Now, with a whole day’s perspective, it’s time for me to look back at 2018 with clear and focused eyes! All of the secrets have been revealed… All of the mysteries, UNLOCKED, by the swift passage of time!  Or I just lost the end of the year to assorted stuff, and I only now got around to remembering that it’s List Season.

The mainstream in 2018 carried on in the traditionally strange way that the mainstream always carries on. It’ll be yet another year that, ten or twenty years from now, will be looked back upon like, “Um, why did that happen tho?” The explosive popularity of Soundcloud rap, which is a much more fascinating scene than it is a form of music, and the critical boosting of bands that aren’t actually getting listened to, thus forming a bizarro alternate universe for those of us that pay attention to critics (What? Mitski isn’t a household name? No one knows what a Mitski is???), has made this a baffling time to catalogue the history of the era.

Fortunately, we don’t have to be concerned with history. The ever-lengthening long tail of the music industry has given us access to an impossible amount of nichey content at a moment’s notice. Who could possibly not be overwhelmed at such an absurd cavern of riches awaiting our earholes at every minute of the day? I, for one, live in a constant state of FONLTE (Fear Of Not Listening To Everything), but here are a few gems among the throngs of other gems:

 For Summoning the Vast Powers of the Occult: Anna von Hausswolff – Dead Magic

With her love of pipe organ and her angels & demons voice, Anna von Hausswolff has made a masterpiece of misty and ferocious music that will raise the witchery in us all. While the title might make it sound as if magic were dead, we should probably read it more like Magic From The Dead. Much like its artwork, the album is full of hideous dread but also a coursing magical quality that fills it with an unspeakable life. Light up your bonfires within the groves of pine and worship the divine and the profane alike!

With three massive songs, followed by two mostly instrumental tunes that act as a sort of winding-down, von Hausswolff has created a nearly breathable atmosphere for your worst nightmares and greatest mortal delights.

 For WTF’ing to: Daniel Romano – Finally Free

Unlike his easily accessible 2018 release under the punky/rocky Ancient Shapes name, Daniel Romano’s end-of-the-year A-bomb of a record, Finally Free, is a real head-scratcher. Coming off an early career of wooley low register country tunes which ramped its way into a stellar Dylan-circa-Street Legal phase, Romano is now diving into some sort of ‘60s cult of his own making. The flower crowns are strewn with mysterious objects as he develops a tripped out vocabulary that includes “reaching trims” [noun] and “celestial manis”, none of which necessarily gels into any kind of discernable worldview. This is Hare Krishna in a blender. It’s a smoothie full of precious crystal shards and doobie butts, washed down with a hit of whatever hallucinogen you’ve got lying around.

Romano is a talent to watch: he’s prolific, adventurous, and unafraid of being light-years outside of the mainstream. If this trip isn’t to your liking, come back for the next one. It will always, at the very least, be a helluva ride.

 For Raising the Devil of the Past: Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit

It’s a beautifully easy pitch: what if we took the vibes of old American slave spirituals and set them aflame with black metal, easily one of the whitest (at least the palest) forms of music out there? But Stranger Fruit does something much more interesting than this potential gimmick. There seems to be a dark and fantastic story running through this album, as if The Horned One himself had appeared in the South and developed followers amongst the oppressed, surely a faster track to freedom than calling out to a white man’s god who refused to respond or loosen the shackles. Rage, unembellished. A rage so deeply earned.

The production may be a little rough on this go-round (and the weird Mark Mothersbaugh-circa-Life Aquatic electro-instrumentals of “The Fool” and “Solve” are a bit out of place), but keep your ears peeled (and lacerated) for more Zeal & Ardor in the future…

 For Time Traveling: Cut Worms – Hollow Ground

Busting open the Beatles For Sale-era grave and stripping the corpses for parts, Max Clarke, writing as Cut Worms, frankenstein’d a collection of brilliantly familiar yet deceptively skilled songs that bring the mid-60s back to dusty life. Playing out like an unearthed lost recording, you can groove gently to tracks like “Don’t Want to Say Good-bye” and “Till Tomorrow Goes Away” as if you were at Mellow Night at The Hop. Is there really any reason you *don’t* want to be there? Let that vinyl spin…

Ignore the strange Hank Williams-style sidetrack “Hanging Your Picture Up to Dry” if you’d like, but it’s solidly done as well. To call this album derivative is to totally discount the skill it takes to make a catchy tune in any given genre. And it’s hella catchy.

 For Communing with Nature: Richard Reed Parry – Quiet River of Dust, Vol. 1

When searching for a gentle folklectro album for a frolic through the woods, one would not first look to side projects of members of Canada’s own bombastic and oft blowhardy Arcade Fire, but Richard Reed Parry has left the arenas in flora-plundered ruins with this set of lovely but still epic pastoralectric tunes that promises a healing of the spirit through Nature’s vast and cosmic hug. “I Was in the World (Was the World in Me)” presents bombast that’s more in line with Bryce Canyon National Park rather than his main gig’s stadiums packed with fancily dressed pseudo-hipsters.

It’s a bit more ambient than my typical picks, but it’ll calmly brighten up your day a bit. Volume 2 is slated for 2019; will it make the year-end list?! If only we could skip the year entirely in order to find out…

Happy New Year to you all, and a Nichey New Year to your ears!  Spin on.

David C. Casey