2018 may not have been the best year for everyone, but it did have one thing going for it: there was an abundance of excellent music released. I’m not going to try and summarise it all here – after all, who reads the intro to a top ten list? – but rest assured we’ve got our dedicated writers to undertake the mammoth task of whittling the releases down to just ten. First up to bat is veteran writer Elliot Burr, who takes us on an unforgettable tour of the eclectic releases that defined his year.
10. Drug Church – Cheer
If you like your garage punk refined, anthemic and poppy, and with a healthy smattering of lyrical cynicism, then Drug Church’s third outing Cheer (as sarcastic as you can imagine) hits the grumpy nail on the head. A contained half-hour featuring one of the scene’s most rollicking and punchy rhythm section, accompanied with some crunchy power chord riffage and carefully concocted lead lines, Drug Church have tightened the screws of their back-to-basics punk from both a song writing and production viewpoint combined.
It’s never without the laugh-out-loud, sardonic chimes of lead man Patrick Kindlon though; most notably the chief of the Self Defense Family alumni, Kindlon waxes lyrical about forcing oneself to nude model to get some extra cash, reluctantly “putting in an appearance” at social functions, and the want to push your sister’s boyfriend down a staircase for being a douchebag. But alongside these skewed life situations, Kindlon indeed focuses on the bigger problems (lacking any skill to gain employment in ‘Weed Pin’ for example), still with an underlying deprecating humour that, although modern life is shit, we’ve just got to keep going. It’s the fun-loving, zesty energy of the music and accompanying sad observational comedy that gives Drug Church a gritty edge that should no longer be ignored.
9. Vince Staples – FM!
2018 has thrown the curveball of being ‘the year of the short album’, not just down to its abundance, but also to the quality of said releases. One of these, as is to be expected of the tricksy youngster, belongs to Odd Future associate Vince Staples. Almost acting like a taster before the main course is this most recent project: FM!. It’s disappointingly small, but packed to the rafters with Vince’s trademark genius of inventive wordsmithery and catchy hooks, covering the joys and atrocities of life in Southern California with aplomb, scrutinising and celebrating his own hometown in a way we all wish we could do whilst reminiscing at the local pub.
FM! takes this long-standing tradition of Long Beach’s hip hop by combining the ‘FUN!’ beachside vibes with the harsh realities of gangland culture which still seeps its way into the lives of its inhabitants, much like the narratives of 213 natives and icons Warren G, Snoop and the area’s answer to Frank Sinatra, Nate Dogg (RIP). A more modern update of the G-Funk era of the past here, however, is the darker trap-happy beats of primary producer Kenny Beats, all flowing together perfectly in a mock LA radio show; a miniscule mimic of Queens of the Stone Age’s epic desert radio play Songs for the Deaf, and innovatively squeezes in hints at new music from Earl Sweatshirt and Tyga. It seems an effortless big-hitter, a major hip hop release dressed in tiny packaging, but we all know size doesn’t matter, this year at least.
8. Father John Misty – God’s Favourite Customer
It’s never really a cheery affair with Joshua Tillman. In fact, even on top of the past misery from the bohemian singer/songwriter, this goes one step further. Delving into what Tillman describes as the aftermath of an event whereby his “life blew up”, and relying not so much on cutting shtick which he is known for, but rather deep introspection, it’s a complete work of morbid eccentricity.
Beautiful piano lines that can make up such straining depressing tunes as ‘The Palace’ (complete with a Thom Yorke-style vocal, notably) also find themselves nestled alongside more upbeat offerings: cleverly titled and morosely humorous opener ‘Hangout at the Gallows’ or the arrogant swagger of ‘Date Night’. It’s a product that is totally in opposition with itself throughout its 40-minute runtime. A swarm of emotions that picks itself up when it’s been beaten down, all with a tinge of self-reverential sarcasm, it’s the Father John Misty persona that’s perhaps most closely related to Josh Tillman himself, perhaps best exemplified by the eponymous thrill ride that is ‘Mr Tillman’.
Whether you’re laughing or crying along with the enigmatic FJM, God’s Favourite Customer is certainly a tug at the heartstrings, and a muddle on the old noggin, with impressive band work and lyrical playfulness and sincerity in plentiful doses. That’s as oxymoronic as this record’s summarisation: a damned fine effort.
7. Dance Gavin Dance – Artificial Selection
Now up to their eighth effort, it’s still difficult to comprehend the ingenuity of Dance Gavin Dance’s members, finally making it to a third effort with the same line up! As unbelievable as that may seem, they’ve also managed to maintain their signature funky soul-fused post-hardcore clusterfuck of a genre, but growing in songwriting skill (‘Count Bassy’ here being just about as perfectly structured a song as they’ve ever concocted) and noticeable confidence. Tilian Pearson’s vocals have never sounded better, sparking his own solo album this year, and Artificial Selection serves as DGD’s best effort since his dazzling 2013 debut Acceptance Speech.
Back at it again are the prolific high-string riff passages of Will Swan (perhaps the most criminally underrated guitarist going), with effects-laden guitars to sound like the most satisfying of farts, rumbling bass lines from Tim Feerick (‘Slouch’), Matt Mingus’ drumming filled with more stylish flair than AND1’s Hot Sauce, and the mind-boggling screeching weasel that is Jon Mess (‘The Rattler’). And whilst not needing a ‘freshening up’, this record serves as the first effort to see Will Swan hand over complete guitar duties to the band’s tribe of loyal touring musicians past and present to great success (‘Bloodsucker’) and a cameo from ex-vocalist Kurt Travis (‘Shelf Life’), whose voice is nostalgically welcome. It’s like a culmination of the band’s history, no less due to the fact that Evaporate’s outro is a minute of overlaid vocal interpolations of fan favourite DGD songs; the ultimate easter egg for their long-term disciples.
Ending on a note that would usually be reserved as a band’s final farewell, Dance Gavin Dance’s history (and their continued rise in musicianship), would suggest that they’re far from being done yet. More please, gents.
6. The Story So Far – Proper Dose
“And the award for the most ‘mature’ pop-punk album ever goes to…”
That’s been the genuine consensus from all followers of teenage dream music. The genre of pop-punk, and indeed the use of ‘mature’ to describe any band’s rise in musical experimentation or progression (I really do apologise), can be cringeworthy, but Walnut Creek’s The Story So Far have long been at the forefront of pop-punk’s ‘10s revival; an echelon above the cookie-cutter scene that it has once again become.
Proper Dose, incidentally, has seen them step out of the phase of relationship angst, live-setting finger pointing and reliance on crowd led gang vocals (which, let’s face it TSSF fans, we’re gonna miss) to instead focus on genuinely important matters of travelling burnout, self-doubt and addiction. The product, aptly named Proper Dose to signal hopefully more a feeling of redemption and contentedness from rising above the drug abuse it also connotes, is vocalist Parker Cannon’s introspective study of his own wellbeing; an honest, face-the-facts document that is truly saddening, yet awe-inspiring. Not before has a pop-punk effort shifted its tone quite as dramatically, artfully back up by more subdued balladic numbers (‘Growing On You’ and ‘Take Me As You Please’) which add the yang to the ying of more stereotypical crowd-pleasing boppers (‘Out Of It’). A record that could easily divide a rigid fanbase, it was a risk that has paid dividends to a band that has always delivered the goods, now being taken to heart once more in a slightly different, more grown-up guise.
It’s the coming of age record they needed to make, and my goodness did they do it.
5. The Internet – Hive Mind
Don’t get it twisted: Ego Death three years on is still a minty breath of fresh air with every listen, constantly re-introducing the marvelous tradeoffs between some of LA’s brightest R&B musicians. Syd the Kid, Matt Martians and their onboarded rhythm section of Patrick Paige II and Chris Smith really showed their chilled out versatility last time round, and with the more permanent inclusion of masterful young’un Steve Lacy on guitar and production duties, this smooth package just got a whole lot more cohesive.
Even more than its predecessor, Hive Mind finds the fivesome delivering funk aplenty with the bedtime candles out, slowing down the pace and continually gracing the listener with sumptuous odes that can be equally dancey and drugged. Whether you’re bopping along to lead single ‘Roll (Burbank Funk)’, featuring one of the year’s most stylish basslines, or spacing out to the programmed drums and Syd’s hypnotic tones in ‘Humble Pie’, it’s an almost effortless example of The Internet’s modern take on soul with stylish nuances that set them aside from the smörgåsbord of neo-soul groups that are once again populating the genre. Every single cog of this well-oiled groove machine plays an instrumental part, with more vocal tradeoffs and small collaborative projects sprinkled throughout, very much a result of each member’s success as a solo artist since the Ego Death days.
Whilst not revolutionising their sound, instead just tightening the screws, The Internet once again prove that they’re the wolves leading the pack, with a strolling swagger that many artistes would struggle to perfect. A silky Sunday drive from start to finish. Plus, if you’re not completely entranced by Lacy’s meandering bassline in ‘Look What U Started’, get in the bin.
4. Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
End of year best album lists and Deafheaven often seem to go hand in hand. Of course, 2013’s Sunbather became ubiquitous amongst music critics’ favourite records that year – and what a phenomenal effort it was to bring blackgaze to mainstream attention – followed by the equally impressive yet not so revered New Bermuda. Seeing the end of a three year wait is Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, their Graham Greene-inspired artistic relic that may, in fact, bring them to a wider audience even further.
Whilst not quite as effective in producing goosebumps as Sunbather’s main epic tracks, nor the best in displaying the group’s blackened core as New Bermuda or even Roads to Judah, their fourth release instead sees the group balancing the brightness and the darkness with a lighter brush. Lead single ‘Honeycomb’, marathon in scope and tearing through rock n’ roll solos, indie-rock acoustic numbers and their spirited black metal, is testament to their versatility, followed up with excellent interludes to slow down the pace before drilling more effect-laden blastbeats into the earholes. Gothic artiste Chelsea Wolfe shines in ‘Night People’, offering a duet with George Clarke, who expands beyond his heartfelt, maniacal shrieks to offer glimpses into a never-before-heard singing voice. Moving on from the Sunbather days is the band’s full-group writing capabilities, with Shiv Mehra and Kerry McCoy feeding off of each other’s axes beautifully, and the rumble from down under comes courtesy of Daniel Tracy, whose calf muscles must, admirably, be very forgiving.
It is not the band’s strongest release, yet Ordinary Corrupt Human Love certainly showcases to great effect their swooning, positive vibes, and segways from their more bludgeoning numbers to include a more wholesome, romantic kind of songcraft. Expect effort number 5 to feature on such a list, too; there’s no stopping the brilliance of blackgaze’s finest posterboys.
3. Pusha T – DAYTONA
It’s been as contentious a year for Kanye West as ever before, but not to dwell on all his political leanings and fallouts, Twitter shitposting, or Lil Peep collaboration ‘I Love It’ (best verse of the year? Guilty!), instead, let’s focus on his music, in this case the best of his flurry of production appearances. DAYTONA, the 7-song mini album which has pushed its veteran star Pusha T into the hip-hop annuls, is a celebration of the rapper and the masterful man behind the decks, antics aside.
Another short and sweet release from 2018, each track here is bursting at the seams with ideas which, rather than sounding like a splurge of artistic ideas bundled into somewhat of a cohesive project (see/hear: The Life of Pablo), is about as tight as a record can get. Punchy, provocative and downright poetic, Kanye and Push’s collaboration really came at the time when both needed the music to do the talking. Whilst a childish ongoing beef with Drake after the release of ‘Infrared’ kicked off to extremes (with Pusha T at the helm), that’s not to say that his lyrics are nothing short of brilliant. Perfectly complimenting Kanye’s polished sample-heavy beats are all-killer-no-filler bars, pronounced with such incredible diction that it takes the listener aback with its full-frontal ‘don’t fuck with me’ attitude. Featuring more uncompromising vocal takes from the producer himself (‘What Would Meek Do?’) and RICK ROSS (‘Hard Piano’), there’s also an incredible turn from protégé 070 Shake in the Spanish tinged, gloomy affair ‘Santeria’, honing a brilliant beat shift resembling a crime caper; if you know, you know (hehe). Not to be confused with Sublime’s tune of the same name, which is just about one of the most iconic songs ever made, and that’s no joke.
The glory days of inventive beat-making and wordplay are all to marvel at here. Whilst definitely the top of Kanye’s own pantheon of 2018 releases (not too hard considering the hit-and-miss nature of every single other release), it also takes the mantle as one of hip-hop’s defining releases in the past few years.
2. Candy – Good To Feel
It’s always a monumental moment when, steeped in the midst of a genre, you arrive to find something which completely sweeps you off your tardy feet, sending you straight back into a hot sweaty pit. When it comes to the evermore saturated market of hardcore punk, dominated by East Coasters tearing up stages and skate shops across the US to kids making themselves look silly by swinging their arms, thank goodness we now have the new batch of destruction.
Sounding an awful lot like Turnstile and Code Orange barbaric lovechild, Richmond Virginia’s Candy are nowhere near as sweet as they sound. It’s a name which has forever evoked the oh-so-luscious and toe-tapping 80s dance number by Cameo (and for that, we are thankful too), but now we have a new reincarnation. A batch of metal-loving hardnuts that appreciate a destructive party and some pretty graphic artwork; Good to Feel’s genuine sentiment of experiencing pure emotion is flipped on its head just as much as their candy-coated name with an image of a fire-lit car parked outside of a seedy brothel. That very much sets you up for the carnage that is it’s rip roaring 8 track voyage of unadulterated fury. Well, until you reach the alt-rock shoegaze nods on closer ‘Bigger Than Yours’, which instead feels like navigating a bathtub in a mini submarine listening to Pixies.
Hardcore’s essence is the frenzied live setting, but not in quite some time in its resurgence has there been quite so much cohesive mayhem packed into a 17-minute album, acting as a personal rave with every listen. The guitars are overtly distorted and crunchy for maximum bad taste, with the production seemingly making every part of this filthy bundle work in perfect harmony. And whilst the pit-making short tracks such as the back to back electric shocks ‘Burning Water’ and ‘Joy of Life’ are the backbone of Candy’s sounds, the slow building numbers dominated by more melodic lines (‘Distorted Dreams’) are the real standouts, as well as the compulsory groovy beatdowns (‘Human Target’).
Versatility and aggression come naturally to these kids. Always owing thanks to the wonderful hate5six for the continual documentation of this scene, let’s hope Candy only build from this ferocious long play debut.
1. Architects – Holy Hell
It takes an extra special album to covet any top spot in an end-of-year list. And perhaps becoming one of the most pertinently beautiful records to have been constructed this year comes courtesy of Brighton’s metalcore torchbearers Architects, in somewhat of a resurgence following the tragedy death of guitarist and main songwriter Tom Searle.
Searle’s last full relic was the UK veterans’ best effort to date back in 2016 – All Of Our Gods Have Abandoned Us – taking the listener through his neck-ripping riffs, and bopping bottom string punches which has made Architects one of the metalcore scene’s only successful mainstayers. Vocalist Sam Carter had never sounded more emotional in the telling of Tom’s own lyrics about his battle with cancer, and in his passing, doubt over the band’s future was certainly in doubt. However, the boys remained intent on upholding Tom’s musical legacy much to our delight, releasing a record signalling both the guitarist’s farewell and the band’s now more hopeful future with such genuine belief, dedication and triumph that it’s tearjerking.
Tom’s twin brother and drummer Dan Searle, bassist Ali Dean, singer Sam Carter and rhythm man Adam Christiansen recruited the talents of Josh Middleton on lead axe, in a move which has added a new element of beautiful melodic numbers amongst their anthemic hardcore leanings. Indeed, lead single ‘Hereafter’ was noted by Dan to include parts written by Tom Searle (‘Doomsday’ still being released before his death, too) which are scattered throughout the album, stitched together with other ideas from the group into a complete patchwork by Dan Searle himself. The old and the new are all here for listening, and the most personal lyricism from the drummer you could experience, again delivered with sincerity from Carter perhaps even more than the last; ‘Royal Beggars’ may indeed be the vocalist’s unparalleled feat. Even Dan’s young daughter Amelie has a guest vocal credit. Holy Hell is the band’s perfect signal of unity through the hard times which has governed the past two years, building on their scene-topping talents to bring awe to fans old and new.
This record, dedicate to the memory of Tom Searle, is the glue that has bound a scene of musicians, fans and families together, delivering all the right notes through its flawlessly handled and perfected tracklist. This is why Holy Hell is this year’s most extraordinary record, and why I’m proud to have followed this band’s rise and rise for the past 10 years. RIP Tom Searle; he’d be proud of the legacy he has left with his brothers.