The Top 20 Records of 2018

Sitting down to write up HearFeel’s sixth end-of-year list I find myself looking out over the vista of downtown Miami at sunset and it strikes me just what a year this has been in so many ways. I find myself in a strange period of life, one that has been interesting and exciting and filled with new challenges and experiences, learning opportunities both good and bad. All of this of course suspended in the bizarre, ever-shifting political backdrop we are experiencing locally as well as globally.

This dynamism and fringe-chaos introduced to my life this year has had an obvious impact on my music listening habits, both in respect to my time as well as in what I’ve been listening to. Once again I am confronted by the spectre of building a list that caters both to HearFeel’s audience and yet appropriately reflects the content that I have been consuming and enjoying, and in light of this I think I have a slightly more eclectic collection than normal.

There’s nothing here that will be too far outside anyone’s comfort zone but I’m keen to use HearFeel for my original intention: to highlight notable music, and not as this solely Ambient seclusion zone. Do enjoy the list; I think there’s been some really brilliant records this year that definitely give the last couple of years a run for their money, and I would love for you to check these selections out if you haven’t already done so.

As always, thank you everyone who continues to read the site and the, admittedly dwindling, number of labels and artists who continue to keep me abreast of new releases. As per usual: reviews where applicable are linked in the album title; selected tracks for sampling; and purchase links are provided below each record. Enjoy!

1. Chihei Hatakeyama – Butterfly’s Summer and Vanished

It can be a daunting task keeping up with some musicians, and Chihei’s output in a year is often too plentiful for me to keep track of his releases. Fortunately I caught this one and boy am I glad I did. Waves of crystalline drone pour forth from this effortlessly beautiful and timeless album, a feeling of sunlight frozen to preserve the precious Summer and the soft, cool bite of wist after its visitation. Luxurious and absolutely beautifully crafted, this dream of the perfect Summer’s day can be consumed in any season.

Listen: Calm Sea

Purchase on his Bandcamp

2. Good Luck In Death – They Promised Us A Bright Future, We Were Content With An Obscure Past

Shoutout to this year’s obligatory uber-long titled release, this effort between Mondkopf and Charbel Haber is one dense journey. This is a truly captivating listen filled with endless, hellish crescendos, a barely restrained firestorm of damaged drones and textures that impose themselves hauntingly upon you. Be prepared to lose yourself in this huge, consumptive beast that rallies against false promises in gripping noir fashion.

Listen: Fire Dreams and Reveries

Purchase at Nahal Recordings Bandcamp

3. Anna Von Hausswolff – Dead Magic

How would I describe Dead Magic? Perhaps Neoclassical Darkwave, with pinches of Art Pop, Drone and Experimental Rock. This is a tortured soul and a heaving beast of a record, one filled with aggressive guitar, vast organ movements and chilling vocals. It balances a fine line between eerie and brash and pulls it off exceedingly well. This was a bit of an outsider choice for me in some ways but a really impressive album in scope and style.

Listen: Ugly and Vengeful

Purchase at her Bandcamp

4. Saåad – Présence Absente

Saåad in this live album have, I think, managed to beautifully capture a modern concern, one of estrangement in the digital realm and the disconnection from reality the internet brings. This is a touching and accurate reflection of legitimate socio-political troubles that are driving people apart and are only getting worse, with a very pointed nod to Brexit in the final piece. A strong feather in their already very impressive discography.

Listen: Ire – An Euphonic Discord

Purchase on their Bandcamp

5. Anthéne – Divisions

We all have our favourites and I know that I’ve given Brad his fair share of representation on HearFeel but in my opinion it is well deserved. Moreover, I think Divisions is possibly his finest effort to date. As always, a careful balance between sensitive, airy drones and a darker counterpoint that fully embraces the need for juxtaposition; an absolutely beautiful record.

Listen: October

Purchase at his Bandcamp

6. Julia Holter – Aviary

A maximalist Art Pop giant. In all honesty I’m probably putting this lower down on the list than it deserves but it’s a challenging one to approach and consume. This is a truly mind-boggling production filled with more life and orchestral, textural energy than should realistically be in one place and it’s absolutely amazing as a result. I have no idea how a person even begins putting this together, I would say a must listen.

Listen: I Shall Love 2

Purchase at her Bandcamp

7. Matthew Dear – Bunny

I think it’s fair to say I have a man-crush on Matthew Dear, and you should too. I’ve transitioned into a full-blown fanboy of his music over the last few years and this new Synth Pop meets Electronic Dance record is just another chance to fawn over some great new music after a 6 year hiatus. Whilst not as dark or salacious as his older work, this is still a very good and very consistent album from a very mature artist.

Listen: What You Don’t Know

Purchase from his Bandcamp

8. Ben Rath – Anything Is Possible

This is a very sumptuous little record that at once is filled with a twinkling innocence and naivety, and softly thrumming Fenneszian drone movements to give it some drive. It actually has a very distinct character though and with a warming message baked into its shell this is just a really wholesome spin.

Listen: All Part of One

Purchase from his Bandcamp

9. Siavash Amini & Matt Finney – Gospel

The last in a planned trilogy of records (Second Shift should be out next year…), Gospel is fucked up. Finney’s scratchy and haunting poems talk of domestic abuse, rape and death, whilst Amini crushes us in oppressive drones and claustrophobic blankets of noise. This is one of, if not the bleakest album of the year, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice not listening to this. Amazingly torturous.

Listen: Alone Together

Purchase from Opal Tapes’ Bandcamp

10. Hakobune – Betelgeuse

Another regular on my lists, Hakobune always creates such sumptuous drones that I just can’t help myself but get lost in them. Betelgeuse is no exception, humming and shimmering with an ageless grace and yet filled with a potency deep in its backfield that truly reflects the vast size and scale of its namesake. Beautiful and intimate as always.

Listen and purchase at his Bandcamp

11. Floex & Tom Hodge – A Portrait of John Doe

Orchestra meets Electronica: this is like dance music for robots. The production quality on this is really terrific and it just generally has this awesome technocratic, fringe-dystopian vibe to it, constantly on the move, ever waxing and waning as it tracks a careful balance between instrumentation and computerisation. A very distinct and uniquely sounding record.

Listen (On Spotify): Wednesday (Is The New Friday)

Purchase links can be found at Tom’s Bandcamp

12. Tim Hecker – Konoyo

Whilst I’m not that impressed with this record considering Tim’s incredible back-catalogue, I still think this is a note-worthy effort and still commands a powerful presence. Like any of his records this will take you some time to digest and I strongly recommend multiple listens before you make your own judgement, as Hecker reflects on life’s wandering, aimless nature and the thin line that separates us from eternal death.

Listen: This Life

Purchase from his Bandcamp

13. Low – Double Negative

Low for me have always been that distant Slowcore band, but this is one hell of a break from convention. It’s fucking noisy as you like, guitars lost to heaving distortion, pounding percussion, the vocals a ghostly figure in the reverb. This thing eats you up right from the get-go, and refuses to spit you back out until you’ve heard what it has to preach.

Listen: Poor Sucker

Purchase from their Bandcamp

14. Hékla – Á

Constructed largely of theremin and a little scattering of Icelandic vocals, this is a really spectral release. There’s something so alien and also almost baroque about these pieces, the very air itself bridging time and action through Hékla’s summoning hand motions.

Listen: Í Hring

Purchase from Phantom Limb’s Bandcamp

15. Aaron Martin – Touch Dissolves

I listened to this one rather late and it just about made the cutoff, which is fortunate because this is such a lovely one. Absolutely beautiful cello from Aaron as always, the melodies all falling so lightly and earnestly, lovingly. Such an unguardedly emotional record, very strongly recommended.

Listen: Water Reads What Fingers Have Written

Purchase from IIKKI’s Bandcamp

16. A Hawk And A Hacksaw – Forest Bathing

I’ve been waiting on a new one from these two for a few years now, and this does not disappoint. This is brimming with influence and Folk music from the Balkans, Greece, and elsewhere I’m sure; a great and accessible listen for reaching out into other cultures.

Listen: A Broken Road Lined With Poplar Trees

Purchase from the LM Duplication Bandcamp

17. Sarah Davachi – Light Night Come On Bells End The Day

This is a slow, quiet and very carefully developed record, one whose quiescence and reflection could go as easily unnoticed as the dark passage of night. Very stripped back and enigmatic ambience; a must listen for the final track alone, featured below.

Listen: Hours In The Evening

Purchase from her Bandcamp

18. Ian William Craig – Thresholder

Admittedly something of an album of offcuts from between A Turn of Breath and Centres, this lacks some of the focused identity of his previous releases but is still stuffed with fascinating pieces that chart the entropy of his old hardware. A couple of career highlights here too.

Listen: Some Absolute Means

Purchase from his Bandcamp

19. Grouper – Grid of Points

A short and very self-contained record, this is a very good way to be introduced to Liz’s work for the unfamiliar, and a nice continuation of her work on Ruins for those who are. This is perhaps her most intimate work yet, and the ephemerality is painful but honestly, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Listen: Driving

Purchase from her Bandcamp

20. Ian Hawgood – Hikari

And last but not least is Hikari, a really lovely little album that I don’t want to go overlooked. It is as light as its namesake, progressing in hovering static lines and genteel piano graces as intimate as a private performance. This is achingly pretty reminiscence, a nice relic of the Summer months.

Listen: Every Ending Is A Little Sadder Now You’re Gone

Purchase from Eilean’s Bandcamp