ACL 2018 ~ Top Ten Rock, Post-Rock, Folk & Jazz

2018 started off slowly for post-rock, but picked up steam in the closing months.  Many of our favorite acts were quiet this year, leaving the door open for others to be noticed.  One band even made a triumphant return after nearly a decade away. The year’s best albums are amazing ~ and our expanded genre tag includes a much larger field.  In this list, our readers will also encounter a rarity for our site: vocals!  Chances of review here hover around one in seven, but for vocal albums the chances are more like one in a thousand.  Yet as in nearly every situation, exceptions are sometimes necessary.  Fresh sounds often arrive in surprising forms.

And now, in alphabetical order, A Closer Listen presents the best Rock, Post-Rock, Folk & Jazz of 2018!

Birds of Passage ~ The Death of Our Invention (Denovali)
With The Death of our Invention, New Zealand singer-songwriter Alicia Merz delivered another heart-wrenching and incredibly deep selection of ambient song. Misty drones and misty eyes enchanted the listener with their blue harmonies, but the swirling ambient layers aimed for something more utopic, attempting to flirt with paradise. The lyrics were made all the sadder for this being unobtainable. The crushing vocals of ‘The Love Song’ and ‘Demons In Our Midst’ were two standouts on an album aflame with recent loss, quiet introspection, and hands dirtied by the currency of tribulation. Her careful, aching, and wounded verse united with sorrow, but her voice was made all the more beautiful for it. The unrequited episodes and popped dreams led to the gutter, but Mertz’s voice led to the stars.  (James Catchpole)

Original Review

Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt ~ Brace Up! (Palilalia)
Buzzing with vitality, Brace Up! jumps up and gives a middle finger to the end of the world, Corsano and Orcutt’s improv less an act of quiet communication and more of a bodily punk act of smashing into each other to transmit the sheer joy of being alive. This is one of those albums that you can listen to but which are really best experienced, with others, in a lovely mosh pit, always in movement, always about to jump, always in the midst of a spontaneity that short-circuits the regular flow of a doomed existence. Call it noise rock, call it improv, but in the end it’s just life. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Foxhole ~ Well Kept Thing (Burnt Toast Vinyl)
Some of the best post-rock blows sentimental winds past even those listening for the first time; the feeling is only intensified when a genre luminary reappears after a 12-year hibernation to offer up the secret LP it has been crafting. Well Kept Thing swaggered in as the year threatened frost to return us to former, warmer days, drum and bass grooves, brass melodies and chiming guitars intact. A few acoustic and serene moments aside, the group hasn’t mellowed with age either, as songs such as “Gottlieb Deux” and “Gottlieb’s Dragon” propel rhythmic hooks and crunching chords to ears that suddenly feel a decade younger. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

Original Review

Hour ~ Tiny Houses (Sleeper Records)
Tiny Houses was recorded in a tiny house and sounds like home.  Representing the softer and more languid side of post-rock, Hour uses guitars and light percussion to offer more comfort than bombast. While listening, we were reminded of the early works of Do Make Say Think ~ one of the genres best bands, now releasing albums only every few years.  Hour fans didn’t have that long to wait, as their follow-up album Anenome Red was released last month on Lily Tapes and Discs.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Jerusalem in My Heart ~ Dada’iq Tudiaq (Constellation)
Radwan Ghazi Moumneh’s third album of his constantly evolving JimH is that project at its most refined, and perhaps also most polarized. The A-side long modern orchestration of a nearly century old Egyptian pop classic is played almost straight, with subtle electronics, noise, and distortion creeping into to the otherwise fairly conservative arrangement, directed by Montreal/Cairo-based Sam Shalabi. The song was written by the famous singer and composer Mohammad Abdel Wahab, known for his patriotic anthems yet often criticized for excessive engagement with Western music.  Perhaps this disregard paid to imposed restrictions appealed for Moumneh. The four songs on the B-side are mainly solo affairs, occasionally harsh deconstructions of voice and instrument. As always, JimH is an audio-visual project, and Charles-André Coderre album art and videos, drawn from experimental treatments of archival photographs, furthers the conceptual intervention at the heart of Daqa’iq Tudiaq. (Joseph Sannicandro)

Original Review

Mésange ~ Gypsy Moth (God Unknown)
Break out that black eyeliner. If you can’t find the leftovers from your high school gothic days, then borrow your sister’s. Mésange swoop and swoon through chamber rock moodiness. The duo conducts a musical séance, huddled around flickering votive candles. Their interplay is intimate: Agathe Max’s violin arcs in sweeping lines, Luke Mawdsley’s guitar coaxes liquid layers from electric guitar. Gypsy Moth opens with the self-titled track’s fluttering of soft wings, all tentative whirling; peaks with “Stars,” rising from a gaggle of electronic swirls, twisting around an ascending theme; and closes with “Summer Snow,” a lugubrious groove which rocks one back to bed—or is it, back to the casket?  (Todd B. Gruel)

Original Review

Spurv ~ Myra (Fysisk Format)
After a long cold winter, during which we were dying for quality post-rock, Oslo’s Spurv came in from the cold to reinvigorate the genre and revive our spirits.  Myra is pure power from beginning to end, but it also contains surprisingly delicate passages, thanks to strings, trombone and on closer “The Voice of the Old Man Breaking,” a poetic voiceover.  This set hits the sweet spot, offering exactly what we listen for: intelligence, majesty and power.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Tangled Thoughts of Leaving ~ No Tether (Bird’s Robe/Dunk!)
The band’s always had a penchant for heavy-handed jazzy developments and prog-rock structures, but in No Tether it all comes together subtly and smoothly, even at its most aggressive. The post-rock sound has evolved, and TToL is at the foremost of one of these new specimens, still angry and sad, still large-as-the-world, but much more complex and deep. Exploiting the loud-soft contrast in the manner of noise musicians, this album lays out chaos within a smartly defined structure, the fiery declaration of the title a signal of despairing removal from harmony as structure, from the natural world now a few steps into devastation. It is, perhaps, the band’s best album to date. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Wang Wen ~ Invisible City (Pelagic Records)
Wang Wen is a staple in China’s post-rock scene, reconfirming their status an inventive new album nearly 20 years into their career. To their benefit, Invisible City proves to be subtler than the genre’s patented crescendos; restraint, they’ve learned, is a strength. Despite being recorded during a frigid winter in Iceland, a glow permeates its eight tracks, each one thick enough to pillow into and warm enough to nuzzle. Throughout Invisible City, there are fist-shaking moments of release, such as the sizzling trumpet and distorted guitar on “Stone Scissors” or the roaring of “Silenced Dalilan.” But mostly, Wang Wen’s percolating synths and polished production recall the 1980s with quieter grandeur, trailing foot-prints in the snow for us to follow.  (Todd B. Gruel)

Original Review

World’s End Girlfriend ~ MEGURI (Virgin Babylon)
For however much Katsuhiko Maeda gives us, we are grateful. 2016 saw us award the enigmatic composer with our top record for Last Waltz; now he’s back with a brief flurry centered around, yes, a waltz. In the title track, whose name can translate to ‘circling back’, we presume Maeda to be reflecting on a devastating loss – its howling guitar lines, throbbing beats and sublime melody acting as a flurry of memories and feelings. The final piece transposes that same melody into a setting of melancholy, ending in the silence of overwhelming grief. A sonic continuation of his last LP but imbued with greater sorrow, MEGURI is a beautiful personal tribute to a universal feeling. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

Original Review

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