seems able to convey, than it should be able to convey. (Original review)
There’s emoviolence with a sharp edge, and then there’s this. The Shackles of Birth is an unyielding assault of anger, barreling toward anyone who chooses to listen with its twisted hybrids of grinding blast beats and buzzsaw guitars. The LP is capped at a concise 17-minute run time, and there are absolutely no stray hairs or meandering moments; everything about this album contributes to its formidable intensity in one way or another. The production is oppressive and muddy, lending weight to the pounding rhythms and chugging, distorted bass, but also allowing the jagged, chaotic roils of tortured vocals and guitars to cut straight through. I consider The Shackles of Birth to be a modern classic of the genre (or at least it will be eventually); it easily ranks among the most intense chaotic hardcore in its ability to grab hold and not let go. (Original review)
Joe Murray has been working with the acoustic properties of low fidelity audio material for a long time, and Totally Corporate! seems to be the embodiment of everything the medium has to offer. Murray transforms even the simplest and most mundane of sources into spellbinding spiderworks of tape hiss, distorted garble, and discomfiting clicks and clacks. The fractured, damaged operations of dictaphones and other tape recorders opens up a world of mystery, unease, and beauty, echoing the murky distance of faded memories and parts of life long gone. “Reading the Track List for Napalm Death’s ‘Scum’ Into a Broken Tape Recorder” is exactly what its title states, but even this moment of transparency does little to disrupt the immersive atmosphere that Murray has created.
From its blurred cover photograph to its minuscule run time, I wouldn’t blame anyone who worried that Some Rap Songs would feel sloppy and thrown together. Actually, those are two descriptions that I would confidently apply to this album, but in the most positive way possible. On his first studio album in three years, Earl Sweatshirt ventures further into the hallucinatory sample collages and dense wordplay first hinted at by I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside and its companion Solace, messily chopping up old soul records to form the basis for an odyssey through a mind that’s as lonely and tortured as ever. The album moves through its series of flitting vignettes at a brisk but natural pace, with Earl’s tumbling flows and free-associative imagery often forming the basis for the dizzying beats instead of the other way around. The last three tracks are simply gorgeous, from the achingly beautiful piano cascades and spoken words of parents Cheryl Harris and Keorapetse Kgositsile on “Playing Possum” to the shifting static of “Peanut” and the concluding “Riot!,” which somehow brings this fever dream to an organic close.
I’m only half joking when I say I could write a dissertation about this album. On Am I a Girl?, Moriah Rose Pereira takes her character of Poppy past the cutesy robotic pop of Poppy.computer and into a tour de force of polished electropop hits, mind-bending genre experiments, and a new level of social commentary. “In a Minute” starts things off strong with its addictive bass curls and the infectious vapidity of its chorus, with Poppy’s assertion that she is “busy and important” taking control of the album’s first act, which is full of more gloriously shallow expressions of vanity. The adventurous pair of interludes in turn take us into the second and third sections, which take things to new heights of absurdity. It’s impossible not to simultaneously dance your heart out while bursting out laughing at the ridiculous lyrics of “Aristocrat” or “Girls in Bikinis,” or to laugh even harder at the genre fusions of the final three tracks while headbanging to the gloriously hard-hitting metal riffs. I can’t say enough good things. (Original review)
The sounds of Amuleto’s Misztériumok radiate the same tension as the strings of the instruments largely used to create them. The duo sculpts physical, impacting electroacoustics from a variety of sources, but even at its most abstract and electronics-heavy the album retains the earthy feel and energy of an intimate folk song. From the second that layer of mesmerizing bass tones breaks through the bowed drones that begin “Der Turm,” Misztériumok is a sonic journey through taut, tensile compositions that exude a primordial warmth. “Urlicht” is the album’s most conventionally beautiful track, weaving fuzz-soaked harmonies in and out of each other, while “Untitled With Eye, Hand, Moon and Dog” achieves breathtaking heights through its unpredictable stop-start approach. (Original review)
The U.K.-based avant-rock outfit Mosquitoes was one of my favorite discoveries this year, along with their closely related side project Komare. Drip Water Hollow Out Stone is the band’s first official label studio release, providing a more accessible platform to experience their uncompromising brand of fractured rock music. The LP echoes the anxious, angular guitars and unintelligible vocals of New York no wave pioneers like DNA and Mars, but there’s something much more elusive, even sinister about it. The stutter-step rhythm section forms broken grooves that amble along at a stumbling but deliberate pace, the sparse instrumental interplay somehow creating hulking, intimidating soundscapes. The vocals are nothing short of terrifying, echoing the wordless rhythms of sound poetry as they slither across these songs. (Original review)
Serbian sound artist Manja Ristić has had an incredible year, but The Nightfall, her sublime meditation on the four seasons, is undoubtedly the highlight. I still struggle to find words to discuss this album despite its rare departure from my cassette player. It explores tension and freedom in equal measure, with anything from ominous guitar melodies to percussive vibraphone accompanying Ristić’s lush collages of field recordings. I won’t pretend that basing pieces of music on the cycle of seasons is anything incredibly revolutionary, but the way each season is viewed and conveyed definitely is—I can’t say I’ve ever heard a musical depiction of summer that is as foreboding as it is here. “Spring” on its own makes this album a formidable force this year; its combination of comforting melodies and sounds of laughing children is almost too beautiful to describe. (Original review)
The deafening racket that is My Mother the Vent is only made more impressive with the knowledge that it was produced by just two people. Guttersnipe, a duo from Leeds that features one member on guitar, electronics, and vocals and the other on drums (their real names are unknown to me), nearly perfects their semi-improvised brand of harsh rock music on this album. To say My Mother the Vent is impenetrable would be an understatement; the shrieking vocals sound like the wails of a straight-jacketed psychopath and the drums switch between Chris Corsano-esque rock improv to fiendish blast beats at the drop of a hat. The band occupies an incredible neutral zone between concise songwriting and meandering free music, frequently letting their instrumental chemistry take the songs to new places but always knowing when to reel it all back in. (Original review)
Some… “Honorable Mentions” (Feel free to zoom in, it’s a large image)