My favorite albums of 2018.
Either my tastes are getting stranger or music is getting weirder because this was an especially avant-garde year for music. Here are a few of my favorites.
Anna Von Hausswolff, Dead Magic
Anna described this album as utterly excruciating to make, a claim that proves self-evident with its opening “The Truth, The Glow, The Fall.” Though the album appears EP-length with only five tracks, its runtime comes out to just over 45 minutes. This is mostly thanks to the 16-minute-long “Ugly and Vengeful,” a frighteningly ferocious piece and my favorite on the album.
As a whole, Dead Magic feels less a musical project and more a document of her self-annihilation and rebirth. It feels at times like something we shouldn’t be seeing, moments of wailing tantrums and chest-pounding rage that we ought best to look away from. Yet she lays it bare, trusting this vulnerability to the careful and capable hands of producer Randall Dunn (Sunn, Earth, Boris).
Tigue, Strange Paradise
Tigue is a three-piece ensemble of percussionists who weave mind-bending rhythmic tapestries reminiscent of Steve Reich and Dawn of Midi. “Triangle” opens the album with an especially mathematical fury, modulating time signatures with seamless virtuosity.
“Contrails” provides a hypnotic reprieve to the calculus of the other two tracks and is a paragon example of good ambient music. I found this album to be among the most inspiring of any this year, if only for its brazen not giving a fuckness. You’ll either hang with it or you won’t.
Lingua Ignota, All Bitches Die
In my life, I’ve rarely been so astonished as I felt when I first put on All Bitches Die. Kristin Hayter (Lingua Ignota) opens “Woe To All” with screams of pure agony and terror, which continue for over five minutes before morphing into angelic heralding. The balance of heaven and hell, liturgy and anguish is a prominent theme on this album, with Kristin channeling her religious influence and traumatic sexual abuse in every line.
Nothing about this record is gratuitous, however. The catharsis achieved by its end is profound, standing as a testament to the healing one can achieve in the wake of overwhelming suffering.
Low, Double Negative
I discovered Low via the “Half Light” music video on the DVD extras of the Mothman Prophecies, a forgotten film starring Richard Gere that had a huge impact on my 14-year-old self. Low’s featured song was a jagged exclamation mark to an already haunting cinematic experience.
But when I looked for more from the band, what I found was sleepier than I was hoping for with a catalog that was too diverse for me to follow, so I stopped trying. Until this album.
Double Negative is a perfectly balanced album- enchantingly melodic at times, hauntingly cacophonous at others, yet thematically cohesive throughout. Clearly, I’m not the only one who feels this way as it’s listed in nearly every major top albums list for 2018.
Tim Hecker, Konoyo
This is the album I had been dreaming of making after my trip to Japan and first exposure to gagaku, the ceremonial music of Shinto. Konoyo comes as a sharply organic contrast to his 2016 album Love Streams, which leaned far heavier into the direction of disintegrated noise that he’s become famous for.
But here, Hecker is at once more approachable and more haunting as he partners with musicians of Tokyo Gakuso, a 40-year-old gagaku ensemble, to create this record. The reverb-soaked wailing of the shō and hichiriki blend mysteriously well with Hecker’s synths and heavily modulated guitars.
Considerably more “ambient” than his previous work, Konoyo should resonate with fans of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Stars of the Lid.
Daughters, You Won’t Get What You Want
Merciless. Violent. Dangerous. These are the first adjectives that come to mind when I think of this record.
After I became completely obsessed with Lingua Ignota, I bought tickets to the first show I found of her opening for a band called Daughters at the Echo in LA. I genuinely had no idea what I was getting into.
After her performance, a friendly guy at the show warned me, “It’s about to get very crazy here.” And he was not wrong. By the end of Daughter’s first song, it seemed as if the entire audience was experiencing a childhood regression, desperately clawing at themselves and others for release.
That energy is infectiously present on You Won’t Get What You Want. Hardcore, noise, and avant-garde influence come together to leave you exhausted and manic.
Julia Holter, Aviary
The aptly named Aviary is 90 epic minutes of soaring strings, sonic vistas, and fantastical soundscapes. “Turn the Light on” immediately thrusts you upward, higher and higher, like a mythical eagle carrying you forever beyond the clouds.
Bjork, Joanna Newsom, and, at times, of Montreal all come to mind as I listen. Produced and recorded in part by Holter herself, Aviary is the unrestrained vision of a single mind, a fearless leap into the blissful unknown.
Honorable Mentions: Bob Reynolds, Quartet; Laurie Anderson & Kronos Quartet, Landfall.
Albums I still need to devote time to: Idles, Joy as an Act of Resistance; Sleep, The Sciences; Nils Frahm, All Melody; Connan Mockasin, Jassbusters; Oneohtrix Point Never, Age Of; Steve Reich, Pulse/Quartet; and plenty of others.