Best Music of 2018
Cult Leader, A Perfect Circle and more
1/16/19, 1:35 pm EST
By John Corry
It was the year of the Metal.
Note on how I came up with the rankings: How I came up with the rankings (in no particular order): my personal preference (because I can’t avoid it), technical quality in-itself (technique judged on its own and separate from any other judgment), emotional quality in-itself (potential for emotional connection judged on its own and separate from any other judgment), emotional impact on both potential personal and societal scales, originality, potential importance on music or the music industry generally, potential societal relevance, musical dynamic (loud-and-soft), simple ‘god-given’ talent (so talented), album taken as a whole, album taken as individual parts (songs, musicality, lyrics, production etc.), album judged against the artists’ records, and album judged against all records (Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon being the highest).
10. The Outer Ones, Revocation (Metal, Rock)
2014s Deathless was awesome, and 2016s Great is Our Sin was fantastic. While this year’s The Outer Ones may not hold up to the standard set by those two, it comes close; close enough to hold a spot on this MOST important of 2018 best-of lists you’re ever going to read.
The solo in the title track is great and the riffs in ‘Of Unworldly Origin’ and ‘Blood Atonement’ stand with Revocation’s best. Album closer ‘A Starless Darkness’ is best closer yet on a Revocation record, and the outro riff in ‘That Which Consumes All Things’ is very cool as well.
At first, I wasn’t that into this record as a whole, but then I heard the vinyl version, on which the songs had to be rearranged to accommodate the limited time set on each side. Something about rearranging the songs really helped me out with it, so if you have yet to dig on it beyond the main riff in ‘Of Unworldly Origin’, try this out (or just get the vinyl version).
9. A Patient Man, Cult Leader (Metal, Rock)
Cult Leader is one of the coolest young acts in metal, and their follow up to their 2015 full length debut, Lightless Walk, continues the evolution. While A Patient Man sometimes meanders with some (at first) difficult slower tracks, the bangers more than make up for it. ‘I Am Healed’, ‘Curse of Satisfaction’ and ‘Share My Pain’ all feature good riffs and song constructions, and the slower songs serve an interesting conceptual purpose.
Definitely cool (if you’re into that type of ting (metal \m/o.o\m/o.o\m/o.o\m/)
8. Art of Doubt, Metric (Pop, New Wave)
Metric is a cool band.
Since their inception in 1998, they’ve proven their versatility on records like Grow Up and Blow Away, Fantasies, and 2015’s Pagans in Vegas. Art of Doubt in a way follows that trend, but also sees the band going back a little– with good results. ‘Dark Saturday’ has a punk vibe to it, as does ‘Love You Back’ but with more of a hook. Metric has always been good with hooks, though Art of Doubt has a little less than previous records. However, it’s made up for with good song compositions and lyrics. ‘Underline the Black’ and ‘Dressed to Suppress’ mirror complex lyrical content, and ‘No Lights on the Horizon’ is a good closer.
But the kicker comes at the album’s centerpiece, with ‘Now or Never Now’. Everything that makes Metric great–hooks, guitars, lyrics, and Emily Haines’ unique-yet-accessible vocal style–are on full display here. All together, it makes for what I’m currently thinking is one of the best songs of the century so far (I KNOW). Lyrics are great, the hook is memorable, and everything in the song fits perfectly together.
‘It’s now or never… now.’
7. Automata (I & II), Between the Buried and Me (Metal, Rock)
This is for the metalheads:
T’was the year 2017…
It was nearing its end; I’d gotten a new job and a brand new new outlook, and I was ready for something new. Throughout my days as a ‘metalhead’ *SoMetal, there was always one band, one artist everyone knew and whom, it would have seemed, everyone either had a very strong positive–or negative–feeling about.
This band was Between the Buried and Me.
I’d given them a try several years earlier, and, if I were being honest actually enjoyed at least the first two songs on their fifth LP (plus a covers album), The Great Misdirect. But then I heard what I considered at the time to be an ABSOLUTE ABOMINATION (!) in the transition at the start of Colors, arguably their most famous record, and especially at that time. I was appalled /> I was maligned!!!. It must have been a sabotage… That opening is fucking beautiful, and to transition so abruptly into such substance-less ‘black’ metal is almost more of a sin than the events which started that genre (ish). It was egregious /> I was antagonized! I put it down and vowed never to consider it again. It also didn’t help how much my friends made fun of me for admitting that I’d liked some of The Great Misdirect, but whatever, they’re douchebags anyway.
Flash forward to the fall of 2017 and I’d since gotten into Toby Keith, Katy Perry, and Alan Jackson (ISH), so I no longer had anything to lose. Lo and behold, I was generally wrong in my first, adolescent opinion: Colors’ got riffs, Alaska’s got songs, and it turns out I was right about the Great Misdirect all along (that’s right, assholes). To top it off, they’d released two ‘pretty’ good records in the time since my original ‘boycott’ began in the fall of 2010: 2012’s The Parallax II: Future Sequence and 2015’s Coma Ecliptic. The adventure was complete; Shock N’ Y’All was no longer the only one.
Until a few months later, when BTBAM released the ‘first’ part of their eighth and ninth records, Automata I and Automata II, or their eighth record, I'm not sure what to call it (I mean technically they released two separate records, so for the record: I’m going with eight and nine).
If this sounds too negative for a top ten spot on this *Most important *TheMostImportant #TheOnlyListThatMatters best music of 2018 list, it’s only to say that: I would have otherwise placed it higher if it weren’t for the way they released it. After hearing Automata 1, I liked the songs, but it felt very incomplete. The songs were good enough that I’d listened to them a fair amount over the ensuing months, so much so that when the second half came out, I was totally over the first half /> and the hype. The songs on Automata 2 are just as good as the ones on its ‘predessessor’–and I’d go on to listen to them just as much–but as an album, it still felt incomplete, no matter how much I knew about that first half. Maybe it’s more the pretentiousness the band is so synonymous with (and which I was very obviously engulfed in ever since first hearing them), but, if you can’t tell: I’m not exactly over it quite yet (emotions don’t exist emotions don’t exist emotions don’t exist…).
The songs are all great, and I even thought it flowed better (as a whole; or: with no 5-month wait SMACK in the middle) than anything they’ve done since The Great Misdirect. The riffs on ‘Condemned to the Gallows’, ‘Yellow Eyes’ (see the chorus, and the riff following its second go-round), and ‘Blot’ are all great. The guitars in ‘The Proverbial Bellow’ are fantastic, and for once with BTBAM I was actually often listening to the vocals just as much as anything else. Plus they actually succeeded in extending their sound, something usually marred by an obvious desire on the parts of the writers to do something ‘different’ rather than what the song may call for (see: my above problem with the first three minutes of Colors). ‘Millions’ sounds like a BTBAM version of ‘new wave soft rock’ and the brass on ‘Trespass’ totally works. It’s not as quirky as most BTBAM, but that’s saying quite a bit and for the average listener is probably totally off.
Once again, if it weren’t for the way they released it, this likely would have been higher.
6. I Loved You at Your Darkest, Behemoth (Metal, Rock)
Yes, The Satanist was awesome. Will they ever beat it? Probably not, but the best way to go about doing that is to not let yourself get overwhelmed by the expectations, and to just make the fucking thing (spoiled). Behemoth made a helluva follow-up to one of modern metal’s greatest documents /> although it may not be perfect, if only in comparison to its predecessor.
On its own, I Loved You at Your Darkest is consistent, focused, and fun. It’s not as epic as The Satanist, but the songs are just as strong (for the most part). The first six songs are great, and the black metal part of ’We Are the Next 10,000 Years’ is fantastic, and better than most Behemoth sheer black metal rips. The lyrical content is on point (if you’re going to read it), and not least of which: the cover art is cool.
I once tried to say that this album is better thanThe Satanist…
Emotions don’t exist.
5. Where Owls Know My Name, Rivers of Nihil (Metal, Rock)
Straight up: this was my intro to this band.
Their other shit is cool, though I’ll admit that I’m still not that familiar. This is still the one as far as I can tell. ‘The Silent Life’, ‘A Home’ and ‘Old Nothing’ are highlights, and the sax solos on ‘The Silent Life’ and the title track are particularly bdss (badass).
Songs that pop are better than pop songs.
4. Eat the Elephant, A Perfect Circle (Rock, Pop)
After more than 15 years since their last true-to-form album of originals (2003’s Thirteenth Step), A Perfect Cirlce returned this year with what its by far their most chill, as well as their most lyrically hard hitting, record. Singer/lyricist Maynard James Keenan certainly has a proclivity for cool lyrics, but with ‘Feathers’, ‘By and Down the River’ and the title track, he’s at least as on-point as he’s ever been. ‘Disillusioned’ is timely and instantly memorable, with an interesting play with dynamic in the middle. ‘TalkTalk’ reiterates what’s always made A Perfect Circle cool, and ‘So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish’ (about many of the fallen heroes we lost over the past few years (Bpwie, Carrie Fisher, etc.)) is one of their best songs, and one of the best songs of the decade so far, displaying the band’s penchant for melody, lyricism, and heavy rock like only they can, and a degree of human appreciation separate from the need for Absolute perceptual unity so lost on artists as of late, it may seem.
3. Invasion of Privacy, Cardi B (Hip-Hop)
She’s pissed off. She’s unhinged. She doesn’t try to sound like a dude (or like anyone else for that matter), and her flow is totally hers– plus it’s cool. People were pissed off at Tupac’s flow when he first came out too (and some still are). If you don’t like it, I get it, but to say that Cardi B doesn’t have her own thing going, or that she’s being dishonest to herself or to her vision, or that she doesn’t have anything new to add (she’s as authentic as any rapper since Lauryn Hill, this side of Eminem) simply misses the point. I’m basing these (Absolute) ‘judgments’ (*MostImportant) based primarily on several factors: personal honesty, originality, balls, and technical/emotional musical capacity (both on different terms, and within its own combined category). On these fronts, Invasion of Privacy excels. It may not be a classic (maybe…), but it’s certainly got something most records simply don’t.
Now, having said that, should we consider this an amazing Illmatic/Ready to Die comparable legend??? No (I can see how her voice can get annoying over time (ish)), and there are moments of boredom (as there almost always are on hip-hop records)), but verses on ‘Get Up 10’, ‘Drip’ and ‘Bodak Yellow’ prove the futility. Hit ‘I Like It’ has one of the funnest (and by that I mean not simply catchy, here, but also musically interesting) hooks of the year.
Nicki Minaj’s debut was called Pink Friday and came out in 2010 to lukewarm reception; Lil’ Kim’s ‘96 Hard Core was a hit.
Invasion of Privacy>Queen all day.
2. ?, XXXTentacion (Hip-Hop)
Okay, okay (haha): fuck me.
In June of 2018, 19-year-old Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy (stage name: XXXTentacion) was shot and killed in his home state of Florida, just three months after the release of his second record, ?. At the time, he was awaiting trial for the beating of his pregnant girlfriend, something he’d been to jail for before (albeit when she wasn't pregnant, but still), and seemingly had no qualms about what he’d done. Regardless of what other controversies Onfroy may have committed, the fact is that he beat the fuck outta that girl, several times–
Which is fucked. By all accounts, this dude was a fucked up dude (you don’t beat you girl that many times, and that bad, and expect a simple slap on the wrist by way of insults). His actions are truly unforgivable, and that’s coming from a guy who hates that type of language (‘unforgivable’…).
However, as if you didn’t know where this was going, that doesn’t render his art to be judged under the same guise.
The guy might have sucked, but his second record in a year, ?, is indeed a masterpiece of the genre. And trust me, I really wish I didn’t have to say that, but the guy managed to produce something that was totally different, honest as fuck, and enjoyable to listen to. Most of the songs here are under 3 minutes, and the record clocks in at under 40 (a big rarity in hip-hop). Songs like ‘Moonlight’, ‘SAD!’, and ‘Pain = BESTFRIEND’ go by like THAT! but get stuck in your head for days. The hooks are catchy, and the production is top, but the real teller here is the lyrics. It really says something about the human condition that such a piece of shit like this guy was able to convey such emotion, and on such a level to connect with so many. Songs like ‘SMASH!’ and ‘schizophrenia’ highlight the philosophical complexity (in reaction): whatever his demons, and however badly he may have failed at challenging them (however, a conversation about how a 19-year-old is fucked up with no further connotations to speak on how the kid was raised is just lazy), he was clearly able to articulate what he felt, however wrong it may have been, and was even great at getting at the deeper aspects of his situation, and the fact that no matter how much of a piece of shit a person is, there is always something to learn– especially if the person is naturally truly honest in her art.
Which brings up the question: just how deep does the human spirit really go? To reiterate (in case you didn’t get it), this dude was FUCKED, and the fact that I value free speech as a political movement more than solace in groups (which transcends politics) enough to, in words which aren’t mine, ‘forgive’ other rappers when they rap in similar misogynistic, criminal-minded terms is to miss the point that XXXTentacion, as much of a bigger piece of shit as he may be than most of those other rappers (like R. Kelly??), actually comes off as far more human here than any of the rest really ever do (aside from the greats (like: maybe ten in all)). Sooner or later, human beings have to come to accept that ‘evil’ is in us just as much as ‘love’, and that the more we run away from that, the more we let it inhabit us.
Unless we never grow past 19.
1. The Sciences, Sleep (Metal, Rock)
There was nothing like it…
Sleep’s 1998 opus Dopesmoker defied all expectations, including Sleeps’ own record label, who, so enamored with the record’s single hour-long song tried to put out a shorter version with separated tracks and titles, yet still failed to ‘market’ it enough to ‘sell’. Quietly, the record took on ‘legendary’ status, that single hour long song simultaneously feeling like a full record, without once feeling long or out of place.
That was over twenty years ago, and in the ‘time’ since, guitarist Matt Pike has launched a successful side project (if you can even call it that anymore) High on Fire, and Sleep has officially reached LEGENDARY status in the metal world. They’ve also toured sparsely, but never discussed releasing a follow-up.
Which was why–on the morning of 4/20 of this year no less–to see a new Sleep record on the interwebs came as a very welcome surprise. Even better, that it’s totally, totally awesome, and stands naturally well with Dopesmoker and Holy Mountain, made the fact that I’m no longer in high school where my friends all want to do nothing but meet up and smoke weed all day long that much easier to forget (well, that wasn’t the only thing (this is what one calls a *Joke)).
‘The Sciences’ and ‘Marijuanaut’s Theme’ together serve as a great opener; the former a noise edit and the latter a simple jam. The real meat is on the album’s epics. ‘Sonic Titan’, ‘Antarcticans Thawed’, and ‘Giza Butler’ all exceed 10 minutes, and do so deservedly. ‘The Botanist’, likewise, is the perfect closer *SoPerfect (like: *TheMostPerfect).
One of the best metal records of the decade, if you’re into that kind of thing. I’ve been saying that metal is poised to make a comeback sometime soon (because, you know, it’s real music (not to get pissy over the fact that hip-hop is big right now, but there needs to be some variety– unless you’re the record labels and the streaming companies looking at market research and the cost of recording simulated instruments rather than real ones)), and if next year, with releases coming from such high-end metal acts as Mastodon, Slipknot, Lamb of God, Baroness, and Tool, is anything like this year, I think we may start to see some returns come this time in 365 1/4 days (January of 2020 (because you can’t judge the year until the year is over!).
And if not, at least all the hating on Tool will be over.
Revised list from 2017:
1. After Laughter, Paramore
2. Damn., Kendrick Lamar
3. The Dusk in Us, Converge
4. Villains, Queens of the Stone Age
5. Reputation, Taylor Swift
6. Arcadea, Arcadea
7. 4.44, Jay-Z
8. Heaven Upside Down, Marilyn Manson
9. Crack-Up, Fleet Foxes
10. Emperor of Sand, Mastodon