Richmond’s always been a great city for music, and that didn’t change one iota in 2018. If anything, it became a bit overwhelming — indeed, even the most comprehensively-minded local music nerd was likely to overlook a few things. While putting this list together, I found a few that I overlooked myself — and I’m sure you will as well.
This list features our best shot at the most essential and noteworthy albums that our city birthed this year, from any and all genres. Since so many different genres and scenes are thriving in this town, we had to include 40 just to feel like we weren’t leaving anything crucial out. And let’s be real — we probably still didn’t catch everything. The best advice we could possibly give you about following this town’s vibrant musical community is this: always dig deeper. Your new favorite record might be right around the corner.
These 40 albums are a good place to start. Yesterday, we presented the first 20, and we follow up today with the remaining 20 — in alphabetical order by artist name, so it doesn’t seem like we’re playing favorites. Happy listening!
Elizabeth Owens – Coming Of Age (Grimalkin)
This young singer-songwriter has avoided the strict confines of genre on their first album, instead dancing along the invisible borders between a variety of sounds. Lushly-strummed acoustic guitars and haunting vocals center these compositions, even as a variety of both conventional and unconventional instruments form an intricate, multi-layered background. Psychedelic folk in the original, late 60s sense — think Incredible String Band or Pentangle — is a good touchstone, though a better, more recognizable one is hinted at by the song entitled “Ode to Joni.” Yeah, you know what’s up.
Piranha Rama – Piranha Rama (Trrrash)
Piranha Rama is a band full of Richmond underground rock all-stars that took the local scene by storm in 2018. Featuring members who’ve performed with a wide variety of local ensembles and played a wide variety of musical styles, Piranha Rama’s sound is apropos, capturing as it does both the rollicking rock n’ roll spirit that is this band’s bedrock and the wide variety of influences that takes this album in many different directions from song to song. The results are always catchy and fun, even if the album’s overall feel is more like that of a great mixtape made by a crate-digging friend than you’d expect from a singularly driven band. The more voices, the merrier.
Trey Pollard – Antiphone (Spacebomb)
I admit I never would have expected this in the year 2018, but it has in fact come to pass. Trey Pollard, best known as the in-house arranger for Spacebomb Records, has released an album of classical chamber music. The selections found within are the sorts of things typically referred to as “pieces” rather than songs, and are mostly performed by four to eight-piece string ensembles (sometimes accompanied by a piano). Pollard, who acts as composer and conductor here, has created a stunning collection of memorable moments that feel like a score for a film — one that’s playing in your mind as you listen. Close your eyes and let it overtake you.
Natalie Prass – The Future And The Past (ATO)
Natalie Prass had been the fledgling Spacebomb label’s obvious breakout star thus far — along, of course, with label founder Matthew E. White. For her second LP, Prass signed with ATO and moved beyond the traditional soul-R&B feel of the Spacebomb house band, getting into deeper electronic grooves that seem to arise directly out of the pre-New Jack Swing sound of 80s greats like Cameo or Kool & The Gang. When she croons overtop of these, she’s got a real retro-diva sound, like a young Janet Jackson. Who can resist that?
PT & Fan Ran – Airtight (Ear Tite) (Gritty City)
The Gritty City roster of champion rhyme-spitters is deep, and each passing year seems to make that clearer, as new albums bring us strong statements of purpose from previously unheard names. This year it’s PT, which stands for Perfect Timing, who jumped out in a big way. Airtight is a full-length collaboration with Gritty City production mainstay Fan Ran, and the hard-hitting beats he brings match up perfectly with PT’s strong flow and aggressive approach to the mic. If you miss the days when RZA was producing a different Wu-Tang solo album every couple months and they all ruled, this one’s for you.
Recluse Raccoon – Recluse Raccoon (recluseraccoon.bandcamp.com)
This band features a rotating selection of local musicians, but Timmy Peele is the true raccoon hiding reclusively behind the name. For this debut full-length, it’s Mr. Peele who lays down vast majority of instruments for the dozen compositions he treats us to. There is at times a decided Animal Collective vibe in the thick vocal harmonies and ringing piano notes, though at other moments he comes closer to straddling that invisible line where the mellowest math-rock meets the most far out of the psychedelic jam sounds. Expect the unexpected — it’s more fun that way.
Roy Batty – Roy Batty (roybattyband.bandcamp.com)
This one just dropped a couple weeks ago, but it demands a place on our radar simply by virtue of the many awesome bands the members have been part of in the past. Specifically, this is frontwoman Lindsey Spurrier’s first return to full-time action after the demise of Hot Dolphin, and I think I’m far from the only one who felt that band ended before their time. Roy Batty has a heavier sound that Hot Dolphin, due to the fact that Spurrier is backed here by metal dudes rather than garage-punk types, but the frantic energy and aggressive spirit remain undiminished. And thank god for that.
Serqet – Oleander (Vinyl Conflict)
This two-song EP constitutes the first release from a local band who’ve been getting some attention on the whole DIY punk scene. I hear kids who are nerdy about that style of music call it “peace-punk” but if you ask me, it’s more along the lines of old-school goth. Maybe a bit Siouxsie and The Banshees, plus a bit of Submission Hold, and even some strong melodies on the B-side that get more into pre-shoegaze UK indie sounds. If you’re looking for something that can simultaneously please fans of Flux of Pink Indians, Sisters Of Mercy, and House Of Love, you’ve hit paydirt with this one.
Shadow Age – Shadow Age (Play Alone)
This trio unfortunately took an indefinite hiatus not long after this album was released, but we can at least be thankful that they left behind such an excellent document of their creativity. Bandleader Aaron Tyree has obviously been influenced by the saddest goth boys of the early 80s UK, and he brings the spirits of Robert Smith, Ian McCulloch, and Adrian Borland into the 21st century with flair and panache. Hazy keyboards, glittering guitar leads, quiet melancholy crooning, all set to an essential driving rhythm section. Turn on the fog machine.
South Hill Banks – No Time For A Breakdown (southhillbanks.com)
This RVA bluegrass band has really cemented a place for themselves on the local music scene over the past year, and No Time For A Breakdown is just part of that — you may also have caught onto their year-long residency at The Camel, or the bluegrass festival they threw over at The Broadberry last month. But it’s this album that’ll give you the best taste of what South Hill Banks have to offer, spotlighting their 21st century take on bluegrass with some excellent melodic songcraft. Of course, they still know how to get down with a traditional speedy instrumental, and their choice to feature electric instruments in the band doesn’t get in the way at all.
Spooky Cool – Every Thing Ever (Citrus City)
Spooky Cool spent the first few years of their existence being the RVA scene’s best-kept secret, staying off social media and restricting access to their music to those who actually came to see them live. Their choice to live like a pre-internet band in the post-internet era paid off in a big way when they finally released their debut EP this year, and the whole world had a chance to hear the catchy indie-psych this quintet had spent the last few years cooking up. It was worth the wait — there are some seriously catchy tunes on this one, but those tunes also feature an unpredictable edge that only adds to their charm. Jam this one — we’ve waited long enough.
Sports Bar – Stranger In My Head (Mister Falcon)
Speaking of long-awaited releases, melodic garage-punk quartet Sports Bar have spent nearly a decade building up to this — a killer full-length full of shit-hot tunes that simultaneously bring the manic, distorted punk attack and highlight the flawless sense of melody that has made this group one of Richmond’s most enjoyable hidden discoveries since back in 2010. This one is a ton of fun, bringing us both angst-ridden singalongs like “Fried” and furious punk blasts like “Love Or Hate.” Get into it.
Suppression – Placebo Reality (Chaotic Noise Productions)
2018 was Suppression’s 26th year of existence, an existence that has seen them move from experimental power-violence to electronic noise to postpunk weirdness and now into the world of shit-fi grindcore madness — which really constitutes a return to the roots of bassist/vocalist Jason Hodges’ long-running project. On Placebo Reality, Hodges and drummer Ryan Parrish flail wildly through somewhere north of 70 songs in under half an hour, blowing your hair back with distorted vocals, hyperdrive tempos, and distorted bass rage. A palate-cleanser of the most confrontational sort, this one will erase all your momentary cares in the face of world-ending chaos. Exactly what we all need.
Marcus Tenney Quartet – Moment (American Paradox)
If you pay attention to music in Richmond and beyond, chances are you’ve heard of Marcus Tenney. A full-time member of the legendary No BS! Brass Band as well as soul-jazz quintet Butcher Brown and hip hop duo Tennison, he stays busy. For this album, he took the lead in a quartet featuring several other Richmond jazz luminaries, and created a collection that is grounded in the classic hard-bop sounds of half a century ago, but comes from a thoroughly modern worldview that helps bring jazz into the 21st century. But this album isn’t just an exhibition of instrumental talent — the mellow, melancholy mood evoked on Moment has a deep emotional resonance.
Toward Space – Gently With A Chainsaw (Cult 45)
This raw garage-rock trio has done quite a bit, considering their youth, and Gently With A Chainsaw fulfills the promise they were showing even when they were still playing house shows with foot-pedal drums. These days, their snotty punk rage has been tempered a bit by a power-pop approach to choruses, and the result makes for a number of pleasing singalong earworms on this album. Make no mistake, though, these juvenile delinquents are still ready with a switchblade if anyone messes with ’em — but have no fear. Underneath the snarling facade, they’ve got hearts of gold.
Madison Turner – A Comprehensive Guide To Burning Out (madisonturner.bandcamp.com)
Madison Turner grew up with the classic alternative rock of the 90s, and now that she’s made it out of her 20s she’s headed back to her roots with this, her fourth solo release. Backed by a talented group of musically-inclined friends, she’s created a powerful collection of songs that sound excellent and are catchy as hell. The lyrics, which delve deeply and sincerely into the album’s “burnout” theme, are witty and all-too-relatable, even as the songs keep you singing along all day long. “I don’t know why I’m so sca-aa-ared to reach out to my friends!” So real.
Unmaker – Firmament (Seeing Red)
This quintet shares a few members with local blackened-thrash combo Occultist, but don’t let that fool you — Unmaker have quite a bit to offer in their own right. They distinguish themselves from the metallic pack thanks to Aaron Mitchell’s arresting vocals, which carry an urgency that makes them impossible to ignore. But the rest of the band has a powerful sound of their own, simultaneously exploring the gothic end of the postpunk spectrum while retaining a powerful, heavy rhythm and sticking to an energetic tempo. Fans of Killing Joke will find a lot to like here, but really, everyone should.
Windhand – Eternal Return (Relapse)
Local doom combo Windhand has always been witchy, but they’ve taken it to a new level on their fourth album (and first with only one guitarist), Eternal Return. The psychedelic aspects of their sound are cranked up here, and even as you can hear those low-end rumbles that make these guys a total headcrush live, the album’s production opens up another layer of their sound — one in which vocalist Dorthia Cottrell’s haunting voice is the star of the show, bringing a heaviness of emotion that more than matches the rest of the band’s heaviness of groove. Kill the lights and light a candle.
Womajich Dialyseiz – Live In RVA (Grimalkin)
This improvisational collective brings together a shifting group of “women, femmes, and gender non-conforming people” from around the Richmond scene to create uncategorizable experimental music. The results, documented here on recordings from four different live performances, are ambient and multi-layered, featuring percussion, voices, and a variety of melodies, many of which tend toward the unsettling. Maybe not something you should put on late at night when you are alone, but certainly an important element of the Richmond scene in 2018. Lend an ear.
Young Scum – Young Scum (Citrus City)
I doubt any of the young people in this city’s indie music scene are particularly intending to hark back to the early 90s heyday of Sarah Records and the indie-pop movement that label inspired, but regardless of intent, Young Scum have landed right in that wheelhouse. If you loved Heavenly or The Field Mice, you’re going to find a lot to love here, from Chris Smith’s dulcet vocal tones, which wash over you like a cooling mist, or the glittering layers of undistorted guitar strums laid down by Smith and Ben Medcalf. There are brief moments of tense distortion hovering subtly in the mix, but for the most part this mini-LP is pure indie-pop bliss.
Wow, we’re done! And of course, as soon as I got this list finished, I realized I’d left out the Candy LP and the Boygenius EP, so go check those out too. What can I say? There was no way I was gonna think of everything.
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