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Thursday, 6 December 2018

Mix CD #41 - Top Albums Of 2018

Happy December folks!

For a true Music Nerd, December is a special, treasured time of year, nothing to do with either Jesus, Santa or family, oh no. December, the final Month of the year, is the time when we finally get to wave aloft our carefully crafted AOTY lists in a pompous statement of "The Music I Like Is Superior To The Music You Like" belligerence.

So then, here's my own pompous, belligerent list for you to coo appreciatively at. For a year that started out slow, it picked up pace considerably and there ended up being an absolute ton of albums this year. So much so that I had to extend my usual Top 20 to a Top 40 and there was still a lot of albums I was sad to see knocked out of the list. I could have easily done a Top 60 but you'd have got bored scrolling long before halfway.
It's been a particularly good year for Extreme Metal with more albums of that ilk than ever before appearing in my list, pretty high too. I don't know if it's just been a really good year for super heavy stuff or if my personal tastes have just changed a bit? 

For the first time this blog is a double and, as such, I've split it up into two halves so that it's easier to download.
I've also included a Spotify playlist for those that want it. I had to make a couple of minor changes due to availability but nothing that's going to ruin your day.

Like previous years, I've hidden the tracklisting of the mix(es) at the end to avoid spoilers, such as they are. 
The albums are below in reverse order, I hope there's some you agree with and/or some you'll want to check out afterwards.

I guess that's enough waffle, so long for 2018 and I'll hopefully see you all in January! 


You can download Part 1 HERE
You can download Part 2 HERE

You can listen on Spotify HERE

40. Fell At Ten - Another Day
Fell At Ten are a young, Australian Trio who offer up a modern take on Grunge. I would say early Silverchair are a big influence on their sound, particularly Jake's vocals, but there's a contemporary edge to them that gives them a fresh sound rather than seeming like a retro throwback. Another Day is a bright, enjoyable debut album and a good sign of things to come.

39. Muncie Girls - Fixed Ideals
Fixed Ideals is the second album by this trio from Exeter and sees them tightening their sound and focus, Lande's vocals are still distinctive and instantly recognisable but the songs tend to be a little bit punchier and Punkier than on their debut, From Belsize To Caplan. Lyrically, quite a lot of the tracks deal with some aspect of mental health and general wellbeing. Muncie Girls are a good little band though I'm still only about 60% sure on how to pronounce their name. 

38. The Winter Hill Transmission - The Winter Hill Transmission
The debut album by this Indie Folk Band from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne was a long while in the making, several years in fact, due to one reason or another. The finished product is well worth the wait however as it's a fine collection of twinkling, atmospheric and memorable songs that have a vague 70's feel to them. Also, the songs all sound like there's a loose theme running through, almost like it's a concept album. Great stuff.

37. Thrashist Regime - Carnival Of Monsters
Look at the cover, take in that ridiculous band name and now try to form in your mind what the band probably sound like. Chances are, you're dead on the money. This Scottish quintet have unleashed their second album full of energetic, fun, old school Thrash. There's a ton of head nodding riffs and, while they're by no means a comedy band, they raise a few chuckles too. I can't get enough of this album at the minute.

36. Therapy? - Cleave
The fifteenth studio album by this Irish band marries the poppier feel of their 90's albums with the uncompromising angular crunch of their later stuff and sounds all the better for it. They do still have the tendency to just repeat the title of the song in the chorus though which irks me a little but, on the whole, Cleave is a solid album and the best they've done in a while. 

35. VNV Nation - Noire
Up until a few weeks ago, I thought this band had long split up but here's their tenth proper album, all shiny, new and over an hour long. It's a sprawling album of dark, epic Synthpop capped off with Ronan Harris' distinctive croon. If you're familiar with VNV Nation's mournful brand of EBM then Noire is a warmly familiar sounding album, sounding like it could have been released around the turn of the Millenium. It might not be a thrilling, cutting edge sound any more but songs like Collide, Only Satellites, Armour, Impressed, God Of All etc Are the product of twenty years, honing songwriting skills and are, simply put, brilliant,

34. Psychostick - Do
If you're already aware of Psychostick comedic brand of Hardcore then you'll know what to expect from their fifth album as it's more of the same. Entertaining, laugh out loud songs that have enough catchy riffs to combat the humour wearing off. Expect songs about losing your keys, thinking with your dick, being an introvert at parties, adulting, wearing pyjamas to the shops and Tuesday among others.

33. Sarah Shook & The Disarmers - Years
Sarah Shook is a Country/Americana singer originally from Rochester, NY. Her songs are dark, miserable and depressing though often quite upbeat musically. She has a strange vibrato or tremor to her voice that's intriguing though maybe an acquired taste. Years is a step forward from 2017's Sidelong and I liked Sidelong a lot.

32. Chthonic - Battlefields Of Asura
The latest album by this Black Metal band from Taiwan is their first in 5 years and sees somewhat of a progression from 2013's excellent Bú-Tik. The songs are generally shorter, tighter and the Asian Folk flavourings are still present but have been augmented with a choir on a lot of the songs. The band improve with every album and, along with their striking imagery and unique songs themes (Based on Taiwanese mythology and history) deserve to be as successful as a Folk influenced Black Metal band can be,

31. Sad Hill - Good If It Goes
If I can help it, I try and avoid having artists on two mixes in a row but that's what's happening with this Australian trio as I also included them on Mix #40 - My Slumbering Heart, not realising they were going to feature in my top album list. I've been playing Good If It Goes quite a bit since publishing that blog and it's a great little set of Punky, Indie Rock tunes, there's not a weak track to found on the whole album. They remind me a little of the French band, Not Scientists, who feature further on down this list.

30. Zeal & Ardor - Stranger Fruits
Devil Is Fine, the debut album by this peculiar Avant-Garde Metal band, I felt, was too short and disjointed; more like a collection of ideas and demos than a proper album. Stranger Fruit more than redresses that. It's a slick, flowing amalgamation of Black Metal and old Gospel working songs. Its an exhilarating, unique listen and the two, wildly contrasting, styles work well together when they really shouldn't.

29. dragSTER - Anti-Everything
This five-piece from Coventry take the pace and anger of old school Punk with it with touches of Garage Rock and Alt. Rock to create a thrilling, vitriolic sound. In fi, they also have a great vocalist and a striking frontwoman. Anti-Everything is, I think, their fourth album and it's wall to wall with quality songs. It's almost enough to forgive the awkward capitalisation of their name...

28. Coheed And Cambria - Vaxis Act 1: The Unheavenly Creatures
I was pretty late to the Coheed & Cambria party having decided I didn't like them for no real reason other than because I'd decided. Earlier this year, at the behest of Dan from Living In A Playlist Paradise, I gave them an actual proper listen this year and it turns out that I'm an idiot, they're actually pretty damned good. Vaxis carries on the elaborate take told through most of their previous albums, comic books and whatnot but musically, it's more in line with the slight mainstream Rock of their last album, the standalone, The Color Before The Sun. I say mainstream, it's still as Proggy as anything just a little more palatable to the casual listener that's all.

27. Cheap Heat - Everything I've Ever Loved Has Either Died, Broken, Left Me Or Let Me Down
One of this year's surprise finds, they were one of many bands offered up via the sponsored messages on Facebook and I was enticed in by the promise of a free album on Bandcamp. It turned out be a really enjoyable album and I'm pleased I gave it a chance. 
The band hail from Bury St Edmonds that's, er, somewhere down South and offer up a shouty brand of Indie Punk Hardcore Art Rock kind of thing, complete with a selection of chucklesome song titles. The band are going through a bit of turmoil at the moment with losing a couple of members, I hope they soldier through and carry on because I'd love to hear more from them.

26. Dirt Box Disco - Immortals
I finally managed to see this lively Punk band live earlier in the year and they didn't disappoint one bit. Every song had everyone singing along and the onstage chat was top notch bants and all that. If they play near you I can't recommend enough you attend. One thing about that night was that a lot of the highlights were new songs from Immortals, Joyce's Voices, Stop Shouting and Teenage Lovestruck Blues are instant classic but the whole of Immortals is a great listen; funny, catchy, a little bit sweary, a little bit rude and a whole lot of fun.

25. Haken - Vector
At the complete opposite end of the spectrum to Dirt Box Disco's naughty Punk songs lies Haken and their technical, sprawling Prog Metal. Vektor is actually pretty short compared to other albums, 7 tracks (although one is essentially just an intro) and only one over the 10-minute mark. The songs are all excellent, multifaceted, complex and memorable but I'd have maybe liked one or two more to pad it out a bit. Still, jolly good album, what.

24. Karine Polwart - Laws Of Motion
I've been a fan of this Scottish Folk singer since I picked up Scribbled In Chalk back in 2006 or so, I've struggled to find her albums but the ones I have are all really good. This new one is no exception, it's an eclectic Folk album that feels contemporary with occasional Electronic flourishes here and there. Karine does utilise the Folk tradition of storytelling and not just lovelorn moping, there are tales of Jewish children being evacuated from Nazi-occupied Europe, the story of her Grandfather's youth, living in the mountains during the war, Nuclear fallout and of a Japanese garden hidden somewhere in the Scottish Highlands. Karine's accent is heavy, even in her singing voice, not just the spoken word parts and it's half the reason I like her music so much.

23. Alkaline Trio - Is This Thing Cursed?
Is This Thing Cursed? is the twelve or thirteenth album by these Gothic Pop Punk veterans and continues their standard of perfectly crafted Punk anthems. Whilst guitarist Matt Skiba is the main focus of the band, he shares lead vocals with bassist Dan Andriano I almost equal measures. on several songs, like the title track, for instance, they play off each other to great effect. It's been five years since My Shame Is True but I think it's been worth it because, as good as that album was, Is This Thing Cursed? is better.

21 = Sectioned - Annihilated
21 = Frontierer - Unloved 
I've tied these two albums as I just can't decide between them and they're intrinsically connected as they share several band members and sound quite similar. The majority of both bands are Scottish with Frontierer vocalist Chad being American. I think there's a Portuguesian (possibly not the right term) in there somewhere too. 
Both bands spew out ferocious, uncompromising, Technical Hardcore with plenty of Djent style riffs and time signatures. Unloved and Annihilated are brutal, intense listens, that'll leave your head ringing and ready for something more sedate afterwards. Which is convenient because...

20. Eels - The Deconstruction
Another year, another great Eels album, I lose track of how many now but it's quite a lot. The Deconstruction is more of the morose tales of love, loss and self-loathing that Mark Oliver Everett is so skilled at crafting. To be fair, it's not all doom and gloom, there are several positive, upbeat and, dare I say it, happy songs on The Deconstruction too. If you've never been a fan of Eels then this isn't going to change your mind but, by the same token, if you ARE a fan then this isn't going to disappoint

19. Motorjesus - Race To Resurrection
I didn't think the fifth album by this German band was going to happen. After 2014's excellent Electric Revelation there have been complicated lineup changes but they're back and Andreas Peters presumably recorded lead, rhythm and bass parts. It's more of their enjoyable of high energy, muscular Stoner Rock with lots of songs about driving very fast. 
As far as I'm aware, Chris Birx was also leaving the band due to health issues but he must have got better because he's back and his Hetfieldesque voice is in fine form. It's a pleasure to have him, and them, back.

18. Alkaloid - Liquid Anatomy
Another German band, this time dealing in technical Progressive Death Metal that's impressively played and weirdly eclectic. When I first played the opening track, Kernal Panic, I had to double check it was the right album as it begins like some 80's Pop Rock song before kicking into something much more...growly. It's a dark, bewildering but still crushingly heavy album. The crown in its jewel is the final, sprawling track, Rise Of The Cephalopods that's just shy of 20 minutes long and is an astonishing piece of work

17. Paul Miro - Sinombré Vol. II: Broken Angels
Paul is the former vocalist/guitarist/songwriter/all that of 90's Britrock/Grunge band Apes, Pigs & Spacemen. His solo stuff, of which there seems to be a vast amount, is generally more acoustic-based. His voice is instantly recognisable however and he does tend to record acoustic versions of old AP&S songs. Broken Angels is the second part of his Sinombré project and is a peculiar album. The songs are interspersed with other, shorter songs that act as interludes. They're often weird little things that have got me funny looks and raised eyebrows at work. The 'proper' songs are fantastic, varied and memorable. He's worth investigating if you're unfamiliar with any of his previous stuff.

16. The Skull - The Endless Road Turns Dark
This Doom Metal supergroup is comprised of former members of bands like Trouble, Cathedral and Witch Mountain, all of which are evident in The Skull's music. Particularly noticeable are Eric Wagner's vocals. He's such an iconic and unique singer that it's hard not to hear Trouble when you listen to The Endless Road Turns Dark but, with this being their second album, the band are starting to find their own feet and it flows expertly, from the pacier tracks like As The Sun Draws Near and Ravenswood to longer, more atmospheric songs like Breathing Underwater. It's a fantastic Doom album and one that's also accessible for less niche listeners.

15. Not Scientists - Golden Staples
Not Scientists hail from Lyon in France and were a new discovery for me this year, I stumbled onto them by chance and have been listening to Golden Staples a lot this year. They're essentially a Pop Punk band but with added flavours of Indie Rock and Post Punk, the clear, jangly guitar gives them a strong 80's feel on a lot of the songs and the band's fun energy rubs off on the listener. On this one anyway.

14. Bloods - Feelings
Bloods also have a retro feel to them but their fuzzy-guitared Indie Punk, and the harmonies of MC and Sweetie, more evoke the early 90's Riot Grrrl scene, Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, Sleater-Kinney, Bratmobile etc. There's a chirpy sheen to their music and Feelings is a happy, relaxing sounding album, even if the song subject sometimes isn't. 
I nearly passed over this Australian band because the cover looked like it'd be Gonzo Metal or something. I'm glad I didn't because it's a really good album and the title track is one of my favourite songs of the year. Since writing this I've discovered Sweetie is moving away and leaving the band. I wish her luck and I hope the band continues on.

13. Sick Of It All - Wake The Sleeping Dragon!
Well, this was a surprise, These hardcore veterans have not long released what might just be the best album of their 30-year career. It's a thrilling burst of anger with 17 tracks totalling just over 32 minutes, none of them hang about. It's full of anthem after anthem filled with riffs, gang vocals and a violent rage that's obviously come about due to the Trump Presidency. Wake The Sleeping Dragon! hasn't been out long but I've listened to this album a ton already and shall continue to do so.

12. Dan Webster - Devil Sky
Maybe I'm a little biased about this one as Dan is a friend of mine but if Devil sky wasn't any good then I'd have just not included it and awkwardly avoided talking about it at all ever. As it is, it's a fine album. Dan has increased his band to about seven people and expanded his sound from contemporary Folk to include elements of Country and Bluegrass; there's also more uptempo songs than on his previous albums so it's a bit more lively too.

11. Behemoth - I Loved You At Your Darkest
Nergal has once more returned to his day job following his adventures in Gothic Country with his side project, Me And That Man and perhaps brought a little of that with him. I Loved You At Your darkest is more experimental and varied than previous albums, kicking things off with a children's choir is a bold move, elsewhere there's strings, acoustic guitars, more choirs and some suspiciously non-KVLT guitar licks. Make no mistake, however, this is most definitely a dark and bleak Metal, the guitars crush, the drums blastbeat the hell out of everything and Nergal's guttural roar oversees the destruction. I loved You At Your Darkest is a more than capable follow up to 2014's acclaimed The Satanist.

10. Frank Turner - Be More Kind
At the time of release this album got a whole load of flak for being too soft and being a sellout and all that shite Admittedly, on the surface, it is milder and more palatable than his previous albums but blatantly political tracks like 1933 and Make America Great Again are hardly Ed Sheeran. Be More Kind is an accomplished album with a pertinent message, it just takes a few listens to fully absorb. Also how adorable is that Little Changes video?

9. Amorphis - Queen Of Time
Queen Of Time is Amorphis' thirteenth album and the seventh since vocalist Tomi Joutsen joined the band, leading them away from their Death Metal roots into Gothic and Folk Metal pastures. It's also their best album since at least 2009's Skyforger. It's a gloriously epic album that's well over an hour long, the majority of the songs are around six minutes long but don't feel overlong, more that they have room to breathe and flex their wings. Tomi is one of my favourite Metal singers around at the moment, both his harsh and clean vocals are fantastic, both he and the band are flying high and surely at their creative peak?

8. Adult Cinema - Teaser Trailer
Reading a few reviews of this album revealed that, apparently, quite a few people discovered Adult Cinema (the band) the same way as I did, via a sponsored ad on Facebook. The album was listed as a free download so I was all over that. I liked the album so much I bought this and his other album, This Is Your Life, on CD (which arrived underpaid so I had to give the postman extra pennies - livid). Even though Teaser Trailer is an odd and sods compilation, it's still a fantastic collection of songs, that's eclectic but still cohesive, There's elements of Indie, Classic and old school Prog Rock throughout, as well as plenty of hooks and melodies. If it's still free, download it. It if it's not, buy it.

7. Half Man Half Biscuit - No One Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fuckin' Hedge Cut
The wonderful Half Man Half Biscuit return once more to grace us with a brace of songs from Britain's greatest lyricist, Nigel Blackwell. No One Cares.. is full of his biting satire, wry social commentary and frequently oblique references. As usual, they shy away from the traditional song subjects, Emergency Locksmith and Knobheads On Quizshows are fairly self-explanatory, Renfield's Afoot is about a man raging against organised rambles, insisting he can walk through the woods whenever he wants and Mod Diff. V Diff, Hard, Severe is probably the greatest song you'll ever hear about fell walking. 

6. Clutch - Book Of Bad Decisions
I was fully expecting this album to be sitting pretty at number one as Clutch are effortlessly brilliant. While Book Of Bad Decisions IS effortlessly brilliant, it's not quite as effortlessly brilliant as their previous album, Psychic Warfare. I dunno what it is, the first couple of songs just don't really click for me but it soon picks up, somewhere around about the awesome, funky swagger of In Walks Barbarella. From then on in it's plain sailing and great song after great song. Neil Fallon is on fine form, both his wry lyricism and characteristic bark. 
They're carrying on with the good time Bluesy Stoner Rock they've pursued over the last three albums and sound all the better for it. I'm sure they'll meander down some experimental path once again but, for now, let's rock!

5. Eureka Machines - Victories / Rarities
Eureka Machines are a Punky Alternative Rock band from Leeds, UK and managed to release not one, but two of the best albums this year. Victories is their fifth proper album and is less instant than previous releases but that just meant the songs needed time to sink in not that they weren't as good. Alongside Victories, they have also released the imaginatively titled, Rarities. It's a double album featuring one disc of cover versions and one of original material, Some unreleased, some B-sides and some bonus tracks. It's a brilliant album and is a collection of songs that more than stand up to the bands other material.

4. Sojourner - The Shadowed Road
I'd seen this multinational band's name knocking around the internet for a while but not really paid them much notice until earlier this year and promptly featured them on a mix a couple of blogs ago. The Shadowed Road is an epic, immersive, beast of an album. The songs are atmospheric and moving. Emilio's harsh, Black Metal rasp is offset with Chloe's ethereal, Folk-like clean vocals and it's a contrast that works really well. 
I never thought I'd see the day when a Black Metal album was in my top 5 albums but there's no denying the warm, sumptuous quality of The Shadowed Road. Also, it's hands down my favourite album cover of the year.

3. Ginger Wildheart - GASS Mk. II / The Pessimist's Companion
The ever-prolific Ginger is, once again, knackering up my AOTY by releasing two albums in a year for about the third year in a row now. The Ginger Associated Secret Society was a fan club type subscription thing he did a few years ago and GASS MK. II is the second compilation featuring tracks from that venture. From the Folky, acoustic Caer Urfa to the Pop Rock of Don't Stop Loving The Music and the batshit Prog Metal of Bloody Knees, this album exudes brilliance that fans of The Wildhearts' main man have come to expect.

The recently released The Pessimist's Companion is the follow up to last year's Ghost In The Tanglewood and is more of the melancholic Americana of that album. As good as that album was, this is better. Every track is a near perfect tale of heartbreak, loss and/or mental health. The Pessimist's Companion is an open, honest account of the breakdown of his relationship and his struggles with depression. It's not an easy listen but it is a cathartic one with some oddly catchy tunes for good measure.

2. Dog Fashion Disco - Experiments In Embryos
Like last year's Erotic Massage, Experiment's In Embryos features completely rerecorded and reimagined versions of old songs, this is due to the rights of those old albums being owned by old record labels as much as it is the songs needing updating. This album takes tracks from their second album Experiments In Alchemy and their third, The Embryo's In Bloom. It's a twisted, madcap album that draws from a myriad of styles to create their entertaining brand of Avant-Garde Metal. While there are big riffs and aggressive vocals it also heavily features Saxophones, organs and keyboards. It's way more entertaining and catchy than that whole description might suggest. I love it very much.
on the 7th Dec, they'll be releasing the newly re-recorded version of their fourth album, Anarchists Of Good Taste. That was the album that first introduced me to the band when it was first released in 2001, I'm excited to hear what they've done with it but also concerned they're messing with songs I love. I'll be even more concerned when they get to the fifth album Committed To A Bright Future as that's probably one of my desert island discs.

1. Slugdge - Esoteric Malacology
Released in March, this album has been hanging around the Top 10 all year but has gradually slithered its way up until it's found itself at the top. It's a monster of an album and I absolutely love it. The band are from Leicester and Esoteric Malacology is their fourth album. Originally a duo, they've recently expanded into a quartet. They're a sludgy Progressive Death Metal band that are crushingly heavy but also technical and, occasionally, melodic. The vocals are mostly guttural but clean vocals do crop up every now and then. Their songs are almost all about demonic gastropods and often feature slug based puns in their titles, Slave Goo World, Salt Thrower, Crop Killer etc, 
They're a staggeringly good band and Esoteric Malacology a brilliant, brilliant album. Bring them your cabbage leaves.


Part One
Fell At Ten - Work Hard
Muncie Girls - Picture Of Health
The Winter Hill Transmission - If I Ever See You Again
Thrashist Regime - Soldiers Of Fortune
Therapy? - Kakistocracy
VNV Nation - Armour
Psychostick - Introvert Party Time
Sarah Shook & The Disarmers - New Ways To Fail
Chthonic - Flames Upon The Weeping Winds
Sad Hill - Lucky Spirits
Zeal And Ardor - Row Row
dragSTER - Enemies
Coheed And Cambria - Black Sunday
Cheap Heat - Unenthusiastic Handjob
Dirt Box Disco - Box Set Addict (*1)
Haken - A Cell Divides
Karine Polwart - Cassiopeia
Alkaline Trio - Throw Me To The Lions
Frontierer - Glitcher
Sectioned - Life's True Beauty
Eels - Sweet Scorched Earth
Motorjesus - Running Out Of Time

Part Two
The Skull - As The Sun Draws Near
Alkaloid - Azagthoth
Paul Miro - Build My Gallows High (*2)
Not Scientists - Orientation
Bloods - Talk
Sick Of It All - Bad Hombres
Dan Webster - Joe
Behemoth - God = Dog
Frank Turner - Little Changes
Amorphis - The Golden Elk
Adult Cinema - Witches
Half Man Half Biscuit - Knobheads On Quiz Shows
Clutch - Vision Quest
Eureka Machines - Hey Ho John Doe
Sojourner - An Oath Sworn In Sorrow
Ginger Wildheart - In Reverse (*3)
Dog Fashion Disco - God Crisis
Slugdge - Putrid Fairytale

Spotify Changes
(*1) The only album Dirt Box Disco have on Spotify is their recently released compilation Hooray! Hooray! so I've included their classic track, Burning instead of Box Set Addict

(*2) Neither of the Sinombré albums are up on Spotify so I've included Ghost Heart from his acoustic bonus album from 2013

(*3) The Pessimist's Companion doesn't get released officially until next year so I've included The Words Are Gonna Have To Wait from Ghost In The Tanglewood, which got its full, official release earlier this year.

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