1. Slice the Cake, “Odyssey to the West/Odyssey to the Gallows”I’m going to try to not gush about what this album means to me. I witnessed its birth and the pains that came with its gestation and could only look on from a distance in wonder. It is a truly remarkable record, a progressive death metal masterpiece that tells the story of a pilgrim whose journey simultaneously builds up his ego and utterly destroys it, weaving a story both grand in its scope and intimate in its detail, a tale timeless and so bafflingly relevant to the creative process that it shook me to my core regularly. Metal music is about embracing the extreme ends of the emotional spectrum. A good metal record makes you feel like you are 10 feet tall, a better metal record makes you feel as if the weight of the entire universe is upon your shoulders. A great metal record does both, and that is, at its core, what Slice The Cake has done here; a genuine burst of vulnerability, despair, triumph, exaltation, freedom, and beauty. If that is not what the true purpose of art as a whole is, then I do not understand art.
2. AJJ, “Bible 2”We have listened to “Bible 2” at the shop at least once a week since it came out, and I am not sick of it. I was only thrust into the world of folk punk in the last year and a half or so, and it’s a wonderful world to be a part of. The best word to describe AJJ is “genuine.” They play their instruments, if not with mastery, then with a palpable energy and love that even the most virtuosic instrumentalists can fail to convey. The songs are about friends, about addiction, about nothing, and about the small gifts that simply being can bring us daily. With every story we tell, we change the future, and AJJ brings that to mind with their recollections of hanging out in parking lots and a desire to be remembered that we all share, even if it is only as a small pad of concrete for crust punk kids to skate on and not get harassed by security guards. The real American dream.
3. Astronoid, “Air”I hated this record the first time I heard it. Black metal with vocals like Claudio Sanchez from Coheed and Cambria? Pass. But then I kept listening. And I kept listening. And I began to understand. And then I cracked, and fell head over heels in love with this record. Astronoid have put together something truly beautiful. I hate describing things as “feel-good” but that’s what keeps coming to mind, with moments of pure elation punctuated by astounding tight and precise instrumentation. This is the album to show to people who think metal music is all growling and murder.
4. Perturbator, “The Uncanny Valley”If you, like me, are in love with the resurgence of synthesizer-based music, you have one Frenchman to thank for that. Perturbator has been making the cyberpunk soundtracks to late- night drives fueled by chainsmoking and pills of unknown origin for years now, and this year he released what I believe to be his magnum opus, “The Uncanny Valley.” With one foot firmly set in the future as dictated by “Blade Runner” and “Ghost in the Shell,” and the other foot in a crazy satanic plane of existence that worships androids and raw sexual energy, “The Uncanny Valley” in an accomplishment of atmosphere, songwriting, and hardware to rival anything that ever came before it. If you don’t think dance music has enough flavor, then you owe it to yourself to experience “The Uncanny Valley.”
5. Oranssi Pazuzu, “Värähtelijä”Transcending the label of black metal, Finland’s Oranssi Pazuzu constructed a psychedelic nightmare to score the long life of a being adrift in space for eons. “Värähtelijä” (meaning “resonator” in the band’s native tongue) came out early in the year but stuck with me throughout, as the band’s ability to bridge ambiance and aggression really speaks to my sensibilities about what music as a whole is capable of. Being able to capture beauty, horror and the true definition of the sublime within one riff speaks volumes to the band’s talent.
— Cooper Stapleton