The Best (and worst) of Everything Else in 2018

The Best New Movies I Saw in 2018:

1. Climax
2. The Favourite
3. Suspiria
4. First Reformed
5. Eighth Grade
6. BlacKKKlansman
7. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
8. Halloween
9. Braid
10. The House That Jack Built

The Best Blu-Rays I Bought in 2018:

The Princess Bride
2001: A Space Odyssey (2018 restoration)
Wild at Heart
Female Trouble
The Virgin Suicides

The Best New Fiction I Read in 2018:

The Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner
Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Otessa Moshfegh
Made For Love, by Alissa Nutting
Coyote Doggirl, by Lisa Hanawalt
Sabrina, by Nick Drnaso
Women Talking, by Miriam Toews
Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata

The Best Older Fiction I Finally Read in 2018:

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
Zone, by Mathias Énard
The Monk, by Matthew Lewis

The Best Non-Fiction I Read in 2018:

The Third Reich Trilogy, by Richard J. Evans
The Romanovs 1613-1918, by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room, by Geoff Dyer
Fear, by Bob Woodward
The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump, by Michiko Kakutani

The Worst Book I Read in 2018:

Crudo, by Olivia Laing

The Worst Mainstream Rock I Heard on the Radio at Work in 2018:

“When the Curtain Falls”, Greta Van Fleet
“S.O.S. (Sawed-Off Shotgun”, Glorious Sons
“Zombie”, Bad Wolves
“Ghost”, Badflower
“Straight Jacket”, Theory of a Deadman

Mainstream Rock I Heard on the Radio at Work in 2018 That I Actually Liked:

“T-Shirt”, The Beaches
“When Legends Rise”, Godsmack
“Denim Danger”, Monster Truck
“Are You Ready”, Disturbed
“Driving Rain”, Slash feat. Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators

Best Metal Albums of 2018:

1. Ghost, Prequelle
2. Sleep, The Sciences
3. Voivod, The Wake
4. Judas Priest, Firepower
5. High on Fire, Electric Messiah
6. Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Wasteland
7. Tribulation, Down Below

8. KEN Mode, Loved

9. Amorphis, Queen of Time

10.Tomb Mold, Manor of Infinite Forms

Best Canadian Metal Albums of 2018:
1. Voivod, The Wake
2. KEN Mode, Loved
3. Tomb Mold, Manor of Infinite Forms
4. Cauldron, New Gods
5. Untimely Demise, No Promise of Tomorrow
6. Kobra and the Lotus, Prevail II
7. Altars of Grief, Iris
8. Into Eternity, The Sirens
9. Striker, Play to Win
10. Skull Fist, Way of the Road

The 2018 Album of the Year

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Ghost, Prequelle (Loma Vista)

The potential for Ghost to metamorphose into a major headlining rock/metal act was always there, which is why Loma Vista signed the Swedes to a lucrative deal in 2012. Since the 2010 cult favorite Opus Eponymous it’s been a slow build, but over time more and more curious listeners have been drawn to mastermind Tobias Forge’s devilishly delicious blend of accessible hooks, blasphemous lyrics, and a carefully honed visual aesthetic that hearkens back to the shock rock glory days of the 1970s and ‘80s. Personally I’ve been a huge fan of Ghost since 2010, dating back when an editor strongly urged me to check out this mysterious Swedish band’s MySpace page, and over the course of his decade it’s been enormously fun watching them steadily become one of the biggest draws in metal and hard rock. Its been a work in progress, though, but the singles “He Is” and “Square Hammer” started pointing Ghost in an interesting direction, where hooks took precedence over mood.

Fourth album Prequelle was the one that hurled Ghost over the top, thanks in large part to the blockbuster singles “Rats” and “Dance Macabre”. However, there’s a lot more than pop-friendly melodies on this ambitious record. Forge tips his hat to the garish heavy metal of King Diamond (“Faith”), the theatrical balladry of late-‘70s Alice Cooper and Queen (“See the Light”, “Pro Memoria”), and the perpetual influence of Blue Öyster Cult that looms over the band (“Witch Image”). However, the most revelatory moments are found on the instrumentals “Helvetesfönster” and “Miasma”: the former reminiscent of vintage progressive rock band Camel, the latter an uproarious, wildly entertaining soundtrack to a giallo film lurking in Forge’s vivid imagination. All year long this was a slam dunk for my favourite album of 2018: it embodies everything I’ve loved most about heavy metal for 35 years: escapism, theatricality, a perfect balance between riffs and hooks, plenty of healthy blasphemy, and a little mystique. It feels perfectly suited for me, and there’s no better reason to name it my Album of the Year.

The 2018 Track of the Year

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Ghost, “Dance Macabre”

Lurking sneakily on side two of Ghost’s revelatory fourth album, “Dance Macabre” is not only a raucous depiction of dancing the night away in the face of impeding doom, but a pitch-perfect celebration of classic pop metal from the 1980s. Fitting somewhere between Also Nova’s “Fantasy” and Blue Öyster Cult’s “Dancing in the Ruins”, singer/songwriter/mastermind Tobias Forge builds the track around the most incessant rock hook on the year, dynamically building to the ingeniously punny payoff: “I just wanna be, I wanna bewitch you in the moonlight.” If Trump and his coterie of bigots are going to send us all spiraling to our doom, we might as well enjoy ourselves one last time, and this is the perfect soundtrack.

The Best Tracks of 2018, #2

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2. Robyn, “Missing U”

“Can’t make sense of all of the pieces of my own delusions,” Robyn sings on her masterful comeback single, “Can’t take all these memories / Don’t know how to use ‘em.” In one sense, it’s the classic Robyn narrative that permeated such classic singles as “Dancing on My Own” and “Call Your Girlfriend”, in which she achieves a sort of transcendence by wallowing in her own misery. However there’s a sense of maturity, and even liberation that ultimately makes “Missing U” so special. Bolstered by a gorgeous, sparkling arrangement by Klas Åhlund and Joseph Mount, Robyn brings her trademark sincerity to the track, but this time around there’s the prevailing feeling that although she might be sad, there’s the acceptance that the sadness is okay. “All the love you gave, it still defines me,” she concludes, the song ending on a surprising, subtly positive note. Robyn has never sounded stronger.

The Best Albums of 2018, #2

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2. Christine and the Queens, Chris (Because)

Back in 2015, I was at the Osheaga fest in Montreal and went to check out a new artist called Christine and the Queens on one of the side stages. Because she was French and had achieved some trans-Atlantic success in Quebec, she drew a sizable crowd, and her performance was a lot more charming than I expected. It was high-energy, complete with choreography, but it was completely lacking pretentiousness. I enjoyed her smooth take on electronic R&B well enough, but in no way did that prepare me for what this incredibly talented artist named Heloïse Letissier had in store for 2018. Whereas Letissier looked decidedly feminine in 2015, albeit in a tomboyish way, she re-emerged in 2018 with a leaner, more muscular physique, not to mention a cropped hairstyle that accentuated her truly androgynous appeal. A self-professed pansexual, Letissier’s sexuality takes front and centre on the revelatory and groundbreaking album Chris, in which she bares all, from lust to remorse to heartbreak to joy. Musically Chris is hugely inspired by such ’80s sounds as Michael Jackson, classic Janet Jackson, and New Jack, and wow, do you ever hear it on the opening track “Comme si”, in which you can envision her authoritative dancing as you hear the track. “Girlfriend”, “The Walker”, “5 Dollars”, “Goya Soda”, “Damn (what must a woman do)” are so incredible in their ’80s homages that if this came out 30 yerars ago, it would have been a global smach. As it stands, Chris is an all-out triumph, in French or English. In fact, I was apprehensive of the accompanying English CD for this album, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Letissier is a remarkably talented English lyricist, and her unorthodox use of English cadences makes for some really powerful lines, something you’d never hear from an anglophone singer. In an era where the lines between masculinity and femininity have become more blurred than ever – heck, I even discovered that while I am a hetero male I am not a cis-hetero male, not by a long shot – this masterpiece of an album is an impassioned and ultimately transcendent celebration of the fluidity of gender. After all, a rainbow is far more interesting than mere black and white.

The Best Tracks of 2018, #3

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3. Billie Eilish, “You Should See Me in a Crown”

After releasing a pair of viral pop singles, teenager Billie Eilish sent listeners’ jaws straight to the floor with the minimalist “You Should See Me in a Crown”. Equal parts hip-hop and avant-garde electronic, the track is dominated by producer (and Eilish’s brother) Finneas O’Connell’s roaring synth line and skittering hi-hat beats, but the brooding presence of Eilish packs a huge wallop. It’s a rare modern pop song that demands menace from the singer rather than vocal histrionics, and Eilish delivers that in spades, snarling, “You should see me in a crown / I’m gonna run this nothing town / Watch me make ’em bow / One by one by one.”

The Best Albums of 2018, #3

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3. Sleep, The Sciences (Third Man)

It was admittedly cute seeing Sleep reunite after a long dormancy, and their headlining performance at Roadburn 2012 was the stuff of legend. Seriously, that show in Holland was one of the most memorable concerts I have ever attended. But it was a good novelty, a seemingly quick diversion from the projects of brain trust Matt Pike and Al Cisneros, who were plenty occupied with High on Fire and Om respectively. As the years have gone by those “reunion” shows have kept on going, to the point where I kept wondering what the point was, and whether the public still wanted to hear rehashes of seminal works Holy Mountain and Dopesmoker. It got to the point where I personally would have greatly rather have seen Pike concentrate his time on the great High on Fire, instead of milking the nostalgia thing with Sleep. That all changed on April 20, 2018, fittingly enough, when Sleep surprised everyone on the metal world by releasing their first album in 20 years on Jack White’s Third Man label. What I heard that day sounded impressive, but the more I listened to it, the more it started to sink in that this is unquestionably the band’s finest work, ever. A bold statement, I know, especially considering how metal fans cling to the past like an old security blanket from their infancy, but the more I hear it, which has been a lot this year, the more I am convinced it is true. There’s not much to the Sleep sound: the primary influences are the first three Black Sabbath albums, and they revel in it. You can hear just how well the chemistry works between Pike, Cisneros, and drummer Jason Roeder on the instant classic “Marijuanaut’s Theme”: these boys can swing, and swing hard. Conversely, the discipline on display on “Sonic Titan” is a marvel, the song sounding like the evil bastard offspring of Sabbath’s “Hand of Doom”. “Antarcticans Thawed” is a 15-minute master class in doom dynamics, while “Giza Butler” is loaded with so many weed and Sabbath-inspired puns that you can’t help but smile. The tone of the record is as comfortably enveloping nd heavy as you’d expect a doom record to be, but Pike’s guitar tone has just enough savagery and bite to perfectly offset Cisneros’s musical and mellow basslines. Doom doesn’t get much better than this, and The Sciences is a record that I went back to time and time again throughout 2018. I expect to be listening to it even more as the years go by.

The Best Tracks of 2018, #4

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4. Lana Del Rey, “Venice Bitch”

I’ve greatly admired the way Lana Del Rey flirted with novelty status, righted herself, and became one of the more enduring solo acts of this decade. Her concept and persona seem shallow at first glance, but again and again she finds new ways to experiment with her sound. At nine and a half minutes, “Venice Bitch” is certainly a departure, but a stunning one, and her best work since “West Coast” in 2014. From the start it echoes that early-‘70s Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter vibe, but slowly dissolves into a sumptuous extended psychedelic jam, with swirling synths and guitar feedback weaving in and out of the soothing arrangement. Sunny, warm, and woozy, it exudes that California vibe Del Rey has been chasing all these years, and nails it.

The Best Albums of 2018, #4

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4. Robyn, Honey (Konichiwa)

In the eight years between her last two albums, pop music felt empty without Robyn. Her metamorphosis from teenaged Max Martin-produced pop star to trend-setting auteur is the stuff of legend, and you’d be hard pressed to find another artist who equals her in terms of vision. She has always been ahead of the curve, and she proves that fact yet again on the long, long-awaited follow-up to 2010’s Body Talk. One of Robyn’s great strengths as a singer and songwriter is how she can make music that feels exultant and devastating at the same time, and nowhere is that balance more evident and perfect on the shimmering “Missing U”. There’s great sadness in her lyrics, but a semblance of happy reminiscence as well: “Your scent on my pillow’s faded / At least you left me with something.” The wistful “Because it’s in the Music” expertly depicts the power of recorded music, while the pulsating “Between the Lines” is a modern interpretation of house music. The album has its truly daring moments, too. “Baby Forgive Me” and “Send to Robyn Immediately” explore more ambient territory as she herself expresses great grief and the desire for some sort of reconciliation. However, things take a turn towards the more transcendent on “Honey”, easily the most sensual song Robyn has ever written, and perhaps the most personal, because when you hear her sweetly sing those lines, you feel they’re coming from a place far deeper than mere storytelling. After running the full gamut of emotions, the gentle synthpop of “Ever Again” closes the record with a little resolution as Robyn promises to never let heartbreak bother this much in the future. We certainly hope so, but one can’t help feel that Robyn’s perfect bittersweet quality will never disappear. She remains one of only a few true geniuses in pop music, and Honey is a powerful return.

The Best Tracks of 2018, #5

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5. Christine & the Queens, “Girlfriend”

In one audacious three and a half-minute track Héloïse Letissier, as her alterego Chris, obliterates any and all gender norms on the stupendous “Girlfriend”. Atop an ebullient arrangement that’s equal parts New Jack, Michael Jackson, and Janet Jackson (lotsa jacks) Chris is the sexual aggressor, full of desire but hilariously baffled by the heteronormativity everywhere (“Boys are loading their arms, girls gasp with envy / For whom are they mimicking endlessly?”). Chris might not feel like a girlfriend, as the song’s silky smooth chorus goes, but she doesn’t have to: she’s going to have as much lusty fun as possible, regardless. This track is an audacious, life-affirming, and refreshingly non-binary stunner.