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Top 10 Alternative Rock Picks of 2018

2018 is nearing its end, and the underground continues to provide a stellar display of emerging talent in rock. Up to this point, the genre collectively endures through numerous bouts of unexpected visibility, followed by subsequent marginalization. However, despite rock’s lacking prominence in the mainstream, the vast, largely internet-based reach of its artists has kept it as poignant and far from decline as ever.

Starting from number 10, here are ten alternative rock releases from this year that have especially resonated with me.

Personality CultSelf-titled (June 1)

This project was catalyzed by prolific Los Angeles singer-songwriter James Clifford. Even before the EP’s release, Clifford was praised for his craft, and genuine allusions to 80s underground post-punk and new wave. The offerings on this EP are dark and somewhat quirky on the surface, but contain interestingly warm and nostalgic subtleties throughout. Despite its short length, the EP does its job of compensating with a big, atmospheric sound.

Highlight track: “Decay”

U-N-T Y. Ni. Te. EP (Released January 15)

True to what their band name implies (unity), this Canadian trio aims to bring together listeners of diverse music backgrounds. Their debut EP, its name an alternate typeset of the word, features predominantly French songs, but its eclectic mix of progressive rock, grunge, and punk manages to come through outstandingly. With mastering done by fellow Torontonian Noah Mintz (who emerged in the early-to-mid 90s fronting the grunge band hHead), this release is given the ultimate sonic punch it deserves.

Highlight track: “Je M’enfuis”

The Inoculated CanariesTrying Times EP (Released January 5)

After an uphill battle constructing a functional lineup, founder Mike Rubin and long-runner James Terranova (lead vocals/guitar and drums, respectively) have found stability in their inclusion of bassist Dylan Gross and keyboardist Bryan Sweeney. However, this EP – a follow-up to 2013’s The Blue Laws – featured the previous trio permutation of the band: Rubin, Terranova, and bassist/keyboardist Jeremy Kaplan, who had since parted ways on good terms.

For the challenge they’d conquer, which involved confining themselves in Rubin’s basement and completing the EP entirely in one week, the material is nothing short of impressive. Its sound borders on classic, straight ahead heaviness and textured alternative – a party rock exterior with somber undertones, complete with the journey of a man coming to terms with his own mortality.

Highlight track: “Shipwrecked”

Minority 905Dangerous Ambitions (Released July 6)

Front man John Aquino and company returned with a personable sophomore effort this year, having expanded on their already signature pop-punk identity. This time around, the album showcases the Canadian quartet evolving toward more melodic pop sensibilities, which is a testament to their maturation. Half a decade of live performance and a dedicated YouTube following are only part of what has earned them such prominence, and, they’re thriving to this day.

Highlight track: “Soundtrack”

Grow RichSenen Lempuyangan EP (Released April 27)

In late 2016, Indonesian musician Abdur Rahim Latada (aka: Oyi) created a one-man project representative of his assiduous, do-it-yourself ethos. Two years later, the result came in EP form – a sincere ode to indie rock of the 80s and 90s with a contemporary twist, and a concise snapshot of Oyi’s present emotional growth. The EP is fleshed out with input from drummers of the Jakarta death metal scene (Arya Laksana of Dead Vertical, Qory Ariyanto of Trench Horror), as well as hardcore drummer Jati Xeno of Oyi’s previous band, Nervous Breakdown.

Highlight track: “Elle Punk”

Persian LeapsPop That Goes Crunch (Released October 12)

Achieving consistent acclaim on a string of consecutive EPs over a five-year span, the Saint Paul, Minnesota classic-tinged power pop trio made a solid transition into full-length territory. What earns the album its distinction, though, is the unexpected effectiveness of its approach. Rather than present a whole new set of material, the band chose instead to rework, remix, and remaster a selection of songs from their previous releases, and included a new single to bring the album’s cohesion full circle. On top of that, fittingly vintage cereal box cover art for the win!

Highlight track: “Time Slips”

AvantistSelf-titled (Released April 13)

This Chicago, Illinois quartet, as referenced in their name, showcases a distinctly avant-garde sound – multi-tempo strands of indie rock, post-punk, prog, R&B, and everything in between. But the band’s core purpose is rooted in familial bonding. More specifically, it is that of their lineup in the Arias brothers. Guitarist David, bassist Erick, and drummer Luis are fronted by Fernando, and each musician functions as an essential component to the blistering, prodigious, and often frenetic debut album that puts their talent in perspective.

Highlight track: “Conquer”

VisitorsCrest (Released July 13)

On the strength of two successful EP releases, the Salt Lake City, Utah quintet returned with a definite expansion of their musical identity. Their full-length sees especially seasoned implementation of post-hardcore inspired heaviness with clean, bolstering melody. As these components envelop a poignant, fleshed out narrative of internal strife, it is well worth the listen from start to finish.

Highlight track: “Styrofoam Needles”

Super AmericanTequila Sunrise (Released September 14)

Matt Cox and Pat Feely spent three years deriving meaning from their surroundings, all the while writing and refining their sense of pop craft. What comes of these efforts is a prime example of just that. The songs on offer are predominantly short, yet charming indie rock jams, each an insightful anecdote that encompasses the journey of the burgeoning twenty-something.

Highlight track: “Hands Down Olivia”

Sci-Fi RomanceDreamers & Runaways (Released October 19)

The band’s formative output earned them acclaim for their implementing a rootsy and mournful, but well-woven gothic folk sound. Now, Vance Kotrla and the gang have greatly expanded their horizons to include dirgy, up-tempo, and surprisingly uplifting sensibilities on this album. While these changes may seem like departures in the wide sense of stylistic progression, they are sincere, and exceed the album’s aim to impact its listeners wholeheartedly.

Highlight track: “Dreamers & Runaways”

Highlight Tracks Playlist:

About Jake Kussmaul

I come from a family who is passionate about all things music. I learned to sing at an early age, and by 13, had my very own Fender Strat guitar. I tried my hardest at learning all that I could. Because I was born with cerebral palsy, I had to teach myself an adaptive playing style. I learned to write and record my own music, despite these difficulties. In college, I started making great use of my writing abilities by reviewing music, as well as copy editing. I guess it's best to stick with what you know, while welcoming a fair challenge at the same time.

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