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
Cassette, Vinyl LP
Few records captured the existential reality of millennial life in 2018 quite like Young Scum’s self-titled debut. By venting their quarter-life-crises through uncanny pairings of feel-good power chords and blunt melancholia, the Richmond band epitomized the confusion and dejection synonymous with quarter-life-crisis-suffering songs like “Freak Out” and “Crying At Work.” But Young Scum is ultimately a work of resilience, rather than woe: after all, it’s always darkest before the dawn.
-Angel E. Fraden
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
Even a garbage year deserves a great soundtrack, and Wimps provided 2018 with one of its finest via the aptly-titled Garbage People, a record that takes on heavy topics such as climate change, the pay gap, and pervasive anxiety about—well, everything, and turns them into infectious pop-punk songs shot through with a sardonic sense of humor that’s the aural equivalent of the smiling side-eye emoji. Wimps know instinctively how to balance gloominess with goofiness for songs that hit the “laughing, but also crying” target head on, as when they frame depression as a dance craze on the exuberant “Mope Around” e.g. “Everybody’s doing the mope around” or lament the disappearance of the bees by demanding to know, “What am I gonna eat?!” This band has been churning out solid records for years, but here they exhibit a newfound focus and fleshed out sound that’s far too cleverly executed to dismiss as mere punk frippery. Garbage People isn’t just a great Wimps record, it’s a great record, period.
In 2017, trumpeter Jaimie Branch leapt into the spotlight with Fly Or Die, an amazing 21st century take on free jazz. In 2018, she returned as one-half of Anteloper, a duo with drummer Jason Nazary. On Kudu, both Branch and Nazary split time between their primary instruments and synthesizer. The result is a suite of five tracks, most running between nine and 15 minutes, that dribble and ooze, rattle and squawk, marrying synthwave primitivism to spluttering trumpet eruptions.
Read our Album of the Day on Kudu.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Apparel
Fire-Toolz’s newest album is an ode to the quest for knowledge in the internet age, where lack of access is less an issue than information overload, and we suffer under the weight of surveillance and corporations that may not exactly have their users’ best interests at heart. Operating from a vaporwave blueprint, Skinless X-1 is predominately melodic—at times, it leans close to New Age territory—until it’s punctured by Angel Marcloid’s blackened shrieks. On Skinless X-1, Marcloid unites club music, smooth jazz, technical metal, hip-hop, noise, and pop to create curious and oddly appealing work—an album that could come from no one else, at no other time.
Read our interview with Fire-Toolz.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
On Molly Nilsson’s eighth studio album, the synth-pop artist finds herself considering personal fallibilities and uncertain futures. Twenty Twenty is a fascinating record that explores multilayered and intimate themes, using elements of Eurodance and pop music past to tie it all together. Confessional yet confident, Nilsson’s voice adds extra dimension to her songs, waxing melancholy on the peppiest tracks and championing vulnerability on the anthemic. The album is powered by a sense of optimism; there is a better future to be had, for sure, but it’s up to us to build it.
Read our interview with Molly Nilsson.
Children of Zeus
2 x Vinyl LP, Other Vinyl, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
Few records released this year were as clear-eyed as the debut full-length from the Manchester duo Children of Zeus. Over the course of its 12 songs, Konny Kon and Tyler Daley document their day-to-day lives in the kind of language that’s so specific and so beautifully executed that each lyric burrows its way under the skin. There are no generalities here; on “Kintsugi,” Kon personalizes professional disappointment, rapping, “Failure, setbacks, heartbreak…I’ve been door-to-door / Record deal, passed every office like a Scooby-Doo corridor / I forgot, all my dreams got pried by a nine-five salary real quick.” On “Hoodman2Manhood,” Daley sings, “Now that I’m grown, I don’t play no games like we used to play / …I’m just trying to get out and get paid / Teach my son to be someone / Provide all the tools that he needs / So he can grow to be a man like me.” It’s that candor and directness that makes Travel Light feel so true and so lived-in. That the music gently nods toward the sound of ‘90s hip-hop and R&B gives those personal lyrics specific context—like Kon and Daley, the people who grew up on that music now face different struggles and hardships than they did back then. Travel Light is an album to soundtrack this phase of their lives.
-J. Edward Keyes
Read our interview with Children of Zeus.
On their mercilessly tight debut EP, Melbourne’s Pinch Points deliver bright power-pop, bound together with jangling riffs and bratty dual vocals. Heavy guitar is the order of the day; the tracks on Mechanical Injury swing from minimal post-punk to upbeat garage rock with breathless intensity. The magnum opus is “Ground Up – System Failure,” a surfy, six-minute affair that takes a jaundiced view of our technologically augmented contemporary life. “I’m not a human being, I’m part of the machine, and that’s all right with me,” both singers shout. They’re being sarcastic; no album this intense and full of life could be the product of robotics.
EPs 1 – 8
Vinyl LP, Cassette
In one of 2018’s best surprises, Beastmaker guitarist/vocalist (and, as it turns out, bassist and drummer, too) Trevor Church gave his fans eight EPs over the course of a single month, each containing four songs, each priced at $1. The music here is bare-bones biker-doom in the vein of Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus, Trouble, et al., but it’s also a leap forward for the group; the songs on these EPs frequently rock harder than either of Beastmaker’s two Rise Above full-lengths, delivering joyously simplistic retro thrills. Riff, wail, solo, repeat. What else do you need?
Read our interview with Beastmaker.
Starchild & The New Romantic
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
It isn’t the fact that Bryndon Cook’s voice at times sounds like Prince—which it does on “Black Diamond”—that makes Language so special. Nor is it the fact that he has a stunning way of elegantly blurring genres (“Hangin On”). Nor is it that his music feels like a thrilling expansion on the work of other similarly adventurous artists, like Solange and Blood Orange. It’s Language’s refreshingly honest, vulnerable, and self-exploratory approach that makes it hit so hard. Cook’s songs draw on a variety of genres—R&B, blues, funk, bright electro-pop—but on tracks like “Can I Come Over?,” it’s clear that these are just anchors; Cook uses the past to build a solid foundation so he can reach toward a sound that’s all his own.
-Chaka V. Grier
Read our interview with Starchild & the New Romantic.
In Death’s Dream Kingdom
This massive compilation of brooding, somnambulant tracks from the electronic and experimental realm sprawls across four LPs, but all 25 songs share a single throughline. Each artist takes the phrase “In death’s dream kingdom,” a line from T.S. Eliot’s bleak masterpiece “The Hollow Men,” as inspiration. The results are both varied and fascinating: Pan Daijing’s haunting electroacoustic ruminations; Peder Mannerfelt’s (of Fever Ray) short, rhythmic piece with blossoming changes in scale; and a dark, gently shifting dance track from Yves De Mey. In Death’s Dream Kingdom is both a snapshot of a musical movement, and a harrowing journey into the dark.
Compact Disc (CD)
On Full Circle, Eddie Palmieri—El Maestro, 81 years young this year—revisits eight of his most renowned compositions. The songs—all of them classic standards in the salsa/Latin jazz tradition (including two versions of “Vámonos Pa’l Monte”)—turn Palmieri’s solos into lessons on how to masterfully play the silences between notes; we’ll be analyzing the color and texture of Palmieri’s pauses for years to come. Full Circle presents a comprehensive musical vision of Caribbean post-bop salsa that’s been decades in the making—and will take just as long to fully unpack.
-Catalina Maria Johnson
Read our interview with Eddie Palmieri.
Thalia Zedek Band
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
There’s Don Corleone’s advice: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” And then there’s Thalia Zedek’s: “Keep your enemies by your side and in your arms.” She’s always been a bit extra. But the way she delivers this lyric, all heart, with her trademark gorgeously gruff voice, is also a reminder that Zedek’s been one of the most consistent rock presences of the past 30-plus years. (See also Uzi, Live Skull, Come, and her other rock band E, which also released a sharp album this year.) Written before and right after the 2016 elections, suffused with sky-crying violin and cello, “Fighting Season” simmers and haunts with a melancholia all Zedek’s own.
Read our interview with Thalia Zedek.
As evidenced by its ubiquity on year-end lists such as this one (not to mention the various errorzone–related memes circulating the web), the debut LP by Massachusetts posse Vein served as a major flashpoint for the year in heavy music: glitched-out punk hardware that the famously-fickle hardcore, metal, and even electronic communities could get behind. The fleeting doses of turn-of-the-century nostalgia throughout—delivered via nü-metal riffs, Resident Evil references, and rave-ready breakbeats—lend the delirious spectacle familiarity, but never comfort, because in the eyes of these mad scientists, sentiment and savagery are one and the same. Now that’s a breakthrough.
Quit the Curse
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
The love stories—from crushes to heartbreak—on Quit The Curse ring true because they’re so precise, addressing the intimate moments pop music sometimes ignores. One minute, Burch is characterizing her attraction to her love interest’s indifference; the next, she’s considering the post-honeymoon stage of a relationship. She wraps all of these observations in thoughtfully crafted and incredibly catchy guitar hooks that draw fondly on ’90s alt-rock a là Liz Phair for inspiration, while also twinkling with their own unique sense of nostalgia and anguish. Though Quit The Curse is Burch’s formal solo debut, it’s also a testament to the years she has spent honing her craft in bands like Frontier Ruckus and Failed Flowers; that she steps up to the plate with an album so detailed and polished is not a surprise, but it is, nevertheless, a delight.
You Won’t Get What You Want
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP, Cassette
This mouthful of venom, which kicks off verse two of “The Reason They Hate Me”—a 14-word warning Daughters’ Alexis Marshall issues with so much terrifying, truculent glee that only all-caps formatting can do it justice—doubles as the mission statement for the Rhode Island noise-rockers’ first album in eight years. That’s some sage advice, curse words notwithstanding: against this unapologetically misanthropic, violently paranoid backdrop, You Won’t Get What You Want proceeds at a calculated pace, scaling back the sheer ugliness now for dalliances into more conventional territory. Daughters, one; gimmie-gimmie sons of bitches, zero.
Read our interview with Daughters.
Kryptonyte’s self-titled album is unapologetically dark. Brutal, aggressive lyrics are paired with diabolical beats that hearken back to the ‘90s, when gangsta rap reigned, and the notion of an emotional rapper like Drake topping the charts was unfathomable. Yet beneath its desolate rhymes and icy worldview runs a current of 1970s street-inspired R&B and soul; sonically, it suggests a complicated history of lives lived on the margin, where corrupt love and early death are a given, and survival is the only thing that matters.
-Chaka V. Grier
Compact Disc (CD)
Humanity having since supplicated itself before the altar of the algorithm (praise be unto Alexa!) it’s easy to think of manmade perfection as a dead concept: what good is flesh and blood against mathematically-ensured perfection? Body, the 20th album from the Necks, refutes that notion across 56 mesmerizing minutes, without uttering a single word. Nearly 30 years in, the Australian cult trio still keep primal repetition paramount, lulling the listener into a soothing, hypnotic state with finely-textured, perfectly-sustained grooves. Then, midway through the piece, the Necks zap us back to reality with a sudden pivot to psych-rock, marking a stylistic first for the band, as well as a moment of reassurance for us. Maybe, just maybe, our species isn’t so doomed after all.
Read our interview with The Necks.
Compact Disc (CD), 2 x Vinyl LP
Art-pop artist Happy Rhodes is a perfect candidate for a Numero Group compilation—a lifelong independent artist with a cult following and magnificent talents (the obvious Kate Bush comparison make sense, both in terms of sonic similarities and unique perspectives). Her discography is treated here with loving care; these tracks, culled from her mid-’80s output (her late teens and early 20s), show off her expansive vision, four-octave range, synth and guitar prowess, and songwriting chops. The landscape she travels here is internal, with literary references (“Would That I Could”), odes to resilience (“Because I Learn”), and potential connections (“Come Here”). It’s gorgeous, affecting, fascinating music; entering Happy Rhodes’s world feels like entering a gate to a mythic world full of comforting horrors and peculiar wonders.
Read our interview with Happy Rhodes.
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Apparel
Windhand’s fourth full-length, their second with grunge sound-sculptor Jack Endino behind the board, makes Dorthia Cottrell’s sorrowful, wailing vocals the focus, as her three bandmates crank out slow-motion, fuzzed-out doom riffs. The result is half Acid King, half Mazzy Star, with occasional side trips into campfire balladry (“Pilgrim’s Rest”) or jams so outward bound they’re almost shoegaze (“Diablerie”). Eternal Return was a perfect October release, a soundtrack to falling leaves and unexpectedly cold winds… or staying inside to avoid the same.
Read our interview with Windhand.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Amnesia Scanner’s first LP is a bulldozer of an experimental club record, with songs that both embrace technology and eye it warily. It’s queasy, groaning songs benefit from a pair of assists—one from experimentalist Pan Daijing, and another from a disembodied, distorted voice the duo calls “Oracle.” That voice snakes between massive beats and swirling synths, on songs that combine influences as varied as gabber, nu-metal, and dark ambient. With so many dizzying styles at play, Another Life could feel fractured; instead, it’s both deeply chilling and utterly absorbing.