The year has already run more than half its course, and it’s honestly been a somewhat strange year for music. It seems as if the really high profile releases from this year are either coming later in the year or have been really divisive (here’s looking at you, Jack White). Moreover, for me personally, I feel like artists I follow and enjoy have been putting out good records instead of great ones; though, some of those feelings have changed as I’ve digested certain records (we’ll get to that later). Here are some of the highlights from the musical year so far, with a proper list at the end.
Ambient music has had a great year.
Starting with the more mainstream releases, Grouper released an achingly beautiful and mysteriously sad new album called Grid of Points. While it would be tempting to classify this as a singer-songwriter record since there are singing and lyrics, Liz Harris’ vocals are more impressionistically evocative, used more as an atmosphere-building instrument than to convey ideas or paint explicit imagery. In a word, it’s haunting.
Sigur Rós dropped two new projects this year — sort of. The first, Route One, received a limited vinyl run for Record Store Day and is a pared-down highlight reel from their 2016 live stream event of the same name. They’ve also released an hour of music in a project called Liminal, which is dubbed as an “endless mixtape.” Similar to Route One, Liminal reshapes songs and stems from past Sigur Rós material into new pieces and soundscapes. It’s a strange concept that I’m still not sure that I fully understand, but you can (and should) stream it below regardless.
Solidarity Hymn, a collaborative project between ambient composers Andy Othling (Lowercase Noises) and Steven Kemner (Hotel Neon) put out an album titled For a Wandering Beam of Sun, and it’s a stunner. Abstract, ponderous, and beautiful, this record has a keen sense of pace and atmosphere. Othling and Kemner know precisely when the compositions should expand and contract, avoiding stale monotony and allowing the record to feel effortlessly alive. If you dig contemplative instrumental music, don’t miss this album.
Also in ambient this year, Asher Graieg-Morrison released his best tape yet, titled Hereditatem Pt. 1. Progressing from last year’s lo-fi Things Are Being Held Together, Hereditatem feels far more coherent and focused, likely due to its more restrained sample palette. These droning soundscapes are sometimes unsettling or mysterious, and at other times are more uplifting. In any case, Morrison has employed a greater attention to detail and composition for this album, and it really shows. Hereditatem Pt. 1 was released with an accompanying set of abstract visuals by Morrison. Watch them here.
Finally, Nick Rennis (aka The Drink Up, Honey) released a new live avant-garde drone improvisation that you should check out as well.
Experimental pop has had a really great year.
If I had to give a genre to 2018 for me so far, this would be it. There have been a lot of highlights here that I could talk about at great length, so I’m just going to give you a list, a line, and a link for each.
- Let’s Eat Grandma. Hilarious band name, but they deserve to be taken seriously as important figures in underground pop. Listen to “Falling Into Me.”
- MGMT. Perhaps the greatest strength of the latest from MGMT is how pointed their lyrics have become. Watch the (year’s best) music video for “Me and Michael.” Warning: it’s gross.
- Jack Stauber. This guy is a madman in all the right ways. I’m not sure where a good entry point is to his work, so I guess watch this video for “Dead Weight.”
- SOPHIE. This producer’s first proper solo record is a slightly bumpy yet totally invigorating experience. Listen to (the year’s best) pop banger, “Immaterial.”
- Superorganism. This band’s smart, quirky debut is wildly creative and gleeful while refusing to be obnoxious or unlikeable. Watch the trippy video for “Everybody Wants to be Famous.”
Many happy returns
So far in 2018 we’ve also seen the return of several talented and beloved musicians in new main projects. All the former members of Crystal Desert play with Henry J (of the Stereo Wire and Oliver Elf Army) in a killer new band called Bad Optics. Most of the members of cultureculture now play in a new psych-pop project called Improvement Movement, which has released seven new songs this year. Eric Tempelaere, formerly of FILMLOOM, released his first new tape as Bronze Wolf. Finally, Trevor Powers (f.k.a. Youth Lagoon) is back and releasing a new album under his own name in August. You should listen to all of these, so here are some links.
What you’ve really all been waiting for, my top 10 of 2018 so far.
(10) HiLo by Jack Stauber
(9) Superorganism by Superorganism
(8) Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides by SOPHIE
(7) There’s a Riot Going On by Yo La Tengo
(6) I’m All Ears by Let’s Eat Grandma
(5) I Need to Start a Garden by Haley Heynderickx
(4) Little Dark Age by MGMT
(3) Now Only by Mount Eerie
(2) The Horizon Just Laughed by Damien Jurado
(1) Wide Awake! by Parquet Courts