my top albums of 2018
Sitcom-Be The One You Love
Why do I like this album so much? It shouldn’t work with its bedroom pop beats, end-of-history inspired lyricism, and deadpan raps unexpectedly interspersed throughout. Doesn’t that sound totally stupid? Somehow, against all historical/aesthetic presumptions, indie pop producer Jake Lazovick has crafted a 【q】【u】【i】【r】【k】【y】album that isn’t absolutely loathsome. Astonishingly, it’s idiosyncrasy is charmingly executed.
Sitcom is less bedroom, more cubicle pop. Indie acts love to comment on post-modern malaise, but often their final products just add to it. Be the One You Love doesn’t languish. Lazovick has put together a work that makes me want to clap along to the sighing rhythms of everyday American life, not shun them.
Death metal loves to rip and shred and slay and all that. There’s the gratuitous gore and the savage instrumentation and the grunting rituals of aesthetically rigid shock horror. Honestly, I enjoy a lot of it, but it’s not necessarily as boundary pushing as old metalheads pretend it is. Convulsing disregards this dreadfully anti-clinquant imagery.
Grievous reverberates like a slab of rusty metal dropped down a chute in an abandoned warehouse. The drums clang with a ferrous ire, the guitars saw and saw and saw without dulling, and despite the maddened furor, the record stays tight. It’s deeply rejuvenating to hear a metal album that focuses more on developing intricate composition rather than demoniac world building.
Advance Base-Animal Companionship
Owen Ashworth is the undisputed master of non-gimmick nostalgia. The narratives of mostly Midwestern tension that Base details range from inspiriting, to comical, to utterly glum. Frankly, the dude should write a novel now that he has released a few powerfully good albums. The commanding grasp on storytelling that Base possesses is rivaled by very few.
The production on Animal Companionship lulls with a warm, woolen layering. Unlike many lesser examples in lofi, no track stagnates into tinny tripe. The velvet timbre of his casios hum, complimenting Ashworth’s homey accounts. Animal Companionship demonstrates that sentimentality can be deployed successfully when stripped of superficial hokum.
Grave of Errors-Time Has No Remedy
This is the best emo album of definitely the last 5 years, probably the last 10 years, and controversially, the last 20. No hyperbole.
Something happened in 2008. Blame it on TTNG, American Football, whoever, but an epidemic of noodly twinkle daddy guitars infected the international emo scene. And it was cool for the first 4 years, but then it just wouldn’t stop. It was a plague of emaj7th chords and lyrical self-absorption. We’re a decade into that terror, but I think the people at Middle-Man Records might be heralding an end to insufferable Snowing mimicry.
Grave of Errors draws from the interrelated traditions of earlier 90’s post-hardcore and later 90’s emocore, paralleling unease and wistful melody. Time Has No Remedy is undeniably a dour punk effort, but the duo also convey a distinctly inviting gruffness too. It’s the kind of album that reminds you of your funny, disgruntled, ex-hardcore uncle and all his tales of opening up for an assortment of punk bands way back when. That being said, this isn’t a tacitly bitter remembrance of the good ol’ emo days. Every band on Middle-Man adamantly rejects the inauthenticity of trend bullshit, like the twinkle daddies, like the weedmos. Doing so isn’t an expression of curmudgeonly remorse, it’s a championing of serious, dynamic punk music.
Gia Margaret-There’s Always Glimmer
When musicians compose intimate music, they often fall into the trap of “minimal=intimate.” This isn’t necessarily disappointing, a minimal approach can often captivate. But, we’ve all listened to sparse pieces that have come off as monotonous. Gia Margaret has completely bypassed this stylistic misapplication.
There’s Always Glimmer feels solemnly close, like Margaret is confiding in you, recounting the usual, yet still surprising strife of everyday living and romance. More succinctly, it’s like the music gently touches your knee as a mid-convo gesture of “i’m listening.” Despite the proximate-tactile quality, the album also resonates with lush nuance. More conventional guitar phrases mesh with subtly gorgeous keys, a lovely balance of acoustic and electronic textures.
Margaret’s songwriting and dream pop sensibilities come together with an apprehensively amiable poise.
Firstly, it’s absolutely crucial to stress that this album was recorded in one day. That being said, it could have taken 5 years and it still would be one of the most astonishingly impressive post-hardcore albums I’ve heard in a long while. EXHALANTS is masterful, especially considering it’s a debut. Notched, wonky, and steadfast, the trio has conceived what will assuredly be considered a canonical indie rock lp in a few years.
Dissonance is used best as an instrument, a timbre, and an energy, not a disquieting gimmick. exhalants fundamentally understand this. They know how to modulate and advance their cacophony, jaggedly shifting the band from gorgeous to devastating measures.
Post-hardcore music since the 90’s has rapidly decayed into deeply overwrought pop-punk, but hey, with reverb too. The popular cabals of the diy scene have no desire to complicate the indexical compositional standards of rock music and craft something subversive. EXHALANTS is not satisfied with the woe is me fluff of contemporary diy. Their rebelliousness, both artistically incendiary and instrumentally ambitious, is thoroughly appreciated.
I have a conspicuous fascination with artists that can cultivate both instrumental discipline and disarray. Keszler is an exceptionally precise drummer, but his soundscaping unnerves with sporadic patterns both dissonant and fluid. There’s an longstanding historical objective of “controlling the chaos” in various strains of jazz. Stadium inverts this expectation.
Keszler’s willingness to allow the commotion of his pieces to spasmodically flourish, to lead as they unravel, is bold and applaudable. Jazz musicians, even in free/avant scenes, are often urged by the band relation to adhere to roles of guidance. As a solo artist, Keszler’s compositions evolve on their own terms, fluctuating in response to the geographies and architectures that inspired the album’s production.
To label Stadium an avant jazz lp would be pathetically reductive. “Experimental” is a similarly lackluster designation. Maybe Eli Keszler is a cartographer sketching out a city, but without any method of concretely knowing where that city is?
World’s Fair-New Lows
I have been waiting for this album since 2013. Bastards of the Party was an outstanding, upsettingly underrated mixtape, and I’ve been sitting here in Iowa for the last half-decade waiting for this rap crew to drop another gut punch of a collection. I got even more than that.
I’ll be candid. I thought New Lows was going to be a chain of straightforward bangers, which yes, I was extremely down for. I found myself taken aback by the album’s offbeat subtleties and how the flows complemented these deviations from standard NYC beatmaking techniques. New Lows has classical boom bap bars and the quintessential 808 programming, but with electro hooks, industrial fx, and even some idm weirdness, the lp is decidedly unpredictable. Their Fool’s Gold labelmates evidently influenced the synthetic movement of the project.
World’s Fair can rap too. They can rap very well. All of them. In tandem. Technical proficiency matched only by the cohesion of their outfit. Hip hop collectives face the inevitable issue of disarrangement. The greats keep scattered lyrics and concepts to a minimum, the lesser acts maybe improve a disjointed album with a few solid songs. New Lows represents the former, it doesn’t have a “star” like Brockhampton’s Kevin Abstract of Pro Era’s Joey Badass. Each verse coalesces into the next with a confident rapport.
Quin Kirchner-The Other Side of Time
Forewarning: This album is a long one. Around 85 minutes. But please, do not let that deter you. Kirchner’s quintet has released an utterly rewarding jazz masterwork.
The Other Side of Time occupies the threshold between the entropy of free jazz and the mercurial deftness of a classically trained jazz band. They anchor themselves as a group, but the chain is remarkably long. They can drift on tumultuous tangents before pulling themselves back. The music epitomizes life under capital, our often ecstatic, frenzied selves inevitably restrained and regulated.
Kirchner’s band should also be praised for their adroit reimagining of Mingus, Sun Ra, Verocai, Motian, and Cohran. These covers give the album some extra bulk, but don’t detract from Kirchner’s personal compositions and style. The listener gets to experience junctures of jazz history, but with the precarious commentary of Kirchner’s musicianship.
Mom$-RAVE SHIT 2
Major props for Mom$. They uploaded this one to bandcamp in the last days of 2018 and just barely made it into my final aoty.
I have to be real. That moniker. That album art. I was convinced this album was just an extremely online anime aesthetic beat tape. Inexplicably, I still clicked on it. I’m very stoked I didn’t let my preconceptions shrug this one off.
Out of all the rave shits, RAVE SHIT 2 is by far the most multifaceted. The producer has paid much attention to UK-centric EDM the past 20+ years with its emphasized influences of house, garage, electro, breakbeat, and jungle. Mom$ has some additional fun with hip hop slicing and techno lofi. Despite the vast scope of this dance project, none of the tracks sound cluttered.
RAVE SHIT 2 maintains an unpretentious focus. Hyped vocal loops and sleek synth pads invite one to the dance floor and then enrapture with a comely thump. For the past 4–5 years, we’ve been living through a trend of haughty futurist club music. Mom$ is the ideal, vigorous alternative to that.
Experimental, guitar-led jazz. Sounds like if a post-hardcore trio decided to make a kooky jazz record.
Muscle-ripping grind out of the forgotten places of Iowa. The Midwest actually isn’t that nice.
Gaylord-The Black Metal Scene Needs To Be Destroyed
TRVE KVLT, but adamantly, violently anti-nazi. Lofi, hilarious, and hideously delightful.
Mr. Twin Sister-Salt
The sound of you leaving the club. Alluring pop tunes that tread the line of euphoria and exhaustion.
Banger after banger, but with provoking emotional complexity. You really will be thinking about sociopolitics in the club.