2018 Favorites: Favorite Non-2018 Albums

An hour-long mix of Kensuke Ushio’s favorite electronic songs would be a nice souvenir to mark the end of my 2018. From the range of subgenres surveyed in his fantastic soundtracks for various anime, his taste for electronic music seems sprawling. The thrilling beats for Ping Pong: The Animation covered heart-racing drum ’n’ bass, epic stadium techno and intimate bedroom IDM. This year’s Devilman Crybaby featured some of the best synthwave tracks of 2018 while teasing more of his dance-floor interests.

My favorites of Ushio’s works, though, spin magic out of sounds from the natural world. In his soundtracks for Naoko Yamada’s films The Shape of Voice and Liz and the Blue Bird, soft ambient noise leaks into a near-empty track, filled with only a delicate, sketch-like piano riff that seems to be in the middle of recalling a more developed tune. Like the best minimalist music, both works hone in on silence and the vacant spaces within the music where yet-undefined emotions slowly materialize.

What I love most from the music of The Shape of Voice is that sleepy, in-between feeling flowing throughout the soundtrack. The music is constantly trying to crystallize into something more fully formed, mimicking the process of recalling the exact words to express a complicated feeling. The opaque piano tracks all lack a solid outline, and their slightly out-of-focus texture frames an experience rooted more in the subconscious. Similar to my favorite pop single of the year, they resemble what I imagine the physicality of memory itself to be: vivid yet elusive, delicate and easily malleable, and prone to disintegration.

The idea of memory became a lingering topic for me this year, especially after my trip to see my family for the first time in 10 years. I took some photos, and I continue to write about everything I experienced during that week, but memory is ultimately what I have as a tool to document and revisit those precious moments. Music has helped tremendously. Using music and playlists as scrapbooks isn’t a new concept for me, but attaching memories and sentimental associations to a pop song became important this year as an effort to preserve as much as I can.

This obsessive effort to commit my trip to memory turned any mundane detail into a precious one, but it consequently made it triggering as well. Any everyday thing can inspire a flashback and throw me into homesickness. That heightened sensitivity lurks in the Ushio’s piano music, too, with any trivial noise threatening to drown out the main composition. But it’s also resilient, incorporating whatever leaks into its world as part of the whole. I’m still in the middle of navigating my life with this small feeling of an indescribable void, an itch I can’t quite scratch. Sometimes, I reminisce and recall the attached details as precise as I can while I listen to those certain records. I try my best to channel that process into something productive, and I’ve made my most proud piece of writing this year by doing so, though I know I got to let it go eventually.

Not every album here is associated with this experience, though all of it has been a fantastic discovery. Here are my favorite non-2018 albums I checked out this year.

Playing Catch-Up

Lil Peep: Come Over When You’re Sober, Part 1 (2017)
Monari Wakita: I am ONLY (2017)
Norm Stalley: Norm-a-Lize (2017)
Sevdaliza: ICON (2017)
Toiret Status: Nyoi Plunger (2017)

Bedroom Pop

Maxwell: Urban Hang Suite (1994)

Since Nu-Metal & Reggaeton Are Back…

Korn: Life Is Peachy (1998)
Luny Tunez: Mas Flow (2003)

Early/Late ’80s Pop

Tom Tom Club: Tom Tom Club (1981)
Mtume: Juicy Fruit (1983)
The Blue Nile: Hats (1989)
Living Colour: Vivid (1989)

Twang and a Craving

k.d. lang: Shadowland (1988) / Ingenue (1992)
Reba McEntire: Rumor Has It (1990)
Emmylou Harris: Wrecking Ball (1995)


Yumi Matsutoya: Cobalt Hour (1975) / The 14th Moon (1976) / Pearl Pierce (1982)

Japan, ‘80s

Tatsuro Yamashita: For You (1982)
Mari Iijima:
Midori (1985)
Akina Nakamori:
Fushigi (1986)
Shizuka Kudo: Mysterious (1988)

Japan, ‘90s

Maki Ohguro: DA DA DA (1993) / Eien No Yume Ni Mukatte (1994)
Spitz: Sora No Tobi Kata (1994)
Ryoko Hirosue: Arigato (1997)

Idols in Japan, ‘10s

Dempagumi, Inc.: Worldwide Dempa (2013) / WWDD (2015)
Vanilla Beans: Vanilla Beans III (2013)
GUSTO (2014)
Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku: Anarchy (2016) / Ebicracy (2017)

Kensuke Ushio

Kensuke Ushio: Ping Pong: The Animation (2014) / The Shape of Voice (2017)

K Stands for K-pop

Uhm Jung Hwa: Invitation (1998)
EXO: Love Me Right (2015)
Secret (2016)

House, ‘80s

808 State: Newbuild (1988)
Virgo: Virgo (1989)

House, ‘90s

Move D: Kunstsoff (1994)
Jonny L: Sawtooth (1997)
Armand van Helden: 2 Future 4 U (1998)
Theo Parrish: First Floor (1998) / Parallel Dimensions (2000)
Urban Tribe: The Collapse of Modern Culture (1998)

21st Century Dancefloor

Various Artists/Mary Anne Hobbs: Warrior Dubz (2006)
Azari & III: Azari & III (2010)

IDM, ‘90s-’00s

Oval: Systemich (1994)
Mouse on Mars: Autoditacker (1997) / Glam (1998)
Squarepusher: Hard Normal Daddy (1997)
Lab Rat XL: Mice or Cyborg (2003)

Ambient & Drone

Laraaji: Ambient 3: The Day of Radiance (1980)
Nurse with Wound: Soliloquy for Lilith (1988)
Windy & Carl:
Depths (1998)

’90s Rap, or Better Known as Real Hip Hop

Too Short: Short Dog’s in the House (1990)
Kool G Rap: 4, 5, 6 (1995)
Def Squad: El Nino (1998)
Noreaga: N.O.R.E. (1998)
Silkk the Shocker: Charge It 2 tha Game (1998)
Young Bleed: My Balls and My Word (1998)
Koopsta Knicca: Da Devil’s Playground (1998)

’00s Rap, or the Golden Age of Hip Hop

Lil Wayne: Lights Out (2000)
Mannie Fresh: Da Mind of Mannie Fresh (2004)
Shawty Lo: Units in the City (2007)



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