Another year, another selection of awesome and weird music. Once again, here’s my end-of-year countdown of some of the albums that have caught my eye over the last 12 months. It’s less folk-oriented than in previous years, with a heavy focus on the political that has dominated many releases of the year, but hopefully there’s a fun and diverse selection with something everyone will appreciate. Before we get started, there’s also three runners up that deserve an honourable mention despite not quite making the list.
Runners Up: Dimmu Borgir – Eonian The Turbans – The Turbans (2018) La Pegatina – Ahora o nunca
10. Hentai Corporation – The Spectre of Corporatism: Starship Shaped Schnitzels from Planet Breadcrumbs Are Attacking a Giant Tree Monster Who Has A Vagina And Holds Hitler Hostage
If the name of the album, or even the band, didn’t catch your eye immediately and cause you to do a double take, the music contained within certainly will. This five-piece from Prague released this long-winded circus of weirdness in May this year shortly before a festival tour that took them to some of the biggest stages of Europe. The tracks themselves live up to the title of the album, with the delightfully-titled metal fusion classic “Tragedy of Uncle Hitler” becoming an instant favourite. How to describe the sound is a little more difficult: the band weave elements of metal, progressive, mathcore, pop, electronic and even jazz together into a unique blended style that cements them and their equally fun live show as one to keep an eye on.
Song to listen to: “Tragedy of Uncle Hitler”
9. Seth Lakeman – The Well Worn Path
Also just making it onto the list, the latest release from folk-rock legend Seth Lakeman marks a dramatic return to form from his previous effort, 2016’s “Ballads of the Broken Few”. There is a common saying that as songwriters grow and mature, their music often becomes a lot more pop-oriented. If that is the case, the opposite is true for Lakeman – “The Well Worn Path” relocates him back firmly to his roots in the folk scene with a more traditional sound, whilst not forgetting the fast-paced bouzouki strumming and violin bowing that the multi-instrumentalist became known for in the first place. The songs aren’t as catchy as some of the classics from his previous albums, but it still makes for a well-rounded and fun listen to keep fans occupied whilst the man himself takes a break from touring alongside Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant in order to focus once again on his solo endeavours.
Song to listen to: “Divided We Will Fall”
8. Scars on Broadway – Dictator
That he was taking a break once again from System of a Down to bring the world new material from a now-rebranded Scars on Broadway came as slightly surprising news from Daron Malakian earlier this year. Whilst some may lament the continued delay in a new album from the band that made him famous, others welcomed the news with open arms, and the album has quickly since risen to become one that many in the music industry are already hailing as a masterpiece. There is a strong political focus inherent in the name, with other elements remaining as surreal as ever in a way that only Daron Malakian could deliver. Malakian also uses the album to continue a lot of the musical work that made System of a Down so popular in the first place: it fuses heavy metal with a more lighter sound that takes elements of Armenian music in its range of influences as well, as true to his roots as ever.
Song to listen to: “Guns Are Loaded”
7. The Fever 333 – Made An America
Far from the only political entry to this list, but almost certainly the most so, The Fever 333 are the newcomer band of this year that everyone seems to be talking about – and rightly so. If Rage Against the Machine were formed in the early 21st Century an even bigger willingness to experiment with music technology and the range of special effects available, this very well may be what they would sound like. As it stands, the rage against the propaganda of the American government is obvious from the lyrics as well as the sound. They criticise the hypocrisy and double-standards present in a lot of western society, and they do it in a way that is catchy and interesting musically; fun to listen to as well as making a point. If there are any newcomers to the rock scene from 2018 that you still need to check out, at the top of that list should definitely be The Fever 333.
Song to listen to: “Soul’d Me Out”
6. Frank Turner – Be More Kind
Despite a departure from the folk-punk sound that marked Frank Turner’s previous albums, in favour of a more synth-heavy but lighter-overall sound, “Be More Kind” serves to remind the world why Turner is one of the most intelligent songwriters touring at the moment. The occasional love song weaves in nicely with a mixture of political angst, warnings to the masses not to be complacent, and reminders to be gentler to each other in this philosophical album. It’s the kind of album that needs to be listened to a few times over before the message really starts to sink in, but that doesn’t stop many of the songs from immediately getting stuck in the head of the listener – especially the title track. In the time of fake news and political tension amounting again throughout Europe and North America at a scary rate, the central message of the album remains one that a lot of people still need to hear; that we should all be more kind.
Song to listen to: “1933”
5. Mawkin – Down Among the Dead Men
After a relatively quiet year and a longer-than-expected wait, the upcoming 5-piece titans of hard-hitting British folk rock finished up the summer of 2018 by finally releasing the album that many across the folk world have been waiting for since their support slot on Bellowhead’s Farewell Tour in 2016. It serves well as a follow up to 2015’s “The Ties That Bind”, with the same boisterous no-nonsense playing from a wide array of instruments. Brothers David and James Delarre provide vocals in the same confident style we have come to expect from Mawkin, with reworkings of many several familiar traditional songs that manage to simultaneously stay true to their origins whilst also providing a clear sense of humour, and a definite rock’n’roll flair that even non-folkies can appreciate in their music.
Song to listen to: “The Blind Fiddler”
4. Jonathan Davies – Black Labyrinth
It’s hardly a secret that this year has been a difficult one for the Korn frontman, but other issues aside, 2018 also saw the release of his much-anticipated debut album. When iconic singers from hugely-famous bands decide on a solo endeavour, it can go one of two ways; especially when their voice is as recognisable as Davies’ is. More often than not, it ends up merely sounding like a selection of unreleased material from their main band. On the other hand though, every so often, an album comes along to remind the world that singers can be versatile in more than one genre and provide a solo project that sounds entirely unique; “Black Labyrinth” is one such album. From the off, it’s clear that the album is not just going to be a selection of tracks that didn’t make it onto the last Korn album, and Davies introduces influences and instruments from a wide variety of genres and cultures from hard rock to India. It makes for a fascinating walk through the mind of an artist who still, this far into his career, has a lot to offer the music world.
Song to listen to: “Basic Needs”
3. Moscow Death Brigade – Boltcutter
Bringing us into the top three is this year’s groundbreaking release from Russia’s most infamous circle-pit hardcore hip-hop duo, Moscow Death Brigade. It’s heavy, hard-hitting, and fuelled with political anger criticising governments across Europe for everything problematic in society; from hypocrisy over World War II remembrance to the refugee crisis. The political connotations are rife as the two anonymous vocalists spit lyrics with a passion and speed rarely seen in modern rappers, with memorable riffs and choruses abounding throughout. It’s a take on hip hop that few modern rappers dare to attempt, never mind pull off so well; as well the fusions with other genres give it that unique sound that manages to sound fresh whilst remaining an intelligently-written treatise that can make the listener think hard as well as party their brains out. That is exactly why it fully deserves its spot in the top three of this list.
Songs to listen to: “Boltcutter”, “One for the Ski Mask”, “Papers, Please!”
2. MAiKA – Balkannibalism
This Balkan gypsy-punk-dance band may be one that isn’t too familiar to listeners in the UK just yet, but with their debut album released earlier this year alongside a tour supporting Gogol Bordello across Europe, this 6-piece from Serbia, Croatia, and Montenegro are another new name to look out for in the future. With a mission statement to reunite the Balkans under the flag of making audiences dance “’till their shoes fall off”, they’re not an act to be taken lightly. The lead takes the form of two female vocalists, with accompaniment on accordion, saxophone, drums, and bass – and it’s a combination that they supply so well. With songs ranging in topics from the Cold War to internationalism, “Balkannibalism” is another unique album that deserves far more international recognition than it has already had outside of the former Yugoslav republics.
Songs to listen to: “Volcano”, Russian Spy”, “People of the South”
1. Brandon Neal – Abrandon Ship
It took a lot of reflecting to be able to name one album in particular as my favourite of the year, but in the end it’s a more than confident choice. There have been countless times when artists with millions in financial backing from record labels have tried and failed to release a debut album with any depth, one that really manages to capture the listener and draw them in with a wittiness and originality that is vital to upcoming acts especially on the singer-songwriter scene. Yet, somehow, without any of this backing from any big record label or millions saved up in a band account over decades of gigging, Brandon Neal has managed to capture everything that a debut album should provide in a simple self-produced release. It has honest storytelling, political commentary, cynical love songs, and a relatable-yet-ferocious delivery that even many established artists struggle with. Taking influences from artists far and wide within the remit of punk and folk musics, “Abrandon Ship” is exactly the kind of album that makes a listener pay attention to yet another young singer-songwriter, and wait eagerly for what they will deliver in the future.
Songs to listen to: “Repetitive Routine”, “Pixel Dreams”, “Life of the Party”