Below you will read about the possible swan song of one of the greatest psych bands to ever exist, a fiery California rapper on the rise, a polarizing “black metal” band once again putting out beautiful work, and the reincarnation of a dance-punk masterpiece nearly forgotten.
20. Mount Eerie – Now Only
From The Microphones to Mount Eerie, singer-songwriter Phil Elverum has become one the most visceral storytellers of the past two decades. Whether it’s the aftermath of a breakup or the tragic death of his wife, no one is able to capture the essence of grief quite like Elverum.
With Now Only, a more distant follow up to 2017’s devastatingly candid A Crow Looked at Me, Elverum reflects on death with a less intimate, but clearer lens. Though the introspective prior album captured ineffable pain through immediacy and raw reaction to mortality, Now Only sifts through Elverum’s mourning through retrospection and excruciatingly vivid imagery.
On “Earth,” for instance, Elverum recollects a time where he and their daughter were rolling around in the grass—only to see faint, scattered chunks of his wife’s bones. Though this may sound gruesome, Elverum manages to render a seemingly horrific image beautiful and poetic. Even though Now Only does not pack the emotional punch of A Crow Looked at Me, he focuses less on the concept of death by offering a clearer glimpse into the lives of two lovers.
19. Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt
An album six years in the making, And Nothing Hurt is the product of a grueling recording process miraculously confined to a small room and single laptop. Rumored to be his last project as Spiritualized, Jason Pierce (aka J. Spaceman) curates a symphonic rock escape that sounds impossibly cinematic given the confined spaces from which it was made.
The highly anticipated follow up to 2012’s Sweet Heart Sweet Life, the new record follows the typical Spiritualized blueprint: mixing elements of blues, gospel, classical and neo-psychedelic into a cauldron of space rock grandeur. Though it’s nothing new when it comes to Spiritualized standards, the level of magnificence produced from nearly nothing makes And Nothing Hurt Pierce’s most impressive achievement. If this truly is the end, then thank you J. Spaceman for bringing cathartic relief for the times we were overwhelmed by futility and sadness.
18. MGMT – Little Dark Age
With the 10 songs that comprise Little Dark Age, MGMT has devised a genius display of pop music that is accessible but at the same time complex upon closer examination. These songs are made to surprise the most critical and also the most casual of listeners. Yes, Little Dark Age does tend to relieve some of the best of ‘80s synth-pop (“Me and Michael” and “James”), but it does so with a darkly invigorating twist.”
17. Jpegmafia – Veteran
An industrial, underground hip-hop showstopper, Angeleno Jpegmafia launches into the spotlight as a rising and a most intimidating MC with Veteran. Building off an experimental formula established by the likes of Death Grips and Clipping, Jpegmafia’s second album is aggressively mechanical—throwing listeners into a hell-storm full of abrasive beats, unsettling loops and robotic samples.
Sure, Veteran may be “too edgy” for some—it fits a niche embraced by hipsters and individuals jaded with the polarizing wave of mumble-rap—but the fact of the matter is this: You don’t want to be in Jpegmafia’s angry line of fire. Through mic-dropping wittiness and a flow defined by fury, he establishes himself as one of the most daunting forces in hip-hop in 2018.
16. Sophie – Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides
Arguably the biggest breakout artist of the year, Sophie furthered her name as an unparalleled talent in 2018. Having previously worked alongside pop superstars like Rhianna and Charli XCX, Sophie made herself known as a singular and preeminent producer with the release of her debut album.
Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides sets Sophie apart from contemporaries and is an astonishing peek into the metaphysical future of pop music. Funneling her heartfelt experience as a trans woman through contrasting moments of post-industrial calamity (“Pony Boy”) across virgin grounds of experimental sounds, the album may sound alien. But it’s also the most human record of the year.
15. Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
Often deemed the illegitimate child of the black metal scene, Deafheaven angered metalheads even more with the release of its fourth LP, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. With genre elitists left irritated by the hype surrounding Deafheaven’s rise to success, the California band continued to mature its sound with a project containing some of their most beautiful moments ever recorded.
Exploring post-rock passages mixed with elements of dark folk and even a bit of dream-pop, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love’s melodic nature is closer in spirit to Slowdive’s Pygmalion than it is to the band’s genre-defining achievement, Sunbather. With moving chorus melodies and crescendoing guitars buttressing the album’s splendor, there is enough here to warrant Ordinary Corrupt Human Love as Deafheaven’s most immersive and impressive work.
14. Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy
Though including Twin Fantasy may be cheating—it was initially released in 2011—Car Seat Headrest’s decision to re-record its coming-of-age classic has given the record new life. With better equipment and more money to throw around, the band’s renovation of this dance-punk gem was a move that made perfect sense. Clearer, cleaner and more dynamic, Twin Fantasy is a different beast compared to its lo-fi descendent. Lyrically and thematically, there is nothing new to say about it, but it will remind long-time listeners of the stirring emotional core beneath Will Toledo’s snarky and addictive storytelling.
13. Ought – Room Inside The World
Room Inside The World is an album perfectly pitched between delusion and hope, tension and release. But the most profound aspect of Ought’s new direction is that the band finally uncovers its inventive, vulnerable core, and it’s all the more magical and reinvigorating with Tim Darcy leading the progression.
12. Shame – Songs of Praise
This was one helluva year for punk rock, and one band that helped make that happen was U.K.’s Shame, with its debut, Songs of Praise. A hip and youthful post-punk record, Songs of Praise is an album that embraces honesty through anger. Exploring the angst and anxiety that bridges the gap between millennials and Generation Z, each one of frontman Charlie Steen’s words are felt deeply. Take this urgently resonant verse from the track “Concrete” as example: “Do you feel alone?/ Do you feel replaced?/ Fearing the unknown?/ Craving escape?”
Though many of the songs explore abrasively depressing topics and sentiments befitting of the post-Brexit era, there’s a maturity rarely experienced in bands this wet behind the ears. While its sound isn’t entirely original—think Hüsker Dü meets Protomartyr—Shame embraces the reality that it is a young band barely tapping into its immense potential. Shame dares to bask in the glory of its influences and unafraid to say something worthwhile.
11. Porches – The House
With The House’s polished exterior and increased sonic intricacy, Porches’ latest manages to emanate a warm, welcoming intimacy that is rarely experienced with pop music today. Even though The House embraces paranoia and a long-standing pain suggestive of doubt and ambiguity, a magnified level of optimism surfaces that has been relatively absent in Aaron Maine’ past material.