Max Heilman’s Top 50 albums of 2018: 40-31

Lets Eat Grandma, I’m All Ears

Lets Eat Grandma

This is the continuation of my top 50 albums of 2018. If you’re just now joining me, start here.

If part one didn’t make this clear enough: My musical interests are completely all over the place. This list is a product of me trying to expose myself to as much music as possible. I didn’t exactly expect to end up putting bubblegum art pop next to non-binary sludgecore; but hey, what’s life without a little variety?

40. Drowse – Cold Air
This Portland solo project traverses droning ambient, depressive post-punk and acoustic folk in a tell-all tale of Kyle Bates’ struggles with mental illness, suicidal urges and medicated stupor. Cold Air is so matter-of-fact in its depiction of very real life-threatening experiences and utter despair, especially with the three interview samples supplementing Bates’ dreary baritone as he wears his gut-wrenching autobiography on his sleeve.

The Joy Division influence on tracks like “Rain Leak” propels the record when necessary, but the real draw of this album is its immersive soundscapes and vivid imagery. Heavily layered synths, strings, acoustic guitars and plodding percussion give the sound a niche to call its own. If nothing else, it’s an aural slice-of-life from a tortured soul’s journey to regain a semblance of humanity. Except, Cold Air offers more than harrowing sadness. These songs are meticulously orchestrated and chillingly effective.

39. Lets Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
This “psychedelic sludge pop” duo’s second full-length album, I’m All Ears, focuses the hodgepodge of influences of its debut, I, Gemini, into 52 minutes of infectious, quirky tunes. Everything from vibraphones to purring cats makes it onto this eclectic outing, with additional production from the likes of Sophie making it as challenging as it is catchy.

“Hot Pink” brings punishing beats and wobbly bass via art-pop artist Sophie, while danceable bops like “It’s Not Just Me” and “Falling Into Me” funnels that weirdness into sticky hooks and complex beats. While more streamlined and accessible than its last album, I’m All Ears provides suitable diversity. Swaying psych-pop, gloomy odes to lost friends and even a rousing piano ballad make it onto a cavalcade of tongue-in-cheek sonics and relatable lyrics.

38. LP – Heart to Mouth

The advent of bands like Imagine Dragons has given modern pop-rock fusions a bad name, but LP‘s latest album stands as a euphoric reminder that accessibility doesn’t have to mean boring. Heart to Mouth is jam-packed with harmonious singing, a variety of danceable beats, along with a compelling balance of production and intuitive musicality.

The most obvious standout aspect of LP is Laura Pergolizzi’s incredible voice. It’s a sound she can call entirely her own, and works very well in all of the album’s various contexts. “Die For Your Love” and “Hey Nice to Know Ya” show off her vocal chops and melodic intuition, while the Reggaeton feel of “House on Fire” and the punchy new-wave beat of “When I’m Over You” prove how many feels she can use. All 12 of these songs, while certainly glitzy and modernized, always boil down to a grounded chord progression. “Recovery” spotlights convincingly heartfelt lyrical imagery, which pervades throughout the album and gives the soaring melodies and meticulous arrangements a sense of purpose. She’s not quite in either the pop or the rock world, but bands in both genres could learn a thing from LP’s idiosyncratic approach.

37. Body Void – I Live Inside a Burning House
The San Francisco trio channels a heaviness similar to Conan into a more socially conscious environment. Body Void helps spearhead the rise of social justice within the sludge metal with a radically anti-fascist stance against racism, homophobia, cis-heteronormativity and sexism.

The glass-gargling shrieks of Will Ryan recall doom legends like Burning Witch and Khanate, but Body Void polarizes lumbering brown-noise barrages and battering d-beat sections for a pulverizing experience. The difference is that Ryan’s harrowing lyrics stem from very real experiences as a non-binary person. Topics like gender dysphoria and personal trauma add to this album’s emotional and social quotients. As droning paranoia gives way to decimating riffs and destructive crust-punk speed, Body Void champions the wave of social justrice activism within the sludge metal scene.

36. King Dude – Music to Make War To
Thomas Jefferson Cowgill’s Luciferian faith that has given his brand of post-punk and neo-folk a distinct occult-rock edge. His seventh album sees him continue to develop his sound. Where 2016’s Sex had its foundation in bass guitar, this outing broadens its horizons to quite a few unexpected twists and turns.

Music to Make War To spans the largest swath of Cowgill’s artistic reservoir. His rock and roll elements shine through on post-punk banger “Velvet Rope” and death rock fist-pumper “Dead Before the Chorus,” but he re-contextualizes himself in the sultry blues duet “Good & Bad” and the drugged-up synthwave beat of “The Garden.” Music to Make War To also has a much more immersive ambiance than anything else King Dude has released. “Time to Go to War” uses expansive ambiance to bolster the album’s mood, while “Twin Brother of Jesus” brings some of King Dude’s most foreboding vibes with thudding downbeats and creeping crescendos.

35. Blood Orange – Negro Swan
Dev Hynes’ sixth full-length album sees him take his production down a notch to make way for his spellbinding voice and eye-opening appraisals of love and sexuality. This album remains secure within the skeletal arrangements of bedroom pop, but Hynes develops these songs with his emotive voice. His amalgamation of avant-soul, smooth jazz and psychedelia breaks new ground.

“Hope” encapsulates many of thematic layers, as the concluding monologue sheds light on overcoming fears of opening up and accepting love. “Family” expands that theme to the concept of family as a safe and all-accepting place. But these ideas are transmitted through some of his most pristine, immersive and musically dazzling alt-R&B songs. Everything from the pristine vocal harmonies of “Jewelry” to the hard-hitting g-funk beat and stellar A$AP Rocky feature on “Chewing Gum” has an immersive ambiance to punctuate Hyne’s emotive singing.

34. Sleep – The Sciences
The reigning kings of stoner metal returned with their fourth album, and their first full-length in almost two decades. The Sciences lives up to its name, because these guys have Sabbath-inspired riffs and fuzzed-out haze down to a tight formula. Sleep doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel—there are simply too many bands who still try to recreate Dopesmoker for them to pass up an opportunity to show the young cats who the old gods are.

Sleep’s three members pursued other musical endeavors during the band’s long separation, so influences from bands like Om and High on Fire do appear on this album. It’s a more slight variation than overt change, because this album focuses on dingy stoner riffs made for fever dreams. The title track is literally three minutes of drugged-up feedback abuse; exactly how Sleep likes it. The 14-minute-long “Antarcticans Thawed” is the perfect example of how much grit and size these guys have retained over the years. The riffs could move mountains—without ever dropping a blunt.

33. Brockhampton – Iridescence
The unceremonious departure of Ameer Vann from Texas’ premier hip-hop boy band left its future as Gen Z’s Odd Future in doubt. While it’s not quite as bodacious as the three albums of pop-rap goodness the group released last year, Iridescence more than reinstates hope for Brockhampton.

Even after losing what many considered to be their best rapper, Brockhampton’s latest effort comes packed with blazing lines and diverse production. It comes off like a microcosm of what the group did on the Saturation trilogy, but luckily those songs aren’t dregs. “District” and “J’ouvert” display the aggressive flows and noisy beats many have come to love in the group, but cuts like “Something About him” and “Thug Life” show that Brockhampton still packs some palpable songwriting chops into an entirely unique sound within the hip-hop landscape. If anything, this album takes more chances than the previous three. Iridescence provides assurance that Brockhampton will continue to move hip-hop forward. 

32. Cult Leader – A Patient Man
While they often get tagged as “crust punk,” Cult Leader goes much farther than streetwise hardcore in terms of technicality and unpredictability. The band was already one of the more noteworthy in modern hardcore, but A Patient Man introduces a welcomed layer of atmosphere and somber songwriting into the mix.

“I Am Healed” and “Craft of Mourning” see Cult Leader embrace some of its most chaotic and brutal sonics yet, but “To: Achlys” and “A World of Joy” have an almost Southern gothic vibe and to their brooding doom rock. The slow-moving morosity of these more low-key tracks is augmented by Anthony Lucero’s baritone singing voice. His melodic singing carries just as much weight as his savage growls, giving an extra layer of musicality to the band’s already complex sound. Make no mistake, the blasts of metalcore fury on this thing still hit insanely hard. They’re simply accompanied by respites of depressive serenity before the next beatdown ensues.

31. Slow Crush – Aurora
Considering the usual metal and hardcore acts on Holy Roar Records, no one could have expected a band like Slow Crush to excel the way it has. The Belgium quartet brings incredible tightness and skill to the oceanic haze of shoegaze.

It’s hard to believe Aurora is Slow Crush’s first full-length album. These guys have such a confident and nuanced vibe, they may as well have been doing this for decades. Isa Holliday’s voice lingers in the mix like a ghostly siren, the rhythm sections channel faintly hardcore and metal-inspired aggression into enveloping noise-scapes. Steven Cammaerts plays much harder and more complexly than most shoegaze drummers, giving songs like “Drift” and “Shallow Breath” more propulsion and dynamics.

Even so, Aurora remains true to the My Bloody Valentine tradition of spraying riffs, hypnotic repetition and catchy melody. Indeed, any effective shoegaze album has to balance the amorphous effects pedal abuse and pop song structures. “Collide” and “Tremble” exemplify Slow Crush’s prowess at creating seismic guitar soundscapes while boiling everything down to euphonic vocal lines. Slow Crush accomplishes this by introducing a bit more “umph” into the mix. The fact the band has toured with Oathbreaker, Turnover and Nothing makes perfect sense. Slow Crush has the heaviness of the first, the energy of the second and the crestfallen post-hardcore of the third. If hardcore kids needed a flagship shoegaze band, Slow Crush is the band.


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