A quick scroll through this month’s picks will tell you that this is probably the most diverse edition of Editors’ Picks in a while. There’s no grand narrative at operation here; we didn’t go out of our way to include albums from as many genres as possible. It’s just a testament to not only how terrific 2018 has been for music (something which I’m sure you’re all very tired of hearing) but also how diverse it’s been. When 2017 ended, I wrote in our Year in Review that it was a much leaner year as far as diversity went and speculated on whether this was an overall trend, as genres and cycles got tighter and tighter with the advent of highly targeted streaming and release cycles. 2018 has answered me with a resounding “no”; there appear to be larger cycles at play.
I think it’s safe to say, now that I’ve been with the blog for nearly five years, that a two-year cycle is easily identifiable. I might go into more detail on that when I review this year but, for now, it’s very simple to just look below (and, indeed, at previous Editors’ Picks) and see just how many genres have been releasing incredible albums in the ten months that have gone by since 2018 started. It’s a true feeling of a cornucopia, of richness and wealth of creation overflowing from all directions. As I wrote last month, this kind of wealth leads to absolutely absurd “further listening” list, as the things left out from the main picks still contain some incredible music.
I’d also like to remind you that the end of the year is fast approaching. As such, those among us who are cursed/blessed with the addiction for music curation (an addiction which fuels this blog, let me assure you) are already combing through our personal lists while keeping an eye out on releases yet to come. In this special twilight time, when new music is still being released but most of the year has gone by, great things can happen; I usually find that that’s the time I’m most open to releases from diverse genres. Or maybe it’s the winter which awakens within me the hunger for the novel, for the moving? Regardless, the months close to year’s end can be especially fruitful to genre experimentation, I’ve found. So open your heart and your ears and get ready for yet another fantastic, overwhelming, massive dose of great music. Here we go.
Author & Punisher – Beastland (industrial metal)
In my review of the new Author & Punisher record Beastland, I made the claim that Tristan Shone’s one-man industrial doom project was “easily the current torchbearer of industrial metal.” Now a month out from the review’s publication, I’m surer than ever that this is absolutely the case. Notable industrial bands are hard to come by in and of themselves; the legacy acts such as Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and Ministry are currently active, but are hardly pushing new boundaries for the genre and are past their prime. Smaller acts dot the landscape and contribute to the advancement of the genre, such as Pharmakon, but Shone’s passion project Author & Punisher is truly a unique expression of industrial music, both sonically and physically, and few can compare.
In case this is your first real brush with Author & Punisher, here’s the deal: Tristan Shone, musician and engineer, designs and builds his own unique midi controllers from the ground up and uses them to create psychedelic droning industrial metal. His latest record, Beastland, is his Relapse Records debut, and it is from end-to-end an astounding set of misanthropic and anxiety-inducing tracks and is among his best work to date. The trance-inducing industrial beats and shroud of fuzzy synth are clear nods to Godflesh, but Author & Punisher’s aesthetic is more sinister.
There’s plenty to sink your teeth into, and the tracks amount to more than just doomy loops and vignettes. For example, “Pharmacide” rattles along, noisy and pulsating. “The Speaker Is Systematically Blown” is a trojan horse of hooks. The title track loops distorted melodies across jagged, sludgy rhythms. Each track has a character of its own, which is a blessing for an album that pulls so much influence from noise and drone. Author & Punisher has been bridging industrial and electronic music with doom and drone since its inception, and Beastland is Shone’s greatest success. The record is succinct, challenging, and somewhat accessible all at once. If you needed an entry point into doom’s overall aesthetic, Beastland may help.
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Beyond Creation – Algorythm (progressive death metal, tech death)
Beyond Creation are an odd creation. They dropped into the scene out of nowhere with a unique tech death sound. The bass playing of already-veteran Dominic “Forest” Lapointe was definitely a big factor in putting them on the map. After two stellar albums, Forest left the band and was replaced by Hugo Doyon-Karout. While this might have seemed like a huge loss for the band, Hugo has demonstrated his chops before and since joining the band, so I wasn’t too concerned. The bigger cause for concern was that the singles they released before the album seemed to not show meaningful progression from the band’s prior sound. Well, now the album is out, and that worry turned out to be unfounded.
To be fair, none of the singles were bad or even mediocre per se. They were good, just not something the band hadn’t done before. Well, the rest of Algorythm makes up for it. There’s more variety and dynamism to their sound. The band had always straddled the line between progressive and technical death metal, and here we see them fully committing to the former. It also works better as a whole, as they seem less focused on having standout tracks and more focused on carrying a general atmosphere. This can go either way for listeners, but I find myself less fatigued listening to Algorythm than previous entries, as the tone overall is easier to digest and leaves more room for repeat listenings. Also, shoutouts to Hugo for not just filling in huge shoes, but making his own mark on the band’s sound and exceeding all expectations. In the end, Algorythm is a strong album from a great band that still shows a ton of promise.
Black Peaks – All That Divides (progressive post-hardcore)
I was fully prepared to be disappointed by the sophomore album from the UK’s Black Peaks after hearing the first single, “Home.” It was far too straight-forward, stripped of its edge and progressive tendencies that made its debut Statues such a triumph of knotty anthems. It fit too neatly into the pattern seen far too many times before from heavy bands with some poppier leanings who had attained a fair amount of buzz early on. They were going broad. They were playing it safe. This was just going to be another band who aims for the mainstream and radio play while losing all of the things that made them special in the first place.
But then I actually heard All That Divides, and, let me tell you, it feels great to be wrong. Though “Home” certainly isn’t a complete stylistic outlier for the album, it doesn’t tell a complete story of how Black Peaks have adjusted and even grown as musicians since the release of Statues. Yes, it’s certainly a more melodically-focused album. It perhaps sacrifices a little bit of its metallic post-hardcore edge in favor of sweeping vocal hooks and dreamier atmosphere. But what it doesn’t sacrifice is compelling songwriting with plenty of frenetic energy, righteous anger, and a progressive spirit. If anything All That Divides doubles down on the kind of ambitious and sprawling compositions that they hinted at in Statues. Tracks like “Midnight Sun,” “Aether,” “Across the Great Divide,” “Slow Seas,” and more benefit from the time they use to build atmosphere, create tension, and explore mournful beauty amidst the fury. Lifted by the vastly-improved vocal range and delivery of frontman Will Gardner, the songs on All That Divides are hook machines in the best way imaginable. And tracks like “Electric Fires” and “Eternal Light” (aka the best Blood Mountain-era Mastodon track since Blood Mountain) still show plenty of teeth and urgency underneath their more-polished exterior.
And as for “Home” itself? In the context of All That Divides sandwiched between knottier burners “Across the Great Divide” and “Eternal Light,” it’s actually a welcome moment of more straight-forward gloom rock. Far from a step backward or a disappointment, All That Divides demonstrates Black Peaks feeling bolder and more confident in staking a claim as one of the most enjoyable acts in the heavy rock scene. Next time I’ll have a little more faith.
Matt Calvert – Typewritten (acoustic math rock, chamber folk)
You might be (justifiably) questioning the existence of “acoustic math rock,” and more importantly, how this genre creation might weave into the world of chamber folk. But as I returned to Typewritten countless times over the past month, I couldn’t help but feel like I was listening to folk performed differently than any iteration I’ve heard before. That starts with the personnel, of course; Matt Calvert helms the guitar and electronics for electronic math rock trio Three Trapped Tigers, who’ve previously appeared in this very column. Calvert’s math roots are the crux of the personality that defines Typewritten, though the album’s cohesive quality is more directly indebted to his adept hand at composition and conducting an eclectic ensemble. The ensuing collection of tracks makes for one of the most unique, noteworthy and downright exceptional folk albums I’ve heard in recent memory.
For starters, just look at the instruments Calvert himself performs on the album: along with his usual guitar duties, he also plays the piano, dulcitone, celeste, vibraphone, glockenspiel, banjo, hammer dulcimer, melodica, voice and percussion (just to name a few). Joining him is a nonet of talented musicians in th3eir own right, who add double bass, cello, violin, marimba, clarinet, bass clarinet and “saxophone percussion” to that already extensive list. Highlighting this isn’t meant to fill space, but rather to highlight the expansive worlds of sound Calvert is able to create with the sonic elements at his disposal. Each track brings with it a well-composed air of majesty and fantastical themes, as if a piece of classic folklore received a big-budget remake for modern cinema.
Key to this formula’s success is that aforementioned math rock bounce. The distinct note flourishes and chord progressions found in Calvert’s home genre provide incredible bursts of melody that compliment the jazzy chamber folk vibe surprisingly well. They feel like natural sonic allies throughout the entirety of Typewritten, as does the interplay between the larger ensemble. Despite the album featuring ten players, each song feels intimate and personal, with each instrument receiving its proper share of the spotlight and contribution to the overall strength fo the piece.
For me, the key to a truly great album is its distinctive qualities. With my favorite albums of all time, I always seek them out to listen to them specifically, not because they fit the bill of a specific genre craving. Typewritten is one such album, and it achieved that status effortlessly after only a couple listens. Calvert achieves a fantastic synthesis of styles while simultaneously transcending them all. It’s difficult to imagine Calvert could have made a more confident, bold debut than this, and his gorgeous approach to composition will surely remain a highlight of an incredible solo career.
Four Fists – 6666 (experimental hip-hop, glitch-hop)
Four years ago, I was diving into the wonderful world of Welcome to Night Vale, a podcast which, even though it’s not as good as it once was today, is still one of my all-time favorite entertainment pieces I’ve ever consumed. On it, eventually, I first heard a track by P.O.S; it was “Faded”, off of his 2017 album Chill, Dummy. Unbeknownst to me, investigating this track deeper would finally open me up to hip-hop and rap; from there, I spiraled outwards, starting with the other members of the collective known as Doomtree, of which P.O.S is a member. I discovered a host of artists making smart, forward-thinking, and immensely enjoyable music under many genres but with forms of hip-hop running through their work.
One of those artists was Astronautalis, a way too clever wordsmith with whom I’ve been fascinated for a while now. Lo and behold, a project called Four Fists (named after a Fitzgerald short story) was not so dormant as we thought; it brought P.O.S and Astronautalis together in 2013 but was silent ever since. Until October 2018, where the duo dropped 6666. It’s hard to overstate how much I love this album; it’s exactly everything I loved about P.O.S’s approach to hip-hop. It has big beats, great lyrics and, most importantly of all, it’s fun as all hell.
All you need to do is listen to two tracks. The first is the last track, “Unjinxed” and it showcases the life-loving, carefree approach of this album which I adore so much. Courtesy of one Subp Yao, it has an amazingly infectious beat underscored by an amazing use of sampling. The backline already creates this kind of larger than life backdrop, even before the lyrics come to life. Which they do, after the lengthy intro about chaos and what we can learn from life. When they arrive, they’re interspersed with little laughs, life lessons, and great flow, all mingling to the same amount. Astronautalis has a more agile flow than P.O.S and he opens proceedings with his trademark style, perfectly laying out the stage for P.O.S to arrive with his more staccato feel for rhythm. Add in a brilliant electronic “solo” after his verse and you have an immensely danceable and meaningful track.
The second track I want you to listen to is “Dork Court”. It presents a deeper, slightly darker facet to Four Fists which appears on other places on the album; it’s more confrontational and critical of modern life, the rap/hip-hop “scene”, technology, and more. Its beats are darker, its words are more aggressive, and their delivery follows suit, with both artists filling their delivery with derision and sarcastic vitriol. It’s this kind of variety that makes 6666 so good; it hits both high and low, speaking to your gut and your brain. You can dance to it; you can meditate to it; you can analyze it. Just have fun with it; it’s immediately good for that and will later open up to deeper contemplation. Like all great hip-hop should.
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mewithoutYou – [Untitled] (art-rock, post-hardcore)
Much like the cover art to the band’s seventh full-length record, [Untitled], listening to mewithoutYou is much akin to untangling a sequence of knots. Primarily those tied by the unique genius of Aaron Weiss through his sequencing of esoteric, metaphysical lyrical puzzles that obfuscate, unfold, illuminate, and disappear again with a clockwork regularity. The music itself is no less complex when the band is operating at maximum potential, presenting a brilliant tapestry of post-whatever sounds that lend incredible emotional weight to Weiss’ musings. A hopeless tangle of colorful strings is a fitting picture to adorn an album such as this, which is not only one of the best in the band’s lauded discography, but one of the best of the year. Melding all of the elements that make this band great, [Untitled] is a masterpiece that will most assuredly stand as a crown jewel in the band’s stalwart collection of releases.
Those familiar with this band’s work won’t find themselves too surprised by the sounds conjured here. Remnants of the raw emotion of [A—>B] Life and the languid, subdued acoustics of Pale Horse are present in particularly obvious fashion, but feel reinvigorated and approached with a fresh aesthetic. Weiss hasn’t sounded this impassioned since the band’s earliest releases, vacillating between quiet contemplation (“Tortoises All the Way Down”, “2,459 Miles”) and rabid, vicious caterwauling (“9:27a.m., 7/29”, “Wendy & Betsy”). It’s ridiculously effective, making the record feel emotionally unpredictable while maintaining a commendable level of sonic coherence. The band keep pace with Weiss front-to-back, throwing out some of their best guitar and percussive work to date. It’s the complete package, and fan’s of the band should lap it up with delight.
With [Untitled], mewithoutYou are as confounding and captivating as they’ve ever been, further cementing their status as a premier act in the post-hardcore/rock and indie music scenes. Their effectiveness on musical and lyrical fronts is unmatched, and their seventh album displays these traits with crystal clarity. A truly remarkable work of art, knots and all.
Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning (indie rock, noise rock)
After a couple of albums of more conventional and polished (though still very enjoyable) indie rock, Cleveland’s Cloud Nothings return to the harsher and far noisier edge that defined their breakout album in 2012’s Attack on Memory. Frontman Dylan Baldi is back howling and screeching his way across decimation, all packaged in the same sleek and catchy indie frameworks he’s explored throughout the band’s existence, and they’ve never sounded better for it.
Coheed and Cambria – The Unheavenly Creatures (prog rock)
You’ll be hard pressed to find a band with a more rabid set of fans than Coheed and Cambria. And look, in [current year], chances are that you already know if you’re one among the fence or not. For those of you who haven’t jumped aboard, the act’s latest record (and hotly anticipated return to the Amory Wars conceptual universe) Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures won’t change your mind. But for the rest of us, this massive record is densely packed with earworms and pop/punk/prog/whatever anthems to get us through the next album cycle, and I for one, am stoked. – JR
Current 93 – The Light is Leaving Us All (avant-folk, neofolk)
There are no bands in existence like Current 93. Decades and dozens of records into a stellar career, one couldn’t blame project mastermind David Tibet for phoning it in every once in a while. Instead, The Light is Leaving Us All is proof that Current 93 are as vital as ever. There’s a wealth of sonic wonder here, and one can only experience it by diving in headlong and allowing Tibet’s batshit reveries to sweep you away. Enthralling stuff.
Deadbird – III: The Forest Within The Tree (doom metal)
If you like your riffs big but your composition intelligent and dynamic, Deadbird have the album for you. The Forest Within the Tree goes hard but it also varies up its game enough to keep you interested all along. Expect bluesy solos, the whiff of bourbon and just enough progressive in your doom to keep you hooked.
In-Dreamview – In-Dreamview (jazz fusion, post-rock)
The NJ-based In-Dreamview has made a name for itself through a thoroughly-soothing blend of dreamy psychedelic jazz and post-y/math-y elements, and on their third self-titled album, they continue to push that sound in interesting and pretty much always highly relaxing directions.
Eli Keszler – Stadium (avant-garde jazz, EAI)
No one approaches electroacoustic quite like percussionist Eli Keszler. When I covered his album Last Signs of Speed, I described his style as “flurries of percussive notes flitting throughout the atmosphere.” Such is the case on Stadium, an even stronger outing from Keszler that’s among my favorite experimental albums of the year. With an emphasis on percussion, the album feels like unsettling UK hip-hop beats that conjure a mood of walking down a quiet, unfamiliar urban neighborhood at night.
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Thrawsunblat – IV: Great Brunswick Forest (blackened folk metal)
The band themselves liked this description before so: Thrawsunblat’s latest, almost entirely acoustic effort, is like shoving your nose into a pile leaves right after the first rain. It’s black metal with the folk underpinnings taken out and presented to the world, drawing deeply on nature, tradition and strength of character for its incredibly captivating, guitar-centric music.