As has been my pattern for the last three years, I've been at motivation level zero for several weeks now and had to sort of force myself to scrape something together for year's end. Overall, my preferences for 2018 leaned toward a lot of hybridized emo/indie/pop-punk with only a dash of the more aggressive hardcore and metal fare. If that means I'm "getting soft" in my old age, well… I'm quite fine with that, actually. There's still a ton of stuff I haven't heard yet, though, which is in part why I never refer to these lists as the "best": they're just my favorites. It was a strong year, too, so I couldn't narrow it down to just 10 and 10. I actually tried to go for 13 and 13, but had to land on 12 each in the end. Here they are, alphabetized, as always…
The 1984 Draft, Makes Good Choices (Poptek Recs.)
The 1984 Draft kinda sets the tone for a good chunk of this year's list with a 30-minute album of solidly catchy emo/indie rock accompanied by a touch of pop-punk—plus an alt-folk twang that separates them from my other selections. This style just seems to be what got my attention most often this year, so if you dig quality songwriting and sincere performances, please don't sleep on this underrated gem. Make a good choice and find Makes Good Choices on Bandcamp and Spotify, or in physical form on LP or disc.
Actors, It Will Come to You (Artoffact)
I'll probably quote myself a fair amount below, because I'm too lazy to find new ways to restate prior commentary. With that out of the way, back in March I said that It Will Come to You "thoroughly impresses with its cinematically synthwaved brand of forlorn-yet-danceable post-punk that wanders through an early-2000's Interpol type of take on such influences; plus a lush, modernized air of darkness that brings individuality to Actors' approach." I've really become a sucker for this stuff over the last few years, but rarely do I encounter it delivered as sleekly as Actors do. The LP is on its third pressing, so I'll take that to mean that they're thankfully getting some of the recognition they deserve. It's still available on disc, too—both through Bandcamp—and you can find it on Spotify, of course.
Affasia, Adrift in Remorse (Transcending Records)
Adrift in Remorse was originally slated for inclusion amidst my favorites for 2017, but then its release date was pushed back to accommodate a CD pressing from Transcending Records, so here we are instead. If you enjoy crushing doom with plenty of atmosphere and emotion—à la October Tide, Novembers Doom, and the like—then Affasia ought to be on your playlist. This stellar EP took a few years to see completion, so I hope we'll get to hear some new material before 2023? For now, grab a CD, download for $1 through Bandcamp, or stream via Spotify.
Cane Hill, Too Far Gone (Rise)
I don't remember how I came across Cane Hill, and their style skews toward a much younger audience than what I'm typically able to click with, but Too Far Gone impressed me right off the bat, to the point where I bought up the band's entire discography in one shot. I guess you could say it's a Slipknot-ish form of grungy nu-metalcore, but buried amidst its discordant intricacies and churning modern grooves are some undeniable hooks. I think they're by far the most "popular" band on this list, but if they continue in this niche I could see them becoming pretty huge. Give Too Far Gone a spin on Bandcamp, Spotify, or Google around for LP/CD copies.
Extra Arms, Headacher (Get Party!/GTG)
Terrifyingly, I almost missed this album completely, simply because Extra Arms' first two pre-release singles caught me on a bad night. I'm so glad I decided to revisit 'em later, because Headacher kicks so much ass that I even ended up buying the two previous Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms albums, too! Self-described as a "loud pop band… known for writing crunchy rock songs in the vein of Superchunk, Sugar, and Teenage Fanclub," if that piques your interest, get on this shit, like, now. (But, just for the record, I own zero albums by Superchunk or Teenage Fanclub and still totally love these jams, so that's not a prerequisite!) Find it digitally or on limited edition LP from the band or Get Party! Records, on pro-duped CD-R from GTG Records, or via Spotify.
Inexorum, Lore of the Lakes (Gilead Media)
This list needs more fuckin' metal, and Lore of the Lakes delivers in full. Inexorum is an almost-solo project from one of my all-time favorite guitarists, Carl Skildum (Threadbare, Krakatoa, Antiverse, etc.), who here handles pretty much everything but bass—including the bulk of the production and mixing. Expect ferociously ripping yet constantly melodic '90s-styled black metal of the highest order. The label's description compares their work to Dawn, and as far as I'm concerned, that's all you should need to know. It's that good, folks. I'm still kicking myself for having waited just barely too long to score the aqua blue/cyan blue swirl vinyl, but at least I landed the transparent sea blue (which is also now gone), so… snag an LP while you still can. Otherwise, it's Bandcamp or Spotify for you!
P.S. Even though it didn't quite make the list, both members of Inexorum also performed on another of the finest and most overlooked metal albums of the year in Under the Regolith, by Antiverse. It's a serious Metal Blade- or Relapse-level scorcher that currently exists as but a mere 300 CD pressing on Seeing Red Records. It's nearly sold out, too, so hop to it!
Movin' in Stereo, My Dear Effigy (Self-Released)
The six-song, 18-minute debut from Movin' in Stereo got my attention quickly. I was nodding my head a few minutes into the first listen, starting to sing along by listen #2, and that was all it took. Any longtime reader will know how badly I nerd out over ridiculously catchy songs, and My Dear Effigy is full of 'em. With vocals somewhat reminiscent of Dave Smalley, there's a bit of a Down by Law or Dag Nasty vibe at times to their brand of good, rockin' pop-punk with great songwriting and production. Stream it on Spotify or YouTube, and if you're a vinyl head, definitely check it out as a one-sided 12" with an etched B-side!
Mystrionics, Mystrionics (Self-Released)
Mystrionics is a weird-ass band and you really can't pigeonhole whatever it is that they're doing. When I wrote about 'em earlier in the year, I compared them to everyone from Alice in Chains to Alien Ant Farm to The White Stripes to Mr. Bungle to Primus. I mean, that's weird, right? But they make it work. Their debut, digital-only EP is a truly original listen, and I'm hoping for some sort of physical manifestation of the band's music at some point soon. Like everything else, find it on Bandcamp or Spotify.
Reserving Dirtnaps & Tom Skeemask, Look at Us Wrong (Self-Released)
Early in 2018, Memphis, TN's Reserving Dirtnaps—one of the most underrated metallic hardcore groups out there right now—teamed up with local rap legend Tom Skeemask for this absolutely badass two-song EP. It kills me that the total running time is less than five minutes, too, 'cause this shit is hard as nails and I would be all over a full-length of this nature. So good. The world needs more collaborations like this, and I highly commend all involved for making this happen. Excellent. Grab a tape (while you still can) or mp3s through Bandcamp, or stream it at Spotify if that's where you're at.
Sea Lilies, Soonest (Tired as a Chicken)
I'm going in alphabetical order here, but the Sea Lilies are hands down my #1 favorite release of 2018, without a doubt. Accordingly, Soonest is also my most-played selection from this entire list. I called it in January, and here we are. In my full review, I referred to the band as "an almost weirdly perfect blend of angular, Dischord-styled post-hardcore/indie with little hints of emo and a rockin' catchiness that even borders on top-shelf—and mature!—pop-punk." Six songs, 14 minutes, and it rules. Some of the catchiest and most uniquely moving/energetic material I've heard in a very long time. I really don't get this genuinely excited about new music very often, but I'm absolutely in love with this EP: it's fuckin' incredible and deserves so much more attention. Find Soonest for free over at Bandcamp, stream it on Spotify, or be a decent human and grab the vinyl!
Search for Purpose, Eternal Emotion (Plead Your Case/Exact Change)
I have just about zero interest in contemporary bands performing traditional old school hardcore. However, I absolutely adore the slightly metallic yet very melodic brand of kinda-sorta straight-up hardcore that evolved during the early-'90s (and beyond)—especially in the realm of bands like Turning Point, so… I have been pretty psyched to stumble onto an increasing number of modern bands starting to explore that particular niche of the genre, and Search for Purpose is really nailing it—especially on the B-side of this excellent LP. Songs such as "Journey," "Eternal Emotion," and "Collapse" that branch out into more diversity and subtle intricacies point toward great things ahead. As with most everything else, Eternal Emotion is available on Bandcamp, Spotify, etc.
Shinobi, The World is Mine (Self-Released)
I've gushed and gushed about Shinobi dating back to the summer of 2016, and I'm gonna keep gushing until motherfuckers realize—as I have—just how much talent and potential these kids are sitting on. Three-song EP The World is Mine is by far the band's strongest outing to date, perfect for fans of any assorted range of '90s alt.-rock sounds—from obscure gems to mega-hit classics. If you haven't already, please give 'em a chance. You can find The World is Mine free on Bandcamp, streaming on Spotify, etc.
- Just remember that classic members of 25 ta Life are back, but with Fury of Five's James "Stikman" Ismean on vocals, and they released a ripping (and free) three-song EP called Hunting Season. You can't lose with that combo, people! Stream it here, or download it here!
- Did you miss Crowsview when I covered 'em a few months ago? If so, they're mandatory H8000 metalcore that literally sounds like a fusion of Kickback and Arkangel. Find Lost Resistance wherever you can!
- Count Catastrophic's debut LP won't be out in tangible form until next year, but it's been on Bandcamp and Spotify for a few months now. The hip-hop alter ego of Isaac Golub (A Chorus of Disapproval, A18, etc.) was the subject of much shit-talking online, but fuck that. I was super psyched on this project from the start, and hearing an artist branch out into something so different from what they're known for like this is always going to get my attention.
- 2014's Some Heavy Ocean is one of my favorite albums of the past decade, so I'm forever an Emma Ruth Rundle fan now. On Dark Horses hit the streets back in September and does not disappoint.
- The almighty Integrity released a killer split with Krieg, as well as a highly unexpected cover of Ozzy's "Bark at the Moon"!
- Labor Hex issued a really unique-sounding digital EP in Lost in Calling. They remain sorely underrated, and this material would make for a great little 7".
- Low Dose dropped one of the finest songs of the fucking year with "For Sure," and unless something terrible happens, I can personally guarantee you that their eventual album will be on my 2019 Year-End Favorites list. Believe it.
- Roy Batty quietly released their debut full-length just weeks ago, and they're one of the more unique bands you're likely to encounter these days. My take on their demo was to compare it to "creatively angular and obscure, weird, 'alternative' metal of the early-'90s, but given a deathrock-ishly dark and crusty punk edge filtered through a Voïvod-ian sensibility." Just check 'em out, alright? (This one's also available as a pro-duped CD-R, so if you contact the band, you can probably work something out.)
- In addition to Integrity, another of my all-time favorite bands, Starkweather, partook in an excellent split with Concealment. Each band contributes one 20- to 30-minute composition, and it's a murkily dissonant journey, to say the least…
- Had it come out earlier in the year, Statues' Adult Lobotomy may have had more time to work its way onto the main list above. Either way, the debut full-length featuring former members of Kevlar is a wonderful dose of punked-up indie rock excellence.
- Vein has been on my radar for a few years now, and with the release of Errorzone, I finally get the hype. Chaotically caustic yet inventive metalcore that comes across in a manner that I can't help but respect. More so than most, in this case, said hype is well-deserved.
- I wasn't ready for Voïvod when I was a kid, and even once I finally "got it," I stopped around 1993. So, there are six Voïvod albums that I never even bothered with. Well, The Wake just might change that. I considered the album for the main list above, but even though it didn't quite make the cut, there are some mind-blowingly slick songs on this thing. Like, just shockingly cool. Truly impressive.