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2018 Year-End List Extravaganza

Top 20* Albums of 2018

I’ll put the big link before the blathering: New Artillery Top 20* Albums of 2018.

Given the absurd amount of year-end lists cluttering The Internet, there shouldn’t be any sense of achievement for making one, but this list is the first I’ve finished since 2013. Every year since then I’ve worked on a list and made decent progress toward completion: selection, writing, design, formatting—just not finishing. Part of that failure is par for the course. I’ve gone thousands of words into pieces intended for this site and never shepherded them to the end. A larger part is the prevailing sense that my experience with a year of music will never be “complete” enough to put a stamp on it. I attempt to keep up with noteworthy releases from a year of music, get hopelessly behind, play Polvo’s Siberia a dozen times, realize there are fifty albums I need to hear before making a list, and think “Maybe next year is when I’ll hear everything of note.” But that is impossible, and I’m reasonably proud of continuing to add some previously unfamiliar artists to the stable of favorites who released a new record that I unsurprisingly enjoyed a great deal.

Here are ten additional songs that I enjoyed from this year, listed in alphabetical order.


The Beths / “Future Me Hates Me”

I just heard it this week, but The Beths’ Future Me Hates Me was nevertheless quite close to finding a place on my albums list. I first heard the New Zealand group on Jon Solomon’s 30-hour Christmas marathon on WPRB when he played their cover of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and he mentioned on-air that he still needed to check out their record. I made that same mental note, and Future Me Hates Me is an energetic, hyper-melodic indie pop album. Its title track is by no means the only keeper—I could have picked “Not Running” or “Little Death” without hesitation—but the overlapping vocal melodies in its final chorus are what sold me on the album.




Blanck Mass / “Please (Zola Jesus Remix)”

At this point, Benjamin John Power has been more productive in his solo project Blanck Mass than his ostensible main gig, Fuck Buttons. Over three proper full-lengths, a handful of EPs, and a smattering of worthwhile ephemera, Power has explored arpeggiated-synth ambient, BPM-crazed cardio-fuel, terrifying industrial, and warped-vocal catharsis. The four-track World Eater Re-Voxed EP compiles four remixes of songs from Blanck Mass’s astounding 2017 LP, and the clear highlight is Zola Jesus’s goth-club reimagining of “Please.” It starts off slow, but the crossing vocal lines in the final minutes wipe away memories of the stellar source material.




Christian Fitness / “Hamsterland”

I’m in the midst of writing a longer piece on Andrew Falkous’s one-man-band Christian Fitness (which hopefully will come into existence before 2023), but if you’ve never ventured beyond Falkous’s main gigs of Mclusky and Future of the Left, the closing track from Christian Fitness’s fifth (!) album, Nuance – The Musical is as good of a place to start as any. Driven by an elephantine keyboard lead (at least I assume it’s a keyboard, Falkous does some great work with guitar tones in CF), “Hamsterland” is at once calm and frenzied. “This is the bit at the end,” Falkous announces with a minute left in the song, and the lyrical zingers drop like bombs.




Let’s Eat Grandma / “Donnie Darko”

I first encountered this teenage experimental pop duo’s name on a show flyer at Great Scott in September. As much as I appreciate comma jokes, even outright groaners, I wasn’t expecting to see one while waiting for The Gotobeds to take the stage. A few months later I’d seen enough recommendations for LEG’s sophomore album, I’m All Ears, to finally check it out, and I was pleasantly surprised by the kaleidoscopic array of synth-pop textures. Not all of their ideas work, but it’s hard to complain when there’s such an incredible amount of them crammed into 52 minutes. With apologies to the blown-out hooks of “Hot Pink,” the club dizziness of “Falling into Me,” and the earnest slow-build of “I Will Be Waiting,” the record’s highlight is its eleven-minute closing track, “Donnie Darko.” Taking I’m All Ears’ penchant for sprawl to an extreme, “Donnie Darko” sounds like a previously unimagined collaboration between Lorde and Fuck Buttons.




Llarks / “What We Find Now”

Rehashing Chris Jeely’s resume would take an entire paragraph, but I first heard his music via selections of Accelera Deck’s Narcotic Beats on Epitonic in 1999 (which officially stopped existing this year), and I’ve followed his evolution through any number of sub-genres since then. He’s no less prolific with his latest nom de plume, Llarks (2018 LP Like a Daydream was preceded by the Metallic Summer Sea EP), but there’s a calmness and serenity to ambient compositions like “What We Find Now” that feels like the long-deserved resolution to an often-restless creative journey. My immediate point of comparison is Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, which are lofty heights indeed.




Midwife / “Forever”

Madeline Johnston followed up Midwife’s excellent 2017 LP Like Author, Like Daughter with the four-song Prayer Hands cassette, a slow drip of morphine for the bedridden. These lugubrious tracks would make perfect sense on Kranky Records, recalling the label’s “Going Nowhere Slow” t-shirt. You could peel away gossamer layers of fuzz for hours without reaching Johnston’s unaltered vocal tracks, and yet there’s still a clear emotional impact to lyrics like “I want to feel / Forever / I don’t know / I don’t know how” drifting in the ether.




Mogwai / “Donuts”

I’ve been a Mogwai fan for more than 20 years now, so please recognize the restraint needed to stop myself from nudging their soundtrack for the sci-fi movie Kin (which I still haven’t seen) into my top albums list by default. It’s not undeserving of praise, mind you—like 99% of Mogwai’s material, it is extremely listenable, and the final third comprised of moody post-rock explorations “Guns Down” and “Kin” and the up-tempo vocal number “We’re Not Done” is excellent—but on the whole, I prefer last year’s superb Every Country’s Sun. The highlight of the soundtrack comes at its midpoint, with the slowly pulsing synths of “Donuts” evolving into a neon-lit, mid-tempo stomp. It absolutely deserves inclusion on the next update of the six-LP best-of compilation Central Belters (which is now one proper LP and three soundtracks out of date).




Protomartyr / “Wheel of Fortune”

2017’s Relatives in Descent remains in regular rotation, but Protomartyr supplemented that tower-crashing achievement with the four-song Consolation EP. Vocalist Joe Casey is accompanied by The Breeders’ Kelley Deal (an arrangement that previously produced the superlative “Blues Festival”), and “I decide who lives and who dies!” is a chilling refrain for the pulse-of-a-nation-that’s-bleeding-out primacy of “Wheel of Fortune.” Every line cuts deep—“Wrath for sale and it is always Christmas,” “Your time is coming / That is our promise / If you’re not around your children will do,” “A man with a gun and a deluded sense of purpose / A good guy with a gun who missed”—but the wounded desperation of the song’s closing passage is truly haunting: “If you ever smile on me / Please let it be now / I wonder if you’ll fool me this time.”




Savak / “They Are Not Like Us”

Give me another month or two and Savak’s Beg Your Pardon likely makes my albums list, capping off a busy year-plus in which the group has released two LPs (just imagine I made a best-of-2017 list and the politically charged Cut-Ups is on it) along with two additional European singles (“Where Should I Start?” b/w “Expensive Things” and “Green and Desperate” b/w “This Dying Lake”), all of which are recommended. But right now, my brain’s trying to process a huge stack of records and every time I put on Beg Your Pardon, I end up focusing on the greatness its closing track, unintentionally slighting the eleven songs that precede it. “They Are Not Like Us” starts off as a slightly melancholic mid-tempo rock song about being disconnected from friends’ (presumably political) viewpoints, but halfway through, a wordless vocal part emerges over the insistent bass groove, and elegiac horns take command. Eventually everything gives way to those sighing horns, and there’s a minute-long requiem to close the song and the album. I know I need to play the rest of the album, but my desire to hear the final two minutes of “They Are Not Like Us” over and over is taking precedence at the moment.




We Were Promised Jetpacks / “Hanging In”

They released their debut LP slightly later than Frightened Rabbit or The Twilight Sad, but I still associate We Were Promised Jetpacks as part of that generation of Scottish indie rock bands. More meat-and-potatoes rock than either of those groups, WWPJ are now four albums deep into a discography that has occasionally struggled to surpass the ecstatic blast of their first single, “Quiet Little Voices.” Every album has a few songs channeling that electric charge, but The More I Sleep The Less I Dream is their first record that doesn’t lose my attention at some point. It’s tighter than its predecessors, the range of tempos and emotions is more noticeable, and choosing a single highlight is a challenge. I’ll go with “Hanging In,” a song that sways as well as it struts, that eventually builds to an explosive charge, but would have been great even if it hadn’t reached that climax.




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