50. Horrendous – Idol
Horrendous’ ascension from rabid Swede-worshiping youngsters to trailblazing veterans has been one of the most compelling arcs to witness in all of death metal history. The way these four Philly natives have progressed over the last six years has been nothing short of awe-inspiring, and their latest offering, Idol, stands a monolith of modern death metal, an album by which all others should be measured. It will make you believe in the magic of metal again; bursting with youthful exuberance and a brash sense of adventure, yet maintaining a vice grip on classic death metal songwriting. Idol has the feeling of exploring the unknown while simultaneously holding true to the tenets of the genre. What really sells the album though is the apparent ease Horrendous manage to weave together these disparities. Whether in the epic “Golgothan Tongues”, which sees a transcendent combination of melody and groove, or “Devotion (Blood For Ink)”, which marries the group’s most progressive and guttural intentions, there isn’t a moment on Idol where Horrendous feel like they aren’t in total control of their forward-thinking death metal assault. Pushing the boundaries has become so inherent to what they do that each song finds new ways to express their ambitious craft. It’s this aptitude that has elevated them to the status of extreme metal gods, and why in 2018 the whole of the underground has bent a knee to worship at the foot of Idol. –TheSpirit
49. Julia Holter – Aviary
I think SowingSeason put it best when he wrote, “It should be taken in reflexively; absorbed through your senses instinctually rather than actively dissected as a traditional set of songs.” While Have You in My Wilderness could be enjoyed purely as a collection of individually enticing compositions, Aviary is a much more proactive experience; you take the blows of unhampered creativity as they come. Aviary is an album that happens to you. Holter’s way of depicting memory and everything that comes with it, while extraordinarily meticulous, is simultaneously (and maybe more importantly) constantly moving. The flow-on structures and constantly evolving timbres never settle. I’ve found over time I don’t really remember specific passages within this record as much as I do the feelings and images I’ve inadvertently assigned to songs or moments. The near-terrifying levels of elation as she cries out “so bright” in “Turn the Light On”, an increasingly neon glow from a mechanized desert landscape in “Voce Simul”, toy boxes and toy soldiers applying their sunscreen in “Whether”, “Les Jeux to You” and its hollow, frost-tipped mountains leading into something a little too insane to think about for long; the entirety of “Words I Heard”, and how it reminds me of everything I want it to remind me of — and everything I really don’t. Her dives into bombastic cities and a more personal wilderness have been sobering, but finding myself alongside her in this “aviary of shrieking birds” has me persistently enraptured, for better or for worse. –ramon.
48. Haken – Vector
Haken have lived off their quick rise to fame, and Vector itself builds on the momentum of past releases. It’s less about what direction the band will take moving forward, but rather a focus on the ever-consistent rise in quality shown by this modern day progressive powerhouse. As hard as it is to believe that Haken themselves were in a slump of sorts, it seems Vector has not only been the album they needed, but also the album fans wanted to hear. It’s not The Mountain Part II as many would have hoped, but a natural and fluid progression into the realms of continuous greatness, ready to grace our earbuds for years to come. –Nocte
47. KEN Mode – Loved
I have been trying to get into KEN Mode for years now, and Loved is the record I always wanted from them. The vocals are piercingly sardonic (see: the refrain of “I’ll be here flexing / Wanna feel like a man?” from “Very Small Men”), the guitars are a murky maelstrom of fuzzed out chugs, the bass sounds as taut and close to breaking as Jesse Matthewson’s ramblings, and the drums thunder along like a drunk dad storming through the Canadian snow. In short, I’m glad I got the metallic-hardcore-cum-noise-rock melting pot that I’ve desired ever since the face that adorns this cover first leered at me in feverish dreams. –Mort.
46. Tropical Fuck Storm – A Laughing Death in Meatspace
Vim, Vigour, Viagra; an album whose ethos comes uncomfortably close to being encapsulated by the dreadful lyric “All this scot-free moralising’s got me quite demoralised” and whose self-importance occasionally veers on the excruciating (to wit: the “meatspace” of the title refers to impending apocalypse). How, exactly, are you going to proselytise, propogandise, to the already converted? Simple. Beef up that willy and undercut your own pomposity by offering the kind of balls-dangling fun the band name promises, less because of the two members of that Australian band everyone drones on about whose name I can’t recall at this juncture but because of the drumming of Laurel Hammel, of High Tension fame, often completely at odds with what the rest of the band are deciding to do, and Erica Dunn’s knack for alchemising cloying guitar lines into invigorating ones. There’s tedious polemic and jeremiads to wade through, sure, but since when have they been rendered so joyously self-effacing and — heaven forfend — fun? As Gareth Liddiard himself intones, “They were such a bunch of losers / anchored only to each other / on a sea of Vodka Cruisers.” Sure doomsday is around the corner, but the bar is open — and there’s a tab. Make the most of it. –WinesburgOhio
45. Mitski – Be the Cowboy
On the one hand, Be the Cowboy‘s overwhelmingly positive critical appraisal has been, to some extent, perplexing. Or, as Lucid so eloquently put it, a tad bit of an over-correction: as though “critics felt the reception to [Puberty 2, Mitski’s dynamic 2016 release] wasn’t rapturous enough,” and so, as a means of amendment, decided to heap praise onto “the far less good follow-up.” Brutal, but fair. After all, backlash to the album being crowned Pitchfork’s Best of 2018 was more than tangible on Sput. For good reason, perhaps. For some, the album is a mishmash of half-baked ideas disguising itself as something more. Despite this, the album managed to edge its way — just — onto the Users’ List. Because for others, Be the Cowboy is a profoundly deliberate wonder of a project. “Geyser”, for all its bombast, acts as an effective anti-climax, providing Mitski — or, more precisely, the album’s protagonist — a false-start spur toward an out-of-sight finish line. In this sense, Be the Cowboy is a tiresome album. It’s a short, though no less fruitful practice in storytelling, and a far from ineffectual journey through the ups and downs of a ubiquitous feeling of isolation and desperation. It’s also impossible not to bob along to. –BlushfulHippocrene
44. Jeff Rosenstock – POST-
POST-, at a glance, seems like more of the same for Jeff Rosenstock: bitter and energetic power pop littered with earworm hooks and shrill shouts of anger, disillusionment, sadness, and regret. There’s a deep difference in POST-, even if it’s kinda hard for me to put my finger on it. It might come down to just how catchy songs like “TV Stars”, “9/10”, and “Yr Throat” are. It gives We Cool a run for its money in the “stuck-in-my-head” department. Maybe it’s the contrast between just how easy it is to listen to and how tracks like “Let Them Win” and “USA”, two of his longest songs, shift and change in their runtime. I don’t know, but just like always, Rosenstock’s work offers good company on any gloomy/shitty/rainy day. –Bloon
43. A.A.L. (Against All Logic) – 2012-2017
The reception of A.A.L.’s 2012-2017 early in the year felt like a kind of minor miracle. It (rather unceremoniously) dropped, the people clamored, internet circles buzzed, and then overnight, it seemed as if it was agreed that we had a new modern dance classic on our hands -– one which effortlessly extended itself beyond the sphere of house regulars into an area much broader. It’s not hard to see why. In this collection, Nicolas Jaar spins the sense of spaced-out detachment that makes up much of his other work into something else entirely; something warmer, an intimate call to the dance-floors of another time and place. It captures the soul of a bygone era, the fire of which lights up through every layer of Jaar’s meticulously-crafted soundscapes in a way that feels at the very least invigorating and inclusive, and at best, wholly rapturous. –Chortles
42. Yves Tumor – Safe in the Hands of Love
I’ve really battled with this record. It’s something I’ve come to dislike and appreciate more and more as time goes on in roughly equal parts; there’s too much intentionality for something so seemingly disparate. The production throughout is catching on all fronts, yet I struggle to reconcile how something so alien so frequently dips its toes into normalcy — be it in the form of kits that sound like drums or vocal slices that sound human. This shouldn’t be an issue with pretty much any operating experimental electronic artist around right now, but I can’t seem to reconcile the fact that one half of me wants Safe in the Hands of Love to crush any semblance of familiarity into the dust and the other wants Yves Tumor to exposition dump his way into my temporal lobe with the finesse of a head-on collision. There seems to be a divide between the almost on-the-nose lyricism and the instrumentation that can’t tell if it wants to acclimate or dive head-first off a cliff. I don’t think the record absolves itself of criticism given to the way it almost lives in esotericism, but by the same token, I don’t think it absolves itself of praise either. All this considered, I can’t deny how consistently individual this record feels as a whole experience, and unlike any record I’ve heard this year, Safe in the Hands of Love paints itself as more concerned with being an outlet for an incredibly complex mind than being the product of adoration for the onlooker. That last part is just a convenient byproduct. –ramon.
41. Cursive – Vitriola
Having only known of Cursive due to my infatuation with Conor Oberst many years ago, I never had the opportunity to dive much beyond The Ugly Organ and his side project, The Good Life’s Album of the Year. Both releases didn’t creep past the year 2005, and despite Cursive having made a few albums since then, the band have strayed from the indie spotlight until now, and for good reason. Vitriola is an album that 2018 needed; it’s gnarled and bitter, seemingly spewing its venom at anyone that listens, looking for someone to blame or call out for the state of today’s world. It’s a post-hardcore-tinged alternative rock release, often featuring strings to accompany the fury that Tim Kasher orchestrates. The appropriately titled closer “Noble Soldier / Dystopian Lament” eerily sounds like the soundtrack to the beginning of the end, and lyrically, the hopelessness indicates we might just be living within it. It offers no way out, as an overwhelmed Kasher simply declares that now he “falls in line”, upset at what he’s tried to become and unable to make any meaningful change to a world he now doesn’t even recognize. –Connor S.
40. Jon Hopkins – Singularity
Singularity is Jon Hopkins swinging for the fences, a coalescence of big ideas with bigger possibilities. This is apparent almost from the moment go, as the title track quickly establishes an ambitious upward trajectory: one that’s plotted throughout the album, varying in intensity but never straying from its path. From first glance, you might think — or, at least I did — that Singularity fizzles out too quickly after disarming its ratcheting sense of sustained, frenetic tension for a meditative afterglow, but Hopkins seems less concerned with the moment to moment than with how those pieces coexist with each other. The album was made to represent a transcendental experience of his (think: drugs), and indeed, Hopkins uses this structure to give equal weight to Singularity‘s journey and reflection; it’s only once you can see both pieces interacting with each other does its beauty begin to take form. –Chortles
39. Spanish Love Songs – Schmaltz
There’s something to be said about honesty. Sure, poetic phrases can be brilliant, but after being decked out in extravagant metaphorical language, the meaning may take time to dig into and uncover. Sometimes, all that’s required is a direct hit on the senses, an upfront and personal expungement of troubles. In Schmaltz, each energetic riff is punctuated by an emotional vocal performance that spells out the grievances in no uncertain terms: feeling lost, feeling miserable, struggling to find a place, and finding it even harder to dig into a foothold somewhere, anywhere. It might hurt like hell to have every internal issue bubbling under the surface, but that’s exactly why it’s comforting. Spanish Love Songs show on Schmaltz that they’ve been to the bottom as well, and you’re more than welcome to scream along to their infectious pop-punk tunes. –MarsKid
38. Mid-Air Thief – Crumbling
I never imagined I’d come across something as naturally explosive and disassociating as The Olivia Tremor Control’s Black Foliage in 2018, yet here we are. This Korean band have such a knack for writing appealing electro psych pop stunners that are so bubbly and colorful, especially seen within the synth work that provides a wildly curving backbone to the 8 tracks on this album. Despite being so chaotic and seemingly random in nature, the mix of this album smooths everything out in a way that leaves me scratching my head; with everything that’s happening within each song, there’s no reason this album should sound so light and free. The vocal melodies are often soaring and blissful, hitting that sun-kissed psychedelia sweet spot for anyone looking for a pleasant trip through the sky. An aural equivalent of flying through digitalized fireworks, unharmed and in awe. –Connor S.
37. Alkaline Trio – Is This Thing Cursed?
Honestly, who saw this coming? I for one didn’t think a band like Alkaline Trio had it in them anymore. 2013’s exceptionally bland My Shame Is True was a telling indicator that the band were running dangerously low on interesting ideas, but seeing Matt jump over to blink-182 to replace Tom Delonge back in 2015 furthered the lack of interest within the band, and looked as though a fade into obscurity was for the best. And yet, here we are with quite possibly the best comeback album since Marilyn Manson’s The Pale Emperor. Simply put, Is This Thing Cursed? is a fan’s dream come true. It’s a record that documents self-awareness, conviction ,and teamwork; correlating 20 years of their strongest attributes to make serrated instrumentals that hearken back to their glory days. Is This Thing Cursed?‘s high points don’t just stop at concise songwriting either — far from it. The record’s candid and earnest lyricism elevates the music to exponential levels and will surely make an Alkaline Trio fan jump for joy, but if nothing else, it makes bouncy numbers like “Demon and Division” look ostensibly upbeat until you look into the dark, gritty truths found within. Definitely one of the biggest surprise hits of 2018, and should not be missed if you’re a punk enthusiast looking for honest pop-punk music. –Simon
36. Low – Double Negative
As the barest bones of what can be construed as a human face sit planted in the middle of a pink background, it’s easy to compare this simple, yet evocative album cover to the sparse and equally powerful music at hand on Low’s latest release. Indeed, the whole album, even in its crackling lo-fi aesthetic, manages to elicit a strong emotional response from the listener, thanks to its warped whirlwind in its both oppressive and entrancing dichotomy of sounds and its bone-chilling yet violently melodic tendencies. It’s hard to believe that this is Low’s 12th album, not because of any signs of inexperience or ineptitude, but because of how raw and vivid the album feels while many of their contemporaries slip into dull complacency. –neekafat
35. VOLA – Applause of a Distant Crowd
By the time VOLA’s Inmazes came about, the word ‘djent’ was a cursed phrase in the metal world; if a given product sported the label per their own proud admission or an attachment crafted by listeners, its value took an immediate dive. Despite that, the quartet from Denmark managed to record an album that could break through existing stigmas, working to form an intriguing cocktail of progressive metal, rock, and electronic elements. It seemed too good to be true — a one-hit wonder of sorts — that a follow-up seemed nigh impossible, as it would almost have to buckle under the weight of dominating genre stereotypes and mountainous expectations. What eventually emerged succeeded in defying practically every obstacle in its path: anticipations, typecasts, and even the band themselves. I say that because Applause of a Distant Crowd can be described in many ways, but the very last word to consider would be ‘complacent’.
This sophomore effort encapsulates the evolution of a young and consistently-improving artist. It’s as if the collective reviewed their debut, picked out what worked and what didn’t, then augmented it to the greatest degree. Sure, the result was not nearly as heavy as its predecessor, but it didn’t have to be; the band simply took that aspect of their sound and tweaked it, using it sparingly to add an extra punch to really punctuate the tunes — think about that riff off of “Smartfriend”. The highlight here is a graceful, delicate atmosphere, guided forward by masterful synth arrangements and an appropriately elegant vocal performance. It was evident from lead single “Ghosts” that VOLA were incredibly comfortable conducting themselves in such an environment, incorporating their metal influences alongside to truly deliver a sonic blow, albeit a pleasant one. If the critical and fan reactions aren’t evidence enough, that crowd isn’t quite as distant as it was when VOLA first entered the scene, and the applause is only getting louder. –MarsKid
34. Amorphis – Queen of Time
Amorphis are Finnish masters of their craft. Since the inclusion of one Tomi Joutsen to the band’s ranks, it seems that Amorphis have jumped from strength to strength. Queen of Time excels in moving forward from the group’s previous releases (namely, Silent Waters and Under the Red Cloud) and drops an album that should define Amorphis’ new age for years to come. Tomi’s vocal dexterity allows for a Pandora’s box of directional ideas, while easing into the sound Amorphis’ fans have come to worship, but not the placation that often comes with the success. Queen of Time is well-thought and safe, but delves into sheer songwriting ability that disproves of a ‘straightforward equals bad’ composure of sound. The layering, placing, and execution lift this album above a sea of similar-in-essence albums. The clinical, yet expressive nature of the instrumentation (drawing into simplicity) allows both breathing space for each individual component, but more importantly, aural cohesiveness. Queen of Time blesses its listeners with Amorphis’ career highlight. –Nocte
33. Death Grips – Year of the Snitch
Another year, another Death Grips LP with a disconcerting cover. Year of the Snitch seems like more of a piss-take than other releases, what with its balls-to-the-wall combination of utter nonsense and motifs that sound horribly serious (“Dilemma” opens and closes with a motif that feels like it’s moving towards something actually climactic but really devolves into chaos). MC Ride shouts and rants as always over skittering bombastic beats, with my only real discernment being that it feels less technologically vivid than previous efforts — more like a computer falling apart and malfunctioning than the sharp and bright tones of The Money Store — and I can’t help feel that the “Wa wa wa wa wa wa wa disappointed” of “Disappointed” is a cheeky little finger wag at the fans who expected anything different. –Mort.
32. Emma Ruth Rundle – On Dark Horses
With her fourth studio release, the singer-songwriter from Louisville takes a step out of the darkness and into the light. The skeletal frame of her folk era is now shrouded in distortion and lushness, influenced both by her previous project, Marriages — which saw Rundle exploring the hazy frontiers of shoegaze — and a long season of touring with sinister blues apostles Jaye Jayle as her backing band. It’s a sweet time for Rundle, as her music and breathtaking live performances are being praised mostly everywhere she goes, and it’s clear to see she’s relishing in it, judging from the swaying and soothing tempo that reigns in her latest output. She won’t let the dusky glow of her previous albums speak for her anymore, even if that means speaking now through a storm of healing radiance. –Dewinged
31. The Story So Far – Proper Dose
The Story So Far aren’t a band that are used to changing up their sound. Sure, they’ve shown off some of the tightest songwriting ever seen in the genre, but the foundation the band have been building on from 2010 was starting to get stale and tiring. Nobody wants to hear you yell about an ex and feeling blue your entire career. That’s why Proper Dose is some of the best — if not the best — work the band have ever put out. The Story So Far ditch their usual fast-paced offerings in favor of something slower and softer, something more acoustic and lush. They pull off the sound so well, some of it goes head-to-head with the top highlights off of Under Soil and Dirt or What You Don’t See. Frontman Parker Cannon mainly focuses on his drug abuse and addiction — something surprisingly more vulnerable and personal than anyone would’ve expected from him. It’s a breath of fresh air into a band that seemed doomed to be stagnant. For the first time in a while, it’ll be interesting and exciting to see where they go next. –McTime50