If 2017 felt like the end of civilization as we know it—politically, socially, psychologically—then 2018 was an encapsulation of how far the needle still needs pushing. Survival is the name of the game. Coming out without going utterly insane is progress. Music as a creative outlet felt even more swallowed by the ever-present evils of our world; with social media holding up the corpse of our self-obsession and vanity as a trophy. Still, art will always be a means of escape and healing. The records which topped my favorites of the year were a shield from the stench of humanity’s constant need to destroy itself through hate and ignorance. Ambitious baroque pop, experimental hip-hop, politically conscious jazz, avant-garde metal, and trans art-pop are just a few genres at play here, with the 15 albums represented being part of a greater whole. Long live the music. May it never die.
Even though singer-songwriter/ multi-instrumentalist/producer Richard Swift died tragically this year at the age of 41, his musical legacy remains prolific and underrated. Swift’s final album, The Hex, is an encapsulation of his supreme gifts as an artist; 11 tracks of vintage pop, fuzzy rock n’roll, and walls of sound to match achingly sincere lyrics. A fitting swan song.
Working Class Woman
Montreal artist/producer Marie Davidson has made a bonkers deconstruction of the club scene on Working Class Woman; an album which trolls, critiques, and then dances its ass off. Over industrial beats and icy synths, Davidson delivers deadpan lyrical mantras in her French-Canadian accent, and comes away with the year’s most riotous takedown of dance music culture.
Though comparisons to Deafheaven and Alcest are appropriate, Danish outfit MØL outdo their predecessors with the year’s most thrilling blend of black metal and shoegaze. Rather than using atmosphere and heaviness as a crutch for bloated songs, Jord is compact; with the prerequisite blast beats, shrieked vocals, and head-banging riffs never overstaying their welcome.
Weirdo power duo Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley's latest album under the DRINKS moniker plays like a warped children's album assembled by a couple of stoned adults caught in a feedback loop, and that’s a good thing! A left-field, undeniably fun record for all the freaks out there.
Parquet Courts’s latest has a newfound studio sheen, but the band remain as cranky as ever; unleashing a party album about the numbing ills of modern life that can be cranked loud at a backyard barbecue. Plus, any band only using guitars, bass, drums, and clever lyrics as their main selling point in 2018 are onto something.
In A Poem Unlimited
Meg Remy (aka U.S. Girls) has created a proto-feminist twist on 70's club music by using pastiche to shed light on the everyday nightmares and triumphs of living as a modern woman. In A Poem Unlimited is patriarchy-shattering pop brilliance; aching with pain, helplessness, and redemption.
Rapper Billy Woods and producer Elucid’s work has elicited a dense catalog of underground rap not unlike 90’s boom-bap and the early work of RZA, and their latest collab, Paraffin, is no exception. Western capitalism, blackness, and societal discord are the main themes here; driven by hazy beats and a laidback flow. An often funny record, yet starkly urgent.
Sons of Kemet
Your Queen Is A Reptile
In a bid for the “British Jazz New Wave” tag, Sons of Kemet have unleashed a genre-defying masterwork that pays tribute to the past while forging ahead. Meshing traditional jazz instrumentation with dub, Caribbean rhythms, and politically charged rhetoric, Your Queen Is A Reptile feels both angry and soothing.
JPEGMAFIA is Barrington Hendricks, a Baltimore-based rapper who has churned out the most excitingly experimental hip-hop release of 2018. Cloud-rap, trip-hop, noise, industrial, and glitch make the rounds. Hendricks changes his rapping style on a dime. Songs start, stop, and detour. All the while, Veteran maintains the sound of the hip-hop Internet wasteland. Disorienting in all the right ways.
35 year-old Chicago drummer Makaya McCraven showcases the wisdom and musical chops of someone twice his age on Universal Beings; a gorgeously arranged fusion of jazz, hip-hop, funk, ambient, and electronic music. This is seductive, polyrhythmic sonic bliss that often feels like one long jam. Just don’t tell McCraven it’s the future of jazz. The music, however, speaks for itself.
Anna Von Hausswolff
Sweden’s Anna von Hausswolff isn’t out to make you feel comfortable on her latest funeral pop opus, Dead Magic; a series of expertly crafted dirges recorded with a 20th Century organ. Melody coalesces around disturbing soundscapes as Hausswolff’s ethereal voice goes from Kate Bush-esque crooning to demonic howls. The stuff of beautiful nightmares.
You Won't Get What You Want
Post-hardcore experimentalists Daughters return with a vengeance after an eight-year hiatus with this towering work of utter despair. Instead of the technical math rock groove from past releases, the band go the industrial minimalist route with tortured guitars, clanging drums, repetitive song structures, and Nick Cave-inspired vocals to create a dizzying sonic experience.
New York death metal band Imperial Triumphant’s latest conjures the kind of chaos that will cause ringing ears, excessive migraines, and stupid-drunk smiles. Off the wall time signatures, avant-jazz instrumentation, baroque art rock, and of course, nefarious-sounding growls are the order of the day here, but there’s beauty in the madness too.
OIL OF EVERY PEARL'S UN-INSIDES
Los Angeles-based producer/songwriter SOPHIE’s astounding debut album uses the foundations of pop music and then warps it in ways thrilling, disorienting, pleasurable, and brilliant. With elements of bubblegum pop, R & B, EDM, drone, ambient, industrial, and noise. SOPHIE's take on pop music is both transgressive and subversive.
If 2015’s critically acclaimed Have You in My Wilderness was zen chamber pop for lazy days, then Aviary is what happens when Los Angeles singer/songwriter Julia Holter retreats so far inward that her brain starts to explode. This is a kaleidoscopic, 90-minute masterwork of shifting moods—with piano, sax, harps, strings, choral chanting, and drone wrapped around Holter’s otherworldly vocals. Gorgeous, challenging, and overwhelming.