As I revisit the music of 2018 I’m pretty amazed at the quality of the long players this year. Albums are becoming more and more of an experience. It’s not just the music(though that is a major factor.) Albums overall this year have become and all-encompassing world where we can get lost in. Solid compositions, stellar packaging, and a very open intention to include the graphic design aspect in the overall album concept. It’s all a very human and communal experience. As much as some folks like to poo poo at the idea of progressive rock and concept records of the 70s, I really think they got it. Sure, some bands got way too big for their britches, and overreaching became an art form in and of itself, but there’s a lot to be said for a record that you can walk in and have this world be fully-formed and ready for you to inhabit it for 45 minutes to an hour. Not that 2018 brought us a slew of 2112s and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadways, but the scope of so many records felt bigger and ideas felt very in focus.
I love ideas and narratives, and the albums of 2018 felt very much in tune with that.
Welcome back. Let’s continue, shall we?
30. All of Them Witches : Hunters Moon
Gary Dimes truly outdid himself with Hunters Moon. He builds upon his 2016 debut as All of Them Witches with something grander and even slightly more sinister in tone on this 2018 highlight. I can’t help but think of classic 80s horror when I hear something like “Copper Bones” or “Silently Stalking”. Both of these songs tow that line between film scores and dark techno grooves. When I first heard AoTW, I thought of Christopher Ashley and Slasher Film Festival Strategy, but with Hunters Moon Dimes has found an edgier sonic world to take us. “Hele Bay” is sparse yet does so much in the suffocating waves of synths and Carpenter-esque electro kick. Or imagine the sinister groove of “Triple Stones” as you’re walking home on some dark, chill-in-the-air December eve. Hunters Moon keeps the grooves and dark melodies flowing from start to finish.
29. Nicklas Sorensen : Solo 2
The sophomore solo release from Papir guitarist Nicklas Sorensen builds upon his guitar-centric debut Solo and adds some tasty electronic rhythms and synth touches courtesy of Causa Sui’s Jonas Munk. The results are a stunning album filled with Sorensens’s soaring, crystalline guitar lines that seem to appear from out of the ether. His playing and compositions have a lot in common with the Krautrock of the early 70s, but a futuristic version of that. Songs like “2.1”, “2.3”, and the epic 10 minute “2.6” have a Neu! vibe and Michael Rother’s guitar tone seems to inhabit the Strat jangle of Sorensen’s sonic palate. Solo 2, if the world was a just place, should sit among some of the great solo guitar records of the last 40 years. It’s a stunning piece of music from beginning to end.
28. Carlton Melton : Mind Minerals
Carlton Melton have never shied away from longform exploratory records. Even the shorter LPs had one or two epic mind melters to soundtrack some serious contemplation. Their last full-length LP was 2015s Out To Sea, a double LP filled with both gas-guzzling muscle car rock ‘n rollers as well as zone-out psych ambient that is built for hazy basement ponderings in bean bag chairs and oversized Koss headphones perched on your noggin. With Mind Minerals, these Cali fuzz kings go full throttle into the expanse of space. “Electrified Sky” feels like Spacemen 3 trying their hand of AOR riff rock, while “Basket Full Of Trumpets” has the feel of some deep forest ritual under the blood moon. You wanna get lost in a cloud of smoke and haze? Hit play on the epic and ethereal “Atmospheric River”. This song encompasses the best of the 60s, 70s, and deep space rock with that dense and dank beauty only Carlton Melton have the recipe for.
27. Omni Gardens : West Coast Escapism
I think one of the biggest surprises this year for me was Omni Gardens’ transcendent West Coast Escapism. I never thought of myself as someone who’d dig new age music, but that’s exactly what this record is. If this is truly what new age music can be, then sign me up. A track like “Thinking” is the kind of musical world that I’d gladly crawl in and succumb to its heavenly glow. Moon Glyph Records runner Steve Rosborough delivered his new age masterpiece to Holodeck Records and they laid this heady LP onto our brains this year. I can’t think of a more urgent time than now when something like West Coast Escapism is sorely needed. We need some spiritual healing, and “The Physical Plane, The Astral Plane”, “Free”, and “Quieted Mind” are here to show us to the light. West Coast Escapism is the musical equivalent of soaking your brain in healing light and finally seeing the forest for the trees.
26. Mythic Sunship : Upheaval
Since their El Paraiso Records debut Ouroboros in 2016, Denmark’s Mythic Sunship have been working up their sonic palate to an eardrum-exploding frenzy. With each album since that debut, these “anaconda rockers” have been building complex and dense walls of guitar noise that are like a mix of Blue Cheer, Black Sabbath, and Hawkwind all going for a post-rock expanse. Upheaval is Mythic Sunship’s third album in two years and it is the pinnacle of what they’ve been going for since the beginning. The songs feel more intricate and purposeful, like album opener “Tectonic Breach” with it’s slow build into eardrum destruction. One of the biggest surprises is the album closer “Into Oblivion” which has the scope of an epic, doom-laden opus. A mournful, cathartic explosion of slow-build grooves and scorched earth tribalism that feels like a definitive period at the end of this epic record.
25. High on Fire : Electric Messiah
I think it’s safe to say that High on Fire is still one of the heaviest bands making music nowadays. There might be faster songs and belchier screams and scarier lyrics, but nobody writes heavy metal songs like Matt Pike. This year has been pretty epic for Pike, with him releasing new records from both Sleep and High on Fire. Electric Messiah feels like the loosest, most straight ahead metal album in all of High on Fire’s canon. From “Spewn From The Earth” to the breakneck title track Pike and his speed metal trio leave no ground unscorched and no epic track not smelling of fine Cali kush. Pike’s voice seems to be getting swallowed up in the vastness of HoF’s epic metal sound nowadays, but that doesn’t stop me from cranking this record from start to finish. “Sanctioned Annihilation” is HoF and Matt Pike at their doom-laden best.
24. Jeff Tweedy : WARM
It seems like a solo Jeff Tweedy has been a long time coming. His 2013 masterpiece with son Spencer called Sukierae was close to a solo Jeff record, but with WARM I think he’s achieved the first truly solo LP. This record feels like one of his warm and frank conversations he’s had in print and on TV. Tweedy has always seemed like a reserved guy, but never precious about his thoughts and memories of past mistakes. He’s willing to talk about it all, and these songs feel like his most honest and earnest bits of storytelling yet. “Bombs Above” is twangy enough to please those long lost A.M. hardcore fans, while still retaining the poetic beauty Tweedy has built and curated since Being There. This record does not lack the jangly pop beauty either. Songs like “Some Birds”, “I Know What It’s Like”, and the future concert sing-a-long classic “Let’s Go Rain” will please even the most jaded of Wilco hardliners. This is just a great little record from one of the best songwriters working today.
23. Graham Reznick : Robophasia
It’s been one hell of a year for filmmaker/musician Graham Reznick. Two records, a new Shudder series called Deadwax, and now a recently-released Christmas-themed short with soundtrack. The second album to be released is the Burning Witches Records-released Robophasia. It’s an electronic psych noir record. A cross between Harold Faltermeyer fever dreams and Herbie Hancock “Rockit” funk all rolled into a cybersexual hallucination. Reznick is a bit of a genius when it comes to putting sound together, and here he creates a mixture of 80s electro pop and sci-fi nightmares all rolled into an engaging and kaleidoscopic music narrative. The slyly catchy “Unsoled” seeps into the wonky and weirdly catchy “Atomatics”. “Rope” sounds like Maxwell swallowed up by The Art of Noise and digested in an old Dr. Rhythm. Graham Reznick is working in a completely different time zone(if not planet), and his music feels as unique as it does infectious.
22. Sungod : Wave Refraction
Sungod’s Wave Refraction twists and turns from epic space jams to free jazz explorations to the most pristine electronic pop you would want to hear. This Austin collective of space rockers lay on the heady synths and buzzing guitars heavy and freely, as on the album open “Little Gold Mouth”. This song is a mammoth wall of noise and synths, as if Genesis was swallowed whole by a whale named Black Sabbath. “Hypnotism” shines like a crazy diamond, while the nearly perfect “Von Innen” is the chromed-out electro synth pop nugget that should be in every cool movie you see this year. There’s a mood and vibe for every headspace, and they all sound decidedly like Sungod.
21. Kanaan : Windborne
Yes, there is more to Norway than black metal. Kanaan step out of the shadows a fully-formed rock and roll behemoth. Their debut album with El Paraiso Records is unrelenting and highly infectious. These guys put the power in power trio. For a three-piece these guys sound bigger than most 5-piece bands. The melancholy sway of “A. Hausenbecken” pulls you into it’s melodic, soulful world before turning into a wall of distortion and sonic deconstruction. Elsewhere, “Harmonia” is pure bliss. A wind-in-your-hair kind of song, there’s a feeling of freedom and endless optimism as the motorik beat drives the song along as if a destination is unknown, but the journey is what’s to be savored. “The Groke” is an absolute dirge of doom and gloom, like doom blues. Absolute scorched earth jam. These guys also know how to allow things to just soak up the stars a bit, like on the ethereal album closer “Windborne”. This is one hell of a band debut.
Up next, 20-11.