It’s been a long road, but we’ve made it. Revisiting, revising, re-thinking, and rediscovering a good portion of what I listened to this year in order to find a reasonable order of importance(to me, anyways.) My top ten albums were pretty obvious to me, as most of them were in constant rotation from the moment I heard them. They have spent the most time in my head, echoing their melodies and harmonies and rhythms over and over again. These are the albums I talked a lot about to people around me(at ad nauseum, I’m sure.) These records feel important to me, and I feel they add to the world in a meaningful way. They certainly added to my world. Honestly, every album I’ve talked about this week added to my world in some way. That’s why they were mentioned. That’s why I will continue to listen to these artists and follow them wherever they go musically(within reason.) These 50 records I’ve shared here this past week, they truly are the great ones of 2018. So without further adieu, here’s my top 10 albums of 2018.
10. Rival Consoles : Persona
Ryan Lee West builds musical and circuital mazes when he makes music as Rival Consoles. I’ve been pretty overwhelmed by his work for the last two or three years. Howl and Night Melody had been on constant rotation on the turntable ever since I’d discovered Rival Consoles back in 2015. His work is eloquent and refined. It’s not in-your-face techno or glitchy IDM. His beats and synths feel very tactile; you can practically feel them crackle and pop as the synths tell a tale easily followed. Persona is West’s true masterpiece. It feels at times epic in proportion, yet still a very intimate music affair. Tracks like “Unfolding”, “Persona”, and “Phantom Grip” work their way under your skin to reveal absolute sonic delights and deep electro contemplation. Persona is a fun, meaningful, and absolute immeasurably joyous music experience.
9. Thousand Foot Whale Claw : Black Hole Party
Another eye(and ear) opening discovery this year was the incredible Black Hole Party by Thousand Foot Whale Claw. The Austin-based band, which includes members of Future Museums, S U R V I V E, Single Lash, and Troller, makes the kind of electronic music that sounds as if it came fully formed straight from some pocket of the universe not yet discovered. Heady, dense, and perfectly curated by the guys in the band. Bits of Tangerine Dream, Pink Floyd, and the best of early 70s Krautrock heavies show their inspiration on this record, but these guys don’t rely on borrowing ancient vibes and used electro moves. The music is very much their own. Epic album opener “No Kingdom” announces itself on a cloudburst of ominous synths, 80s electronic percussion, and a 70s sense to let things go as long as they need to. “Deridium Rail” and its subtle touches reveal catchy melodies and David Gilmour-esque guitar lines courtesy of Neil Lord. “Double Abyss” sits at the end of the record like a psych rock mind melter, bits of distant synth mingle with echoing, distorted guitar. One of my favorite tracks is the blissful, droning “Genesis Effect”. It’s a song that captures the spirit and beauty of a band being as much an art collective as jam purveyors. It sits beautifully close to the end of a record that works like a musical journey of past, present, and future examinations of the self. Black Hole Party may be the only party you need to go to this year.
8. D.A.L.I : WHEN HARO MET SALLY
I was a kid in the early-to-mid 80s, but I was sort of a bystander of all cool kid activities. I wasn’t an aspiring skateboarder doing tricks at the skate park. I just listened to the hardcore music they did. I had a BMX bike, but it was like the lame kid version, a red and chrome Huffy. The only trick I did on that bike was not break my neck when I’d go head first over the handlebars trying to do a feat I didn’t have the skill or body build to do. Listening to the epic 80s love letter to BMX by Deadly Avenger and Luke Insect, or D.A.L.I, called WHEN HARO MET SALLY brought back a lot of memories of growing up trying to be an aspiring something; BMX bandit, heavy metal guitarist, the guy all the girls dug, or just something greater than I was. That may sound kind of pathetic, but it’s not. These two guys made a concept record about BMX racing and the community and brotherhood that came with it. Outcasts finding a home after school on ramps and learning tricks till the sun went down. “Chrome”, “Too Tuff To Bluff”, “Kuwahara Dreams”, and “Goodtimes In Badlands” all feel like stepping back in time to a world of sunlit skies, ocean-filled backgrounds, and the sweaty brotherhood of BMX racers. You don’t have to be into BMX to appreciate this electo-opus, but if you ever aspired to make a cool jump or impress a girl with a wheelie on a Mongoose or HARO, then this might be the soundtrack of your youth you didn’t know you were missing.
7. The Soft Moon : Criminal
Luis Vasquez has brought the post-punk aesthetic well into the new age. Part industrial angst and post-punk self-righteousness, his Soft Moon musical project arrived fully-formed as the proper man to take over where Trent Reznor left off. Vasquez is a master arranger and knows his way around a studio, but his true gift is working out the kinks of being a human thru sonic annihilation. His newest album, Criminal, is his masterstroke in both songwriting and composition. The first few Soft Moon releases were nearly instrumental albums, with Vasquez yelping and screeching occasionally, and actually singing even less. But with his 2015 album Deeper, he worked on his singer/songwriter skills. Criminal is his most potent and personal record to date, taking on past demons and working on is future self. “Burn” explodes from the speakers like classic NIN, New Order, and Ministry with the heft of a sonic arterial spray. “Give Something” seethes with Gothic doom, while “It Kills” sounds like early Cure mixing it up with Bauhaus. The Soft Moon continue be one of the premier post-punk bands working today.
6. Jakob Skott : Instrumentality
Jakob Skott’s newest album, the excellent Instrumentality, is a tour-de-force in synth and drums back and forth. It’s also his most personal and experimental record to date. Coming out of a serious medical issue back in early spring of 2018, Skott was dealing with terrible headaches and dizziness due to a spinal fluid leak on his brain. Instrumentality starts from the point of healing and is a journey into the brain. Tracks like “The Dura Plane”, “2nd Foundation”, and the super-wonky “Purple Visage” swirl and sway like the master drummer Skott is. This album, subconsciously, is a map into that time in Skott’s life where the world seemed fuzzy, pained, and an unknown. He masterfully steps back into the music fold with an extraordinary record that is as exploratory as his previous efforts, while being his most personal as well. I never tire of Skott’s musical back and forths between man and machine, and Instrumentality is his best yet.
5. Deafheaven : Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
The more Deafheaven seem to make their original fans feel ostracized, the more I seem to love them. There’s nothing like hardcore fans whining about a band and how they’ve changed for the worse. Those Roads To Judah hardliners are really hating their new album Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, and it’s pretty hilarious. A band that sticks to one M.O. for the entirety of their career is boring. I love the Ramones, but you need maybe one, or two of their albums to know what’s going on. Bands that want to grow and change with their development as human beings are the most interesting. You either grow with them or you don’t, simple as that. You don’t have to like it, but that doesn’t make them a “fake band”, as I heard one exceptionally childish rant state. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love builds upon the melodic slants that began on Sunbather and continued into New Bermuda. OCHL seems to have come full circle in terms of Deafheaven’s sonic sound, mixing elements of all the styles and vibes from albums past, coming together into one of the most engaging metal records of the year. Songs like “You Without End”, “Honeycomb”, and “Worthless Animal” sound like metal versions of the latter half of “Layla”. Pop piano, lilting slide guitar, and a build up that even U2 would be envious of, this record seems like one long sigh, followed by primal screams until your vocal cords bleed. It’s an absolute joy from start to finish. Blissful, chaotic, and concrete resolve.
4. Mythic Sunship : Another Shape of Psychedelic Music
So what do you do when you dig Black Sabbath, Krautrock, and Coltrane’s free jazz? Well if you’re Mythic Sunship you recruit a master sax player, hit the studio with a master knob twister like Jonas Munk, and you blow out some absolutely epic space rock free jazz improvisations until you’ve got one of the most epic, heady, mind-altering records of the year. That’s exactly what Copenhagen’s Mythic Sunship did, too. After dropping the heavy and expansive Upheaval back at the beginning of the year, these Danish purveyors of the wall of guitar wanted to explore newer ideas and more far out sonics. The result of that exploration is right here on the double album Another Shape of Psychedelic Music. The guys recruited saxophonist Søren Skov to take this heady, musical trip, as well as Jonas Munk joining in on a couple tracks on guitar, and this epic jam session led to six absolutely epic tracks. Think Popol Vuh, Hawkwind, Black Sabbath, and Ascension-era Coltrane. There’s a feeling of uncharted territory as you listen to tracks like “Resolution”, “Backyard Ritual”, and “Out There”. This is dense, heavy, and mind-expanding in the best way possible. A must for anyone that’s ever wanted to get a little deeper in the sonic waters. I think Kamasi Washington and Mythic Sunship really need to get together.
3. Oneohtrix Point Never : Age Of
Daniel Lopatin might be an alien. With each successive record, ever since 2009s Betrayed In The Octagon, his records have become more ethereal and out there. Not satisfied with the ambient/new age/psych vibes he began making, Oneohtrix Point Never albums started to feel more cut and paste, exotic, and alien. He experimented with ghostly soundtracks, heavy metal electronica, and pure pop. He even had time to drop one hell of a soundtrack for the film Good Time last year. His newest long player, titled Age Of, feels as much an art installation to existence as a typical OPN album. There’s melodious sounds, auto tune, and some help from ANOHNI. Age Of experiments with all kinds of sounds, but it’s all still very much OPN. “Babylon” is pure pop confection, while title track “Age Of” sounds foreign and ancient with what sounds like harpsichord. “Manifold” brings us back into OPNs world nicely, and “Last Known Image of A Song” is classic Lopatin; ghostly, noisy, and ethereal. I appreciate an artist that wants to constantly evolve and engage with their own creativity. Sometimes that can sound pretty awful, but when it works it’s a pretty amazing experience. It works beautifully on Age Of.
2. Jake Schrock : Tropical Depression
Jake Schrock’s Tropical Depression has been my musical happy place for the majority of the summer. It’s this calm, mellow, and mildly unnerving little sonic spot where I can escape into some alternate reality resort. A place where the drinks are strong but don’t make you too drunk, the sky is ominous but hypnotic, and the roar of the tide emulates analog dreams on a disintegrating shore. Schrock is an electronic musician out of Texas and he works solely in the analog realm. You can tell immediately, as Tropical Depression has a certain warmth to it that modern electronic instrumentation can sometime lack. If you didn’t know this was a new album, you’d swear you had found some lost classic electronic record from the late 70s or early 80s. Bits of Kraftwerk, Rudiger Lorenz, and early Depeche Mode and Human League all live within the circuital lines here, but Jake Schrock does his own thing. It’s not copy/paste influences and genres. Schrock has created his own little sonic world on Tropical Depression. I’ve been absolutely fascinated with this record from the moment I heard it. From the opening analog warbles of “Surface Data” to the ominous undertones of “Cosmic Ocean”, this record just connects with me on a very core level. Maybe it’s the old school vibes that take me back to early childhood hearing electronic pop on the radio. This album feels like it’s part of my DNA. Weird to say, I know, but it’s true. “Progress” reminds me of German electronic musician and synth builder Rudiger Lorenz, while title track “Tropical Depression” sounds absolutely amazing on a system with serious bass. Probably one of my favorite tracks is the incredible album closer “Cerebral Shelter”. It sounds like something that should’ve been on an episode of Miami Vice. There was always some reflective, contemplative scene on that show where some amazing electronic music was used. This incredible track would’ve fit perfectly. There’s a propulsion and upward sway to Tropical Depression that has lasted the entire year for me, and I imagine it will continue to for years to come.
And finally, Complex Distractions number one album of the year,
Graham Reznick : Glass Angles
Glass Angles pretty much captured my imagination from the get-go. From the first few seconds of “Highland Steel” to the dreamy, crystalline notes of “Whittier” Graham Reznick made it perfectly clear that what you’re going to be listening to is quite unlike anything you’ve heard prior. He’s a sound guy by trade, designing audio for film and games, and also a writer/director/actor and pretty much any slot that needs filled in the whole creative canon. But electronic musician is where I was first introduced to the auteur. Glass Angles was the first of two records Reznick put out this year. His second foray into album creator for 2018, the cryptic and hypnotic R0B0PHAS1A, ended up at number 23 on my list of favorite albums. Glass Angles felt like this anomaly of sonic disturbance that I couldn’t see anything else beating it as the top album in my brain. That served to be true. This album is dark, propulsive, hypnotic, psychedelic, and captures this looking-glass version of Los Angeles that Reznick would see and experience when he first moved to California from the East Coast years ago. It’s part noir thriller, David Lynch bizarro world, and Aphex Twin on quaaludes all rolled into this audio buffet for the senses. Throw a pair of headphones on and hit play and its as if the room begins to move and shift, all Inception-style. There’s elements of Harold Faltermeyer, Future Shock-era Herbie Hancock, and a handful of other electronic luminaries that Reznick adds to his sound concoction. He’s all about a tactile musical experience. His sounds are as much felt as they are heard, and that’s what engaged me so significantly.
I think what I carry with me the most when I think about this record is a brisk evening in Kalamazoo, MI back in February of 2018. My wife and I headed up north to Kalamazoo for a night out, then to an art show early the next morning. Kalamazoo is a dichotomy of old and new; dilapidated industry turned into modern day enjoyment. Breweries reclaiming factory sites into a place where college kids and locals alike can drop money for fermented delights. My wife and I drove thru the town in the darkness of evening and saw a town lit by neon, marquee signs, and street lights. There was a magical, dream-like feeling as we made our way thru town and to a local brewery where we dined and I tried various local micro brews. After dinner we walked two or three city blocks as the town began to shutter its storefronts and college age dopes looked for the next bit of trouble. The next day Glass Angles arrived at my house and I put it on the turntable as soon as we got home. Listening to it I was taken back to the late night drives, the fluttering of street lights in foggy windshields, and the sinister fun of a city at night and what thoughts come from an imagination turned on my adventure and slight inebriation. Glass Angles holds those memories and the mystique of the unknown and what we imagine resides in that unknown.
It’s been one hell of a year for music, hasn’t it? From metal to pop to folks-y rock to heady electronic I’ve had my senses delighted on an almost weekly basis. My hats off to the artists that made this year so special for me, and to labels like Burning Witches Records, Holodeck Records, El Paraiso Records and Mondo/Death Waltz Originals for bringing back an urgency to the art of making music. For curating a roster of artists that deserve a place to share their creativity and work to music fans like me that get so much from what they do. Whether you all realize it or not, you make a difference in this world, one record at a time. I cannot wait to see what 2019 brings.
Now, it’s time to rest. See you all very soon.