2018 was an ASS-KICKING Year!
2018. What a ride.
This marks my first year with MoreFuzz, and thus, my first Top 20. A few years ago, I was just a dude perusing the internet, freshly experienced by a Mr. Jimi Hendrix, seeking out some solid psychedelic riffage. And what should I stumble onto but MoreFuzz.net… and many records from MoreFuzz’s top album lists would find their way onto my record player that year. And from that moment, an obsession was born. Now, I find myself writing up my own list in hopes other readers might find a gem they may have otherwise missed. Lo, the seeker has become the sign post.
Sadly, due to the fairly isolationist nature of the area I make my home, concert visits for me are few and far between. Even so, I undertook multiple pilgrimages to Boston with whatever friends wanted to stuff themselves into my tiny little car to go see whatever fuzzy band we could find. And in all these hours of driving, a truth revealed itself to me: no matter what obstacles present themselves to us, we overcome them for the things we love. And I’ve got to say, fuzzy music, psychedelic music, or just MUSIC IN GENERAL… it’s worth the pursuit. And if you find yourself desperately trying to chase down a few kick ass albums from last year, I suggest you start with those that I’ve discovered and presented below.
As my best friend once drunkenly wrote on my refrigerator, “ROCK ‘N’ ROLL WILL NEVER DIE.” Check out my favorite releases of 2018 !
Top 20 Albums of 2018
20 : Yawning Man – The Revolt Against Tired Noises
These guys are the old-timers on the list. Basically spawning desert rock (and even helping to inspire Kyuss!), Yawning Man came to life in 1986, along with the Dockers, Kudos bars, and the NES. If you’re unfamiliar, listening to Yawning Man is like shutting your eyes and imagining yourself in a warm tidepool, falling into a deep sense of relaxation and letting the waves of psychedelia wrap you up in their foamy, warm embrace. If you’re still on the fence, be sure to check out Mr. Slab Riffjaw’s full review.
19 : All Them Witches – ATW
All Them Witches may play the part of a stoner rock band, but they are, at their heart, a blues band. Well, a blues band with a dash of spice. Nowhere is this more obvious than their latest vaguely self-titled offering.
Squeaky-clean production values and a soundstage as wide as a four-lane highway make this album a joy to listen to. Can’t wait for the next one.
18 : REZN – Calm Black Water
2017 saw the release of REZN‘s doom-drenched debut album Let it Burn. But 2018’s Calm Black Water improved on it in literally every fashion. Click play and you’ll hear a pleasantly hazy background of psychedelia with obvious progressive influences, spaced-out solos and pleasurably echo-y vocals. The songs flow into each other exceptionally smoothly, making Calm Black Water feel like one big, extended trip.
17 : Crypt Trip – Rootstock
This Texas trio’s energetic homage to heavy blues served as my own baptism into the group’s unique brand of rock music. And they certainly rock.
Rootstock reads like a mashup of the bluesy side of Hendrix mixed with early, pre-Dickey-Betts-era Allman Brothers and a dash of the James Gang for good measure. Bombastically energetic from back to front, and easily one of my favorite albums of the year.
16 : Windhand – Eternal Return
Richmond Virginia’s female-fronted breakout doom act follow up Grief’s Infernal Flower with Eternal Return, a devastatingly badass mix of heavy rock and solid melody.
In sharp contrast to the albums that precede it, Eternal Return removes a great deal of haze from Dorthia Cortrell’s vocal mix, allowing her natural talent to truly shine through in ways that it never previously has.
Ryan Wolfe’s drumming has definitely moved up a level from previous releases as well; it sounds awesome here.
15 : Stoned Jesus – Pilgrims
Pilgrims seemed to divide fans pretty heavily. With the 2017 move to Napalm Records, lots of people complained that Pilgrims marked Stoned Jesus‘ move into sell-out territory, while others just didn’t give a crap and loved the album. You can file me firmly into the second camp.
Stoned Jesus has always been prone to musical exploration (I’ve still never gotten over Seven Thunders Roar), so seeing their refusal to pigeon-hole themselves in their fourth release should come as no surprise to any casual acolytes of the band.
14 : Dopethrone – Transcanadian Anger
I am new to Dopethrone; I checked them out on the recommendation of fellow fuzzer Mr. Cromlech. Definitely glad I did. With vocals virtually copy-pasted straight from Daniel Weyandt of Zao, Dopethrone chugs and crunches with the best of ’em. Killdozer exemplifies the band’s “heavy-as-a-dirty-juggernaut-filled-with-booze-and-drugs” sound, and if that sounds appealing to you, give it a listen.
13 : Sleep – The Sciences
The fathers of stoner rock dropped a surprise album in April of this year, and it’s a doozy: a thick, dirty, sludge soundtrack to a story set in the blackness of space.
Everything that you want is here; the slow pummeling of the earthy rhythm section, the otherworldly fuzz of the multi-layered guitars, and the nearly endless string of drug-referencing lyrics. Toss in a tribute to the our lord and riffmaster, Tony Iommi himself, and this cements this album as one you don’t want to miss.
12 : Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats – Wasteland
A world without our dear old Uncle Acid is a world that we do not want any part of. Luckily, he showed up for a visit this year, bringing joyous gifts from his world-travels in the form of October’s new release “Wasteland.”
While Wasteland‘s sound is very much in the vein of Uncle Acid of years past with a dollop of punk rock flair, its production values seem surprisingly smooth as compared to the previous albums’ DIY aural aesthetic. Kevin Starr’s dark retro-rock outfit churns out some solid song offerings though, and fans of the group would be foolish to give this album a pass.
11 : Black Rainbows – Pandaemonium
Fuzz-tinged and funky, equal parts unemployable hippie stoner and hard-rocking space cosmonaut, Black Rainbows has certainly been around the block a few times. Pandaemonium marks the band’s 6th (?) album proper, with at least as many EP’s and splits in between.
Fans of the band will know exactly what they’re getting into, but for newcomers, expect buzz-saw guitars over Rob-Zombie-style vocals and a powerful retro-rock groove.
10 : Wizard Must Die – In the Land of the Dead Turtles
The rocking French trio Wizard Must Die took me by complete surprise. I’ll admit, I first heard this album in the last waning hours of 2018, but I liked it so damn much that I simply had to reorder my whole “top albums” list to include it.
Wizard Must Die combine an array of varying components for their particular brand of heavy music: hard rocking vocals, a flair for the progressive, and an obvious skill at catchy-as-all-hell rhythms.
The album opens slow with a soft acoustic number, In the Land. But by the end of the following song, From Their Blood to the Sea, you’ll understand what Wizard Must Die is all about. And you’ll be hooked.
9 : Domkraft – Flood
If this were merely a list for best heavy blues album of 2018, this would top the chart. This Stockholm trio may initially remind some of Swedish brethren Monolord, but merely equating the two sells both bands short. It cannot be overstated the width of the blues streak winding its way through all forty-two minutes of Flood, which isn’t to discount the razor sharp fuzz that neatly covers the whole album. These ingredients form an electric and unskippable album if you having even a passing influence in the genre.
8 : Church of the Cosmic Skull – Science Fiction
The Church of the Cosmic Skull defies traditional genre pigeon-holing. Part band, part vaguely spiritual guru dojo, Britain’s Cosmic Skull Church excretes an amalgam of reality-defying, collective-individualist, vaguely religious milkshake. Certainly unique. But… can they rock? Hell yes, and write too.
Their excellent songwriting was on full display when I first heard Cold Sweat, the first single from the Church’s new album, Science Fiction. With a watercolor background of deft instrumentalism and pop-laden choruses catchier than a common cold, the Church of the Cosmic Skull revealed themselves to be quite the rock outfit indeed.
7 : Kadavar – Live in Copenhagen
Live albums are tragically underrepresented in the world of heavy psych, so despite my personal penchant for them, this album will be the only live album in my top 20 list.
If you consider yourself a fan of the genre and you don’t immediately know who Kadavar is, you may want to crawl out from beneath that rock you’re living under. These guys are one of, if not THE, world’s premiere proto-rock bands. Live in Copenhagen‘s set contains almost everything you could want in a Kadavar show: thundering drums, soul-shaking bass, cataclysmic energy, and ALL OF THE FUZZ. This album could only be more perfect if “Last Living Dinosaur” had been added to the setlist.
6 : Grajo – Slowgod II
Deep. Dark. Cavernous. Earthy. Riffage guaranteed to shake the very foundations of the planet itself. All this, injected with the silky-smooth voice of a reverberated angel. The dichotomy of the two seemingly opposing pieces of Grajo sets it apart from the multitude of doom bands out there vying for your attention.
This is Grajo‘s second album, and the group shows no signs of slowing down. If you are feeling hard-up for some epically excellent doom, check out this Spanish foursome’s Bandcamp page. (Pro-tip: Their self-titled debut kicks ass, too.)
5 : Magmakammer – Mindtripper
Norwegian garage doomsters Magmakammer‘s album Mindtripper went tragically under-noticed this year, and until at least 20% of ya’ll go pick up a copy, I’m not going to stop bitching about it. If you don’t love the idea of a slow, hazy blues rock band with all of the underpinnings of Uncle Acid with a vocalist channeling Vol. 4-era Ozzy Osbourne, then I don’t know how to help you. See a shrink or something.
4 : Spaceslug – Eye the Tide
Spaceslug has released an awful lot of content in a very short amount of time. And in doing so, they’ve managed to gather thousands of fans to themselves. But I have to admit, I’ve always felt that they were a bit overrated; I’ve never hated their albums, but I’ve never loved them either. That is, until I heard Obsolith off of Eye the Tide.
It was like someone flicked a switch, and I finally understood why so many people loved these guys… slow, doomy rhythms over a hazy wall of cymbal crashes, drum fills, and a brilliant mix of vocalists. So, so awesome. The album doesn’t have a dull moment. And I finally understand why so many people across the world love these Polish rockers. So whenever they’re ready to cook me up some crow, I’ll be prepared to dine.
3 : Somali Yacht Club – The Sea
No other album of the year held as much anticipation for me as The Sea. Somali Yacht Club‘s last album, The Sun, still firmly holds its ground in my top ten albums of all-time, so The Sea had quite an act to follow.
Unfortunately, as is common in these situations, The Sea could not stand up to the gargantuan expectations that were held for it. Which isn’t to say that the album lacks its high points.
Put simply, Vero, the album’s opening track, is sheer unadulterated brilliance. For twelve minutes of pure ecstasy, the listener finds themselves floating in a fuzzy, foam-drenched ocean of psychedelia, miles from the nearest shore. Punctuating this journey are the reassuring vocals of the song’s only lyrics, “I’m sinking again, alone in water void.” The rest of the album can’t quite live up to either that masterpiece or the preceding album. But still, Vero is a trip worth taking. Miss it at your own risk.
2 : Freedom Hawk – Beast Remains
Beast Remains is a surprisingly subtle album considering the genre it occupies. The by-the-numbers production can unfortunately serve to mask the much-better-than-average songwriting. But my experience tells me that allowing Beast Remains a few listens will slowly reveal an album that is arguably a new rock standard with surprisingly solid vocals and a hard rock vibe straight out of the 1970’s.
Despite the fact that Beast Remains marks the Virginia Beach outfits fourth full-length outing, they’ve managed to be both simultaneously incredibly talented and tragically overlooked. Time spent with Beast Remains, or the albums that preceded it, will not be wasted.
1 : King Buffalo – Repeater EP & Longing to Be the Mountain
“A tie?!? That’s cheating!”
For those of you who are blissfully unaware of who King Buffalo is, allow me to hold your head face-first towards the crackling flames of knowledge. This particular brand of aural dynamite includes elements of heavy blues and classic desert rock, with a healthy scoop of alternating spacey cleanliness and fuzz thrown in for good measure.
King Buffalo, being unsatisfied with merely dropping an amazeballs EP at the beginning of the year, chose to follow it up with an album that stands in every way its equal. Centurion, the final song from the EP, could be heard resonating through the walls of my house more frequently than any other song in all of 2018. Like a sudden violent storm on a cloud-free day, the ultimate crescendo of Centurion comes without pomp or parade to simply smash you in the face immediately following the song’s softly-sung pair of verses and choruses. Just awesome.
Longing to Be the Mountain opens with Morning Song, which borrows its feel and general cadence from Centurion; they feel like true companion pieces. They even share a similar structure of playing it cool until the song climbs the roller coaster ramp and really comes crashing together towards the conclusion of the album’s opening ten-minute epic.
In general, King Buffalo is not a band looking to grab your attention right off; they’re content to let you work, play, drive, in the rocking chair of their songs’ openings. Dynamics and structure are the name of the game here, hitting every single notch on the scale in terms before coming in and busting things up with their decidedly melodic sledgehammer.
Sean McVay’s vocals are really one of the band’s unsung strengths… clean and dry, with just a hint of reverb and never sounding out of place. Truly excellent vocalists are few and far between in the world of heavy pysch, so McVay’s obvious talent makes an already excellent racehorse really put some distance between itself and the pack.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the drum mixes on the album… clean as non-existent glass and equally as clear. Every cymbal shines, shimmers, and sizzles exactly like its supposed to. Meanwhile, the drums themselves have obvious physical weight and heft. Yet they don’t sit too fat in the mix. The drums gracefully move over and allow the heavy fuzz of McVay’s guitar to take center stage at precisely the appropriate moment. The album’s final track, “In the Eye of the Storm,” illustrates this point brilliantly.
I will admit, the first time I listened to Longing to Be the Mountain, I didn’t love it right away; it took time to absorb. It’s not a album that is immediate and obvious; the subtle contrasts between the gentle moments and the great fuzzy bombastic uprisings are really where the album shines. Longing to Be the Mountain oozes its way into your consciousness; and after 3 or so listens, the album grew on me. And now I can’t get it off, and I really don’t want to.