DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 5-1

5. Sleep- The Sciences

The return of Sleep was absolutely wonderful. Five epic, beastly tracks that really showcases the band’s strengths even after all these years since Dopesmoker‘s release. Truly an example of what levels you can take stoner metal to if you are focused and ready to go the whole hog. Immaculately produced, with some of the finest riffs this year. Some may even argue that it’s Sleep’s best release in general. Not only the best stoner release, it’s the best metal album of 2018. Light up! (Seriously though, it can be thoroughly enjoyed even without the assistance of mind altering substances, trust me).

4. Jun Togawa avec Kei Okubo- Jun Togawa avec Kei Okubo

One of the later releases of the year, another fantastic addition to the Jun Togawa canon and one that seems to have been the release many Togawa fans have been waiting for. Stripped back, it’s just Togawa and Kei Okubo on a sole piano, covering both her most iconic tracks, along with some interesting and beautiful covers of classic songs from around the world. Togawa’s voice is getting stronger and stronger after her return and it finally feels like she is truly back. Amazing!

3. Kero Kero Bonito- Time ‘n’ Place

Never did I see myself enjoying a Kero Kero Bonito album enough to get on my top 25 list, let alone in the top 5. I’ve never found anything about the group genuine enough to go back on, however, with Time ‘n’ Place, they really took me off guard. Sure we had the EP ‘Totep’, which showed some progress from the trademark J-pop/PC Music inspired sound they established themselves with; it still had not really given an indication of how well the band would adapt to the new genres that they would take inspiration from with this album (ranging from Brit-rock to splashes of punk and even twee). It’s still got the pep that fans have grown to love, except it seems to come from a slightly more jaded place, as if the KKB of before have grown up a little and had some dreams stepped on by the big bad world. Sounds horrible, I know, but it’s worked wonders for them. They’ve also tightened the screws, got their lyrics together, managed to release something that is thematically coherent and not irritating, and ultimately, one of the greatest releases by any band this year. Essential.

2. Mitski- Be the Cowboy

The album that has by far hurt the most of any album this year (in the best way possible). Mitski has such a vivid, gorgeous way of invoking memories and feelings through her lyricism. We’ve all known someone like some of the characters in these songs, hell, some of these songs might even remind you of yourself. These tracks are short, fleeting thoughts that really just work beautifully as a whole, especially on repeated listens. You will probably find it difficult to land on a definitive favorite song, because it will change every time you listen. Most of all though, the most miraculous thing that Be The Cowboy does is reignite that naive romance of a rock album that ‘will change your life’ that you probably haven’t felt since you were a teenager. Listen to it, dummy.

1. Haru Nemuri- Haru to Shura

Haru Nemuri‘s 2018 album was, as I said in my original review, a Jpop landmark. What I didn’t expect however, was that it would blow up as much as it did internationally. Out of all the new acts, who would have thought someone like Haru Nemuri, a relative unknown at the time of launch would be the Japanese artist that got the attention of netizens?. Sure, most of that help came from Anthony Fantano giving her a strikingly good review, but still, to see her sights now set on worldwide touring (she will be playing at Primavera next year) is quite amazing.

The album still is absolutely breathtaking, its perfect blend of post rock, hip hop, noise and everything in-between proving to be one of the most infectious brews in the last few years. Every song feels alive, the production immaculate, not afraid to get rough around the edges where it needs it; those crushing, crunchy guitars the driving force Haru’s poetry. Fans of everything from Seiko Oomori to Number Girl will find something to love here, and repeated listening is absolutely guaranteed. It’s the album that has stood out to me for all of 2018 and I’m certain that it will be the defining moment that Haru Nemuri burst into the wider consciousness of the international alternative music scene. There is no more essential J-release this year and may even be the best for the next few years to come. Excellent.

(25-21)
(20-16)
(15-11)
(10-6)

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DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 5-1

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 10-6

10. Manatsu Nagahara- GREAT HUNGRY

Manatsu Nagahara‘s ‘GREAT HUNGRY‘ was one of the first albums that I really loved this year. The ex-SEBASTIAN X vocalist really knows how to stir up a vivid palate of emotions in her bright punchy songs, all super catchy and very well constructed. The album is addictive as hell, and just has a level of pep that is starting to be seen less in rock music. One of the strongest albums of the year, and lands in my top 10 because of it.

9. Anna Von Hausswolff- Dead Magic

Anna Von Hausswolff returned in 2018 with another opus of an album. Gigantic, Gothic tracks that have tinges of black and death metal, playing out like Kate Bush teamed up with Opeth– and it is absolutely wonderful to behold. There is a surprising amount of replay value to be had with this one too, a really fantastic and theatrical experience that anyone with the patience for will find absolutely rewarding.

8. Seiko Oomori- Kusokawa Party

Seiko Oomori, on my top 10 list again, of course. This will happen every year unless she slows down or releases a dud. But again, she has released one of the best J-pop records of the year- if not quite up to the standards of some of her previous releases. This is the ‘fun’ album from her- it’s fast and furious, and has one of the most blazing opening runs on any record this year. It was all a bit perplexing at first, but now the dust has settled, for me, it’s just 10 more excellent songs to add to her canon. Great. Oh and ‘7:77′ is still my favorite J-pop music video of 2018.

7. Janelle Monáe- Dirty Computer

Janelle Monáe returned this year with the first album since The Electric Lady, and is the first album of hers not to be a part of the ‘Cindi Mayweather’s Metropolis‘ concept that drove her first two records. This album drops the android persona to focus on herself and her sexual identity, and it’s one of the more personal records to come out because of it. This is an album where the line between R&B and alternative pop really meets, elements of funk, hip hop and soul blend perfectly, and its fantastic because of it. Potent and powerful, a must hear for 2018.

6. MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS- No New World

Not only was this the Japanese comeback album of the year, it was also the most well produced. A gorgeous record from start to finish, that amazing post rock/shoe-gaze that MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS did so well before is truly back, more refined and perfect than ever. The record, while short, sounds like it has had hours and hours of work put into it, it seeps with perfectionism. I haven’t stopped going back to it since it landed in July and it still wows me every-time. Oh and that album cover is breathtaking.

(25-21)
(20-16)
(15-11)

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 10-6

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 15-11

15. ZOMBIE-CHANG- PETIT PETIT PETIT

ZOMBIE-CHANG‘s 2018 release was a lot of fun. While perhaps not as trendy or hip as previous recordings, what made this one interesting was the use of a live backing band- making for a new level of depth to the recordings. It bares all of her trademarks but also plays somewhat like a modern Halmens release, wearing it’s influences proudly on its sleeve. ZOMBIE-CHANG herself sounds great as usual, with some of her best vocal performances yet. It’s really well produced, and never wears out it’s welcome at a brief 28 minutes.

14. Sam Phillips- World on Sticks

Sam Phillips has been one of my favorite artists since I can remember, yet is somewhat of an overlooked gem. This, her 10th album, continues her trend of sophisticated, understated acoustic driven pop rock/chamber pop that gathers its themes and inspirations from current world events. Big drums and acoustic guitar drive every one of the simple yet highly crafted songs along, with a well employed string quartet to add a bit more character in the backing track. Sam’s time-perfected croon tops everything off and once again, delivers and album that is enviably well rounded. If you haven’t heard of her before, it would be a great starting point, older listeners already know the quality to expect. Excellent.

13. Yamantaka//Sonic Titan- Dirt

Yamantaka//Sonic Titan‘s first album with new vocalist Joanna Delos Reyes takes a leap into a much more streamlined sound that is quite significantly more approachable than earlier works. This probably comes in part to the album’s main concept being a soundtrack to a non-existent Buddhist and Haudenosaunee anime. This doesn’t take anything away from the mystique of the group however, with their trademark mix of Eastern and Western cultures is still ever present (if a little less subtle). The album is hard in the traditional sense of the term, and whilst not as mystical and a tiny bit goofier, overall, it’s just a really great, fun rock album from from start to end, warranting it a lot of replay value and it’s spot on this list.

12. The Beths- Future Me Hates Me

The Kiwi band’s debut is a pop-punk gem that has picked up a bit of steam internationally. Super catchy, fun songs that will bring back a lot of nostalgic memories for 90s kids, invoking acts like Liz Phair, Veruca Salt (and for the Aussies, The Grates), whilst still having their own unique take on the genre. The youth energy on the album never lets up, and it serves as a great pick-me-up record any time of the day. I personally listened to it most during my commutes, and it was a perfect choice. It will be interesting to see where the group goes from here next (well, other than their Christmas track that was just released).

11. Chiaki Mayumura- Mejiri kara Suiteki 3-ko, Modoru

Chiaki Mayumura
‘s first official album is quite special in the way that it is truly a great example of what you can achieve even when you’re full DIY. The album is a fucking weird collection of cute bops, heartfelt acoustic tracks, weird ass James Bond inspired ditties, traditional idol and well, hip hop that on paper, should not work. However, Mayumura’s infectious, often outright beautiful vocal delivery and the crusty, rough edged production holds this unlikely mix together. Somehow. It’s one of the albums I became truly addicted to this year, and with a ‘mega’ double album on the way early 2019, Mayumura is this years ‘watch this artist‘ candidate for me.

(20-16)
(25-21)

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 15-11

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 20-16

20. U.S. Girls- In a Poem Unlimited

U.S. Girls‘ latest album was one of the biggest joys to listen to this year. Meg Remy once again shows her true knack for songwriting and this time she’s really honed it in and tightened the screws, yet surprisingly has worked with more people on this album than ever before. It’s a feminist album, but without being condescending or feeling contrived. There is an almost mythological element to the album as a whole, it feels like it’s own little universe, yet hits on real life issues hard as a brick to the face. It helps then, that musically, it’s very inviting, catchy and warm, yet still carries an element of danger throughout the whole thing. It’s an important record this year, and one of my most listened to. Highly recommended.

19. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu- Japamyu

It has been a rough couple of years for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, and to say her popularity has waned is a mighty understatement. Which makes the timing of Japamyu a bit of a shame really, for it is her most complete and well rounded recorded to date. Sure, it falls into this ridiculous future-bass inspired midlife crisis that producer Yasutaka Nakata is still (see the new DAOKO track) stuck in, but here, there is a bit more flair. Traditional Japanese instrumentation is CAREFULLY used here to add some real character to the tracks without distracting. Most importantly, there are a lot of truly catchy passages and memorable hooks throughout it’s entire run. It’s a good one, don’t let the name Kyary Pamyu Pamyu discourage you from listening to this pop gem.

18. cacophony- Hwa

cacophony‘s debut is a powerful one. It’s dark- mainly because the songwriting stems from one of the darkest places imaginable- the death of your mother. All songs drip with atmosphere, a great sense of mourning permeates throughout it’s short runtime. The opening run is one of the most intense on any record this year, and the latter half one of the most poignantly beautiful. Definitely the best offering I came across in the South Korean indie scene, with some of the most gorgeous instrumental passages (there have been comparisons to Shiina Ringo‘s Karuki Zamen Kuro no Hana in this aspect of the recording, as well as the Nier: Automata soundtrack) I have heard in a long while.

17. Afrirampo- AFRIVERSE

Afrirampo returning was a godsend this year. Not only did one of the best experimental/avant-garde duos in Japan bring a new album- it also happened to be one of their best ever. A collection of swooping psychedelic jams at their finest, with an energy that is seldom matched even by the youngest of bands. Funny, wild and even a little off kilter and unnerving at times, this album will definitely satisfy those fans who have been waiting so long for a new record. Also, it goes fucking hard. Great.

16. Imperial Triumphant- Vile Luxury

Of the many ‘metal’ (I’m using this as an encapsulating term here) albums I have listened to this year, very few really stood out as anything truly beyond what metal has already offered before. Enter Throatruiner Record’s Imperial Triumphant latest record, ‘Vile Luxury’. A delightful head-fuck of a record, it is a hodgepodge of death metal, black metal, jazz and almost Broadway level theatrics. All of this and yet, it never feels forced or cheap, a truly brutal and insane experience that can only be fully described by listening to it. Weird and addictive, I’ve had it on my playlist all year and love it immensely.

(25-21)

 

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 20-16

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 25-21

So, it’s that time where people start to wrap things up and take a look back at the year that was. This year for me was one of the most insane for music in a long time, so much so that no matter how much I tried, I could not whittle down my list to the traditional top 20. SO, instead, I’m gonna go and do a Top 25.

That’s enough of an intro, you know the drill, so, let’s get started!

25. Belle and Sebastian- How to Solve Our Human Problems

OK, so let’s face it, ‘How to Solve Our Human Problems‘ is a collection of three EPs (one of which came out late 2017). However, I’ve been playing it as an album all year since the compilation was released, and it works as that- somewhat (it gets a bit long and stuffy at times). It’s by no means Belle and Sebastian’s greatest achievement, but there’s still so much to enjoy here. It’s light, it’s fluffy, it’s twee. It’s Belle and Sebastian having fun. And that’s all it needs to be.

24. Thom Yorke- Suspiria

Suspiria (2018) was one of the most daring films of the year, not only did it have such legendary shoes to fill, it also had to compete with an equally legendary soundtrack (by none other than Goblin). When I first found out that it was Thom Yorke composing I had no idea what to feel- nothing in his career really screamed ‘horror movie about witchcraft in a dance school’. But by gum Thom Yorke has created something truly unique with this one- and it’s as eerie and encapsulating as the film that it soundtracks. Yorke’s score switches from hauntingly beautiful to blood curdling with fluidity, and indeed, like Goblin’s work before, feels like a fully fleshed out character rather than a backdrop. It’s also some of the best music Thom Yorke has been involved in quite a while. Well worth a listen.

23. Daughters- You Won’t Get What You Want

This one’s gonna end up on a lot of people’s lists I bet. It definitely deserves it’s acclaim and appeal (Fantano giving it a perfect 10). For me, I’m not as enamored as others, but I absolutely respect it. It’s dark, adventurous and for a ‘reunion’ record- fucking outstanding. The hardcore roots Daughters come from are fleeting moments in what is more like a Swans-ish record- broody and cathartic stretches with barely any kind of resolution. I am certain this will end up being considered a ‘classic’ in the future, even if it doesn’t register with me on an emotional level like the albums further up my list. Still, it’s probably one of the ‘must listens’ of 2018.

22. Let’s Eat Grandma- I’m All Ears

The sophomore album by the UK duo is both a departure and a massive leap forward, instead of indie sensibilities and organic instrumentation, the group heads directly into the modern pop sphere, with tracks such as lead single ‘Hot Pink‘ being brought to life with help from renowned producer SOPHIE. Thematically, it’s a Gen-Z record through and through, the self awareness is biting and there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek wordplay lyrically. However, what stands out strongest is the amount of adventure that the duo take you on throughout the lengthier tracks, ‘Falling into Me‘ being the greatest example of this. Let’s Eat Grandma once again to be one of the most exciting new acts in brit-pop and this album is well worth anyone’s time.

21. KOTO- Bye Bye Teens Lullaby

In general, for me, Japanese idol music has been in the dumps for quite a while. There’s been plenty of stuff I’ve listened to and enjoyed for a little while, but barely anything has any real sticking power. KOTO however, is a real spark in the dark. ‘Bye Bye Teens Lullaby‘ is a super sweet hard hitter, and there isn’t a single moment where it’s bright bops ever let up. Truly, there isn’t a single dud on the whole release. It has some really wonderful, warm production and absolutely relishes in keeping it old school. A must hear for any J-pop fan, hands down the best idol release this year.

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2018: 25-21

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2017: 5-1

So here we are, at the end of my top 20 list. Here are the 5 albums of 2017 that I feel exemplify the best of what the year had to offer. Thanks once again for reading. Let’s get into it shall we?

5. Boris- DEAR

Ahh, Boris. Forever pushing the boundaries, this year played it a little more safe and just put out an album you can tell they loved making. It plays to all their strengths, it’s easily their heaviest release in a long while- and in turn, surprisingly, their most accessible. It’s an invigorating listen, so many of Boris’ finest tropes on display in one tight package. It rocks, it drones, it wails, it rumbles. It’s Boris.

4. Converge- The Dusk in Us

Converge return for their first album in five years, and once again, prove that they are the kings of modern hard-core. This album is truly spectacular, each and every song is meticulous, the production amazing. It houses some of the most amazing drum work I have heard in almost a decade. Converge not only manage to bring the best hard-core/punk/metal release of the year, it might be their best album to date- though that will be hotly debated. Either way, no one can deny it’s power and prowess. Also, when has hard-core ever been this beautiful? Next level stuff.

3. St. Vincent- MASSEDUCTION

St. Vincent delivers the best western pop release of the year in 2017. Hauntingly potent, amazingly catchy, it’s a small revelation in itself. I often roll my eyes when an indie rock artist goes the electronic dance route- it’s quite an overdone trope in modern music to me- however, it’s as if St. Vincent was made for it. Never leaving her rock roots behind, St. Vincent uses the electronic medium to expand her vision and deliver her stories home in a way that will shake up any listener. It’s fun, yearning, sexy and most of all- just sounds damn good. Get it.

2. Seiko Oomori- kitixxxgaia

Let’s face it- anyone who follows me at all will have known this was going to be in the top five. Seiko Oomori has once again delivered an album that has been talked about, pondered over, loved and in turn- loathed even more by detractors, depending on who is listening. Her expansion of themes into religion, idol culture, sex and personal politics are really what stand out the most here. kitixxxgaia is a very important album to me, I have listened to it countless times. Every song has its place. The use of new producers and collaborators make it her most expansive- and exhausting album to date. As Seiko’s career gets bigger- her music does too, and this is no doubt the biggest, most over-the-top, huge, visionary and most importantly, entertaining J-pop album of 2017. Amazing. Goddamn amazing.

Read my full review here.

1. Phew- Light Sleep

Phew’s latest album, Light Sleep, is hands down the most overwhelming album I heard this year. It’s almost atonal sea of electronics sends chills down my spine every single time. Phew never relies on nostalgia or catchy hooks to create her works- and it really makes me appreciate what a talent she really is. Light Sleep is a solo project in every sense of the term- literally recorded in her own bedroom, utilizing a whole set of old analog equipment- and it’s used to perfect, haunting effect. It gives a sense of peering into someone’s private world, never fully penetrable but always inviting. Best experienced with a good set of headphones, Light Sleep’s melting pot of noisy, droning electronic hums and beat up drum machines will not hold your hand, but those willing and patient enough will find no album as rewarding as this. Phew has created her best work in years, an experimental masterpiece that further cements her legendary status in the Japanese music scene. A must listen for serious music fans, and truly the best album I listened to in 2017.

A masterpiece.

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST OF 2017: 5-1

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST ALBUMS OF 2017: 10-6

10. Seiko Oomori- MUTEKI

MUTEKI is a celebration of all things Seiko Oomori, the ultimate in fan-service. 18 re-recorded songs selected from her entire backlog, stripped down to their essence, either backed with her trademark acoustic guitar or some delightful piano work, it’s a treat for any Seiko Oomori fan. It also features two new full studio songs that are both wonderful in their own way, but let’s face it, we’re all here for the acoustic songs.

It’s addictive, time consuming (at nearly a full CD), indulgent, essential and utterly Oomori. While it didn’t resonate as much as this years main release, “kitixxxgaia”, it certainly is a must hear for anyone interested in hearing some of the top-tier J-pop at the current time. Read my more in-depth review here.

9. CHAI- PINK

CHAI’s debut full length is one of the most charming albums of 2017. Short, wild, groovy and energetic, PINK marks one of the most exciting newcomer albums in quite a while. CHAI have a real sense of control, and never are ones to take themselves too seriously. The musicianship is very strong, the vocals shout-along and full of youth edge. It’s addictive, colorful and most of all, damn fun. Can’t recommend this one enough.

8. Björk- Utopia

Björk returns in 2017 with her longest album of her entire career. It’s also one of her most colorful and layered releases. Some may find it overwhelming or even impenetrable at first- indeed, there are barely any ‘catchy’ moments on this beast. Those who have the patience though, will be rewarded for their time, as more and more of this album reveals itself through repeated listens. A latecomer in 2017, but such a strong release that it managed to shoot it’s way into the Top 10 without any hesitation. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s Björk.

7. Hirone-chan- Yume no Yume

Hirone-chan’s “Yume no Yume” was the biggest surprise for me in 2017. After a string of promising but fairly “Seiko clone” style albums, Hirone-chan finally found her calling with this one. It’s an absolutely gorgeous listen that creaks, pops and rattles along with a complex subtlety that becomes more and more noticeable on repeated listens. Hirone-chan really has matured significantly, and her songwriting has improved tenfold. A must hear for fans and newcomers alike.

Read my full review here.

6. Leah Dou- Kids Only

Leah Dou returns with her sophomore album, and damn what a followup. A sophisticated, engrossing and hypnotic record from end to end, Dou really expands on the sound she is known for and takes her experimental side to a new level. It’s a perfect album to chill out with, and certainly the most interesting Mandarin language album you’re gonna come across this year. An intoxicating blend of looping samples, beats, funk, jazz and smooth vocals- it’s about as perfect a second album a fan could ask for. Most of all, it feels honest and truly from a place that Dou understands and owns. Get on it.

DEADGRANDMA’S BEST ALBUMS OF 2017: 10-6