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…