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
Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
Spunky Nashville duo Sad Baxter’s grunge throwback, the delightful So Happy EP, packs a harder punch than its slim 6-song track listing might suggest, thanks to smart songwriting that zig zags audaciously through the extremes of human emotion, and the coolest use of chorus and distortion since, well, you know. Guitarist Deezy Violet’s riffs are as scabby as they are catchy, her songwriting instincts as pop as her spirit is punk. Her lyrics are frank and fearless, whether she’s excoriating an abuser or singing words of love. But she’s also got a keen eye for the absurd, beginning the happiest (and final) song on the EP by declaring, “I was born in a funeral home in the South!”
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
An extended musing on trauma, sex, intimacy, and the self, The Drought ups the sonic scale of Frederikke Hoffmeier’s Puce Mary project, leavening harrowing, personal revelations with tightly-composed power electronics and a miasma of contorted field recordings. The resulting songs drip with so much dread and desperation, you’d think they were recorded in a charnel house; such is the transcendent power of Hoffmeier’s pain.
Read our interview with Puce Mary.
At Your Leisure
The enduring appeal of ‘90s-style indie rock is tied up in its inherent failures, like the way it chokes warm, nostalgic melody with barbed-wire discord, abrading potential gold sounds until they’re nothing but rusted brass. With their second album, Chicago quartet Clearance found themselves perched at that very spot, right where optimism curdles into disappointment — and then lept forth with the perfect soundtrack for those of us who just can’t seem to get their shit together, and in a sense, are all the better for it.
The three pillars of Kev Brown’s ridiculously long-awaited sophomore solo LP are as follows: impeccable beats, soldered to finely-chopped, expertly-rearranged samples; at-the-ready bars, driven by poetry that’s both perpetually insightful and rhythmically deft; and the sound of you, the attuned listener, uttering out “Uhn” every few bars — because it’s that damn good. Across 29 (!) tracks, Brown hops seamlessly from soulful instrumentals to soul-bearing vocals, belying an ascetic creative discipline and a sharp reverence for his craft. Ultimately, Homework lives up to its title in that you’ll learn from it, but unlike a term paper or a math test, it’s actually fun.
Read our interview with Kev Brown.
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Striking a tuneful balance between intimate acoustic balladry and sprawling folk rock, Ned Collette’s resonant double album, Old Chestnut, solidified his reputation as one of Australia’s most talented auteurs. The cast of characters populating these 14 tracks is a marvel in and of itself; consider the dejected tableau opening “Thanks Richard,” which presents not one, not two, but three lifelike portraits in a single verse: Michael (“a misanthrope…he likes to play around with his girl”), Shannon Imogen (“a student now…she likes to play around with the canon”) and Frederike, who just “takes it slow and makes sure all the men she knows/can talk before they sing her to the stars.” It’s less an album than a love-worn, dog-eared novel in musical form, presented by the best pensmith you’ve never heard of…yet.
Sonido Gallo Negro
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
Those braving times of unsettling magical realism found strange succor in the whirling electro-cumbia of Sonido Gallo Negro’s Mambo Cosmico. Less a record than a ritual on wax, the Mexican band’s third effort galvanized sprightly electric guitars, percussion flurries, and eerie theremin into an unbreakable protection spell; consider the ghostly chorals on “Catemaco” (a sly reference to a town in Veracruz famed for its witches, or brujería) a facsimile for the band’s true gift: making discordant forces thrum in perfect harmony in spite of the odds.
On her third release, and first recorded in a studio, Risa Rubin widens her lyrical purview and musical vocabulary for a record that’s more formally structured and spacious in scope than 2016’s Jewish Unicorn, though no less playfully experimental in spirit. Pulling elements from sound collage, soundscapes, and the most skeletally sketched of folk songs, Rubin and producer Phil Hartunian create an atmosphere both calming and slightly eerie via hypnotic loops of nebulous harp lines, cascading over booming, march-like beats and only the sparest of ornamentation. Yet there’s a steeliness underpinning Rubin’s explorations of the artistic life. Beneath her affected voice and nursery rhyme lyrics is a tough-as-nails creative ambition that demands to be recognized. When Rubin warbles, “One day they will know my name,” believe her.
Read our Album of the Day on I’m Reliving the End…
For My Crimes
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
On the title track for her eighth LP, Marissa Nadler sings from the perspective of a prisoner, pleading: “Please don’t remember me for my crimes.” And yet, For My Crimes remains nothing short of memorable, peddling lasting tales of heartbreak and loss — invariably enshrouded in mournful arrangements which attest to Nadler’s bewitching command of guitar and voice. Factor in the intermittent cellos sweeping across the record, and you’re left with a potent musical balm that’ll soothe fresh and lasting aches alike, for years to come.
Read our Album of the Day on For My Crimes.
Compact Disc (CD), 2 x Vinyl LP
The Scars of Man on the Once-Nameless Wilderness found Kentucky multi-instrumentalist Austin Lunn cleaving Panopticon’s folk-metal into two equally-formidable halves: a majestic, longform black-metal album, followed by a subdued set of Appalachian folk songs. That the latter portion contains scant traces of metal — save a hint of blackgaze in “At the Foot of the Mountain” — didn’t impede the album’s power in the least; by infusing familiar, uplifting acoustic sounds with blackened rage, Lunn solidified Scars as one of 2018’s most bewildering, crushing metal albums.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
With their debut album as Olden Yolk, Shane Butler & Caity Shaffer defy the idea that tightly-wound and loosely-bound are mutually exclusive musical concepts. In wrapping layers of hazy psychedelic rock, acoustic folk, and midcentury jangle-pop around lightly motorik rhythms, Butler & Shaffer galvanize their vintage inspirations into an album full of pleasant drifts and dreamy glides, its errant, instrumental curlicues ripening into deep-listening bliss.
Rapper Solemn Brigham brought a steadfast linearity to the table with his collaborative LP alongside fellow North Carolinian L’Orange — Brigham’s drive was exactly what the time-traveling producer ordered for Marlowe’ collection of hook-free loop licks, which sounds like something out Dilla’s production playbook. Think of it less as an album than a 18-track wall of words, immovable and everlasting.
“They said we couldn’t evolve! They said we couldn’t evolve, Lasso!” That’s Lando Chill, talking to his co-conspirator, the producer Lasso, at the opening of Black Ego’s second song. Whoever it was who said Lando and Lasso were stagnating doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Now three for three on great records, Lando Chill uses Black Ego as an opportunity to push into even more uncharted territory, brewing together Maggot Brain-era Funkadelic, Dirty South hip-hop, and Sly Stone circa There’s a Riot into a woozy, hallucinogenic concoction. And while the lyrical throughline is looser here than it was on last year’s excellent The Boy Who Spoke to the Wind, the more you listen, the more specific themes appear and reappear. Black Ego is another leap forward for an artist whose only aesthetic rule is constant evolution.
-J. Edward Keyes
Read our interview with Lando Chill.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
According to the newly-sober Lillie West, aka Lala Lala, The Lamb was born amid a period of intense paranoia spurned by a home invasion and multiple family tragedies. West parlayed the products of this turmoil into hazy post-punk dreamscapes, with shifting emotional topography to match: songs like “I Get Cut” and “When You Die” build out that visceral sense of hope with exuberantly-chanted choruses and indeniably fuzzed-out guitar riffs, presenting dread from a new, more anthemic perspective. The end result is a portrait of the artist trying to make sense of a chaotic world — and succeeding.
Read our interview with Lala Lala.
Peel Dream Magazine
Modern Meta Physic
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
The inaugural, self-titled effort from Modern Meta Physic — the brainchild of Brooklyn-based musician Joe Stevens — is a love letter to the insular, handspun sounds of ’80s and ’90s dream pop as pioneered by Low, Lush, and others. Songs like “Interiors” rank among the coziest of 2018, with fuzzy refrains that unspool slowly and softly, revealing the record writ large as the musical equivalent of a well-loved, one-of-a-kind mohair sweater.
Capricho Del Diablo
San Cha’s latest album may be inspired by the devil, but the result is a spiritual guide to healing, rooted in the mariachi, bolero, and ranchera of the singer’s native Mexico. From the goth cumbia guitar on “Me Demandó” to the Caribbean drums of “Desesperada” and her version of the classic bolero “Historia de un Amor,” San Cha pulls influence from across the Latin diaspora to craft a sound at once comforting, familiar, and wildly unique.
Read our Album of the Day on Capricho Del Diablo.
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
On LONER, Caroline Rose trades her folk roots in for dizzyingly witty pop-rock that skillfully veers from cruel criticism to palpable joy without slipping into the unwitting self-parody that plagues humorous music. Its songs are all undercut by a sense of longing: insatiable yearnings for human intimacy, for financial prosperity, and above all, for a complete understanding of death itself. The lyrics might be weighty stuff, but Rose smartly develops the arrangements as fizzy, precise barbwire-joys, with spritely organ lines and bouncy guitar riffs that create a tuneful buffer state.
Weirdly invisible in a sea of rapturous press about minimalist post-punk bands, Glasgow’s Vital Idles crush the form in their own unpretentious way on first full-length, Left Hand. This is a record about disassociation and alienation from polite society, mirrored in the way the band’s songs always seem to be teetering on the edge of cacophony, their touch of C86 jangle threatening to unspool into dissonance. It’s an inherently menacing approach that results in music as nervy as it is thrilling. Vital Idles’ earlier singles fell on the more shambling end of post-punk, but on Left Hand, they put a lot of space between the band members for a record that allows for every unusually bent note, every purposefully flat inflection to ring clear as bell. Though these songs are wound as tight as a spring, there’s a lackadaisical quality in their delivery, perhaps due to Jessica Higgins’ jaded vocals. “I’m a tourist in this place,” she sings on the loping “Geraniums,” her voice betraying just the barest hint of emotion. “I’m not sure of staking my claim…I maybe can/ But I probably won’t.”
Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It
Sheffield, England’s Rolo Tomassi pushed their anarchic, artful spazzcore to preternatural heights on Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It: a somber, post-hardcore maelstrom comprising their most dynamically sophisticated, not to mention agreeable, material to date. Perhaps a bit ironically, the band’s heavier reliance on dulcet vocal melodies and ambient elegance reinforces, rather than represses, their pre-established fury; Rolo Tomassi’s raison d’être as a band has embodied a tug-of-war between refinement and rancor from the very start, and the emboldened crossover contrasts on Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It uphold that commitment to cathartic intent so that we, the humble listeners, may reap those deafening rewards.
Fit of Body
Black Box No Cops
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP, Cassette
You could call Black Box No Cops “lo-fi house,” but that appellation misses what makes Ryan Parks’s Fit of Body project so special (the title of the album is a reference to a skate park in Parks’s hometown of Atlanta). Parks is able to balance personal intimacy, humor, and political statement in a way many strive for but few achieve. These tracks gently bump, fizz, and burble, Parks’s whispered vocals sweet (“Rose Water”) and cheeky (“Sophisticated Adult Entertainment”) in equal measure, while samples address present-day black experiences in America. This one feels like a lovingly crafted miniature, a gift from Parks to us, sincere without being saccharine, as groovy as it is heady.
On Álbum Desconhecido, Lisbon-via-Manchester producer P.Adrix accomplishes more in one two-minute track than most electronics musicians manage in a lifetime. Adrix’s white-knuckle approach on this release roguishly combines the African-inspired beats of Portuguese batida with the one-nation-under-a-woofer post-genre throb of UK bass and a touch of Mancunian melancholy. Add in razor-sharp editing and a serious ear for a hook, and you have 24 of the most exciting minutes of electronic music we bugged out to all year.