Another year and another batch of records that I listened to a bunch – as always, this is in no order as I have no interest in saying this is better than that or that is better than this. This was a huge year for hardcore/metal records – I could probably make a list 50 records long just from that genre alone.
Before the list gets going, here’s my Spotify playlist featuring one song from every record on the list – don’t forget to click the Stream buttons to check them out on Spotify and then hit Buy to go get your own copies – digital or otherwise.
Jeff Rosenstock – POST-
January 1st feels like a hundred years ago, and since the release of POST- we’ve been pretty much bombarded by burning trash via the news for near-365 days now. The opening line “Trapped in my room while the house was burnin’ to the motherfucking ground” seems as apt as any description for 2018 as a whole. If you aren’t up on this album, or Jeff in general (between touring for this record and touring with Antarctigo Vespucci, dude has gotta be one of the hardest worker in the biz) then what are you doing?! Go buy it.
Pet Fox – Self Titled
Here’s a great guitar-rock record that I feel like flew under a lot of listener’s radar; knotty guitar lines, big vocal melodies, and just the right amount of atmosphere to the production style. You’d maybe lump this into that whole slacker-rock sound, but the depth of their songwriting skill here (and the ability to very deftly adjust between sub-genres from song-to-song without sacrificing their overall sound) is very impressive.
Comfy – Thanks For The Ride
Comfy’s album Thanks For The Ride (primarily an outlet for Connor Benincasa but featuring a bevvy of past-and-current rotating members and supporters) has to have one of the best opening-runs of the year – four straight back-to-back home runs of jangly indie-pop. And then the rest of the record happens, which is also really, really great. There’s a nice dash of theatricality to the record, which skirts from orchestrated pop to driving indie-rock – I even hear a pinch of They Might Be Giants in the vocal melodies of “Honest”, which I’m always 100% down for.
Soccer Mommy – Clean
Soccer Mommy has been recording music since 2015, but Clean is the “studio debut” for Sophie Allison. It’s the kind of album that feels like it has been worked up to for years – the sonic clarity of the record isn’t a betrayal of Allison’s bandcamp Tascam roots, but a lens which reveals very bluntly how brilliant a songwriter Allison is. Whether it’s stripped-down melancholia (“Blossom (Wasting All My Time)”) or the one-two punch of “Cool” and “Your Dog,” this record has it all; it’s a cathartic, wonderful release.
Trace Mountains – A Partner to Lean On
A Partner to Lean On was a pretty anticipated record for me after hearing Buttery Sprouts & Other Songs (which I dug but seemed more like a promise of what was to come.) I’ve enjoyed Dave Benton’s work with LVL UP, but this Trace Mountains record is something else. “Cary’s Dreams” in particular has stuck with me since my first spin.
Ruler – Winning Star Champion
On Ruler’s Winning Star Champion, Matt Batey takes his songs about anxiety and fucking up, and surrounds them with a sweet power-pop center; whenever the double-tracked vocals hit it’s hard not to sing along. Totally reminds me of Mac from Superchunk’s later Portastatic records – big hooks, big catharsis.
Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog
Bark Your Head Off, Dog is one of those great records that distills what came before into a perfect mixture – the unexpected elements of Get Disowned meet half-way with the more slick elements of Painted Shut. For me, it may very well be the best record of Hop Along’s career.
The Pauses – Unbuilding
Hearing The Pauses’ Unbuilding was one of those lucky finds for me this year – the art caught my eye online, and when I saw J. Robbins listed as producer, well it was a sealed deal for me. Listening to the record, the mix of electronic elements and driving indie-rock with some of the most interesting guitar-work of the year made it a sure-fire year-end pick. I couldn’t put this record down.
Power Pyramid – Nova
You’ll hear later about how 2018 was one of the best years in recent memories for metal/hardcore music, but it was also a huge year in my opinion for hazy, slightly melencholic indie-rock. There’s a not-quite-shoegaze not-quite-power-pop thing going on with Power Pyramid’s Nova that had me hooked – check out the title track and you’ll hear why.
Major Murphy – No. 1
There’s never any shortage of 90s-influenced rock on my year-end lists, but Beatles-esque throw-back pop is a harder trick to pull for bands it seems. Major Murphy make it look easy, tossing in some Big Star worthy guitar-licks for good measure too.
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Courtney Barnett continues to be a major force with her latest, Tell Me How You Really Feel. If you’ve not already got Courtney on your radar, first of all what rock are you living under? Second of all, this is another record from 2018 with an un-fuck-withable run of songs from opener “Hopefulessness” through to forceful and in-your-face “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch.” Actually now that I think of it, the run continues right on through to the closing track “Sunday Roast.” What a record.
Shy Layers – Midnight Marker
Nobody else is making music like the music Shy Layers perform on Midnight Marker – that’s just a fact. Listen to “Gateway” on a good set of headphones and tell me what the fuck kind of magic is going on in here – the guitar plucks that sound like percussive synths? Good lord.
No Babies – Someone To Watch Over Me
The exhilarating no-wave/punk/hardcore throwback you didn’t know you needed but now can’t do without – uncompromising, powerful, timely and important. A huge blast of fuck you energy that feels entirely of the moment.
Water From Your Eyes – All A Dance
Bass-led post-punk danceable indie-rock… think A Certain Ratio meets ESG with a krautrock influence and you’ve got a good start at the vibe here. The grooves go on for days, might as well get lost in them.
Sun Valley Gun Club – The Water, The Stars
Years ago, there was a record by The ’89 Cubs that had the term “post-pop-punk” thrown around at them; this Sun Valley Gun Club record almost deserves that tag as well. Listen to opener “If You Would Only Wait’s” tossed-around octave chords and melody, but the structure stretches out unexpectedly. Like a 90s indie-rock band with widescreen aspirations. Very cool stuff.
Well Wisher – This Is Fine
Well Wisher occupy a really interesting space – their indie-rock oscillates between riffy, heavy rock and poppy hooks. They share stages with buzz-bands like Thin Lips and Kississippi but also… New Found Glory? I’d say that’s a testament to their stellar songwriting – they can please you if you’re coming for the sugary choruses, the emotional release, or just the riffs.. I loved this record.
Jupiter Styles – Be Good
Jupiter Styles’ Be Good gives me this warm vibe that reminds me of early Death Cab for Cutie by way of Weezer. Just a super well rounded album that had me coming back for more.
what people call low self-esteem is really just seeing yourself the way that other people see you
awakebutstillinbed has one of those great stories to their discovery – the album was uploaded to Bandcamp, scooped up by Tiny Engines a month later, and quickly became one of THE bands to watch in 2018. Hell, they started touring with Joyce Manor not that much later too. This is to say, all roads lead back to the phenomenal record, which mixes early screamo howls with second-wave melodicism; it’s emotionally intense and completely honest.
The Spirit of the Beehive – Hypnic Jerks
Spirit of the Beehive’s Pleasure Suck was a real grower record for me last year, a mix of found-sounds and quirky textures with a bevvy of indie-rock genres elbowing for room underneath. Their follow-up is more like a follow-through on a well-timed and set-up punch. The songs feel a bit more direct, but the delivery continues to be impeccably orchestrated.
Wild Pink – Yolk in the Fur
Speaking of follow-ups, Wild Pink had a good thing going on their self-titled 2017 record, but Yolk In The Fur is a great example of a band opening up their sound while maintaining what made them so great to begin with. It’s also a rare treat to hear the incorporation of expansive, alt-rock arena-reaching textures that don’t rob the songs of their emotion. That title track would be an all-time closing track for any band, but Wild Pink get it out by track three – all the while shifting through enough hooks and riffs for three or four terrific tracks let alone just one.
Kero Kero Bonito – Time ‘n’ Place
On Time ‘n’ Place Kero Kero Bonito have really taken a turn away from their glossy, hyper charming genre-spanning electronic-pop of their previous two records. (side note: go listen to Trampoline off Bonito Generation, holy moly I love that song!!) Here, they incorporate more straight-ahead rock elements, but they’re still adding in their own flavor – check out “Only Acting” which may very well be my most-listened to song of the year. Just when you think it’s wrapping up with a key-change, well things don’t wrap up as expected. That keeps this record sounding fresh and exciting – can’t wait to hear what they do next.
Beak> – >>>
And the award for “record with an atmosphere I’d most like to live inside of” goes to: Beak>! The production on this record is phenomenal… sheesh. It’s got such an airy, room-tone-y vibe to it, like hanging out with your friends and seeing what kind of sounds you can come up with. So comfy sounding…
Slow Mass – On Watch
My first few listens to On Watch had me wondering if it’d make my year-end list – I felt like there was too big a juxtaposition between Slow Mass’ aggressive post-punk and their quiet and introspective moments. The more I listened to it though, the more I realized the one couldn’t be as effective without the other. This one begs to be heard on vinyl.
Doe – Grow Into It
Doe’s release First Four really caught my ear, and their debut was a good step out for them, but it’s here on Grow Into It that, well, they’ve really grown into (sorry) a well-oiled, dueling-vocal melody and driving rock machine. 39 concise, addictive minutes. Fantastic.
Drug Church – Cheer
This is my first exposure to Drug Church, to be honest. I was instantly in love with this record though – “Avoidarama” gets me. Huge, huge, huge. Walls of guitars and melodies. Fuck yeah.
Big Ups – Two Parts Together
Two Parts Together is a tense post-hardcore cocktail that brings to mind seminal acts like Jesus Lizard and Unwound as much as they do modern torchbearers like Pile or Iceage.
Yowler – Black Dog In My Path
Big fan of Yowler’s The Offer, and All Dogs in general, so I was stoked to see Black Dog In My Path getting a ton of press and buzz – this album is gorgeous, dark, uplifting, sad, and a whole lot more. “WTFK” has got to be my pick though… the way Maryn Jones’ doubled vocal tracks play off each other… whoa.
“Sick fucking world, and where do I get off?”
BRONCHO – Bad Behavior
BRONCHO hold a special place for me, because their album Just Hip Enough was recommended to me by my partner early on in our relationship. For some reason, their follow-up Double Vanity skewed too far away from the songwriting and too far into the aesthetic and textures. On Bad Behavior, that balance of mood and choruses has swung back into balance and I’m loving every minute of it.
Young Jesus – The Whole Thing is Just There
Young Jesus play slow, grey, knotted indie-rock with the unpredictable nature of improv or jazz; these songs stretch out, but every one warrants the journey. These songs build to some incredible moments and guitar lines; the perfect kind of record to sink into a couch with.
Tangled Hair – We Do What We Can
There’s a lot of bands that do the loud/quiet thing, but few that wield this tool so effectively as Tangled Hair. Noodly math-rock guitar riffs, start-stop and loud-quiet dynamics with incredibly tight performances and some jazzy moments.
Proc Fiskal – Insula
Insula by Proc Fiskal really gave me some flashbacks to early Prefuse 73 records, and I’m not saying that as in it’s derivative, but rather that the quality here is just that high. Part grime, part glitch, part jungle, but completely original and brain-spinning.
Stove – ‘s Favorite Friend
There’s something about this Stove album that I can’t put my finger on – maybe it’s how eclectic it can get in small moments throughout, or maybe it’s just a comfortable genre for me overall. This is another example of a band that I’ve dug before but I feel like have really worked up to this release, put in a lot of hard work, and it’s really paying off.
Thin Lips – Chosen Family
When you hear Thin Lips and all the RIFF HARD stuff surrounding the band, you might get the wrong idea – there are riffs aplenty here, but they aren’t the kind that pummel over you. Chosen Family is stuffed to the gills with clever, catchy and sly riffage – the kind of riffs that remind me of Built to Spill, in a way.
Missing Earth – Gold, Flour, Salt
Kyle of Swearin’ kept busy this year on the side with this album of Duster-influenced (I’d have to assume, or at least I hear some influence in there) indie-rock with spacey and droney overtones. A record that may easily sneak under the radar but is definitely year-end worthy in my opinion.
Birds in Row – We Already Lost The World
Terrific record of melodic hardcore / punk with some post-rock-esque leanings; an essential record that reminds us: love is political.
The Armed – Only Love
Produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou, The Armed’s Only Love tells you everything you need to know in its opening seconds – synths open the record before the band explodes in a rage above them, a blast of drum rolls, distortion and screams. From there, the album just goes. It’s amazing.
CupcakKe – Eden
CupcakKe put out TWO records this year, both of them great. For my money, Eden was the best – it’s shorter at 33 minutes (Euphorize is nearly 50) and though there’s some dope tracks on the latter, nothing beats Eden’s “Quiz” imo. I don’t think there’s a better rapper out there right now, in terms of setting up punchlines and knocking them down.
Stay Asleep – Mourner
Stay Asleep’s Mourner is an interesting record that takes the brevity of grind and hardcore and mixes it with the heaviness of sludge and metal – this was in heavy rotation for me through the whole year.
The HIRS Collective – Friends. Lovers. Favorites.
Speaking of grind, The Hirs Collective record Friends. Lovers. Favorites. – holy shit. Not only a celebration of queen and trans lives, but with a stacked list of featured performers (Shirley Manson, Lara Jane Grace, Marissa Paternoster, Alice Bag and more) and 26 no-duds bangers in a row, this has gotta be up there as one of the top 5 releases for me. I’ve probably called a record or two on this list as important already, but Friends. Lovers. Favorites. is fucking important.
Hair Puller – Old Friend
And on the sludgier side of things, there’s Hair Puller’s wonderful album Old Friend. Self-described lovers of “big dumb riffs,” Hair Puller go hard on every track here – make sure your neck is ready because this album is a headbanger. And “Diamond Thighs'” is a big fuck-you to fatphobia, which is fucking dope.
Vein – Errorzone
OK, this album was mega-hyped and I totally understand why it won’t be everyone’s bag, but the mix of break-beats, punishingly heavy breakdowns and general hodge-podge of genres – from hardcore to nu-metal, metalcore and everything in between – was irresistible to me. Crank it.
Bilge Rat – Pal
Bilge Rat are another indie rock outfit that really caught my ear with their slowcore indebted, moody and skewed sound. There’s something really cool going on here with the guitar work that I have a hard time putting into words – there’s also something to the fill-crazy drum-work that reminds me of post-hardcore, though as heavy as the band gets in moments it never fully goes there. Very interesting and satisfying blend of sounds here – I’d keep my eye on Bilge Rat.
Sloucher – Be True
Sloucher’s Be True is just a tight record of driving rock tunes that land somewhere between 90s alt-rock nostalgia and modern indie-rock – opener “Blurring The Line” is a total head-nodder, and follow-up “Be True” almost sounds like if Real Estate and Pavement hung out together. The album likes to alternate between heavy rock tunes and more jangly, poppy tunes but on the whole it strikes a nice balance – very cool stuff.
Dogs in Ecstasy – Dreams & Gripes
I’ve read that Dogs in Ecstasy have made a big name for themselves in Milwaukee, but Dreams and Gripes is the first album of theirs that I’ve tried out – immediately I was thinking “reminds me a little of Math The Band, but slightly less goofy.” A total sugary blast of a record, with the right amount of levity and seriousness blended together perfectly.
Throwing Snow – Loma
Technically a sequenced compilation of a four-part series of releases from Throwing Snow, there wasn’t a smoother listening experience to be found anywhere else in 2018. This is exactly my kind of jam – huge beats, grooves that disappear into the horizon, beautiful synthwork and major melodies. “Subtitles,” I mean holy shit.
Curling – Definitely Band
One of my later additions to the list this year, Curling’s Definitely Band has the description “crosby, stills, & nash meets cap’n jazz” on their bandcamp page, and that’s a start. Like Beatlesesque-pop viewed through a dusty, musty window – fuzz, hiss, warble and noise blaring in mono, but catchy as hell and densely layered. There’s saxophone too – every song has something new, every track has a handful of hooks and riffs around the corner, and you never know where the songs are taking you but you’re always pleased with the results. I can’t say enough good things about this record.
공중도둑 (Mid-Air Thief) – 무너지기 (Crumbling)
OK, so I don’t know how to put South Korea’s 공중도둑 (Mid-Air Thief) into words. This album is unbelievable – I can’t remember just how it came across my radar, but I’ve read in other reviews that the community at RYM helped this gain some buzz online. The great thing about this record is everyone I have suggested it to has come back with different influences – one mentioned Jeff Buckley, I hear quite a bit of folktronica, while another friend hears some Grizzly Bear in there. As huge and lush as this record gets, to me it always maintains a foundation in acoustic guitar – huge swaths of electronics and sparkling textures pile on, but at any moment the song can peel back to just a strum. Stunning.
Antarctigo Vespucci – Love In The Time of E-Mail
Antarctigo Vespucci couldn’t be left off this list, because seeing them live this year was a huge, huge higlight. I haven’t been much of a live-music go-er lately, but seeing AV in a small-ish, intimate venue, the crowd jumping and swaying, singing every word while the band sweated it all out on stage was year-changing – all my worries and anxieties disappeared for 45 sweet minutes.
Forth Wanderers – Self-Titled
Forth Wanderers’ Slop EP had this song, “Nerves” on it… I just couldn’t put that song down last year – the kind of song you have on repeat over and over and over. Their self-titled 2018 full length is their debut for Sub Pop, and takes what they’ve done already on their EP and previous full-length, but doubles-down on the effectiveness of their sound – wiry guitar lines, melancholy melodies that somehow feel sad and hopeful at the same time, and a general mid-tempo drive to the whole record. Another album that snuck up on me, until all of a sudden I was listening to it non-stop, day after day.
Portrayal of Guilt – Let Pain Be Your Guide
Portrayal of Guilt’s Let Pain Be Your Guide is 22 minutes of intensity – where the sound of early screamo bands like Pg.99 and City of Caterpillar meet modern black metal. Pure and simple, this record fucking shreds.