I rather enjoy talking about the passions in my life. Whether it be books that inspired me or films that rewired my brain or records that changed me for the better, I can get lost in the prose. Obsessing over the details has been my modus operandi since I was in short pants. I’ve always been that way. Being a kid and collecting GI Joe action figures, on the backs of the cardboard they were attached to within a clear plastic cocoon, was a stats card. I’d cut those out and file them away, always near in case I needed to read up on Flint, Snake Eyes, or Gung-Ho. I could get lost in the details. From GI Joe to science fiction and horror writers to arthouse films to graphic novels to rock bands, and ultimately the processes those bands went thru to create the albums I would fuss and obsess over.
The albums, man. The albums.
After a long day, sitting down and getting sidetracked in the grooves of a record is somewhere I don’t mind being. Not at all.
Okay, let’s get into it.
20. Xander Harris : Villains of Romance
Justin Sweatt had begun working on an album that he’d hoped would be a double album and would run the gamut in terms of styles, genres, and sounds. Those big ideas were cut short when he was hit by a car on his bike while riding to work in New Orleans early last spring. He was banged up but would recover. The album he was working on was cut short and he released it in a more compact form. We may never know what that double album may have been, but what we did end up with was the dark and brooding Villains of Romance. It’s a record that combines techno, dance floor bangers, heavy synth, and electro 80s alternative into, quite frankly, one hell of a record. “First Taste Of Hate” seethes with dance floor aggression, while “Where’s Your Villain” has a slow burn electro strut. One of the best tracks here is the infectious “Mall Walk”. You can almost imagine walking past the Orange Julius and Hot Sam stands in the food court as this dark and pulsating song plays on your Sony Walkman.
19. Isvisible Isinvisible : Isvisible Isinvisible
Simon Pott’s debut as Isvisible Isinvisible is a majestic display of man vs machine. Recorded with all modular synths, the album sounds as if it’s breathing and coming to life with a circuital heart. Despite the modular synths unpredictability, Pott made a sprawling and sometimes quite beautiful electronic record. Album opener “Cosmiel’s Return” sounds like it could’ve come off an early Peter Gabriel record, while the epic “Behind The Studded Oak Door” is both sprawling sci fi and mournful electronic fantasy. One of the absolute highlights in experimental electronic music.
18. Carl Weingarten : Living In The Distant Present
One of the great musical discoveries for me this year was the ethereal and beautiful Living In The Distant Present by guitarist and experimental musician Carl Weingarten. The album originally came out on cassette back in 1985 and was sadly lost to time. Thanks to Azure Vista Records, this excellent ambient/new age masterpiece can be discovered by new generations. Weingarten was truly ahead of his time, using synths and tape loops to create these cyclical soundscapes that sounded far more advanced than anything happening at the time. Repetition and looping are used to build up these dream-like atmospheres and emotionally-heavy textures. Songs like “The Fifth Season” and “Dreaming In Colors(at length)” sound as if they could’ve been created this year, as opposed to 33 years ago. Weingarten is someone that deserves more recognition, and Living In The Distant Present should be considered a classic in every sense of the word.
17. Earthless : Black Heaven
Next to High on Fire, Earthless are one of the premier power trios working today. They like to take their time getting to where they’re going, and along the way there’s plenty of mind-melting guitar riffage and a rhythm section that is second to none. The Cali rockers newest studio album is the excellent Black Heaven, and this time around guitarist Isiah Mitchell lays down some soulful vocals on a few tracks. In fact, there’s only two instrumental songs on this record. At first I was worried that would somehow dull the power of this band’s instrumental prowess. Fortunately I was wrong about that, and Black Heaven proved to be one hell of a fun psych rock album.
16. Deadly Avenger : I Am Godzilla, You Are Japan
Deadly Avenger’s I Am Godzilla, You Are Japan is nothing short of epic. Bruising rhythms, crushing synths, and enough attitude to take down a Kaiju destroying coastal cities, Damon Baxter goes full tongue firmly planted in cheek with this feast for the senses. The result is one of most fun and in-your-face records you’re likely to listen to this year. The songs are titled with names like “Destroyer Of Planets”, “Kill All Kaiju”, and “Invincible Preying Mantis” and they live up to their self-inflicted hype. Damon Baxter is a go big or go home kind of musician, and there’s not a snowball’s chance in Hell he’s going home.
15. Preoccupations : New Material
Even back when they were known as Viet Cong I was pretty mesmerized by the post-punk band Preoccupations. When I first heard the Cassette EP(on vinyl, natch) and listening to these Canadians(two of which formerly of the band Women) tear thru Bauhaus’ “Dark Entries” I knew these guys were my people. Each successive record since that EP grew in monolithic proportions, as if the band was putting every shit day and every curve ball the world sent their way right into their art. New Material feels like the culmination of everything Preoccupations has aspired to. Bleak is a strong word, but one that fits their music pretty well. New Material is bleak and a downer, but very earnest in its naked and bruised honesty. Tracks like “Espionage”, “Antidote”, and “Doubt” tow the line between Joy Division angularity and the brutal nihilism of Pornography-era Cure. One real standout is the wistful track “Disarray”. It’s a rare moment of letting their guard down.
14. Grivo : Elude
Austin by way of Michigan post-punk/shoegaze band Grivo dropped one hell of a massive debut this year with Elude. They seem to capture this very specific point in alternative music that happened in the early to mid-90s with bands like Chavez, Archers of Loaf, and Polvo where the dreaminess of MBV and Chapterhouse was intermingled with darker, dirgier elements. Grivo travel similar sonic roads as bands like Nothing, Whirr, and Young Prisms, but they capture an airiness that those other bands seem to lack. Songs like “HDC”, “Render”, and the beautifully heavy “Opia” sound as if everything is riding on the moment. There’s urgency, even in the slowest of tempos and the most whispered of vocals. Elude is nothing short of brilliant.
13. Harglow : Harglow
I don’t think there was nearly as much bloody fun on any other album this year then on Harglow’s debut self-titled album. On their Burning Witches Records’ debut the multi-state electronic duo dabble in the darkness and seem to be pretty comfortable in those darker spots where nobody else dares to visit. Harglow sounds like part death cult, part dark arts dabblers, and 100% industrial music aficionados. Early NIN mingles with Skinny Puppy and Suicide with a touch of Satanic Panic to make one hell of an engaging listen. “Red Leather” and “Death Rattle” bring to mind sonic incantations waking some ancient evil. Hard techno works along side early industrial ala Wax Trax to give us a system overload of the senses. Harglow have made an intense and intoxicating debut. More please.
12. Sleep : The Sciences
4/20/18 saw the release of the long-gestating, long-awaited new album from Oakland stoner/doom purveyors Sleep. I’ve only in the last 4 to 5 years discovered the absolute joy of this stoner’s delight metal band. Matt Pike’s molten riffs and Al Cisnero’s fuzzed-out bass lines intermingle with slow motion drums to create a fantastical alternate reality where the Weedian people survive in a barren wasteland(and one apparently ripe with plenty of kush.) The result of a recording session at Third Man Records is The Sciences, a heavy metal smorgasbord of Sabbath-ian riffage and Al Cisneros’ shaman-esque vocals, singing songs named “Marijuanaut’s Theme”, “Antarcticans Thawed”, and of course there’s “Giza Butler”. The album is a triumph of dank guitar riffage and slow-motion destruction. It’s an amazing return from a band that very easily could’ve faded into heavy metal history like a low-hanging haze at a, well, Sleep concert.
Sleep have never sounded better than they do on this record. Long live Iommi. Long live Sleep.
11. Kurt Vile : Bottle It In
Ever since Smoke Ring For My Halo Kurt Vile has been a prominent figure in my musical world. He’s got a unique story-telling mind and can play a pretty mean guitar. That record showed this cat was someone to watch. Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze was the epic double album I had no idea he had in him. Long, gestating pop songs that jangled and wrangled on for 9 or 10 minutes sat beside tight rock songs and quirky bangers with yelps and yips. It was one of the most sprawling pop rock albums in years. Vile isn’t one to get to the point right away. He likes to take his time telling his tale thru words and riffs. He comes across as this long-haired stoner prophet, hanging at the beach and riding a skateboard along the boardwalk. He may not get high anymore, but he carries with him a perpetual spaciness that serves him and his songs well. Bottle It In, to my ears, is his masterpiece. It’s his most focused and most meandering record yet. Beatnik poetry flows with finger-picked acoustics, while space-y drone tracks seem to reach for the sky(and touch it at times.) “Bassackwards”, “Loading Zones”, and “One Trick Ponies” are future classics. These are the kinds of songs that end up on “Best Of” compilations and mixtapes for that person you want to really impress.
We’re almost there. This weekend I drop my top ten albums of the year. It’s been a long one. Thanks for sticking it out with me.
See you soon.