The Jephries – Holland
Ed Wynne – Shimmer into Nature
Sundrifter – Visitations
Digawolf – Yellowstone
Mdou Moctar – Ilana (The Creator)
Malcria – El Reino de lo Falso
USA/Mexico – Matamoros
Ty Farris & Trox – Room 39, Pt. 2
Slough Feg – New Organon
Marika Hackman – Any Human Friend
Christelle Bofale – Swim Team
Abbath – Outstrider
Cdx – Lion Cuts
So Sensitive – Bedroom Drama
Pixel Grip – Heavy Handed
Joell Ortiz – Monday
Julia Jacklin – Crushing
Meernaa – Heart Hunger
Chris Forsyth – All Time Present
Floating Spectrum – A Point between
50 Current Affairs – Object & Subject
Glasgow’s Current Affairs is listed as “punk” on Bandcamp but that’s a very reductive descriptor for the strange concoction of sounds and techniques this band is capable of (and let’s be honest just lashing out against while males as “punks” might be getting just a tad played out at this point). Current Affairs, by contrast, are in love with melody and texture, wheeling in this strange creature on “Cheap Cuts” that seems to resemble a guitar played through a cheap pedal and then played back from a separate speaker, only to whittle things down on “Crimes” to an axe sound so simple and beautiful that it will break your heart, or at least take you back to the glory days of The Vaselines and Marine Girls.
49 Junius Paul – Ism
Free jazz, as many know, is a fairly ebullient concept in musical academia, defined by Wikipedia as “an approach to jazz that developed in the 1960s when musicians attempted to change or break down jazz conventions, such as regular tempos, tones, and chord changes.” An unlikely source of its measured progress too can be found on “L.A. Blues,” the final track on the second Stooges album Fun House, where it sounds like the drummer… picks up the sticks and hits a bunch of stuff… then puts them back down and subsequently decide to… pick up the sticks and hit a bunch of stuff, the saxophone being the other qualifying factor there (just ignore Iggy Pop’s maniacal barking the background, if you’re seeking purely disciplinary elements). But Ism is free jazz ballooned to beautiful stature, with opening track “You Are Free to Choose” all dissonant and uncooperative, giving way to a sort of interlude and then “View from the Moon,” in all its contemplative, gentle glory.
48 Carrageenan – Let’s Go There
Let’s Go There from Belgium DJ Carrageenan is a beautiful melding of dubstep and house which permeates as electronica music with an attitude — right away on opener “The Midnight Hour,” the melody is rendered by this defiantly simple and incessant synth riff that seems like a soundtrack for strutting down a dark alley to. If I had to pinpoint Carrageenan’s precise special skill though it would probably be this music’s penchant for seeming to act as something visual, so distinct being the melodic and rhythmic statements being portrayed, to the point where you don’t even have time to consider whether the whole thing is ominous or not. It’s a case of scene occluding strategy.
47 An Isolated Mind – I’m Losing Myself
There’s absolutely nothing run-of-the-mill about the debut offering from Eureka, California’s An Isolated Mind, from the textural one-minute drone intro, to the spare and disciplined drum beats to cater to vocal purposefulness, on to the deliberate, patient but fully cathartic shape of Kameron Bogges’ vocals which indulge in their featured structural platforms. It’s an album of decidedly unpretentious grind metal where one moment seems to build excitingly on another, completely deaf to convention and to everything else other than life’s crushing malaise.
46 Ran Cap Duoi – Degradation
With beautifully aborted rhythms that seem to splay out from the songs’ internal heartbeat like doomed thoughts, Vietnam’s Ran Cap Duoi (pending proper ethnic adornments of letters in his name) cuts to the heart your conception of musical vanguard on a full-length album spanning only three tracks. This is bona fide, original IDM music of the cerebrally leaning variety very much like Autechre, with some similar textures and instrumentations to that group even, but with songs that, while longer, go even deeper into the “jungle” of explorative possibilities and into those thoughts you couldn’t bring yourself to think until now.
45 Colunia – Zephyr
Churning out jazz with the smoothness of Kind of Blue while also wielding a strong, extroverted Frank Zappa piano influence, the France quartet Colunia seem to represent the new authorities of jazz in a place where the genre was previously foreign, more so than pushing ahead the boundaries of the music as a whole on a worldwide level. Still, these songs are beautiful and light, though patient and full of mainstay, and the iron-lunged Gweltaz Herve on saxophone keeps things fresh and keeps your imagination soaring with endless, high-arching runs that seem to build on each other with impossible relentlessness.
44 Rah Zen – Upon the Apex
Boston’s Rah Zen issues his sophomore LP to us this year sounding freshly stoned off of a heaping helping of Jay Dee and Fly Lo, incorporating that DJ/boom-bap stylistic sense into what seems to be a wealth of melody that he had spun up in his mind in a beautiful tapestry. Thankfully, too, he’s got endless creative ways of hewing these visions, as on the skewed, grainy piano sound of “Amen Rah” and the reverberating, juicy sitar sampling of “Godspeed” (per Bandcamp, Zen had taken several songwriting trips in the fructifying of this album of music, one of which did take him all the way to a trip across Israel).
43 Ride – This is Not a Safe Place
This is Not a Safe Place marks the sixth overall full-length offering from British shoegaze champions Ride and second “comeback” album after the band’s two-decade hiatus from ’96 to ’17. Really, to listen to any of their albums is to behold the Britons’ punctilious obsession over sound — this is like inverted industrial music of impossibly shiny, metallic guitars over drums so tweaked and blistered with reverb that they mimic the world of beats and programming, a very refreshing phenomenon after what could be viewed as a deluge of lazy “beats” in pop music. The centerpiece for me here is “Repetition,” which even lyrically takes a pretty heady scope: “They want you to repeat and stay the same / Even though repetition is a form of change”.
42 Zeroh – O Emissions
Not to be confused with Texas’ Z-Ro who reared his unruly head in the dark underground circuit earlier this decade, LA’s Zeroh doesn’t need a mic to maraud his madness, just a bunch of Flying Lotus type samples, some weed and an undeniable rhythmic sense. Somehow to me though his work comes across as more HIP-HOP than Fly Lo, despite the latter’s many collaborations with notable rappers — Zeroh’s songs are primarily less jazzy and more direct, making for a more immediate, street-ready listen, with still all the feeling and complexity required for bona fide sit-down music.
41 HTRK – Venus in Leo
Melbourne, Australia’s HTRK is just ALL about vibes, with languid bedroom songs so entrenched in their seminal feeling that the band’s name seems to signify “h-track” (I’m not sure if that’s actually what it’s supposed to mean or not). With Venus in Leo we’re already on their fifth album but they sound grounded and entrenched in their own visions as ever, the primary signature trait jumping out right away being the punchy, poppy drum machine paired with this extremely gentle and liquefied rhythm guitar that typically goes with balladry or the innocent twee pop of The Vaselines, et. al. Anyway, there’s some preternatural force keeping Jonnine Standish’s vocals so layered and majestic all over this LP.
40 Flying Lotus – Flamagra
Flying Lotus’ last album before this one was called You’re Dead and came way back in 2014, so you certainly expected a big statement on this new project — a “resurrection,” of sorts. You also expected it to consist of blippy, jazzy electronica, which by all accounts it does, but it’s the multifariousness wielded by an incredible variety of rhythms and song structures that sells it. Certain standouts are the innovative horse-galloping groove of “Takashi” and “Debbie is Depressed,” a hilariously title-mocking sort of dubstep slow jam that helps cement the album’s second half’s emotive feel.
39 Hess Usui Suen – (Momo)
Hess Usui Suen is a three-piece band from Japan composed completely of busy, autonomously active musicians Joe Hess, Kenji Usui and Mabel Suen. Indeed, the musical result of their strange stews and concoctions sounds every bit as “foreign” as this worldly, beguiling backing biography would indicate. So what’s even more astonishing is that this is all organic, spatial music — nothing programmed or digital, with relentless saxophone virtuosity cloaking all of these numbers and all of the songs fomenting up into busy, rhythmic caterwauls with constant, polymorphic drum parts. It’s almost less of a question of HOW they make this music than WHY and strangely this is a good thing — it’s quintessential experimental music, doing something nobody else does just because you can, and making a striking impression by that very method.
38 ISAN – Lamenting Machine
Apparently I should have heard of Britain’s ISAN before 2019 because according to Bandcamp they’re the “inventors of electronica” (some tongue-in-cheek sentiment sensed there) and they’ve been making albums since 1998, which of course isn’t before Bjork but is a long time ago. Indeed, Lamenting Machine stomps along with a workmanlike, almost automated sense of efficiency and musical development, with the diverse, textural sounds manning the helm of the music’s feeling like Four Tet might with the melodic sense of Emeralds. Ultimately, what sews this operation together and keeps it from becoming stale is that this is basically a post-rock album in the vein of Tortoise’ prouder work, set to program drums which never seem to eclipse the patient, fertile sense of feeling imbued by the band’s slow, moody melodies.
37 Band of Skulls – Love is All You Love
In stark contrast to the band’s 2016 outputting By Default, which seemed like a tragically appropriate title, as well as even 2014’s forced-sounding Himalayan, everything about Love is All You Love just seems rejuvenated and fresh out of the Southampton band. Specifically, they way they pit desperate, vituperative guitar riffs against these industrial-sounding drums sends to send a much needed jolt into the whole operation, allowing Emma Richardson and company to come on to the mic and let their croon ooze out as something cool, something that indeed hates everything in the world besides rock and roll, which by and large this band sounds like they do, very much to their credit.
36 Saba Alizadeh – Scattered Memories
Iran’s feelin’ it, folks. We’re gonna need cake and fruit punch for 10 people. In all seriousness, Scattered Memories surely mimics what you’d think an album from a Tehran (alternatively spelled “Teheran”) native would sound like — it’s lonely, isolated, undeniably serious, a patient, punctilious and professional ambient album of compelling, amplified found sounds such as an aircraft engine in “Colors Wove Me in Teheran” and just enough of a vague, Yellow Swans-harkening chordal sense to make the whole thing seem like “music,” amidst all the madness.
35 Basic Rhythm – On the Threshold
All the way, this is busy, thinking man’s London IDM courtesy of Anthoney Hart’s third album and a flair for sampling and virtuosity. On the Threshold lashes forth like a revamped Autechre with an increased hip-hop sense, the shocker being “Slice Neck,” which starts out peaceful, ambient and gorgeous before what’s literally an “attack” of the senses, with a caterwauling one-beat, repeated snare that booms in your ears and this twisted sort of gibberish-sounding voice over apparently meant to ape an assailant on the streets of the mean town from which he hails. The track is surrounded on all sides by patient, stretched-out and vociferous instrumental IDM, with intermittent sampled vocals, hence grafting a nice balance and a sense of sequencing full of a unique variety.
34 Lighght – Gore-Tex in the Club, Balenciaga amongst the Shrubs
Typically in my rhetoric on this website and in my general thoughts in life I consider electronica music to be a genre that’s fairly disposable — like it’s fun, but obviously not as personal or emotive as the other styles, and so for this reason, though readily created, just as readily discarded after so many listens. And in this way, Gore-Tex in the Club, Balenciaga amongst the Shrubs stands as something the likes of which I’ve never heard before. Ireland’s Lighght is on a level of professionalism and dedication to the craft arguably unmatched in history, plotting down an introductory track of prose poetry over ambient sounds, to lead in to a crushing, show-stopping album opener “Hyper Masc. Detox,” on which I heard piano and basic synth dripped sporadically over strange, polymorphous drums. Even more importantly, though, Lighght somehow constructs the strangest, most obtuse and angular guitar timbre from a recorded sound and lets this channel rule the roost here, like a twisted Eddie Van Halen of house music. Sometimes you just gotta rock out, and boy will you.
33 Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana
If Gary, Indiana’s Freddie Gibbs isn’t the biggest rapper on the planet today, then he definitely should be — he’s not that young anymore but still thoroughly restless, street-built and intimidating like the end of “Massage Seats” where he professes to not being used to “foreign cars” being from where he is. The end result of the post-song sound bite is seeing someone in a “C-230” and yelling “Get out that mothafu**a” over gun blasts. The beats come exclusively from Madlib, which is nice on a level of consistency, and notable perhaps in that that DJ still might have had something to prove in the area of elevating him to the status of RZA or DJ Muggs on the organic hip-hop beat making scene. All over this project, then, there’s a subtlety to the moods he gets across but the rhythmic sense is still prominent, with gorgeous and timely sampling splashed also throughout.
32 Chaircrusher – Not This Time
I’d listened to this album and really liked it, all the while not even knowing that it was electronica music made in Iowa, which you’ve gotta admit it sort of an odd coupling like Snoop Dogg doing a TV cooking special with Martha Stewart, or thereabouts. Well, remember, Caribou is from the middle of nowhere in central Canada, which the name might suggest, so it does have to cater to less populated areas too — ultimately this LP, which at six songs stretches to about the length of a full vinyl, has the amusingly ironic characteristic of being pleasing while so staunchly non-concept and non-imagistic. Every time one of these songs starts, it seems completely unrelated to the rest of the project, but it’s fun and rhythmic music with a full repertoire of programmed synths and break beats cornering somewhere near a funky fresh Mouse on Mars.
31 Jig-Ai – Entrails Tsunami
Jig-Ai makes Tokyo death metal with a topical scope wedged firmly in the “sexual” realm but actually pretty much sounds like a bunch of people dying. Ok, I’m probably a little morbid for liking this music. What’s more, it’s so wild that the first time I heard it I was floored but I didn’t even notice the malady of the fact that the second song is basically exactly like the first, hence making the practice kind of pointless of dividing the music up into tiny, one-minute songs. Still, this dude has vocal chops of 100 leaf blowers going off at once and amidst all the rubble of formulaic, sappy new metal of this year that tries to be “epic” and “heroic,” Entrails Tsunami gets across a mood that’s too terse and direct to ever be mimicry.
30 Blu & Damu the Fudgemunk – Ground & Water
Ground & Water is the new collabo from longtime partners, LA rapper Blu and DC DJ Damu the Fudgemunk. Bandcamp lists a lot of stuff about the “thoughtful” lyrics but to me the primary draw of the album is its ability to sound completely organic, original and rhythmic, with the emcee painstakingly bringing in themes of religion and gangsta-ism which seem, refreshingly, more like a complete gamut of human identity outlets than one man’s soap box pontification.
29 Itasca – Spring
From the best of my surmising Itasca seems to be the solo singer/songwriter brainchild of LA’s Kayla Cohen, Spring then having other musical “contributors” on strings, drums and whatever else seemed to be lying around. The vocal is undeniably pristine and celestial, sounding a little bit like Jenn Wasner from Wye Oak and crooning out these ballads that though powerful seem coyly self-assured and content in their own skin, which is as refreshing as it is efficacious.
28 Dexter Story – Bahir
Dexter Story hails from LA but according to Bandcamp makes “East Africa-inspired music,” pared down a little bit in image, if not style, from his first album which depicted him strapped in shades and guitar like a black Eddie Van Halen. Can we say excessive enthusiasm on being Christened into the American rock scene? But the Cubist art gracing the cover to Bahir seems to obviate the bolstered musical sophistication and complexity emanating from the project, the centerpiece of which might be “Bila,” with this beautifully otherworldly, treated vocal and this impossibly precious mixture of bizarre sounds. There’s no instrumentation listed on Bandcamp but to me it sounds like a blend of a Moog, a string and a trumpet all for one polymorphous glob — anyway it’s positively 21st Century world music, to be undeniably sure.
27 The Divine Comedy – Office Politics
Going the decidedly UK route to notoriety, London’s The Divine Comedy which comprises solely Neil Hannon as permanent member apparently forgoes Bandcamp entirely, leaning on Facebook but also a New York Times blurb, to the tune of a bulbous 59,000 followers, nonetheless. This is updated alternative rock for many reasons, i.e. its sense of humor, its gentle, melodic and influence-rich musical disposition (the amusingly eclectic list of inspirations is featured on the band’s Facebook page) and of course its apparent complete lack of radio and well sheer longevity — with the band formed in 1989, of all years. It’s like he’s “married” to his musical project, except he’s still having fun doing it. Yuk, yuk.
26 Pom Poko – Birthday
Norway’s Pom Poko, bashing out some noise-punk pandemonium on their very first album Birthday, look to America for their influences (Deerhoof, Le Tigre), but I think construct songs that are even more developed, polymorphous (with tempo changes and constantly varying moods) and for that reason even more gratifying, like a group even more dedicated to the craft, or to the anti-craft, depending on how you want to look at it.
25 Cydonia Collective – Stories without Words
Whether or not it’s actually true, I typically like to purport that “originality” is a rubric by which I coldly judge new music that’s coming out, so it’s a feather in the cap of UK’s Cydonia Collective that featured in their personnel section is a role taking the form of “ethnic instruments,” which of course could be anything but the credibility of which is certainly corroborated by this band’s incredibly angular and fresh sound. This is electronica music made by two guys, more than one, and so is notable for that very reason — what it lacks in the personal, then, or intense, it more than makes up for in moods and in this organic texture we get from things like live guitar and bass, all over those beats which always tend to be punchy enough and full of their own gusto.
24 Jute Gyte – Birefringence
One thing amazing about the start of Birefringence is that it can start so abruptly — the guitars and drums both attack the sound board at the same time — but it still manages to come across as so obtusely borne and truly, ferociously original. The songs are long, colossal and full of texture and mood. But sh**, they’re scary, and almost nothing is mentioned on Bandcamp about this band’s place of origin or band members, just in case you might be harboring any false delusions that they were going to be in any way cooperative or approachable, or anything.
23 Low Leaf – Baker’s Dozen: Low Leaf
It’s funny, now, in a way, in a place like Los Angeles, with weed being completely legal — it seems like all the fun’s been taken out of it, like for comedian Brandon Harvell who said he’d rather “snort coke and discuss bad business ideas for two hours” than ingest the herbal drug. Well let’s just say that his fellow Angelean Low Leaf is a little more grounded — her Bandcamp picture depicts her standing in front of some trees in a hoodie and this music, while busy and interesting with fractal synth riffs and eclectic percussion like maracas, is still the very definition of chill, the chivalrous continuance, if you will, of “legal marijuana” as an extant cultural force.
22 Eat Fire Spring – Eat Fire Spring
Eat Fire Spring hail from Greenfield, Massachusetts and probably manufacture something closer to “emo” than any other rock album I’ve really loved for their self-titled debut: I guess what gets it by is just the allegorical way that this music has NO wasted notes and seems to constantly constitute pure white-boy, rock-and-roll meaning, like East Coast twee pop for 2010’s teenagers, as if these songs had forming themselves in the artist’s mind his entire life. Indeed, terse little tunes like “One Horse Town” are so pure that they could have definitely been longer, a complaint I voice surprisingly often about contemporary rock.
21 Battles – Juice B Crypts
Boy I remember when Brooklyn’s Battles burst onto the scene in ’07 and were the indie rock boy wonders belting out the tribal, pshychedelic mania that was their debut album Mirrored. You could say their m.o. is roughly the same today as it was then — the drums are all still played live and not programmed, their songs are still expansive instrumental projects that don’t so much seem to offer a new take on rock as they do kidnap rock into an enchanted, mushroom eating forest. The bulk of the credit might go to guitarist Dave Konopka, anyway, whose “effects,” as they’re dubbed on Wikipedia, like looping pedals and any other amount of unruly hardware, really give this music its backbone.
20 Husmo HAV – Ripples
Ok part of me thinks Norway is just breeding vital bands on an oppressive island concentration camp toward their own twisted, financially lucrative version of Top of the Pops — well that wouldn’t make any sense since Husmo HAV is so musically different from their fellow Scandinavians the punk-minded Pom Poko, and also both these bands come across as so deaf to the repugnant pop formula happening across the seas that it’s BELIEVABLE that they’re from so far away. That is, this is instrumental jazz, all organically rendered, creative and structurally robust but also refreshingly devoid of virtuosity. They are a band that has written incredibly intricate jazz arrangements for guitar, bass, drums and most importantly Marte Eberson’s “keys” which take an incredible variety of forms from Moog sounds, to grainy organ to something actually pretty close to theremin, even if it wasn’t actually that (that sound like wind blowing). This is experimental music in its developmental stage and for that very reason not only valuable but essential.
19 Mope Grooves – Desire
It’s with a grain of salt, in a sense, that I name this band as one of my arbiters of important music of this year, for one reason: they’re from Portland. No, I’m not jealous of that region’s “coolness” compared to my Midwest, not THAT jealous anyway, and no Portlandia didn’t put me completely off of that town though it came rather close. It’s their elitist-through-obscurity idea. It’s their the that music is automatically of a better quality if it’s less famous. One look, too, at this band’s personnel lineup on Desire will give you a hint of their nauseatingly democratic, blurred-line-between-band-and-audience ethos, as they list like four different people as playing drums on this album. Granted, sheesh, this is a pretty danged rhythmic album, every jazzy, textural song varies a little from the last and in general this is pithy chamber pop coming from a completely unique place. Still, I think Mope Grooves are an exception and not the rule in this little-guy-is-big way they have of doing things. At least they’re not complaining about bikinis, I guess.
18 The Lucid Furs – No God? No Problem
According to an article on Detroit’s The Lucid Furs on wdet.org, the band has a controversial album title but shirks the realm of the Satanic occult because they’re “more nuanced” than that. And that’s where they’re wrong. The Lucid Furs are LESS nuanced than a Satanic cult and therein lies their exact stridence — this is natural, off-the-cuff rock and roll by a band that’s tight, a guitar megalomaniac Gordie Kasza whose foot lives half its life on the distortion pedal, and a frontwoman bit** in Karen O’Connor who at first sounds like an endearing, crooning Linda Ronstadt type before unleashing Sadistic spiels (“Stay”) and bedroom come-ons (the album’s undeniable standout, the multi-tempoed “Wait”), all over obscenely fun blues rock landing somewhere between their fellow Detroiters The White Stripes and Queens of the Stone Age.
17 Ben Pest – Scourge
Should acid house be busy? No. Should acid house be dark and gritty? No. Should acid house be frenetic and relentless? No. Should acid house be all four of these things at once? Absolutely and acid house Ben Pest is, with a gratifyingly hip-hop type of lean to him but with songs that groove out in time as something epic, underlying their spooky and ominous sheens. This guy hails from Bristol, UK and seems to have put out about half a million albums that are available on Bandcamp, one of which was called something like “I Love Acid” — for whatever reason I just got around to him on this year’s project Scourge, but still, the DJ sounds anything but desperate or pushy to make his signature stamp. In its own way this music is relaxed, even elated in its own skin, and will make you feel the same.
16 Allah-Las – LAHS
To cap off this auspicious twee pop revival we’ve had this decade of Real Estate, The Pains of Being Heart and Waxahatchee among others, we should aptly look to none other than Allah-Las, a band that’s actually from LA, appropriately enough, and zero in on that sound and mood that seems so enticingly non-LA that it invites you into its inverted paradise by that very premise. Your first instinct might be to say that for rock, it’s lazy, or minimalist, but persistent listens nestle into subtle rhythms and a spicy mix that’s nothing if not infectious, like an indie rock allegory with metaphoric lyrics at hand as well, just to cap things off in style.
15 Thom Yorke – ANIMA
I guess I’m “that guy” that ranks Thom Yorke 15th — as pretty much anyone who’s heard this album will tell you, it’s more than #1-of-the-year worthy by objective accounts, as haunting as it is fresh and varied with song titles like “Last I Heard (…He Was Circling the Drain)” and a dark, bona fide Radiohead sort of vibe about it. Based on the discussion board I was looking at on Reddit, most people consider it firmly his best solo material he’s ever put to wax and rank it pretty high among even his Radiohead albums, around third or fourth or so. I think I’d put it around the middle of the pack. But to hear Thom Yorke still making music this inspired and to come out and silence all the social media clamor about things like his resistance to BDS has surely been gratifying, as well as preservative of our sanity, even if his messages are this horrifying.
14 Versus – Ex Voto
Like The Divine Comedy, Versus is a band I really enjoy and that I just discovered but that was formed like before the invention of the telephone — these guys in 1990 in New York which isn’t exactly a friendly environment to be a band in, with the high rent prices and heated competition for getting gigs, but almost obviates that you’ll pick up some grit and character, certainly if you carry the kind of longevity that Richard Baluyut has, the frontman and mainstay at hand. The best thing about Ex Voto is its ability to play as permanent, perennial alternative rock, resting on sort of half-dissonant chords and a vocal that’s just sort of lazy and apathetic enough, lyrics buried deeply under his poker-faced, shoe-gazing adulation of the craft. Bottoms up.
13 Wilco – Ode to Joy
Wilco is without question a premierely exciting band to get a new album from because all of their albums are so different from each other, particularly since 1999’s Summerteeth. Ode to Joy, though, ended up taking the shape roughly of Tweedy’s last solo output, WARM, with grand, broad, lugubrious musical statements peppered with deeply philosophical lyrics, like the work of somebody who’s saddled themselves with the responsibility of authoritatively summing up the human condition and constantly renewing that assessment. Thankfully, though, Ode to Joy can rock just enough, as well, as on the stately “Love is Everywhere (Beware)” with its caffeinated guitar frills and beautiful centerpiece “Citizens,” one of the band’s best songs to date.
12 Cosmo Vitelli – Holiday in Panikstrasse, Part 1
There’s this ephemeral quality to the instrumental rock that Berlin’s Cosmo Vitelli whittles out on Holiday in Panikstrasse, Part 1 (due of course in part to its 23-minute or so length) where by the time you think you’re done figuring out what kind of album it is, or what kind of music it is, the danged thing’s almost over. The hypnotic “Groupe Surdose,” for instance, comes in all meandering and tropical with copious bongos and other unconventional percussion, before settling down into this bass guitar groove that sounds sort of like Liars covering Four Tet, all the while this wacky, seemingly aimless high-pitched organ riff burping in, as if some deviant prankster added something foolish to Vitelli’s music when he was done with it. This plurality of statements within a given song would seem to indicate an artist who still has a lot up his sleeve and a lot of figuring out of the self to do, which should be interesting to listen to, to say the least.
11 Jacques Greene – Dawn Chorus
Out of Montreal now we get DJ Jacques Greene and his second full-length, rife with collaborations from Cadence Weapon, Juliana Barwick and plenty of others. Like a lot of albums this year, it’s up-beat electronica to put you in a good mood with a workmanlike focus and professionalism — to me what solidifies it as a classic is the Cadence Weapon track. On “Night Service” Weapon takes us through this whole, robust set of imagery on how the dance club can be a spiritual awakening if you let it be that — “Circle dance like a Quaker / Brings me right back to the pit / I search for a savior / Never know when this is it”. Greene’s dubstep beats are toned down and mellowed on this cut to showcase the lyricism and the whole thing balances as a centerpiece pretty nicely.
10 Steve Gunn – The Unseen in Between
The primary mass of online literature will guide you to “Stonehurst Cowboy,” which per legend was written about his father who passed in 2016, and to poker-faced, cursory notes of this passing as if its primary emotional effect were producing an annoying corpse to dispose of, of course. This really pi**es me off especially because I’ve put “New Familiar” on about 10 playlists this year, being completely awed by the incessant guitar riff and the blistering, distortion-filled solo (not sure if maybe I’m the last person on the planet who likes rock music) and then “Paranoid,” which turns the tables on hippie well-wishers by offering fear of surroundings as the logical earthly disposition in 2019 and belittles those who cry “paranoia” as the demented. I rated this album really high in my January review and I’m sticking to it but for now I can’t seem to listen to it again without imagining these vapid prigs trying to pry a sense of feeling out of it when they don’t seem to have any of their own.
9 Morrissey – California Son
For the second time in three years now I’ve got a Morrissey album ranked ninth on my year-end list (there’s some spooky numerology going on with these things I swear) and again, as always, I find it hard to really NAIL the appeal of Morrissey. I mean, he’s kind of a whiner and stuff — he doesn’t really sing with an ATTITUDE or any sort of flair other than just his personal self-mocking sort of croon. Plus, I even just figured out this year that, even with The Smiths, he’s never written a whole piece of MUSIC in his life, but rather just the vocal parts. And yet I keep gravitating back to it — there’s just something premiere and authoritative about how he utters lines like “These are the days of decision”. It’s as if he’s been damaged more than anyone as a person in these polymorphous, unsure times, and his consistency level in baring a sophisticated sort of feeling in song is on an elitely high level. California Son is composed entirely of cover versions but, I think, still carries the signature Morrissey gravity and pop pleasantness that his most ardent fans look for in his work.
8 In Limbo – Biohazard
I have no idea how I chanced upon this album and band because there seem to be like five different In Limbo monikers on Bandcamp, none of which is this vituperative punk band that belted out this tight, noisy masterpiece. And maybe that’s all for the better anyway — anonymity is more “punk” anyway (though I guess listening to it on Spotify Premium is anything but, but we can address that later), and this music is certainly all about drowning out the outside world and rediscovering yourself through the mania of rock. The bass sound rings rude and raw on opener “Meltdown” to ground the proceedings in something intimidating and the whole thing is just relentless like the wall of guitar sound that opens “Radioactivity,” as if the band just rocks pedal to the metal because they don’t KNOW any other way.
7 Kalbata feat. Tigris – Vanrock
What do you do when various rock artists are boycotting playing concerts in your country through BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) because of your boorish diplomatic practices before your geographical neighbors? Why, make your own dang rock music, of course! Vanrock is the first ANYTHING I’ve ever heard of coming from Israel (I’m pretty sure Ikonika was from Saudi Arabia, which is pretty close) — be it novel, painting, album, idea for new toxic cleaner to ingest, etc., and even though no I’m definitely not on board with Israel politically remember that these are only individuals and sometimes being at odds with your own nation politically on the interior can be just as disaffecting as being oppressed. But this is instrumental music anyway, so it needn’t be proven — just sit back and sink into its sheer mass and persistence, from band Tigris and Kalbata, who apparently heads Fortuna Records out of Israel. The eclecticism of the instruments alone will make it worth it as well as the infectious way the bongo and the upright bass have of bleeding into each other in the mix in the tense title track.
6 Ya$e – Black Sheep
This is the time of year when I normally, through the oppressive litany of new music to which I’m exposed throughout the course of the year, take stock, get to know the artists a little better and think of a little mini-blurb to write about them, if I liked them enough. The problem with this silver-tongued white rapper Ya$e out of Philadelphia is that he’s not ON Bandcamp, Wikipedia or anything else — I’ve never heard his music anywhere other than my own apartment and nobody seems to know anything about him. The only thing I know about him is that he looks like the kind of guy who would get picked last in basketball, judging by the video for “Joel Embiid.” But God da** is the flow infectious and impassioned, like a more street-gritty Drake with every bit the honesty and the luscious beats. This is quality hip-hop in the old school spirit of the boom bap — telling stories of the street and of struggle with undeniable energy and skill.
5 Slaylor Moon – Zone of Pure Resistance
America gave birth to a lot, if not all, of the modern musical genres and yet sometimes I think it’s our lot to, once in the know of them, proceed to fu** them up and bastardize them in every way possible. Slaylor Moon, anyway, from France, makes this very askance, directly melodic but deeply unhinged kind of IDM, and just by looking at her picture on Bandcamp I can tell she’s not American, or else would be very full of compunction for her sake would she have been American, with the very expressive, diva-like pose she’s got there. It’s also a moot point since this mood is anything but “sexual” — this music is for the middle of the day, for obligations, and seems to sum up repetition and ennui with the incredible accuracy of Radiohead’s Amnesiac.
4 Black Milk – DiVE
Black Milk’s music is like a live wire of pure hip-hop — it’s so hard to judge, even, on first listen, because there’s typically so much going on under the surface, like lyrical left turns from his older stuff, conceptual forays into minimalism and repetition, but most of all just the city of Detroit itself where he comes from, which is hardly the type of place that can be caged by definitions and rules. The one constant that remains is that “coolest flow,” that laconic drawl he takes on the mic almost like sarcastically lassoing up all the lethal and diabolical things in his everyday life as if to pinpoint them while also not holding them too close. Black Milk also makes his own beats and has 10 other albums or EP’s out before DiVE, each of which comes recommended by this site.
3 Paula Temple – Edge of Everything
There’s little way to describe Paula Temple’s music other than just “disturbing” — opening track “Berlin” about her current home seems like an electro tone poem meant to mimic a sort of apocalyptic industry sprawl, with all these ugly and vibrating sounds working in rhythm sort of like an assembly line or car engine, rendered powerfully and starkly even with no percussion, what’s more impressive. I notice a common thread with her IDM diva companion Slaylor Moon, too, in the theme of album title — like being at the end of your rope with the world where it seems like your main mission is just to describe and explicate the crushing, overwhelming ugliness of the world around you. It’s a zone that musically seems to be as exciting as it is haunting, if these 21st century rhythmic minds are any indication.
2 Rome Streetz – Noise Kandy 3: The Overdose
Here’s how Noise Kandy 3 opens, after a sound bite of him kicking a basehead out of the house: “I’m busy makin’ moves / Wrote this sh** / On my way to go make a slap / A buck 60 flat / But the sh** I spat circulate the map / Generatin’ rap / While you ni**az strugglin’ wishin’ to make a stack / Tryin’ to imitate the latest major act / I’ll raise a blade at your face / Leave it hangin’ / The ER gonna have to staple back”. Look. I follow these hip-hop pages on Facebook like Boom Bap Nation and Hip-Hop Back in the Day and they’re constantly singing the praises of Wu-Tang, and with good reason, with that group having been masterful lyricists. This is honestly the best rhyming I’ve heard since Wu-Tang’s album The W from 2000. And Rome Streetz delivers it in this flawless ghetto drawl that sort of splits a bisector between Nas and the half-singing techniques of J. Cole (which I happen to hate but which at least are up with the current times, for which there’s typically something to be said). Rome Streetz hails from New York and this is his fifth album surprisingly since he says he has “No contract from rap.” Typically it’s kind of a pet peeve of mine when a dude has like a million different producers, but honestly this stuff is so raw that he deserves to be able to hold all his beat makers at arm’s length — no other individual deserves to be vaunted to the creative level that this guy is at as a rhymer, hence appropriating his plurality of helping hands.
1 Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow
In part ushering in in full force the new era of “really tacky” albums on Spotify replete with completely unnecessary music videos which jolt you off the main interface and naked 11 year old girls (thankfully it doesn’t seem from her color to be a case of border detention), Remind Me Tomorrow is nonetheless entirely a universe of its own, with influences fully steeped in rock and roll and even the Smashing Pumpkins industrial of “Ava Adore,” even name-checking The Black Crowes as the musical choice of a romantic interest at one point, but still her own personal brainchild, draped with her gorgeous vocal tone all throughout. It seems the akin progeny to her beautiful breakout EP Epic from 2010 and so closes the decade off in perfect form, finally doing justice to that classic with a similar warm, singer/songwriter tone but letting things truly blossom out and allowing her storytelling penchant to really take authority. Van Etten is going to go down as one of the truly great voices in rock and roll history one day, or something is seriously wrong.