From the beginning to its joyful end, 2018 has been nothing but a godsend for music. While there were, of course, the obligatory duds and the few records that made you wonder if the gift of hearing was actually a curse, there were more releases to celebrate this year than not. As a friendly reminder, this list is simply my own opinion and is not in any way meant to reflect any sort of objective ranking. You might love my picks or you may completely hate them. If you find yourself shaking your head feel free to leave your list in the comments below. So without further delay here are A Diverse Sound’s top 25 albums of 2018!
25. Elder Brother: Stay Inside
Emo has had a bit of an underwhelming run this year but Elder Brother’s sophomore record, Stay Inside, gave listeners a much-needed reprieve from the seemingly endless dim-a-dozen emo bands that flood Bandcamp on the daily. It’s a delectably warm slow-burn of a record that has only grown on me more with time.
Songs to hear: “You and Me Forever,” “Sway,” “Wish You Were Here,” “I Don’t Miss You.”
24. Foxing: Nearer My God
Turning to one of the more surprising records of the year, emo staples Foxing made a complete 180-degree turnaround with their latest record, Nearer My God. Boasting larger than life production with eccentric melodies that recall Modest Mouse’s most offbeat moments, this 2018 gem never ceases to surprise and enthral. The record is a bit of a mess at points but it hits the sweet spot more often than not on songs like the stunning opener “Grand Paradise,” the groove-laden “Gameshark,” and the subdued closer “Lambert” that sounds like a lost highlight on The National’s Sleep Well Beast. It’s an achievement the band should be proud of and I can’t wait to hear where they go next.
Songs to hear: “Grand Paradise,” “Lich Prince,” “Gameshark,” “Nearer My God,” “Lambert.”
23. Night Verses: From The Gallery of Sleep
When you picture an instrumental record you would typically think of a sweeping, orchestral score or a tracklist filled with graceful piano pieces. What you might not picture is a heavy metal record brimming with technical guitar solos, ice-cold production, and vicious breakdowns. What makes this record truly incredible is the way the band pieces everything together. The music sounds like a living, breathing entity that’s always morphing from one form into another without ever sounding like something else entirely. It’s easily one of 2018’s most electrifying experiences.
Songs to hear: You can pick from any song here but highlights include “Trading Shadows,” “Vice Wave,” “No. 0,” and “Earthless.”
22: Blurred City Lights: Volker
Of the vast number of Shoegaze records released this year it was Blurred City Lights’ latest project that won me over. Volker can sound a little menacing at first due to its near industrial textures and heavy atmosphere, but as the dark moments give way to the beautiful and serene, it’s impossible not to be swept up and enchanted by it all.
Songs to hear: “Secrets,” “Night Crawlers,” “Don’t Let Go,” “Argue Till We Die.”
21. Cursive: Vitriola
A number of bands made a big return this year and among those was emo veterans Cursive with the quirky and effortlessly enjoyable Vitriola. Not since The Ugly Organ has the band sounded this revitalized and creatively unhinged. From the eerie and musically intense “It’s Gonna Hurt” to the epic closer “Noble Soldier,” for some of the most addictive grooves of the year, look no further.
Songs to hear: “It’s Gonna Hurt,” “Under the Rainbow,” “Ouroboros,” “Noble Soldier / Dystopian Lament.”
20. Toby Driver: They Are The Shield
It’s been barely a year since Toby Driver (of Kayo Dot and maudlin in the well respectively) released his debut solo effort, Madonnawhore, yet his latest venture into the exquisite world of chamber-pop shows no signs of a hasty or sloppy composition. The violins make up the majority of sounds, giving the record a dark, medieval vibe, while the latter half of the record gives way to more nuanced, ambient passages of music and it’s all utterly beautiful.
Songs to hear: “Glyph,” “470 Nanometers,” “Knot.”
19. The Innocence Mission: Sun On The Square
The Innocence Mission is one of those hidden treasures of the indie world that, when discovered by some dedicated music lover, reveals years upon years worth of beautiful material. Sun On The Square is the husband and wife duo’s twelfth studio record and they’ve only grown more graceful and kind with age. It’s like the audio equivalent of a deeply heartfelt and romantic animated film set in France or Venice and I couldn’t love it more.
Songs to hear: “Green Bus,” “Shadow of the Pines,” “Light of Winter,” “An Idea of Canoeing.”
18. Low: Double Negative
In 2016 the easygoing country gentlemen, humorously known as Lambchop, released a highly experimental yet subtly stunning foray into electronic music with their record FLOTUS. Low, the legendary slowcore group behind such classics as I Could Live In Hope and The Curtain Hits The Cast, has done a similar thing with Double Negative and the result is nearly as captivating and disorientating as the ‘Chop’s attempt. Inspired by drone and noise-rock and drenched with distortion and reverb, Double Negative is a different beast altogether for the group. Yet, despite the sea of electronic fuzz layering these songs, Double Negative is undoubtedly a Low album from beginning to end.
Songs to hear: “Quorum,” “Fly,” “Tempest,” “Dancing and Fire,” “Disarray.”
17. Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog
Bark Your Head Off, Dog has a deceptively dense sound for a record that aims to lighthearted, cheerful, and bouncy. Unlike Double Negative’s deluge of studio effects, you won’t find any sort of trickery here. Instead, the songs boast unconventional structures and a sporadic delivery. And it’s all so, so nice. If you’ve had a rough year let Hop Along sooth your soul for a minute or two.
Songs to hear: “Somewhere a Judge,” “Not Abel,” “The Fox In Motion,” “Look of Love.”
16. Novo Amor: Birthplace
On his debut full-length, Novo Amor walks deep into the misty, overcast forest that birthed Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago and adds his own touch of majesty to the gloomy backdrop. Amor’s breathy falsetto croons over solemn horns and the plucking of guitar strings and as the music grows and swells so does the world the record abides in reveals its grandeur. Needless to say, fans of Bon Iver, Sigur Ros, and similar artists should jump on this up and coming songwriter immediately.
Songs to hear: “Emigrate,” “Seneca,” “State Lines,” “Repeat Until Death.”
15. John Van Deusen: (I Am) Origami Pt.2 – Ever Power Wide Awake
Inspired by the words of the renowned theologian Oswald Chambers, Every Power Wide Awake is a collection of intimate and beautiful songs about the love, majesty, and joy of following our Lord Jesus Christ. The songs themselves have this down to earth quality to them that’s incredibly easy to love; at the same time, they’re filled with creative twists and turns that keep listeners wondering what’s around the corner. The only certain thing is that it is all wonderful.
Songs to hear: “None Other,” “With Every Power Wide Awake,” “Sparrow and the Seed,” “Holy Mountain.”
14. Brandi Carlile: By The Way, I Forgive You
Sometimes the difference between a good record and a remarkable one is an incredible voice and country/folk singer Brandi Carlile delivers such in spades on her latest record, By The Way, I Forgive You. At times exploding with grandiosity like on the stunning “The Joke” and the gloriously raucous “Hold Out Your Hand,” at others, it’s painfully vulnerable and heartfelt. When her voice isn’t leaving you speechless the songwriting will have you reaching for the tissues.
Songs to hear: “The Joke,” “Hold Out Your Hand,” “Whatever You Do,” “Party Of One.”
13. The Joy Formidable: Aaarth
As the opener to The Joy Formidable’s latest record explodes into a ferocious display of riffs and metallic shrieks it’s difficult not to feel a sense of awe at the auditory spectacle. Similar in style and sound to mewithoutYou’s latest behemoth, Aaarth is a portrait of The Joy Formidable at the peak of their craft. At once musically vicious and serene, the band throws in plenty of alt-rock and atmospheric influences to keep listeners on their toes.
Songs to hear: “Y Bluen Eira,” “Cicada (Land On Your Back),” “All In All,” “Absence.”
12. The Armed: Only Love
This thing is balls-to-the-wall insane. In fact, it’s so unrelentingly chaotic that at first glance it all sounds a bit like a blur of indistinguishable noise. And I flipping love it. But make no mistake, Only Love is more than clashing guitars and ruthless vocals. On occasion, superb melodies rise to the surface, the presence of female vocals as deranged as the male lead adds its own twisted charm, the instrumentation displays a diverse range of styles, and the production glistens with quality. It definitely won’t be for everyone but for those who like their metal a little “out there,” downloading Only Love for free on Bandcamp is a no-brainer.
Songs to hear: “Role Models,” “Fortune’s Daughter,” “Luxury Themes,” “On Jupiter.”
11. William Ryan Key: Thirteen and Virtue
When Ryan Key took over Yellowcard the band quickly became one of the greatest, most memorable pop/punk acts of the 2000s and onwards. To their fans, their music meant the world, and a lot of it had to do with Key’s relatable lyrics and down-to-earth delivery. Key’s solo venture has, thus far, been just as special. These two eps represent some of the best material Key has ever penned and having the chance to experience him bloom as a singer/songwriter is truly exciting.
Songs to hear: “Form and Figure,” “Great Unknown,” “Mortar and Stone,” “No More, No Less.”
10. Rivers and Robots: Discovery
Behind the scenes, Rivers and Robots has been casually tinkering away and crafting some of CCM’s most innovative and soulful music. On Discovery, the group explores an intoxicating and delightfully warm blend of lush, dream-pop numbers and vulnerable, slow-burning ballads. Like a ray of sunshine beaming through an early morning haze, Discovery fills a tired soul with hope and excitement for a new day.
Songs to hear: “Dreams,” “Burn For You,” “Overflow,” “Forevermore.”
9. Hopesfall: Arbiter
With 99s The Frailty of Words and 2002’s cult classic, The Satellite Years, Hopesfall became a well-loved staple of the post-hardcore scene. Arbiter arrives ten years after their initial disbandment and it is everything a fan could have asked for. Its spacey textures, reminiscent of the band’s earlier works, are soaked in mid-2000s nostalgia without falling into the trap of sounding dated or uninspired. Arbiter is a fine example of what happens when a group of friends come together to make music for the simple fun of it.
Songs to hear: “H.A. Wallace Space Academy,” “I Catapult,” “To Bloom,” “Indignation and the Rise of the Arbiter.”
8. The Choir: Bloodshot
Divorce is one of the most painful things to happen to a couple and yet, in this day and age, it seems to be becoming an all too common occurrence. On Bloodshot, The Choir masterfully explore the heavy subject through their signature melancholic aesthetic, never shying away from the pain and heartbreak of the event nor making light of the redemption that comes from acknowledging the sin and problem that caused it. It’s a hard listen to be sure but one that needs to be heard.
Songs to hear: “Bloodshot,” “Bird, Bewildered,” “The Dizzy Wounded,” “The Time Has Come.”
7. Andrew Peterson: Resurrection Letters Vol. 1
You can trust Andrew Peterson to release the best CCM record of the year. Resurrection Letters Vol. 1 is a masterful celebration of the Easter story, brimming with joy, gratitude and, above all, worship and awe of our Saviour and His victory over death. It’s a profound remembrance and one that will continue to impact my faith and the faith of whoever listens for years to come.
Songs to hear: “His Heart Beats,” “Remember Me,” “Remember and Proclaim,” “Is He Worthy?”
6. Metric: Art of Doubt
Somewhere along the way, following the release of 2009’s Fantasize, Metric became a little unsure of themselves as they attempted to play around with elements of synth-pop and new wave. Art of Doubt shows the group going back to their roots while subtly mixing in the styles they were dabbling in. Revelling in spunk, groove, and a surprising amount of musical grit, Art of Doubt is among the best pop/rock records I’ve heard in a long time.
Songs to hear: “Dark Saturday,” “Love You Back,” “Now Or Never Now,” “Underlined in Black,” “Risk,” the list goes on.
5. Vansire: Angel Youth
On their stunning sophomore record, Vansire craft a warm and subtle lo-fi bedroom-pop album that erupts with young adult sentimentalism, melancholy, and childhood nostalgia. All of this is wrapped up in a cosy and intimate aesthetic that sounds and feels like an early morning by the coast. In addition to the record’s chill kaleidoscope of sounds, the duo throw in some surprising but welcome hip/hop influences around the tracklist. It’s one of the sweetest records I’ve heard in years and I cannot get enough of it.
Songs to hear: “Synth Man,” “Brown Study,” “About the World,” “Moon Hits,” “Nice To See You,” the album is perfect front to back.
4. Ben Howard: Noonday Dream
The musical trajectory of Ben Howard’s career has been, thus far, not unlike Radiohead’s first three album stretch. Howard’s Every Kingdom was a simplistic singer/songwriter record filled with optimism and sentimentalism, similar to Radiohead’s Pablo Honey. I Forget Where We Were broke out of the generic mould to grasp onto something denser and more atmospheric, just like how The Bends started to push Radiohead into more experimental waters. Noonday Dream, then, is Howard’s Ok Computer. The on-the-nose style of music that made him famous has been stripped away in favour of more nuanced, exploratory songwriting with an atmosphere that is heavy and otherworldly. You can almost feel the intense heat radiating off the ground as you trudge through the album’s desolate landscape and sense the eyes of the vultures as they wait for you to breathe your last. And yet, as you walk on, you feel a sense of peace and comfort in the isolation. This is how it feels to listen to Noonday Dream.
Songs to hear: “Nica Libres At Dusk,” “A Boat To An Island On The Wall,” “What The Moon Does,” “Someone In The Doorway,” “Murmurations.”
3. mewithoutYou: [Untitled]
[Untitled] is the sound of an atomic bomb exploding inside a weary and wounded heart. The desperate outburst of this record often touches on the same raw explosion of emotion Brand New once exhibited on Daisy. At the end of their ropes, they craft something that screams with everything they have left, even if those screams are coming from an exhausted and worn body. [Untitled] is the embodiment of an anguished and confused cry, reaching for something stable to grasp onto to just to get over the next wave. For Aaron Weiss and co, the light that guides them through comes in the form of their family, their faith, and the reassurance that their journey is far from over. “Someday,” Aaron sings faithfully on the closing track, “I will find me.”
Songs to hear: “Julia (Or ‘Holy To The Lord’ On The Bells Of Horses),” “[dormouse sighs],” “Tortoises All The Way Down,” “New Wine, New Skins,” “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore.”
2. Rolo Tomassi: Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It
Metal has never sounded this beautiful. On Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It, Rolo Tomassi have fine-tuned their sound to perfection. And perfect it is as the result of their hard work over the course of five records is one of the most exhilarating, unpredictable, and utterly beautiful metal albums I have heard in years, quite possibly this decade. What begins as a serene, ambient record soon morphs into a lush, dream-pop venture, which then immediately pummels the listener with a ferocious blast of unrestrained black metal all lead by Eva Spence’s spectacularly commanding vocals. Every moment of this thing is incredible.
Songs to hear: “Aftermath,” “Rituals,” “The Hollow Hour,” “Alma Mater,” “A Flood of Light.”
And now, I proudly present to you A Diverse Sound’s album of the year for 2018….
1. Daughters: You Won’t Get What You Want
After eight long years of silence, the noise-rock group known as Daughters come screaming back with their most fleshed out and horrifying record to date. You Won’t Get What You Want is a deeply affecting portrait of paranoia and existential dread wrapped up in one of the most visceral listening experiences you’re likely to hear this whole decade. Yet, what makes this the masterpiece that it is isn’t its horror-core sound or its claustrophobic atmosphere, it’s the surprisingly thought-provoking narrative that it tells. Rather than rely on shock tactics or cheap, horror cliches, Daughters reach deep into the human soul for their scares. Nihilism and extremism are the themes that push the narrative forward and as the characters fall ever deeper into the pit created by their own pride, they become more and more like the ones they once laughed at, believing that they will never fall into that same hole. And as they desperately try to reach for some sense of fulfilment and safety, an “ocean beyond the waves,” as the record calls it, they realize that without someone more than themselves to open that door for them, they’re left standing outside in the dark, their pride leaving them with no choice but to wait for the demons that will inevitably catch up to them.
As a dedicated Christian, this record made me ask the question: “What would it feel like to be left standing outside the gate of Heaven with no way to ever get in?” Believe me when I say the idea is nothing short of horrific. You Won’t Get What You Want is the most terrifying portrayal of the consequence of human pride I have ever heard and for that and so, so much more, it deserves no other place than my Album Of The Year slot for 2018.