Michael Siebert’s Top Albums of 2018
This September, I sold most of my possessions and did what I’ve longed to do for 23 years: I moved away from Montana, my home state, to the east coast. More than two decades of my life were spent surrounded by the awe-inspiring beauty of the landscape and the crushing isolation all that wilderness affords. Yes, I spent most of my time in Montana’s largest cities, (roughly 110,000 people reside in my hometown of Billings). I was not living in the woods. We had a Hastings, after all. But I rarely traveled, and spent most of my four years in college feeling inexorably stuck.
It’s a horrible feeling, immobility. It made me bitter, resentful, even hateful. I came to hate the wilderness, feeling abject disgust at the sight of a pine tree and longing for anything resembling a big city. I graduated from the University of Montana journalism school in May, and devoted the entire summer to saving my convenience store paychecks for the sole purpose of getting the fuck out.
My best friend, girlfriend, and I chose Providence, Rhode Island as our destination. Settling into such a radically different environment can be tough; our living room is still mostly empty, finding a doctor is an enormous pain in the ass, and transportation without a car is a nightmare. But for the first time in a very, very long time, I feel a pronounced sense of optimism. Much of this likely has to do with a visible queer presence and Providence’s lovely noise scene. But there’s nothing quite like the high of feeling as if your whole life is ahead of you.
2018 has been turbulent. I miss my family and friends back home. Money is always a struggle. But I no longer spend my evenings seething with contempt. I find myself much less quick to anger and resentment. A newfound sense of calm has washed over me. I have time for video games, writing, composing and most importantly, listening. I’ve listened to more music this year than I have in a long, long time. This year was hard. But as we move toward 2019, for once I feel confident that things might just get better.
-- Michael Siebert
Do I, a woman who loves and performs power electronics, have a bit of a personal stake in seeing women in the genre? Of course. But biases aside, Crepuscular’s Predation Risk is an immeasurably exciting noise release, a journey through the horrors of abuse from a less-traditional but sorely needed feminine perspective. Comparisons to Lingua Ignota may be warranted thematically, but sonically Predation Risk is a breed of its own. Roaring feedback, pained vocals and percussive pulses. An album for angry times.
My investment in Earl Sweatshirt’s rap career is maybe a touch more personal than necessary. I’ve followed Thebe Kgositsile’s output for nearly a decade, since my impressionable 15-year-old self first heard his debut mixtape EARL. Each release since has seen the understated rapper hone his skills to razor sharp precision, and Some Rap Songs sees Earl bigger, bolder and more confident than ever. Some Rap Songs is avant garde, funky and deeply personal. It’s the sound of my favorite rapper growing up alongside me. It’s only so low on this list because, at the time of writing, I’ve only had a day to listen to it. That should speak volumes.
Listening to a Portal album is the closest to suffocating one can safely get. The Australian blackened death five-piece make an absolutely ungodly racket, with guitar leads that slide insect-like all around the neck and the molasses-thick production. Beneath that, though, Ion sees Portal embrace a touch more compositional clarity, to great effect. It’s an excellent entry point into their often difficult discography.
Desert Sessions is the collaboration I never knew I needed. Delroy Edwards, (reportedly the son of actor Ron Perlman) makes deceptively simple effective hypnagogic electronic music that sits particularly well with the British Dean Blunt’s lo-fi tendencies. It’s the sound of being paralyzingly high in a dirty living room on a hellish summer day. It’s paranoid, hazy, and somehow a ton of fun, with all the charms of two like-minded artists having a blast making some goofily sinister beats.
I’ve loved tech-y death metal ever since someone on the RuneScape forums recommended me Cynic’s Focus. Slugdge’s Esoteric Malacology fires on all of those cylinders, a fantastically complex and crushingly heavy record that’s also all about slugs. The philosophical underpinnings of this project are fascinating, and all interviews are required reading for those who like their Lovecraftian horrors more naturalistic (and not racist in the slightest). Every riff is worth writing home about, every cheeky song title (“Crop Killer,” “Salt Thrower”) smile-inducing.
Puce Mary is simply unfuckwithable. The Danish noise artist sculpts sound with more ferocity, dexterity and precision than practically any other living musician. The Drought amplifies the terrors of 2016’s The Spiral to near-unbearable heights, a deeply upsetting listen full of deliberate sound design and crushing electronics. Still, there are moments of quiet contemplation which showcase the project’s range and versatility. Perfect for late year listening at a punishing volume.
My frequent dissatisfaction with my living conditions this year made Jesus Piece’s Only Self the perfect outlet for my aggression. It is an album tailor made for solo moshing, for punching walls and sweating out your demons. It is also an absolute blast, an energetic hardcore romp that bucks tradition just enough to keep things feeling fresh. It’s a hardcore record that aims to hurt, and it doesn’t need rampant experimentalism to achieve that; it’s an machine-precise exercise in brutality that even the most cynical heshers won’t be able to keep their heads still while listening.
On “Ten Times a Day, Every Day, a Stranger,” The Body accomplish everything depressive suicidal black metal has ever attempted. The closing track from I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer is largely a sound collage, full of pianos, feedback, screeches, and then an absolutely harrowing reading from Bohumil Hrabal’s “Too Loud a Solitude.” “I’m hurt by this whole town in which I live,” a deep-voiced narrator intones. The rest of the album is harrowing, gorgeous, and contains all the hallmarks of The Body’s storied career, even featuring the ever-brilliant Lingua Ignota on vocals. But it’s this final track that might be my single favorite composition from the Portland-based duo. It’s a mission statement, of sorts, and a beautiful one at that. I can’t help but be moved each time the album draws to a close.
Trying to pin a genre on Bosse-de-Nage is tedious and unnecessary. The San Francisco four piece take the building blocks of black metal and throw them out the window. Moments on Further Still could pass for post-hardcore, metal and noise rock. It’s jagged, confrontational and strange. Much has been made of the band’s unique stylings, but it’s the lyrics that push Further Still into genius territory. In truth, citing any one line nears spoiler territory; these are more self-contained short stories, flash fiction a la Henri Michaux, (a key influence for vocalist and lyricist Bryan Manning). If you’re looking to get as far away from genre revivalism as possible, Further Still is maybe the most logical starting point.
How fitting that the first record I reviewed for Invisible Oranges happens to be this year’s favorite. It’s essentially scientifically proven that Maurice de Jong’s particular brand of suffocating brutality is unmatchable. Genocidal Majesty is the crystallization of de Jong’s myriad strengths, an impossibly tight half hour of absolutely horrific blackened noise. All the depravity implied by that title is accounted for. It’s a harrowing record, made all the more disturbed by the presence of The Body’s Chip King on guest vocals. A marriage of the best of black metal and noise, Genocidal Majesty is proof positive that, decades in, Maurice de Jong is still one of experimental metal’s most vital artists.