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DJ Michael writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2018: Mick Reed

CHIRP Radio Best of 2018

Throughout December, CHIRP Radio presents its volunteers’ top albums of 2018. Our next list is from DJ Mick Reed.

2018 was a great year for music. I don’t know what it is that causes artists to release their best material in waves like this but I am overwhelmed with joy whenever it does happen. 2016 and 2017 were such dry spells I didn’t have very high expectations and I’m thankful that this jaded precognition was challenged almost immediately. There were so many phenomenal releases this year I haven’t even been able to keep up despite my best efforts.

This list necessarily feels incomplete as a result and I know that if I had the chance to revise it in a few months it would likely include this year’s releases by River of Nihil, Portal, Kamasi Washington, Dur-Dur Band, Kero Kero Bonito, Earl Sweatshirt, Wume, Frontierer and many others I haven’t been able to give my full attention to yet. I’m hopeful that this wave of inspiration continues to gain momentum into 2019. With 50% of all new guitar purchases being made and DIY scenes in Chicago and elsewhere making better efforts to be more inclusive and prioritizing opening up space for marginalized voices to make themselves heard I don’t believe my hope to be misplaced.

Without further ado, here is my (definitely incomplete) list of Top Ten and Honorable Mentions for 2018.

 

#1   Friends. Lovers. Favorites. by +HIRS+ (SRA)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

+HIRS+ Friends. Lovers. Favorites.The world is an uncertain and dangerous place. Due to certain immutable qualities and society’s refusal to grant equal dignity and respect to every one of its members, some among us are forced to become more acutely aware of this fact than others. Friends. Lovers. Favorites. is a lover letter from the trans and queer grindcore collective +HIRS+ to those who make the struggle of everyday life worth every drop of blood, sweat, and tears that is squeezed out of them. An absolutely devastating hardcore punk album as well as the most powerful statement of defiant self-love and gratitude I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing. This is it. Album of the year. #Peace Don’t ever forget to let your friends know how much they mean to you: https://hirs.bandcamp.com/

 

 

#2   Be the Cowboy by Mitski (Dead Oceans)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Mitski Be the CowboyI identify with Mitski’s lyrics and sound to such an extent it kind of scares me. Be the Cowboy doesn’t hit in me in exactly the same way Puberty 2 and Bury Me at Make Out Creek did, but the lacerating honesty and focused, unblinking stare the characters she embodies direct towards themselves still exudes a palpable humanity that is almost painful to bear witness to. No one is writing confessional, profile focused pop music of the same caliber as Ms. Miyawaki today. In times of political turmoil, reminders that the wars inside our own head needs attention as well are an essential pacing mechanism to ensure time is made for self-care and personal reflection. I’m not sure I will always love Mitski’s gauzier approach to vinegar gargling indie rock if she continues with in this direction on future albums, but on Be the Cowboy it completely works and I feel like I could sit in conversation with this album for a very, very long time and still have praise in reserve to expend on its behalf. Feel some feels: https://mitski.bandcamp.com/

 

 

#3   A Short Story About a War by Shad (Secret City)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Shad A Short Story About a WarShad is a brilliant storyteller and his talent and skill are magnificently manifest on his sixth LP, A Story About a War. His latest effort depicts a world which suspiciously mirrors our own. The world of this story is in a state of perpetual war making, overseen by an oppressive power structure which sows division and death, while forcing most of the populace to live in substandard or impoverished conditions. The only real difference between the world of this record and our own, is that the people in Shad’s story can readily identify the incestuous military, police, and corrections industries as the craven and destabilizing forces that they are, and in our world… we don’t (Oh! Also in our world your uncle forwards you Ben Shapiro videos twice a week to help you “get woke”- truly, we live in the very dumbest of times). Through luxurious jazz-beats and elastic ride of Shad’s flow weaves a yarn as important for understanding the current war industry and its effects on our society as Sorry to Bother You is for articulating the contemporary struggles of alienated labor and the end game of late-capitalism and Get Out is for grasping the essence of race relations with moderate American liberals. Without giving too much away, the moral of the story hinges on learning to deny the oppressor’s strength and honing one’s own strength through defiance. It’s essentially a required text for surviving the 21st century and finding a way forward as a society. You don’t have to take my word for it, just hit play: https://shadkmusic.bandcamp.com/album/a-short-story-about-a-war

 

 

#4   Everything’s Fine by Jean Grae & Quelle Chris (Mello Music Group)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Jean Grae & Quelle Chris Everything’s FineClearly nothing is fine. Through deconstructed and flayed jazz-beats, the furious team up of Jean Grae and Quelle Chris, with their respective acidic lacquer and slippery sucker-punching flows, take on any and all comers, building a bonfire of every bridge they come across while leaving a river of entrails in their wake. I’ve been following Jean Grae for at least a decade, and as impressed as I have been with her material in the past, I still felt blindsided by Everything is Fine. It’s perfectly serious in its content while keeping a sense of humor about itself, curating a collection of dis-tracks aimed at every strata of superficiality and privilege whose corrosive influence American society has come to grudgingly accept. The guest list here stretches around the block, including friends and celebrities like Hannibal Buress, John Hodgman, and Nick Offerman, among others. Honest, spiteful, with a merciless, withering gaze, this is the “Mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” themed showcase you didn’t realize it was possible to bust a gut to while riding high on the vibes it emits. Seriously, what are you waiting for? https://quellechris360.bandcamp.com/album/everythings-fine

 

 

#5   Cosmic Crypt by Mammoth Grinder (Relapse)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Mammoth Grinder Cosmic CryptI actually don’t have that much to say about this album other than it’s received more play than any other in my catalog in 2018. Impressive, since it was also one of the first albums I listened to in full this year. Is this for everyone? No. But I’m a sucker for crust, hardcore, and death metal, and this is a perfect alchemical chimera of the three. Chris Ulsh’s yawning howl has the compressing quality of a blackhole and I have never heard a bass tone so thick and heavy that it twists and distorts the entire mix in quite the way as it does here. Similarly, Mark Bronzino’s guitar work is like a fresh coat of napalm jelly applied directly to your speakers. This album is utterly devastating and I can’t seem to pry myself free from it iron clutches (not that I’d want to!). Abandon all hope, ye who presses play: https://mammothgrinder.bandcamp.com/

 

 

#6   Cruel Magic by Satan (Metal Blade)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Satan Cruel MagicStarting this one with a bone to pick- “traditional metal” is not a thing. This is fake, dismissive label bestowed by sheltered indie bloggers to bands they actually like and who vaguely sound like Iron Maiden. I make this point because even OG metal acts had defined nomenclature for their sound during their heyday, and trying to reduce bands who follow in their footsetps to an arbitrary catch-all label unnecessarily erases that history. For instance, Iron Maiden was part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and so was Satan. Why is this important? Because Cruel Magic may have single-handedly revived the genre, making it more than just a point of reference, but a viable style of rock ‘n roll once again in 2018. If Cruel Magic had dropped in 1984 when the band was still fresh on the scene it would have easily ranked amongst classics of that era e.g. Number of the Beast and British Steel. I can’t think of any other album I heard this year with riffs as catchy, competent, and compelling as those tracked here by Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins, and Brian Ross’s vocals are preternaturally dynamic for a man of any age. That and these stellar performances were essentially captured live. The mind boggles when attempting to reverse engineer how an album like this can be possible in the 21st century. It’s a cruel task to try and reduce its majesty to mere words, it’s just something you’re going to have to experience to understand. Play it, maggot! https://satanuk.bandcamp.com/album/cruel-magic

 

 

#7   Bought to Rot by Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers (Bloodshot)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers Bought to Rot- I’ve followed Laura Jane Grace and her career for basically as long as I’ve been interested in music. I haven’t always been able to appreciate her career trajectory (some people stopped following Against Me! after Eternal Cowboy, I stuck it out until New Wave), but I’ve always appreciated her clear-sightedness, adaptability, and relatable bursts of righteous anger. For me, Bought to Rot is a homecoming album. As a solo artist, backed by the Devouring Mothers, Laura is able to explore a multiplicity of styles, emerging from the husk of her other (and more commercially viable) band to experiment with shoe-gaze, midwest emo, and folk. I had entirely written off alt-country as boujie and self-satisfied nonsense, disconcertingly preoccupied with gorging oneself on anti-depressants and singing about ye olde timey murder, but after giving this album a listen I might have to reassess my impressions of the genre… or I could just listen to Bought to Rot again. From the honest subject matter (“I Hate Chicago” is way too relatable and “Apocalypse Now (& Later)” is as perfect a title for a love song if I’ve ever heard one), the nervy blues dirges, confessional songwriting style, and defiant experimentation, this is not only one of the better albums of the year, but one of the best country albums of this decade. I could go on, but I have other albums to write about, and I really couldn’t do it justice without a full dissertation anyway. Do yourself a favor and give this one a spin: https://laurajanegracethedevouringmothers.bandcamp.com/

 

 

#8   6666 by Four Fists (Doomtree)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Four Fists 6666Four Fists don’t pull any punches. Ever wonder what Run the Jewels would sound like with two midwestern punks calling the shots? Well 6666 is it! Collaborators and super-pals, POS and Astronautalis are veterans of the Minneapolis DIY scene and they bring all the grit, angst, and perspective that a hard-scrabble life of art making can bring to an album in order to produce a pulverizing round-house of hip-hop fury. The duo leave it all on the line with this album and their passion bleeds through every pour of this shaggy beast. The righteous, anarchic ethos of the album is a necessary cleansing fire for this day and age. There is no putting out this flame until it’s eaten up the world’s woes and reduced them to a clean, harmless silt. Tear it all down, start over. Catch it on bandcamp: https://fourfists.bandcamp.com/

 

 

#9   Northern Chaos Gods by Immortal (Nuclear Blast)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Immortal Northern Chaos Gods2018 was a pretty good year for black metal. The year opened up with excellent new releases from Midnight and Tribulation and never really let up. Wayfarer’s World’s Blood’s honed and perfected the wind burnt torment of the western black metal soundscape while commenting on the brutal conquest of North America. Imperial Triumphant’s Vile Luxury cast the incredible wealth disparity of New York appropriately and illuminating in disease revealing black light, and Craft literally released the best album of their career (it’s true, don’t @ me). There was a weak moment where I almost gave Behemoth’s new album my top black metal slot for the year, but then I remembered that I’ve listened to Northern Chaos Gods more than a dozen times, front to back, and appreciate it more with each successive rotation. How good can Immortal be without Abbath? The answer: pretty freaking great! So great in fact, it kinda hurts. This is a rock ‘n roll album that convincingly sounds like the end of the world is at hand. Another abysmal classic from these grim and dark OGs. Check ‘em on YouTube, if you dare: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5uP9PlEDro

 

 

#10   Quebra Cabeca by Bixiga 70 (Glitterbeat)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Bixiga 70 Quebra CabecaMy love for jazz and funk from the global south is almost inexplicable given the fact that my adolescence was mostly wasted on the like of Social Distortion, Dropkick Murphys, My Chemical Romance, and other similar (and inexcusably awful) commercial skate-punk and pop-punk acts. It also predates my discovery of David Byrne’s Rei Momo (which may be the real shocker for some). I listened to a lot of amazing South American and African funk this year, but Bixiga 70’s Quebra Cabeca just clicked with me. Portuguese for jigsaw puzzle, Quebra Cabeca’s sound is clear, bassy, and tumbles outward in all directions at once like a hurricane has hit the dance floor. Dance music isn’t something that I normally describe as a “force to be reckoned” with but I’m failing to think of another way of describing this deeply sonorous blend of danceable grooves, liberated horn guided melodies, and an indomitable sense of dancehall grace. You really can’t go wrong with this one. The party is this way => https://bixiga-70.bandcamp.com/album/quebra-cabe-a

 

"TOP TEN (+1) ALBUMS OF 2018

(+1). Recreational Hate by Lemuria (Asian Man) - Lemuria’s fourth LP should have been my album of the year in 2017 (but I don’t regret giving it to Integrity’s Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume). The fact that it dropped in December of last year and the fact that it took me a minute to appreciate the improved production values on these tracks and accept that the cleaner sound didn’t negatively impact my listening experience kept it off last year’s list though. Lemuria’s raw and emotive songwriting style has been calibrated to perfection here and the performances are incredibly tight and evocative. Sheena Ozzella and Alex Kerns are the original tender punks, never shying from vulnerability, perpetually open, and always ready to catch you in a warm embrace. I really can’t say enough good things about this album and it’s still in heavy rotation for me a year after its release. For all these reasons and more it gets a spot on my top ten (+1) list for 2018.

Check it out on bandcamp: https://lemuriapop.bandcamp.com/album/recreational-hate

HONORABLE MENTIONS (Alphabetic Order):

+ Author & Punisher / Beastland (Relapse) – Tristan Stone is in a league of his own. No other industrial artist is as committed, savage, or beautiful as he is on Beastland.

+ Behemoth / I Loved You at Your Darkest (Nuclear Blast) – Nergal brings blasphemies to the masses with his black metal leviathan’s most accessible record yet, a necessary oppositional force to counter increasingly repressive and right-leaning government of his native Poland.

+ Kadhja Bonet / Childqueen (Fat Possum) – Timeless, crystalline, soul music which drinks deeply from 60’s Tropicalia and gypsy folk. A cool refreshing dip in a bottomless pool of sheer bliss.   

+ Bufihimat / I (self-released) – Crusty, mathey, deathcore conquerors from the land of the Rus with cover art by the one and only Paolo Girardi. Bufihimat is here to rend your mind in twain!

+ Anna Burch / Quit the Curse (Polyvinyl) – I met Anna once when she came through with Failed Flowers. She was shy, but also sweet and genuine. That’s also how I would describe her debut album. I would also like to add that it rocks out loud! 

+ Neko Case / Hell-On! (Anti-) It’s as good as Middle Cyclone.  Another classic from a truly unique and unparalleled singer / songwriter. I really feel like she speaks directly to the people of my generation and in a way few artists do. She’s basically our James Taylor. 

+ C.H.E.W. / Feeding Frenzy (Iron Lung) – I can’t say that this album met the very high expectations set by the band’s 2017 splits with Rash and Penetrode, and even though I’m not a fan of their recent preoccupation with noise-core, I can’t deny the force of the performance on this record. I prefer the Pissed Jeans meets Krimwatch approach of their early work, but I’ve never been one to say no to a bit of Sonic Youth’s influence either.

+ City Hunter / Deep Blood (Youth Attack) – Murky, chaotic hardcore inspired by 80’s slasher films. Terrifying in the same way a roller-coaster is fun in that you’re never sure exactly how much danger you’re in once the ride’s started. 

+ Conan / Existential Void Guardian (Napalm) – The harm wielding barbarians of doom metal return with an album so heavy it could potentially throw off the planet’s polarity. You have been warned. 

+ Cult Leader / A Patient Man (Deathwish) – Spooky metalcore, truly in a league of their own. Is Converge compatible with Christian Death? Cult Leader certain seems to think so, and I’d have to disbelieve my own ears to disagree with them.

+ CupcakKe / Ephorize (self-released) – It’s sexier than you’ve heard.

+ Dark Times / Tell Me What I Need (Sheep Chase) – Blissy, Norwegian punk that injects early Black Flag into Sonic Youth guitars while invoking Wolf Alice’s sense of mischief and malcontent. It can’t end well but that’s the point.

+ Deth Crux / Mutant Flesh (Sentient Ruin) – Death rock soundtrack to a horror film that only exists in the deranged mind of the musicians who tracked it. You’ll be begging for it to be green lit before it hits the twenty minute mark. Get John Carpenter on the horn.

+ Extremity / Coffin Birth (20 Buck Spins) – Gloriously gruesome concept album by this Bay Area death metal band about a child who learns that his father is an alien after being mistakenly buried alive. It’s actually weirder and more thematic than you’d expect for something with that premise.

+ Hooded Menace / Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed (Season of Mist) – It’s not Never Cross the Dead but then again, nothing else is either. Hooded Menace seem to be getting grimier as they get older, which for a death-doom band definitely works in their favor. Harrowing stuff.

+ Horrendous / Idol (Season of Mist) – This album might only exist to test the fragility of the human mind. There is a lot to unpack in these performances and the band really isn’t interested in giving you a chance to catch up and get on their level. It’s like Voivod if Voivod hated you.

+ Mick Jenkins / Pieces of a Man (Free Nation) – Local MC invites you into his headspace to explore the fractured, refracted beauty of the human soul. Gil Scott Heron is your spirit guide on this journey through the highs and lows of the life of an artist in contemporary Chicago. Thoughtful, dense, and nimble performances that transform the personal into the political, and back again.

+ Jupiter & Okwess / Kin Sonic (Everloving) – This is my favorite afro-beat album of the year. The band describes their sound as James Brown translated through Congolese rumba and other traditional folk styles. There is a lot going right on this album and the dream for a better world it captures is as irrepressible as the sun is likely to rise each day in the east.

+ Killiam Shakespeare / A Town Called Elsewhere (self-released) – Prismatic neo-soul out of Philadelphia that puts tabs of hip-hop and avenged-jazz under its tongue to slowly dissolve while embarking on a consciousness raising voyage to the end of the universe and back. Also DJ Jazzy Jeff collabs on “Crispus Attucks” and it’s pretty slick. 

+ Krimewatch / Krimewatch (Lockin’ Out) – Krimewatch carry forward the traditions of their core forbearers like Agnostic Front and Youth of Today, with the added bite of girl-gang, don’t-f-with-us, switch-blade-in-jean-pocket, street-stalking swagger. Underestimate them at your own peril.  

+ Anderson .Paak / Oxnard (Aftermath) – .Paak don’t have to keep funk alive all on his lonesome, but he’s got the raw charisma and commanding talent to pull it off if he had to.  

+ Peach Kelli Pop / Gentle Leader (Mint) - Kelli isn’t your best friend, but admit it, you kind of wish she was.

+ Portrayal of Guilt / Let Pain Be Your Guide (Gilead) – Murky metalcore for the maudlin teenager you grew out of back in the 00’s but who still dwells in the basement of your mind.

+ Caroline Rose / Loner (New West) – Like Courtney Barnett’s younger sister hitting stride. Not the tightest sounding powerpop album of the year, but there is a pathologically spunky quality to this record that lands just short of the Martian psychosis of Sparks but lands smack dab in the palatable derangement of the B-52s. Fun, greasy, and goonish guitar rock to lighten the mood in these darks times.

+ Slugdge / Esoteric Malacology (Willowtip) – Cruelly technical death metal tamed just enough to tell the story of ancient space molluscs returning to earth to enslave the human race. A terrifying extraterrestrial encounter that only Slugdge have the chops to lop into eight digestible chunks of unadulterated rock ‘n roll dynamism. There really wasn’t a better tech-death album released this year (Horrendous’ Idol not withstanding).

+ Soul Glo / Untitled LP (SRA) – Soul Glo claim to be pure Philly soul revival, but if I hadn’t told you that you’d probably mistake them for a hardcore band… now that I think about it that seems to be the point. Soul Glo are here to defy your expectations- their breakdowns are stolen from 2nd wave emo bands, they dabble in shoegaze, the track list is peppered with poetry readings, and they play like they want to scare Jacob Bannon into giving them a record deal. I don’t know how to make sense of Soul Glo, and I’m not sure I need to. They’re going to keep doing their thing regardless of what you, or me, or anyone else thinks of it.

+ Sons of Kemet / Lest We Forget What We Came Here to Do (Naim Jazz) – Unparalleled collaboration of UK jazz legends fashioning West African influenced Avant-passages. I can’t claim to know how to contextualize everything I hear on this record, but what I hear I like quite a bit.

+ Super Unison / Stella (Deathwish) – One of the worst production jobs on a hardcore record this year (courtesy of the one and only Steve Albini), but the solid songcraft and passionate performances more than make up for the lack lust recordings. Also, Megan O’Neill is legend!

+ Tribulation / Down Below (Century) – Tribulation are what might happen if the members of At the Gates started a Mayhem cover band after listening to ten straight weeks of nothing but King Diamond. It’s maybe too catchy, campy, and vampy for some black metal die-hards, and the vocals may be more of a death rattle than an amphibious croak, but I find it to be a captivating reimagining of the grim preoccupations of the genre’s Scandinavian adherents from the mid 90’s. Well worth a spin for the metal fans of any persuasion. 

+ Turnstile / Time & Space (Roadrunner) – Madball and Biohazard infused hardcore that is climbing the US rock charts. They’re not afraid of experimenting with their sound but always stay true to their “core” values. A+ stuff. They deserve all the praise and coin that comes their way. 

+ Vein / Errorzone (Closed Casket) – Vein pretty much pick up where hardcore left off in the late 90’s before the 3rd wave emo boom of the 00’s. They take the progressive sensibilities of Converge and Dillinger Escape Plan and feed them through a pedal board labyrinth, paring the output with savage whip-lash grooves and a shrieking vocal style reminiscent of Poison the Well to reverse engineer a T-1000 class Terminator style recalibration of powerviolence. Welcome to the shape of punk to come (again)!   

DISHONORABLE MENTIONS (No Order):
+ DeafHeaven / An Ordinary Human Love (Anti-) - Ordinary hipster buttrock.

+ YOB / Our Raw Hear (Relapse) – Overrated, incompetently performed, amateur songwriting- alternative/ accurate album title: A Raw Fart.

+ Fucked Up / Dose the Dream (Merge) – Dreaming of a better album. This band has not been worth anyone’s time since Chemistry of Common Life.

+ Jeff Tweedy / Warm (dBpm) – Boring beard noises.

+ Smashing Pumpkins / Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun (Naplam) – Billy Corgan is a sniveling corporate stooge, as well as a fascist sympathizer and apologist. I have zero time for people who defend and support him. Also, this album is trash. "

 

 

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2018

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