Best of 2018: Non-metal records

OK, yes, this is a metal site, but anyone who reads this with any regularity knows we veer off course a lot. I listen to way more than just metal, as I’m sure most of our readers do as well, and my year-end Spotify report was basically bereft of heavy stuff.

So, with us getting ready to cover our favorite 40 metal records of 2018, now’s also a great time to look back on records that are not in the metal category that we enjoyed the hell out of. There are a few records here that have some definite crossover appeal to metal listeners, but many of them definitely do not. Oh, these are in alphabetical order.

COURTNEY MARIE ANDREWS, “May Your Kindness Remain” (Fat Possum): At just 28, Andrews already has six records on her resume, and “May Your Kindness Remain” is by far her best to date. This has the feel of a classic country record with stories of love, loss, family, and the rigors of the road, as her downhome voice makes you feel like you’re hearing from an old friend who has seen some shit. The title track has an amazing swelling moment toward the end that will gut you. (March 23)

Buy the album here: https://courtneymarieandrews.bandcamp.com/album/may-your-kindness-remain

BLISS SIGNAL, self-titled (Profound Lore/True Panther): This is the return to harsher music for James Kelly, who works under the WIFE banner but who also used to be in Altar of Plagues. This team with DJ Jack Adams is far more guitar-centric than WIFE’s material, and it’s both dreamy and abrasive, sending you into one hell of a scary fever dream. Really strange and explosive stuff. (Sept. 28)

Buy the album here: https://blisssignal.bandcamp.com/album/bliss-signal

JACKIE COHEN, “Tacoma Night Terror Parts 1 and 2” (Spacebomb): For all the tastemaker sites out there trying to find a bunch of new artists for people to pine over, how the fuck did they miss out on Jackie Cohen’s great two EPs? Ever since her song “Darlin’” showed up on my new release mix on Spotify, I’ve been infatuated with her bizarre style of folk, psychedelics, old-style rock and roll, and … well, stuff I can’t even describe. Her voice could take some getting used to for some, but once you’re in, you’re fully infected by her zany, unquestionably amazing set of characters. Go listen to her! (June 29/Oct. 12)

Buy the albums here: https://jackiecohen.bandcamp.com/

CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX, “Great Escape” (Season of Mist): Anytime UK progressive rockers Crippled Black Phoenix put out anything, we’re willing to listen, and “Great Escape” is no exception. This band knows how to mine this scar-ridden world for dark tales and warning, always with a note of hope etched in just in case we all survive. From “You’ve Brought It Upon Yourselves” that, through sound clips, praises the role of the outcast, to the sweeping and rushing “To You I Give,” the band puts together an 11-track tour de force that might have you taking up arms to defend all the forces in life and society out for true justice and good. (Sept. 14)

Buy the album here: https://crippledblackphoenixsom.bandcamp.com/album/great-escape

THE HOLD STEADY, trio of mini releases (self-released): So, this is a confusing entry. OK, so the Hold Steady didn’t put out a new full-length this year (they did drop a killer live record as a name your price offering last week), but they did put out three two-track releases throughout the year that sounds like this great rock band finding their legs again. Part of that could be the return of keyboard player Franz Nicolay to the outfit, as his departure a few records ago had a bigger impact than anyone ever realized. They’re on fire, they’ve rediscovered what made them so awesome, and even singer/guitarist Craig Finn is sounding like his old self again. Great having these guys truly back. (March 5/July 17/Sept. 5)

Buy the EPs here: https://holdsteady.bandcamp.com/

THE LONG HUNT, “All Paths Lead to Here” (self-released): I’ve spoken of the riches of bands we have here in Pittsburgh, and another great example of that are doom instrumental pounders The Long Hunt. There isn’t a desert anywhere near here, but you wouldn’t know it when this band is melting your face off (they’re even better live, by the way) with these Earth-y gems. These six tracks are lengthy and immersive, as you will find yourself working your way into the tunnel on “Ground of Being” and you’re off on a mind-altering journey that brings you back to the surface gasping once the record ends with “Cantiga 166 (Tower of Set).” Excellent band and record. (June 1)

Buy the album here: https://thelonghunt.bandcamp.com/

MISERABLE, “Loverboy/Dog Days” (Sargent House): Four new songs and four songs Kristina Esfandiari wrote in the past make up this really great collection that shows the poppier, yet even darker side than she shows fronting King Woman. Esfandiari pulls zero punches on the four new tracks, taking to task bad lovers, failing relationships, and toxic masculinity and objectifying women’s bodies. The “Dog Days” part is a little less scarred lyrically, and it gives an interesting glimpse into this project’s early days, where the music was a little glossier. Really strong effort. (Oct. 26)

Buy the album here: https://miserablegrl.bandcamp.com/

MITSKI, “Be the Cowboy” (Dead Oceans): Mitski Miyawaki is a goddamn genius, and her fifth record “Be the Cowboy” is more proof of that statement. At 14 songs, the record seems overstuffed at first glance. Then you hear it, and the songs seem too short (what is this, a grindcore album?!). But let the record grow, and if you do, you’ll find a brilliant document woven together with short stories, dashes of all different styles of music, and some of the rawest, most honest lyrics anywhere in music. It’s truly a record that gets better and more involved with each listen that by the time you finish with heart-crushing closer “Two Slow Dancers,” you’ll wonder what the hell hit you. It was Mitski, and she just might be the best songwriter of this era. (Aug. 17)

Buy the album here: https://mitski.bandcamp.com/

MARISSA NADLER, “For My Crimes” (Sacred Bones): Marissa Nadler is one of my favorite songwriters ever, and it’s because she releases records the quality of “For My Crimes,” one of her darkest and most daring. She has a base sound for sure, which is rooted in folk music, but she pushes further past that than ever with these excellent 10 songs. Each one is its own story and stands out from the rest of the pack yet also works as living, breathing cell of the overall whole. She starts with the title track, where her character takes the long walk toward death row, which she uses to mirror a failed relationship, works to the intoxicating “Blue Vapor,” and concludes the album with “Said Goodbye to That Car,” where she says farewell to an old vehicle and an expired love. Our love for Nadler never will expire. (Sept. 28)

Buy the album here: https://marissanadler.bandcamp.com/album/for-my-crimes

EMMA RUTH RUNDLE, “On Dark Horses” (Sargent House): Emma Ruth Rundle’s greatness knows no bounds, and on her fourth record “On Dark Horses,” she keeps her amazing string of great albums flowing with force. This is her loudest, grimiest effort to date, and it’s also her moodiest, which is saying something. Getting some assists from guitarist Evan Patterson and the rest of Jaye Jayle (her backing band now, who really flesh out her sound), Rundle makes the most of having some strong supporting players by turning out some of the best guitar work of her run as a solo artist. The songs here are unforgettable from “Fever Dreams,” “Darkhorse” (best chorus on the record), “Light Song,” and sad closer “You Don’t Have to Cry.” She’s also a beast with which to be reckoned live, where these songs live on a totally different level. (Sept. 14)

Buy the album here: https://emmaruthrundle.bandcamp.com/album/on-dark-horses