All these words / are dust within my mind
The last year has been full of new feelings, many not exactly welcome or at least quite confusing. Like I’m going through puberty 20 years late or something. Exhausting, really. Music has been the one constant, and seeing as I added, well, a lot to both my vinyl and Bandcamp collections in 2018, it’s perhaps no surprise that this year I’ve taken a lot of time compiling my Top Albums of 2018 list.
Normally I don’t take much stock in these sorts of lists, other than looking at the lists of a few music sites whose collective opinion I trust and who has previously introduced me to new-to-me favorite artists (Vinyl Factory, for one). But I have to say that I find the collective thing odd – music is such a subjective experience, that what does ranking or having a limited list (e.g., top 10 or 20) mean when a list is compiled by a group of people, each with their own tastes and favorite genres? While looking at a few such lists is likely to introduce me to a lot of artists I haven’t otherwise heard, chances are that I’ll only find one or two things that interest me, with the majority being from genres that I’m not really into. What I’m more interested in is finding the list of a single person who has one or two of the same albums on their list as I do, and then taking the time to check out all of the other albums they have on their list that I don’t know, figuring that if we share a common favorite, they might know of something else I’ll love. That’s where the magic happens.
And so, while this list might be of no particular interest to the majority of people, I hope at least one of you find a new favorite artist/album from this, a list that contains 24 simply because there happened to be 24 I could comfortably call ‘Top’ (i.e., not everything that came out this year from artists I like is on here), an eclectic list of both full-lengths and EPs from all over the map, geographically and genre…-ly. About a third of these 24 are very new-to-me additions, found just within the last month or so via Discogs users’ lists that shared an album or two from my earliest list draft, my Bandcamp feed, or lists from music sites I trust. I’ve included Bandcamp links for instant listening if they exist there, and Discogs links if not. (Edit: Note that this list has changed somewhat drastically after posting, from #7 on, in order and content. It’ll probably continue to change until the end of the year, but go here if you’re interested in the updated list.)
Top Albums of 2018
24. Kælan Mikla, Nótt Eftir Nótt: I had actually already uploaded this post when I first heard this Icelandic synth post-punk album/band, after reading a review on Life in the Vinyl Lane. Holy moly. To be honest, I’m just finishing listening to the final track as I’m typing this, but I’m fairly certain I’ll want to move this album up in rank after another listen or two. Maybe even around up around #10. It’s so, so good.
23. Underworld & Iggy Pop, Teatime Dub Encounters: A 4-song EP, but a solid one. I’ll listen to anything with Mr. Pop in it.
22. Hórmónar, Nanananabúbú: This is the first album to come from this young Icelandic punk/post-punk group, who caught my eye a couple years ago with their self-titled EP. I rarely listen to new punk these days, but I’m always willing to give Icelandic musicians a try, and the energy and raw power of this band is infectious.
21. Aurora, Infections Of A Different Kind (Step 1): One of the greatest experiences of 2018 was seeing Wardruna live. I had tears in my eyes the entire show and could barely breathe, it was so beautiful and overwhelming. I got pretty much the same feelings when I saw a video of Wardruna performing “Helvegen” with a young Norwegian singer called Aurora, who I had never heard of before. Soon after, I saw that Aurora would be playing a show for KEXP’s stage at Iceland Airwaves, so I made sure to tune in. And pretty much with the first note and song (“Churchyard”), watching this show made me cry. A lot. It’s not typically my type of music, being far poppier than my norm, but she was so happy and joyful and, well, Björkish, that it made me feel that way too. And given the aforementioned feeling of feelings, that translated to crying. It happens. As an album, I love Aurora’s first one (All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend) more, but I could listen to “Churchyard” on repeat for hours.
20. Sons Of Kemet, Your Queen Is A Reptile: I literally just added this British jazz group’s album to my list yesterday, after seeing it on a few lists in a row (including Vinyl Factory’s) and checking it out. Upon the first few notes though, I knew this was going to be getting a ton of listens from me in the future (though only digitally – there seems to be a lot of issues with the quality of the vinyl, fyi), and will very likely get moved up in rank. Never knew how much jazz tuba I had been missing. Love the concept too, with the track names naming black women who are actually worthy of a crown as opposed to the Queen herself. And with the cover getting a parental advisory sticker, you might guess that the message here is no joke.
19. Hatis Noit, Illogical Dance: This 4-song EP (well, 3 songs plus a remix) was added to my list upon first listen back in March. Though there’s a subtle hint of ambient, classical, and traditional Japanese music/influence in the background, this is pretty much just experimental vocal music. And Hatis Noit’s voice demands your complete attention.
18. Moby, Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt: As Play has been my favorite Moby album for roughly 18 years, I’ve always taken a listen to his new releases in hopes of a similar follow-up. I think this is probably the closest, with a mix of my other Moby favorites, Wait for Me and Destroyed.
17. Wardruna, Skald: It’s weird to have a Wardruna album this far down on my list, with all 3 of their previous albums on my Desert Island list. But I feel like this isn’t technically Wardruna, and instead is an Einar Selvik acoustic solo project, covering some Wardruna songs. Which obviously is no bad thing – anything Einar touches is gold.
16. mewithoutYou, [untitled] e.p.: This band is one of my oldest favorites, having been at the top of my Top Artists list for about 18 years, no matter what my beliefs or stage in life. This year was huge for mwY fans, as they released a documentary and live album, this 7-song EP, and a full-length (which you might just see below). Vocalist and writer Aaron Weiss forever has my respect for his willingness to question and search and be vulnerable and so incredibly – sometimes shockingly – honest.
15. BCUC, Emakhosini: This South African band’s 2nd album is another very recent addition to my list, courtesy of Vinyl Factory’s list. With the following VF description, it was a no-brainer: “BCUC channel political and social issues into a sound that’s as indebted to NYC post-punk of Sonic Youth or ESG as it is the anti-establishment ferocity of Fela Kuti.” This year I’ve also discovered that I’m super duper into very very long songs, so with this being a 3-song full-length with 2 songs that clock in at over 16 minutes, I’m so there.
14. indi, Precipice: Another recent addition, I believe found via browsing Bandcamp, this is some beautifully chill yet slightly haunting stuff. The mix of ambient and classical might originate from New Zealand, but to me it brings to mind the Icelandic Samaris.
13. Orphaned Land, Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs: I feel like I haven’t given this album enough listens, but Orphaned Land will forever be a favorite of mine. Much respect.
12. Jóhann Jóhannsson, Mandy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack): I’m not sure I’ve ever bought a soundtrack to a movie that I haven’t seen (and don’t plan on seeing), but as soon as I saw Jóhann‘s name attached to the black metal-ish cover for this album, I had to give it a listen, like anything else I can find with his name on it. And it’s truly gorgeous. His death is such a huge loss.
11. Morpholith, Void Emissions: The man has been on a doom/stoner metal kick for the last couple years, something I haven’t quite got since it’s a genre that is often boring and, well, lacking in the vocal and lyric departments. Nonetheless, I’m always on the look out for new-to-him doom/stoner metal bands in case he might like what I pass on. And when this 3-song EP popped up on my Bandcamp feed with the ‘Icelandic’ tag, I had to give it a listen. And well, I fell in love with it before the man could even hear it. What can I say, Iceland gets me.
10. Gyða, Evolution: Iceland Iceland Iceland. Gyða Valtýsdóttir is basically a rock star in her home country, having been part of the scene for ages, and has only recently gone solo. Also check out Gyða’s 1st solo album, Epicycle, which contains a ‘cover’ of a song dating to 100 AD.
9. Ian William Craig, Thresholder: I likely would never have heard of Ian if it wasn’t for the fact that my brother-in-law married his sister, so I’m so glad that marriage happened. Ian’s operatic voice over top of his experimental, uh, stuff, is so addictive. Also check out his live album from last year and his 2016 release, Centres, both on my previous top of the year lists.
8. Park Jiha, Communion: This is another recent addition, courtesy of the Vinyl Factory list, full of glorious unfamiliar (to me) instruments such as the piri (double reed bamboo flute), saenghwang (mouth organ), and yanggeum (hammered dulcimer). While I love Discogs and find that it’s usually extremely helpful in looking up new-to-me bands, it’s been frustrating in trying to look up a few Asian bands* that have, as far as I can tell, absolutely no entries on the site.** Park Jiha is one such example, a Korean artist who was previously in a duo called 숨[suːm] that has left no trace on Discogs. Since this, Park’s first solo album (I think), instantly went on my list upon first listen, I need to find her other work. Need to. If you have any leads on 숨[suːm], please let me know!
7. Jeremy Dutcher, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa: Since this album won this year’s Polaris prize, I’m shocked that I hadn’t heard of it until I saw it on NPR’s list. I’m not sure I can adequately describe how beautiful and important this album is, a post-classical work of art that brings to life 100-year old songs from Jeremy’s ancestors of the Wolastoq First Nation, discovered on wax cylinders that had been stored in a museum. I’ve never heard anything like it.
6. Primordial, Exile Amongst the Ruins: With every listen, I’m blown away with how perfect this album from my favorite Irish band is. Blackish metal at its finest.
5. Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik, Hugsjá: The second collaboration between these two (Ivar of black metal band Enslaved and Einar of Wardruna), I knew since it came out in April that it would be at the top of my list.
4. Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood, With Animals: My feelings about Mark Lanegan’s voice have drastically changed over the last few years. As soon as I found out (a few years ago, via KEXP) that more Layne Staley vocals existed via Mad Season’s one album, I downloaded the deluxe studio and live versions. As I was there solely for Layne though, I have to admit I didn’t, well, appreciate the three bonus tracks of the deluxe version that had only Mark on vocals, going so far as to delete them from my iTunes. What can I say. Fast forward to last year and my submersion into all things Seattle – while Screaming Trees have yet to join my vinyl collection, Mark’s voice started to grow on me. And then, fast forward to our posthumous discovery of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, hearing Mark’s voice at the beginning of each episode has become a lovely, calming, looked-forward-to thing. And so, when I heard about this album, I gave it a whirl. And then immediately ordered the vinyl. And now listen to it all the time. It’s dark, moody, minimal, and gorgeous. Mark’s voice has never sounded better to me. And those Mad Season tracks? Re-downloaded.
3. Anna von Hausswolff, Dead Magic: This absolute gem was found via browsing Discogs users’ lists that shared other albums from my own list. It showed up on a few lists in a row, so I figured I had to check it out. You know when you first hear music that you know will thereafter be a key part of your life’s soundtrack? Yeah, this. Anna’s previous album in particular, The Miraculous, has gone directly onto my Top Ever list. When I first heard these two albums, I just sat there on the couch, headphones in, listening to them over and over, trying to figure out what exactly I was listening to. I still don’t know. Discogs has it labelled as ‘progressive metal’ and ‘doom metal’, but those labels don’t seem correct at all. Gothic something, prog-y probably. If you need more reasons before pressing the play button, then listen to Iggy Pop’s BBC Radio 6 show from November 30th – he absolutely and rightly gushes about this Swedish genius.
2. mewithoutYou, [untitled]: As said above for the EP mwY released this year, this band is one of my oldest favorites. While I’ve loved every single album, it’s somehow always shocking that they keep up this level of genius. Aside from #1 on my list, this is my most-played album of the year, even though it came out just in October.
1. YOB, Our Raw Heart: Holy forking shirt balls. YOB has been around for 20 years, and yet I only first heard them this June. Well, actually, at some point last year, I had passed their name onto my man in a list of doom/stoner metal bands I had heard were supposedly good that he might want to check out, but that I’d likely hate and so wouldn’t bother with myself because of the aforementioned stuff that keeps me from ‘getting’ doom/stoner metal, particularly the genre’s penchant for crappy vocals and lame lyrics.*** I have zero memory of listening to YOB at that point, and as far as he remembers, they didn’t interest him, at the time at least. Fast forward to May, just before the release of Our Raw Heart, and my email conversation with my man:
Him: New YOB is streaming on NPR. I know you don’t care and you’d probably hate them, but it has totally improved my day.
Me: Don’t know who that is but i’m happy for you 🙂
Him: Trust me you’d hate them.
Me [after listening to stream]: Don’t totally hate it cuz the vocals don’t all suck, at least the one guy doesn’t (there’s 2 vocalists, right? Or does he just do 2 diff styles of singing?)
Him: It’s actually 1 guy with 2 styles of singing. It’s only a trio. A surprisingly heavy sound for a trio.
Me: Oh really, that’s surprising
Oh really, me. It’s been YOB basically non-stop in our house since then. Our Raw Heart was the soundtrack to our epic 2-week hiking and camping trip this summer, played twice in a row on the stressful drive to the trailhead of an epic backcountry hike that we had no confidence in ourselves about, over and over in our heads as we were somehow able to get up and walk for miles and miles in the blazing sun day after day, and then back in our surprisingly non-broken into car when we emerged virtually unscathed from the bush, tying everything into a very content, achievement unlocked, let’s-live-in-the-mountains-forever bow. It then became the soundtrack to the wave of depression that hit after the high of that trip settled and life kicked back in. And, then slowly, particularly over the last couple of months, I’ve fallen in love with pretty much everything in the YOB catalogue. The often 15+ minute tracks, lengthened by slow, repetitive, brilliant guitar work, perfectly placed chugg chuggs, and Mike Scheidt’s compelling lyrics and gripping vocals (in, yes, two ‘diff styles’), each take you on a contemplative, all-encompassing, uplifting, and just flat out gorgeous journey, and each album rewards you with every single listen, the last side typically ending with such a mind-blowing song that you have to put the needle back to its beginning for oh just one more listen. While Our Raw Heart is arguably YOB’s masterpiece, making the top of many many lists (including Rolling Stone’s) – and the album’s “Beauty in Falling Leaves” is one of my favorite songs ever – I’m currently obsessed with the previous album, Clearing the Path to Ascend, which ends with the song that really made me give YOB a chance, “Marrow”. In the above riveting email exchange, my man’s response to my ‘oh really’ comment was this, re: the founder/singer Mike Scheidt:
Him: If you’re actually interested, he’s an interesting guy. Basically a hippy metalhead (covered in tattoos) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BjYpFaJh2c
Yes, I am actually interested. Because that it basically us. I totally, completely get it, and don’t know where YOB has been these last 20 years. I feel like I haven’t fallen this hard for a band in quite some time. Probably since Mad Season, but thankfully here I have more than one album to obsess over. I truly think YOB is largely to thank for getting me through the last 6 months. And for making me look forward to the next year, in hopes of actually seeing YOB play live. If you’re interested in the least and are new to YOB, at least start with the above video. And then work your way through the albums on Bandcamp (here, here, and here). I highly recommend turning up these albums as loud as you can, to literally feel it, in your head, in your guts, everything. Because these feelings are very, very welcome. And, as they say, YOB is love.
Title quote: “Marrow“, from Clearing the Path to Ascend****
*Aside from 숨[suːm], the other Asian band I have had no luck in looking up on Discogs is an all-female Japanese metal band called Valkylie, and their demo called Lamia Shock! I believe the spelling of their name changed at some point and they might still exist in some form. I think the demo was released only on cassette, but I’d love a digital copy if at all possible – let me know if you can help!
**I should say that the same frustration goes for Icelandic bands. I’ve created Discogs entries for Icelandic bands/albums this year after finding nothing, including Hórmónar (on this list), and have beefed up a couple other entries (e.g., Jóhann Jóhannsson‘s Daisy Hill Puppy Farm) that were lacking some key details. I’d do more (e.g., the entry for Gyða’s Evolution is only for the CD, with no entry for the LP), but I’m only one person.
***I’m particularly thinking of Sleep here. I just don’t get it, particularly with Sleep’s The Sciences making most people’s lists this year, my man’s included, probably even Henry Rollins’. I’ve been told that it makes no sense for me to like YOB if I don’t like Sleep, but I really don’t see any similarities.
****Starting from this post, I will now be switching from taking my post titles from Bowie lyrics to YOB lyrics. Yeah, this is a big deal.