2018: Favorite 50 Music Releases Maintenance and palliative care in the sounds of 2018

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series






In considering “experimental” music, the temptation to analyze it until it’s reduced to a hollow, formulaic pulp abounds. I became particularly self-conscious of this internalized desire as Diamond Stingily spoke on the EP’s first track, “collect”: “when i was a kid, i told my mom to bury me with a shovel and she asked if i was gonna come back and i said yeah i’ll come back.” The short poem served as the perfect preambular corollary to cc, which so masterfully suspended the listener in Klein’s world. The EP, like Stingily’s poem, was less a narrative representation than something abundantly there. Klein described cc as a “come-of-age record about myself to myself,” an interconnected series of feelings, memories, nostalgia, and longing — a fairytale firmly grounded in the self. While the EP evoked darkness with whirling soundscapes, dissonant loops, and warped vocals, it appeared alongside levity and respite. Building off of the Disney-esque narrative of self brilliantly illustrated in Nick James Scavo’s review, I’d say that there were as many princesses as there were dragons here. As I listened, I learned to eschew my “critical gaze” and replace it with a tender, reverent, and more passive observation of Klein’s “transversal, multiplicitous sound” (as Scavo put it), treating the EP less as an abstract exploration for analysis rather than a diary with scrawled, sometimes illegible handwriting. Klein’s cc was an intimate portrait of the individual, and thankfully, she was kind enough to let us in.


DJ Healer / Prime Minister of Doom

Nothing 2 Loose / Mudshadow Propaganda

[All Possible Worlds/Planet Uterus]


The club is an eternal paradise. A social de-construct, now thankfully re-constructed. That’s God’s creation. It’s absolutely amazing to look at it.


The Torah describes God’s fashioning the firmament on the second day of creation, but what of the beat? The Earth? The mud?


Hell is other people, and also yourself sometimes. Hell is context, and hell is expectation. Hell is a press release. The Prince of Denmark is in Hell, along with many other known aliases of the artist most often called Traumprinz.


In another world, however, one of the many possible, DJ Healer is free.




Skinless X-1

[Hausu Mountain]


Anxiety is ever-present, but disassociation is the up-and-comer. Fire-Toolz knows this, her music taking the form of the onset of a severe dissociative episode where everything is crystalline, in focus, tingling, and hyper-aware at the moment they begin to recede, the whole lost to myriad parts. Skinless X-1 was as myriad and as online and amygdala-hyperlinked as anything you’d say sounds like right now, with screamo ambient soundscapes, cascading MIDI melodic runs and trap drums, clean pulses, digital p(l)unks + trance anthems, but Fire-Toolz didn’t re-simulate so much as she crafted mental processes, dragging the conscious into that crease between body and no-body, self and no-self, identity and escape. Dissociation is a tactic of escape, of freedom, even if it hurts. Better this than ketamine or traumatic flashbacks, but you could also just combine them. Fire-Toolz turned the most contemporary affliction into a new kind of possibility, injecting it with hope.


Simple Affections

Simple Affections



Spinoza describes the love of God in which beatitude consists as a detachment of affections from the thought of the outside. Seeing them “in themselves,” which, in all simplicity, is “in itself.” This sort of forgetting is facile to Sean McCann. He forgets form so as to forge it. The home recordings of his friends assembled here — yaws, yeeowing, many yawns, whistles, yells, a “floppy harp,” “plastic,” “flappy,” and “peeling” rain, a few yodels, clarinets, vibraphones, and all sorts of shadows — were transposed to fit some Bach chorale (probably), a tuned-down Scriabin prelude, and Saint-Saëns’s dream of church-bells. These memories became music the moment they were forgotten. “Like a curtain blowing in a mediterranean sunset,” as McCann describes the saxophone in the program notes. “Lots of little things,” he says, “I can’t remember.” Yet Simple Affections might’ve been the least musical record of the year. Precisely why we found it so charming. A musical periphrasis. Each moment a pinnacle. To found sound. “A light light way to soar away.” clack cleek woop bow blasé brushing eeh blob oh something eh brushes ooo my oh cheek “…plunging, plunging.”


The Caretaker

Everywhere at the end of time - Stage 4

[History Always Favours The Winners]


In 2018, Everywhere at the End of Time, The Caretaker’s unfolding concept album concerned with dementia and its accompanying symptoms, entered its second half with April’s Stage 4. While the first three stages contained short, melancholic, lilting edits of gently disintegrating ballroom music, Stage 4 was a rather radical departure from previous installments, the moment when we could really start to sense confusion. The album’s four lengthy pieces (three of which are titled “Post Awareness Confusions”) were filled with fragments of memories and momentary glimpses of past stages, but melancholy was slowly replaced with horror, clarity with disorientation. Anyone familiar with the first few stages of Everywhere at the End of Time started to feel uncomfortable at Stage 4, as grainy noise concealed sweet melodies and calming sounds were warped beyond recognition. But while Stage 4 was definitely an anxious and terrifying listen, it also carried an air of inevitability: this was the diagnosis all along.


Tierra Whack

Whack World



A practical exercise concerning Whack World: gather a group of people — friends or strangers. Arrange them in a circle. Starting with you, whisper to the person on your right a short story about someone you look up to. Then have that person whisper it to the person to their right, and continue around the circle. No repeats. When it gets back to you, say aloud your original story and then say what was whispered to you. Repeat the process with stories about your childhood pets, your best friends, your favorite foods. Then do it with stories about what makes you feel strong, makes you feel scared, makes you feel frustrated. Let other people lead with their own stories. Be transparent. Play. People will laugh, and they will frown. They will feel tension between the comedic manipulations and your honest experiences. This game is brief. Don’t worry, brevity is the spice of life. For your final minutes, listen to Whack World in its entirety, then reflect as a group on social storytelling. How did this process affect your fears? How did this process affect your sense of self? Leave the room changed.






When we interviewed her in June, Alexandra Drewchin described how growing up with dyslexia and testing anxiety affected her performance practice as Eartheater: “I feel like I’m much more comfortable speaking with movement than I am sometimes even just speaking with words.” On one hand, IRISIRI is like a dance. Drewchin’s lyrics were sung, rapped, spoken, whined, and wheezed, but her voice didn’t do any of those things as much as it glanced, glared, galloped, and languished. There was an unusual, and sometimes unsettling, feeling of encoded bodily presentation. On the other hand, dance is sometimes associated with a kind of transparency, a sense in which movement communicates free of the obfuscatory properties of language, expressing narrative and emotion without making itself available to misinterpretation or the accusation of dishonesty. IRISIRI wasn’t that kind of dance; it was, in Drewchin’s words, “drenched in encryption.” That doesn’t mean that it was esoteric, but rather that it combined readable gestures into something unreadable. The lyrics mostly smacked of free association or uncalculated interjection. “Inclined” sounded like a freestyle, while “Trespasses” saw words fall away entirely into affect. At once casual, playful, virtuosic, and moody, IRISIRI was stylistically and emotionally opaque. Even in those few moments when it seemed illuminated, like on gorgeous overture “Peripheral,” Drewchin herself remained in the dark. The final lyric was repeated in text-to-speech monotone: “You can’t compute her. You can’t compute her.”


Kanye West


[G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam]


I know. The very inclusion of ye, and of its monstrous creator, on this list could scan as a divisive call for these atomizing times. I can’t even confidently speak of “we,” as in the broad church of TMT, to accurately justify its position here (unless, of course, to say that “we” were thoroughly split on the matter). Somehow, though, and in spite of the kernel of utter disunity, the cold, solipsistic distance, that lay central to his most shaky-ass year, Kanye West was aufgehoben in ye. It did help that he tried on numerous palettes, moods, and sonics within that succinct Wyoming format, for sure. But, ultimately, ye was the sound of Reckoning, of Kanye coming to terms with being Kanye. This wasn’t a road to redemption. In fact, it barely paid any service to a year’s worth of controversy and headlines. It was Kanye, through it all, at ease with himself and the world. And in this shit year, in this shit world, it helped: hearing Kanye at his least guarded in years helped; singing along with the refrain of “No Mistake,” not to mention “Ghost Town’s” anthemic coda, helped. It was heartening that, in 2018, Kanye embodied lux in tenebris, with a vision of healing that was so desperately needed by so many.


RP Boo

I’ll Tell You What!

[Planet Mu]


Electronic music fads have recently been leaning toward greater aggression and panache, with deconstructed club music exploding the boundaries of dance and many of the year’s notable records scored to overtly vain lyrical themes. Upward trends of bombast are reclaiming discourse on the aesthetics of worth, but sometimes bombast rings hollow. RP Boo’s mid-career debut album was the antidote to these trends, intermittently deploying footwork rhythms with unmatched swagger, then “unmasking” the fraught persona hidden behind the outward bluster. Beat music is about showing off your dance, so a footwork record as dark as I’ll Tell You What! — driven frequently by sparsely rhythmic, scarcely jiving arrangements — is more than purely unnerving; it’s almost oxymoronic. But RP Boo was creating spacious environments that left room to discursively magnify not only the dance, but also the dancer; transforming, at the same time, characteristically “public” music into an unanticipated opportunity for private reflection and critique of the more broadly cultural. By cutting through the bombast and bluster with subtlety to welcome rich interpretation, RP Boo incisively explored questions of authenticity and vulnerability with rare elegance — and resonance to keep us coming back long after the spotlights have gone out.


Tim Hecker




Tim Hecker’s music has always kind of traversed two poles: big, monolithic sounds that congeal in dense ways and orchestrated songs that feel pulled apart, deconstructed, airy, open. In the former category, we have earlier and now classic albums like Haunt Me, Haunt Me, Do It Again, Harmony in Ultraviolet, and Ravedeath, 1972. In the latter, there’s the stuff ushered in by Love Streams, a transcendent work full of hazy voices, sparkling drones, and smart counterpoint. Konoyo almost felt like the beginning of a third chapter in Hecker’s career, one drawn from all of his previous ideas, a fantastic hybrid of dark moods and shiny sounds. On this album, Hecker worked with Tokyo Gakuso, who are among the few torchbearers of Gagaku, an ancient style of Japanese serious music. As a result, Konoyo was Hecker’s most sprawling and historically defined work, one that felt like the push and pull of a magnetic conversation. This wasn’t something his music ever lacked, but it was certainly something that felt right for Konoyo, where tracks like “This Life” and “Keyed Out” bubbled and surged with the contained, chaotic energy that Hecker continues to summon and corral.

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series

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