Spyros Stasis’s Top Albums of 2018
The year 2018 nears its end, so it is time to let the lists roll. It is always a daunting task choosing the picks, formatting the list, and trying to get the right order, the one that makes the most sense. But, it is also always a lot of fun going back and revisiting the records that stood out the past year. I feel like music eases remembrance, and listening back to these albums mentally transported me to different moments of the year. Stress, anxiety, and pressure all seem better in the company of a good album. And so do the good moments, which is why music is the perfect accompaniment to almost any situation (Baby Driver proves that as well). Hopefully that will never change.
As you may guess by now, since this is my third end-of-year list for Invisible Oranges and running the Deconstructing Interference feature (to which I promise I will return soon), I focus more on the experimental, electronic, avant-garde, and jazz side of things. You will find a few metal records in the following list as well, but the majority include releases that Jon Rosenthal would place under the “For The Adventurous” category, or possibly even beyond that. I am sure you will find at least a few things here that will pick your interest, so please have a listen to these albums. They are too good to be missed.
20. Father Murphy – Rising: A Requiem for Father Murphy (Avant!/Ramp Local, Italy)
19. Less Bells – Solifuge (Kranky, USA)
18. YoshimiO/Susie Ibarra/Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe – Flower of Sulphur (Thrill Jockey, USA/Japan)
17. Marie Davidson – Working Class Woman (Ninja Tune, Canada)
16. Chaos Echoes – Mouvement (Nuclear War Now!, France)
15. The End – Svarmod Och Vemod Ar Vardesinnen (RareNoise, Sweden/Norway/USA)
14. Helena Hauff – Qualm (Ninja Tune, Germany)
13. Nordra – Pylon II (SIGE, USA)
12. Amnesia Scanner – Another Life (PAN, Germany)
11. Gazelle Twin – Pastoral (Mute, UK)
Back in 2011, Gang Gang Dance released one of the most intriguing experimental, synth-oriented records in Eye Contact. Seven years of silence passed and they returned with a fairly different offering in Kazuashita. Leaving behind their extroverted perspective and bouncy progressions, the band instead found solace in the ambient world, releasing a record of great emotive depth that revels in a highly necessary sense of serenity and calm.
There is no question that Julia Holter is an ambitious songwriter, and one of the most interesting singer/songwriters of the past decade. While she started with a deeply rooted experimental scope, Holter continued to move towards a more indie folk oriented path, which reached a crescendo with Have You In My Wilderness. But Aviary sees the ambition of Holter reignited, producing a 90 minute long opus filled with experimental arrangements, grand progressions and a forward-thinking approach to songwriting. Complex and grand, displaying a great attention to detail, but also with a subtle touch and an otherworldly, dreamy essence.
From his early days as Teams, producer Sean L. Bowie displayed an intrinsic need of exploring the experimental edges of electronic music. His debut album as Yves Tumor furthered that goal, but with his sophomore record he moves towards a different direction. Safe In The Hands of Love is an inherently more pop-oriented release, while at the same time it retains many of the extreme elements that made Yves Tumor so enticing. The result is strangely balanced, managing to unleash hooky choruses and direct progressions, while bringing industrial and noise characteristics to the fold.
Kamasi Washington dropped into the scene with the monumental three hours long The Epic, a tour de force of jazz, from its soulful edge to its more extravagant aspects. Following such a record is at the very least daunting, but Washington is able to surpass it with Heaven and Earth. More intricate and emotive, the follow-up album is an extraordinary concept work masterfully arranged and impressively executed.
A very skilled electronic music producer, TJ Hertz released one of the finest electronic records of 2014 in Flatland. With a techno perspective and an IDM infusion, the record revealed a fresh approach towards beat construction and synthetic instrumentation. The return of Objekt with Cocoon Crush is even more impressive, seeing Hertz shed the electronic skin and dive into an experimental realm, where industrial and noise collide, while sound design becomes the record’s protagonist.
The project of Aaron Turner, Nick Yacyshyn and Brian Cook set out to explore the heavier side of post-metal, following the harsh sludge recipe that early ISIS releases established. Two records in the band seemed to be comfortably set on a specific sound, and then a collaboration with Keiji Haino came along. This crossing of paths has infected Sumac, who took a hard turn with Love in Shadow, infusing their sludge-oid, hardcore oriented sound with free rock elements and further improvisations. The album exposed a novel combination of styles, which will hopefully be the focus of the band’s next works.
With the release of Love Streams in 2016, Tim Hecker performed a bold step away from the darker, ambient drone unleashing an emotive, even colorful ride through his unique sound design perspective. Konoyo takes a cue from Love Streams in its manipulation of audio samples, but also sees a return to the darker, more esoteric sound of Ravedeath, 1972, and Virgins. Instead of the human voices at the centre of Love Streams, Hecker places a gagaku ensemble, and the resulting recordings are cut and manipulated to create a musical negative space of immense glory.
Kelly Moran is part of a long lineage of extraordinary composers and producers. Her solo work has been focusing on experimental electro-acoustic arrangements and prepared piano settings, but her experience with electronic music, experimental rock bands and the dance discipline, have all fueled her identity as a composer. Ultraviolet is the result of all these lineages being brought to a single center, resulting in a record that features the experimental touch of pioneering figures like John Cage, Philip Glass and Max Richter, while still preserving an intricate array of electronic and atmospheric artifacts.
Even within the extreme, experimental scene Daughters appears like a boogeyman entity, mixing aspects of mathcore with grind elements to create is unique brew of harsh, extravagant music. During their initial face, the band went through slight transformations, and with each change they appeared to gain momentum. The hiatus came at the worst time, but nine years later Daughters return with their most impressive work yet. Dark and oppressive, ritualistic and noir-esque, You Won’t Get What You Want is one of the most horrific experiences one can, and should, go through.
Low is a pioneering act, one that resisted the temptation of following many of the 1990s trends and instead set on its own journey. Through the years the band has consistently released high quality records, revealing the underlying wisdom of its members. So the fact that Double Negative is a solid release is no surprise, but what is astounding is how good and balanced this album is. Embracing on one hand the pop sensibilities of the band while still encapsulating their more extravagant leanings, it can very possibly be described as their finest moment. And that says a lot.