2018 was stuffed with phenomenal work and now Chris Jones is here to add even more to your plate with a rundown of 10 overlooked gems from the year.
Big Ups Two Parts Together
Like far too many other bands, Big Ups split apart right as they seemed to be hitting their stride. While they still lean heavily into their Slint and Polvo influences, Two Parts Together has a little less post and a lot more hardcore than their previous efforts. Their lyrics have abstracted further while the snarls of their fretwork have gotten more profound. The result is an album that feels more vital than those of their ‘90s nostalgia-worshipping contemporaries, their perfected oscillate-and-combust approach to songwriting culminating in the tense, methodically thrashing “Imaginary Dog Walker.” Turnstile and Krimewatch might have gobbled up most of the blog entries this year, but for tense, textured hardcore Big Ups reigned supreme in 2018.
Amber London Greatest Hits Volume 1
Esperanza Spalding 12 Little Spells
Westside Gunn Supreme Blientele
Supreme Blientele is a shambolic golem of a record crafted from many unwieldy and dichotomous parts: The album title is a reference to a Ghostface Killah release, but the song titles refer to WWE superstars of years past. Westside Gunn himself could be mistaken for a Ghost imitator on first glance, but soon reveals far more grounded and workman like storytelling sensibilities than those of the acrobatic lyrical escapades of his forbear. It doesn’t appear to be a concept album, yet also can’t be interpreted as anything else. It is gang life as a joke, it is jazz-rap meant to induce terror, it is the holder of the finest Busta Rhymes guest verse in a generation. Supreme Blientele doesn’t ask that you make sense of it, only that you be held in its command for an hour of your day.
Bruce Brubaker Codex
While less known outside of contemporary classical circles than his peers Phillip Glass and the Kronos Quartet, Bruce Brubaker has been making beautiful and innovative classical music for just as long, and Codex is one of the more ambitious projects to come out of his long career. Alternating between a canon of medieval French piano works from the catacombs of time and variations on “Keyboard Study #2” by venerated contemporary composer Terry Riley, Codex is as playful in concept as it is mysterious in aesthetic, rigorous in structure while leaving itself open to the curiosity of its instrument. It plays upon the imagination, and flits gracefully between the background and foreground of the listener’s attention. Perfect for study and contemplation, Codex is a memorable work that embraces both tradition and innovation in unpretentious, disarmingly intimate fashion.
Hooded Menace Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed
For the first time in a while the Bay Area seemed to dominate metal this year, with releases from San Franciscan critical darlings Deafheaven and Oakland-borne stoner luminaries Sleep and High On Fire all making major waves. But even before these LPs came out Finnish doomlords Hooded Menace started the year off right with Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed, the rare death-doom album that could be described as actively enjoyable. Though the drones evoke unquestionable misery and the growling vocals seem to carry instructions for bringing hellborne abominations into our heedless worldly realm, the riffs also fucking kick in a way clearly designed to summon forth mosh pits. There are enough tempo mixups and almost proggy song structures to make first-time listens a surprise and repeat plays an adventure in nuance. Depression and exhilaration boil over in compelling molten form on this, Hooded Menace’s crowning achievement.
Bad Gyal Worldwide Angel
Laurel Halo Raw Silk Uncut Wood
Laurel Halo abandons the freakish house affectations that had become her signature for an album steeped in traditional ambient motifs. Raw Silk Uncut Wood’s title well evokes the spectral pastoralism of the music therein: the album is bookended by two long, diaphanous instrumentals, and even the tracks that hew closer to the antagonistic IDM Halo is known for, like “Mercury” and “Quietude,” lack percussion and eventually manage to settle down, like two housebound guard dogs getting used to the presence of a visitor. At just over half an hour, the album vanishes just as one starts to familiarize themselves with it, and leaves all the brighter of an aftereffect for doing so. In some ways Raw Silk Uncut Wood is not Halo’s most ambitious record, but in many ways it’s probably her best.
Vessel Queen of Golden Dogs
Queen of Golden Dogs is the embodiment of what IDM should stand for, all things ambitious, maniacal and uncannily gorgeous. A dizzying album crafted from a frantic amalgamation of production philosophies that even the most ardent PC Music acolyte will likely find hard to keep up with, Vessel takes the sophisticated high-culture abrasion of the most famous Venetian Snares albums and layers it under booming tropical drums and a decidedly new-school Deconstructed Club mentality. The result is something that pays homage to electronic music’s most adventurous pioneers while entirely retaining its own identity, an LP that uses many familiar cues in order to create something not quite within arm’s reach of comparison. Queen of Golden Dogs is a record to shred the senses, and an exciting compass for where Vessel might be willing to take us next.
Zoe Keating Snowmelt
After nearly a decade-long hiatus from releasing new material due to a refocusing on soundtrack work and the tragic passing of her husband, Zoe Keating quietly released Snowmelt to little fanfare or press attention in the early summer of last year. Regardless of how many eyes were on it when it first came out, this little EP contains more skill and beauty in 17 minutes than most artists can concentrate into half a lifetime of records. Keating’s ability to slowly layer her cello lines into stirring crescendos remains unsurpassed, and she manages to walk a harrowing tightrope between droning ambiance and post-rock grandeur that lesser artists would turn into something tiresome almost instantly. Alternating between the melancholic and the beatific with practiced grace, Zoe Keating’s music remains a uniquely stirring delight, and I am tremendously happy and proud to see her return once more from underneath the permafrost.