If this is your first time visiting one of my annual "Best of Lists", thanks for stopping by and checking out what I have deemed "listen-worthy" for this year. If you're a repeat visitor, I deeply appreciate your continued interest in my musical opinion. Truly, these albums were my addiction over the course of 2018, with works that percolated into my daily playlist and provided the soundtrack to the dramatic events of my present day.
I'm sure your list would be different than mine if you created one. I've been compiling annual "Best of" lists since 2010, and these lists have created powerful sonic footprints in my past. Each of our influences are individual and reflect our personalities and human stories, often intersecting in the music that we listen to and share. We "come together" over art, whether it be music or painting or film, or any other type of artistic expression.
As a visual artist, I have come to appreciate the art of music and all of the unique influences it has on my life and art.
Some unique traits of my list:
- These are generally not radio-friendly albums. While I certainly embrace all music, I no longer listen to the radio. At all. Satellite or broadcast or otherwise. My influences come from personal research, network suggestions and historical influences.
- My statement is that I listen to everything from Slayer to Enya, minus country. I'd like to think my music ear is diverse, but I gravitate toward my sonic staples: industrial/ambient/electronica and/or dubstep, hard rock, machine rock, heavy metal, and hybrids of all. My list of 20 is an intersection of a variety of styles and sounds, and is not specific to a single genre (or from a single geographic location).
- My list DOES NOT reflect socially-"popular music", chart-friendly creations or trendy music personalities that walk red carpets, troll headlines and/or have Social Media spats with other artists.
I began tracking this list early in 2018, with new releases by Rabbit Junk and Parkway Drive. It has evolved a lot over the course of the year with recommendations of new music from friends and colleagues. I hope you enjoy this list and find a new artist or two to follow and be inspired by.
Please spread the word and share this guidance with your network, pay forward these suggestions of high quality music. Check out my YouTube playlist featuring clips from every album, embedded at the bottom of this blog. And if you're feeling bold, drop a comment and let me know what you think. What's on your list of favorite albums for 2018?
Without further ado, my Top 20 favorite albums of 2018.
Queen of Risk (EP)
Artist, designer and former Angelspit vocalist paired up with the king of angry robot music, Sean Payne, to create a quick, high-energy trip. Very fun live show, and an inspiring artist.
Blistering and brutal, the new Soulfly echoes tones of old school Soulfly and Sepultura, featuring two generations of Cavaleras and a powerful duet with Randy Blythe from Lamb of God.
Entertain Your Force of Habit
Reminiscent of Pantera with a name that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, Israel's groove metal masters Betzefer have created an album and sound that could stack up with current U.S. rock hipsters like 5FDP.
The Darkness (EP)
Klayton of Celldweller fame has more identities than Kevin Crumb, and creates amazing artistic experiences with each. As Scandroid, Klayton creates a sci-fi synchopop universe that dwells somewhere between my #1 album of last year and my #1 album of this year. Always a pleasure to hear new music from Klayton. Scandroid has the companion EP, "The Light", releasing in 2019.
DEAD CAN DANCE
A slightly-made (2 songs, 36 minutes - too short!) but densely-packed album filled with the atmospheric greatness of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard.
Slow Motion Death Sequence
Once a Norwegian black metal band, Manes redesigned their sound over the last decade to be a mysterious mix of electronica, jazz and metal. "Slow Motion Death Sequence" is a dusky landscape of soaring vocals, gritty guitars and digital undertones.
"Holy Hell" was my introduction to the major UK metalcore band Architects and the tragedy of co-founder Tom Searle, whose death from cancer in 2016 touched many in the music industry -- including my #2 album, which features a song dedicated to Tom. The album is well-produced, deeply touching, and full of cacophonous rage and edgy tones. Many thanks to friend Christian for introducing me to Architects as part of a music exchange.
The Hurt Will Go On (EP)
I don't normally rank EPs very high in my annual list of best music, but I have to give props to Code Orange, a new(ish) discovery that is delicious and brutal ear candy. After last year's Grammy-nominated release "Forever", I'm happy to give them prominence in this year's list. These 3 songs crush.
It isn't a stretch to call Sleep "stoner music" -- the experimental, trippy guitar solos and hooks, extended tune times and sleepy, monotone vocals combine to create an album that hearkens back to 70s doom rock. High props to friend Ryan for introducing me to this groovy adventure.
I continue to give Ghost support for the character they play in the metal scene and their consistent approach to selling the darker side in a dramatic, fashionable way. Their concept of mocking the Church, its structure and its culture has no equal in the black metal genre. They're talented musicians with firm comprehension of their unique presentation and dramatis personae.
I've been listening to Judas Priest for 35 years and it amazes me how the band manages to maintain their signature style and sound -- despite age, technological advancement and changes in the metal sound. "Firepower" reminded me of "Defenders of the Faith" and "Screaming for Vengeance" in approach, content and overall style. Unlike recent previous Judas Priest efforts, the songs of "Firepower" are anthemic and tight, each tune telling a "very metal story of very metal characters". Rob Halford continues to defy the clock, though his vocals are more contained than traditional Judas Priest creations.
According to Wikipedia, Zardonic is a "keyboardist, DJ, composer, producer and remixer primarily known for his heavy electronic dance music". I use that snippet to reflect the strange musician known as Zardonic -- a masked music crusader from Venezuela who is globally known for his skills as a DJ, but also as one who integrates metal, guitar and cacophonous screams into his work. Zardonic teamed up with heavy-hitters like Celldweller and The Qemists for "Become". This album will make you move.
All I See is War
"All I See is War" reminded me of the greatness of Sevendust. Next year, Sevendust celebrates its 25th anniversary, and their sound, style and statements are needed now more than ever, as the United States stands divided. Lajon's passionate, heartfelt vocals soar above the Civil War that we all see around us, and are a beacon of truth and diversity in a culture quickly slipping backwards into chaos, racism and bigotry.
I have an affinity for Trip-Hop. Sneaker Pimps, Massive Attack, DJ Shadow, Portishead... Decades later, I'm still a fan of the genre. Morcheeba is a member of that classic list, and is still cranking out genre-delicious trip-hop with their new release "Blaze Away". While not as consistently powerful as "Blood Like Lemonade", "Blaze Away" is a worthy addition to their catalog and deserved of a broader audience, mostly unfamiliar with the roots of trip.
An underrated name on the big beat, trip-hop scene is Rob Howes, aka Overseer, who refashioned his persona as Fatlantic in 2018. Some will remember his classic album "Wreckage" from 2002 -- if you don't, you probably would recognize tracks from that album that were featured in TV, Movies, and other entertainment outlets. Since then, Rob has been partnering with Rachel Gray (Kanute), but has been mostly working outside the scene. With "Offshore Breaks", Rob returns with atmospheric beauty and resonance, but also with a less aggressive sound than Overseer -- more trip than hop, more beat than bombast.
I know the song "Devil" has killed it on rock radio, and it deserves to - it was my "most listened to song" of 2018. But I have to imagine that most rockers and metalheads have a difficult time with the album "Attention Attention" as a whole. There are times on "Attention Attention" when Shinedown sounds closer to Elton John, or a hip-pop act, rather than a rock powerhouse of the last two decades. I personally love the adventuresome spirit, and applaud their exploration into different sounds, styles and topics. I've heard it said that "Attention Attention" is a concept album; if the concept is reminding people that you are special, despite what popular trends and talents tell you, then Shinedown has my full attention. The album is a great reminder to "Get Up" and make something of yourself. Don't wait for your fifteen minutes of fame, because as you wait, you're wasting time...
The Atlas Underground
This album took my playlist by storm, and its diversity is music to my ears. I have been a fan of Tom Morello and all of his projects since the first time I heard "Killing in the Name" back in 1991. Rage Against the Machine resonated with me; Audioslave entertained me; Prophets of Rage empowered me. Now, with his solo album, Tom is proving that he is an amazing collaborator, brilliant songwriter and standout artist -- by the power of his name alone. Tom merged with amazing musicians such as Knife Party, Pretty Lights, K.Flay, Steve Aoki, GZA, RZA, Big Boi and Bassnectar, and along the way has created some brave new anthems for the presently divided day. In a year with less powerful frontrunners, I would've notched this album as my #1 in 2018.
A PERFECT CIRCLE
Eat the Elephant
A cryptic and metaphoric attack on religion, politics and the darker sides of humanity, "Eat the Elephant" is brilliant from start to finish. Billy Howerdel and his Ashes Divide sound reverberate strong throughout the album, and Maynard's adventurous, soaring vocals are showcased perfectly on top of the melodramatic and seething atmosphere of "Eat the Elephant". It would take far more space than this snippet to unpack all that is going on with "Eat the Elephant", so I invite you to check out this interview with Maynard and Billy on the best A Perfect Circle album in their curt catalog.
Introspective, visceral and blistering, Parkway Drive's "Reverence" is the perfect assault on mainstream belief systems and human struggles. From the first lyrics of "Wishing Wells" to the closure of "The Colour of Leaving", "Reverence" is a touching adventure into pain, sorrow and loss. The final song is written in response to the death of and in dedication to Tom Searle, twin brother of Architects founder Dan Searle, who died of cancer in 2016.
Rabbit Junk Will Die:
Meditations on Mortality
Most of my audience has never heard of Rabbit Junk, and will question me for notching this small band's humongous album above such greats as Judas Priest, Shinedown, A Perfect Circle and Soulfly. If anything, noting this album as my favorite of the year should cement how amazing this album is. I've been a fan of Rabbit Junk since their self-titled in 2008. For 10 years, JP Anderson and his wife Sum Grrl have been crafting sonic assaults with "hardclash"/"digital hardcore" style -- "a fusion genre that combines hardcore punk with electronic music genres such as breakbeat, techno, and drum and bass while also drawing on heavy metal and noise music." (also see The Shizit) "Meditations on Mortality" reflects J.P. Anderson's diverse intelligence, musicianship and talents; in addition to his role as master of the mic and guitar, he's also a Graduate Instructor at the University of Washington. The greatest coup of the "Meditations" album: sampling Enya's "Cursum Perficio" into the brilliant tune "Bend the Light". Rather than drone on about how awesome "Rabbit Junk Will Die" is, I suggest you find it and "Become Hell".