Crate Digging is Uproxx Music’s monthly exploration of the depths of DIY music distribution platform Bandcamp, in an effort to unearth some hidden gem albums that just might find their spot among your favorites.
Year-end lists of the top albums are fun to explore. Noticing the differences between publications and reading about why they ranks records the way they did is a good time. That said, you don’t necessarily learn much from looking at the high-ranked albums. The top portions of these lists tend to have a lot of overlap with other lists, because while the specific rankings are debated, most people generally agree on what the year’s “best” albums were.
If you’re really looking to discover something great that you missed over the course of the year, you’re better off reading from the bottom up. That’s where things start to deviate from the expected, and where you might find a hidden gem. Even at that point, though, most lists tend to feature significant artists, noteworthy record labels, or albums that have a sizable fan base.
If you really want to go off the grid, you’ll have to dig for yourself and listen to records that don’t always have a lot of buzz. That’s what I’ve been doing all 2018 with Crate-Digging. Every month, I’ve considered hundreds of albums uploaded to Bandcamp, sorted through them, and presented the ones I liked the most. As we approached the end of the year, I started to think about which of these releases stood out above the others and had staying power beyond their initial appearance in this space. So, with that in mind, below are my favorite albums that were featured in Crate-Digging in 2018.
15. Bodies — Shitty Grin
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“Lo-fi” is often equated with minimalist production, but this Canadian group’s brand of garage pop lo-fi truly is low-fidelity in an appealing and listenable way on album opener “Rita Hayworthless.” Beyond that, Shitty Grin is a delightful jangle pop record and one that doesn’t sound like it’s missing anything.
14. Greatest Lakes — Divisions
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Mountainous indie rock may have hit its peak with the likes of Fleet Foxes and Band Of Horses, but that stuff is like Jell-O: There’s always room for more, and it’s tasty every time. The latest (and greatest) from Greatest Lakes is delightfully in line with this aesthetic, especially on the anthemic album opener “Forest.”
13. Wyatt Blair — Smoke & Mirrors
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Throwback sounds are nothing new, but that doesn’t make Blair’s new wave-inspired sound any less interesting. He has the material to match the aesthetic too: The anthemic “The Want To Be Wanted” is a huge song, and other highlights like album opener “(Living In) Los Angeles” are similarly uplifting and kinetic.
12. Los Wálters — Caramelo
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A few songs every year from these Bandcamp albums usually find their way into my regular rotation, and Los Wálters’ “Calma” is one of them. The densely produced track from the Puerto Rican duo is a terrific midtempo head-bobber, and the rest of Caramelo features a similarly high level of body-moving quality.
11. Dott — Heart Swell
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It’s not often that albums on these lists have a noteworthy co-sign, but how’s this for one: Speedy Ortiz’ Sadie Dupuis guests on “Like A Girl.” Real recognize real, it appears, as the rest of this garagey rock record should be a delight for Speedy Ortiz fans.
10. The Haiduks — Fluorescents
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This album was supposed to come out in 2007, but for one reason or another, it didn’t see the light of day until this year. As a result of that, it’s a sort of time capsule into the indie rock of that era, yet it doesn’t feel dated. That’s because the best material from that time still sounds great, as does this album, so check this one out if you’re into Broken Social Scene or Car Seat Headrest.
9. Bell’s Roar — We Carry Us
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Pop albums are often adventurous, but it’s hard to congeal a variety of sounds into a package as polished as We Carry Us. On Sean Desiree’s latest effort, there are things like the anthemic electro of “Celebrate” and the more alternative “Passing.” Through it all, Desiree — a queer, gender non-conforming person of color — tackles some weighty topics in one of the year’s most intriguing DIY efforts.
8. Basil Oussaint — Sur Appel
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Anybody can mash together strange sounds together in FL Studio, but it takes a talent like the Montreal-based Basil Oussaint to give them direction and make interesting music out of it all. If you’re looking for a reference point, there are Animal Collective/Yeasayer levels of experimental indie weirdness at play here, although Oussaint isn’t somebody whose music is easily categorized.
7. Ibiza Pareo — Bailemos Juntas
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If you’re looking to dance, let Argentinan duo Ibiza Pareo help you out. Their latest album kicks off with “Somos Agua,” a delightful track with an energetic beat and a synth line during the chorus that is simple but to die for. They don’t need to rely on electronic instrumentation to keep things moving, though, as they achieve the same effect on the acoustic guitar-led “En Una Cita.”
6. Tvrquoise — 99¢ Dreams
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Pop music is in a place right now where adventuring is accepted and encouraged, and that’s an ethos that the San Francisco-based Tvrquoise is happily embracing on her new album. The record goes all over the place, with everything from the Taylor Swift-sounding “Island” to the slinky “Los Angeles” to the meditative “How You Love.”
5. Spesh — Famous World
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Seattle’s Spesh channel a vibe that originated many miles away from their home: The ’90s UK rock influences are clear, and wholly welcomed. “Teflon” gets things going as the catchy and fast-paced album opener, but don’t think the Manchester aesthetic is in any way limiting. They get a lot of different things done here; look to the alternative and slightly bizarre “Olympic Mango” for evidence of that.
4. Zoee — My Body Knows You
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Zoee’s “Ricochet” is one of the few pop songs I’ve loved this year that balances trying something different with genuine listenability. There are some strange instrumental elements at play, but it’s ultimately a catchy pop song, if not a little warped. This five-track release is rich with great moments, like the dark electronic album opener “Curse.”
3. Hannah Epperson — Slowdown
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This album is a thematic follow-up to Epperson’s 2016 album Upsweep, which features the characters Amelia and Iris, who “come to represent two systems of order in our protagonist’s otherwise chaotic and damaged world.” Narrative aside, Slowdown is a clever and adventurous indie/pop/rock/electronic/experimental album that is as enjoyable it is unpredictable.
2. Salomé Leclerc — Les Choses Extérieures
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Leclerc is apparently more established in the French-speaking community (check her page on French Wikipedia for proof), but she’s undeservedly a relative unknown to English speakers. She’s a truly talented songwriter whose music would fit right in with the modern female-led indie rock landscape, whether it’s with the Blonde Redhead-like “Nos Révolutions,” the Cat Power-leaning “Dans Une Larme,” or the Lana Del Rey-like “Ton Équilibre.” Les Choses Extérieures is undoubtedly a terrific album that isn’t held back by any language barrier.
1. Anna Klein — These Days
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The Lana Del Rey comparisons are obvious here, but don’t let that take away from the fact that Anna Klein does what she does very well. Her especially ethereal brand of indie pop is expertly executed, her voice perfectly fills a space with reverb, and the production is expansive and well done. Most importantly, the songs are genuinely memorable, something that can be a challenge when making atmospheric music such as this. Vibe is never prioritized over songwriting, which Klein is adept at. Over the course of all twelve tracks, the Canadian musician is expressive, entertaining, introspective, and above all, confidently at the helm of what it one of 2018’s most under-appreciated albums.