50. Cursive – Vitriola
It’s probably been since 2006’s The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me since I’ve heard a band this accurately summarize a total loss of hope and innocence. The overarching theme damns both politics and society, deeming both “fucked” as guitar chords slash away at listeners’ optimism for the better part of forty-five minutes. Tim Kasher laments the abuse of power and financial wealth (“The one percent live in high rises, they block out the sun”), a self-prioritizing civilization (“Society has got a heinous case of crabs, everybody’s got an itch to scratch”), and endless blame (“Rampant politicizing, this constant finger wagging”) – occasionally wrapping it all up into plainly stated disgust, as he does on “Ghost Writer” when he resigns his outlook to a bleak “This world has never felt less inviting to me.” The culmination of this miserable album is a seven minute all-damning epic, in which Kasher lists a series of things that used to give him hope, then swats down each one with a reason why it is corrupted. Vitriola is a shattering and sadly all-too-truthful narrative. –Sowing
49. Voivod – The Wake
What’s happened with Voivod during the last 5-6 years is nothing short of fantastic. The appreciation coming from every corner of the metal universe for their contribution to rock and metal, regardless of genre, is ever-increasing, and perhaps long overdue. The release of Target Earth five years ago, aside from extending the band’s legacy in a different light, also cemented the pledge given in their Post Society EP: that the band could go on composing and recording new music with appreciable replay value. Picking up the baton and somewhat in contrast to its immediate predecessor, The Wake feels like an aptly produced retrospective adorned with little novelty (the classic music elements), in which Voivod’s guises (save the noise/industrial periods) were collaged in a full-length release. While it does not rival any of its preceding parent releases, Voivod’s 14th album is nevertheless an engaging listening experience. –Voivod
48. Neko Case – Hell-On
On Hell-On, Neko Case, ever the storyteller, cautions us – “nothing quite so poison as a promise.” There are expectations that folks will have – about art, about music, about the way the world works, about women and men — and Case seizes yet another opportunity to deconstruct the foundational assumptions underlying these expectations. “You see, our poets / do an odious business / loving womankind / as lions love Christians / who are you to deny?”
True to Case’s form, her seventh record is equal parts sweet and biting, lush with metaphors and collaborations (Laura Veirs, A.C. Newman, Eric Bachmann, Mark Lanegan), and oozing authenticity. Tell me you don’t feel the longing on “Oracle of the Maritime” or the wistful reflection on “Curse of the I-5 Corridor”. Hell-On is another stellar entry into what may be a generational discography, and one cannot help but be floored by Case’s continual mastery of lyrical and musical expression. Another happy new year my dude. –theacademy
47. Horrendous – Idol
When we talk about Death’s ‘final four’, we talk about increasingly complex songwriting. We talk about a growing progressive sound. But most of all, we talk about how incredibly solid those last few albums were — laying the groundwork for the next decade of death metal. With Idol, we’ll need to start having the same conversations when talking about Horrendous. With that in mind, Idol parallels The Sound of Perseverance — Chuck’s final masterwork. It’s the band’s most forward-thinking album yet, bringing their signature old-school style to modernity. Cynic-like guitar tones, a polished production, and more melodic elements add layers without the heavy-handedness. The Philly natives are geniuses of the genre, and like Death, are the death metal band by which all others should be judged. –Eli K.
46. The Body – I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer.
I offered to write about I Have Fought Against It… even though I knew there’d be no practical way for me to do so. I don’t want to be the guy who fakes out on his readers with the whole “How do you begin to talk about this album?” shtick, but… yep, what would be left of it, if I explained it? As The Body splice and dice their older recordings into a miserable collation of dance doom voids, they create something even further away from us — no better at relating to their world, no better off living in it. It’s little more than an addendum to their previous material, and yet that feels like the very reason it’s their most vital record: by processing and sampling their old work, the traumas that have plagued them remain — mapped onto new dissonances — as if to say, “This does not go away. This is life. And this is the peak.” Another quick cliche, because it feels way worse leaving it unsaid: I Have Fought Against It… is not an easy listen. –robin
45. Yves Tumor – Safe in the Hands of Love
Passionate and ominous in equal measure, Safe in the Hands of Love wields a cornucopia of grim samples, propulsive drum patterns, and negative space in order to generate a genuinely unsettling display of what the artist calls, simply, “moods”. “Moods” as opposed to “songs”, the idea is, but what really resonates on Safe is the admixture of tones that render every song a gem of ambiguity. DJ Shadow performed a similar alchemy on 1996’s Endtroducing…, employing samples not to enhance a particular state of mind, but to compel distinct sonic elements toward a perpendicular arrangement in terms of the affect they produce — most often but not always involving percussion that draws us forth layered atop dank melodies that freeze us in place. Burrowing a bit more ardently than his predecessors into the swirling hydra of love and its effects, Yves Tumor ends up with a compelling documentary of the vacillations of an uneasy soul. –Alex Robertson
44. Ghost (SWE) – Prequelle
I assume that, for most fans of the band, this is generally — in the words of Shakespeare — that time of year when thou mayst behold dated Tim Allen movies while snuggling into a comfy armchair and letting Meliora spin in the background. That particular album, however, represents the Ghost of Christmas past. It’s 2018, year of the dog; the people need a fresh holiday ritual (and a few friends couldn’t hurt). Answering our anti-prayers, Tobias Forge and his group of nameless lawyers bequeathed to us a shiny new offering in the form of Prequelle – an incredibly catchy, melody-laden, sing-a-long Ghost album with all the ghoulish flavours you’ve come to love and none of the original supporting members. Facetiousness aside, no doubt it’s been a trying and tumultuous period behind the scenes for Ghost, yet the music has remained exceptional. The tongue-in-cheek satanic lore has also kept apace, as bits and pieces of Prequelle were teased prior to release, with narrative driving clips giving way to energetic singles such as “Rats” and “Dance Macabre”, accompanied by equally compelling music videos. Ghost have certainly delivered one of the most enjoyable albums of the year on this outing and, as usual, I’m already anticipating the next one. –Scuro
43. ITEM – Sad Light
I have a confession to make: I don’t think I know what ‘slowcore’ really means. I’ve heard this album labelled as such, and if I hear it again, I’ll probably react the way a black metal purist does when Deafheaven is brought up in The Discourse. Sad Light sounds more energized than what I understand of the style – take the tremolo picking in “Magnesium” and the enthusiastic cowbelling in “Horse Pill” – elements that restructure the early 2000s indie rock aesthetic into something more urgent and self-assured. The record is galvanized by a nervous energy that similar albums (read: Horse Jumper of Love, Stratosphere) noticeably lack. It also sounds like The Meadowlands, so, yeah: your move, sputnik. –verdant
(tie) 41. Winterfylleth – The Hallowing of Heirdom
It’s funny to think of Winterfylleth’s pre-2018 material as a waste of time, but that’s pretty much where we’re at. Despite a lengthy stint as a forever excellent-but-not-masterful folky black metal outfit, it’s a late stage Kveldssanger-style Ulver shift in The Hallowing of Heirdom that finally makes Winterfylleth a group to pay close attention to. Whereas Ulver’s black metal-gone-folk change of pace takes on a primal energy, Winterfylleth adopt a cinematic approach. It’s still got the appropriate archaic European vibe, but it’s channeled through a lens of sweeping orchestral instruments that lend the modest guitarwork a rare grandeur. It is an album that is melancholic, but not dreary. Hopeful tones dance on the edges of even the saddest tracks, keeping the aural palette on display from losing itself in only one emotion. It can be at times relaxing, pensive, or stirring, but at no point does The Hallowing of Heirdom become lost in some bygone age. In a backhanded sort of way, it’s the highest compliment to say Winterfylleth might have been wasting their time on conventional black metal when they could have been doing this for the last odd decade instead. –Gameofmetal
(tie) 41. Judas Priest – Firepower
It has become painfully obvious that those of us who didn’t have the chance to experience the birth of the forefathers of heavy metal will, sooner than later, have to bid them farewell. Having defined metal both in terms of image as well as sound, Judas Priest are one of the last bands out there that has produced larger than life heavy music. From leather outfits and motorcycles to trademark vocals and guitars, the Metal Gods have written the metal playbook, and yet I dared to be skeptical towards their latest offering upon its announcement. Boy, was I wrong, because all things considered, Firepower is nothing short of a triumph. With a much-improved production than its predecessor and inspired songwriting, Priest’s 18th LP contains generous doses of fist-pumping, balls-out metal. From the amazing “Rising from Ruins” to “Spectre” and the anthemic “Never the Heroes”, Judas Priest deliver the goods. I don’t know what the future holds for the British legends, but if Firepower is their swansong, it sure is a great way to say goodbye to their fans. –manosg
40. Grouper – Grid of Points
Grid of Points has an elusive quality to it, but it’s also one of the most potent and reflective albums in Grouper’s catalogue. It’s during moments of complete serenity – indecipherable words escaping Liz Harris’ mouth in a gentle hum – that the album reaches its full potential. I don’t know what she’s singing about throughout “Blouse”, but I don’t have to. The imagery she creates with her voice alone is powerful and impenetrable, always enough to keep your mind racing. Perhaps her demeanor says more than lyrics ever could. Even at a mere 22 minutes, Grid of Points proves its worth as a full length, as well as its placement on any best year-end music consensus list on the internet. The gentle soundscapes and hushed pianos throughout intoxicate the senses, but never overstay their welcome. Grouper’s music has always been ideal for an escape, but it’s rarely sounded as refined – or gone down as smoothly – as it does here. –Atari
39. The Wonder Years – Sister Cities
The Wonder Years are at their best when they let naturalism take over. Sister Cities sees them take the successes of the highly underrated No Closer to Heaven and push the envelope further, mixing their gene pool with influences from post-rock and ambient without sounding like anything other than their distinct, brutally honest selves. The most important part of Sister Cities is hidden halfway through, in a song that’s easily dwarfed by the likes of “Raining in Kyoto” and “The Ocean Grew Hands to Hold Me.” “I saw you last night in my dream”, Soupy repeats for a third time, grit starting to raise his voice into that iconic lung-splitting yell, drums triplicating and music rising behind him. But for once The Wonder Years aren’t interested in crescendo, and “Flowers Where Your Face Should Be” just dies back down into a naturalist intimacy that cuts: “I’m gonna marry you underneath driftwood from Crescent City.” Soupy really did marry his partner under driftwood, hydrangeas and azaleas hanging from the arch. It’s the way he can confess these insanely personal details to us without them initially seeming more than beautiful poetry that marks Dan Campbell as one of pop-punk’s most talented working songwriters, and The Wonder Years as the perfect airtight unit to bring his bruised and broken imagery to gripping life. –Rowan
(tie) 37. Anna von Hausswolff – Dead Magic
Dead Magic is an album that walks the finest line between pretension and transcendence, a gothic cathedral of atmosphere and organs in constant threat of collapsing into signifiers and tropes, culled from doom metal and post-rock and fastened together with a medieval hauberk. Yet it is ultimately a delicate thing of balance and reverence, with Anna Von Hausswolff’s scene-stealing voice at its center, a reprieve of focus when the maelstrom kicks up a fury and we are left to its sinister devices. –Lewis P.
(tie) 37. The Republic of Wolves – shrine
Now three albums into their career, The Republic of Wolves remain one of the best kept secrets in indie-rock. This is a band that had the (mis?)fortune of evolving under the much larger shadow of Brand New, when tracks from their 2009 debut EP were erroneously leaked as Daisy demos. They’ve come a long way since then, developing their production from the endearingly raw fuzz of Varuna whilst growing into even more talented musicians. This has never been more clearly displayed than on shrine, where the drumming alone is capable of instilling dark, chilling atmospheres and lengthy guitar solos course through the record’s peaks and valleys like long, winding rivers. When you factor in the duality of the sensitive croons/blood-curdling screams, shrine creates a realm separate from our own: one that’s intensely dark and mysterious, but also beautiful. –Sowing
36. Mitski – Be the Cowboy
Mitski Miyawaki’s fifth full-length is a contradictory one. “Nobody”, a bubbly Studio 54 retrofit, starts off with a lament – “My God, I’m so lonely” – and only gets more desperate from there. Elsewhere, Mitski is alternatively terrified of being forgotten – “After all that I can do for them is done / I need someone to remember me” – and, on the shattered “Pink in the Night”, spurned and needy: “I know I’ve kissed you before / but I didn’t do it right. Can I try again?” But that Mitski is a far cry from the emotional thunderhead that confidently bursts through on “Geyser”, or the old-fashioned, well-worn lover of “Me and My Husband”. Be the Cowboy posits that every person taking charge, stepping up to be “the man”, has some sort of duality in them. There’s the innate need for human connection on the one hand (so often thwarted here), and, on the other, a live-saving recognition that loneliness has its own rewards.
The music is similarly conflicted: at 14 songs, the majority under two-and-a-half minutes, Be the Cowboy flits between styles and tempos with equal parts ease and indecision. This decision is a feature rather than a bug, an oddly effective design choice that allows Mitski to delve into disparate genre niches like mid-’00s dance, gothic chamber pop, and alt-country without becoming beholden to any one. The singular presence at the record’s core, however, and what prevents Be the Cowboy from sounding like a singer-songwriter pupu platter or just a contrived show-off, is Mitski herself: that singular voice, and her natural affinity for tone and mood. Here, she is alternatively raw and funny, crushingly sincere and viciously bitter. These micro melodies work in her favor: she makes her points, with equal parts poise and venom, and then she moves on to the next. It’s gorgeously muscular, confident songwriting: the ability to know just what you want to say, and doing just that. –klap
35. DJ Healer – Nothing 2 Loose
Nothing 2 Loose is an album that will get away from you on paper. DJ Healer (a new moniker for the anonymous artist f.k.a. DJ Metatron, Prince of Denmark, Traumprinz) takes some of the simplest designs in house music and imbues them with a stunning, almost overwhelming spirituality. To describe its effect is to regale a dream: an imprecise account of some grand scheme more potent than our abilities to articulate it, which will seem vague and improbable to anyone else. This vinyl-only release will test your search engine ingenuity, but the reward for your effort is one of the purest, most masterful soundscapes released this decade. I dare not oversell it. –Lewis P.
34. Dance Gavin Dance – Artificial Selection
Another year, another Sputnik Staff best-of list, and another placement from the now unambiguously quintessential American rock band Dance Gavin Dance. Artificial Selection marked the third consecutive release with the same lineup, and the fourth release in the Tilian-era (which set the Floridian high-note maestro in a class all his own among DGD vocalists). I’ve always sorta believed that the band’s frenetic sound encapsulated all the tumult surrounding its lineup, but Artificial Selection was clearly put together by a band that was feeling itself. Flexing on us, even.
In what was revealed to have come together as a collection of Will Swan’s passed-on attempts to write a standalone single (with the winner ending up as the delightful one-off “Summertime Gladness”), Artificial Selection graciously eschews the composition angle I would normally have to write about and instead permits me to revel in band’s least-composed record to date. From the unapologetically saccharine “Care” to the biting “Bloodsucker” to the positively anthemic “Suspended in this Disaster” — and all the way back to the band’s Anthology moment on “Evaporate” — never has the band’s scatter-brained approach come off so well. It’s inconsistency as a feature, not a bug. –theacademy
33. Slugdge – Esoteric Malacology
Coming in at no.1 on my gastropodium is Esoteric Malacology – a record with a concept which so obviously, so deliberately belies the technicality and heaviness on display across the board. Slugdge are the most effective piss-take because this stuff is, unironically, wildly impressive and inventive death metal that just happens to dissect the inherent absurdity in a genre that often gets lost in violent fantasies and aimless instrumental gymnastics.
I think “Crop Killer”, one of my songs of the year, is a pertinent example; the cascading bass/guitar trade-off that hooks us in is one that grounds the song in a groove that persists – in one manifestation or another – for the whole track. It provides a through-line that shapes this sordid symphony as a relentless march into some kind of post-apocalypse where invertebrates retain the only sliver of sovereignty that can possibly be claimed in the wreckage of society’s downfall. And despite Slugdge’s declaration of subservience to our mollusc overlords, Esoteric Malacology‘s brand of death metal is anything but sluggish. Thanks. –verdant
32. Lucy Dacus – Historian
Historian was 2018’s most surreptitious grower, an album full of songs that kept worming their way into my head even as I tried to convince myself that the record was merely an average indie affair. Eventually, I realized that my fellow Virginian Dacus had taken that “average indie” facade and done something truly special with it. Her voice always starts low but then blossoms into a fullness rife with power. The guitar often starts with clean-toned picking but then explodes into fuzzed-out rock bliss. What kept me going through the days before the album grew on me were Dacus’ lyrics, which are clever, personal, and poetic. “I’ll be your historian, and you’ll be mine,” she sings, convincing me that I was a fool to think that this was by-the-numbers indie. –Channing Freeman
31. Night Verses – From the Gallery of Sleep
From the Gallery of Sleep shows no upper limit of technical capability from the onset of the breakbeat drumming and tripped-up tapping of opener “Copper Wasp”, but where Night Verses differentiate themselves on Gallery is in tastefulness. Rather than beating every last ringing 128th note out of their instruments, they take the dynamic approach to develop lush dreamscapes that vary from vibrant, vast, and almost cozy to nightmarish and furious, punctuating them with a technicality and variety that brings them to life in extraordinary detail without ever transforming them into a caricature or falling into the common post-rock faux-pas of dulling their sound with overly drawn-out repetition. –Thompson Gerhart