I was on break from music journalism for the first half of 2018. Being even one degree removed from the industry, I missed a lot of stuff. I may have been working overtime shifts at my day job for a good amount of that time, as well, but that only contributed to my lack of new music exposure. I don’t have a top 50 like Hayduke, but being “the new guy” I thought I would share my take on the Top Ten-ish of 2018. It was a year full of boundary pushing, genre blending, and crazy music; and the craziest part is that every list I read is full of great stuff I missed. Hopefully readers find some new gems on mine as well.
Top Ten “ish #1”
Tierra Whack – Whack World
Coming out of nowhere to take over the whole internet, Tierra Whack dropped 15 solid gold tracks that found their way into the hearts and lists of many music fans this year. The songs themselves are never much more than a minute in length, but they’re all flawless and leave the listener wanting more. Adding to the artistic merit (and enjoyment factor) is a musical short film encompassing the entire album. The movie is just as fun as the mixtape and its inclusion puts Whack World at the top of my “also-ran” list.
Standout track: Whole album, seriously it’s 15 minutes long.
Ski Mask the Slump God – Stokeley
Ski Mask has been my favorite rapper in the Florida underground scene and it’s good to see him finally release a professional full length. His debut album Stokeley is killer at its highest peaks, but suffers from filler tracks to pad out its lengths. I’m stoke-d to report that the Slump God is among the few Floridians to break out of the underground without compromising their sound for the sake of a broader audience. Certain artists within hip hop have been taking visual inspiration from metal for a while now, but Ski Mask takes musical inspiration as well. Check the Slipknot sample on his underground hit with the late XXXTentacion “Off the Wall”. Ski dedicated his debut to his controversial friend, and that level of care shows in a strong final product.
Standout track: “Nuketown”
Black Moth – Anatomical Venus
Black Moth is a band I found through Spotify while looking for witchy doom bands to play in polite company. Their debut full-length Anatomical Venus starts a bit slow but by the end of Side A it had me completely hooked. The album builds with each song better than the last until it concludes with barnstormer track “Pig Man”. A friend of mine tried to hype this band to his contacts at Decibel but they slept on it. Don’t make their mistake, listen to the album now, and be sure to check out Black Moth’s live show when they come through!
Standout track: “Pig Man”
Curren$y/Freddie Gibbs/The Alchemist – Fetti
I’ve been dreaming about these two rappers working together since I first get into their music years ago. Spitta and Fred share a similar ethos of riding boxframe Chevys on wires and burning trees by the harvest, and both rappers can flow smoother than pouring up a pint. From the very beginning the pair, along with producer The Alchemist, deliver a masterclass in filler-not-killer. The mixtape weighs in around 25 minutes and its short run time has contributed heavily to its enjoyment factor for me; I have more opportunities to play a sub-30-minute album as I try to “adult” around coworkers and friends with disparate tastes.
Standout track: “Saturday Night Special”
Top Ten of 2018
NECKBEARD DEATHCAMP – WHITE NATIONALISM IS FOR BASEMENT DWELLING LOSERS
One of the most difficult things for me the past couple years is the lack of response from reasonable people to the rise of global fascism. Black metal gimmick band NECKBEARD DEATHCAMP delivers a masterful, social-media-conscious retort to the absurdity of the Alt-White and their weaponised bad faith. Combining the brutal musical assault of modern low-fi black metal with the hilarious and pointed song titles of grindcore, the band’s debut was thrown together in a matter of months but has been more than good enough to win over bandcamp.com and piss off a whole lotta Nazis. Also infuriating the racists is the band’s brilliant Twitter account, which delivers hot takes and sick burns in all caps.
Standout track: “THE FETISHIZATION OV ASIAN WOMEN DESPITE DEMANDS FOR A PURE WHITE RACE”
Behemoth – I Loved You At Your Darkest
“Behemoth are Old – The Album” was actually pretty good. I appreciated the maturity and restraint in the songwriting and production, and the new sound isn’t entirely unexpected if you listen to what they’ve released leading up to this. ILYAYD represents a band in transition, and I think the new sound suits Behemoth’s brand of “spooky mystical Satan rock” well. The visuals have been updated as well, along with an impressive live show which I was lucky enough to see in Detroit. Hardcore black metal fans might find the new Behemoth too campy; I know a lot of folks couldn’t get over the chanting children moments. I maintain that experimentation is usually a good thing, that it’s well-executed here, and that “trve kvlt” dudes need to lighten up anyway.
Standout track: “Wolves Ov Siberia”
Windhand – Eternal Return
I mentioned above that I’m usually in the market for new witchy doom bands that won’t freak out the picky white women I work with. Windhand have been on my radar since their debut, but in the past, they’ve suffered from muddy production that, while fitting for their subgenre, is off putting to outsiders. Eternal Return sounds fantastic, and it’s great fun front to back. A bunch of outlets have been covering this one, including some that normally ignore bands like Windhand. Expect them to blow up in the next year or so.
Standout track: “Grey Garden”
Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
In all honesty, I thought Dirty Computer was more important socially than musically in the grand scope of 2018. A coming out album from a pop sensation that propelled her to superstardom, this record champions the idea that in an America ruled by hate, loving yourself and loving those around you is a radical act of resistance. Janelle’s position as a pop culture icon is a beacon for queer women of color everywhere, which is particularly heartwarming as hers is an intersection that deserves better from society. Evidence of Monáe’s apprenticeship under the late Prince is all over this record, but if Prince taught you how to write hits, why wouldn’t you try to run the formula into the ground?
Standout track: “Screwed”
Rosalía – El Mal Querer
When I read the reviewers going crazy about a “flamenco revival” album, I was more than a little curious. Rosalía’s vocals pull goosebump-raising stunts over beats that impel hips to shake as El Mal Querer delivers one of the strongest A-Sides of 2018. A neo-flamenco revival is said to be sweeping the Spanish underground and with Rosalía, it’s beginning to make waves in the mainstream.
Standout track: “Que No Salga La Luna”
Sleep – Sciences
I missed out on Sleep’s 2017 tour, otherwise I might have had a clue that they were planning a 4/20 album release for their first record since 1999. I did manage to hear it fresh they day-of, and was floored by its execution. Picasso supposedly said of his sloppy, abstract style that “it took 5 years to learn to paint [realism], but a lifetime to paint like a child” and Sleep show that a lifetime of dedication to their craft is what makes them stand out from other groups of stoners with guitars. Sciences is full of noisey, drawn out songs that have every element of stoner doom that I hate somehow performed in a way I find almost faultless.
Standout track: “Sonic Titan”
Noname – Room25
I’m an absolute sucker for slam-poetry rappers. I also have a personal softness for a femcee with a killer flow. Noname has been on my radar since Chicago took over in 2016, and I was a big fan of her NPR Tinydesk concert. This exposure aside, I wasn’t prepared for her 2018 masterclass of rhythmic delivery and lyrical headshots. “Fucked your rapper homie, now his ass is making better music/My pussy teachin ninth-grade English/My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism/In conversation with a marginal system in love with Jesus/And y’all still thought a bitch couldn’t rap, huh?” These lines from the track “Self” had everybody shook, and deservedly so.
Standout track: “Blaxploitation”
Georgia Anne Muldrow – Overload
This album is a scintillating moment in R&B. It’s a powerful statement of black femininity. But more than that, it’s the answer to one of the heaviest sociological questions of the New American Century: how do we continue to be lovers and love each other when it’s time to stand up and be fighters? Muldrow proclaims her love for her narrative “you” as she pleads for a better life for people of color in the West. She takes the time to spell out “The Things I Like About You” in a cute duet with Dudley Perkins. But make no mistake, like Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu before her, Georgia Anne Muldrow is a strong black woman who won’t retreat. “Before I be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave” she chants on revolutionary anthem “BLAM”. The multitalented Muldrow produces her own beats most of the time, but enlisted help from legendary crate-digger Madlib for Overload, which can also be thought of as a collaboration between the two producers.
Standout track: “Play it Up”
Cloud Rat – Clipped Beaks/Silk Panic
I reviewed this double disc compilation by Michigan’s most unique band recently, but I cannot stress how amazing this piece of music is. Cloud rat are constantly pushing boundaries and blazing new trails in the world of experimental grindcore, and their collection of splits from the last couple years really puts their versatility of style on display. The vast difference in the sound of “Perdiak” from “Fish in a Pond” to “Holding the Picture” could have come from three different artists, but it’s just another day for Cloud Rat. Do us all a favor and buy this record so that the band can raise money for a full length in 2019!
Standout track: “Holding the Picture”
SOPHIE – Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides
My friend who really likes Gnaw Their Tongues showed me this. I was drawn in by the unapologetic camp of resistance anthem “It’s Okay to Cry” when SOPHIE forced YouTube to either take a progressive stance on gender identity policy OR allow boobies in a music video. They chose the latter, and SOPHIE made the most of every moment. The album really shines when it takes on a transhumanist perspective in the songs “Ponyboy” and “Faceshopping”. The sound is noisy, harsh, and constantly “othering” in all my favorite ways. I tried to show this to my former editor from our days at Invisible Oranges and he struggled to get past the first song. Once he made it through, however, he was couldn’t stop marvelling at how “aggro” SOPHIE gets. The album has an enormous breadth of sounds, which can be overwhelming at first, but the way it captures the modern trans experience combined with the album’s replay value will make this record relevant years from now.Standout track: “Whole New World/Pretend World”