Well, it’s that time of year again when top lists are made and we all return to look back over the year of music and what has touch and impressed us. Here at Somewherecold, writing reviews have been in short order simply because Somewherecold moved across the U.S. to another part of the country and that, folks, is a full-time project. Nevertheless, normalcy is slowly returning, boxes are slowly being emptied, and writing is once again beginning to commence. That said, I want to present Somewherecold’s top 25 Shoegaze and Ambient albums of 2018. Check out the artists, the albums, and, please, support bands by buying their albums and merch. It keeps the world going round and new music being made and we all want that to happen.
1. Grivo: Elude (Holodeck Records)
One of the best moments in any given year is that moment when an album comes across my desk and blows me away. It remains on repeat for a very long time because I can’t get enough of it. There were a number of those albums this year but Grivo’s debut Elude stands out from the pack for me. Sludgy, powerful, and emotively potent, Elude is a collection of nine tracks that, from the first note on, is perfect in every way. The ebbs and flows of the album entrance the listener like Orpheus casting his spell over all the universe. The cascading slowly formed sonic currents wash through the air and the dreamy, ethereal vocals ring into eternity. If you haven’t bought this album yet, you should do so. To leave it out of your collection would be to deny said collection a piece of greatness.
2. Oxy: FITA (Self-Release)
One of my most anticipated albums of the year was Oxy’s FITA. Their self-titled debt EP garnered high praise from Somewherecold in 2017 hitting #3 in the top Shoegaze/Dreampop EPs in 2017. That EP predicted what became an incredible album. FITA has some of the best vocals, guitar work, and percussive/bass work of the year. I have to say, the guitar solos on this album are impressive, not just for their clear technical prowess, but for the choices in their delivery, the tonal quality of the work, and just the damn ear worminess of it all. And let’s not forget Sara Cândido hypnotic vocal delivery and magnetic draw. This Brazilian band is the real deal and I cannot wait to hear what Oxy has next!
3. The Daysleepers: Creation (Self-Release)
It’s no secret that I’m a huge The Daysleepers fan. I’ve been enthralled with their music since the Hide Your Eyes EP hit in 2005. Since 2008, the band has been pretty quiet until this year. 2018 saw the incredible return of this important shoegaze band and The Daysleepers have not lost an ounce of brilliance. Creation is a masterpiece of oceanic guitars and soaring, wistful compositions. Huge in places and soft and centered in others, Creation is both powerfully other as well as intimate and personal. This band has a unique ability to channel everything mystical one can find in the ambient genre with the prowess of ethereal, wall of sound shoegaze. It’s a potent combination and everyone should be trying to get a copy of Creation asap.
4. Dorias Baracca: Dorias Baracca (Azure Vista Records)
Azure Vista Records really surprised with the release of this brilliant and incredible LP. An album that almost didn’t come out, Jonas Munk took it upon himself to save it and release it into the world. All of us should be grateful he did. Dorias Baracca was a band from Denmark whose lead singer died the day the album was finished in 2011. This tragedy shelved the album for many years, with band members grieving the loss of their bandmate and good friend. The album is a set of seven single-worthy tracks with zero filler. I’m grateful the band came to the place where they felt this incredible piece of shoegaze/dreampop could be shared with the world. Get a copy. You will not be disappointed!
5. Landing: Bells in New Towns (El Paraiso Records)
As I get to number five in the list, you can see why I’ve struggled to put together an order. Landing landed here not because it is not worth of the top place, but because the field is so crowded. Landing is one of my favorites all time bands and, if stranded on an island, I would want their catalog with me. Bells in New Towns is arguably one of the best in their catalog and I’m blown away by its fierceness, significance, and musicality. This is one of those albums with more structured pieces and, while I absolutely love their ambient side, Bells in New Towns demonstrates the band’s incredible songwriting abilities. These veterans of the scene just keep getting better and I cannot wait to hear what’s next.
6. The Beremy Jets: Careless (Somewherecold Records)
So, I always struggle with placing music I release on the Somewherecold Records label on this list because, well, it looks like a conflict of interest. On the other hand, I put out said records because I think they and the artists are great and deserving of an audience. Therefore, instead of push them to the side, I’m going all out on my love for our artists. The Beremy Jets hails from Sweden and is the solo project of the incredible Paul Saarnak. Careless is the debut album from the project and it is stellar from start to finish. Channeling the noisy side of shoegaze, Saarnak creates a blistering set of tracks that should become shoegaze classics in the long run. From the slowed down “No Am No” to the gloriously catchy “Waves of Wonder”, The Beremy Jets proves a project worth your attention!
7. Echo Ladies: Pink Noise (Sonic Cathedral)
Another amazing album out of Malmö, Sweden, Echo Ladies debut album is a dreamy tour de force. Subtle guitar laces the tracks throughout Pink Noise with radiant synths and 80’s inspired percussion. Driving and times and sparsely subdued at others, Pink Noise radiates with commanding brilliance. There are some impressive debut albums on the list this year and Pink Noise by Echo Ladies is well worth your time and money. Pick up a copy!
8. Soft Science: Maps (Test Pattern Records)
Maps is the third full length release from California’s Soft Science and I have to say it’s their best outing to date. Release in mid-summer, the brightness of the tracks, the California-esque layers, and the enthralling song writing make this the perfect soundtrack to the summer of 2018. The pop structures here are catchy in all the right ways and the dreampop flavors sweet as ever. A top 10 album of 2018, no doubt!
9. Film School: Bright to Death (Hauskat)
Another California based band, Film School brings a deep and abiding swagger to their brightly accent song structures. Bright to Death floats and dives in ethereal clouds of guitar bliss while some of the bass work on an album can be found here. Bright to Death is eleven tracks but no track feels like filler and the song writing substructure of each is solid. From the frantic high hat of “The Celebration” to the gloriously nostalgic synths of “In Two”, Bright to Death takes dreampop in many directions through the shaping of a singular vision and sound.
10. Sexores: East/West (Buh Records)
Sexores is a synth laden dreampop outfit hailing from Ecuador. Ghostly, etherial, and consistently brilliant, Sexores have crafted what is a magnificent double album with East/West. The first half is populated with gloriously catchy dreampop gems moves more into experimental territory, stretching out sounds into ambient blissful moments or dark synth laden gems. It is because of this juxtaposition and the challenging nature of the album that it lands in our top 10. It is a set of exquisite tracks leading into a much more thought provoking aural journey that shows the band’s decidedly wide range of talent and writing acumen. Highly recommended!
11. Single Lash: Providence (Holodeck Records)
Shoegaze with one toe in Goth and another in Post Punk, Single Lash are a stand out band that has a unique sound, genre bending like masters of their domain. Neil Lord, Marcus Maurice Rubio, and Nicolas Nadeau craft dreamy pieces with low brooding vocals and floating guitars. There are moments of almost slowcore, sludgegaze and I mean this in the most complimentary way. Providence has a weight to it that is a counter to the dreamier guitar moments that most albums in the genre don’t have. Dense and swirling and bloody mad, Providence is impeccable.
12. Neiv: Canyon Dreams (Somewherecold Records)
Canyon Dreams originally came out in March in digital form only but Somewherecold Records picked up the album for physical release on disc in August. This was because the album is frankly amazing and Neiv have crafted a gorgeous and lush dreampop aural experience like most cannot. Dreamy and floating, Neiv craft unearthly tones and catchy pop hooks. This is really what dreampop music is meant to be. Get a copy of the limited edition CD, turn up the volume, and float away on cloud-laden guitar layers.
13. Bloody Knives: White Light/Black Moon (Self Release)
One could argue that Bloody Knives isn’t a shoegaze band but I would tell fans of shoegaze that. Embraced by the scene wholeheartedly, the band has found a place among shoegaze fans and rightly so. Early this year, they released White Light/Black Moon as a self-released album and, I have to say, I think this is their best outing to date. Fierce, uncompromising, and heart pounding. Fuzzed out, screeching guitars populate White Light/Black Moon as industrial synths hum and thump over pounding, aggressive drums. Wanna get some dark vibes with incredibly catchy tracks and incredible song writing, Bloody Knives has everything you need in White Light/Black Moon. Fetch a copy, I dare you!
14. Blush Response: Hearts Grow Dull (Self Release)
Reverb, reverb, and more reverb. Blush Response brings guitar strings and electric tones pulsing into the speakers with dreampop breathy vocals. Part of the epic shoegaze scene in Australia, Blush Response have wow’d with their first full length Hearts Grow Dull. Groovy and hitting all the right notes, Blush Response bring to the table a 90’s nostalgia while still sounding like themselves. Exquisite guitar work dots this aural landscape as solos punctuate the walls of sound. Another great debut album from another great band!
15. Say Sue Me: Where We Were Together (Electric Muse)
Back in April a little known Korean band called Say Sue Me released their album Where We Were Together and it was immediately embraced by dreampop and shoegaze fans. Effervescently poppy and altogether enduring, We Were Together is clearly influenced by 60’s surf rock and very early pop. Jangly guitars warble over catchy drum and bass work will the vocals are just a dream. While this is the case, there is a sprinkle of something like Jesus and the Mary Chain sprinkled in there as guitars sit in the mix, threatening to explode to interrupt the sweetness but they never do. This tension is brilliant and gives a much deeper character to the song writing.
16. Crystal Canyon: Crystal Canyon (Self Release)
Crystal Canyon comes on the scene from the very cold and blisteringly snowy state of Maine. In January, they released their debut album which is self-titled. Fuzzed out with harsh guitar edges and thunderous drum and bass, Crystal Canyon channels Jesus and the Mary Chain with a beautiful touch of early pop structures. There is even a little surfy lilt to the guitar work in some places. The vocals sit up front, lulling the listener into Lynda Mandolyn‘s spell. Her vocals are a perfect foil to the fuzzy, bendy edges of the guitar and the slight thudding of the deep bass.
17. Orange Crate Art: Microscopic Liquid Subway to Oblivion (Self Release)
Alright, now for something that is a more challenging listen and a bit mind bending. Orange Crate Art, another Swedish entry on the list, has this ability to take pop structures and really fuck them up. They are still there and recognizable but tortured in an incredible way. With Microscopic Liquid Subway to Oblivion, dreamy pop vocals sit in a sea of reverb and make their way through walls of sound that are dense, chaotic, and yet recognizable. There is a certain feat being accomplished here as all the layers are blending together but the mix allows the listener to here it all without any loss or too much blending. Check out Microscopic Liquid Subway to Oblivion and explore the rest of Orange Crate Art‘s catalog while you are at it!
18. Backwards Charm: Far from Heaven in My Mind (Stray Records)
Backwards Charm is a dreampop quartet from the land of Austria. Their debut album came out on digital only back in October and I haven’t been able to pull it out of my rotation. Another album which has a band crafting catchy pop hooks over progressive guitar noise and brilliant tonal qualities, Backwards Charm should be swept up by a label asap and introduced to a wider group of listeners. I cannot wait to hear where this band goes because their initial offering is just that good. I hope we get to hear more in 2019. Far from Heaven in My Mind is a must own album and I hope you all will go to their bandcamp page and grab a download.
19. Lowtide: Southern Mind (Rice Is Nice)
To say that anything Lowtide puts out is something anticipated once announced is an understatement. Southern Mind was no exception. Teased with the “Alibi” track at the end of 2017, fans had a taste of what would become Southern Mind which was released some six months later. A second Australian band on the list, Lowtide makes up another unit in the larger Australian shoegaze scene. Arriving three years after their self-titled LP, Southern Mind is careful and mature, playing with both long form pieces as well as songs with tighter, shorter pop structures. Give the album a listen and grab a copy on CD, Vinyl, or digital.
20. Zombie Girlfriend: Wind (Somewherecold Records)
So, Zombie Girlfriend came to my attention through a referral from friends with great taste. I had heard their album prior and dug it. When the band asked Somewherecold to release it, I jumped at the chance. Hailing from Hungary, Zombie Girlfriend self-released Wind back in September. It’s a collection of explosive, brief poppy tracks where the hooks never let up. Sitting on the edge of dreampop and alternative rock, Zombie Girlfriend crafts anthems on their debut Wind. Get ready to spin this album and never want to turn it off. Moments of explosive guitar experimentation dot the soundscape of structured, tight song writing. Get a copy on CD from Somewherecold Records or get a digital copy.
21. Modern Time Machines: MTM (Self-Release)
Growling guitars cackle at the sun-drenched coastal city of Los Angeles on Modern Time Machines sophomore self-titled album. MTM is a swirl of both romanticism and angst like a contrast between the dreamy coastal beaches of California and the sun baked asphalt of the hot summer city. Dual male and female vocals work as counterparts throughout the album while drum and bass under-gird the soaring and layered guitars. The quartet Ben Golomb, Justin Bond, Nadia Franks,and Neil Johnson bring to the table a sophisticated songwriting sensibility with a knack for tonal choices that grab the ear. Give MTM a listen and grab a digital copy of the album.
22. Cosmic Child: Blue (Middle Class Cigars)
Blue showed up on Bandcamp way back in February. It’s the sophomore release from Singapore’s Cosmic Child and it evokes summer days with cool breezes and warm sunlight. It is a bright spot in what has been a quite dreadful year on the world stage. Cosmic Child invites you into their contemplative space with glassy guitar walls and danceable beats but there is more here than meets the ears. The lyrics can sometimes be very serious and even dark but not without layers of hope. Check out the gorgeous Blue for yourself.
23. Jet Black: L’Ere du Vide (Skeletal Lightning, ODT Records and I.CORRUPT.RECORDS)
Hailing from Quebec, Jet Black infuse a rock sensibility to their shoegazey formula. More on the side of Swervedriver or Ride rather than than the dreamier Slowdive, Jet Black‘s L’Ere du Vide places cleaner guitars alongside reverb twinged stringed companions. Deftly writ guitar lines fill the airways as they play off one another as if in conversation. l’Ere du Vide can be explosive but it can also slide back into deep sludgegaze or faster and brighter moments like “All Is Wrong”. Their diversity of modes of delivery in terms of tempo and tone are, however, coherent and cogent. The album holds together as a unit and it’s strong from beginning to end. Get that copy people and turn up the volume!
24. Seventeen Years: Blueberry (Spirit Goth Records)
Seventeen Years is the DIY project of Tony Freijat from Kansas City. This one person project is decidedly wonderful and evokes a sort of wonder in the listener. With falscetto type vocals and open jangly guitars, Freijat conjures an innocents with his musical magic. With each pluck of a string, he draws the listener into his world and it’s a grand, honest, and sparkling one. Dreamlike and inviting, Blueberry is much more than a simple DIY album but rather is a sophisticated piece of dreampop that flexes Freijat‘s songwriting muscles. Put on some headphones, turn up the volume, and get lost in Blueberry. You won’t be disappointed.
25. Pillow: Drug You Along (Self Release)
Pillow comes last on our list this year but they are certainly not lacking in greatness. Drug You Along was found in a Bandcamp search and the second I heard the first track, I knew I was going to love it. They have a Hoops kinda vibe, with perfect pop tracks that have that just right vocal with a twinge of reverb and slight harmony. Danceable and catchy, Pillow craft brilliant songs that are ear worms, every last one. If you haven’t checked out Pillow yet, I highly recommend (obviously) you check them out. Listen below and support the band!