The Return of the Instrumental (and Poland Rising)
This was not one of my better years for musical discoveries. However, the past few years have been so good that I suppose the odds were against another, and it did not arrive. I only managed to come up with maybe 25 albums I wanted to listen to more than once, and some of those didn’t make it to a third play.
So: this year I have 15 albums in the list, like in other years, but I’ve decided to rank only the first five. The rest are in alphabetical order. Each of the final ten has its strong points, each its weaknesses, and any order I put them in would be largely arbitrary. Of the top five: I have to say only the first 2 albums are truly stellar, the third is definitely better than the rest, and 4 and 5 are strong enough to rank. You will find My Best Albums of the Year below the fold.
I would be remiss if I did not point out the fact that the three best albums (to my ears) for 2018 are all from Polish outfits. I’m pretty sure this is the first country sweep I’ve had. See more below….
As noted in the title: 2018 sees the inclusion of a lot of instrumental albums, in fact more than half on the list. These albums range from post-rock and post-metal, industrial/EBM, through to electronica-meets-modern-classical. I think the number of them is higher because of a combination of new discoveries, albums from established instrumental acts, and releases from outfits who have been off the radar for a while. Gösta Berlings Saga and Floex have new ones, while Solar Fields, Leech, and Front Line Assembly gave us their first releases in several years. The ever-prolific Necro Deathmort released yet another. The Fierce and the Dead dropped one, as did Toundra.
The rest are pretty much rock: heavy rock, melodic hard rock, blues rock. That’s okay, I like good rock n roll. This year there were no metal offerings (well…Judas Priest…), or syncretic surprises. Alas the new Dead Can Dance (speaking of syncretic) did not survive past the third playthrough. I suppose there was one album you could call “prog” (not counting the one by the prog band Who Is Not Prog).
For the most part, the ones that didn’t make the final list, notably: Shriekback, VNV Nation, Awooga (among some other lesser known outfits) missed the boat because their anticipated releases nosedived in the Expectations Department. Shriekback’s quirky art-rock has become more quirk than art, Conduit by Awooga sounds almost indistinguishable from their first EP Alpha, and the new VNV Nation, with the exception of a couple of tracks in the latter half, is just plain boring.
The Top 5 Albums
Numbers 1, 2, and 3 all come from Poland. Something in the water for sure.
5. Nordic Union: Second Coming
I like this album a whole lot more than I expected from the first couple of listens. But you know, it is melodic hard rock exactly as advertised, from guys who know their stuff. There is nothing wrong with getting exactly what you pay for, and that puts it ahead of most of the other things on my list this year.
See the full review here:
4. The Temperance Movement: A Deeper Cut
This album hit very early in the year, so there was lots of time to forget about it. I’m not a huge fan of blues rock (although there have been a couple of recent albums that I have liked a lot), but these guys (UK-based) really kick it into gear and keep your interest. I revisited it the other day, and yes, it is still a great album. The first few tracks kick some serious ass, and then settles into a more sedate groove, but It really is smart and accomplished. A couple of songs are real tear-jerkers too.
They put on a damned fine show live too, if you like straight-up hard-working musicians without the frills. These guys deliver.
3. Lunatic Soul: Under the Fragmented Sky
Number 3 comes from Mariusz Duda’s solo project Lunatic Soul. Under the Fragmented Sky is a huge relief after the puzzling diversion that was Fractured; I feel he has gotten back on track and I’m not so worried any more about the LS albums to come. Well, it was a rather unsettled past few years for him. I hope those old ghosts are exorcised.
Full review here.
2. Osada Vida: Variomatic
It seems that every year brings at least one release that surprises the hell out of me, mostly because it comes out of nowhere and is from an outfit otherwise completely unknown to me. So, let me present this year’s Huge Surprise — Osada Vida. I know pretty much nothing about them, and my chances of ever seeing them live are about zero, but this is one seriously great album. I hope they keep on doing what they’re doing, because it’s so damned good.
Full review here.
Album of the Year
1. Riverside: Wasteland
With Wasteland, not only has Riverside resurrected itself, it has demonstrated a freshness, a scope let’s say, that presages a level of greatness only hinted at before. I know many people will disagree with me on this, and for sentiment’s sake it is not an easy point to make, but I think the new Riverside has a strength and vision the old one had somehow misplaced after the fourth album. The last two albums by the original quartet (by which I mean Shrine of New Generation Slaves and Love, Fear and the Time Machine; Eye of the Soundscape is a different project) had sagged some in quality; but Wasteland is staggeringly good. Different, to be sure, and it should be different given the circumstances, but it does raise one’s hopes for future albums.
Read the full review here.