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Austin B. Harvey presents: The Liquid Diet writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2018: Austin B. Harvey

CHIRP Radio Best of 2018

Throughout December, CHIRP Radio presents its volunteers’ top albums of 2018. Our next list is from DJ/Assistant Music Director/Softball Team Captain Austin B. Harvey.

43 albums this year. Why do I do this to myself. Let's go.

 

#1   Lost and Found by En Attendant Ana (Trouble in Mind)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

En Attendant Ana Lost and FoundThis Parisian quintet’s magnificent debut on Trouble in Mind is unassuming on its surface: 10 tracks of major-key post-punk that go by in a little over half an hour. But, the number of earworms and countermelodic flourishes they are able to cram into this album is still being determined. Guitar, trumpet, and multiple vocalists all come together to create a record that is a monument to the eternal push-pull of how hard it is to write excellent pop tunes, and how easy it sounds at its most perfect.

 

 

#2   In a Poem Unlimited by U.S. Girls (4AD)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

U.S. Girls In a Poem UnlimitedThe first single from Meg Remy’s magnum opus as U.S. Girls was “Mad as Hell” (“M.A.H.”), a funky, post-disco kiss-off to President Obama’s insistence on keeping America locked in eight additional years of forever-war, and the results of which that insistence portended. Remy keeps her foot on the gas for the whole of this album, a masterstroke of socio-political incisiveness and pop-rock brilliance, the likes of which could be compared to D’Angelo’s Black Messiah or Pulp’s Different Class. It’s a reminder of how infuriating the times we live in are, and how triumphant an excellent piece of political art can be.

 

 

#3   Some Rap Songs by Earl Sweatshirt (Columbia/Tan Cressida)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Earl Sweatshirt Some Rap SongsEarl’s talents as a rapper are unparalleled. But, it's his production acumen that is, stunningly, up to the level of his rhymes on Some Rap Songs. J Dilla and Madlib are signpoints to the vibe exhibited on these 25 minutes of genius, but since it’s Earl, it’s a bit darker than either. There’s a tossed-off quality to these tracks, in Earl’s delivery, how his vocals sound like they’re recorded by an earbud microphone, and the sneaky simplicity of the beats. But don't be fooled. There’s so much going on in this, I love it.

 

 

#4   Knock Knock by DJ Koze (Pampa)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

DJ Koze Knock KnockIt takes a special sort of musical alchemy to conjure up the wistful, nostalgic joy of The Avalanches within the first two minutes of an album’s start. “Club der Ewigkeiten” does that work, introducing the listener to Knock Knock with a haunting string line, a minimal dubstep beat, and flute and vocal lines that slice through all that foreboding with blinding rays of sunshine. This internal conflict, between past yearning and future excitement, dark terror and bright joy, colors all these tracks, making it one of the most moving, representative, and essential albums of 2018.

 

 

#5   OIL OF EVERY PEARL's UN-INSIDES by SOPHIE (Future Classic/Transgressive)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

SOPHIE OIL OF EVERY PEARL's UN-INSIDESI couldn’t really blast this one at work too often, though I wanted to. The pairing of shrieking, hyperactive synths with industrial, metallic percussion presents a barely-permeable exterior for the uninitiated. But it’s hard to deny the swooping crescendo and euphoric melody of “Is It Cold in the Water?”, one of the year’s best tunes. The star of the show is SOPHIE’s voice, and the way it gets pinch-bent, turned, and manipulated at different points on the album to serve the songs’ needs. This record was a kick in the teeth that was kind enough to provide bags of ice to reduce the swelling.

 

 

#6   Du bist so symmetrisch by Klaus Johann Grobe (Trouble in Mind)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Klaus Johann Grobe Du bist so symmetrischThe Swiss duo’s third album brings their lounge-inspired brand of krautrock into the stratosphere, with aid from a healthy helping of disco. The vibe of KJG has always been firmly rooted in the 1970s, so going full disco feels even more natural than it seems on the surface. Every track feels specifically crafted to soundtrack your dinner party of savory aspics and overly-sugary cocktails, but, you know, in outer space. Throw in some Daft Punk-y moments on the second half of the album, and your hangover is cured.

 

 

#7   Dose Your Dreams by Fucked Up (Merge)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Fucked Up Dose Your DreamsYour (and my) favorite maximalist metal-punk sextet from Toronto went and made a Happy Mondays album. The result is a truly delightful concept record that will make you feel things. It is a rightful sequel to David Comes to Life, a masterwork of its own accord. You wouldn’t expect a band well into its family-and-kids phase to broaden and deepen its sound to such a sprawling and effective extent. But, that’s why it’s listed here. Handclaps galore here, figurative and literal.

 

 

#8   WFM by Heavee (Teklife)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Heavee WFMTwo of footwork’s more delightful influences are the Southern party subgenres of Miami Bass and Ghettotech. Heavee incorporates the call-and-response chants of these influences while eschewing their most-controversial and raunchy lyrical tendencies. This makes WFM a mostly-radio-friendly party for, if not the whole family, then for everyone at the party. Huge bass riffs morph into party anthems that purée synthesizers and hi-hats like VGM.

 

 

#9   Room 25 by NoName (self-released)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

NoName Room 25Chicago poet/singer/rapper NoName’s velvety voice is a perfect pairing to the funky, jazzy, neo-soul arrangements (D’Angelo gets name-checked, naturally) on Room 25, a stunner of a debut full-length if there ever was one. Her delivery marries rapid-fire syllable eruptions with political, incisive observations that are content to provide more questions than answers. Swooping strings and in-the-pocket drumming with these rhymes are the best marriage of hip-hop and R&B this year.

 

 

#10   (TIE) Double Negative by Low (Sub Pop) / Everything's Fine by Jean Grae and Quelle Chris (Mello)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Low/Jean Grae and Quelle Chris (tie) Double Negative/Everything's FineLow finally made a full-on post-rock album. In the 25th year of the band, the Duluth trio released their most ambitious and sonically rich album. Producer B.J. Burton takes the blown-out, staticky oeuvre that had been used (to much lesser effect, it must be said) on Bon Iver’s recordings over the last decade, and, combined with Low’s ability to create moving, complete songs out of very simple elements, alchemizes them into something twisted and golden. This the biggest Low have ever sounded, like Sigur Rós or a strange remix of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and are they ever up to the task. As for Jean Grae and Quelle Chris, who knows if they meant the declarative statement that is their album’s title. But, these Brooklyn and Detroit (respectively) MCs combine forces to make a fun, funny, and unmistakably dark album that reminds me of a sort of middle ground between Madvillain’s laconic chaos and the creepiest early Outkast tracks. Old jazz samples hiss and click in the background as the rhymes envelop the listener.

 

12. Whyte Horses - Empty Words (CRC) The French-English duo from Manchester’s second album is an expansion on 2016’s Pop or Not, combining loops and fuzz guitars with twee sweetness and flat vocal delivery to deliver a sort of yé-yé album for the 21st Century. If you’re yearning for something that hearkens back to Belle & Sebastian and Camera Obscura’s most effortless moments, Whyte Horses have your back.

13. Gwenno - Le Kov (Heavenly) Gwenno Saunders’ second solo album after the breakup of The Pipettes is another ambitious record of krautrock-influenced chamber pop. Instead of singing in Welsh, as she did on 2015’s Y Dydd Olaf, Gwenno sings in Cornish this time. The result is haunting, lovely, and sounds far less forced than anyone could imagine. The Cornish language board reported a 15% increase in those taking courses in the language, citing this album as the main reason why.

14. didi - Like Memory Foam (Damnably) The Columbus, Ohio band’s second album revisits the tried-and-true conventions of the poppiest and most melodic corners of MTV’s 1990s Buzz Bin. Fuzzy, but not impenetrable, didi dip into the pool forged by bands like Veruca Salt, Superdrag, and that dog. The choruses soar like your favorite Pixies tracks, complete with adorable harmonies and singable hooks. There’s even a little feedback if you want. They make it sound far too easy.

15. Vein - errorzone (Closed Casket Activities) The year’s most exciting metal album finds the interdimensional midpoint between Converge’s pained hardcore yowls and… Slipknot? The Boston quintet brings together samples, screams, tempo changes, and bonecrushing guitars; all come together perfectly here.

16. Yves Tumor - Safe in the Hands of Love (Warp) Combining R&B, hip-hop, dance, post-rock, and even pop into an experimental stew that refuses to acknowledge the strict definitions of its component parts, Yves Tumor came from seemingly nowhere to create one of the most forward-thinking albums of 2018.

17. Makaya McCraven - Universal Beings (International Anthem) As much an achievement of editing as it is a wonderful archive of improvised jazz, the Chicago drummer’s 90-minute double-album picks and chooses the top moments from live and garage performances recorded in LA, NYC, Chicago, and London. Jeff Parker features on the title track. Soothing, spastic, and everywhere in between.

18. serpentwithfeet - soil (Secretly Canadian/Tri Angle) If you had a voice like this, you might sound this confident on your debut album, too. Incorporating elements of neo-classical music and experimental electronic with these spare R&B compositions, serpentwithfeet creates a soaring album with moving chord progressions.

19. Serengeti - Dennis 6E (FlamingoPop) The Kenny Dennis character gets laid to rest on the most unique album of the lovable South Sider’s story. Serengeti is able to expand his sound with airy synths often taking the place of thumping beats. It’s a sound that other rappers have explored before (Lil B’s Rain in England comes to mind), but never to this great of an effect.

20. boygenius - boygenius EP (Matador) Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus combine their forces of country, folk, and rock to create a harmonious, lush handful of tracks that is somehow greater than the sum of its parts.

21. Lightfoils - Chambers (self-released) The Chicago band toes the line between shoegaze’s stone-shattering noise and dream pop’s trebly twinkles to give us five lengthy tracks of haze to get lost in.

22. Vapor Eyes - Smooth FM (self-released) The Chicago cratedigger David Cohen puts together a collection of mixes that aren’t as obvious or clout-chasing as Girl Talk, nor as Blue Note-heavy as Amon Tobin’s Bricolage or US3. Instead, it’s insanely danceable material that’s divorced enough from its sources to be purely original. One of the most joyous albums of the year.

23. Tim Rutili & Craig Ross - 10 Seconds to Collapse (Jealous Butcher) Califone lead singer Rutili and collaborateur Craig Ross put their heads and strings together for a sunnier sort of take on the tried-and-true Califone sound. The dusty, blues-y sort of folk gets an injection of optimism and modern production that catapults this collection into the stratosphere.

24. Franz Ferdinand - Always Ascending (Domino) The Glaswegian legends regain their form by going full disco on their fifth full-length. Are they still as cheeky as they’ve ever been? Of course. Are the rhythms jaunty and the punch lines still sort-of corny? Why do you think this one made the list? The Academy Award for good times goes to them.

25. Christine and the Queens - Chris (Because) Hélöise Letissier’s fourth album as C&tQ is an 80’s-style pop album at its heart. But beyond the pure and simple exterior is an exploration of gender and sexuality that goes beyond character sketch, and asks more questions than it answers.

26. Let’s Eat Grandma - I’m All Ears (Transgressive) The Norwich duo mix furious electronic beats into their second album. Fractured pop that isn’t afraid to get weird, and, say, do an 11-minute song about Donnie Darko.

27. The Internet - Hive Mind (Columbia) Silky-smooth, jazzy R&B from Syd’s LA side project. An infinitely listenable fourth album.

28. Stella Donnelly - Thrush Metal EP (Secretly Canadian) The Australian singer-songwriter uses a massive voice and a tender ear for melody to craft a deceptively simple and touching collection of tracks. Bring a handkerchief for “Mean to Me”.

29. Vince Staples - FM! (Def Jam) The Long Beach rapper continues his amazing career with another album of reflective, dark hip-hop that still manages to be a party soundtrack.

30. The Streets on Fire - Dead Styles (The Currency Exchange) After eight years without a record, the Chicago band reconvenes for another set of dance-y post-punk that makes this listener yearn for 2005.

31. Kamasi Washington - Heaven and Earth (Young Turks) That cover of “Fists of Fury” kicked so much ass.

32. Khrunagbin - Con Todo El Mundo (Dead Oceans) The Houston instrumental trio stretch their wings and get truly funky on their second album. A little bit psych, a little surf, more than a bit Thai funk, and a little bit pan-continental, this one is extremely listenable.

33. Sleep - The Sciences (Third Man) Imagine being Jack Black and getting the chance to release Sleep’s comeback album. I’d be running through a busy intersection rejoicing. Anyway, this album’s first actual song kicks off with a massive bong rip and continues from there. It does what it says on the tin.

34. Saba - Care for Me (Saba Pivot, LLC) The Chicago rapper’s musical eulogy to John Walt is a spare, diverse album that primes him for superstardom.

35. Spiritualized - And Nothing Hurt (Fat Possum) Jason Pierce threw so many component tracks into the songs on his latest album of maximalist space-rock that even Pro Tools cried uncle. The songs are great, don’t get me wrong, but someone tell Pierce about bouncing, geez.

36. Deafheaven - Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (Anti-) The San Francisco band’s most forward-thinking and approachable album. “You Without End” is an adult contemporary song with death metal vocals, and it works. Incredible.

37. Jlin - Autobiography (Music from Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography) (Planet Mu) The Gary, IN impresario crafts a minimalist and modern classical-inspired album of footwork-y jams meant to soundtrack a modern dance piece. It’s all over the place, but you know the classic Jlin elements when you hear them.

38. A.A.L. (Against All Logic) - 2012-2017 (Other People) Nicolas Jaar’s sample-reliant, house-leaning pseudonym is tons of fun and absolutely worth your time.

39. Dirty Sidewalks - Bring Down the House Lights (No-Count) Did you want another latter-day Jesus and Mary Chain album? Do you like the murk of shoegaze with the ego of Oasis? This Seattle band, and this album, are for you.

40 (tie). Jeff Tweedy - Warm (dBpm) This is what Sky Blue Sky was supposed to sound like, I am convinced.

40 (tie). Mastersystem - Dance Music (Physical Education) Rest in thundering peace, Scott. 40. Sleepwalk - Splatter (self-released) Heavy, goth-y “belligerent” (per the band, not me) shoegaze not unlike Static Daydream. Excellent stuff from Chicago. 40 (tie). AMOR - Sinking into a Miracle (NIGHT SCHOOL) Glasgow disco that is the DFA album you wanted in 2018.

 

 

 

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2018

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