ICYMI (Best of 2018): AJ’s Worldwide Release Honorable Mentions
I’m going to warn you, there’s a whole lot of music out there. Too much, even. Too much to choose “best” from “bleh”, at least. 2018 was a weird fuckin’ year. For the first time in a long time, the “best” really outweighed the “bleh”.
There’s plenty of “bleh”, believe me. 89.3 The Current even gets down on the “bleh” these days, rivaling some of their larger-funded/syndicated contemporaries for downright pandering to the…
…but that isn’t very constructive, or helpful.
Let’s get back to the “best”; or, in the subsequent cases, the “pretty fucking good”. I would categorize each of these releases as being damn-near perfect representations of the artist and their goals for 2018. Which is nothing to shake a stick at. But are they the BEST? Not quite; but they should still get an honorable mention, ya’know? So, in no particular order…
Voivod – The Wake
Although I will always prefer the guitar stylings of Denis “Piggy” D’Amour (R.I.P.), the second-best lineup of Canada’s best prog metal outfit comfortably fit another pentatonic, dystopian feather in their road-worn hat.
Paul McCartney – Egypt Station
I’ve never been much of a solo-Beatles fan, but this latest from Macca is the best thing I’ve heard from him since those Fireman albums he put out about ten to fifteen years ago. Yes, there a few stupid fucking songs for the sake of stupid fucking songs; but the good fucking songs are GOOD fuckin’ songs.
Bonnacons of Doom – s/t
Very hard to describe, which is a good thing. Maybe this English artistic collective is a bit on the contrived side, but I could listen to this debut for a while for while, I’ll tell ‘ya.
Plini – Sunhead
Hyper-driven weird-out jazz.
Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
I haven’t been a super fan in a while, but if an artist’s aptitude is measured by their ability to learn from mistakes, Deafheaven deserve a MacArthur Grant.
Blind Adam & the Federal League – s/t
These are some good Chicago boys (yes, they exist) that put some rock back into the rock-n-punk pallet. I made sandwiches with the eponymous Adam for a while at ISU, but that doesn’t make Eric Englehard’s lead guitar any less righteous. Honest songs here for a very dishonest point in time.
Sleep – The Sciences
20 years, man. That’s a wait. Was it worth it? I’d say…sure. Sure it was, man. Matt Pike shows up twice in my year’s-end recommendations, but he isn’t really breaching too much new ground with these performances. Having said that, this is the best Sleep have ever sounded, so…
Vinyl Williams – Opal
Smokey, swirly, kaleidoscopic R&B that deserves more visits than I’ve been able to give it this year.
Neko Case – Hell On
I sure do love this lady. When they carve a Mount Rushmore for lady singer-songwriters, Case will be forever staring regally skyward with Joni Mitchell and Martha Wainwright.
RLYR – Actual Existence
Chuggy-chuggy, twinkle-twinkle music that shouldn’t work, but really does. A few guys from a few metal bands in Chicago got together to make space rock and it’s pretty cool.
The Decemberists – I’ll Be Your Girl
I did not care for any of the Decemberists offerings until now. I’m going to allow that contention to speak for the quality of this record.
Sungod – Wave Refraction
About a year ago I bought a record based on the cover alone. I thought, ‘THIS is a synthy prog band’, and I was right. That same band decided to put out a new record this year, and this is it. Listen to it.
UNDERWORLD & Iggy Pop – Teatime Dub Encounters
Jim Osterberg doesn’t retire well, but we should all be grateful he’s giving his time and attention to things that don’t suck (he pops up again in another Best of 2018 post (no pun intended)). It’s particularly fun to listen to him lament the niceties of yesteryear on “Bells & Circles”. Maybe the sequel to Trainspotting didn’t do to well, but this EP is a barn-burner.
Buñuel – The Easy Way Out
My man Eugene from Oxbow and other….things sings here, too. Well, he barks a lot. It’s good, though.
Thom Yorke – Suspiria (OMPST)
I didn’t think this would be very interesting, but I was wrong. Good.
Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
It’s very easy to feel the ghost of Prince on this eclectic album, but just think how good the next one is going to be. Right?…
Body/Head – The Switch
If you’ve ever been caught in an awkward position in the shower without an explanation, this is your soundtrack. Focus on the fuzz and just let it happen, baby.
Alexander Tucker – Don’t Look Away
I’m not sure if it’s the temperature of the country or what, but folks are really into self reflection this year. I’m not knocking the quality of the tunes, but…damn. Listen to this album.
Animal Collective – Tangerine Reef
Not to be a dick, but I ALWAYS prefer when Animal Collective decide to shut their mouths and let their synthesizers do the talking. Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes.
Matthew Dear – Bunny
Weird electro-pop all about the stuff you don’t want to think about that’s inside your head. But it’s still enjoyable…yep.
Dirty Projectors – Lamp Lit Prose
This is another band I haven’t had a great relationship with that surprised me with some primo shit. Since Amber Coffman’s departure I haven’t had a reason to pay attention to the same “gentleman” who covered Black Flag’s Damaged with only his vague recollections of the songs to guide his hand. But…I’m not bitter or anything.
Optiginally Yours – O.Y. in Hi-Fi
“What the fuck?” is something I found myself saying aloud to this album with great delight.
Our Solar System – Origins
What is noise and what is music? Listen up and decide!
Roy Montgomery – Suffuse
Too many personal releases this year to get under the spotlight, but this wonderful collaborative and intimate album speaks volumes in under 50 minutes .
Thee Oh Sees – Smote Reverser
Prolificacy doesn’t automatically garner my attention (Kurt Vile, I’m looking at you), but this album really grabbed me. Trying something new is usually a bonafide invitation for me. A bit meandoring and masturbatory at times, but all in all a solid B.
I don’t care, I still enjoy this band. If Ghost were a wrestler, they would be Joey Ryan; but, again, I don’t mind the dick spot in this context. If Abba and Mercyful Fate were the same band, they would be Ghost. Shut up and take my money.
Daniel Bachman – The Morning Star
If your idea of a good time is a double album of bedroom guitar recordings that sound like dream notation, then this is the peculiar slow-burner for you.
Robyn – Honey
I am not familiar in the slightest with this super talented lady, but this long-lost Madonna album from the mid-80s kicks my ass every time I pull it up.
Peter, Bjorn, and John – Darker Days
Hype is hype, and type is type, but even Pitchfork couldn’t keep me away from this much-lauded diamond in the rough. See? I used a cliche and even conceded a point to an authoritative figure. That MFA is paying off, I’ll tell ya.
The Dodos – Certainty Waves
I’ve heard so much about the Dodos over the years that I finally broke down and gave them a listen. I was not disappointed. Snarky indie pop-rock that makes life worth living.
Castle – Deal Thy Fate
Lots and lots of lady-fronted metal these days, and that can only be a good thing. Along with Holy Grove, Castle find the perfect pitch of ripping guitars and epic wailing. I’d say fans of Iron Maiden and King Diamond would dig Castle more, while fans of Black Sabbath and Hellacopters would dig Holy Grove more.
Jeff Goldblum & the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra – The Capital Studios Sessions
Even in the face of a terrible, terrible cunnalingus joke, everybody’s favorite Hollywood eccentric delivers the big-time goods with this awesome big-band jazz display.
Holy Grove – II
Yep. Chugga-chugga, doodly-doodly, screamy-screamy. Good stuff.
Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers – Bought To Rot
I couldn’t be happier that Laura Jane Grace is continuing her musical life through another outlet. Against Me! was a creature of its own; and having since reinvented herself as a person, it only made sense to reinvent her band. Which isn’t to say there is any less or more – which for once is a good thing. A very personal (sometimes cringey), good thing.
Yo La Tengo – There’s A Riot Going On
America’s backbone deliver another solid offering. Seriously, if Yo La Tengo ever break up I don’t know how we’re going to survive. Nixon killed the Velvet Underground, who knows what kind of monster will come for YLT. Fuck…
Bénnì – The Return
Synth is neck-in-neck with guitar this year as the instrument to just go fucking nuts on. Lots of jazz composers still favor the saxophone and trumpet, but guitar and synthesizer are ready to storm some shit, yo. Give Bénì a listen if you never wished Big Trouble China In Little China and They Live! were the same movie.
Florence + the Machine – High As Hope
Although I’m still very tied to the melodies from Lungs, the songs on High As Hope are this English goddess’s best she’s ever put together.
Fucked Up – Dose Your Dreams
These Canadian punks keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger, but their britches keep on stretching along with them. So…
My Brightest Diamond – A Million And One
I wish all “dance music” was this weird. Because if that were the case, I’d be a disco king within a few months. So…it’s a good thing this album is so unique, I guess.
Sheep Numbers – Talking Backwards
More good Chicago folks! Quirky without being obnoxious, sweet without being sugary, Sheep Numbers make self-effacing pop like they were the secret children of Brian Wilson and John Linnell. Again, I know the singer but that doesn’t mean a goddamned thing. Mike Martello could sing the devil back into heaven.
Sigh – Heir To Despair
2018 was a red letter year for metal. If you haven’t enough time (or maybe not enough attention) allow Sigh to be your crib notes for the year’s most noteworthy releases. Seriously, they cover just about every damn notion under the sun: black metal, opera, liturgy, K-pop, boogie-rock, and even gospel. And unlike Mr. Bungle, these Japanese geniuses actually pull it off.
Mariah Carey – Caution
She comes back from a lot of weirdness to work with all the freshest producers. Seriously…just give it a listen.
It’s dope, right?
Meg Baird – Ghost Forests
Beautiful and evocative collaborative album creeping through all kinds of invocations. I’m so pleased with how supplementary vocal performances have become lately, and I mean that in the best way possible. 2018 was a real “parts-making-a-whole” type of year for music.
Nine Inch Nails – Bad Witch
Boom-boom, bang-bang. “Thanks, Trent” is something I have literally never written or spoken aloud, but…thanks, Trent. Good shit.
The Marked Men – On the Other Side
A compilation from a dead band that could scare Ebenezer Scrooge back to 21. Excellent Stiff Little Fingers dynamics with melodies indebted to the Buzzcocks yet akin to Superchunk. Clash guitars!
Buxton– Stay Out Late
I am so glad hyper-produced bands still want to make weird music. Good Talk Talk-inspired collection, y’all.
Wolfgang Muthspiel – Where the River Goes
Guitar, guitar, guitar…and some lovely piano and saxophone, but holy hell am I a happy jazz guitar fan this year.
Behemoth – I Loved You At Your Darkest
It’s fine. Just…fine. But it’s still Behemoth.
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How Your Really Feel
I have been a fan of Miss Barnett for a while now, and she continues to intrigue and inspire with each release. Man, she sounds irritated on this record…
Fred Thomas – Aftering
Reflective and often-times confessional, this collection of scene pieces can rock, mope, and even move all within the same song. For those who miss Alan Vega AND Jim Carroll but are glad Neil Young is still alive.
Windhand/Satan’s Satyrs – Split
Okay. The full-length from Windhand this year was crap. But these tunes…I’ll tell ya…they’re good. Not so much on the Satan’s Satyrs. They’re just…fine. But the Windhand tunes, man-alive…good.
Guided By Voices – Space Gun
What the fuck, Bob? Just quit, already…damn…We get it – you’re really, really talented. Jesus…
Cypress Hill – Elephants On Acid
When you’re so deep in the game that it’s hard to tell when you stop and the machine begins, you start a political/cash-grab project with some LA buddies. Then, once that project falls on it stupid stupid face, you go back to the homies and tear shit up old school. Yeah…
Thou – The House Primordial
The best New Orleans metal band working (sorry, Eyehategod) put out so much music in 2018 that it’s tough to decide which material one is supposed to appreciate most. So, instead of choosing one, I’ve picked this, the best of their EPs released this year, as an honorable mention and put their best full length on my Best of Worldwide Releases list. Along with Inconsolable and Rhea Sylvia, The House Primordial sees Thou giving themselves room to be tender in equal measure with their brutal brand of doom/sludge metal. I think it speaks volumes to Thou’s integrity that they use the EP and split release* mediums to grow their identity. Here’s looking forward to 2019.
* Yes, they also released two (I think) splits with other bands this year.
Adam Johnson lives in Minneapolis with his wife, cats, and guitars.