Let’s be honest for a second: No one clicks on these lists for the introduction. I don’t blame them! This is usually just the place where some routine throat-clearing goes, before we get to the main event. It’s also the place where I confess to the amount of anxiety involved with putting together a list like this—last year, I said, “Right now, there’s probably someone in their bedroom in Buenos Aires, making a record on their computer that is going to end up on next year’s list. So as comprehensive as we’ve tried to make this list, we realize that, even at 100 albums, we’re only scratching the surface of what’s available.” Guess what? That’s still true in 2018. That said, the albums that made the cut, to us, represent the breadth and scope of the many worlds available to discover on Bandcamp, and feel like the best musical summation of the last 12 months. When we make this list, we’re not only trying to assess the year’s best music, we’re also trying to tell the story of 2018, album by album, song by song. As always, being a part of Bandcamp Daily in 2018 was a true joy; we took a look at Extratone, the world’s fastest musical genre, got familiar with the New Face of Death Metal, and spent time with artists like Yugen Blakrok, Suzanne Ciani, and Kamaal Williams. Once again, the world of music is bigger than any one list can possibly contain, so consider this a starting point on the neverending journey to discovering new sounds, new scenes, and new voices. Alright, that’s enough throat-clearing. Let’s get to the list.
—J. Edward Keyes, Editorial Director
In what’s become one of metal’s most surprising second acts, NWOBHM pioneers Satan have now made three albums since reforming in 2011—one more than they released during their original ’80s run. Cruel Magic is the best of the reunion-era albums, a sinewy riff machine that pays homage to the history of the band (and genre) without being in thrall to nostalgia. Frontman Brian Ross, 64 years young, has never sounded better or more energized, and the band matches his vigor on rippers like “Into the Mouth of Eternity” and “Death Knell for a King.”
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP, Other
The bewitching Saharan chant that opens Maghreb United still sounds spellbinding six months after its summer release, and the rest of the album ably maintains that hypnotic mood. On its 10 pulsing songs, feverish electronic grooves cast a flickering light against whirling pan flutes and snakelike guitars, augmented by star turns from vocalist Cheb Hassen Tej from Tunisia, Mehdi Nassouli from Morocco, and Sofiane Saidi from Algeria. Mahgreb United’s unlikely—but utterly perfect—fusion of dance music and desert blues results in the year’s trippiest album, one that will surely continue to soundtrack psychedelic fever dreams well into 2019.
Read our Album of the Day on Maghreb United.
Dwarfs of East Agouza
Rats Don’t Eat Synthesizers
Vinyl LP, Poster/Print, Compact Disc (CD)
Dwarfs of East Agouza’s Rats Don’t Eat Synthesizers is comprised of two side-long compositions featuring acoustic bass, alto sax, guitar, organ, and synthesizers, piloted by Alan Bishop of Arizona experimental royalty Sun City Girls, Cairo’s Maurice Louca, who plays in Bikya and Alif, and Egyptian psychedelic luminary Sam Shalabi. Side one is a hypnotic, psychedelic desert composition with compulsively danceable rhythm, buttressed by a slashing guitar section. Side two is less straightforward, opening with heavy, throbbing electronics before descending into groove-riddled free jazz madness. Taken together, the two halves defy genre, finding a middle ground between funk, free jazz, and noise rock and settling in for the duration.
Read our interview with Dwarfs of East Agouza.
Compact Disc (CD)
Melding the sound of their previous EPs with a heavy helping of both doom and atmosphere, Jesus Piece’s Only Self feels like both the culmination of what the group has done to date, and the first step in an auspicious career. Engaging, dynamic, and perfectly sequenced, Only Self is an ambitious hardcore record, one that subverts the genre’s sometimes familiar trappings and demonstrates a sense of daring and a willingness to experiment. Palm-muted mosh parts give way to modulated ambient breaks, vocals range from throat-tearing to ethereal, the drums go from impressive restraint to all-out chaos. The result is both punishingly heavy and decidedly somber—songs that are tightly composed and executed mercilessly.
Read our Album of the Day on Only Self.
The Golden Octave
On her debut album The Golden Octave, Witch Prophet sounds as if the weight of the world is on her shoulders. She sings of her struggles as part of the Ethiopian/Eritrean diaspora, considers her position as a queer woman in the Habesha community, and protects her power and agency in a world that wants to deny her both. That she is able to turn that fight into songs that are rich in beauty is one of the things that makes The Golden Octave so powerful. Its songs pair house and hip-hop-inspired rhythms with soul and folk-inspired vocals, building to choruses that feel like mantras meant to incite strength, compassion, and perseverance. On The Golden Octave, Witch Prophet is telling us exactly who she is, and where she is going. It is our privilege to be able to follow her on the journey.
Read our interview with Witch Prophet.
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Konoyo is the sound of sea change. In late 2017, Tim Hecker enlisted Tokyo’s Motonori Miura to assemble an ensemble of Gagaku musicians—Gagaku being a style of Japanese ancient court music that relies heavily on wind instruments like the shō, hichiriki, and ryūteki. The musicians then improvised material in response to Hecker’s array of synthesizers and drones. Throughout Konoyo, Hecker explores layered drone as much as empty space, and the resulting collaborative work is dynamic and moving—organic and synthetic sounds combining with equal force.
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
Irish musician Hilary Woods recorded Colt on an eight-track in her Dublin flat, and while I cannot verify whether or not it was recorded entirely at night, I can’t imagine another scenario that makes sense. It’s not just that the songs here are low-lit, shadowy, and gorgeously slow-moving, it’s that each of them feels like a secret that’s safest whispered after the sun goes down. Last year, Woods provided live accompaniment to a screening of the German Expressionist horror film Der Golem, but the songs on Colt feel better suited to a movie like Murnau’s Sunrise, full of quiet longing, deep sorrow, and haunted by the shadow of death. All of them are built from similar elements: muted guitars, keyboards soft as gauze, and Woods’s quiet, mystic vocals, but she uses that base palette to fill full canvases of blues and greys. On “Prodigal Dog,” her voice drips like a melting icicle across sleek sheets of synth; on “Black Rainbow,” she seems to summon Julee Cruise, right down to the reverberating bassline. It’s night music, to be sure: dark and quiet, but also full of strange, almost supernatural beauty.
-J. Edward Keyes
Read our Album of the Day on Colt.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Damon McMahon’s fifth album as Amen Dunes begins with a pep talk: “This is your time,” a child’s voice says, “their time is done. It’s over.” The voice is only half-kidding; while Freedom is McMahon’s most fully realized effort to date—a triumph, really—it’s not an egocentric act of artistic dominance. By switching between his own deeply personal diary entries and a cast of questionable characters (including “Parisian drug dealers, ghosts above the plains, fallen surf heroes, [and] vampires”), McMahon keeps things cryptic and compelling, and proves his staying power as a storyteller with few equals.
Read our interview with Amen Dunes.
Georgia Anne Muldrow
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
Georgia Anne Muldrow has always used her music to speak truth to power and encourage the world to stay woke. But it was her complete embrace of love in all its forms, romantically, communally, and personally, that made Overload a celebration, even on forceful tracks like “Blam.” Overload reflected the kaleidoscopic beauty of the black culture and its music—jazz (“These Are The Things I Really Like About You”), soul (“Williehook (Skit)”), R&B (“Aerosol”), and hip-hop (“Play It Up”). What better way to empower those you love than by reveling in—and reminding them—of their beauty.
-Chaka V. Grier
Read our interview with Georgia Anne Muldrow.
Dur Dur of Somalia
Volumes 1, 2, & Previously Unreleased Tracks
Other Vinyl, Cassette, T-Shirt/Apparel, Compact Disc (CD)
Dur Dur Band were at the forefront of Somalia’s Golden Era—that vibrant period between the 1970s and late ’80s—but their music was almost lost forever. Thankfully, some of the original recordings survived: Analog Africa’s reissue combines Dur Dur’s first two albums, released in 1986 and 1987. The record is a testament to the band’s unique sound, which fused traditional Somali rhythms with global influences from disco, American soul, and Bollywood pop. With their soaring Somali vocals and deep-funk grooves, the tracks sound just as groundbreaking now as they surely did on Mogadishu’s dancefloors all that time ago.
-Megan Iacobini de Fazio
Read our Album of the Day on Volume 1 & 2: Previously Unreleased Tracks
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Apparel
Pig Destroyer know how to read a room. In 2018, a song called “Cheerleader Corpses” isn’t going to play the way it did in 2001. On Head Cage, the D.C. grind lifers eschew the Bukowskian serial killer diaries of the band’s back catalog in favor of leftist agitprop (“Army of Cops”), absurd humor (“The Adventures of Jason and JR”), and meditations on loss (“Mt. Skull”). Musically, it’s the grooviest, catchiest Pig Destroyer album to date, and a reminder that grindcore is a cousin of punk.
Read our interview with Pig Destroyer.
T-Shirt/Apparel, Cassette, 2 x Vinyl LP
Ensley mirrors a world characterized by hyper short news alerts and even shorter consumption cycles. The album’s 25 tracks mock the idea of attention span; Siifu’s songs fall in on themselves (“pops tired”), switch up vibe halfway through (“skin made of gold”), or take the form of 30-second vignettes consisting entirely of warped loops of Goodie Mob lyrics (“eye smile”). But throughout these constantly shifting backdrops, there’s a voice searching for a thoroughly old-fashioned salvation: guidance from a higher power. Ultimately, ensley is a hip-hop prayer.
Read our interview with Pink Siifu.
Paraffin is the sound of Billy Woods and ELUCID standing to the side of 2018’s scorched socio-political landscape and seething, “We told you so.” The MCs’ lyrics hit home hard, angry and rightfully distrustful of authority, summarized by Woods vowing, “Peace? Not this evening,” on the brooding “Alternate Side Parking.” Backed by production that balances dystopian experimentalism (“Rehearse With Ornette,” “Fuhrman Tapes”) with soulful requiems (“DETTOL,” “Root Farm”), the album is an openly politicized experience that’s either rallying cry or damning indictment—depending on which role you play in the system.
Read our feature on Backwoodz Studios.
Anna von Hausswolf
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
The fourth album by Sweden’s Anna von Hausswolff grapples with mortality, but the music is far from morose. In fact, Dead Magic is possibly her most triumphant release to date, offering uplifting crescendos propelled by rising rhythms, swelling guitars, and von Hausswolff’s seemingly-unlimited vocal powers. It helps that von Hausswolf recorded the organ parts in one of the largest churches in Scandinavia, giving the album’s cathartic bombast and even more epic feel. But it’s not the tools von Hausswolf used that make Dead Magic so intoxicating; it’s the transfixing vision and unswerving commitment she brings to every note that she utters.
Read our interview with Anna von Hausswolf.
Car Seat Headrest
Usually when someone talks about the idea of separating the “art from the artist,” they—and we—would be much better off if they just kept their mouth shut. But on Twin Fantasy, Will Toledo tackles that question from an entirely different angle, specifically: where is the line that separates reality and autobiographical art, and what is the point at which the latter begins to replace the former? Over the course of 72 minutes, Toledo recounts a true-life doomed love affair, while simultaneously wrestling with the idea of making art out of his life, and what happens to the recollection of real-life events when they become knotted up in a creative narrative. In that context, all of Toledo’s justifiably vaunted fourth-wall-breaking and pop culture referencing takes on new significance—the artist commenting on the art while the art is still in progress. That’s only half the genius of Twin Fantasy, though; the other half is in Toledo’s unerring sense for melody and his ability to construct cannonballing rock songs with 28 different interlocking sections that never feel overworked or overcooked. Twin Fantasy is the kind of album that teaches you how to listen to it while you’re listening to it, a dense, dizzying rock record that’s two parts Baudrillard, two parts Badfinger.
-J. Edward Keyes
Read our Album of the Day on Twin Fantasy.
Chaos reigns supreme on The Armed‘s second album, pulling us into the Detroit band’s pummeling mix of mangled electronics, poison-tipped pop hooks, and idiosyncratic hardcore. It’s as if the poorly named but dearly missed Genghis Tron came back from the dead to deliver another Kurt Ballou production alongside guillotine-like guitars and the pyrotechnic fills of Converge drummer Ben Koller. Heady and unhinged, this is one to play as the world burns.
In a Bandcamp interview a few months back, C.H.E.W. said their initial mission statement involved playing “Crass Records anarcho shit as fast as possible” and “weirdo Dead Kennedys stuff.” That sounds about right, although the powder keg punk on their debut album sharpens that template with an airtight mix, and welcome detours like the spoken word segue of “Gag Order” and the six-and-a-half-minute parting shot that is “Belly Up.”
Read our interview with C.H.E.W.
How to Socialise & Make Friends
Compact Disc (CD), Cassette, Vinyl LP
There were more than a handful of moments in 2018 where it seemed like the patriarchy’s stronghold was starting to show cracks, and Australia’s Camp Cope was there with the battering ram on How to Socialise & Make Friends. The songs on the record jump from nostalgic, bittersweet ballads to catchy pop screeds against misogyny, making it one of the most dynamic records of the year. Catchy ‘90s jangle pop with a feminine punk edge, How to Socialise & Make Friends is irresistibly hopeful.
Read our Album of the Day on How to Socialise and Make Friends.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Social media experts encourage artists to share their personal lives as much as they do their music—but 19-year-old rapper MIKE prefers to keep things hazy. Renaissance man feels like taking a peek into someone’s diary where half the words are faded and obscured: The texture is frayed and muddied, a beguiling sonic slush covering bars that combine smart wordplay with emotional confessionals, all of which are relayed in MIKE’s slurred voice. “I don’t really like attention, but I bring it around,” MIKE raps on “Time Will Tell,” grappling with the way his art—and life—is increasingly being watched by a wider audience.
Read our interview with MIKE.
Grid of Points
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
Grid of Points doesn’t quite stretch to 22 minutes, but Grouper mastermind Liz Harris decided that was long enough. She was right: anything more would have been too much. As it is, her 11th album feels like a loved one whispering goodbye. The seven tracks here are intimate and austere, even by Harris’s standards, and the way she layers quiet vocal harmonies over spare piano raises goosebumps. Harris’s distinctive vision and restrained approach have made Grouper one of the most compelling, if understated, acts in dream-pop and ambient music, a reputation that Grid of Points greatly enhances.
-Eric R. Danton
Read our Album of the Day on Grid of Points.