Best Albums of 2018

Blac Kolor

Blac Kolor - Awakenings (Hands Productions)
Like metal, it takes a bit of digging to find buried treasure in a music genre that’s as formulaic and derivative as industrial music in 2018. So when something interesting finally rises above the mediocre glut of Skinny Puppy and Nine Inch Nails replicas, it’s time to open up your fleshy ear holes and let some sublime synthetic sounds drill their way straight into your psyche. After the solid 24U Vols. 1-3 digital singles in 2017, Germany’s finest dark ambient/industrial/techno DJ producer Hendrick Grothe assembles a thoroughly engaging listen with Awakenings that keeps an oppressive beat woven through waves of deep atmosphere texture. Sample the title track if you’re skeptical, as it literally connects that best elements of prime ’80s industrial music to a contemporary space, featuring grunting guest vocals by Front 242′s Jean-Luke De Meyer over a thunderously unrelenting pulse. You hear people complain about electronic music having no soul, but I’d argue that there’s soul at work here — just a really dark and fascinating form of it.

Listen to Awakenings on Spotify

 

Bummer

Bummer - Holy Terror (High Dive/Learning Curve)
Kansas City’s noise rock kings have been building their aural assault arsenal over the last 5 years, fine-tuning their high-velocity, gut-punching riffs with relentless, scientifically-engineered doses of volume and aggression. Holy Terror follows the cumulative trajectory of The Stooges through Black Flag through Unsane on the endless quest to perfect the most explosive riffs possible, crackling new life into an ugly form of rock that has long been plagued by half-assery and imitation.

Listen to Holy Terror on Bandcamp

 

Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt

Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt - Brace Up! (Palilalia)
The cover photo on Brace Up! perfectly captures the crackling electric energy of this duo, whose telekinetically improvised guitar and drum explorations/explosions burn a 10,000MHz bolt of punk jazz straight through your liquified skull. Being familiar with Orcutt’s solo guitar work and the infamous Harry Pussy discography, which still manages to baffle after 25 years (!), it’s great to see that his high-voltage angle on guitar abuse has continued to mutate into wild new forms. Being unfamiliar with Chris Corsano, a quick Discogs search yields a slew of records due for investigation that feature his drumming talents, which on this album absolutely throw a spastic fireball right through all 12 tracks here, sounding something like Weasel Walter’s drum tracks being spliced and reassembled in a blender. Brace Up! is one of those records that exists well outside the margins of any particular genre yet connected to a handful just enough to not be ignored.

Listen to Brace Up! on Bandcamp

 

Constant Mongrel

Constant Mongrel - Living in Excellence (La Vida Es Un Mus)
The steady flow of killer slabs-0-vinyl coming out of Melbourne in the last few years shows no sign of waning, as The Shifters, Terry and the contagious spawn of related bands continues to hurl killer shit into the northern hemisphere to make the US/UK mass of musical mediocrity painfully apparent.  Constant Mongrel tread in similar sonic ground as Ozzie heavyweights Eddy Current Suppression Ring (whose Mikey Young mastered this excellent LP) but with a bit more snarl and swagger (and sax!), sounding something like Total Control covering a warped Dangerhouse 45 for an Adolescents tribute show. Living in Excellence offers instant hooks to pull you right into their universe, as well as unexpected flourishes executed to perfection to keep it interesting for years to come. A classic in the making.

Listen to Living in Excellence on Bandcamp

 

Pig Destroyer

Pig Destroyer Head Cage (Relapse)
It’d be hard to imagine spinning Pig Destroyer’s debut release, a split 7″ with Virginia screamos Orchid, way back in 1998 and see the progression the band would make from a standard-issue 3-piece to its current 5-piece lineup and the boundaries they’d breach within the genre’s perceived limitations. Like the Rush of grindcore (OK, with 5 now instead of 3) each player not only brings technical prowess and skill to the table, but a unique way of bringing it all together into something much more compelling than a bunch of showboat exercises in musical endurance. From J.R. Hayes’ and Blake Harrison’s vocal noise venom to John and Adam Jarvis’ full throttled, precision-tooled rhythm section and mastermind Scott Hull’s monsterous guitar tone, Head Cage covers more than the recommended daily requirement of heavy chug and blazing grind in a single 30 minute dose.

Listen to Head Cage on Bandcamp

 

Priors

Priors - New Pleasure (Slovenly)
Thanks for Slovenly for introducing Montreal’s Priors to the world with this blazing slab of highly concentrated, primitive garage punk. Despite the riffs being brutally efficient and unadorned, there’s a level of songwriting skill here that makes the most of these basic tools, providing a much more flavorful set of songs than your typical 1-2-3-GO punk. There’s some great synth accents sprinkled in, but it’s used to focus the songs and hardly the ordinary rally cry of a Screamers-worshipping band trying to be all synthpunk and new wavy in an ironically unironic way. It’s crafted perfectly for the vinyl format too as each side begins with a lightweight synthy intro track (“Life Pt. 1″ on side A and “Life Pt. 2″ on Side B) that gives way to an ass-smoking set of ripping punk rock. Bravo to Priors for becoming one of the best newcomers of 2018. It’s truly been a New Pleasure.

Listen to New Pleasures on Bandcamp

 

Sauna Youth

Sauna Youth - Deaths (Upset! The Rhythm)
If I weren’t so fickle, I’d probably declare this the best album of 2018, but I’m reluctant to declare anything yet despite my ongoing infatuation with this record. I remember hearing the first track “Percentages” for the first time, totally being pulled in and surprised to learn that it was Sauna Youth whom I’ve always dismissed as a bit of a novelty due to their moniker. After digging further into the album, each song, like effortless angular riff chopping of “In Flux” and the breakneck track “Problems” bolstered my respect for London’s most deadly trio. Taking the sharpest stomp of The Ex and somehow mutilating their skronk into something almost as catchy and memorable as the finest grade garage punk without losing any of the sting makes every track compelling and memorable. Even the spoken word piece “Swerve” is a dazzling example of their brilliance, pulling you into a nearly-lucid headspace while mangling our shared reality into something new and uncomfortable — and captivating. Long live Deaths.

Listen to Deaths on Bandcamp

 

The Shifters

The Shifters - Have a Cunning Plan (Trouble in Mind)
The Shifters join Constant Mongrel and barely edge out Terry’s also excellent I’m Terry to represent Melbourne’s next-level scene because Have a Cunning Plan proved to keep permanent residence on the NFZ turntable with 10-tracks of brilliant, ambling post punk that almost fills the void left by The Fall’s Mark E. Smith’s passing in January 2018. While less ragtag than their supreme demo and 7-inches, the cleaner production doesn’t smooth over this quartet’s scrappy charm and musical personality.

Listen to Have a Cunning Plan on Bandcamp

 

Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats

Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats - Wasteland - (Rise)
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats is one of those bands that took a while to pull me in since the world truly doesn’t need another Sabbath-inspired doom metal band, unless, of course, it can be done this well. Ever since The Night Creeper made a convert out of me, I haven’t been able to get enough of Cambridge’s finest doom riders and their latest LP once again delivers the goods. A written explanation of what Wasteland and Uncle Acid’s previous records sound like can’t really explain how they’re so much more effective than the hundreds of thousands of bands that cover the same territory, but you might start with Kevin Starrs’ otherworldly vocal style and guitar work that gives the music a sinister edge that no other band, save Black Sabbath, has been able to achieve.

Listen to Wasteland on Spotify

 

Warm Drag

Warm Drag - Warm Drag (In The Red)
Being a fan of Paul Quattrone since his Pittsburgh days drumming in fantastic groups like Rot Shit, The Modey Lemon and Midnite Snake, it’s been great to see him become part of the latest version of the Oh Sees as well as engineering whatever genre-defying musical realm Warm Drag exists in. His talents beyond the drum seat are apparent here as he and Vashti Windish of Golden Triangle and The K-Holes conjure up loads of atmosphere that sounds something like Portishead and Tricky playing Suicide covers with Dick Dale in an impenetrable fog of bong smoke. Song titles like “Cave Crawl”, “Cruisin’ the Night”, and “Parasite Wreckage Dub” set the tone for the echoey headtrip Warm Drag charts out in ten smooth steps, along with spot-on production by Spacemen 3′s Sonic Boom. Without question the coolest album of 2018.

Listen to Warm Drag on Spotify

 

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