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|2018 goes up to 11|
Some albums that were caught in my web this year. Why did I like them? What was missing? Who cares? List is in no specific order
Why it's Good: Vektor had the difficult task of saving Haken's reputation after the somewhat disoriented Affinity, and it succeeds with flying colors. The shortest album in their pocket avoids redundancy like no recent Dream Theater album could imagine. Imminent, smart and undeniably catchy, rivals previous magnum opuses and remains humble and enjoyable from start to finish.
Where it Lacks: Not many negative comments about Vektor, really. The hesitation in experimentation a la Cockroach King and the imbalance caused by the lack of any actual outro are of course reasons to nag, but other than that, we have in our hands one of the best releases in 2018.
|2||Melody's Echo Chamber|
Why it's Good: It's quite rare to come across an album that fails so much to be pigeonholed into a single genre while still being adventurous and enjoyable, that I think of Bon Voyage as a blessing. Fuzzy, heavy, unpredictable are all words that could easily describe an album that blends so effortlessly Black Sabbath with Mazzy Star, creating one of the richest sound palettes of the year.
Where it Lacks: Uncharted waters need patience to explore and same goes for listening to Bon Voyage. While a short album (only thirty seven minutes long) it can prove to be quite a chore to sit through at first because of Melody's spontaneity in songwriting. The album unfolds in repeated listens, and doesn't make it easy for the listener to get in the logic of song structures - if there are any - but nonetheless is as much of a rewarding musical journey as it could get.
Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt
Why it's Good: Moby has a unique way of making us feeling miserable. Without having listened to anything else other than the casual hit, I decided to check how it feels like to experience a Moby album from start to finish. There are just so many catchy melodies in this one, so many meticulously written songs and flourishing ideas. The production is pristine and airy, leaving room for the audience to explore the nuances here and there.
Where it Lacks: apparently not a specialist in Moby, I can only see what I like in this album. How it is different from past endeavors, I really can't tell. I only know that Everything was Beautiful... has accompanied me throughout 2018 and I've found solace in it many a-times.
|4||The Pineapple Thief|
Why it's Good: there is no reason to not like a Pineapple Thief in 2018. Not only because of the recruitment of Gavin Harrison, one of the most charismatic drummers of his generation (ex-Porcupine Tree, King Crimson), not only because of their proven consistency, but because twelve albums in their career everybody knows what to expect of them. Everything is where it should be, from lyrics of disappointment and isolation, to proggy lengthy epics, to addictive refrains. It's not making history, but it's an honest artistic output.
Where it Lacks: Nowhere. If you don't mind listening about failed human relationships and alternative rock with progressive tendencies is up your alley, then Dissolution can be what you are looking for. They are not ones to hide their influences, and that's part of the reason why Dissolution gives a feeling of coming home.
Why it's Good: I needed only one listen of Hunger and Thirst to love Typhoon, but I felt like there was an ingredient missing to distinguish them from the rest indie scene. Offerings has that ingredient, and that is complexity and experimentation. Unlike the protagonist of the album, Typhoon know exactly where they come from and where they're heading. Without a single moment of monotony, Offerings is an unconventional LP, playing around with form and context, granting Typhoon a golden ticket to our hearts.
Where it Lacks: Offerings is a challenging album. You need patience to understand how it is unveiled. Say goodbye to traditional structures and short songs. There is no refrain we can hold on to, like there is no going back in time. Time's arrow only marches forward.
Where it's Good: Let's play a game: every time the singer's voice trembles, take a shot. If you are not hammered by the end of the record, you win. Now let's play another game: lay on your bed with some good headphones, shut all sources of light and listen to Brighter Wounds. If you don't feel nostalgia mixed with misery by the end of the record, you lose.
Where it Lacks: Son Lux have a very distinctive sound and that often is attributed to their singer's crooning vocals. Some people are turned off by the fragility and the drama, some - me included - consider it is necessary. The same applies for the disjointed drumming, the sudden bursts of sound amidst a mournful melody. Bottom line is, if you don't like the single The Fool You Need, you should probably search elsewhere for your dose of self-pity.
Why it's Good: Plini is a prototype of how hard work and talent can be the key to success. The phenomenal musician, surrounded by eclectic players, created a much more focused album than his previous Handmade Cities, opting for a more jazzy approach. The subtle nuances here and there, like the buried lyrics on Salt & Charcoal, really sold it for me.
Where it Lacks: Instrumental music is already demanding to follow, so it can be twice as much when it is progressive/fusion metal, where musical dexterity can become redundant and soulless. Small releases help avoid this trap and Plini excels in EPs, but it is time to move to new directions for his LPs and show that his music can have long lasting value.
|8||Between the Buried and Me|
Why it's Good: Whether you liked Coma Ecliptic or not, it is certain that it wasn't representative of the band's identity. Automata is more reminiscent of their previous works and maybe that is why most fans have embraced it as a return to form. Without rudimentary parts, the songs feel more accomplished and thought out, with Part II being generally more freeform and spontaneous, with Voice of Trespass being one of their best songs in a decade.
Where it Lacks: Apart from the unneeded split of the album into two parts, the only problem for me is the vocal lines. The lyrics do not go well with the adventurous music, resulting in awkward delivery from Roger's part. Dynamics are created and lost on the spot and after a while it becomes tiring. Undoubtedly it is difficult to sing for BTBAM, but when you are involved in the writing process, things should be a bit easier, right?
Why it's Good: The Norwegian art-group Gazpacho could very well be a synonym for consistency, and Soyuz is the proof for that. Inspired by the Russian spacecraft of the same name, Soyuz tells stories crystallized in time, with the necessary lyric obscurity that is expected from the band used as a general axis. More energetic than previous, post-rock outputs like Night or Tick Tock, rooted in progressive rock, Soyuz veers into different directions of utter beauty and manages to take us home.
Where it Lacks: Ohme's voice is a rarity in the music industry, and that alone makes it a blasphemy to criticize the lack of evolution from one album to another. But while other instruments shine (just listen how well structured the basslines are), vocals have changed close to nil throughout their discography. It would be nice to see Ohme trying out new things, which might affect the band's whole sound for the better.
Why it's Good: After a succession of tremendous albums and on-point marketing choices, Ghost B.C. carried their own niche to a stale scene, revamping a sense of childlike excitement. With Prequelle, they capitalize on the latest trend of '80s romanticization, sounding like an anthemic rock band of the era, while still holding on to their unique identity that made them so entertaining to follow.
Where it Lacks: It was only after solidifying their positions as a band, that Ghost B.C. started showing signs of fragility. Tobias Forge, the leading force behind the band, had to part ways with the rest of the crew, not only scarring an immaculate career, but also breaking the myth of anonymity surrounding them. Prequelle will forever be the album signifying the legal drama behind the scenes.
|11||A Perfect Circle|
Eat the Elephant
Why it's Good: Whatever the reason for M.J Keenan and Billy Howerdel, the creative duo behind APC, to leave the limelight for fourteen years, Eat the Elephant comes right on time to capture the political turmoil we currently find ourselves in. Going down the same path of social criticism paved by its predecessor, the album provides hooks galore without sacrificing musical integrity, lyrics on point with a dose of sentimentalism and irony, and of course some of Keenan's greatest vocal deliveries.
Where it Lacks: with a total running time of a little less than an hour, the album remains tight and relevant throughout. Songs like the upbeat So Long, and Thanks for the Fish, the EDM-like Hourglass or the trip-hop closing Get The Head Out, experiment with sounds and styles in an album so masterfully crafted, that leaves no room for actual complaints.
|12||Oceans of Slumber|
The Banished Heart
Why it's Good: Progressive Metal with death tendencies and clean female vocals? Check. ''I shall die alone''-mentality? Check. Atmosphere? Check. Ideas and delivery? Meh, it depends. The Banished Heart is by NO MEANS a bad album. It has great potential, but it lacks in practice. There are many things to cherish, and for anyone looking such kind of music, it could work.
Where it Lacks: Oceans of Slumber should have won me. They are made of all things I usually like. So, why don't I connect? The production is cold and stiff, the guitars are muddy and barren. I feel like the only one actually contributing is Cammie Gilbert. Ideas come and go, riffs change, moments where nothing actually happens are found aplenty. I can acknowledge there are emotional crescendos, but without proper building, they fall flat.
|13||Anna von Hausswolff|
Why it's Good: When I was in my early and mid teens, my synonym for heaviness would be Slipknot. If someone had handed me Dead Magic then, I would probably be scared. Underneath the ethereal music and mournful vocals, there is not only emotional heaviness, but a whole pit of negativity. Hauswolff has crafted an album that can take you by surprise if you are not prepared. Her vocal delivery ranges from Madrugada all the way to Diamanda Galas and the atmosphere is chokingly dense.
Where it Lacks: obviously it is a bit draining to listen to this album back to back. I can't handle the disturbance. The centerpiece, Ugly and Vengeful is an example of how dizziness translated into music. Even the album cover is off-putting. Is that a con? While definitely not, it surely makes it harder to love and enjoy. Nietzsche has a famous fitting phrase, but I don't want to be cliche.
Why it's Good: Wasteland talks about the apocalypse and what comes after. The band's own apocalypse was the loss of guitarist Piotr Gruzinski two years ago. The band hasn't broken into pieces, there is still movement beneath the ruins. Riverside go back to their early years, darkly shaded and with a sense of aggression that was absent in their 2015 Love, Fear and the Time Machine. This is in itself an accomplishment worth applauding.
Where it Lacks: Of course it comes as no surprise that Wateland isn't flawless. Piotr's distinctive guitar tone and creativity is gone, and gone are the intricate riffs. Guitar parts are too much like bass lines and the compositions sound more linear than ever before. Of course there are amazing moments, such as Vail of Tears, The Struggle of Survival and River Down Below, but the rest sounds unfinished. The watered down drum parts do not help either, making Riverside look like they have unfortunately lost two members, and not only one.
Why it's Good: Muse are veterans and their characteristic touch is undeniable, even when they stray from their typical sound. Simulation Theory dives into heavy electronic sounds, neon lights and video-game culture and resurfaces with superb tracks like Algorithm, The Dark Side and Dig Down. Even the songs who shy away from the '80s revival can be enjoyable and hooking, like the peculiar Propaganda. The album obviously aims for entertainment and oftentimes it succeeds.
Where it Lacks: the band has taken some questionable directions the last decade regarding their sound and their latest offering is no exception. Imbalanced and disoriented, bounces awkwardly from synths to rock n' roll, to ballads to anything in between. Unfinished ideas, boring lyricism and an absence of actual drumming in half of the songs make up for a disappointing album that could benefit from another year of editing.
Why it's Good: Since his black metal days, Ihsahn has learnt to work with many different tools under his belt, from synthesizers, to alternative rock, progressive and symphonic (what exactly is In Rites of Passage??). His clean vocals are warm and welcoming, contradicting beautifully with the harsh and jaded screams - when they appear. Amr is yet another worthy addition to his catalogue and is quite possibly the furthest he has strayed from being aggressive and ominous.
Where it Lacks: His previous album, Arktis, was the epitome of combining genres with style. This time, the mix feels a bit imbalanced. Following post-rockish attitudes, songs take a while to veer off the ground. I am not one to complain about ballads, but in the middle, the album kind of loses steam. Thankfully, it is a tight album that doesn't overstay its welcome, but I would take Eremita or Arktis over it any time.
Under The Fragmented Sky
Why it's Good: Mariuisz has put out three albums in a year's span, two with Lunatic Soul and one with Riverside. UtFS must be my favorite of the three. It is daring, it is experimental, it is melancholic and it is very well composed. It is actually the only Lunatic Soul I return to regularly. The electronic sounds blend blissfully with the more classic tones of acoustic guitars, the vocal lines are beautifully interwoven and the typical depressive lyrics set the perfect atmosphere.
Where it Lacks: My one and only problem with Lunatic Soul was always that they lacked the complexity that made Riverside special. It was wise of Duda to finally incorporate lyrics in his solo project (already from his previous album), bringing some fresh air in a tired project. Some songs, however still sound aimless, more or less having the role of an interlude. This have been said, UtFS is Mariusz's best solo album and his more mature yet.
Why it's Good: Other than just being a very positive album in itself, it's the general persona of Rachel Sage that was very inspiring and cute to explore. She might not be the most popular or even innovative artist, but she is a woman with many albums in her catalogue, she thrives on artistic expression and has created her own little place in pop culture. Myopia was the album I needed this year to take away all the hustle and soothe me in its simplicity.
Where it Lacks: I can imagine people spinning this and saying ''This is the album that made an impression on him?'' Well, yes, it's not something extravagant, it's not something out-there. You might even call it boring. But to me, it makes a difference.
Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides
Why it's Good: F*ck, I didn't expect this. An album so weird and yet making total sense. Heavy experimentation and great hooks. Another album that aims for positivity and acceptance (taking into consideration Sophie's backstory), which simultaneously doesn't shy away from raw sounds and loud bursts. If pop was more like this, the world would be better.
Where it Lacks: Nowhere, sue me. Okay, jokes aside, I have no idea where it lacks. It's such an ''in your face'' album, that maybe its weaknesses need time to see. Thing is, I have not much experience in experimental pop, so maybe I'm head over heels for discovering fire when it is just some smoke. Who knows?
Why it's Good: not one person in this band is a bad musician. Not one song on here is less than grandiose. Not one person who loves this bastardization of symphonic/operatic metal with progressive death metal will be disappointed. It is everything you expect it to be.
Where it Lacks: Since their debut, MaYaN seem to lack any specific direction, so they throw everything on the wall and see what sticks. I don't even know how many vocalists there are, I don't even know what song I'm listening to, there is cheese coming out of every hole, there is noise instead of cohesion and generally, it gets boring after a while. It's like a well-scripted movie, featuring great actors, but edited so badly, it just takes the fun out of the experience.
The Shadow Theory
Why it's Good: well, for one, it does what it is supposed to do. It's a Kamelot album. Well produced, with orchestral elements making it more symphonic than power metal, The Shadow Theory is a pleasing album, with a concept about revolution (what else?) to make the whole bunch a bit more cohesive.
Where it Lacks: it shouldn't lack anywhere. The songs in themselves are quite good, although they are too familiar. From the get go, there is this annoying sense that Phantom Divine is the twin brother of Sacrimony, off their 2012 album, Silverthorn. The concept is a generic, run of the mill story, unlike the one in Epica or Black Halo. All in all, the album's title is spot on: TST is indeed a shadow of what came before.
|22||Zeal and Ardor|
Why it's Good: admittedly nobody would have thought gospel and black metal fuse so well. Zeal and Ardor expand on the sound of their own highly successful formula. Energetic is a poor word to describe the attitude of the songs, all bursting with ideas and filled with hooks. Throwing the rules out of the window, Z&A continue down their own path, and they are more than fine.
Where it Lacks: it is still early to call Z&A a one-trick pony. Two albums in their career and with quality song-writing, they seem unstoppable. If they rest on their laurels, however, is yet to be seen.
Alba - Les Hombres Errantes
Why it's Good: I've only heard their latest two releases (maybe none of them is their best) and I have already come to adore their sound, the way they approach music, yes, even the spoken word parts that are aplenty. This time they make an acoustic album, but make no mistake: it sacrifices nothing. On the contrary, it is still as technical, dramatic and interesting as their previous endeavor.
Where it Lacks: not much negative comments to make. The guys play progressive rock/metal, cinematic in scope and with great imagery in lyrics. My only complaint? Sometimes, I'm put off by the singer's voice. Is it the constant mourning? Is it that it sounds twangy? I don't know.
Queen of Time
Why it's Good: it is one of those albums that go in so many directions that that in itself is impressive. From their folk roots, to mid-eastern scales, death metal and saxophone, great riffing and galloping rhythms. I didn't expect to appreciate this much the clean vocals given the genre, but surprisingly the vocal delivery is never boring.
Where it Lacks: other than the general impression that the first half is stronger than the second, I can't actually find anything that brings this album down. I can't see what else this band could do to explore their sound and please the fans. Some albums are just great and that's that.
|25||The Sea Within|
The Sea Within
Why it's Good: veterans announcing a collaboration is always faced with doubt, there is no need to worry with The Sea Within. While they can't reach the heights of other collaborations such as Storm Corrosion, they have actually surpassed our expectations - mine at least. There are so many big names involved, it's a crime. It is like a celebration of progressive rock and I'm glad it exists as a project.
Where it Lacks: there is not one album that pleases everyone. I guess there are minor details here and there that could be improved. Even if you fall in love with the album, you can't deny that a bigger sense of direction wouldn't be a bad thing. But that's the end of it. The Sea Within is a fantastic album, take this as the bottom line.
My Dark Symphony
Why it's Good: this EP signifies the revamp of one of the greatest 90's acts, as well as the return of power metal's most beloved and missed vocalist, Roy Khan. They sound tight, modern and hungry. Roy Khan sounds as if he never left, the musical proficiency is top tier (I LOVE the title track), the tunes are quite inspired and the length is just enough to wet our apptetite.
Where it Lacks: a small EP is quite alright for checking the engines after twenty years of silence, but I hope bigger surprises await us in the future. And maybe, lengthier output means more experimentation.
|27||Pascal Le Boeuf|
Into the Anthropocene
Why it's Good: beyond all the theory that surrounds the albums themes, what is essential is the chilling music. It is one of the greatest pieces of music I have heard all year and it is only about fifteen minutes long. Amazing soundscapes, smooth transitions and superb orchestration result in the best music for relaxation, self-reflection (or collective-reflection, given the album's concept) and mindfulness.
Where it Lacks: the apparent problem is how short it is. Three soul-touching songs are not enough for the starving audience!
|28||Lack the Low|
One Eye Closed
Why it's Good: another album that came this year that had me drooling over it. Bursting with ideas, sounds, awesome vocals and unique character, Kat Hunter, the mastermind behind the band, has grabbed my attention by the hair. Unpredictable, elegant and all around beautiful, this album offers great moments, not all apparent at first, and that's part of its glory.
Where it Lacks: I'm still discovering new things in it, the dust hasn't yet settled. First thoughts are more than positive, especially considering how mature it sounds for a debut album. It resembles heavily Regina Spektor, but with more unconventional songwriting. I don't know how it turns out, but for now, it is immaculate.
|well, that was tiring to complete.|
|Great write ups for Ghost and Typhoon!|
|Hey, thanks! Which one of those did you like / didn't like?|
Vektor is the thrash band
|2, 22 and 24 are in my AOTY list. 10 and 13 are in my top 10 ;)|
I haven't checked a few of these but I didn't particularly hate anything. Maybe Son Lux, Sophie and Muse would be my picks for "I jammed it once and understood it's not for me".
|@BerryGarlicia Woops, thanks! |
@Dewinged Anna von Hausswolf was a great discovery. So glad I clicked on The Mysterious Vanishing... on YT. Ghost's was nice, although I wouldn't put it in my top ten. Son Lux and Sophie are also personal favourites.
|Yeah the thing with Ghost's is that it resonated well in my homestead, and it became the jam while making dinner album for me and the wifey. Since we rarely agree on music, it became special.|
|5,6,7 m/m/m/m/m/ Nice!!|
|Also awesome write up for typhoon |
|@Dewinged Oh, yes, I can imagine. Ghost is optimal for this kind of situations|
|Love it when people put a ton of detail into their lists. Thanks for the write ups man. Definitely going to check 28 and 2. |
|Thanks for the nice words. I did want to give a detailed 2018 review. Both 2 and 28 are excellent and rewarding albums.|