I have very little to say in this introduction. I’ll try to not write a ton this year, but you know me! I like music and I like blabbing about it almost as much!
Camp Cope — How to Socialise & Make Friends
I think this is my favorite record of the year. It’s certainly the one I thought about the most, both lyrically and musically.
Camp Cope is an Australian three-piece who plays indie-punk in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever heard. Part of this is bassist Kelly Hellmrich’s constant inventiveness, rarely ever just playing one root note to hold things together. Her basslines are endless and act as melodic markers for each song. But I think the truly unusual aspect of Camp Cope’s music is vocalist/guitarist Georgia Maq’s apparent refusal or lack of need to use any guitar distortion. In every spot where you would expect her to switch from her amp’s clean channel to a crunchy distortion, she just…doesn’t. Maq strums hard, but it’s the same tone throughout the whole record.
And against all logic, it totally works. Drummer Sarah Thompson compensates for the lack of distortion, but what really sends each song to the highest of heights is Georgia Maq’s voice — fearless, perfectly pitched, strained to its limits. She pushes her voice so hard that she actually had to get surgery on her vocal cords this year. And though I’m sure her doctors advised her to tone it down, I’m not sure how she’ll be able to, not while she sings about what matters to her most.
I could go on and on about the various topics addressed on this record, like male condescension toward female musicians, broken relationships, or Maq’s father dying of cancer. But the most important song you need to know about is “The Face of God,” which is my top song of 2018. Maq tells of a very real experience — having to fight off a sexual assault from a musician she respected, and then realizing that getting anyone to believe her would be nearly impossible because as she knows they’ll say, “he’s got one song that I like.” She knows that talented men get away with all types of behavior all the time, and their victims are left with their own self-doubt and emotional wreckage.
The verse of the year brings us the title of the song:
Now you’ve got me questioning everything I did,
what would have happened if I had done one thing different?
And I saw it: the face of God.
And he turned himself away from me and said I did something wrong,
like somehow what happened to me was my fault.
To any man who has blamed a victim of sexual assault for not speaking up…check out this song and understand your rightful place in the world. Thanks to Georgia Maq and Camp Cope for providing me with this beautiful piece of art that I’ll never forget.
Saba — CARE FOR ME
Hip-hop never takes up a big chunk of my year-end list, but I always find a couple records that really hit me right, and CARE FOR ME is that record. Saba’s inspiration for this record was his cousin and collaborator Walter Long Jr., who was stabbed to death in a robbery on the Chicago subway. The unimaginable grief of this incident led Saba to create an artistic statement that’s at times bleak, at other times wistful, and ultimately shouldering the uncertain future with a smile.
This is the type of hip-hop I need: unafraid to take artistic chances, but delivered with passion and dexterity, not with sluggishness and a mouthful of downers. Saba truly cares. You can feel how much work Saba put into a track like “PROM/KING” and how emotionally exhaustive it must have been to recount the personal relationship between Walter and himself. That’s my second favorite song of the year, the second one that I want everyone I know to drop everything and absorb. It’s an astounding whirlwind that attempts to remember the good times, but like everyone who tries to will the bad stuff away, it catches up to Saba and overwhelms him. NPR described this record as “survivor’s guilt,” and that’s true, but Saba is content with the knowledge that Walter would want him to make the most of the time here that he’s been given.
Bosse-de-Nage — Further Still
This is the first of a few records on my list that fall under the category of “Hellish Music that Fits in Our Hellish Times.” But Bosse-de-Nage’s blend of black metal and screamo doesn’t skew political, it just cuts right to the blackness and depression we all can access if hit just wrong. Vocalist Bryan Manning doesn’t so much scream as he hideously moans, only somewhat keeping in rhythm with the frenetic pace of the band. His lyrics are morose, very literal pieces about things that will leave you horrified — not with gore, but with the misery of the human condition. He’s like a modern Edgar Allan Poe, weaving dark tales of babies born with shrouds over their faces and sad creatures kept in captivity in basements. Luckily the music isn’t all downer stuff, but approach this one with a strong will on a sunny day, or else.
Murder By Death — The Other Shore
Much stronger than their last record, this one is an encouraging sign for a band that seems like they can do this forever. Adam Turla still has an otherworldly voice that melts butter, and they’re adding little tweaks to the instrumentation that keep things new. And again, the record’s final song “Last Night on Earth” feels like a hellish prediction not too far in the future.
Wild Pink — Yolk in the Fur
I’ve heard these guys compared to The War on Drugs (a band I do not care for), but I don’t really see it. Sure, it has a blissed-out shimmery vibe to it, but it’s not so jam bandish and it has much more rock oomph to it. I really locked in with this record when the leaves started falling and the temperature dropped, if that gives you an idea of what’s happening here. Just a lovely record that makes you feel good while still kinda thinking about our current Hell World.
Harm’s Way — Posthuman
When you need to rage about how bad everything sucks and throw punches at the air, might I suggest this record from Harm’s Way. It’s only slightly a Dumb Guy Mosh Band, what with the musclebound singer and the no-frills approach to hardcore. But the point of a band like this isn’t to intellectually stimulate you — it’s to overwhelm you with the heaviness of their sound. And I just happen to like this type of hardcore a lot, where it’s played very precisely but doesn’t have a bunch of techy noodling or goofy melodic vocals. Sometimes I want to get pissed and act like I can fight people, okay??
Light This City — Terminal Bloom
My Bay Area pals Ben and Laura took a break from their excellent pop-punk band Heartsounds to reform their metal band and put out their first record in a decade. And since my pals are super talented, they haven’t missed a step in playing this type of music, and honestly, it’s better than any previous Light This City record. Laura sounds the best she ever has, and there are riffs for days. This is the type of metal I need, where I can hear what’s going on and there is actual melody. Get outta here, Cannibal Corpse, you terrifying noisemakers!
Rhye — Blood
It is very uncharacteristic for me to love a band like Rhye, essentially a Sade tribute act. This is sexy, low-key R&B sung in falsetto by a white guy who you’d swear was a lady. They opened things up a bit from their last record and brought in some more full-band instrumentation, so now I’m even more on board with them. Look, I know you don’t want to think about me being erotic in any way, I totally understand that and profusely apologize for it. But I have to tell you that if you and your partner are looking for good Sexy Time music, you can do no better than Rhye.
Thin Lips — Chosen Family
I missed seeing this band open for Hop Along (who I’ll get to next), and it was one of my bigger musical regrets this year. Thin Lips is fronted by Chrissy Tashjian, a fearless songwriter who infuses her pop-punk with withering self-deprecation and heartache, both romantic and personal. She laments the humiliation by a former lover who goes to South America, “with a woman that you only met last month,” but she also mourns the death of her younger brother in “A Song For Those Who Miss You All the Time,” which musically sounds much bouncier than you would expect for a song of such grief. Even sadness can be catchy.
Hop Along — Bark Your Head Off, Dog
I have to admit that I didn’t like this quite as much as their last record, Painted Shut, but that’s probably because this one didn’t have as many moments of all-out rockin’. I shouldn’t hold that against Hop Along, because this is their record where they’re trying increase their profile and become bigger stars, and because they’re doing it while still maintaining their weirdness and intricate musicianship, it’s all good. Frances Quinlan keeps her crown as the Queen of Indie Rock Singing. She is just so unbelievably good, it’s beyond comprehension.
Deafheaven — Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
I need sites like Pitchfork to stop telling me this Deafheaven record sounds like Smashing Pumpkins. Don’t ruin this band for me by making me think of a way worse band! I mean, I get that this is Deafheaven’s most commercially viable record yet, with an even greater emphasis on the soaring 90’s alternative guitar hooks and whatnot, but it ain’t no Pumpkins, no way. George Clarke still shrieks and bellows about flowers and bees and stuff, and there are enough blastbeats and crunchy guitar parts that despite me pining for the Sunbather days, I still consider this a reasonable step forward with lots of neat ideas. But if the next record is just full-on ballads and Smashing Pumpkins worship, then I’m out!
Hot Snakes — Jericho Sirens
13 years after their last record, Hot Snakes came back to show dudes 25 years younger than them how you’re supposed to play rock’n’roll: with venom and swagger. Rick Froberg somehow can still get his rugged voice up super high while maintaining the melody, and he and Jon Reis still know how to write a snappy riff, even as they approach their 50’s. It’s an inspiration for me as a 35-year old who thinks he might be done playing music, because I just need to look at Hot Snakes and realize that there is no excuse to not still have some gas left in the tank.
Low — Double Negative
I’ve been listening to Low since I saw them in my junior year of high school, and though they’re not one of my very favorite bands, I have such deep affection and faith in them as artists that I’ll follow anything they do. So when they put out a real left-turn like Double Negative, where it sounds like they made an album, put it on cassette, poured water on the cassette and left it out in the sun for a day, and then released the end result, I have to admit that if I didn’t have this relationship with Low, I might not normally be into such a sound. But as it is, it’s a brilliant effort at redefining a long-running band and challenging both themselves and their listeners.
Cloud Nothings — Last Building Burning
I was always a little lukewarm on Cloud Nothings, but I finally got flipped by this record. They have a bit of a Drive Like Jehu vibe going on when they’re really hitting hard, and they maintain an edge even when they tone things down. Maybe I need to dig deeper into their older records, so I can feel bad about being an incorrect jerk.
Lucy Dacus — Historian
I have to admit that not every single song on this record clicks with me, but I love its overall feel, and above all, Lucy is a damn revelation. Her syrupy voice lifts these songs up and does things with them that no one else would be able to do. And seeing her live this summer gave me an even deeper appreciation for her abilities. She knows what the heck she’s doing.
boygenius — s/t
And on the topic of Lucy Dacus, she did a collaborative record with fellow brilliant singer/songwriters Julian Baker and Phoebe Bridgers. It’s every bit as good as you would expect it to be, a perfect meeting of the minds between three confident performers who are willing to give and share with each other.
Cult Leader — A Patient Man
These guys are doing a great job of playing chaotic hardcore, but infusing it with melody and restraint while never veering into lame territory. Vocalist Anthony Lucero has a fearsome scream, but shows off his bellowing deep voice in several tracks where he sings impossibly low. Cult Leader is showing us how you age gracefully into playing this type of music.
Orquesta Akokan — s/t
I can’t accurately describe what this record sounds like, but I think it’s like a Cuban salsa record. I might be wrong! But yeah, it’s a big 13-piece band doing incredibly fun music designed to get your soul lifted and your feet a-tappin’. Not normally my style, but I highly endorse this one. It’ll make a boring night at home feel like a party.
Sara Shook & the Disarmers — Years
Rockin’ alt-country with lots of attitude and outward aggression, but plenty of introspection too. She’s like a more piss and vinegar version of Lydia Loveless. Get sad with Sara, won’t you?
The Dirty Nil — Master Volume
Unabashed classic rock’n’roll, but played by young Canadian punks who smile a lot. They have a sharp sense of humor and they love to write big choruses.
IDLES — Joy as an Act of Resistance
I heard some negative clapback about this record, and I think it’s just that some people don’t believe Joe Talbot to be an authentic performer. Surely he’s not that wild and genuine, right? I think he definitely is, and he’s backed by a band that play hard and weird, which is just what he needs to support his sneering, snarky delivery. And I will always appreciate Talbot for letting us in on the devastation surrounding the death of his stillborn child in “June.” He uses the famous Hemingway line: “Baby shoes, for sale, never worn.” You wanna know how to make a dad like me cry, just put that one on. Yeesh.
Birds In Row — We Already Lost the World
French dudes playing a really cool form of hardcore that incorporates some of that Hot Snakes/Drive Like Jehu stuff I’ve previously mentioned. Apparently the record is about how everything is hopeless, so we need to cling to the things we love in order to get through it all. This is correct.
Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers — Brought to Rot
Open Mike Eagle — What Happens When I Try to Relax
Gouge Away — Burnt Sugar
Daughters — You Won’t Get What You Want
Jaye Jayle — No Trail and Other Unholy Paths
Andrew W.K. — You’re Not Alone
Brian Fallon — Sleepwalkers
Portrayal of Guilt — Let Pain Be Your Guide
Jeff Rosenstock — POST-
Slow Mass — On Watch