STAFF LISTS: Sarah Knoll’s Top 20 Releases of 2018
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Sarah joined our staff this at the beginning of the year as a photographer and writer, and from day 1 has been kicking ass and recommending great music. Check out her top 20 releases of 2018 below.
Nothing is one of those bands that truly defines the post-rock genre. Blending elements of shoegaze, alternative rock and other rock genres, Dance on Black Tap is an all-encompassing album that flows track into track. The album reads more like a single block of a song, which normally has a negative connotation, but although it reads that way, each track is still able to be singled out from one another. It’s definitely a stand-out album in Nothing’s discography.
After the break-up of Dave Benton’s last band, LVL Up, Dave launched his solo project Trace Mountains. A Partner to Lean On, Trace Mountain’s debut LP is however, nothing like LVL Up. Dave’s songwriting is alike to bedroom pop with a higher production quality. It’s aesthetic and atmospheric quality of how Benton treats each instrument allows for them to almost be treated in pure form. Although each track is pretty stripped back, it still holds a quirky and fun quality to them whilst accompanying emotionally vulnerable lyrics often littered with synthesizer and witty guitar parts.
Soul Blind’s debut EP Willpower revives the grunge sound of the 90’s with modern flair. Howling guitars, a heavy bass and lyrics about love and dating are what make this EP carry its own unique flavor without it being washed out by its 90’s grunge ancestors. In the track “Head” the lyrics “should I even talk to you/what do I have to lose?” are sung like confessions to the audience. Willpower plays well into its lyrics while holding a more in depth sound with their instrumentals. Willpower certainly proves that grunge didn’t die in the 90’s and that Soul Blind should be taken seriously as they grow more into their edgy sound.
gestures been is a lo-fi treat. Doug Dulgarian’s songwriting is extremely dense. Using metaphoric language in the lyrics accompanied with a heafty guitar tone and slick drums, this LP seems almost like it poured out effortlessly in the recording process. gestures been creates dynamic waves of tension that mimic what is to be the thoughts circulating in Doug’s head. With the same bedroom/DIY production quality that is signature to this project, this LP is a true venture into launching this project forward.
#16 – MGMT – Little Dark Age
I would never have expected to be listening to MGMT post 2007’s Oracular Spectacular. But low and behold, 11 years later, MGMT is back with a sound that emulates 1980’s dark wave on Little Dark Age. Haunting synthesizers and lyrics about our current social climate dictated by technology are what plague this LP. MGMT is back in the game with this dark yet dance-able sound that alludes to bands such as Talking Heads, New Order and Depeche Mode. Creating a neo-new-wave sound that I hope will carry on through their new discography.
#15 – Ovlov – TRU
Reminiscent of sounds from the 90’s with an indie rock twist is what TRU is all about. Ovlov’s comeback album after a 5 year break from their last LP is a true testament for how much time they took to grow as musicians and people. The guitar sound is a mix of washed out grungy distortions backed by crisp drums and vocals that float over the whole sound. It’s an album that certainly was worth the wait and is well crafted to accompany a more sophisticated sound.
Joys as an Act of Resistance wasn’t an album that I was attached to immediately. However, IDLES’ wailing guitars, hearty bass and drums on top of very British punk vocals are what lead me to loving this LP. The nonsensical lyrics build up to an overall criticism of contemporary society, love and hyper-masculinity which is refreshing coming from a 5-piece all male band. Every track both stands on its own but brings forward a manifesto-like critique. A callout on western culture with punk roots embedded in every track.
#13 – Melted – Thin Skin
Catchy riffs, lyrics about hating yourself and a rhythm section that seems to shred through their instruments like nobody’s business is pure pop-punk poetry on Thin Skin. The debut LP from California-based band Melted comes out from a whole lineage of pop-punk acts such as Green Day and Blink-182, but makes it faster, catchier and more literal and personal. From beginning to end Thin Skin does a terrific job of keeping their punk flavor high and mighty without recycling the same sounds over and over again.
Grad Life redefines what a great punk album should sound like. The entire album is an anthem to anyone who ever had family issues, felt like they didn’t belong and is flat out sick and tired of what their life is like at the moment. Bart’s rough vocal quality on top of a rock-like orchestra including sparkle-like synth parts make this album beyond the typical rock album. It pushes the envelope on incorporating new sounds while keeping the aggression and punk attitude intact. Grad Life mixes relatable lyrics with some of the most intense songwriting that makes every track feel like you’re riding a powerful music wave.
Right off the bat, All This Will Be hits you with extreme emotion and force. Screaming vocals fast drumlines and heavy bass to carry each track through is what makes this album so intense to listen to. Although at times harsh on the ears, closer is a shining example of what screamo is. Emotionally vulnerable and heavily concentrated in a weighted sound whether it’s the drums, bass or guitar. Every instrument carries its own weight on top of lyrics such as “all I want is something familiar” off of “Hardly Art”. All This Will Be leaves everything out on the table and certainly doesn’t come off as effortless. The blood, sweat and tears put into this album come pouring out with every note and overall creates an engulfing sound of raw energy.
[Untitled] is an extremely ambitious, heavy hitting and borderline conceptual album by mewithoutYou. Heavy vocal melodies and screaming on top of shoegaze-like guitars are what makes this album so dense. With almost medieval like song titles that have at its bare bones almost life-like lessons. The album has an operatic quality to it as the tracks flow in. The vocal quality wafts through some tracks and then screams in others. [Untitled] is suiting for this album as there’s so many emotions being conducted that you can’t pinpoint exactly what this album is about other than emotionally saturated. It’s as emo as emo gets.
Two Parts Together is certainly a unified record. The groovy licks at some points then cascading into rough and grimey bass and vocals are signature to BIG UPS sound and is played up to the nines on Two Parts Together. Every single track is layered with bouncing riffs that seem like aggressive and heated conversations. It’s sad that this is their last album, but it surely does not come off as one lacking depth, quality and risk. Qualities that is to be believed what BIG UPS was all about.
Distant Relatives is the antithesis of a lighthearted album. The math-rock guitar riffs and howling vocals accompanied by fast beating drums carry weight to them as they flow through each track. It’s a never-ending blast off into the inner world of California Cousins. Lyrics that are metaphoric cover-ups of personal issues that are screamed into the mic within an inch of losing their voice. Distant Relatives is just one of the hardest hitting albums and is so distinct in its sound because it’s so fast and meticulous.
#7 – Vein – errorzone
Pure chaos in the best way possible is exactly what errorzone is. Constant power chords played through grimey distortion petals colliding with dark metal and screaming vocals is beyond just an explosion. It’s a supernova of sound that is so harsh on the ears but yet so fantastic to listen to with careful intent. Dark, haunting lyrics like “every killer has their motives/I keep mine locked up in black boxes” off the track “Broken Glass Complexion” is one of the few I can decipher through the raunchy sound that Vein perfects on errorzone. Vein is contemporary hardcore, bringing the same flavors that hardcore was birthed from but maturing them and adding a sharpened edge to the sound on errorzone. The entire album flows with no problem and hits every note with all the force they got.
The new wave of hardcore has hit and Time & Space is a pivotal album in defining that sound. It’s catchy riffs and lyrical hooks shouting through the vocal chords of their lead singer are what keeps the album upbeat and attentive. Only taking 3 seconds in between each track to catch a breath, Time & Space is extremely demanding in its presence. Although it holds all of the elements of hardcore, the production quality still is clean with every instrument sounding at its best. Time & Space is carrying forward all the elements of hardcore with a pop flair that makes it extremely accessible without devaluing Turnstile’s sound.
As the title says, there is nothing but love for this album. It defines any type of genre you can label this album as. Aspects of it come straight out of R&B while others take on punk-like and even rap elements. Singer Sam Kless’ raw and brash vocals break through the crisp drums and raging brass section. It’s an incredibly ambitious album for the amount of sounds in one single track alone yet Just Friends doesn’t disappoint and takes on every track like it’s the next video game level. Just Friends’s other vocalist Brianda Goyos Leon has a demanding presence with her voice that raises high above the conversational like riffs between guitar, drums, and brass. An album of this size and proportion can seem like a daunting thing on the ears, and it is, but Just Friends does it just right. Creating an aggressive, profound, fun, and never-ending explosive record.
Puppy Love continues to touch the breaking hearts and struggling minds of young adults and youth. Eric Butler’s emotionally vulnerable and never sugar-coated lyrics are what makes Mom Jeans as a band so wholesome and accessible. The powerful guitar sound, supporting bass and hard hitting drums create at times an aggressive atmosphere for the lyrics to bounce off from. Tracks such as “PT 2”, “season 9, ep 2-3” and “sponsor me tape” completely tear through with insistent tone. Creating shoutable lyrics about break ups, mental health, and entering a new relationship on top of these astonishing guitar parts and backing rhythm section that roars through every single note like butter. Puppy Love is beautifully vulnerable whilst having musical integrity true to their previous record but hitting harder, heavier and stronger.
#3 – Drug Church – CHEER
CHEER is a hard-rock call to arms for anyone whose just been fed up with all the responsibilities of life. With a guitar tone that walks a fine line between hard-rock and harsh punk vocals that are reminiscent of Cali hardcore and Pacific Northwest grunge. However, CHEER isn’t nonsensical or just “for the hell of it” like some of its predecessors. Drug Chruch’s songwriting allows for an openness with the guitar hooks and is more precise in how and when they’re presented. The sound is carefully crafted and sculpted to fit the punk narrative that Drug Church gets driven home on CHEER. Lyrics such as “there’s a guy with a search history darker than a sea trench” off of the track “Unlicensed Hall Monitor” creates an environment that operates well in our current climate but also stands true to Drug Chruch’s harsh punk roots. With each track calling more and more attention to issues a lot of people in America can relate to while also supplying a heavy hardcore-esque sound.
Burnt Sugar is anything but sweet. It’s continuous aggressive chords on guitar and bass with roaring lyrics that almost sound like breaking vocal chords are what make this album such a strong force to listen to. Each song flows effortlessly into one another, like the band doesn’t take a break to breathe. It’s a relentless and strenuous listen from the amount of energy packed into Burnt Sugar alone. Angry lyrics about love and depression are blanketed with pure angst. The raw quality of the vocal delivery has a sensation that all of the lyrics being sung are coming straight from the gut. That they need to be screamed out or else they’ll be bottled in. Paired off with the rough and edgy riffs from bass and guitar that swing all of this energy forward is what makes Burnt Sugar such an incredible album to listen to.
TOUR TAPE is easily the biggest departure from American Pleasure Club’s sound (fka Teen Suicide). Previously signature with a lo-fi and guitar driven sound, American Pleasure Club trades this in for a more synthesizer driven melody. Although the instrumentals have shifted, the lo-fi qualities that this project is known for still come forward. In tracks such as “YOU CALL ON ME”, “DOPE SICK AND SOBBING AT THE GATES OF HELL”, “RIVULET(S)” and “ATTITUDE PART. 2” emphasize distortion on all instrumental parts without drowning the sound in it. The vocals often times dives into the realm of screamo and metalcore with heavier hitting tracks that lack the synthesizer and transition back into the guitar forward sound. TOUR TAPE is a very dark album, with lyrics talking mainly about depression, it certainly comes off as almost a monologue of inner-demons. It’s refreshing and interesting to see the band move in this direction. TOUR TAPE comes off as a strong and vulnerable album that dabbles in experimentation with other instruments that plays off quite well whilst sticking to their lo-fi roots.
Writing by Sarah Knoll
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