Garth Van Donselaar – Staff Writer
Music is a dirt-cheap medium now. Anyone can easily make it, and anyone can easily listen for free. The industry is at its most competitive point yet, and the odds of failure are stacked against new and upcoming artists more than in the past. With so much music available, it’s almost impossible to get on top, yet a select few can make it.
Here are my top picks for the standout releases of 2018:
Car Seat Headrest
|Twin Fantasy making the list somewhat feels like cheating. If you give a band about seven years to rework and rerecord, good things should be happening. Such is the case with indie band Car Seat Headrest. The new recording of Twin Fantasy is a huge step up from the first. Whereas the first sounded like it was recorded with a webcam in a dorm room, the 2018 rework sounds like it was recorded properly in a studio. Twin Fantasy sounds better, but it is still a rough-around-the-edges indie release sometimes bogged down by spoken parts. Regardless, Car Seat Headrest’s work is not in vain, as Twin Fantasy is still a good listen.
Top Tracks: “Sober to Death”, “Bodys”, “Cute Thing”
|Ariana Grande surprised me this year with Sweetener. Last time I remember Ariana Grande, she looked like a 13-year-old who sang songs using discount Jason Derulo hooks to other 13-year-olds. There’s more depth on Sweetener, but it still has its shallow moments. Ariana Grande has pipes, though, and she knows how to put them to use. Sweetener has a lot of gloss to its production, as a pop album should. What’s impressive is that all the songs on Sweetener sound like they belong together, while simultaneously using different programming and sampling. The layers on each track are plentiful, and tracks sound complete as a result. Sweetener sounds surprisingly sweet.
Top Tracks: “God is a Woman”, “Breathin”, “No Tears Left to Cry”
|Kanye West looked like he was going to have a miserable year. Riddled with alleged mental health issues and political controversy, Kanye started 2018 with “Lift Yourself,” and “Ye vs. the People,” both assumed to be joke tracks. Kanye finally got the ball rolling with Ye. Despite what people say about the stupid things West says, he certainly knows what he’s doing in the studio. West is still slick production-wise and has pinned down a sound that simultaneously sounds both raw and polished. Additionally, West’s rapping still sounds great, and his singing isn’t shabby either, although he usually leaves that up to his features, who shine especially on “Ghost Town.”
Top Tracks: “Yikes”, “All Mine”, “Ghost Town”
Nine Inch Nails
|The final release in Nine Inch Nails’ trilogy that started two years ago, Bad Witch is somewhat the junior version of Nine Inch Nails’ 1999 release, The Fragile. Bad Witch (and the rest of the trilogy), shows more of the atmospheric side of Nine Inch Nails. Frequent collaborator Atticus Ross joins Trent Reznor as a full-time member, and their time previously spent together scoring films has now influenced Nine Inch Nails. Bad Witch trends some new ground for the band, but still accelerates at what the band does best: making noise sound musical.
Top Tracks: “S**t Mirror”, “Ahead of Ourselves”, “Over and Out”
Joy as an Act of Resistance
|Joy as an Act of Resistance. is everything one could ask for from a punk record. IDLES brings a big I-don’t-give-a-s**t attitude to their sophomore album, which is not done at the compromise of their sound or quality. Joy as an Act of Resistance. is dripping in sarcasm, rebellion, and loudness. As the album title suggests, IDLES’s latest will have listeners joyfully resisting the establishment.
Top Tracks: “I’m Scum”, “Television”, “Great”
Only One Way/The Hurt Will Go On
|Code Orange started off 2018 with the surprise release of the single Only One Way. Grungy in influence, some fans worried the Pennsylvania hardcore group had become soft. Only One Way certainly slaps, but its follow-up is the punishing EP, The Hurt Will Go On. Code Orange continues to evolve their sound in new ways with guitar solos, industrial sounds, sampling, and traditionally with brutal breakdowns and chugging guitars.
Top Tracks: “Only One Way”, “3 Knives”, “The Hunt”
Year of the Snitch
|Alternative hip hop group Death Grips thrives on unpredictability. Year of the Snitch is no exception, as the group continues to shift their core sound with each release. Year of the Snitch is more melodic and less abrasive than the band’s previous release, Bottomless Pit. However, Death Grips is still their frenzied and noisy self. Year of the Snitch is both fascinating and unsettling with its music and artwork. Although hard to digest, Death Grips continues to be undoubtedly one of the best rap artists out there.
Top Tracks: “Death Grips Is Online”, “Hahaha”, “Streaky”
|Judas Priest is almost 50 years old. Singer Rob Halford is 67 years old. Listening to Firepower, you would never guess either statements to be true. Despite being the 18th album in their long career, Judas Priest showcases again why they’re considered one of the best heavy metal groups of all time. Firepower doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but rather applies the fundamentals of metal to their finest–great guitar riffs, technical solos, soaring vocals, and a solid foundation of bass and drumming.
Top Tracks: “Firepower”, “Necromancer”, “Flame Thrower”
Kids See Ghosts
Kids See Ghosts
|Kid Cudi and Kanye West make up rap duo Kids See Ghosts. When they first made an announcement regarding their album, there was plenty of reason to have skepticism. However, Cudi and West proved everyone dead wrong. Provoking and psychedelic, Kids See Ghosts leaves listeners with a sense of awe. In a genre unfortunately dominated by mumble rap, Kids See Ghosts have proven there are new great heights for hip-hop music.
Top Tracks: “4th Dimension”, “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)”, “Reborn”
|For the third time in a row, Swedish progressive metal band, Ghost, has released a killer album top to bottom. Somewhat conceptual, Prequelle covers a theme of plague with a medieval aesthetic. As thematic as ever, Ghost now has eight members to play the layers of guitar, percussion, synth, piano, organ, choirs, and the vocals of Tobias Forge under the moniker Cardinal Copia. Beautifully crafted, Prequelle pushes Ghost both in craft and career success.
I would also highly recommend seeing Ghost live if you ever get the chance.
Top Tracks: “Rats”, “Faith”, “Witch Image”
Unfortunately, I can’t listen to everything. Did I miss something? Do you disagree? Let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org.