To be honest, 2018 was a year of a lot of average albums – but few memorable ones. Thankfully, composing this list wasn’t too much of a challenge as there were some truly incredible albums and EPs that dropped over the course of the year. We’ve traditionally included both IVM and non-IVM artists in our end of year lists and this is no different. Note that some of the releases below include adult language or subject matter to varying degrees (sparingly in most cases).
I’m careful about the lyrics of the music I listen to and certainly censor listening accordingly, so a large majority of the songs are clean – however I understand there are some who may choose to only listen to solely clean/Christian artists. I’ve denoted IVM-friendly artists with a * after the album title.
20. Holy Fawn – Death Spells
Death Spells is an album that is all about mood. While it’s not particularly heavy in many respects, it feels dark. There’s a mix of post-rock and shoegaze atmosphere here, with miasmic guitars layered beneath ethereal, falsetto vocals. The cover art, font, and accompanying video work all convey the same unsettling mood. Nonetheless, there’s a certain underlying beauty and Death Spells carves out a unique sound for the band.
19. Fin – Distractions
Fin’s debut album is full of musical sundry; the band juggles retro rock, prog pop, and even a capella on this eclectic release. The album never feels disjointed by its diversity; rather, listeners may become accustomed to the twists and turns and will be eager for the next transition.
18. Tioga – Lodestar
Lodestar presents listeners with plenty of danceable synthrock. It’d undeniably nostalgic, with prominent bass and keys that are rare to find in modern albums. Even the vocals seem to pay homage to bands like The Cure. The music here manages to transcend a few decades while still maintaining a serious tone and strong production.
17. The Chairman Dances – Child of My Sorrows*
The Chairman Dances offers a bookish approach to songwriting with moving orchestrations on nearly all of their tracks. This year’s release is no different, and the group covers plenty of musical ground here. There are bits of progressive rock, country ballads, 80s pop, surf rock, and more. It’s a mix that is hard to articulate – you’ll need to hear it for yourself.
16. Professor Caffeine & the Insecurities – Video Game
This Boston-based band crafts some very unique songs, and this EP is no exception: math-rock collides with pop punk and even 80s rock influences for a set of frenetic songs that showcase plenty of variety. The song titles pay homage to some classic games and hint at the band’s quirky approach to music.
15. Secret Space – AntiHero
Unfortunately, Secret Space has called it quits after releasing AntiHero. The EP explores some interesting musical territory my friend coined “future fuzz”, and that’s certainly an accurate description. In fact, it’s hard to make out the exact instrumentation at any point in times. Is it overdriven guitar? Is it noisy synth? Maybe a bass with some Earthquaker Devices pedals? Maybe it’s a mix. Add in distorted vocals and dystopian lyrics and you’ve got a result that feels like it’s a breach in the Matrix.
14. GOOD KID – GOOD KID
GOOD KID writes unashamedly-fun songs; it’s just that simple. They bear a slight resemblance to a happier version of Modest Mouse at times, but other than that, it’s hard to place the band. The tracks sound mathy, and the band brings a lot of energy to the table. Their debut EP is definitely worth a listen.
13. Animal Flag – Void Ripper
Void Ripper is far from a consumable album – lyrics are filled with questions, doubts, and anger as the band tackles the loss of faith. Musically, it oscillates between vulnerable and noisy. Ultimately, it feels raw, musically and lyrically, and it’s refreshing. Some listeners may choose to stay away from the topics at hand, but I find that it’s useful to confront many of these same questions, even if I don’t agree with the way the albums approaches them.
12. Tor Miller – Surviving the Suburbs
Tor Miller managed to catch my attention with his debut, but I almost wrote this release after a couple weak singles. I’m glad I gave the album a full try as, apart from a track or two, there are some classics here. Miller has shifted from somber ballads to full-band tracks with a lot more guitar, but all of the pop sensibility is still there.
11. Pale Waves – My Mind Makes Noise
Pale Waves is a British, female-fronted electro-rock band. Needless to say, they’re quite a bit different than the previous bands. I do have a spot in my heart for a good banger, and this album is full of them. It’s a fun, summery album that has a retro feeling to it.
10. Redshift Headlights – Oshkosh
Redshift Headlights is a band local to me, and their sophomore release certainly warrants some attention. Most listeners won’t be privy to some of the localized lyrical references, but the six-piece have crafted an ode to a small, midwestern city through a mix of punchy bass, atmospheric guitar, rippling vibraphone, pounding drums, and a host of other instruments. They’ve become a bit of a local staple and definitely deserve some more recognition.
9. Hidden Hospitals – Liars
Hidden Hospitals’ sophomore release is an enchanting mix of electro-rock. There’s some degree of traditional rock influence here, but synths are the instrumental backbone on most tracks, paired with programmed drums. The lyrics are nonetheless carefully crafted, and the album bears all the creative genius of its predecessor. Liars may not click on the first listen if it’s not what you typically listen to, but it’s a type of album I’ve grown to love.
8. Gr8frt – I’m Alive Today Because You Believed In Me*
Florida-based Gr8frt has dropped their first EP, and it’s certainly one of the more interesting releases from the year in terms of instrumentation. Frontman John Gold is joined by his wife Abigail as the pair explore topics of life and faith through vast and complex compositions. It’s the type of release you’d never expect was largely handled by just two people.
7. My Epic – Ultraviolet*
Industry veterans My Epic have taken an unexpected turn with Ultraviolet, the first of two concept EPs. Here, the band has stripped away much of their musical intensity, instead choosing to magnify the ambient and electronic elements. It’s an EP for inquisitive and strained hearts, and while the lyrics may be a bit more ambiguous than some fans prefer, My Epic continues to speak on important matters.
6. ourfathers – Funeral Pyre*
Funeral Pyre is the type of album you would have expected from 2008: post-hardcore riffs flirt with semi-screamed vocals, drawing comparisons to My Epic, As Cities Burn, and So Long Forgotten. It’s a high-energy, emotional album with a cinematic quality. This is only amplified by its length, which extends past an hour. Thankfully, Funeral Pyre is far from a slow burn and you’ll be hooked instantly.
5. no hope/no harm – Swimming in the Charles
Emo is alive and well on this EP. Tracks like “Toxic Baby” and “Pony Boy” are quick favorites, but there’s a lot to love here. This is certainly a band to keep on your radar.
4. Valleyheart – Everyone I’ve Ever Loved*
Valleyheart may have dropped their debut full-length late in the year, but it’s an instant classic. Lyrics are uncomfortably honest, but the songs are still undeniably catchy. The band has crafted a balanced album overall, and they’re set the bar high for any future releases.
3. Silver & Gold – Point A – Point A
Denver-based Silver & Gold are an eclectic group that blend emo and alt-rock with piano pop elements for a fresh take on a genre which seems to have faded. The vocals are smooth and jazzy and are certainly a highlight. Ultimately, Point A – Point A finds the perfect balance between stylistic expression and restraint, resulting in one of the best piano-based albums to see the light of day since Straylight Run.
2. Pianos Become the Teeth – Wait for Love
Pianos Become the Teeth released Keep You in 2014, abandoning their older screamo roots in favor of a moodier, post-rock base. It was a pretty significant change and caught my attention quickly. Wait for Love isn’t nearly as strong as Keep You, but it does follow in its footsteps stylistically. Lyrics this time around are a bit lighter, and the music pairs well; the drumming in particular is tight and holds the energy across the album. The band dropped their first signal a few months prior to the album and drew some early attention. Needless to say, Wait for Love was worth the wait.
1. Tiny Moving Parts – Swell
Swell is the closest thing to a “heavy” album I’ve listened to regularly this year. Tiny Moving Parts seamlessly transition screamed vocals into catchy choruses and musically melds the technicality of math rock with the fun of pop punk. Needless to say, it’s an album that is equally intense and enjoyable, and these tracks are bound to get you singing along.