Well, we're here now. The final list of the year from me and what a ride it has been. Listening to what many consider way too much music, it was hard to narrow down to 20 albums to discuss in this list. Now I promised in depth discussion of each album and I also want to note this is not a definite list. Tastes always change and evolve so what I may list today might not be true a week from now. To keep my mind at ease I chose to do this list in alphabetical order - in other words each album has no set numerical value and I love all equally (though of course more some than others).
I'd also like to address that I most likely won't be doing the genre specific lists next year. A goal of mine is to consume less and learn to understand better of what I already know. I'll be focusing my attention more on old music than new music. Of course I am part of this podcast and will continue to listen to new music, just not as much as I did this year. Lots of albums I listened to were good but just not having a solid memory of them makes me realize this - am I listening to music as "to-do list" or am I listening to music out of enjoyment? I do find enjoyment in discovering new music but I have to admit a lot of the time I listen to an album is so I can say I "heard it".
Again, I want to thank everyone who reads these lists, as well as my co-hosts Jagan and Aidan for without them this whole podcast/site wouldn't exist and I wouldn't be writing any of these.
Before we start here are the links to specific genre lists:
Now time for the list! Hope you enjoy.
A$AP Rocky needs no introduction. In the hip-hop world and music world, his name makes waves. A$AP Rocky has always showed his love for Three 6 Mafia in his music - and I'm loving every second of it on this record. Bringing the dark, hazy instrumentals with trappy drums but also fusing it with a more modern experimental sound. Rocky has never been one to shy away on getting weird on his albums, showing us with the first 4 tracks being some of the wildest we've heard from him. Praise the Lord is the hit song we all know Rocky for but he gets intimate quickly with the songs that he follows up with. Now of course we can't go without discussing all the wonderful features he has on this - from Frank Ocean, FKA Twigs, Kid Cudi, and even Blocboy JB/Playboi Carti adlibs. On TESTING, Rocky explores thoughts of introspection which could always be interpreted of an artist struggling with finding identity within his name brand. TESTING proves Rocky can mold his old sound of southern style cloud rap, with the new sounds he is trying to accomplish.
Anna Von Hausswolff is no stranger to dark music. Fusing the sounds of drone, synth, and doom metal along with a driving organ throughout she creates an atmosphere of the occult. Soft vocal melodies are underlined in the music itself, helping Anna create an even deeper world of witchcraft and sorcery. The songs itself can be long slow burners, creating a grandiose emotional build up. This album is potentially what Kate Bush could've created if she dug deeper into occult styling. Saying that makes you think this is an art pop record but with the cover in place you might think otherwise. For myself, the album creates for me an atmosphere of being deep in the woods in northern Scandinavian, with fog looming about and tall mountains as blockades from the rest of the modern world. Yes there is something medieval about it but also something nature-y. In a sense the world is about being one with nature, and learning to appreciate the isolation the world can bring.
After 8 years of complete silence, the noise rock band Daughters returns with one of the most creative efforts this year. Expanding on their signature noise rock sound yet bringing in more industrial sounds, that almost make it feel like it belongs in the 80's no wave scene. The album features sounds of chaos and despair, almost makes you feel hopelessness. You get dark crooning guitars, with harsh sounding bass and drums while the vocals are dull yet ecstatic reciting what almost feels like free form poetry. You get slow burners like Satan in the Wait, which makes it feel like hell itself, and then you get chaotic pieces like The Lords Song. This album will go down in ages as a memorable moment for music as it uses sounds of the old and builds off into entirely something new.
DJ Healer - Nothing 2 Loose
A mysterious vinyl only release that has made its way onto the web. Not only that but the mysterious man behind it we know little about makes it all the more interesting. Under many different aliases, DJ Healer is one of his (all we know is he is male) most creative projects. Making an epic, dreamy, ambient house project that some songs take you away from this world while others bring you back into a dance fueled hysteria. The album features vocal samples which give it an almost post-apocalyptic feeling of listening to old recordings. DJ healer makes me thin about life in a dramatic way through his music - giving the listener a sense of how big the world can be and how small the average person is to the world. In sense, giving us freedom from acknowledging such faults and living freely among discovering who we are. Sometimes, music without lyrics speaks to me more than music with.
Eli Keszler is an electro-acoustic musician with a strong focus on his drumming. He makes ambient focused music with the stylistic drumming patterns of a jazz musician. Sounds interesting enough right? Not only that but it's also really entertaining. As someone who loves the drums as an instrument, he can create a ambient soundscapes perfectly with an instrument that can't create melodies on its own. It's interesting to hear a "electronic" musician make albums that are almost entirely organic in the process. On Stadium, Eli Keszler tries to recreate the sounds of travelling from place to place; building a world of uncertainty, losing familiar faces, and discovering iconic landmarks. It is almost to look at the bigger picture of how the world works - how we are constantly moving and changing, the world expects us to adapt to everything around us which can be quite disastrous at times.
Haley Heynderickx is a folk musician who's soft voice accompanies the subtle picking of her guitar. An incredibly talented guitarist who takes influence both from John Fahey and Nick Drake. She tends to describe herself as loner, thus she creates her own bass sound simultaneously while creating guitar melodies. Lyrical she becomes quite honest, looking inwards to her emotions and thoughts about the world around her. Haley would generally be associated with the modern day age of folk musicians, who sing about sadness but she is more than that especially with her creative guitar parts. Not to mention this album has one of the most catching songs of the year - Oom Sha La La was a song that instantly hooked me to listen more. The song is definitely not representative of the whole album, as it is more indie rock orientated than the rest of it.
J-Pop musical tendencies but at the front of it all, we hear a noisy indie rock band. Haru Nemuri fronts the band as her poetry-rap style of singing is backed by noisy wild guitars, frantic drums, and pounding bass notes. But not only that, we get some sugary synth for the J-Pop parts aren't to be forgotten. It is two sounds hardly anyone thinks of combining but it works out. Parts of it remind of Death Grips, Kero Kero Bonito, and My Bloody Valentine - and listing all those bands is a big feat for someone's album. I don't speak Japanese, and therefore I have no idea what she is saying but I can only imagine the lyrics being just as thoughtful as the music itself. The album is a perfect blend between fun/catchy, to being taken very seriously as a creative effort.
Ah, here we are at crazy, dissonant death metal. Hissing present themselves as the sound of hell while being dragged through it by Cthulhu. With incredibly fast drumming, guitar and bass creating a giant wall of sound (while still maintaining technicality), and a vocalist sounding demonic. The metal band also takes influence of industrial and noise music (see a trend yet?), creating an experience of nihilism throughout. This punishing sound is produced by the vilest of entities, which is exactly what I desire in this kind of music. This is metal not to be taken lightly or for the faint-hearted - it's a band who rivals Portal and Deathspell Omega for the world building of utter hell. But if you need a night of hating the world, this genre does it better than no one else to let you unleash on the darkest of thoughts.
Ah perfect, the other metal release I have on this. Just like Hissing, these guys sure know how to make the listener uncomfortable. Using angular guitar riffs, blast beat drumming, and a thumping bass we continue to get punished through this music. So what does Imperial Triumphant do differently? Well on the opening track you can see that they have a heavy use of not only horns in their music, but also avant-garde jazz. This is another album that can create a sense of nihilism to the point of living in a dark urban landscape. The band itself even wants you to feel the "juxtaposition of high society and urban decay" which is entirely accurate of the jazzy parts mixed with the chaotic avant-garde metal. This album was mixed by Colin Marston as well, and people who know that name should know good things follow.
I had to include one movie score, of course, since my love for film is almost as much as my love for music. Combining the two has always been a dream of mine, and perhaps one day I could work on movie scores. Anyways, Jonny Greenwood also needs no introduction. His name is solidified in history being part of numerous scores already and this little known band named Radiohead. Jonny, when he composes, likes to dedicate all his listening to pieces from the era he is doing. In this particular instance, Phantom Thread takes place in post-war 1950's. The score we hear bombastic string pieces, as well as gentle piano flourishes throughout. This gives the film an almost elegant nature, as it should with the high class presented throughout. It also later gives us emotional dread, which is also builds off the films representation of the highs and lows of love. One thing that I think movie scores should be able to do is to listen to them outside of the context of the movie as well. This is what I think separates good movie scores from great movie scores.
Julia Holter is a spectacle to behold. A true visionary among musicians today, combing the art of classical, modern electronic, jazz, and more. She does it incredibly well without it being a gimmick, and Aviary is a masterclass of work presented by her. Some may say it is too ambitious clocking in at almost an hour and a half, but I say there is not one second I ever thought the album was too long. In Aviary, we get pieces from Holter along all these broad genres - of course combined thoughtfully as well. The album brings feelings of living in another world, almost building from inside a dream state. She brings influence of medieval era atmosphere, along with a Blade Runner-esque dystopia. Vocal layers aren't forgotten as they are just used as another instrument to create a cinematic feel. Holter's voice is reminiscent of a dreamy entity guiding you through trails of life, and thus opening oneself to the many doors of opportunity waiting. Though Aviary also tries to explain on how we can't control everything, and need to focus on the factors we do control instead of letting our minds float off.
After all that experimental music, lets maybe settle for some good old pop music. But Kacey Musgraves is no ordinary pop artists. Sure she has the hooks, easy to relate to lyrics, and sugary vocals, though to say this is another pop country effort would be an understatement. Country music has long prided itself in conservatism, and with Kacey she tackles themes of freedom of choice, and other left leaning ideologies. I'm not much of a person of politics so on with the music, where in Golden Hour you seen Kacey pull from indie rock, folk, and even some spacey/dreamy landscapes. You can get emotional with her through songs like Space Cowboy (which was a wildly dangerous first single to release in country) or you can dance along with songs like High Horse, my favourite pop song of 2018. With each repetitive listen, the album just continues to get better. It has hooks and lines that stay with you like an album such as Rumours. It is also incredibly rare for a pop album to have such depth to the music as well, where each song has its place and doesn't feel like a throwaway ever.
Look at this! I knew I would totally forget about an album I loved to list in my genre specific sections. Low has been around for nearly 30 years, and continue to drop music all the worthwhile to hear. Double Negative is quite the change from any of their other albums. Bringing in a strong electronic sound and moving away from slowcore they are known for. But they are no strangers to experimentation, so this album is pulled off beautifully. The textures within sometimes are abrasive to the point of sounding like a noise record. The vocals are layered as part to connect with the listener a certain feeling of despair, loneliness, and even the feeling of being at the end. Certainly one of the saddest albums lyrical and sonically I've heard this year, but no complaints there as I've always been drawn to more sad music.
A band that got seemingly bigger out of nowhere, due to internet fame among some sites. Hailing from South Korean, little is known about the band. Yet they create gorgeous psych folk that follows old Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear. It has it's pop tendencies, laden with soft folk passages, as well as psych-electronic trippy-ness. Sung entirely in Korean, so I have no idea what they are saying, I can only guess their lyrical themes are similar the bands listed above. A lot of the music has almost this nostalgic feeling in the way it sounds, almost as if it came out during the psych-pop boom of the late 60's. Crumbling brings vivid colours of summer to imagination, such as baby blue, bright yellows, and bright floral patterns as you trip out into your own dreamy paradise.
Another album not in English, but this time around in Spanish (the first of two on this list). I love the flamenco style of guitar music, and Natalia Lafourcade does justice to these classic folk tunes, as well as the new songs she brings to the table. Like a lot of flamenco music, it is easy to start dancing and singing along to (terribly, of course). Lafourcade has been a powerhouse in Mexican music, working on Coco and making some of the most powerful music in the music scene. Her voice is quite angelic, almost as sweetly as somebody singing a lullaby to you. The guitar work from the duo Los Macorinos is incredibly impressive, and as a guitarist I can only wish to have half their talent in flamenco. If you're interested in hearing music from around the world, get out of that bubble and start with this album (or any foreign album on this list for that matter).
My first Canadian band, right? Well I'm not one to just praise musicians because they are from my country, but this album is outstanding. One of the most creative post-punk albums from this year, Ought take a different direction on this album - going for more melody in their music which pays off incredibly well with some dance-y tunes. Every instrument on here is incredible from the heavy bass lines, to intricate drumming patterns, and melodic yet angular guitar work. We get vocals that are melodramatic and this time around continue to make us wonder about the philosophical meaning behind the words given to us. They give us an album full of Gang of Four and early New Order for entirely post-punk chaotic fun.
Here's the second album in Spanish that we also discussed already on the podcast. ROSALIA follows up her classic flamenco debut with a more art pop experience yet not leaving her flamenco traces. She takes the sounds of modern pop, while retaining vocally flamenco style as well as instances of flamenco guitar and handclaps as beats. Speaking of beats, some of the songs on here have interesting production, such as De Aqui No Sales with a motorcycle sample. Each song is entirely unique on its own as well, but staying true to the concept of the album. The concept is going through the stages of a failing relationship near its end. I don't speak Spanish, so only one can assume that is lyrically accurate and I'm sure lots of people can relate to relationships ending anyways. ROSALIA makes this in a fun way though, with most songs being able to throw out at a dance party, and others being emotional ballads to cry along to.
Saba is incredible. One of the highly underrated Chicago MC's, his storytelling throughout CARE FOR ME is comparable to Kendrick Lamar's good kid/maad city. Saba mixes his brand of jazzy hip-hop incredibly well with trap tinged instrumentals. Saba is relentless in expressing his emotion in growing up around ignorance and discovering himself. His songs relate to how sheltered one can be so the world can hit you in the face once you are out there experiencing real life. Now if there is any song you need to hear from this album, or any song this year for that matter, listen to PROM/KING. The song is truly the best in storytelling, bringing out some of the best emotion out of Saba on the album. The beats progression follows the the story accurately, going from quiet and sweet, to wild and high lifestyle. CARE FOR ME is definitely my favourite hip-hop album of the year, if that means anything to people reading this.
Compro is one of the biggest creative efforts from a electronic musician this year. Sounding like classic Aphex Twin, Skee Mask utilizes the subgenres of house, ambient, techno, jungle, and drum n' bass. Now that's a mouthful so that's why electronic musicians just created the pretentious title IDM. Throughout Compro none of these genres feel compromised, and all have their place within the context of the album. The album is unique with each track changing in sound but almost like an evolution from the previous track, so it doesn't sound too out of place. The environment Skee Mask creates is an interesting one, almost as if it feels like a video game playing through these levels but are all vastly different yet it is the same game.
Finally, we reach the last album on this list. None other it is Tim Hecker and his album Konoyo. We also already discussed this one on the podcast but for anyone else out there wondering, Konoyo is an ambient album but Hecker takes influence from the classical Japanese style of gagaku drumming and woodwinds. He creates a soundscape of an isolated planet, almost post-apocalyptic in a world needed to be reborn. Some tracks definitely bring the fear that everything is lost and forever forgotten, such as is a rose petal of the dying crimson light. Tim Hecker has also managed to create something entirely cinematic about the whole experience of Konoyo. It's almost as if you are watching a movie through these highly specific soundscapes he designed, or painting a picture in your mind of this dystopia.
Tropical Fuck Storm - A Laughing Death in Meatspace
Portal - Ion
Randall Dunn - Beloved
Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs
SOPHIE - OIL OF EVERY PEARL'S UN-INSIDES