50-31 | 30-11 | 10-1 | EPs/Live Albums/Compilations
The location: an unnamed New Zealand city, a suburb which I will grant anonymity. A long-disused industrial warehouse, fallen into dilapidation, on the corner of a noisy major thoroughfare and a street which exclusively houses those kind of depots, tin expanses stowing wares no-one wants or needs, strange buildings which for whatever reason require constant power-tool sounds to screech from them. Some entrepreneur repurposed the place as a café without doing much to clean up, assuming perhaps that ghosts are less frightening when visible. The tables were arranged outside under a concrete awning with a prime view of the main road, which ran less than ten metres away. The place was invariably packed; people crowded the tables, sipping their coffees, viewing the traffic and maelstrom of cars they would rejoin in a matter of minutes, a constant drone of labour audible though impossible to echolocate.
It’s less that it was an oasis and more a signifier that there was no reprieve. The proximity to garish brutalist architecture and the transportational march of progress, people stifling in their cars, getting one place to the next, became a fixture. People were watching regurgitated, endlessly and recursively perpetuated versions of themselves: the ultimate postmodern experience. Not so much voyeurism as exhibitionism right? I remember going there once, drinking what I imagine the Allied forces in WWII drank when there was a coffee shortage and they had to resort to bark, staring at the rush of cars until it became a dizzying, sickening whirl and a sense of vertigo, both cultural and physical, came upon me. Maybe it was the ‘coffee,’ maybe it was the weed, maybe it was the endless stream of cars and trucks shuddering the tables — a succession of doppler effect interruptus, punctuated by strident tones of a buzzsaw.
Anyway, listening to Konoyo is a bit like that but with, like, dense ambient and suffocating drones and disquieting-ceremonious combinations of the two as the conduit. But sometimes when you get that vertiginous feeling it’s best to take the plunge. –WinesburgOhio
I don’t think many metal purists would have thought we’d spend the better part of 2018 worshiping slugs and bowing at an alter of slime, but Esoteric Malacology never really asked politely. Instead, we became slaves to our new masters of U.K.-born mucus and slime, raising our heads from their godly muck pits only to offer lettuce tributes and baby souls. Fairly, it’s the music itself that makes Slugdge its formidable, commanding self. Aided by the band’s clearest mix to date, Esoteric Malacology throws melody into the furor with instrumentation that’s both on point and incredibly endearing to a species that’s often mistaken for slow, waving movements. Your slug overlords are coming — have your tribute ready or suffer their wrath. –Nocte
More than a year after announcing their reunion and over a decade of recording, Hopesfall finally dropped Arbiter, releasing one of the only LPs that could compete with Daughters’ You Won’t Get What You Want for comeback artist and album of the year. Arbiter continues the relentless Hopesfall recipe of evolving their previous sound and style, but also manages to incorporate every genre the band explored since the late ’90s. For those who like pretty pictures and space, Arbiter is a logical progression from A-Types and Magnetic North without sounding antiquated. The album is a daunting listen, even for mega-fans, but it’s one of those records you can listen to a dozen times and discover new qualities to it with each spin. All told, it’s one of post-hardcore’s finest records released in 2018. –Storm in a Teacup
In a year with quite a few underwhelming 20-something minute releases from West and company, Pusha T’s DAYTONAstands tall as the best release West had his hands in. That quality comes from Ye’s production taking a backseat to the the power and talent of Pusha, who goes off on the bassy, intentionally simple beats. The short, “all-killer-no-filler” approach to tape composition helps the moments of gold shine — take “Hard Piano”, “What Would Meek Do?” and “Infrared”, for example. Much of these tracks are simultaneously haunting and heavy-hitting, creating a dense aura around Pusha’s proclamations of his own kingship. A serious as a heart attack and as heated as a wildfire, DAYTONA is 100% Pusha T. –Bloon
The importance of time in today’s fast-paced culture is so ridiculous that any commentary on it is underexaggerated. In the grand scheme of things, six years really isn’t that long of a time, but in music years and in a modern context, Birds in Row practically faded out of consciousness, their last LP dating back to 2012 and most recent EP a similarly distant 2015. This just leaves all the more reason to praise the French hardcore outfit for retaining exactly what garnered them notice and formed their core identity. Ultimately, We Already Lost the World rings out like a band that haven’t lost anything at all, still showing a noteworthy ability to craft memorable, emotionally-tinged songs that can resonate deep within their listening audience. If nothing else, here lies a textbook example of how to cheat Father Time’s fickle standards: Birds in Row demonstrate that a great product can break through the stream and still connect with audiophiles as they shoot across the web. Lyrical excellence ensures that fans will be quoting this one for quite a long span, indeed. –MarsKid
While easily one of the most detested and much loved albums to be released this year, the pompous carousel of macabre arena rock did anything but fade into the distance. Tobias Forge, now unmasked at last, has fully capitalized on the apocalyptic ending of the world and transformed Ghost into a theatrical stage set of lyrical pretence and insanely catchy tracks. Prequelle is part stage show, part dance party, set to what’s left of their proto-doom soundscape while allowing the arena rock to come full circle. Early singles promised more questions than answers with “Dance Macabre”‘s obviously pop hooks and cheese-filled rhymes filling Ghost’s congregation of followers into the realms of saturated motifs and sweeping themes. Regardless, there’s few this day and age that can get away with pronouncing “bewitch you” as “bewit choo” and be widely accepted across multiple genres. The Faustian stylings of “Rats” live in a world of bubonic hymns and bombastic musicianship, where Forge’s songwriting lifts from the likes of “Cirice” and “Year Zero” and becomes the new sense of Ghost’s conventionalism. Ghost are done converting the masses; they’re now just preaching. –Nocte
Now, this may be some major bias talking, but The Wonder Years are special. They’ve built their name on writing amazing songs that pinpoint just what it means to grow up and not know what the hell you’re doing or where you’re going. They nail what it’s like to lose the special moments in life and try to find the beauty in the world that’d keep you going while you’re afraid that, deep down, you’re not really worth that much. Sister Cities sees the band going all out in expressing those themes, dropping their traditional pop-punk sound in favor of creating their most focused and realized piece of work yet. “Flowers Where Your Face Should Be” is amazingly poetic, with the band exercising a level of restraint that they have just never done before. “We Look Like Lightning” features a rather tense build-up that pays off beautifully. “The Ocean Grew Hands To Hold Me” is an absolute mammoth of a song worthy of the crown of being the band’s best yet. Sister Cities is a step forward for the band on all fronts, and while it may not completely be their magnum opus, it makes a pretty good case for it. –McTime50
In all the year-end discussions about the albums that made the most important, most impactful political statements, from IDLES’ self-love-as-revolution anthems to Cursive’s endless disgust and despair at the state of the world, Magus is being curiously overlooked. Granted, I missed it the first few times, too; it’s easy to consume Thou’s crushing, melancholic sludge simply as inventive, expertly-crafted metal music (which it is). But as I delved below the surface and explored the lyrical content of Magus, I came to appreciate it as one of the most steadfastly defiant political albums I’ve ever heard. Magus is an omniscient colossus, immortal yet ever-changing, lumbering leisurely across our epoch, scoffing at our petty divisions — of nations, of genders, of peoples — certain that it will all eventually melt away, “lost in the lapse of time.” Most of us are looking back on 2018 as a protracted, exhausting gauntlet of a year, but Thou prefer to look forward to a future in which 2018, and all of its surrounding conflicts, are seen as mere detours on the path to ascension. “And so shall we prevail.” –Dean M
What exists beneath the surface of Offerings is, to some extent, obvious, but also a tad impenetrable. Of course, the band seem most concerned with the point of intersection between identity and memory. Yet, a holistic description of the album, intricacies and all, is naught but impossible. For despite its unsubtleties — that is, its grand, cinematic quality — Offerings is a surprisingly ‘deep’ album, nesting its simple narrative of husband, wife, and illness told through resonant, though no less simple, indie-rock structures within a wider frame and scope. That isn’t to discredit the band’s instrumental prowess. The production, in particular, is immaculate; the distinction between voice and instrument is, at times, blurring to a convincing extent. The album’s reincorporation of melodies, moreover, is some of the best I’ve ever encountered. At one point, I had to strip off headphones to ensure what I was hearing was part of the mix — it was — and not a trick of the subconscious (“Asa nisi masa” will ring, I’m sure, through hundreds of heads for decades to come). It’s difficult not to impose one’s own beliefs about the ‘self’ onto Offerings, and that reflects well on the album. Like most good art, it’s an exploration of something, and like most good artists, Kyle Morton allows his narrative to speak for itself. There are references as subtle as The Brothers Karamazov and as blatant as “Flowers for Algernon”, though ultimately, Offerings is a piece that, though concerned with time and lessons of history, is original enough — parabolic enough, metonymic enough — to stand on its own, and its journey through narrative and sound is sure to be a landmark one. –BlushfulHippocrene
“[A]n invitation to dream.” At least, that’s how Ben Howard sees “Nica Libres at Dusk”. On the one hand, that’s unhelpful: the artist is seldom the best critic of his or her own work. It does provide some credence, though, to a particular interpretation of the indie darling’s latest effort, an album concerned not only with dreams, but time, and the blissful (though often not) ignorance that so often accompanies tragedy. Where Typhoon’s Offerings concerned itself with the past, however, Noonday Dream struggles forward toward a future on the rocks. On the aforementioned opener — oft-cited one of Howard’s best to date — he murmurs atop undulating, sometimes dissonant guitars: “Door is locked, my gums are bleeding / Outside she reads… the evacuation procedure”. Later, on “A Boat to an Island on the Wall”, he croons in an angelic drawl: “Future singing in a field / Shooting season’s open.” In this sense, the album is a brutal one: there are references to adulterous affairs and the collapse of a relationship, but also, the songs are plagued with a profound sense of self-doubt about the art itself and the artist’s accomplishments. A stark, if simple, sense of clarity is provided on the closer “Murmurations”, though this doesn’t diminish the profound pessimism that permeates much of the album. At its best, Noonday Dream evokes a Leonard Cohen-esque sense of poetic doubt, exploring common themes through a lens of ‘artfulness.’ As did Cohen on some of his most accomplished works (not least of which, New Skin for the Old Ceremony), Howard sets aside a unifying “I” — and, unlike on I Forget Where We Were, a central narrative — spooling together ten tracks distinct in nature, fragmented in character, though no less unified in dreams and spirit. –BlushfulHippocrene
The Republic of Wolves’ continuing obscurity is one of the most frustrating mysteries of the music industry today. They can write glistening pop melodies like the best of them, and they know how to pair them with claustrophobic riffs and blistering screams without giving the listener a hint of whiplash. Each track simmers with tension before flourishing through emotional release, featuring enough gorgeous guitar-work to match nearly any other rock band out there. This knack for writing thrilling alt-rock songs should be gathering them far more accolades and attention than they’re getting, but for now, we’ll gladly be part of the gathering storm that’s sure to fully unleash this band upon the world sooner rather than later. –neekafat
If the awe-striking return of British shoegazing legends Slowdive last year is not exciting enough for you, then one of their established protégés might satisfy you to the core. While their previous albums showcased their airy side, the (drumrolls, please) seventh studio album from the psychedelic Baltimore duo exhibits their heaviest and most oceanic, as well as their most enthralling, since Teen Dream and Bloom. From the late night druggy psychedelia in “Dark Spring” and “Black Car”, the ecstasy-swirled “Lemon Glow”, the hangover-induced “Drunk In LA”, to the subliminal “L’Inconnue” and the heavenly triumphant closer “Last Ride”, the band proved that they are capable of balancing the truly psychedelic sound from their earlier efforts and their Slowdive-like heavenly swirl in their recent works. Victoria Legrand is at her finest in years, as she is capable of singing deeply like The Velvet Underground vocalist Nico and coo like Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell. If you ever wonder why they are described as psychedelic pop, 7 is the ultimate proof. –SherlockChris9021
2018 will be remembered as a time of statement albums; things didn’t just have to be good, they had to somehow make a commentary on the way things are but in direct ways. That’s fine — some worked, some didn’t, many found their way onto this list — but how lovely was it to just have an album? An album which charted things as basic as longing, heartbreak, the healing process, even a small town (in the Country/Americana style, I can see this through a cinematic lens, shot in saturated hues as colourful as the album cover, an Indian summer turning everything into a vitreous amethyst or morganite) with recurring characters but no needless convolution? But even outside of this specific charming parameter, Golden Hour excels. Oh does it. Usually I find arguments about why we’re attracted to music tedious and circular, but Golden Hour reminds us that we do it because: it feels good. It feels great. Golden Houris all infectious, giddy euphoria even when shot through with the shit life throws at you because it’s life; the prescription for this malady is more listens. Bizarrely, in the same way that sometimes the extent of horrific or memorable events precludes the remembering of them, I find it hard to recall hooks, lyrics and phrases from this album unless I’m listening to it; this specific anterograde amnesia is a blessing as the rush, the sense of being transported, moves me every time. We can parse and analyse all we like, but sometimes it’s enough just to feel, and no album this year made me feel as much as this one did. Oh, what a world. –WinesburgOhio
If Empty Black is guilty of anything, it’s an untamed ability to pull on the very visceral heartstrings that pulled listeners to the likes of Norma Jean and, of course, The Dillinger Escape Plan. An intellectual romp of socio-political fire meets a pummeling instrumental effort that brings back memories of Dillinger’s golden years, but also pushes on a lustful modern scene. It’s this “best of both worlds” soundscape that launched Greyhaven into relevancy and into the watchful eye of true music fans everywhere. Empty Black lies intricate and deadly while staying true to their own progressive metalcore roots — all the more impressive when we consider that this is a ‘mere debut.’ Only the future will tell if Greyhaven can build on this massive launch of momentum or fall flat of the hype they created themselves. –Nocte
Kids See Ghosts is far from the first time Kid Cudi and Kanye West have collaborated. They have been integral parts of each other’s lives and songwriting since West first discovered Cudi in 2008, sporting the kind of brotherly bond between two artists that borders on familial. The past decade has tested this bond in unfathomable ways — through arguably the darkest points of both their lives– and still it has somehow endured. There was the death of Kanye’s mom and a separation from his then-fiancée Alexis Phifer that sparked the huge stylistic change that was 808s & Heartbreak. Later, there was Kid Cudi’s falling-out with G.O.O.D. Music in 2013, his eventual rock-bottom career-wise with 2015’s Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven and subsequent check-in to rehabilitation a year later. 2016 also saw West cancelling his Saint Pablo tour and seeking mental health treatment after the news of his wife being held at gunpoint.
These two men needed ‘a win’ badly — not just for their careers, but for their sanity. With all the head-scratching social media outbursts, bleak news, and generally underwhelming music, it was easy to doubt Kids See Ghosts. Yet, there’s something redeemable about these two. You still find yourself rooting for them — much like when Walter White slowly descends into madness in Breaking Bad, you still want him to come out on top. Kids See Ghosts is not just a comeback, but a career peak for both these artists and their ultimate salvation. It’s the new version of Run the Jewels: two artists that needed a career boost and finding precisely that by teaming up and bringing out the best in each other. Freeeeee at last! –PistolPete
There’s always been an illustrious quality about the music of Anna von Hausswolff. From the get-go of the Swedish musician’s career, there’s always been this unique charm that listeners have confidently been able to latch onto — often on first listen. Such is the haunting, possessive manner of her unnervingly spiritual musicianship and strangely accessible songwriting. Her musical career has also rendered progressive trends, and 2018 magnum opus Dead Magic proves this all too well.
There are only five songs here, yet each and every one stands out as an impressive epic in its own right, ranging from unnerving albeit harmonic drone (“Ugly and Vengeful”), through ritualistic, tribal underlying rhythms (“The Truth, the Glow, the Fall”) and transitions from acoustic mesmerism to epic, heart-stopping climaxes (“The Mysterious Vanishing of Elektra”). This isn’t an album to be taken and dissected into pieces, however; rather, it should be considered as a sound confirmation that Anna von Hausswolff is at ease with her alluring musical quality, her voice alone proving spine-staticizing chills as the organ-drenched soundscapes of, say, “The Marble Eye” render everything else in the world unimportant. Unable to be pigeonholed and even harder to understand with not just one listen, but several upon several, this may be the start of even grander musical ventures. For now, though, Dead Magic should be viewed as a chronicle — and a masterwork — of a Swedish musician’s satisfying musical stamp on the world. –linguist2011
I remember claiming last year after Denzel Curry’s EP effort 13 that he would have an easy album of the year contender. However, I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted the commercial success and diversity in styles that TA13OO delivered on in the summer of this year. An album the dealt with monochromatic shades quite literally; the release was staggered by three stages of white, grey, and black in three EPs, each dealing with the tones in soundscape and lyrical content. It makes sense that the centerpiece is lead single “CLOUT COBAIN”, a perfect blend of hypnotic melodies and darkly lit blaring basses, culminating in one of the most impressive songs of his career. Before it, we see Curry float amicably along jazzy piano lines and soothing half sung, half rapped bars. Following it, however, is textbook Curry with his intensely desperate triplet flows, industrial beats, and the yelled refrains that elevated him into fame. This is an exploration into different territories done in such a well thought-out and self-conscious manner, making it truly one of the best hip-hop albums to come out this past year. –Connor S.
Only Love screams raw, unbridled energy, filtered through a murky, drowned out production lens, leaving you lost within its chaos. It’s fitting for a band that have so many unknowns surrounding the members, as it’s even unclear who is even behind all of the noise and emotional emanating from this post-hardcore noise rock outfit. The Armed construct walls of sound that tower so high, one can only gaze up at the monolithic madness and ponder exactly what’s on the other side. They never end up revealing the unknown; instead, it’s shrouded with skittering synth lines that burst through in place of breakdowns and throat-curdling yells that just barely peak past the overwhelming guitar and drum structures. In place of answers, they only stir up further confusion — yet it’s a breathtaking experience to go through due to the endless barrage of distortion and dirt thrown at will. We may never find out who’s truly behind the group, or who even who the members are, but in a time where separating art from the artist is so prevalent, I think The Armed would ask you if knowing their identity even matters in the first place. –Connor S.
Artificial Selection doesn’t have the cogency of the last few Dance Gavin Dance albums, and honestly, it’s all the better for it. Originally written as a collection of singles during the band’s stint at Warped Tour 2017, the six-piece troupe’s ninth album may be lacking in cohesion, but that doesn’t stop it from boasting some of the most powerful material these zany Sacramentoans have ever come up with. Lead single “Midnight Crusade” bursts with simple yet ecstatic pop-punk/hardcore fervor, allowing Tilian Pearson’s tenor vocals and candied hooks to culminate in one of the group’s catchiest choruses, while Jon Mess rabidly attacks the mic screaming, “A passionate servant when I’m paid in cash / Don’t ask if it’s worth it, don’t think ’bout the math” in the absurdly heavy and technical “The Rattler”. The soft/heavy dichotomy is a well-worn trope in post-hardcore, but Dance Gavin Dance have always performed it with a certain and distinct finesse. Highlights are plentiful, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Kurt Travis-fronted “Shelf Life” that drips with his typical sorrowful delivery or the cinematic closer “Evaporate”, which not only features Andrew Wells of Eidola but culminates in a medley of past Dance Gavin Dance hits that somehow feels like it’s looking forwards even as it glances backwards. All in all, Artificial Selection adds to the momentum of the Dance Gavin Dance train as they position themselves a rung higher in the ladder of heavy music. –TheSpirit
I never listened to the original Twin Fantasy to be perfectly honest — nor did I listen to any of Will Toledo’s work — but I can’t imagine coming back to it was easy for him. Much of both the original (Mirror to Mirror) and (Face to Face) is deeply seeded in Toledo’s own times and tribulations, but according to the man himself, this project had to be finished (per Matador Records: “This is the most vital difference between the old and the new: [Toledo] no longer sees his own story as a tragedy”). The finished product shows a developed understanding of both youthful brashness and matured understanding. Beautifully solemn melodies fit together like jigsaw pieces as Toledo bears old scars like fresh wounds. It all comes together in a way that’s emotionally deep and extremely powerful. –Bloon
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