January is over, but let’s not forget it just yet. Over the course of the month, dozens of albums have been released, but which ones are the best? Music taste is, of course, subjective, but here are five records that, in my opinion, stood out amongst the droves of generic pop rock and trap rap albums that came out in January (I’m looking at you, Culture II).
Shame – Songs of Praise [Post-Punk, Indie Rock]
After exploding in popularity in their London base, Shame have kicked open the doors to 2018 with what is quite possibly one of the most instrumentally consistent rock albums since Protomartyr’s Relatives in Descent all the way back in September of last year. This is their debut record, and even if they wear their influences on their sleeves (mainly their fellow Englishmen, The Fall), they still manage to strike hard with a diverse, creative album that does Post-Punk right.
The main selling point of the album is its constant speed and punchy lyrics, never sparing on the energy and impact of Punk, but keeping the riffs compact and accurate. From the heavy and explosive Dust on Trial, to the hilariously written bassline-thumper The Lick, to the loud and proud neck-strainer that is Lampoon, Shame managed to craft a tight, hard-hitting album that, while lyrically dull a couple of times, manages to be true to itself, the band, and the spirit of rock music. There’s some real biting commentary on this thing sometimes too, and it displays the woes of contemporary youth without pandering or blowing it out of proportion too much. The vocal performances are raw and strained, and while to some that might be blaring, the sheer energy of Charlie Steen’s voice sell the rebellious and fist-clenching tone of Songs of Praise.
Ultimately, the little details and hangups don’t make much of a dent on this heart-pumping album, filled with the spirit of youth in every sense of the word.
Favorite Tracks: Dust on Trial, Concrete, On Rizla, The Lick, Gold Hole, Friction, Lampoon, Angie.
Least Favorite: Tasteless, Donk.
JPEGMAFIA – Veteran [Glitch Hop, Industrial Hip Hop]
Peggy (JPEGMAFIA himself) is back with his sophomore LP, and it’s this year’s most colorful, layered, and downright intoxicating hip hop record so far. If you could even call most of this album ‘hip hop’ in the first place.
Listening to Veteran without any idea of who Peggy is or what his production is like will be an interesting experience for sure. Even the opening track, 1539 N. Calvert, is filled with abstract sound collages, irregular time signatures, moments of jarring silence, minimalist driving beats and an electrifying vocal performance, all of which carry consistently throughout the album. It’s a constant struggle to keep up with what the record is doing, from the textured and crackly electronic noise-scapes to the head-bobbing bangers constructed entirely out of a half-second loop of some voice recording from who-knows-where. Multiple listens are almost a requirement, as one can get lost in the lo-fi, onion-like organicity of the instrumentation.
Veteran is definitely not for casual listening, though. Not only is it glitchy and dissonant, but it has many obscure references to internet culture and hot-button topics that might be glossed over if one isn’t attentive. I won’t spoil them, though, those treats are for you to discover.
This thing isn’t skimping on excellent bars either, as irony, sarcasm, self-awareness and most importantly, clever wordplay drip out of every orifice on this album. With titles and subjects like Libtard Anthem and I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies, Peggy clearly wants to stick his fingers deep in those wounds, and he has the chops to do so as well. He’s engaging on a verbal and musical battle with everyone he encounters on this project. Baby I’m Bleeding and Rock N Roll is Dead will probably have some of the stickiest, gnarliest and most memorable lines in hip hop this year.
Overall, Veteran delivers an uppercut of stimulation in terms of energy, diversity, lyricism and musical evolution. Peggy has definitely outdone himself and gifted us a record with a fascinating identity. Do not skimp on this one, it’s a total trip.
Favorite Tracks: Thug Tears, Baby I’m Bleeding, My Thoughts on Neogaf Dying, Rock N Roll is Dead, Libtard Anthem, Macaulay Culkin, I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies, Curb Stomp.
Least Favorite: Panic Emoji.
Weedpecker – III [Psychedelic Rock, Space Rock]
Weedpecker? With a name like that, you can pretty much expect only one thing from this Polish 4-man outfit: Crazy, mind-bending Stoner Rock.
III is the third studio LP by Weedpecker, and they have a consistent quality throughout their discography that many other bands struggle to maintain. With this fresh project, it is more of the same, but even bolder, wilder and more engulfing.
There are only five songs on this 42-minute record, but don’t let that scare you. Each of these sturdy songs has a beginning, middle, and end, building up and exploding in satisfying laser-like riffs and punchy finishers, yet still feeling like parts to a greater whole, much like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s neverending Nonagon Infinity. The group have gifted us with the finisher to a consistently solid trilogy of Stoner Rock records, from their self-titled, to II, and now with III, each delivering a sonically cohesive sound that still manages to melt the ears with thick, soupy psych leads.
If you want a record that might not necessarily blow the mind, but groove the soul for a while, this one’s on the more hectic and stimulating side.
Favorite Tracks: Embrace, Liquid Sky, From Mars to Mercury.
Least Favorite: Molecule.
First Aid Kit – Ruins [Indie Folk, Folk Pop]
Swedish Folk duo Klara and Johanna Soderberg bring us their fifth studio album, and it’s a warm, enveloping and comforting escape to old school Americana.
While Ruins might not be the most adventurous or poignant album this side of the genre spectrum, there’s no denying that the musicality is powerful, uplifting, and widely anthemic. From the vivid and succoring layer of sound over tracks like Rebel Heart and Fireworks, to the more Country-esque twang prominent in cuts like Postcard, the pace throughout the record is steady, at a lock-tight 10 tracks, just 39 minutes long.
First Aid Kit is definitely taking inspiration from many female Folk acts in the past, from Joni Mitchell’s emotional singer/songwriter influence to Laura Marling’s chubbier Pop. They definitely don’t reach the level of engagement to, say, a record like Blue, but still manage to draw from their own experiences and portray them solidly in the album. You might even get some impressive musical/lyrical juxtaposition, like in the excellent It’s a Shame, where the rich, lush instrumentation is placed over pained and lonely choruses and verses perfectly.
Ruins is a rock solid Folk Pop record that comes from the heart, and what better way to write music, right? Thankfully, this group does have the talent and skill to pull it off in the end.
Favorite Tracks: Rebel Heart, It’s a Shame, Fireworks, Postcard, Ruins, Nothing Has to Be True.
Least Favorite: To Live a Life, Hem of Her Dress.
Ty Segall – Freedom’s Goblin [Glam Rock, Garage Rock, Art Rock]
Ty Segall continues with his prolific discography, but this time he’s taking some pretty big risks. I’m happy to say that they’ve paid off, and massively so.
This is surprising, coming from a guy who started making rough Garage Punk in the late 2000s. The spirit of raw ardor is still alive in Freedom’s Goblin, but it’s been glazed over with some of the most crisp and driving instrumentation in rock music this past year, and I mean including 2017.
This is Ty Segall at his most lively, splashy, and hued, playing around with a wide palette of instruments, tempos, and concepts. Freedom’s Goblin is a sonic parade, with every passing exhibition providing a different experience, yet with everything feeling connected.
There’s elements of crushing Noise Rock (When Mommy Kills You and Meaning), hazy Psychedelic Pop (Cry Cry Cry), vivid Folk Rock (You Say All the Nice Things and I’m Free) and even frenzied Jazz-Rock (Talkin 3 and The Main Pretender). This whole project is filled with catchy, stunning instrumentation that constantly evolves and warps, making for an engaging and surprising journey throughout. It’s also structured beautifully, with loud, riff-heavy beasts flowing flexibly into the calmer, easier cuts. This makes the whole album feel like a roller coaster, twisting and changing speed, never stopping until you’re shocked silly. Finally, there’s the 12-minute Prog Rock monster And, Goodnight, which is basically a guitar duel set in space. About as perfect of a closing track as you could imagine.
The actual sounds of this album could potentially be considered old fashioned, but they way Ty and crew craft a whole new experience with the same sounds as the acidic 60s is classic bliss.
In short, Freedom’s Goblin is an exhilarating, meteoric record that nudges shoulders with tons of wildly different genres, but manages to cook up something not only impressive, but potentially unforgettable.
Favorite Tracks: Fanny Dog, Rain, Every 1’s a Winner, Despoiler of Cadaver, When Mommy Kills You, My Lady’s on Fire, Alta, Meaning, Cry Cry Cry, Shoot You Up, You Say All the Nice Things, She, Prison, Talkin 3, The Main Pretender, I’m Free, 5 Ft. Tall, And Goodnight.
Least Favorite: The Last Waltz.
Sadly, as much as there is great music every month, there is also music that not only fails on an artistic level, but on the conceptual as well. Sorry, guys, but some things need to be said. Don’t worry, though, there will only be one bad album a month, as even I can’t subject myself to so much torture.
Fall Out Boy – Mania
Fall Out Boy has been the butt of many-a-joke, especially coming from the underground rock community which I explore the most. Granted, their earlier, rawer, and more energetic Pop Punk and Emo Pop albums haven’t aged particularly well, but they gained a strong enough following to last them throughout their 15 year long career. But as soon as the 2010s made their wretched appearance, FOB has been tilting slightly. Very slowly, they’ve been incorporating elements of Electropop into their music, shifting the entire tone and presentation of their outfit to fit in with the electronic craze of the 2010s. This has granted them a notable amount of consistent popularity throughout the decade, and much more than any Emo band from the early 2000s has any right to. Despite this, they’ve not made their old fans follow through with their mutation, and critics haven’t been subdued either.
It all coalesces into the overwhelming and ear-piercingly noisy Mania, which is a perfect title for this record. From the very first single and opening track, Young and Menace, to the closer, there is a hardcore emphasis on EDM influence and a deafening amount of instrumentation. Noise and walls of sound are not the problem, though, as many old and new classics embrace it. My Chemical Romance’s Loveless, with its impenetrable and glitzy shoegaze; Death Grips embracing industrial noise and happily punishing their audience with droning beats; Sonic Youth’s passion for rebellious, anxious Noise Rock in legendary records like Daydream Nation and Sister, etc.
What FOB fails to see here is that making your Pop Rock and Electropop album noisy and abrasive is like making a soup with sugar and spice dumped in carelessly. Copying some of the blandest and most repetitive tropes in EDM, adding an ugly shimmering gloss over it and then hastily strapping on guitars is going to make the music sound like garbage. They missed the mark completely and released a blunder of unfollowable cacophony.
Favorite Tracks: The Last of the Real Ones.
Least Favorite: Every other track.
Thanks for reading this quick recommendation retrospective on January of 2018. We’ll be here with February as well, so stick around!