List: Top Ten for the First Half of 2019

In a minimal format identical to last year’s list, here are my ten favorite albums that have been released during the first half of 2019. As always, the order is of little importance.

Andrea Borghi – VHS (Misanthropic Agenda, May 8)

VHS is almost like an auditory laboratory experiment. This spellbinding album is the sonic result of sound artist Andrea Borghi’s choice use of objects, prepared turntable, and the innards of a modified VHS player. Moments of recognizable humanity in the form of video tape samples occasionally emerge amidst the beautiful din of crackling, buzzing electronics. Original review

Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride (Columbia, May 3)

Despite how much I love Modern Vampires of the City, I really didn’t have any expectations for Vampire Weekend’s first album in six years. But with Father of the Bride the band has released their best album. Moments of fragile beauty, infectious sun-drenched pop tunes, and cheerful style experiments are sprawled across the warmest, happiest 58 minutes one could ask for.

Duncan Harrison – Nothing’s Good (Index Clean, Feb 16)

The disorienting collages of Nothing’s Good are some of Harrison’s most bewildering, conjuring abstract sound environments of strangled voices, warbling tape, and disparate found sound. The artist’s penchant for nondiscriminatory sonic palettes is at the heart of this album, where all sounds, from the familiar noises of humanity to unidentifiable scrapes and smashes to completely detached electronics, are on equal footing.

Johnw – Wordless Paragraph (Absent Erratum, Mar 11)

Structurally, Wordless Paragraph is a very unique wall release. It’s comprised of seven two-minute pieces, preceded and followed by two endcap tracks running four minutes and thirty seconds each. You’d think that such short durations would diminish the walls’ atmosphere and power, but that’s not really the focus here. The concluding “-” is utterly sublime.

Soren Roi – Retrograde Amnesia (Bank, Feb 22)

Despite its length, Retrograde Amnesia maintains focus throughout, Soren Roi’s evolving compositions of heavyweight industrial techno and deconstructed electronica always imbued with a sense of forward motion, driving and loud and hypnotic and punishing. This double tape commands attention at every moment.

Ariana Grande – thank u, next (Republic, Feb 8)

Easily my most-played album this year. I wasn’t impressed with any of the singles, but all of them have since grown on me tremendously —with the exception of “Break Up With Your Girlfriend…” Regardless, thank u, next is Grande’s first truly personal artistic statement, a record that is her through and through, equal parts danceable hits and aching emotion.

The Wind in the Trees – A Gift of Bricks from the Sky (self-released, Feb 19)

With members of The Heads Are Zeros and Leveless, Baltimore’s The Wind in the Trees stirs up menacing squalls of complex, angular grind. Dark, surreal lyrical imagery is screamed with desperation over labyrinthine riffs and breakneck drums. The band offers a legendary conclusion with the invigorating “Blinding Miscalculations.” Original review

Marble Arch – Children of the Slump (Géographie, Mar 22)

Gorgeous dream pop with enough layers and density to soundtrack a friendly gathering or to reward a focused listen. Marble Arch’s second album is filled with blissful guitar effects, bouncy drum patterns, and a comforting, hazy ambience.

Darksmith – Poverty of Will (Chocolate Monk, Mar 22)

Even in Darksmith’s bleakest moments there’s usually a glimmer of hope, no matter how small. I’m not so sure that’s true for Poverty of Will, a terrifying odyssey through a desolate, unfamiliar world. I haven’t had a chance to get ahold of the companion art book, so I can only imagine the nightmares that are depicted by his distinct stark black pen drawings. Original review

Velo Misere – Retrospectiva de la Fatalidad (Death Kvlt Productions, Mar 1)

Including this one is sort of cheating since it collects the band’s two previous releases: Compendio de Trágicos Presagios (2017) and Genealogía del Eterno Desasosiego (2018). However, its release this year enabled me to find this band, so I think it’s fitting. This compilation introduces a larger audience to Velo Misere’s amazing brand of raw, passionate depressive black metal. Original review

Feature: Favorite Albums of 2018

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!


Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want (Ipecac, Oct 26)

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.

Graham Lambkin & Áine O’Dwyer – Green Ways (Erstwhile, Nov 27)

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)

Setsuko – The Shackles of Birth (Dog Knights Productions, Mar 5)

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)

Posset – Totally Corporate! (Kirigirisu Recordings, Mar 17)

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.

Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs (Tan Cressida, Nov 30)

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.

Poppy – Am I a Girl? (Mad Decent, Oct 31)

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)

Amuleto – Misztériumok (Three:Four, Apr 6)

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)

Mosquitoes – Drip Water Hollow Out Stone (Ever/Never, Jul 13)

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)

Manja Ristić – The Nightfall (Naviar, Apr 26)

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)

Guttersnipe – My Mother the Vent (Upset the Rhythm, Oct 26)

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)

 

Feature: Favorite Labels of 2018

As we enter December, the month of end-of-year lists galore, I’ll be focusing more on summarizing my favorite music that I heard this year rather than reviewing new things—among obvious other reasons, I need a break from the constant new music! For me, December is not too early to assess the year as a whole, because I won’t be able to spend enough time with anything that comes out this close to the end of the year to confidently put it on a list. As with everything on this site, these lists and features will be intended to encourage discovery of new things; the fact that they are my opinions is secondary.


Even in this era where digital music and streaming dominate, independent CD and tape labels are the lifeblood of the underground and avant-garde music community. So many, way more than we deserve, are admirable platforms for musicians and artists to get their music to new audiences, focused on supporting creativity rather than profit (though they still need your financial support too). With this piece, I hope to give recognition for the longer running labels that are still consistently great, as well as bring some newer discoveries into the spotlight.

‘Old Standbys’

Erstwhile

Though 2017 only saw three new Ersts—which, to be fair, were two fantastic double CDs and one monstrous five-disc set—the label doubled that number in 2018, releasing three single discs in March, two more in August, and wrapped things up with the spectacular Green Ways, a two-disc collaboration between Áine O’Dwyer and Graham Lambkin, which also happens to be my pick for the best thing I heard this year. With this year’s roster, Erstwhile continues its long running tradition of being at the forefront of contemporary improvised music, with the tense, percussive interplay of Hong Chulki and Will Guthrie on Mosquitoes and Crabs and the whimsical live sound-plundering of Lucio Capece and Marc Baron on My Trust in You, but it also maintains its expansion into other areas, with the remaining four albums all but defying conventional classification. Thank you to Jon Abbey, who runs and produces for the label, and to Yuko Zama, who does most of the CD case designs.

Glistening Examples

Jason Lescalleet’s formidable imprint continued to present some of the most interesting and forward-thinking works in the areas of electroacoustic and acousmatic music this year. Its first offerings came from sound researcher Thomas Tilly, whose wonderful Codex Amphibia explored the breeding frenzies of frogs, as well as the sonic quilting offered by Taneli Viljanen and the warm but tense drones of Caroline Park. Lescalleet also released two of his own works on the label, a CD reissue of last year’s Almost Is Almost Good Enough cassette and the 20th installment of his This Is What I Do series. Three more release batches were released throughout the year, from which my personal highlights were Run Amok, a series of tactile sound interventions by Tom White, and Hardworking Families’ deceptively dense EMERGENCY WINDOW. Thank you to Jason Lescalleet, whose mastering work is reliably great on every release.

No Rent

The Philadelphia-based No Rent Records just might have every other physical media label that I can think of beat with the staggering amount of tapes they put in 2018, which numbers more than thirty. THIRTY tapes. I admit I missed one here and there, but I’ve liked pretty much every release I’ve heard from No Rent this year, an amazing feat for that amount of prolificacy. My favorites include Buck Young’s Proud Trash Sound, a cassette originally released in January and later pressed as an LP which also happens to be the greatest—and, possibly, only—example of ‘country noise’ I can think of; Fashion Tape from Vanessa Rosetto, whose unique synthesis of sound sources is housed within one of the best looking cassettes I own; a two-tape comprehensive compilation of ambient works by Cold Electric Fire; and Collin McKelvey’s glorious The Golden Ass. Jason Crumer’s Ottoman Black was also reissued as a cassette. Thank you to Jason Crumer and Rose Actor-Engel, who work tirelessly to give countless experimental artists a valuable platform.

Youth Attack

In 2018, the label that takes its name from one of the greatest hardcore releases in history released more than several albums that are well-equipped to steal that crown. I would have been happy if the only two punk LPs I had this year were January’s Dying Breed and Nightmare in a Damaged Brain, the furious masterpieces by Cadaver Dog and Vile Gash respectively, but Youth Attack wasn’t done. Mark McCoy’s own band Suburbanite also released a self-titled LP, and the year was brought to a close with another forceful double-punch from City Hunter and Creep Stare. Youth Attack also released an official digital version of the Cancer Kids’ peerless opus The Possible Dream, which originally came out in 2002. Thank you to Mark McCoy, who is always determined to bring us the best that modern hardcore has to offer.

New Discoveries

Castle Bravo

This Indiana-based imprint only releases three tapes every June, but this year’s batch was more consistent than most others. Each of the three barely left the vicinity of my tape player since I got them in the mail, with Cryptonym’s vicious mixture of black metal and distorted electronic music on Predation, Gateway’s avant-jazz-plagued brand of improvised music on Dawn of the Civil Savage, and the debut release from Truth Decay filling many an intolerable silence throughout the second half of 2018. I also feel compelled to mention the tape that introduced me to Castle Bravo: Death Ranch by guitarist, droner, and collager Jacob Sunderlin.

Dinzu Artefacts

Dinzu’s gorgeous tape releases are reserved for “the contemporary art of sound by artists interested in tape manipulation, field recordings, noise and experimental practices.” It’s no surprise, then, that pretty much every DNZ cassette can be counted on to be tremendously unique and innovative, from the muffled mechanical whirrings of Sebastiano Carghini’s Habituated by Reason and tape-miniatures of Dominique Vaccaro’s Close Distances to the amplified environments of SiAl by Matthias Urban.

elsewhere

Started as a sister label to Erstwhile, elsewhere is run by designer and producer Yuko Zama, who focuses on releases grounded in contemporary classical music. Though 2018 was the label’s first year in operation, it already has put out five titles, including a triple CD from Biliana Voutchkova and Michael Thieke, a performance of Clara de Asís’s piece “Without” by Erik Carlson and Greg Stuart, and a collection of two compositions by Wandelweiser legend Jürg Frey, all packaged in beautiful cases with a unique design template.

Geräuschmanufaktur

Geräuschmanufaktur mainly operates in the endlessly fruitful wall noise renaissance, as well as releasing titles in other areas of music. The label’s 2018 roster is dominated by Constructionis, a three-tape set credited to Architectonicum, a trio of wallers backed by founder Jan Warnke’s own ‘architectural noise’ manifesto. Other releases included a double header from concrète collective The Dead Mauriacs, the short Pathways released under Warnke’s own name, and walls from Damien de Coene and Cannibal Ritual.

Honorable Mentions

I’d also like to recognize some other labels who brought me some of my favorite music this year, including Round Bale RecordingsLurker BiasChaotic Noise ProductionsKatuktu CollectivePlus Timbre, Sentient RuinAscetic House, Kirigirisu Recordings, and ACR.

Feature: MVPs of 2018

As we enter December, the month of end-of-year lists galore, I’ll be focusing more on summarizing my favorite music that I heard this year rather than reviewing new things—among obvious other reasons, I need a break from the constant new music! For me, December is not too early to assess the year as a whole, because I won’t be able to spend enough time with anything that comes out this close to the end of the year to confidently put it on a list. As with everything on this site, these lists and features will be intended to encourage discovery of new things; the fact that they are my opinions is secondary.


2018 was a year in which I discovered lots of new artists and got to hear new music from artists I already love. There were, however, several artists who managed to occupy both voids due to their prolificacy throughout the year. These are my personal picks for the “most valuable players” in music this year.

Carlo Giustini

I first encountered Giustini’s work when ACR released La stanza di fronte back in January. It was one of the first tapes I heard this year and introduced me to the Italian cassette slinger, whose love for tape goes beyond his collecting and DJing and seeps into his fractured, hiss-marred ambient music. Giustini has released tapes on five different labels this year, including Purlieu (Sant’Angelo), Bad Cake (Eden), and Lontano Series (Manifestazioni), with each exploring a unique nuance or theme that keeps his style fresh and exciting. The frigid, frosty Non Uscire, released by No Rent just a few weeks ago, may be the most fitting for the winter months, but you can be sure to find a tape of Giustini’s to fit almost any state of mind.

Manja Ristić

January’s Fairy & the River Teeth, released by net-label Sonospace, was one of the first things I formally reviewed for this site. Since then, Serbian musician and researcher Manja Ristić has darkened her already indelible mark on the field of contemporary sound art. She’s released several albums that explore phonography in more musical contexts, such as the breathtaking The Nightfall on Naviar and Further East, a collaboration with guitarist Mirian Kolev (also known as E.U.E.R.P.I.), published recorded sound maps on her Sonic Matter Bandcamp page, and given lectures on topics like “the culture of sensing.” She also improvises and composes on the violin, working with Urša Rahne on the multimedia release Dead in April and an entire host of performers to produce The Struggle of Man.

Dosis Letalis (Nemanja Nikolić)

My final pick also hails from Serbia. Nemanja Nikolić releases most of his music as Dosis Letalis, and is arguably at or near the forefront of a fast-expanding outbreak of creativity in the wall noise genre. Nikolić’s walls are not made with the nihilistic philosophies that are commonly associated with this approach to noise; instead, he seeks to express emotion and a want for change. Confronting the Inhuman, released by Breaching Static in January, conjures a thick but calming atmosphere of soft, insectile sounds, while Hellscape HN’s The Culture of Fear crashes against the ears (and our society) with a cathartic blast of harsh frequencies. Nikolić’s productivity this year is impressive even for a HNW musician, with a roster that includes splits with Bug Catcher and Phyllomedusa as well as the arresting Smisao Života Je Sloboda and meditative Scales of Justice.

List: Top Ten for the First Half of 2018

Here are my ten favorite albums that have been released during the first half of 2018. There is a rough order in place, but nothing sacred. It was tremendously difficult to whittle my list down to ten; I will probably be publishing a much more expansive selection at the end of the year so no one is left out. If I’ve already reviewed an album I linked to it after the brief description.


Manja Ristić – The Nightfall (Naviar, Apr 26)

A near-flawless display of, and interaction with, the beauty of nature. Ristić takes us on a journey through the unstoppable cycle of the seasons, from the innocent warmth of summer to the growing darkness of autumn and winter, and ends with spring, whose corresponding track is one of the most sublime things I’ve ever heard. Original review

Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit (Mvka, Jun 7)

This adventurous project, led by Manuel Gagneaux, hones in on and perfects the ambitious genre mix explored on their previous albums. The messiness and failed experiments have been replaced with flawless integration of spirituals and melodic metal, stunning vocal performances, and tremendous improvements in songwriting. Original review

Toshiya Tsunoda & Taku Unami – Wovenland (Erstwhile, Mar 27)

I didn’t even write a review for this album because I knew any words I could come up with wouldn’t do it justice. The first of a planned trilogy from these two figureheads of the Japanese experimental scene, Wovenland is a powerful exploration of the sounds of environments and the uncanny properties that emerge when they are changed, sequenced, or combined.

Setsuko – The Shackles of Birth (Dog Knights Productions, Mar 9)

A mind-blowing debut effort that takes one of the most brutal and visceral approaches to screamo in recent memory. The Shackles of Birth is short, but it’s as fulfilling (and as exhausting) as a record three times its length. This young band’s potential is almost frightening. Original review

Amuleto – Misztériumok (Three:Four, Apr 6)

The compositions that comprise Misztériumok are startling, immersive, droning collages of acoustic instruments, electronics, and found sound. These tension-filled tracks are patient, vivid, and yield some tear-jerkingly beautiful moments. Original review

Gnaw Their Tongues – Genocidal Majesty (Consouling Sounds, Feb 9)

Genocidal Majesty is the amazing culmination of everything Gnaw Their Tongues has been working toward. It’s a dark, dirty, menacing record that employs the horrifying atmospherics of black metal with the jolting, metallic rhythms of industrial music.

Black Moth Super Rainbow – Panic Blooms (Rad Cult, May 4)

After six years, psychedelic pop collective Black Moth Super Rainbow have delivered their best and most emotionally touching album yet. Panic Blooms retains the weird and catchy songwriting that made so many of us fall in love long ago, with a newly nocturnal, weary tone that tugs at the heartstrings. Original review

Dosis Letalis – The Culture of Fear (Hellscape HN, Mar 20)

Possibly the most complete and cohesive wall noise album I’ve ever heard, The Culture of Fear lashes out at a less-than-stellar social climate with two unrelenting slabs of lush, chunky, visceral static. Original review

Fucked – Miss Piss (self-released, Mar 14)

I’ve been following and faithfully listening to most of what Fucked releases (minus anything anime-related), but so far nothing has hit me as hard as Miss Piss. A four-track, less than ten minute EP, it’s a skull-rattling tour-de-force of brutal noisegrind. The climax of the closing track alone makes it a favorite this year.

Anne Guthrie – Brass Orchids (Students of Decay, Mar 23)

In my opinion, this is Guthrie’s best work yet. It’s tense, dark, and abstract, crafting uneasy compositions from obscure field recordings, woozy ambience, and the mesmerizing drones created by the artist’s own French horn. Original review

Top 50 Albums of 2017

Hey. It’s been a while. I would say I was really busy over winter break, but that would be a lie. I was just lazy. Anyway, here are my fifty favorite albums for 2017. The top ten were previously published on the AROUSE site, and the top 31 on my Cymbal account (@jckmd), but the others have never before been seen! I hope you guys enjoy.

1. Jun Konagaya – Memento Mori (Steinklang, Jun 9)

Experimental musician Jun Konagaya has been steadily releasing music for nearly 35 years, and yet compared to many other beloved figures of the Japanese underground he remains largely unknown and unappreciated in the United States. This is a tragedy, considering Konagaya’s endless devotion to his craft and the amazing amount of emotion he presents with his music; two elements that are incredibly evident on his newest release, Memento Mori. The record sees Konagaya further exploring the ambient post-industrialism of 2014’s Travel and the wistful organ-driven folk of its predecessor Organ, and is an amazingly cohesive work that serves as both an acknowledgement of past styles and a step in a new direction. While Konagaya’s albums are always incredibly personal, Memento Mori is a different beast: we hear him at his most aggressive and his most vulnerable, his vocals ranging from ragged animalistic rapping to desperate croons. This album filled a very special place for me this year, and is without a doubt the best thing I heard in all of 2017.

2. Endon – Through the Mirror (Daymare/Hydra Head, Mar 8)

Upon first listen, Through the Mirror elicited one of the most immediate reactions of any of the albums on this list. It’s a cruel trick they play on you: the trance inducing pound of “Nerve Rain” gives way without warning to the unbridled insanity of “Your Ghost is Dead.” The whole record is absolutely teeming with similar surprises, all of them equally as awesome. From the invigorating primal shrieks and growls on “Born in Limbo” to the abrasively cathartic beauty of “Torch Your House,” Through the Mirror doesn’t let you catch your breath for a second. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

3. Oxbow – Thin Black Duke (Hydra Head, May 5)

It’s rare, at least in my experience that a band comes back after ten years with a great record. It’s even rarer that a band returns after all that time with their best album yet, but this wouldn’t be the first time Oxbow has surpassed expectations. Thin Black Duke is probably the experimental rock quartet’s most conventional effort yet, moving away from the sludge and noise of their early releases in favor of sultry, bluesy chamber rock. The string arrangements oddly sound right at home amidst the distorted guitars and Eugene Robinson’s trademark wails, pushing the band toward a completely new sound – for which I couldn’t be more excited.

4. Faust – Fresh Air (Bureau B, May 5)

It’s no secret that Faust is one of my favorite bands ever, so I just want to iterate that there’s no bias here; Fresh Air is just a really fantastic record. I wasn’t exactly optimistic, considering how underwhelming both jUSt and Something Dirty were, but I was very happy to be proven wrong. Fresh Air represents so much of what I love about Faust, offering surreal arrangements, quirky spoken word, and ear-shattering climaxes, while still presenting new elements I didn’t even know I wanted in their sound.

5. The Ruins of Beverast – Exuvia (Ván, May 5)

There’s something special about records that are enjoyable even though they conjure up images of things you never want to see or experience. Exuvia is one of those to a T, its dark tribal atmosphere always pushing feelings of unease and fear through you. It’s the soundtrack to a demented ritual of horrific implications, and it’s so incredibly vivid that it’s hard to believe it all came from one man. Von Meilenwald is a stellar musician, and will hopefully continue to add to his incredibly consistent catalog.

6. Lorde – Melodrama (Lava, Jun 16)

Lorde returns with the pop album I never asked for but that I couldn’t be happier I got. It’s an improvement upon her debut in virtually every way. The incredibly lush production is such a step up from the infuriating minimalism of Pure Heroine, the songwriting is more mature, and I felt like it’s much more cohesive overall. It couldn’t have come out at a better time, too; Lorde’s ironic depictions of the titular melodrama that dominates modern romance are poignant and fascinating. Plus it’s catchy as all hell.

7. Ikue Mori – Obelisk (Tzadik, Jul 28)

Despite the undeniable strangeness of Ikue Mori’s music, she somehow sounds just as good while playing with other musicians as she does on her own (if you don’t believe me, just listen to Electric Masada’s At the Mountains of Madness). On Obelisk, with three talented improvisers supplementing her usual electronics, the effect is otherworldly. Drummer Jim Black, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, and Okkyung Lee form an amazing quartet, and the unspoken improvisational conversations are wonderfully apparent. This is a new favorite of mine from Mori, and while I adore her solo works I am in love with this sound.

8. Dao De Noize & Hiroshi Hasegawa – Saturnus Cursus (Bludhoney, Oct 6)

Best known as a founding member of legendary noise act C.C.C.C., Hiroshi Hasegawa is one of my favorite figures of the Japanese noise scene. His visceral approach to his music is on full display on this collaborative cassette with Ukrainian artist Dao De Noize. The two twenty minute pieces are harsh but psychedelic, constantly assaulting your ears with lush collages of atmospheric noise. They’re somehow stagnant and dynamic at the same time, building and contracting but never letting up. Amazing project from these two musicians.

9. lojii & Swarvy – Due Rent (Fresh Selects, Mar 31)

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the best year for my personal hip-hop listening. I pretty much just stuck to my usual favorites and didn’t really like anything new that came out. Except Due Rent, which I would honestly say is one of the most refreshingly great records I have heard in a long time. Both artists show immense talent, with Swarvy’s jazzy lo-fi beats perfectly complementing lojii’s deadpan delivery and earnest lyrics. I haven’t been able to put this one down, and I’m glad for a glimmer of hope amidst a bleak period for the genre (for me at least).

10. Will Guthrie – People Pleaser (Black Truffle, Mar 10)

On People Pleaser we get the best aspects of Guthrie’s style all in one album, his spastic drumming providing a frenetic backbone for obscure samples, frequency manipulation, and crackling electronics. In contrast to many of the other records on which he’s played, the tracks are short and immediate, yet still incredibly well developed. It’s consistently intense, disorienting, overwhelming, colorful, and utterly amazing. Definitely looking forward to where he goes next.

11. Vanessa Rosetto – Rocinante (self-released, May 4)

12. Sunn Trio – Sunn Trio (self-released, Jun 23)

13. Stefan Christensen – Shake Off the Village (C/Site, Sep 1)

14. Jon Irabagon, John Hegre & Nils Are Drønen – Axis (Rune Grammofon)

15. Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar (House of Mythology, Apr 7)

16. Snapped Ankles – Come Play the Trees (Leaf, Sep 29)

17. Converge – The Dusk in Us (Deathwish, Nov 3)

18. The Doomed Bird of Providence – Burrowed Into the Soft Sky (Front & Follow, Sep 1)

19. White Suns – Psychic Drift (The Flenser, Jun 16)

20. Jason Lescalleet – Almost Is Almost Good Enough (Glistening Examples, Jul 20)

21. James Holden & The Animal Spirits – The Animal Spirits (Border Community, Nov 3)

22. Raising Holy Sparks – Search for the Vanished Heaven (Eiderdown, Jul 27)

23. Sutcliffe Jügend – Shame (Hagshadow, Feb 3)

24. Ostraca – Last (Skeletal Lightning, May 24)

25. Sissy Spacek – Slow Move (Troniks, Jun 23)

26. Alex Cameron – Forced Witness (Secretly Canadian, Sep 8)

27. Taiwan Housing Project – Veblen Death Mask (Kill Rock Stars, May 5)

28. Tchornobog – Tchornobog (self-released, Jul 21)

29. The Inward Circles – And Right Lines Limit and Close All Bodies (self-released, Mar 12)

30. Avec le Soleil Sortant de sa Bouche – Pas Pire Pop [I ♡ You So Much] (Constellation, Jan 20)

31. Bain Wolfkind – Hand of Death (Tesco Germany, Jan 24)

32. Razen – The Xvoto Reels (Three:Four, Sep 15)

33. Mary Lattimore – Collected Pieces (Ghostly International, Apr 14)

34. Yadayn – Adem (Navalorama, Jun 26)

35. Arto Lindsay – Cuidado Madame (P-Vine, Jan 6)

36. Black Cilice – Banished from Time (Iron Bonehead, Mar 10)

37. Taku Unami / Graham Lambkin – The Whistler (Erstwhile, May 31)

38. Cheval Rétréci, Junko & Will Guthrie – Cheval Rétréci (IKD, Jun 8)

39. Ninos du Brasil – Vida Eterna (Hospital, Sep 13)

40. Heaven in Her Arms – 白暈 (Daymare, March 22)

41. Keith Rowe / Michael Pisaro – 13 Thirteen (Erstwhile, Jun 14)

42. Sugai Ken – UkabazUmorezU (Rvng, Oct 20)

43. Coutoux – Hellicoprion (Kill All Music, Mar 31)

44. You’ll Never Get to Heaven – Images (Mar 24, Mystic Roses)

45. Mchy i Porosty – Hypnagogic Polish Music for Teenage Mutants (Recognition, Jan 9)

46. Tyshawn Sorey – Verisimilitude (Pi, Aug 4)

47. KYO – I Musik (Posh Isolation, Mar 23)

48. Bordreuil / Rowden – Hollow (No Rent, May 30)

49. Hell – Hell (Sentient Ruin, Aug 11)

50. Širom – I Can Be a Clay Snapper (Glitterbeat, Sep 8)

 

Note: Jürg Frey’s monolithic tape work L’ame est sans retenue I would most likely have made it onto this list had I had time to listen to it last year; but seeing as how finding six hours to sit alone in complete silence is not the easiest thing in the world…