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


20

serpentwithfeet

soil

[Secretly Canadian/Tri Angle]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

On his debut album, Josiah Wise divulged his deepest desires and projected his most profound observations through a series of stories that dissected the intricate distinctions within human relationships. soil played on experiences that vary from the discontent to the depraved, creating an impassioned journey through the eyes of people laid bare — subjects who are bound together and pulled apart within their brazenly complex musical structures. Wise plucked from the deepest depths of soul, gospel, and R&B while allowing his beautiful voice to thrust, swell, flutter, and swirl across a series of insatiable melodies. The impact was generous in its precision and dignified in its composition; it brought optimism where there was doubt, pain where there was ambivalence, and joy where there was suffering. As well as producing some of the most uniquely crafted songs of the year, Wise fudged obscure sensations with profound descriptions of character, fusing acts of generosity with feelings of desire. He confided in us, trusted us, and made us feel wildly alive.


19

Amnesia Scanner

Another Life

[PAN]

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AS begins an adverb subordinate clause. it hAS a subject and a verb, but does not complete a thought – for now, we hear through A Scanner darkly; but then ear to oracle, which intones: ‘something something deconstructed something something cyber something something continental theory jargon.’ artists will serve you AS an avant-garde. *inaudible screeching* *ugly-ASs arpeggios*: ASMR – sounds that feel bad. but to be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand scanner memes for amnesiac teens… and yes, by the way, i do have a wierd incomprehensible tattoo that kinda looks like A Slightly scary meme. this hAS been an album about people who were punished entirely too little for what they did. and now we know we know in part; but then will we know even AS also we are known?


18

Mitski

Be The Cowboy

[Dead Oceans]

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“How many stars will I need to hang around me, before I call it heaven?” pondered Mitski, earnestly, as the intense rapture of “Remember My Name” enveloped her. With a fifth full-length under her belt, Mitski cemented her expertise in self-analysis via an omnivorous usage of musical styles, each a palate cleanser for the devastating truths to come her way. The majesty of Be The Cowboy was no mere solipsism though; the audience’s watchful gaze was as much a character as Mitski herself, riding shotgun, fielding her confrontational questions and caustic offerings of small talk. There was a certain theatricality like never before; the fanfare of “A Pearl” and the indelible disco swagger of “Nobody” positioned her musings with newfound clarity, while the wide-open spaces of “Come Into The Water” and “Two Slow Dancers” birthed a bittersweet landscape constructed not with the rocks and soil of Western frontiers, but the fossilized remains of difficult relationships, self-doubt, and the perils of finding love in isolation. For the cowboy that Mitski is, or rather, wants us to be, these uncharted territories were far more jagged and crushingly gorgeous than any real-life heartland could ever be.


17

Barrio Sur

बड़ा शोक (heart break)

[Self-Releasedl]

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You know those VH1 Classic Albums shows in which they sit us down at the album’s original mixing board and isolate certain tracks so we can hear how it all came together? About every other song on बड़ा शोक (heart break) played as if Fred Warmsley III (a.k.a. Barrio Sur a.k.a. Dedekind Cut f.k.a. Lee Bannon) had been granted an all-access pass to some garage rock label’s in-house mixing console, through which he was able to isolate, sample and remix lost vocal and instrumental tracks. The result was something akin to dub, with trace elements of the “source material” lingering ethereally like ghosts in the machine. The other half of बड़ा शोक (heart break), composed of drone and ambient compositions, functioned almost like a baseline representation or expression of the very machine through which the rock vocals and instruments were processed. Taken together, the album played like an imaginary (Bollywood?) film’s combined score and soundtrack, its diegetic and non-diegetic sounds in continued (bilingual?) dialogue with one another. That many of the actual “sources” of these sounds, as well as the degree of involvement of some of the cited contributors, remained shrouded in mystery lent the album yet another layer of intrigue and angle for dissection. On a personal note, I first heard Warmsley on Chuuwee and Lee Bannon’s Hot N’ Ready back in 2010, and though little of his Dedekind Cut material has connected for me in the way that mixtape did, बड़ा शोक (heart break) shattered any expectations or preconceptions I might’ve had about the artist and his evolution to date. This was not simply growth; it was more a rebirth.


16

Playboi Carti

Die Lit

[Interscope]

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Hitting with the supercharged fizz of a dirty McDonald’s Sprite, Die Lit tickled and pittered, slapped and purred, bubbly with its brawn. And we chugged it, its carbonation an antidote to the dyspepsia of the noxious ambiance of the now. If I’m belaboring a metaphor of aeration here, it’s because we heard it: in the shards of Megan James’s airy voice that Pi’erre Bourne sliced and sewed up on “Fell in Luv,” in the slurp and stir of ice against styrofoam on “Mileage,” in the pipe organ pneumatics of “Home (KOD).” Like a rap game Steve Reich, Carti torqued the shackle of the loop with squirming ad libs, spurts of burble and blurb and bic. Inhalation and exhalation suffused Die Lit with a blaring buoyancy, figuring breath, sound, and iteration as the ecstatic matter of a life that matters.


15

Bamba Pana

Poaa

[Nyege Nyege Tapes]

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Poaa sounded like time-travel. On this riotous assembly of diaphanous treble and torquing bass, Bamba Pana made sound into an elastic material, a thing to be dilated and truncated: hypercondensed melodies sheared into ultrafast drums; weightlessness achieved through deathless speed; “absolute breakdown imminent […] sown together by the vitality of constant change.” This music, the splayed intricacies of its construction — its layers upon layers of melody, drum, and bass — exploded through speakers, gouged its way onto dancefloors and into brains. And it was a joy, a joy to have felt it stretching its legs, to have watched it find new ways to occupy space (the quasi-kuduro of “Kusini,” the maelstrom of “Poaa Bama Rmx”). New shapes, old friends (Makavelli, Nyege Nyege) all whipped up, immersed, consumed in and by these 40 minutes of velocity, vertigo and glee. Brand new dance from Africa, everybody.


14

Pendant

Make Me Know You Sweet

[West Mineral Ltd.]

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Way back in the halcyon days of January, Brian Leeds launched a new label — a very exciting one — called West Mineral Ltd. Leeds, best known under his Huerco S. moniker, wanted to release “mid-ground music,” which would neither recede into the background like ambient music nor assert itself like dance music. Make Me Know You Sweet, Leeds’s first album as Pendant and West Mineral’s first release, could be considered a manifesto of mid-ground music. The difference between this and a traditional ambient album was its compelling depth. Over the album’s seven tracks, a hypnotic soundworld emerged made of gentle hums and hisses, its immaculate detail revealing itself only after repeated (obsessively repeated) listening. It didn’t petulantly demand your attention; it insisted upon it in seductive tones. Try to listen without staring into the middle distance, glassy-eyed, vacant, blissful, and dumb. Impossible. Trust us — we’ve been trying all year.


13

Mount Eerie

Now Only

[P.W. Elverum & Sun]

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I’ve only listened to Now Only once. On a plane to Los Angeles, I listened to the album sandwiched in between in-flight movie bouts of Avengers: Infinity War and The Devil Wears Prada. One night a few weeks ago, I got drunk at a friend’s housewarming party in Queens, and while talking about experimental music, I became wistful and tried to communicate my experience with Mount Eerie’s music to some of my most “aesthetically advanced” friends. They unsympathetically laughed. Granted, I wasn’t expecting us to go “jumping on the bed like lost children exploding across the earth in a self-indulgent all-consuming wreck of ideas.” I was actually glad that they didn’t give a fuck about Mount Eerie. It felt right alongside an experience I still find to be incommunicable — “my devastation is unique.” I’m not here to hyperbolize Phil Elverum’s grief or my own elemental aesthetic upbringing with his music. I tried to listen to Now Only again while writing this blurb, but couldn’t. Too bad I can’t go there, but I feel so proud that someone from our species can.


12

Julia Holter

Aviary

[Domino]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

We knew the “why” of sad songs this year, our shoulders tight with anxiety. The double-album’s overwhelm risked flagging itself for deletion with the rest of the day’s noise. We mistook its hocket for diminishing sprawl. Something about it stayed. We happened upon the song islands, cut-outs in her wilderness. We were had, we wallowed about, covering our ears. Composed ourselves in disco balls, closed doors just behind us. She urged us to listen better. Sometimes we listened to the whole album in one song (“Les Jeux to You” celebrated her discography, “Words I Heard” concentrated Aviary’s 90 minutes into 6), and that counted, unforbidden and cherishable. We followed the sound down her walkways, parsing memories of green from god. Grackles cawed that speech walks a tight-wire, unperched they murmured it a trapeze. Sunshined, goddess-eyed: Joy, joy, joy. It might’ve all taken place in one room, with one of us listening. Shadow and light, day and night. We came to regard Aviary as an orchard, and the orchard as a forest, and somewhere within we promised, oned and wondering for the angels: “I shall love.” Turning the light on, we listened: unintentionally, intently, alive stretching below the canopy, itself stretching.


11

Eli Keszler

Stadium

[Shelter Press]

[WATCH · LISTEN · READ]

“Moreover, you must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking.” As is so often said, “ambulator nascitur, non fit,” and I can tell Eli Keszler was a born ambler. The walk is not the rhythm of heel-clicks, the distance of strides, or the arrangement of distances, but the collapse of the surround into the perceptual horizon of the walker. Stadium was not an album of field recordings or walking studies, but the practice of the dérive abstracted — of being a subject moving according to the space’s intent — into an environment of dizzying percussion and floating, fleeting melody. Its ecology of clicks and rolls and splashes fashioned its own time and space, describing the field and propelling the listener through it. Details emerged and caromed across the auditory space with a jazzy sprezzatura; by Keszler’s legerdemain, you were always being pulled somewhere, forced to follow uncertain trajectories and made to rely on proprioception. Discursive & rife with digression, Stadium was not some guided tour of the Manhattan that sits in Keszler’s head, with surely as many byzantine channels and nerve-wracking irruptions as the original, but was instead like being thrown into a sinisterly soothing environment and exploring regardless of whatever intent it may harbor. You could call it a beat tape for the perambulating paranoiac, something to keep you camel-like and contemplative on your next drift.

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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