Outside of music, the broad stroke headline to take away from 2018 is that it’s a general shitshow, with Brexit and White House calamities stinking up the place.
Luckily there were plenty of angry records to help kick the year over the line, and maybe the year’s most critically-revered album, Low’s Double Negative, is also one of the bleakest.
This year was fuelled by paranoid noisy electronics, headbutt techno, abject metal misery, melancholy pop, punk fury and loads of ambient bliss to make it all better.
30. AMONG THE ROCKS AND ROOTS – Raga
Virginia duo Among the Rocks and Roots deal out a sort of noise/metal/tribal hybrid that feels more like exorcism than mere performance. There’s a hint of early Swans in the one-word repetitions and howls in some parts, but the record has stoner rock grooves amid the untamed shrieks. With four tracks over 90 minutes, there’s no passive listening here.
29. JAN JELINEK – Zwischen
One of the most strangely compelling albums of the year, almost worth it for the track titles alone. Jan Jelinek takes interviews of contemporary and historical figures, isolates one question then subtracts the actual words of their answer, leaving the umms and aahs, nervous laughs, tics and general icky mouth sounds, over abstract ambient electronica. It’s odd and absurdist, yeah, but weirdly hypnotic.
The album also features non-interviews with Lady Gaga, Joseph Beuys, Yoko Ono, Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage, among others.
28. The KVB – Only Now Forever
Serene motorik psych grooves from the UK duo, throbbing along some eternal autobahn, evoking Isi by Neu!, with a nod to the shoegaze greats. There are echoes of detached post-punk melancholy as they channel the Jesus and Mary Chain, transition-period New Order and The Horrors.
27. IDLES – Joy As an Act of Resistance
IDLES’ aptly-titled 2017 debut album Brutalism was an unflinching rail against Brexit Britain, with all the venom and wry humour of Sleaford Mods and Fat White Family. Joy as an Act of Resistance is another cathartic war cry that takes on matters as diverse as asshole lad culture (Never Fight a Man with a Perm) and the death of frontman Joe Talbot’s baby daughter (June). Further muck kicked on top of the coffin of landfill indie.
26. DAVID BYRNE – American Utopia
American Utopia was a slow-burner throughout the year. In parts it’s a little too polite and lacks the nervy tics of Byrne’s best work. But the the pieces slotted perfectly together at the transcendent 3Arena show, with deeper cuts like Bullet and Here finally unfurling – modern classic Byrne meditations that were hiding in plain sight all along.
25. PAPER DOLLHOUSE – The Sky Looks Different Here
Nina Bosnic and Astrud Steehouder’s third album is a further departure from their early haunted, lo-fi folk. This is delicate ambient electro, with synth vapours and abstract vocal echoes.
24. DJ KHALAB – Black Noise 2084
The backbone of Black Noise 2084 is field recordings from the archives of the Royal Museum for Central Africa of Bruxelles, but Khalab stays well away from any worthiness that suggests. The LP is a stunning, cosmic take on Afrofuturism, with ritualistic jazz, shattered footwork and sharp funk slicing through everything.
23. THE SOFT MOON – Criminal
Luis Vasquez’s fourth Soft Moon album is nervy industrial goth, shot through with curled-in-a-ball self-loathing. The hissing, frazzled sonic palette is somewhere between Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine, Broken and the Downward Spiral, with the high-fret scraped bass sound off the Cure’s Pornography or Peter Hook’s darkest detours.
22. DYLAN CARLSON – Conquistador
Earth band leader Carlson’s first solo album under his own name is a half-hour of widescreen vistas and another example of the hypnotic power of repetition.Twangy, desert blues riffs, amps humming like swirling sandstorms and an imaginary Western story arc evoking images of sun-bleached animal carcasses.
21. TINFOIL – On a Roll
The debut collaborative album by Sunil Sharpe and DeFeKT is a dirt under the fingernails analogue techno record filtered from hours of reactive jamming and improvising. One of the most visceral electronic records of the year, and the electrocution live showcase in Index in April was like getting kicked round the place for an hour or two.
20. LANA DEL RABIES – Shadow World
Rattling, industrial oil drum dirges, assembly line dins, arm-scratching tension and visceral hisses and howls — electronic noise artist Lana Del Rabies performs with feral abandon but there’s a real catharsis in there too.
19. M.GEDDES GENGRAS – Light Pipe
The 10th album from modular synth composer M. Geddes Gengras already feels like a modern ambient masterpiece. It’s two and a half hours, but it’s also a serene deep listening experience that calls for a repeat as soon as the 150 minutes are up. Its organic drones, wispy textures and occasional dissonance recall Brian Eno’s Ambient 4, Global Communication or Susumu Yokota’s beatless passages.
18. GIRLS NAMES – Stains On Silence
Belfast-based Girls Names go dark on their fourth album Stains On Silence, that wouldn’t sound out of place on the Blackest Ever Black label, filed between Tropic of Cancer and Carla Del Forno. It veers between twangy doo-wop through a post-punk prism, to avant-garde Foley effect guitar parts and paranoid synths.
17. ROBYN – Honey
Robyn’s first album since 2010 is light on melancholy dancefloor bangers, but there’s still much to love. She hit her obvious mark with Missing You, the lead single and opening track. But it’s followed by songs that touch on bereavement and loss, and mid-tempo cosmic disco break-up songs with no hard feelings.
16. HELENA HAUFF – Qualm
Hamburg producer and DJ Helena Hauff released one of the most crucial basement dancefloor albums of the year in Qualm – a slab of analogue electro with a punk edge and hands-dirty tracks titles like Fag Butts in the Fire Bucket and Primordial Sludge.
15. BOY HARSHER – Yr Body Is Nothing
This debut LP by synth duo Boy Harsher was a new edition of their 2016 debut, and it hasn’t lost any of its potency over the last two years. Emotionally taut EBM and darkwave pop with an early 80s goth club vibe.
14. DEATH GRIPS – Year of the Snitch
Year of the Snitch opens with Death Grips Is Online and it seems to be the most they’ve sounded like ‘a band’ in years, with its major chord guitar fuzz hinting at catchy alt-rock. Give them a minute though – it soon weaves itself into old school electro, dense industrial hip-hop and noise, and the rest of the album chucks hardcore punk, twisted free jazz, 8-bit smithereens and MC Ride’s ultraviolent non sequiturs at you.
13. NINE INCH NAILS – Bad Witch
Bad Witch followed the EPs Not the Actual Events and Add Violence, and the three together form Trent Reznor’s best run of releases since the 90s, with Blackstar dark jazz, techno and breakbeat jostling with his usual noise and industrial nihilism. “New world, new times, mutation, feels alright.” Indeed.
12. SKEE MASK – Compro
You can approach Compro from various angles — just as instrumental versions of rap albums reveal hidden depths, there could be a classic ambient LP here underneath Skee Mask’s complex beat patterns.
The album hints at classic records on Warp and Rephlex, with fractured techno, dusky pads and twinkling melodies leading to comparisons with Burial, Aphex Twin and early Autechre before the algorithms started taking over.
11. THE BODY – I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer
On The Body’s seventh album, Chip King and Lee Buford stress-test the breaking point of outlier metal, with elements of industrial, noise, sludge, dub, dark ambient and choral arrangements. It nudges them towards the industrial noise collages of Dalek or the frazzled digital fry of Death Grips, with themes of abject misery.
10. MARIE DAVIDSON – Working Class Woman
Montreal artist Marie Davidson’s Working Class Woman is a clash of industrial, electro, coldwave and techno, shot through with sarcasm and takedowns of all the dickhead aspects of modern club culture and toxic trolling. Her deadpan vocals channel the black humour of Miss Kittin, Peaches or even Green Velvet when he was on the drugs.
9. ALVA NOTO & RYUCHI SAKAMOTO – Glass
This is a 30-minute recording of a live installation at the famous architectural show-piece The Glass House in Connecticut. The duo recorded it on “a keyboard, mixers, singing glass bowls… and the space of the building itself”, and it kinda sounds like a sleepover in Superman’s crystalline Kryptonite kingdom.
8. LOW – Double Negative
There’s no end to songs, protests and think-pieces about the ongoing calamity surrounding Donald Trump, but no other music act has tackled the US shitshow with as much elegance and subtlety as Minnesota alt-rock minimalists Low.
The trio’s new album Double Negative may not have the lizard brain dopamine hit of tracks like YG’s Fuck Donald Trump or a few bars by Run the Jewels, but the album is a collection of stark melancholia and oblique protest, with intricate guitar passages suffocated by crumbling electronics and glitchy ambience.
7. SENYAWA – Sujud
Indonesian duo Senyawa plumb the same sonic depths as Sunn O))) or early Earth, with droney, cave walls of sound created on instruments they make themselves, and ritualistic throat singing.
6. MART AVI: OtherWorld
Estonian singer and producer Mart Avi creates “madcap lounge beat, transfigured”, in his own words, but his underworld skewed pop is impossible to pin down. Intricate sound design features shattering glass, drizzled city ambience, drones and dubby echoes, with nods to Scott Walker and late period Bowie.
5. DEDEKIND CUT – Tahoe
Fred Warmsley’s second LP as Dedekind Cut removes all traces of glitch and industrial interference from 2016’s $uccessor, for a beatless ambient balm. It recalls Brian Eno at his most vaporous, with some passages evoking Burial’s melancholy interludes.
4. JOHNNY JEWEL – Digital Rain
Johnny Jewel followed up his Twin Peaks soundtrack with this all-synth ambient concept album – a mesmerising record of misty, trickly electronics and glistening drones. Like a water feature in a vaporwave shopping mall.
3. JPEGMAFIA – Veteran
MC and producer JPEGMAFIA released one of the most sonically inventive hip-hop albums in recent years, with beats honed out of frazzled Radiophonic blips, battered R&B, found sound metallic percussion and even looping Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s croaky breath-holding skit on Goin’ Down into a hardcore track. And that’s before we get to the absurdist humour and fury in his rhymes.
2. DAUGHTERS – You Won’t Get What You Want
This year saw the return of hardcore/noise reprobates Daughters for their first album since 2010. They’re channelling the feral din of Jesus Lizard, with frontman Alexis Marshall’s severed vocal tics and the blunt force trauma percussion. An off the grid sonic headbutt.
1. GAZELLE TWIN – Pastoral
Gazelle Twin leaves aside her blue school gym gear and body horror themes examined in her album Unflesh, for a grotesque character study of Middle England curtain-twitchers, Brexit dead ends and destructive banality.
The abrasive industrial electronics is made more chilling with shrill recorders and flutes, and her new character is a sort of court jester chav, playing on Little Brits’ disdain for the working class folk devil.
Moo Kid’s top 30 albums playlist…