Monthly Recap: The Best Music of January 2019

An overview of the top Albums on Not a Sound from January, 2019.

January 2019 is in the books and so is our first real month as a website! We covered 19 albums, produced one think piece, made a “Fantasy Indie Label League,” and released our first podcast this month. It’s been busy, but Ian and I have enjoyed every moment of it.

If you’re new to the blog or if you missed any of our coverage this month, don’t worry: just like your favorite teacher back in high school, we’ve made a cheat sheet for you. Here are some January highlights from Not a Sound, just for you.

Top 3 Ranked LPs

Tomb – Angelo De Augustine (8.8)

            Folk, Singer-Songwriter, Ambient

            Asthmatic Kitty: Jan. 11, 2019

When someone experiences a significant breakup or loss of a romantic partner, there is usually a rush of conflicting feelings.  Sometimes they manifest in betrayal and anger.  Sometimes there is only shock and an inability to process the event.  But more often than not, the most overwhelming feeling is one of deep mourning over the fact that something that was once good and beautiful is now gone.  The mind spins trying to make sense of everything; relishing memories, attempting to sort out how we got from there to here.  On the title track and album opener of Angelo De Augustine’s excellent Tomb, he captures this initial feeling perfectly, at once evoking remembrances of a beautiful relationship, wondering how it is now gone, “I walked into your life at the wrong time / never quite been perceptive of real life / it was not your fault or a fault of mine / but it’s hard to let you go this time.”  It is more than mourning; it is a search for justification, a deep and resounding “why?” 

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Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center (8.0)

            Alternative, Folk, Emo

            Dead Oceans: Jan. 25, 2019

Apparently, Phoebe Bridgers really likes working with other people.  After releasing last year’s excellent boygenius EP in October with fellow indie stars Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, she has returned with another collaborative album, with virtually no prior warning.  This past Thursday, our ears were blessed by the self-titled debut from Better Oblivion Community Center, a collaboration between Bridgers and emo-folk veteran Conor Oberst (most famous for his work with Bright Eyes). 

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Future Ruins – Swervedriver (8.0)

            Alternative, Shoegaze, Fuzz Rock

            Dangerbird: Jan. 25, 2019

The sixth studio album by U.K. shoegaze outfit Swervedriver is a dynamic musical exploration of modernist dystopia. It is the second new record from the band since reuniting in 2013, building on their 2015 comeback I Wasn’t Born to Lose You with a more experimental spirit while still delivering all of the touchstones fans from their 90s heyday have come to expect. Though the end product isn’t overwhelmingly groundbreaking for the band, it is a thoroughly impressive album on its own merits, swinging easily between massive arena fuzz rock, expansive shoegaze, and 70s-inspired progressive rock tendencies.

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Top 3 Ranked EPs

Change of Scenery – Buddie (7.8)

            Alternative, Power Pop, Fuzz Rock

            Super Wimpy Punch: Jan. 11, 2019

“How can I live with myself not helping anyone else?” As the flurry of distorted guitars reach their blaring crescendo on opening track Sloth, vocalist Dan Forrest of Philadelphia alternative outfit Buddie sets the tone with just one line. Once a conservation biologist in Equatorial Guinea, Forrest now spends his time writing fuzz rock in the vein of Pavement and early Weezer, though where his forebears made their careers writing about unrequited love, on Change of Scenery Forrest instead writes songs that are much more uniquely conscious. They may still be dorky, but only in the sense that anything passionate that isn’t drenched in cynicism isn’t patently “cool” in 2019. 

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The Mystic and the Master – Laura Stevenson (7.4)

            Folk, Singer-Songwriter, Acoustic

            Laura Stevenson LLC: Dec. 20, 2018

The Mystic and the Master is the first new release from the New York songwriter since her 2015 full-length Cocksure. It is a two-song double single released on her mother’s birthday as a nod of appreciation for “enduring” the raising of her and her sister. In contrast to some of her prior work, both tracks are performed with only acoustic, strings, and voice. This stripped back arrangement feels even more intimate than usual for Stevenson, who makes use of the opportunity to deliver some of the sharpest and most nostalgic lines she’s penned yet. 

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I Carry My Awareness of Defeat Like a Banner of Victory – Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean (6.8)

            Metal, Doom Metal, Sludge Metal

            Howling Frequency: Dec. 14, 2018

Titled after a line from Fernando Pessoa’s pseudo-autobiography The Book of DisquietI Carry My Awareness of Defeat Like a Banner of Victory carries, in a roundabout way, an almost positive message considering the extreme nihilism that birthed it. It wears disillusionment like a coat of arms, not knowing exactly for what reason, and knowing full well that time will bury it just the same as all other banners. But in a world that seems incoherent and meaningless, it is a banner nonetheless, a marker designating something in the endless desert of nothingness, the awareness of the void, the one true victory that the emptiness can offer. Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean mirror this bleak landscape through the EP, offering little comfort while exploring the open face of the abyss with their eyes wide and their confidence unflinching.

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The January DIY Deep Dive

Parental Guidance – Ok O’Clock

            Emo, Indie Punk, Grunge

            Ivy League DIY: Jan. 20, 2019

The sophomore full-length from Kansas City, MO songwriter Lance Rutledge is a vulnerable reckoning with grief on the cosmic level. Here he tries to process a world that seems to be unraveling; attempting to reconcile the death, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse pervading his circumstances with the concept of a loving and caring God. It’s confessionalism at its most frank and unapologetic, calling to mind recent emo monoliths Sorority Noise and The Hotelier.

Read Our Full Review

To hear all the artists we covered this month (and a few we didn’t), check out our Monthly Listen playlist below.

The Top 25 Albums of 2018

Ranking albums is an inherently subjective task. When trying to evaluate the Top 25 Albums for 2018 I did my best to meet each album on its own terms, judging it by what it was trying to do more rather than an arbitrary quality such as authenticity. For each release on this list I tried to take into consideration the artist’s intent, my own emotional response, and the actual content of the piece, comprised of the writing, instrumentals, and cultural context. This is by no means an infallible list, for I am not an infallible man, but these are the 25 releases that stood out most to me this year.

 

  1. Bought to Rot – Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers (Punk/Alternative)

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The solo debut from Laura Jane Grace, best known as the frontwoman of Against Me!, is a great singer/songwriter album dressed up as a punk album. Here her usual cynical witticisms become the focal point, which when combined with crunchy distortion and a natural knack for writing immediately memorable choruses, make Bought to Rot everything you could want out of a first foray into solo music. It is gritty, honest, and as always, utterly unapologetic, another exciting joy ride from the mind of Laura Jane Grace.

  1. WARM – Jeff Tweedy (Singer/Songwriter)

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Over the last few Wilco albums Jeff Tweedy and his unique brand of obtuse lyricism has largely been contained and overshadowed by experimental sounds, courtesy of Nels Cline, and a-typical song structures. On WARM Tweedy forsakes those tendencies for more straight-forward folk-rock songs led by his trusty acoustic guitar and some of the most direct lines he’s written since his days in Uncle Tupelo. The result is something entirely different from Wilco, but still undeniably Tweedy; a vulnerable, introspective album that is sonically peaceful and musically intricate even in its sparse arrangement.

  1. It’s Hard to Have Hope – Svalbard (Metal, Post-Hardcore)

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It’s Hard to Have Hope combines the driving power of post-hardcore with elements of cinematic post-rock and melodic metal tendencies, creating an album that feels earnest, emotional, and convincingly important.  Where the standard formula in much of the post-hardcore world is to swing for the chorus and then descend into fight riffs, Svalbard’s songs seem to be continually ascending, more concerned with creating gargantuan crescendos with layer after layer of guitar than creating bone-crushing riffs. This strategy pays off, making It’s Hard to Have Hope one of the most interesting albums to come out of its genre in a while.

  1. God’s Favorite Customer – Father John Misty (Indie-Folk, Folk-Rock)

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Four albums deep under the stage name Father John Misty, Josh Tillman has permanently carved his name into the upper echelon of this decade’s songwriters. God’s Favorite Customer is yet another spectacular release from the prolific writer, complete with his signature lush soundscape and immediately recognizable writing voice, beginning on the very first track, revolving around a classic Tillman line: “What’s your politics / what’s your religion / what’s your intake / your reason for living.”Comparative to his prior releases, God’s Favorite Customer finds Tillman at his catchiest and arguably most accessible, though he doesn’t shy away from any of the snide, nihilistic tendencies that made him famous in order to get there.

  1. Joy as an Act of Resistance – IDLES (Punk, Post-Punk)

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With possibly the best album name of 2018, the sophomore LP from English band IDLES is a diverse, exciting listen start to finish. After the opening track Colossus one might think the album would be an ominous, quasi-industrial onslaught, but what follows is instead largely a fun, irreverent, energetic punk album about self-love and communal unity. Joy as an Act of Resistance is perhaps the most aggressively wholesome album ever recorded, filled with lines like, “If someone talked to you like you do to you, I’d put their teeth through”, “I’m a real boy, boy and I cry”, and “Islam didn’t eat your hamster / Change isn’t a crime.”As such the seemingly paradoxical title is actual the most apt description of this album: it’s the most badass album about joy you’ll ever hear.

  1. Bark Your Head Off, Dog – Hop Along (Indie Rock, Alternative)

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Hop Along have been a staple indie-rock critical darling for the better part of the decade for good reason. Along with one of the most unique voices in indie, Frances Quinlan is one of the best lyrical storytellers of her generation, and if this was ever in doubt, Bark Your Head Off, Dog should seal the deal. Here Hop Along are on top of their game, pulling stories from as disparate sources as World War I, Cain and Abel, and a drunk man yelling at the bar, all written in that trademark conversational style that makes you feel like you’re hearing them in the living room of a distant relative. Bark Your Head Off, Dog also finds Hop Along at their most easily accessible, an area they have not always excelled in, with more refrains and repeating melodies that act as touchstones allowing the listener to track with the song narratives more easily.

  1. POST- – Jeff Rosenstock (Punk)

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POST- is the closest thing to the political album that most punks were looking for in the wake of the 2016 American elections, Brexit, and the growing unrest across Western culture as a whole. Jeff Rosenstock is clear, poignant, and angsty as always on his newest release, bookending it with two monolithic tracks USA and Let Them Win that respectively delve into cultural decay and offer a triumphal resistance cry. Though not quite as experimental as his previous release Worry, Post-still has everything we’ve come to expect from Rosenstock over his illustrious career across several bands: energy, angst, cathartic shout-along choruses, and sharp social commentary.

  1. Heaven and Earth – Kamasi Washington (Jazz)

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On his latest odyssey, the double album Heaven and Earth (which is actually shorter than his last release, believe it or not), Kamasi Washington explores the dynamic between the terrestrial and the celestial. Heaven and Earth is a 2.5 hour epic split into two eight song halves, the first of which is about the world around Washington and features darker tones, African and Latin rhythms, and a re-imagining of the Bruce Lee theme Fists of Fury; and the second of which is about the more esoteric and spiritual world Washington sees inside himself. On this half Washington changes gears on a dime to transcendent sounding brighter tones, building movements, and at times borderline classical arrangements.

  1. Kiss Ur Frenemies – Illuminati Hotties (Indie Rock, Alternative)

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The “quirky indie sound” has been done a lot of times in the past ten years, so often that it has almost become a cliché, but Illuminati Hotties manage to breathe life into the genre with their dynamic new album Kiss Ur Frenemies. Where similar bands are content to ride the tropes, bubbly melodies, fuzzed out beach guitar, and simple up-beat drumming with charmingly dorky lyrics that more or less fetishize Portlandia culture, Illuminati Hotties instead utilize the same sonic palette to create an album that feels real and grounded. There is a lot of very poignant vulnerability in Kiss Ur Frenemies and a lot of musical diversity for a sound that is often very one-dimensional. It is an album that swings between melancholy and bubbly without feeling manic, encapsulating a wide range of emotions that all land effectively.

  1. Historian – Lucy Dacus (Singer/Songwriter, Alternative)

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Fresh off her first release and first critical success only two years ago, Richmond, Virginia singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus returns with a vengeance with another fantastic album, Historian. Her newest release covers a lot of emotional ground in only ten songs, chronicling failed relationships, her participation in the Baltimore protests, the life and death of her grandmother, and the unstoppable march of time. On every song Dacus is an open book, spilling her feelings and telling personal stories artfully and relatably. On top of her impressive lyricism, Historian is also an impressive instrumental album, trading in the simple acoustic chords common for singer/songwriter-types for distorted riffs and shredding guitar solos, swelling in and out between sparse arrangements and all out rock songs that keep the listener always on his/her toes.

  1. Shrine – The Republic of Wolves (Emo, Post-Hardcore)

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On their second proper LP, The Republic of Wolves find themselves filling the shoes of the recently departed Brand New. Shrine is an existential concept album based loosely on Japanese folklore, telling the story of a man who loses his soul to a mountain deity. This narrative, though perceptible across the album, is largely a conduit to explore questions about what it means to have or not have a soul, to slip in and out of a supernatural view of man and self, and the loss and re-framing of purpose as faith collapses. The struggle with these themes across the album is visceral and at times frantic, making Shrine the rare album to make themes this heady feel direct and personal.

  1. All At Once – Screaming Females (Rock, Alternative)

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In age where rock revival is led largely by bands that are more top 40 pop than rock or bands directly derivative of the era they’re evoking (I’m looking at you Greta Van Fleet), Screaming Females stand apart by just being a damn good rock band without pandering to trends or worshipping at the altar of their forefathers. All At Onceis loaded with driving beats, sludge-punk guitar tones, and high-flying solos the likes of which we haven’t heard since The Sword and Wolfmother, but in a package that finally avoids feeling rehashed like most attempts since the year 2000 to do exactly this. If you’re looking for nearly an hour of pure, unadulterated guitar music that will make you throw up your devil horns in salute, then look no further, because in 2018 Screaming Females have finally done it.

  1. Late Stage Capitalism – Jeremy Messersmith (Pop-Folk, Singer-Songwriter)

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Jeremy Messersmith’s new album Late Stage Capitalism was almost one of my picks for most underrated album this year and it is filled with snarky, cynical sing-alongs reminiscent of Father John Misty, but a little hookier and dare I say a little less pretentious. Overall it is a joyfully sarcastic album dissecting the current American cultural moment, presenting a scathing indictment of capitalism, the large-scale rape of the planet for profit, and the rampant fear of commitment in one the most connected societies of all time. All of this is done with a snide smile rather than an angry yell, flipping the bird to first world problems with songs you can’t help but bob your head to.

  1. Lush – Snail Mail (Singer/Songwriter, Indie-Rock)

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The debut LP from Snail Mail lives up to its name, immersing the listener in a lush soundscape of reverb-heavy guitars and synth-pads while singer Lindsey Jordan laments breakups with dreamy hook after dreamy hook. Lush is easily one of the catchiest albums released in 2018. It is also one of the most immediate and relatable, one that most anyone could enjoy on the very first listen regardless of their listening habits.

  1. TA1300 – Denzel Curry (Hip-Hop, Soundcloud Rap)

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Though he’s sometimes credited as the original progenitor of Soundcloud Rap, it’s hard to capture Denzel Curry’s creativity with any one label. You could call his ambitious new album TA1300 “Soundcloud Rap”, but it would hardly do justice to what is a diverse three-part odyssey with sounds all over the spectrum. Each section of the album grows progressively darker both lyrically and sonically as it goes on, making it feel like a descent into madness, a descent that is heightened by Curry’s incredibly dynamic voice that ranges from the sort of sing-song trap style that his genre is known for to a harsh, emphatic bark reminiscent of DMX. Likewise his lyricism ranges from simple and repetitive to long-form, complex bars, showcasing one of his greatest strengths: knowing when a few words will do the trick and knowing when to spell it out for you.

  1. Negro Swan – Blood Orange (RnB, Funk)

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Negro Swan is easily one of the most ambitious albums of 2018. Devonte Hynes’s newest release under his pseudonym Blood Orange is 16 tracks of conceptual RnB complete with spoken interludes dissecting themes such as self-worth and family. The songs cover a wide spectrum, utilizing various keys and synths, woodwinds, horns, and the occasional detuned guitar. Tying all of these together is Hynes’ smooth, expressive voice and expansive layers of harmonies, sometimes vibrant, sometimes haunting. The result is a probingly reflective album about finding yourself, contextualized with arrangements suited for long drives through empty cities at night.

  1. Ordinary, Corrupt Human Love – Deafheaven (Black Metal, Blackgaze)

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Black metal isn’t usually known for being emotionally malleable, usually limited to harsh, cold tones, but Deafheaven’s epic Ordinary, Corrupt Human Love is packed with so many different emotions over the course of its hour long run time that it feels like you’ve lived an entire life by the time you’ve finished it. Their brand of black metal meets shoegaze, dubbed by some “blackgaze”, first thrust them into the critical limelight in 2013 with Sunbather, and Ordinary, Corrupt Human Love is a beautiful expansion on the sounds and themes they began exploring back then. On this album Deafheaven is at their most cinematic, incorporating jazz piano, clean vocals, and various other styles into their signature huge sound.

  1. Soil – serpentwithfeet (RnB, Soul)

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The term “rock opera” was used in the 60s and 70s to describe narrative driven rock albums with a flair for bombastic or theatrical choices. Soil is to RnB what a rock opera would be to rock n’ roll, a narrative driven album with theatrical undertones, including an ensemble of vocal harmonies that provide the majority of the dynamic momentum on the album, much like the ensemble in a classic, Greek play. It’s unlike anything that I have ever heard before, mysterious and vaguely mythical despite it’s very modern and far from supernatural context. Listening to it is almost more like watching a movie than it is listening to an album.

  1. You Won’t Get What You Want – Daughters (Metal, Noise)

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You Won’t Get What You Want is one the most impressive and also one of the most unlistenable pieces of art that I have ever heard. It’s blend of heavy dissonant, distorted guitars and industrial sounds is so harsh and aggressive that it almost engages a fight or flight response when I hear it. This oppressive palette is juxtaposed with lyrics that read like 60s beat poems, incredibly articulate pointed pieces that make American, suburban life seem like a grotesque horror-scape. It is one of those rare pieces that I can’t exactly say I enjoyed, but I was so fascinated by it that I continually kept coming back to it nonetheless. Often times music this harsh is ill-thought out and played more for shock than anything, but You Won’t Get What You Want is brilliant in its intentionality, and as a result the most haunting piece of music of the decade so far.

  1. Extralife – Darlingside (Folk)

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On Extralife, a cryptic concept album about a post-apocalyptic future, Darlingside create a soundscape that is lush and vibrant, thanks in part to the beautiful melding of acoustic guitar, strings, woodwinds, and subtle electronic drones. However, while the arrangements are stunning, what really seals the deal are the near constant four part vocal harmonies that could make even Simon and Garfunkel jealous. When combined, these two elements create a feel that is much more Narnia than Mad Max. It is at once filled with immediate beauty and distant longing, the kind of album that one can appreciate equally when feeling sad or feeling happy. Armageddon never sounded so beautiful.

  1. On Watch – Slow Mass (Indie-Punk, Post-Hardcore)

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Slow Mass’s debut LP is a clinic on album composition, swinging between frenetic hardcore punk and beautifully sparse art-punk while touching on every sound in between. Alongside the ever-changing, constantly metamorphosizing music, the lyrics help create an album that seems to have it’s finger on something real, but intangible; everyday, but mysterious; pretty out there, but still grounded somewhere. It is the kind of album that is both mechanically innovative, but also emotive and thoughtful; an album that is unapologetically artsy without feeling overly self-indulgent.

  1. Lavender – Half Waif (Synth Pop, Alternative)

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In an age where female songwriters are finally starting to get the credit they deserve alongside their male counterparts, Nandi Rose Plunkett is still one of the most underrated songwriters of the 2010s. Filled with images inspired by her grandmother, Plunkett’s (Half Waif’s) latest offering, Lavender, is an elegy to time and mortality dealing with growth and collapse, self and place, and isolation and community. After several promising releases it seems that Half Waif has finally hit her/their stride. Her lyrics have never been more powerful, her arrangements never more tasteful, and her song composition has never been so on point. With this release Plunkett has absolutely made her case to be considered in the upper echelon of alternative singer/songwriters, right up with the Boygenius trio of Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker, and Phoebe Bridgers as true master songwriters.

  1. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships – The 1975 (Pop Rock, Art Pop)

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A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships was the most surprising release of 2018 for me by a large margin. I have never been a huge fan of The 1975’s blend of pop rock and 80s nostalgia, and despite rave reviews from my friends who were fans I didn’t go into this album expecting anything more than a solid pop rock record. I couldn’t have been more far off. Instead ABIIOR toys with Justin Vernon-style freak folk, jazz reminiscent of John Coltrane, 90s RnB, Oasis-inspired stadium rock, and various kinds of art pop. I expected another album about casual relationships and depression. Instead ABIIOR is the 2018 equivalent to Radiohead’s OK Computer, even directly referencing the classic robot monologue Fitter Happier off that album. It is perhaps the album most in touch with the Western macro-culture this year, relatable, relevant, and even a little frightening.

  1. Room 25 – Noname (Hip-Hop)

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For all intents and purposes Room 25 is statistically tied for the best album of 2018 for me. Chicago’s Noname is one of the most unique and refreshing voices in Hip-Hop, hyper-literate and incredibly self-aware, her lyrics are easily the most impressive of the year and cover everything from dealing with her growing influence, to the exploitation of black Americans, to her position as a woman in hip-hop. Her voice and flow are both immediately recognizable. Where most rappers either aim for relaxed or intense, Noname manages to keep her flow almost conversational, bordering on spoken word, but fitting her incredibly verbose lines tightly over the beat. Most of the backing music is also done with a full live band with dreamy string arrangements, horns, keys, pads, and jazz-influenced drumming reminiscent of Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiments, which she was famously involved in. Room 25 is an absolute must-hear album regardless of your listening habits.

     1. Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It – Rolo Tomassi (Metal, Blackened-Hardcore)

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I gave Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It the edge over Room 25 because while I think Room 25 is for sure a top five hip-hop album of the decade, Rolo Tomassi’s critical breakthrough is easily the best metal album since Mastodon’s 2009 prog-metal epic Crack the Skye. Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It is an album of gargantuan scope, dealing with the imminence of death and growth through love in the present. Musically it is immediately impressive and impossible to categorize, so rather than pointlessly try to fit it into genre boxes I’ll try to meet it on its own terms. Every song carries itself with the weight (and often the length) of an album closer, each grandiose in its own way and leading effortlessly into the next. Some, like A Flood of Light or Contretemps are cinematic to the point of rivaling cinematic-metal kings Deafheaven, others like Aftermath and Risen hardly seem to be metal songs at all, with the former more akin to shoegaze and the latter more akin to Julien Baker. But unlike most metal albums that dip this far into cinematic and experimental territories, TWDALWBI is also unashamedly heavy when it needs to be, like on Alma Mater, Whispers Among Us, and Rituals. Here Rolo Tomassi show that they are not only talented experimentalists, but also masters of their native genre, nailing the perfect sweet spot of being unfathomably heavy without ever overdoing it and becoming comical. The result is a somewhat esoteric album with the rare instrumentals that can actually carry and contain such heady themes and make them feel every bit as real and important as they are. It truly is a masterful album and one that never gets old. Each consecutive listen reveals new discoveries and rewards the listener in new ways. This is why it is the number one album of 2018.

 

Notes and Special Mentions

I chose not to include Boygenius on this list since it was an EP and not an LP, but it was one of my favorite releases of the year. I also chose to leave out Pinegrove due to the controversy and complicated circumstances surrounding the album. I’d like to give a special nod to Care For Me by Saba which would have made this list if I had heard it before I started writing, and also to Errorzone by Vein which just missed the cut but is a great record nonetheless.

Ian’s Top 25 Albums of 2018

Trying to make end of the year lists is an inherently subjective task.  Here at Not a Sound we are committed to reviewing albums based upon how well they accomplished what they set out to do given their audience, genre, and vision.  That makes ranking albums across genres and cultures difficult in many ways, because it is impossible to review Mark Kozelek and A$AP Rocky in the same way, or compare Ariana Grande to Deafheaven.  At the end of the day, our favorite records are the ones that stuck with us the most, not only in terms of technical prowess, but in terms of an emotional and personal connection.  So don’t take this list personally if your favorite record didn’t make it on here; this is simply the music that defined 2018 for me.  Just because your favorite artists aren’t on here doesn’t mean I think they’re bad.

25 – How To Fix Everything by Fantasy Camp

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Emo-rap singer and producer Fantasy Camp did a lot this year. He produced songs for other artists, helped form Misery Club, and released two of his own Eps.  The second of which, How To Fix Everything, is huge leap from the first, demonstrating crisp, focused instrumentals and pristine vocals.  As emo-rap continues to develop, it is clear that Fantasy Camp will be one of the artists at the helm.

24 – Historian by Lucy Dacus

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I have to admit that I was one of the people who only found out about Lucy Dacus when the boygenius project was announced.  After listening to her latest album Historian, I understand the hype that she has received from critics this year.  The record is a perfect example of well written indie-rock, brimming with poise and sincerity.  The best example of this is the track “Night Shift,” which characterizes her voice, lyrical style, and arrangement very well in its two part structure.

23 – TESTING by A$AP Rocky

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A$AP Rocky has had a difficult time living up to the hype that he and the media have built around him since his breakout in the early part of the decade.  Testing is no masterpiece, but I enjoyed all the weird detours and experiments he takes you on over the course of the record.  It doesn’t flow perfectly, but it’s a fun, truly odd listen that was definitely a soundtrack to my summer.  “A$AP Forever REMIX” is one of those songs that you gotta turn up to with the homies every once in a while.  It just is.

22 – Corinthiax by Wicca Phase Springs Eternal

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On this EP, Wicca Phase cleaned up his sound, and released a polished effort that is easily the most likeable and accessible work he has created yet.  The EP loosely follows the theme of seeking after “Corinthiax” – “A dark manifestation of a love that I was given by the hollow moon.”  It’s a dark, quirky listen that is an acquired taste, but one that I have learned to love given the right mood.

21 – Nasir by Nas

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One of the five albums to come out of Kanye’s Wyoming sessions, Nasir lacks some of the focus of the other five, but is still a phenomenal listen.  Kanye’s beats and Nas’ lyrics and delivery are a match made in heaven, and the album is crowded with great samples.  The album drops off a bit at the end, but the beginning warrants a spot for me on this list.  Also the song Simple Things might be one of the catchiest hip-hop tracks of the year.

20 – East Atlanta Love Letter by 6LACK

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6LACK is the artist that I always hoped Drake would be.  Unlike Drake’s bloated Scorpion, East Atlanta Love Letter is concise, and while it shares a similar moody hip-hop/modern RnB style to Drake, 6LACK sounds way more convincing than Drake ever has.  On album highlight “Scripture,” he raps, “I’m and RnB n— with a hip-hop core” and you believe him.

19 – DAYTONA by Pusha T

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On the first Kanye-produced project to arrive this summer, the president of G.O.O.D. MUSIC label made a scorching comeback.  This is a nearly perfectly constructed album – Push’s delivery is intense, sadistic, and snarky as ever before.  He spits bar after bar over Kanye’s beats and sampling, which are expertly crafted and chosen to fit the moment.  This is a daring, experimental, and daunting example of what gangster-rap looks like in 2018.

18 – CARE FOR ME by Saba

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The Chicago-native Saba wrote some of the most heartbreaking bars of 2018.  Much of the album deals with the loss of a loved one, and the aftermath.  On opening track “BUSY / SIRENS” he disdainfully and heartbrokenly raps, “Jesus got killed for our sins, Walter got killed for a coat / I’m tryna cope, but it’s a part of me gone / in this packed room I’m alone.”

17 – 7 by Beach House

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Beach House is one of those bands that I’ve always flirted with, never fully committing to calling myself true “fan,” but this album may have won me over.  I was swinging at the park up the street from my parent’s listening to it this summer when the song “Woo” came on.  The gorgeous synths, electro beats, and airy vocals singing “I want it all, but I can’t I can’t have it” made me feel like I was in a dream.

16 – Lush by Snail Mail

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A friend recommended this to me quite recently, and while I haven’t had the chance to get close to it, Lush is a strong example of what an indie rock album should sound like to me.  It is full of tightly constructed songs, passionate lyrics, and earwormy melodies that stick with you when you’re done.  Jordan’s vocals are emotional without overdoing it.  This album is one that I will return to in 2019.

15 – Sweetener by Ariana Grande

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I guess you could say I’ve been an Ariana stan (no that’s not a typo) for a while, and this album helped validate this title for me.  While her excellent debut Yours Truly was a great 90’s throwback record, and her subsequent releases yielded massive hits, it did not feel as though she had a truly unique voice in the pop sphere.  On this album she seems to have finally found it.  It’s a massive, girly, sincere, and fun album that pulls out all the stops.  This record proves that trap is the new pop, as many of her songs are oriented around trap influenced beats, while still maintaining the RnB-diva aesthetic of her previous work.  As far as pop music goes, this is as 2018 as it gets.

14 – Tha Carter V by Lil Wayne

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Wayne’s long delayed, incredibly hyped fifth Carter installment finally came this year.  For an album that he had begun working on years ago, this record sounds surprisingly modern.  Of course, in many ways it is nostalgic as all get out in terms of the lyrics and some of the beats, but it does not disappoint.  It felt like a return-to-form for Wayne, a resurrection of the master MC of ten years ago, with fast bars on top of fast bars, and punchline after punchline.  Where Wayne shines the most however is in his introspection as a veteran of the scene, as in the delightful and melodic “Mess.”

13 – Some Rap Songs by Earl Sweatshirt

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Odd Future alum Earl Sweatshirt was another popular rapper who made his return this year on the psychedelic, jazz influenced hodge-podge that is Some Rap Songs.  Earl has always been introspective, but he takes it to a new level on this release, reflecting upon the loss of his father.  He successfully ages from the angsty punk we knew from his early career to a reflective, wise adult who is on the verge of a spiritual awakening.

12 – Mark Kozelek by Mark Kozelek

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These days there’s not really that much of a difference between a Sun Kil Moon record and Mark Kozelek solo record, but it is evident upon this release.  These songs mainly consist of guitar looping and Mark’s trademark, stream-of-consciousness storytelling.  While not as engaging as some of his more dynamic work, this album is a testament to where he is at in his life and career.  It means a lot when an artist chooses to release a self-titled record this late in their career.  This album represents who Mark is, as he sings about his home town, boxing matches, memories from his childhood, and the day-in-and-day-out of his extremely normal, yet fascinatingly introspective life.

11 – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love by Deafheaven

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I don’t usually listen to metal that much.  One night this summer I was cramming an assignment for an online class, and I saw an album called Ordinary Corrupt Human Love pop up on my recommended page.  The album title is what initially caught me, as the meaning of the statement was intriguing, and the words themselves just sounded powerful.  I found myself struck by the dark beauty of the music.  I couldn’t understand the words lead vocalist Clarke was saying, but I felt the emotion of the music, and the attempt to make something huge and important.  “Canary Yellow” was blasted in my car on the way to work quite a bit in August.

10 – Kids See Ghosts by KIDS SEE GHOSTS

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This is the colab album that both Cudi and Kanye fans have been dreaming of for years.  It’s an extremely artsy-banger, with Ye and Cudi trading verses back and forth, across various genres and styles ranging from guitar-sampling rap, to straight up rock music, and even a song that sounds like Man On The Moon-era Kid Cudi.  It’s the perfect example of the genre that Kanye and Cudi have carved out for themselves over the span of their careers – a unique blend of art rap and pop rap that has gone on to influence hip-hop as we know it.

9 – Astroworld by Travis Scott

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Astroworld finally lived up to the hype that Scott has had since the start of his career.  The album is like the fictional theme park it is named after; each song is a wild ride and a new attraction.  While it inevitably drops off at some points due to its excessive runtime, it feels natural.  Like any long hot day at an amusement park, there are highs and lows: long waits in line, stops in grimy bathrooms, overpriced food.  But, most of the time, you’re still glad you went.

8 – This Is My Dinner by Sun Kil Moon

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I’ve already written about this album, so I’ll spare the details, but I will reiterate that this is one of Kozelek’s best recent works.  Rather than feeling oppressive as he did sometimes on 2017’s Common As Light, his stories here feel like they are coming from a better place of hope and often humor.  The variation of instrumentals is engaging, and captures a melancholic beauty that I am often aware of in late fall.  It is no wonder he waited to release this album until November 1st, as it was written and recorded in November of the previous year and perfectly fits that mood.

7 – Twin Fantasy by Car Seat Headrest

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I wasn’t sure if this should really count towards this year or not, as it is a re-recorded version of an album released years ago on bandcamp.  But considering the work that Toledo did to literally re-record and rework the whole thing, I believe it does stand out as a new record.  This is a densely packed, experimental indie-punk album that lays the writer bare to the listener.  It’s a long, thrilling masterpiece that is a tribute to those suffering from mental illness that is also life-affirming in its exuberant weirdness.

6 – Club Misery by Misery Club

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This is another that I’ve written about already this year, so again, I’ll spare the details.  Misery Club is one of those underground groups that you run across every so often that you realize is bound to be huge.  The melodies, tight beats, and emo lyrics are all geared perfectly towards rap’s current moment, as intense vulnerability is becoming more popular than ever.  With the right publicity behind them, this group could be one of the biggest pop-rap sensations, if not on the radio, then in the larger underground scene.

5 – Bark Your Head Off, Dog by Hop Along

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Hop Along’s third album is different than the previous two.  It has far fewer explosive moments than Paint It Shut, which initially was a setback to me.  Overtime though, the consistency of this record has caused me to come around to viewing it as potentially Hop Along’s best record.  It is paced perfectly, a fantastic example of guitar-based indie pop.  Lyrically, it touches on the emotional and personal memories, as well as on the current political moment in songs such as How You Got Your Limp and One That Suits Me.  It is a timely release that hits all the bases.

4 – Skylight by Pinegrove

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It took me a few days to listen to this album.  Given the band’s past, I had mixed feelings about their return, and it had been a while since I had listened to Cardinal actively.  In the end, Skylight turned out to be one of my favorite releases of the year.  It is not a drastic departure from their previous sound; much of it is still the same brand of country-infused emo that made them popular.  The difference here is that there is an amount of reflectiveness in these songs that hits the ears differently than Cardinal.  The first half is slow-paced and linear, and there are far fewer catchy hits on this record than before.  But give it a few listens, and you will find layers to the stories that these songs tell that will have you coming back time and time again.

3 – Swimming by Mac Miller

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Mac’s final album is his best yet.  I remember thinking this before he died, wondering where his career would take him next.  It’s the best version of what he had been trying recently – a funky style of rap that infused RnB flawlessly.  The lyrics are stark and personal, but also convey true joy and hope in the latter half.  It is not a perfect record, but it is not one that reveals a perfect man, so the flaws feel appropriate.  It’s a powerful testament to going through it (whatever your personal it might be) and coming out on the other side intact, a different person, but one who is ready and able to move on.  This is the best legacy Mac could’ve left as his last testament.

2 – boygenius by boygenius

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This is an indie-supergroup dream band.  The possibility of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus on one project makes total sense, but I still could not believe it was actually happening when it was announced.  As three of the most powerful voices in indie-rock in this current moment, they come together to make a record that has variety, consistency, and beauty that is nearly unparalleled.  They are all different-but-similar enough for it to work without sounding like their solo releases.  Boygenius is undeniably a group effort that offers something new to fans of any of the three artists.  I’m praying they do another release eventually.

1 – ye by Kanye West

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Kanye had quite a year.  It seems that he does almost everything he can to keep people from talking about what he does best: music.  Kanye’s short, flash-in-a-pan ye is his most lyrically revealing, vulnerable album in years.  In past releases, his usual pattern is to reveal something about himself – some guilt, pain or insecurity – and then immediately cover it with an expletive or a bad joke, but on this album, he gets as close to naked as we have seen him.  The lyrics deal largely with his mental health, wrongs he has committed against his wife and the public, as well as drug addiction, and working through his role as a father.  Through it all, the music is fantastic, crackly, a bit lo-fi (for blockbuster standards), adding to the rawness and emotional energy.  As usual, it is packed with guest features, most uncredited.  They usually take on a background role: these are not designed to gain hype, but to add to the over-all product.  Despite his shortcomings as a person, ye is some of the best music Kanye has released.  It will not be viewed as an influential super-hit the way most of his previous albums are, but to fans, it is a rare and real look into the most influential man in popular music.

Top Songs of 2018

Putting together a “Top Songs of 2018” post felt a little disingenuous for both of us, considering that both of us rarely listen to songs outside of their context in albums, making it hard to put even an approximate ranking to songs as a medium on the year. We’ll leave that kind of analysis to what we’re more familiar with: albums. Instead, here are our completely subjective favorite songs from 2018, we hope you like them as much as we do.

Zack’s List

“Happy” – Jeremy Messersmith (Pop-Folk)

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Jeremy Messersmith’s new album “Late Stage Capitalism” was almost one of my picks for most underrated album this year and it is filled with snarky, cynical sing-alongs reminiscent of Father John Misty, but a little hookier and dare I say a little less pretentious. “Happy” is Messersmith at his best, a head-bobbing earworm that is painfully sarcastic, but so upbeat that you can’t help but be cheered up at first listen.  It is the sonic equivalent of skipping through a field of flowers with a huge grin on your face and both middle fingers raised.

“Gray Havens” – Slow Mass (Indie-Punk)

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We’ve talked about Slow Mass a lot here at Not a Sound, so I’ll cut to the chase: everything about “On Watch” is good. “Gray Havens” is the first true song on the album and showcases everything the band does well: dramatic dynamic shifts, riffs that make you want to play Guitar Hero II again, and a soaring hook that’ll stick in your head for days. If you, like many people, have never heard Slow Mass before and are even remotely interested in the world of DIY punk music in 2018, this is a song you absolutely should not sleep on.

“Television” – IDLES (Punk, Post-Punk)

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Speaking of punk and punk-adjacent music, the English band IDLES put out arguably the most fun record of 2018, the aptly named “Joy as an Act of Resistance”, which is loaded with several of my personal favorite tunes. “Television” might be the most aggressively wholesome thing that has ever been recorded, an anthemic arena-punk song decrying Western beauty standards and promoting self-love. From the moment the song starts with the line, “If someone talked to you like you do to you, I’d put their teeth through” vocalist Joe Talbot demands that you love yourself, cascading into a gang shouted, sing-along chorus for the ages: “I go outside and I feel free / ‘Cause I smash mirrors and fuck TV.” Of all the songs on this list, this is the one I find myself coming back to the most.

“Back in Brooklyn” – Half Waif (Synth-Pop)

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In an age where female songwriters are finally starting to get the credit they deserve alongside their male counterparts, especially in alternative, Nandi Rose Plunkett is still one of the most underrated songwriters of the 2010s. “Back in Brooklyn” is a gorgeous piano ballad that pulls you in with the gentle rise and fall of Plunkett’s trademark soothing vocals. This song, however, has an emotional twist. When she reaches the bridge she reaches to very tip of her range for one of the best melodic moments of 2018 when she sings, “The further away I walk, the more I’m a whisper / Listen for me now / You’ve gotta listen for me know.” For the first and only time on the entire album her usually smooth voices reaches a raspy breakup and the result is a truly moving, tear-inducing climax to an already powerful song.

“I Couldn’t Be More in Love” – The 1975 (Art-Pop)

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I will be the first to tell you that I was never a huge fan of The 1975. They were a band that I thought was very talented, but their brand of pop-rock injected with a healthy dose of 80s flavor was never really my cup of tea. If you told me before December started that my favorite song of 2018 would be a The 1975 song I would have outright laughed in your face. Ironically, however, that is exactly what happened. “I Couldn’t Be More in Love” is a 90s RnB throwback that I didn’t know I wanted in 2018, but the soulful crescendo of, “What about THESE FEELINGS I got” made me audibly shout in jubilation the first time I heard it. It’s one of those songs that makes all the right choices from start to finish, landing every money note, hitting every cheeky key change, and even fitting in a guitar solo for good measure. “I Couldn’t Be More in Love” is immediate, emotional, and only gets better with more listens.

Ian’s List

“2009” – Mac Miller (hip-hop)

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“2009” was one of those songs that hit me exactly in the right moment.  This past August when Swimming was released I was driving with the windows down on my way to pick my brother up from soccer practice, listening to the album for the first time.  Dusk was beginning to fall; I think some slight rain might’ve been forming on the horizon.  The gorgeous string intro began; I turned up the volume slightly, and when Mac spoke the first line, “I don’t need to lie no more,” I was already hooked.  By the end of the last verse when he says, “with these songs I will carry you home / I’m right here when you’re scared and alone,” I had a tear in my eye, hearing the testament of a man who had been through it and came out on the other side to let us know it was going to be okay.  To me, this will always be Mac’s legacy.

“I Thought About Killing You” – Kanye West (hip-hop)

'The Jonathan Ross Show' TV Programme, London, Britain. - 28 Feb 2015

“The most beautiful thoughts are always beside the darkest.”  The first line of Kanye’s self-titled ye summarizes the contradictions that he embodied in 2018.  This album encapsulates evil, guilt, pain, ecstasy, love, and ultimately rebirth in it’s 23 minute runtime.  Although much has happened in the world of Ye since it’s release in June that may call into question what the “rebirth” ultimately amounted to, the album remains an excellent flash-in-a-pan rendering of a moment.  The first track sets the tone, admitting to viscous pride and self-loathing with the refrain, “I love myself way more than I love you / and I think about killing myself / so you best believe I thought about killing you today.”  Also, on a less heavy note, I still crap my pants every time the beat drops.

“Portal” – Pinegrove (indie-rock)

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This short track from Pinegrove’s excellent Skylight is a beautiful meditation on a lost relationship.  It seems to be one of the oft-forgotten songs in the first half of the record, which is full of dense writing and linear structure.  What initially caught my attention was the melody – Stephens emotional vocal delivery makes the song, as he sings over the melancholic folk-rock instrumental.  Only later was I struck by the power of the lyrics, “Isn’t it lovely / I’ll never hold you / to all you held me to,” making it stand out over the rest of the album to me, and one of the songs that I have repeatedly gone back to this year.

“Get Well Soon” – Ariana Grande (pop/RnB)

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The concluding track of Sweetener is everything you could want in an Ariana song.  The staccato piano chords, soaring vocal chops, hip-hop influenced beats – it’s all there.  It features a surprisingly unconventional song structure which suits her voice and style, and allows her to shine more than many of her more popular singles that usually get played on the radio.  Ariana is at her strongest when her hip-hop influence shines, and it definitely comes through on this track as she switches between singing and rapping without over doing it.  It gets me going every time.

“Canary Yellow” – Deafheaven (Post-rock/metal)

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Post-rock influenced black metal band Deafheaven released an album called Ordinary Corrupt Human Love this year, and jeez-oh-man is it dope.  “Canary Yellow” is the centerpiece of the record.  The first two-and-half minutes of the twelve minute track consists of an instrumental post-rock build, pulling you into the experience, only to slap you in the face with screaming vocals and pulverizing blast beats.  The riff in the third part of the song almost brings to mind the classic rock of the 70’s, complete with a squealing guitar solo that ushers in the only clean vocals on the track, an eery yet beautiful chorus of “On and on and on we choke on / on and on and on we choke on / an everlasting, handsome night / my lover’s blood rushes right through me.”  By the end of that song alone, you feel as if you come through a tremendous emotional journey that you can’t wait to go on again.

Our Favorite Musical Moments of 2018

 

This week is our year in review week at Not a Sound and we wanted to try celebrating a few things that don’t get celebrated enough. Both of our editors are musicians and/or songwriters outside of the blog and are passionate about the creative craft that goes into making good music. With that in mind, we thought it would be fun to do a pair of columns celebrating the craft of music rather than just the whole finished product. In the last article we basically just wanted to geek out about a few of our favorite lyrics from releases in 2018. In this one we want to share some of favorite musical moments from 2018. We hope you enjoy these songs as much as we do!

The Offensively Heavy Chorus Riff in “Whispers Among Us” by Rolo Tomassi

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On an album that is definitely not your father’s metal album, Rolo Tomassi pull off incredible cinematic moments, beautiful jazz sections, and lush synth washes, but it was not the most experimental moment on the album that first caught my attention, rather it was exactly what I came for: an obscenely heavy riff. Usually when a band tries to out-heavy themselves it comes off somewhat comical, satisfying, but in a way that makes you think “oh I can’t believe they did that.” The chorus of “Whispers Among Us” manages the incredibly difficult task of landing a riff that is unthinkably heavy, but contextualized in a way that it isn’t in the least bit comical. Instead it hits like a falling building, catching the listener unsuspecting and burying them before they know what hit them.

The Classic, Disney-esque Strings in “Window” by Noname

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Though Noname’s newest offering is led primarily by her talented lyricism, it is also an album full of creative arrangement choices. Perhaps one of the most ear-catching is the introduction to “Window”, which features a beautiful, cinematic string section that can only be prepared to the opening of a fairy-tale or a classic Disney movie.

The Transitions From “On Watch II” to “E.D.” to “The Author” on Slow Mass’s “On Watch”

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Slow Mass’s newest record might be the most underrated album of 2018, due in large part to their mastery of dynamic movement both in songs and between them. One of the most incredible moments on the album comes as the interlude “On Watch II” crescendos into the frenetic “E.D.”, which is more than doubly as heavy as anything previous on the album, which itself fizzles out after only a minute into the reserved track “The Author.” It happens so quickly and from so out of left field that it almost demands you replay it to make sure you didn’t imagine it.

The Jarring Beat Changes on “SICKO MODE” by Travis Scott feat. Drake

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“Sicko Mode” is the best song off 2018’s Astroworld.  In an album full of hits, it stands above the others as the main attraction.  Between the multiple beat changes and catchy (if uncomplicated) flows from Scott and Drake, the song feels like a thrilling rollercoaster, the kind where you’re ready to ride again as soon as you get off.

The Rock n’ Roll Ecstasy of “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)” by KIDS SEE GHOSTS

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To those only marginally familiar with their careers, it may seem unlikely that Kanye West and Kid Cudi created one of the most explosive rock jams of the year.  But indeed – it happened.  The crushing guitar chords and booming drums clash gorgeously with Kanye’s yelpy singing, while Cudi’s bass-heavy voice sounds like it could swallow up the world.  Add in the gorgeous harmonies provided by Ty Dolla $ign during the breaks, and you have the type of song that you’ll be turning up to max volume over and over again.

The Psychedelic Mirage of “Nowhere2go” by Earl Sweatshirt

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The first single off of Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs is a beautiful hallucination of sound.  There is so much going on, so much to unpack during its 1:53 run time. Earl raps over a disorienting yet infectious beat, as layer upon layer of melodic samples whirl around him.  It is gorgeous and exhilarating, the type of song that begs to be longer.  The sounds themselves are so beautiful that it is easy to forget that Earl is actually saying words here; his voice sounds like just another instrument in the mix.

Our Favorite Lyrics of 2018

This week is our year in review week at Not a Sound and we wanted to try celebrating a few things that don’t get celebrated enough. Both of our editors are musicians and/or songwriters outside of the blog and are passionate about the creative craft that goes into making good music. With that in mind, we thought it would be fun to do a pair of columns celebrating the craft of music rather than just the whole finished product. In this article we basically just wanted to geek out about a few of our favorite lyrics from releases in 2018, we hope you enjoy these songs as much as we do!

“Ghost Town”- Kanye West feat. PARTYNEXTDOOR, Kid Cudi, and 070 Shake

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070 Shake: “Oh once again I am a child / I let go of everything that I know / and nothing hurts anymore / I feel kind of free / we’re still the kids we used to be.”

“Ghost Towns” is the climax of Kanye West’s self-titled ye, in which 070 Shake leads the second half. Her child-like vocals soar over electric-guitar riffing, and when the instrumental cuts out at “I feel kind of free” leaving only her voice on the beat, it makes for one of the most triumphant, emotionally satisfying lyrical moments of 2018.

“Stay Down” – boygenius

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Julien Baker: “I look at you and you look at a screen / I’m in the backseat of my body / I’m just steering my life in a video game / similar acts in a different name”

The Julien Baker-led boygenius track “Stay Down” perfectly and simply describes the loneliness of life in 2018.

“2009” – Mac Miller

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“I don’t need to lie no more / nowadays all I do is shine, take a breath and ease my mind / and she don’t cry no more / she tells me that I get her high ‘cause an angel’s s’posed to fly / and I ain’t asking “why?” no more / oh no I take it if it’s mine, I don’t stay inside the lines / it ain’t 2009 no more / yeah I know what’s behind the door”

Released weeks before his untimely death, the penultimate track on Mac Miller’s final album is basically a perfect song, lyrically and sonically. In an album chronicling pain and rejection, “2009” looks beyond it all, accepting the past with a resolve to move forward. It is a true shame that he would not live to see this fully carried out.

“Lavender Burning” – Half Waif

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“I miss New York, but I don’t wanna think about leaving / I’m out on the road and it’s losing all of its meaning / Just tryin’ to fill this hole that once held my whole being / Is this all there is?”

The opening track to Half Waif’s critically acclaimed album “Lavender” is a stunning reflection on self and place. Invoking her grandmother’s practice of burning lavender as an image of home and identity, lyricist Nandi Rose Plunkett reflects on her life on the road and all that she left behind; those things that shaped her into who she is that she now feels distant from.

“With You” – Noname

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“I’m almost just as empty as you think I am, a penny for your thoughts / A witty pear of happiness, a pretty Ricky Ross / A maid black music, I woke up in my sympathy, became black Judas / All my everythings for sale / All my secondhand discoveries, Dungarees faded pale / All my halfway hallelujahs that tippy-toed in the mail / All the fluctuations on scales / And the missing therapy sessions of bullets treating me well”

It’s hard to pick just one lyric from Noname’s “Room 25”, an album that is packed with incredible lines from the moment it opens with “Self” to the moment it fades out with “no name.” I decided to go with the penultimate track “With You”, where Noname wrestles with her growing fame and influence and what it’s like to essentially sell your life experiences as art. This perpetual mental battle is one that all confessional writers face to one degree or another, and Noname nails the feeling with a lyrical precision and openness unique to her.

“Why” – Animal Flag

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“When your parents met, it was a lonely night / They figured yeah, who cares? People get married all the time / Then they made you up, and they brought you home / And they laid you down and said “God, what have we done? / What have we done?”

“Now you’re a speck of dust on a floating rock / You’re the fastest hand on the smallest clock / You’re a vapor bird in a body cage / And when you break out, it’ll leave everyone in pain /Oh, in pain”

“Why” deals with the ever looming existential question, “why are any of us even here?” in a way that is both artful and somewhat humorous. It opens with a lackadaisical, irreverent stanza about a married couple bringing a new child into the world before shifting into a stanza detailing the existential dread of being human in the most snide possible way. In what is perhaps it’s most clever line, Animal Flag describe the human essence, or soul as “a vapor bird in a body cage” before revealing the irony of death, that freeing that bird from it’s cage will leave everyone else in pain. What a drag.

Enjoy these songs in the playlist below.

The DIY Deep Dive: 5 Small Artists To Pay Attention To

The DIY Deep Dive is a space to showcase impressive DIY touring artists who are in the very early stages of their career. These artists may not always have the most glitzy or refined recordings, but their underlying talent shines through their budget. To qualify for this column an artist must have less than 2000 social media followers and preferably be independent, while displaying the talent and creativity of acts much larger. Think of this as a column for early-adopters: get in on the ground floor with these artists and help them get to the next level.

Here are five very small artists who have released music in the last year that left a big impression on us, and one bonus album, our Subterranean Super-Cut, for those of you who crave really underground music.

The Sonder Bombs – Modern Female Rockstar

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“I don’t wanna be your merch girl, I wanna be your goddamn idol,” front-woman Willow Hawks declares on the cheekily named “Title”about halfway through an album that is equal parts bubblegum pop sensibility and fiercely unapologetic lyrics. Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, The Sonder Bombs do their best to supplant and overturn everything you know about pop punk on Modern Female Rockstar, inverting the one-sided good-guy/bad-girl trope so common in the genre to provide a much needed counterbalance in perspective.

Where the album truly shines, though, is Hawks’ ability to avoid pigeonholing her lyrical character to create a nuanced emotional palette. Often she seethes with indignation, daringthe listener to underestimate her on songs like anthemic closer Twinkle Lights, but she doesn’t shy away from dipping into more vulnerable territory on the mid-tempo Something I Said and the slow-burn Dimly Lit. Hawks’ powerhouse vocals carry the album through each peak and valley effortlessly, dropping to low croons before climbing to a resounding bellow with just enough rasp to convince you she absolutely is the rock star she claims to be without ever jeopardizing the sing-along quality of each and every song. Modern Female Rockstar is a non-stop joy ride from start to finish, a high-energy soundtrack to the dismantling of the musical patriarchy.

Charles Walker – Whole Again, Split w/ Ben Trickey

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Though not as prolific a locale as Austin, Texas, or Nashville, Tennessee, or even Muscle Shoals, Alabama – Boone, North Carolina has the sound of a place where good country music could grow. That is where self-described “sad-twang” singer and prolific songwriter Charles Walker built his brand of alt-country/emo crossover that sits somewhere between the drawl of Southeastern era Jason Isbell and the depressive introspection of Turn Out the Lights era Julien Baker. In what may surprise some and validate others, these two styles meld seamlessly in Charles Walker’s two 2018 EPs Whole Again and a Split w/ Ben Trickey.

Whole Again leans harder in the alt-country direction, led mostly by acoustic guitars and embellished with beautiful string, horn, and vocal arrangements to complement Walker’s heart-felt, confessional lyrics. The EP sets the tone early and keeps riding it with stuck-inside-on-a-rainy-day melancholic lines like “I know you don’t hate me/Sometimes I wonder when I’m walking home”, “How you feel when I speak means a lot to me”, “I know what I did was wrong/That’s not the kind of thing you say when you love someone”, and the anguished cry of “How many God/How long must I suffer/I Just want to feel whole again.” Walker doesn’t deviate from the introspective gut-punches on the much more indie-rock Split w/ Ben Trickey, leading in with Crutch, a song that hits that perfect balance between sonic nostalgia and lyrical immediacy, crescendoing with the resolved group vocal “If there is hope left it evades me now.” With two solid EPs now under his belt, Charles Walker is an artist to keep an eye on going into 2019.

Shin Guard – Cerebral

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Screamo is probably the most unfortunately maligned genre-tag of the last 20 years, known more as dismissive boomer-speak for anything with harsh vocals than for its actual body of work. While the emo/posthardcore crossbreed has always had a niche audience in part due to its actual content, it’s hard not to think that part of its relegation to obscurity has to do with the unwarranted negative associations accompanying its unfortunate moniker. Fortunately the plight of the genre itself didn’t stop Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Shin Guard from releasing one of the most inventive screamo records in years at any level this last Fall.

Listening to Cerebral it’s almost unfair to limit its scope with a genre-tag. The album pulls sonic inspiration from all over the alternative spectrum, swelling into grandiose post-rock builds, delving into shoegaze-adjacent fuzz rock, and at one point, on penultimate track Intact, incorporating a banjo into what could best be described as post-hardcore without making it a gimmick. Lead vocalist Owen Traynor convincingly pulls off every contemporary vocal style sans rapping, once again without slipping into the realm of schlock: crooning on the emotional build of Intact, belting on the sing-along chorus of Cross Country, descending into primal screams on Carabosse, delving into several extended spoken word pieces including opener Forlorn, and even trying an ethereal, floating falsetto akin to Justin Vernon on the shoegazey Recant.

As if the sonic diversity wasn’t enough, Cerebral’s album composition is also top notch, comparable in musical scope, though in a different style, to The Hotelier’s 2015 classic Home, Like No Place is There. Each track maintains its own distinctive personality while each consecutive musical experiment contextualizes the next like progressing chapters in a novel. All in all Shin Guard’s debut LP stands as one the biggest hidden gems of the 2018 album crop: an impressive art-rock piece that should serve as the foundation for a newly blossoming band already flirting with greatness.

Appalachian Doom Gospel – Little Blue EP

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Award winning newspaper columnist Brian O’Neil once called Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, “the Paris of Appalachia.” One county over from Appalachia’s crown-jewel in the slightly more rural Butler, the seven-piece folk/country outfit Appalachian Doom Gospel are doing their best to prove O’Neil’s point with their debut Little Blue EP. As soon as guitarist/vocalist Zach Reed slides into the opening riff of Untitled (Grandma’s Song)it’s as if he transports the listener straight to a spontaneous community jam around a backyard bonfire. That’s not to say that the Little Blue EP feels unrefined, quite the opposite, but that for its 13 minute duration Reed immerses you in something so rustic, so old-timey, and so patently southern, that you won’t believe it came from the foothills of Andrew Carnegie’s city of steel.

Appalachian Doom Gospel is one of those artists that writes deceptively complex music. On first listen it is the overall vibe, carried by Reed’s smoky baritone and a group harmony ensemble courtesy of Cody Clark and Laurel Wain, that catches your attention. Only after a few listens does it truly become apparent that there are sevenpeople playing on these songs, creating an intricate web of acoustic and steel guitars, trumpets, washboards, assorted strings, and percussion all playing off each other like a well-oiled machine. This depth gives the EP continual replay value and makes each consecutive listen a sort of discovery venture, revealing new facets to the songs that may not have jumped out before. Overall, Little Blue EP is a solid debut that we can only hope is the first of an illustrious career.

Qajaq – A Canopy Above Our Endless Sky

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They’re tearing down trees night and day with the promise of great, mighty walls to come/ They’re scraping out all of the shade, but then crawling away when their towers fall far below/ There isn’t an anchor or slave, not an ocean or grave, nowhere to bury the pain/ But you seek nothing else despite all our wanting/ Your knife stays on your belt and your words are dishonest/ You seek nothing else, so we’re sleeping with caution and laying our burdens down at the place you depart” – Qajaq, The Bad Year

A Canopy Above Our Endless Sky jumps out the gate with the above run of lines, pulling together socio-political issues, personal strife, and the man/nature rift in a way that can only be described as spiritual. Over the course of the next ten songs Chicago, Illinois native David Shay, better known by his stage persona Qajaq (pronounced Kayak), delves deeper into questions about human nature, politics, God, spirituality, and reality at large, delivering line after line over a lush, expansive soundscape built from the bones of earthy folk music and celestial drone; two seeming opposites married in a way that makes them seem natural born partners. This sonic palette is itself the perfect partner and reflection of Shay’s lyrical style and chosen themes on A Canopy Above Our Endless Sky. The dusty earth of his folk leanings and the endless atmosphere of the accompanying drone sounds mirror lyrics that are simultaneously esoteric and grounded; fitting for an album that feels like it’s pulling transcendence from the earthly and the earthly from the transcendent.

At any given moment it seems that Shay is getting at something intangible in a way that feels personally confident, while simultaneously allowing the room for mystery to remain mysterious. Perhaps what is most impressive is that Shay accomplishes these lofty feats effortlessly, effectively shaping a world out of sound and inviting the listener to live in it for the duration of the album’s 45 minutes. In some ways this makes A Canopy Above Our Endless Sky more akin to a Hayao Miyazaki film that’s been distilled into audio than it is a traditional album of songs. It’s the kind of album that demands your undivided attention in order to truly appreciate it, but once you do, you will find yourself revisiting it again and again.

The Subterranean Super-Cut: Jake Rozmus – View From Your Apartment

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Hailing from the town of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, Jake Rozmus’ gorgeous solo debut View From Your Apartment might be the most under-promoted album of the year. I’m pretty sure Jake played one-and-a-half shows in 2018. He barely told anyone about the record, which is a “bandcamp exclusive.” Despite the excavating it took to find it, those of us who managed to stumble across this gem were in for a rare treat.

In a style crossed between country, the soft-rock of the 1970s, and confessional emo sensibilities, Jake opens up his world, giving listeners vivid snapshots of moments in his life and the lives of those around him. Opening track Morning begins with a recording from a Christmas day long gone, when times and joys were much simpler, establishing bittersweet tone. This is immediately juxtaposed with the stream-of-consciousness Driving Old Blue, a reflection on change, “thoughts of younger days and forgotten names run through radio waves / and back through Old Blue’s rusted frame. It begs the question that haunts the whole record, “how did I get from there to here?”.

The fifth track, Second Wind, poignantly encapsulates this. In the last verse, Jake delivers the hauntingly beautiful lines, “Does the view from your apartment harmonize with your childhood window / like the memory of your mother’s voice / like our journey out on the town tonight.” It captures those moments when a memory hits you out of nowhere, causing you to pause and appreciate where you came from and where you are now, and the seemingly vast distance in between. This record is just that: a brief glimpse through a window, a familiar scent, or an old piece of clothing that makes you remember your childhood, ending with the simple yet profound musing, “I wish I was a kid / to be a kid.” Here’s to hoping this is not the last Jake Rozmus album because this conclusion leaves me dying to hear the next chapter.