Here we go.
2019 was…something. Honestly, I think this year will go down as one of the most stressful I can recall in my adult life. Part of it has to be the seemingly endless amount of news and information we are bombarded with on a daily basis. Even if you try to avoid it (by not watching the news, staying off Twitter, etc.), confrontation is unavoidable. Even temporary escape via music, television, cinema, and travel is just that — temporary. Fifteen minutes into an episode of Watchmen I pause to look at my phone, and there’s that information again, ready to elicit another deep sigh or pang of anxiety. I don’t want to delve too deeply into it, but the end result is that I spend so much time in my own head I feel less compelled to write. For me at least, writing requires an immense amount of presence and mental bandwidth. Both are in short supply right now. I’ll try harder in 2020, I promise.
Good things come to those who wait. Welcome to my annual attempt to make sense of all the new music I’ve heard this year. In December of 2018, I wrote that I struggled to find 100 albums worthy of my Year-End list. Thankfully I had an easier time this year. The most difficult part was the actual rankings, of which I’m still not 100% certain. According to Spotify, I listened to over 38,000 minutes of music in 2019, my highest total since the year I had that annoying desk job (2017) where if I wasn’t listening to music I was contemplating jumping out the window. It helps when I wake up to messages from East Coast friends like Ian and Mike introducing me to new releases. Ian’s top 86 album list either reminded me of omissions or introduced me to albums that were not on my radar this year. Thanks, friends!
As always, I’m going to try to write a brief blurb about each album on the list. These take time, since I can’t remember specific details off the top of my head. If I use too-similar adjectives for multiple albums or repeat words/phrases over and over again, I apologize. I generally write this post over the course of days or even weeks. I’ll skim it once it’s complete to make sure there isn’t anything too egregious. Beyond that, you’ll just have to forgive me and my tiny vocabulary.
That said, let’s talk about this list. In terms of labels, there are a few interesting notes to make.
In terms of record labels, the usual suspects seem to dominate the list: Sacred Bones (3 albums), Profound Lore (3 albums), Sargent House (4 albums), Relapse Records (4 albums), and The Flenser (5 albums) all make multiple appearances. I was very happy to see Editions Mego well represented since that label fell off my radar a bit in recent years.
Genre-wise, the list is probably still dominated by metal and its various subgenres, but — and I’ll have to ask friends about this — there might be more recognizable mainstream artists than normal this year. Lana Del Rey, Nick Cave, Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen, Springsteen, Slowthai, Young Thug, and Tool have popped up on plenty of Year-End lists so far. It’s not like they need to be on mine, but I genuinely liked those albums. I don’t normally keep track of genres, but I think it’s worth pointing out that by my count more than 10% of this list is rap/hip-hop for the first time maybe ever? I basically have my friend Mike to thank for that because I’m clueless when it comes to what’s new and popular in that world. For a few years now metal has dominated the list, and I think 2018 was more of them. I listen to a lot of heavy music, so that is to be expected.
And, lastly, according to my own personal stats, this year’s list took 9 days and about 15 hours total to put together. I feel like the blurbs are normal than longer. Next year I’m going to have to go back to only writing blurbs about 1/2 or 2/3 of the total list. This shit takes way too much time.
Enjoy the list. As always, let me know what you think in the comments. What did I get right, what did I get wrong, what did I forget, and what did you dig the most in 2019.
The Top 100 Albums Of 2019
100. Clouds Taste Satanic – Evil Eye / Second Sight (Kinda Like Music) – This spot was occupied by the Tyler the Creator album IGOR until this morning, when I discovered these two Clouds Taste Satanic records. As I’ve only listened to them once each, I can’t fathom placing them any higher than this…but that’s more than I can say for the Tyler album. I streamed that one the day it was released, and the vinyl is still sitting sealed in a pile of albums I keep telling myself I’m going to open and play. I’ll probably end up selling that one. Anyway, Clouds Taste Satanic has been given the “doom” moniker by various metal blogs, but to my ears their atmospherics are more akin to bands like Colour Haze, Ufomammut or Elephant Tree than your traditional doom metal bands. Anyway, both of these albums are more than solid. They’re each comprised of side-long opuses (think Bell Witch) with multiple movements. Definitely worth a listen if you enjoy any of the bands I just namechecked.
99. Deathchant – Deathchant (King Volume Records) – There ya go, Quinn. You made it. The pinnacle of your music career has been reached. Revel in it, buddy.
98. Gatecreeper – Deserted (Relapse Records) – I think I like Sonoran Deprivation more, but this is certainly one darkened slab of death metal. I’m a bit picky in terms of the genre, and there are definitely bands I could do without whom others seem to love (sorry, Tomb Mold) but for some reason, Gatecreeper always seems to please me. Maybe it’s the fact that I can nod my head to it at a relatively normal pace while I’m at work, or it doesn’t make me want to steer my car off the road at top speed with each guitar squeal. Whatever primordial affinity I feel for these guys, I’m evolution allowed it to be a part of my genetic makeup!
97. Earl Sweatshirt – Feet Of Clay (Warner Records) – How does a 15-minute-long EP wind up on this list of best albums of the year? Well, it’s an Earl Sweatshirt release so…duh. I’ll take anything I can get at this point. It was certainly better than that Tyler The Creator album from this year I bought and never opened, just to turn around and sell it in a few months when its value increases…
96. Helms Alee – Noctiluca (Sargent House) – As much as I liked Night Terror when it was released, I wasn’t a big fan of Weatherhead or anything that came after it. So Helms Alee basically fell off my radar until Noctiluca was released, and someone I know from Hydra Head told me I needed to sit down and reevaluate my feelings towards the band. I thought about moving this up a bit in recent days because I’ve listened to it so much lately, but I can’t upend the list just because I’m listening to this record right now while I try to organize my thoughts about it. That said, as much as I like the heavier.Melvins-y tracks with Ben Verellen on vocals (“Beat Up” and “Word Problem” come to mind), the off-kilter, melodic numbers like the album-opening “Interachnid” and “Be Rad Tomorrow” are what stick in my mind after listening. When I look back at this list a few years from now I will not be surprised if I undervalued this one. [Listen to “Beat Up” (MP3)]
95. Consumer – In Computers (Flenser Records) – I saw Consumer open for Have A Nice Life a few months ago at Catch One here in Los Angeles. Honestly, I was not immediately struck by what I heard in that setting. But, as always, I have to give anything The Flenser releases several chances before I write it off completely. More often than not, I end up liking what I hear. I didn’t like Street Sects or Drowse the first time I heard them. I didn’t like the Sprain song I heard when it was announced they signed to the label, but I loved what I heard when I saw them live. My point is, I often find myself playing catch up with this label. In a live setting, watching Consumer reminded me of the movie They Live. Like if the Melvins were playing King Eddy’s Saloon and I showed up wearing a pair of Nada’s sunglasses. The album, with its overprocessed riffs and blasts of sludge-y noise, is far better than the live show. As usual, I’ve been slow to see what the label saw…but also, as usual, they’re totally right.
94. Lightning Bolt – Sonic Citadel (Thrill Jockey) – When this email came in my first thought was, “Lightning Bolt are still around?!” This was quickly followed by “Wait — Thrill Jockey?!” Which, in hindsight makes perfect sense, as Thrill Jockey is home to The Body, Sumac and Oozing Wound now. While Brian and Brian might never soar to the same heights they reached on Wonderful Rainbow and Ride The Skies, they still make immensely fun albums that make me want to steer my car right off the road at high speeds whenever I’m driving.
93. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell (Polydor/Interscope Records) – I’m not sure what else I can add about this record that every other publication on Earth hasn’t already said. I’m not ashamed to admit I like Lana Del Rey, and while this is probably my least favorite of her studio albums (not counting the Lizzy Grant album) it’s still a piece of mainstream pop that I enjoy. I think that’s worth something, considering the rest of the artists featured on this list exist in the margins to varying degrees.
92. Blood Incantation – Hidden History Of The Human Race (Century Media) – Man, Denver really is turning into a kind of breeding ground for excellent metal bands. I hadn’t heard of these guys before this album, but I’ve since gone back and listened to 2016’s Starspawn, which is really good as well. It’s a perfect blend of black metal and psychedelic that I think many modern bands are trying to achieve, but most of them fail. Blood Incantation most certainly found that perfect middle ground here. I can’t wait to see what they do next.
91. Elder – The Gold And Silver Sessions (Blues Funeral Recordings) – Who would have thought one of the most kosmiche albums of the year would come from a progressive stoner band like Elder. I called 2017’s Reflections Of A Floating World a cross between bands like Khemmis or Pallbearer and jam bands like Earthless. This one certainly skews towards the latter, but takes it even further into contemplative psych territory. It’s way more layered, it sounds positively Pink Floyd-ian at times…it’s definitely a tripped-out good time. The only reason it’s not ranked higher on this list is because it is only a 3-song EP. Even though I love it I have to dock it a few spots for that.
90. 75 Dollar Bill – I Was Real (Thin Wrist Recordings) – I think I’ve sold and then bought back Wood/Metal/Plastic Pattern/Rhythm/Rock two or three times now. It came highly recommended and I enjoyed the first listen, then got it home and disliked it, sold it a short while later and re-bought it more recently. It reminds me of some of these limited edition Six Organs of Admittance CDrs that came out in the early 2000s, or the Bill Flynt records that Locust Music released around that same time. Lots of hypnotic drones, deep rhythms and random bursts of experimental strings punctuating the wall of noise. It’s a heady listen, and it has made just about every Year-End list for 2019 imaginable…so don’t take it from me, take it from everyone else. [Listen to “Every Last Coffee Or Tea” (MP3)]
89. Vaura – Sables (Profound Lore Records) – This one sounds like a blend of metal and 80s goth bands like Sisters of Mercy, Killing Joke or even The Cure. It’s a fascinating amalgam that results in one of the most singular sounding albums of the year. I’m hardpressed to think of a record that sounds exactly like it. This, of course, is a good thing. Any band that can upend genre conventions while forging a unique path these days is certainly worthy of praise. Give this one a listen and tell me if you can think of another modern record with the same sound.
88. Torche – Admission (Relapse Records) – Man, not even my Hydra Head connection could get me an advance copy of the new Torche album (their first since 2015). Then randomly one day on a drive down to San Diego, my girlfriend asked, “Are you a fan of that band Torche? Someone at work thought you might like it so they burned you a copy.” We listened to it twice during that drive and I’ve found myself returning to it multiple times since. There are a lot more electronic/shoegaze/pop elements than I remember from albums like Meanderthal and the Healer / Across The Shields, but I like the new sound a lot. There’s still some sludge and some doom, but these new creative flourishes create a new and exciting atmosphere around the riffs.
87. Vatican Shadow – American Flesh For Violence (Hospital Productions) – I mean, technically I shouldn’t include this because it’s a set of unreleased tracks from the archives, as well as a companion tape of remixes throughout the project’s history. Alas, the compositions have beat me into submission so I had to relent and include it.
86. Chromatics – Closer To Grey (Italians Do It Better) – I always wanted to dislike Chromatics, but their appearances on season 3 of Twin Peaks changed my mind. I don’t even mind the opening cover of “The Sound Of Silence.”
85. Julia Jacklin – Crushing (Polyvinyl Record Company) – Julia Jacklin perfectly fits the space in between songwriters like Marissa Nadler and Nina Nastasia for me. There’s a darkness to the lyrics that is balanced by juxtaposed melodies. It’s not as goth/haunting as Nadler, and its arrangements aren’t as complex as Nastasia’s. It fits firmly in between those two, and I’m here for it. [Listen to “Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You” (MP3)]
84. All Your Sisters – Trust Ruins (Flenser Records) – You know how Scott Walker had that collab album with Sunn O)))? All Your Sisters is what it would sound like if Scott Walker collaborated with Street Sects or Ministry or Skinny Puppy. Another great release from The Flenser.
83. Sunn O))) – Pyroclasts (Southern Lord) – Speaking of…Sunn O))) put out two stellar albums in 2019. I’ve spent way more time with Life Metal than this one. That’s why it’s ranked lower on the list. Ask me this time next year which one I like better and my opinion might have changed.
82. Earthen Sea – Grass & Trees (Kranky) – Leave it to Kranky to continue putting out thoughtful, expansive ambient records year after year. These aren’t super complex compositions, just let thirty-plus minutes of warmth wash over you and envelope you. Like an extended dub mix, the rhythms are just enough to propel each piece forward. Everything else is just a soft, stone(d) groove.
81. William Basinski – On Time Out Of Time (Temporary Residence, Ltd.) – Rather than try to explain what I’m hearing, I’ll just deliver some words from his official page about the nature of the recording(s). “These works utilize, among other things, exclusive source recordings from the interferometers of LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) capturing the sounds of the merging of two distant massive black holes, 1.3 billion years ago.” Does listening to that pique your interest? Me too.
80. Danny Paul Grody – Sunrise, Looking East (Longform Editions) – DPG — that’s what I’m calling him now — who is widely known for his contributions to Tarentel and The Drift, also has some brilliant solo records under his belt. This one was inspired by the birth of his child and one of the changes that experience brings, in this case being awake to watch the sunrise. This piece attempts to capture the experience of being with his newborn watching darkness transform into light while facing East in the nursery room. Like everything DPG (I swear I’m going to make that stick!) touches, Sunrise, Looking East is 17 minutes of beauty.
79. Tool – Fear Inoculum (RCA Records) – I’m not sure what everyone was expecting when this came out. It sounds like a Tool album! Six of the seven songs are over ten minutes long. Maybe people forget that even on Ænima most of the songs are 5+ minutes? I listened to Fear Inoculum the day that it came out (like everyone else, I’m sure) and stepped away after a couple listens thinking it was fine. But the more I’ve listened to it in the months since its release, the more I’ve come to enjoy it. Also, I think we can safely say this is the best expression of Danny Carey’s drumming, right? RIGHT?!
78. Hey Colossus – Four Bibles (Alter) – Sometimes I see a new release on some label’s or distributor’s list and my initial reaction is, “Really? They’re still going?” My first reference to Hey Colossus was way back in August of 2006 when I included “Raise The Flag (The Planet’s Ours)” on a Sunday Mix Tape. They haven’t appeared on a Top 100 list since 2015 (the phenomenal In Black And Gold). I’m not going to lie, the first time I heard “Memory Gore” my mind started picking out elements of like…Silverchair and Stone Temple Pilots. Obviously Hey Colossus is way heavier than both of those bands, more experimental and certainly more challenging. The fact that my brain is picking out those melodies is a testament to how the band can take familiar, friendly motifs and turn them into a crushing, chugging, heavy sound of their own. [Listen to “Memory Gore” (MP3)]
77. Richard Skelton – Border Ballads (Corbel Stone Press) – Skelton has appeared on a number of Sunday Mix Tapes dating back to 2010, but for some reason, I’ve never included him on one of my Top 100 Albums lists. It’s much more melodic than some of his previous recordings, the bowed strings and soft piano streams ave an almost whimsical feel at times. Much like how listening to Jasper TX takes me back to precise moments or locations on my post-collegiate cross-country adventures, I can very easily see the pieces that comprise Border Ballads being tied to specific locations as well.
76. Swans – Leaving Meaning (Young God Records) – It’s a new Swans record. Enough said.
75. Andy Stott – It Should Be Us (Modern Love) – It’s just an EP, but like everything Stott seems to release (since about 2012 I think?) it’s good enough to compete against any full length I would consider for this list. Along with Machinefabriek, Aidan Baker/Nadja, Circle, and a few other artists, I think Andy Stott was one of the best all-time recommendations I received from the Aquarius Records mail-order catalog.
74. Amon Amarth – Berserker (Metal Blade Records) – On their 11th album (!!!), Amon Amarth ups the emotion while continuing the brutality fans have come to expect. I mean, any album in 2019 with a song called “Mjölner, Hammer Of Thor” on it is bound to be awesome, no?
73. Boris – Love & Evil (Third Man Records) – Part of me vowed to never highlight anything released on Third Man, but I can’t deny Boris their rightful place on this list. I think this is my favorite Boris record since Heavy Rocks, or maybe even Smile. I was not a fan of that weird j-pop turn they took on that one album so I checked out mentally until they got back to rocking. This one feels like the Boris I remember, and the one I’ve enjoyed seeing live for so many years. Plus, now that they’ve been added to the Psycho Las Vegas lineup for 2020, I don’t have to worry about their set sucking! [Listen to “LOVE” (MP3)]
72. Chelsea Wolfe – Birth Of Violence (Sargent House) – I can’t lie, I totally forgot to include this one on my first draft of this list.
71. Ride – This Is Not A Safe Place (Wichita) – Ten years ago I would have told you that if bands like Ride and Slowdive got back together and recorded new music, I wouldn’t be a fan. Did you hear what happened to The Pixies on that one album? Yuck. Alas, both Ride and Slowdive reunited, and both put out killer new records. This year Ride put out another record, and it’s just as awesome as the last one. I guess when you don’t care what people think when you get back together after 21 years, you can free your minds up enough to create two albums that fit seamlessly with your earlier catalog.
70. King Midas Sound – Solitude (Cosmo Rhythmatic) – It’s been four years since King Midas Sound appeared on a Swan Fungus Top 100 list. I blame this partially on the closing of Aquarius Records, whose mail-order catalogs kept me very in-the-loop regarding new albums from experimental artists. Alas, thankfully Solitude got enough positive press upon its release that it found its way onto my radar. It’s totally bleak. It reminds me of winters in Vermont when I had that disgusting college roommate whose stench necessitated sleeping with the window open even when the temperature dipped below zero. Even so, it also manages to nestle its way into your heart in some unique ways. The reimagining of the Bukowski poem “Bluebird,” for example, is so incredible. A smile crept across my face listening to that one, which is quite a feat on an album otherwise void of happiness or hope. [Listen to “Bluebird” (MP3)]
69. Moor Mother – Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes (Don Giovanni Records) – Synths, jazz, strings, sheets of white noise, powerful lyrical poetry…there’s so much going on here and yet it comes together to form a gloriously chaotic, terrifying work of art. This might be the most visceral recording of the year. A few times driving across town at night I’ve let this wash over me, as it both soothes and frightens me. If you’re into dark electronic / dub / industrial / field recordings / experimental noise you need to hear this one.
68. Oren Ambarchi – Simian Angel (Editions Mego) – What’s a Swan Fungus Top 100 without Oren Ambarchi? Why…it’s no list at all. I think he’s made every Top 100 since 2012? If you aren’t a fan at this point, you can start your journey through his discography with Simian Angel, which is one of the more warmer-sounding records he’s put out in recent memory.
67. Bonnie “Prince” Billy – I Made A Place (Drag City) – Hey, I’ll take all the Will Oldham/Bonnie “Prince” Billy I can get.
66. Young Thug – So Much Fun (Atlantic Records) – Is it as good as 2017’s Beautiful Thugger Girls (#51 on that list)? No. But I still like it, and it was a great Mike recommendation (which I could say about probably all the hip-hop albums on this list). Just let me enjoy it in peace.
65. Mispyrming – Algleymi (Norma Evangelium Diaboli) – It’s more controlled, more restrained and more melodic than their last record, and I enjoy it as a counterpoint to the last one because of it. I own Söngvar Elds Og Óridu on vinyl but rarely listen to it anymore for those aforementioned reasons. I’ll take the restraint of Algleymi over the chaos of Söngvar almost any day.
64. Cate Le Bon – Reward (Mexican Summer) – Ben introduced me Cate Le Bon on our drive back to LA from Vegas after Psycho in 2017. I think we listened to Crab Day twice on that ride, and I liked what I heard enough to file her name away for future consideration. It’s been a couple of years, but Mexican Summer’s release of Reward reminded me, “Oh, I like her!” It’s not as eccentric as, say, Aldous Harding…but it’s still off-kilter enough to be a totally weird and singular album with a sound that is uniquely hers. I like this one more than Crab Day, which says a lot.
63. Black To Comm – Seven Horses For Seven Kings (Thrill Jockey) – “Seven Horses For Seven Kings is the staggering new Black To Comm album by Marc Richter, who applies a whole new rhythmic force to his avant-garde sound designs with results landing in a wildly imaginative space between Rashad Becker, Cam Deas, and Nurse With Wound…” – Boomkat
62. Cloak – The Burning Dawn (Season Of Mist) – This one came out relatively late in the year (right around Halloween) but it’s so full of old school vibes and fun, unusual little surprises — like the piano on “March Of The Adversary” — that it quickly ascended my list of favorite metal albums of 2019. I guess that’s not saying a lot because there are so many metal albums on this list. Shut up and let me enjoy this one.
61. Mekons – Deserted (Bloodshot Records) – Man, they’re still doing it, huh?! I fucking love that song “In The Desert,” which at first sounds like a codeine-slow shambolic alt-country ditty, but then you start listening to the lyrics and they’re as biting as ever. It sounds like it could be on a Friends Of Dean Martinez record, but they’re singing about artillery shells, Bush and Blair, and you realize that even if the tone changes, the grim humor and wit will always remain. [Listen to “In The Desert” (MP3)]
60. Saor – Forgotten Paths (Avantgarde Music) – In the pantheon of folksy black metal, Andy Marshall stands at (or one rung below if you’re a Panopticon homer) the pinnacle of the genre. This one feels more intense, more immediate and more ferocious with its toned-down atmospherics. I think it’s the first album of his that doesn’t open with even a hint of atmosphere, it just explodes out of your speakers. I, for one, am a fan of these changes. It might not be as good as Guardians, but it’s damned good on its own.
59. Mono – Nowhere, Now Here (Temporary Residence, Ltd.) – I’ve been writing about Mono since the earliest days of this blog. I think one of my earliest posts was about them. I started this blog right before college graduation. And I saw them live at the First Unitarian Church in Philly back in late 2004 or early 2005, and bought a copy of Walking Cloud And Deep Red Sky on vinyl at the show. I didn’t have a turntable in my apartment that year, so the record just stood in the corner until the end of the year. It wasn’t until after graduation that I could actually spin the vinyl. I knew I wanted it so badly I was okay with it collecting dust before I could take it home and play it. Anway, if you read this blog and don’t know how much I love Mono, take that little annecdote as evidence. There will always be a spot for a new Mono album reserved on these lists.
58. The Great Old Ones – Cosmicism (Season Of Mist) – It’s super coincidental that albums from the same label seem lumped together on this list. There were Editions Mego and Thrill Jockey releases close together lower on the list and here are two Season Of Mist albums at #62 and #58. Weird! The Great Old Ones offer atmospheric black metal in the vein of Leviathan or Chaos Moon. The band describes this album by writing, “Live the fate of protagonists meeting the unspeakable Lovecraftian creatures, and let yourself be caught by the inexorable attraction of the black hole.” I can’t discern what’s being sung so I’ll have to take their word for it. [Listen to “The Omniscient” (MP3)]
57. Drowse – Light Mirror (The Flenser) – More bedroom MBV/Slowdive/Mount Eerie vibes from Drowse. Does that sound like something you might like? Well, then…check it out.
56. Russian Circles – Blood Year (Sargent House) – Recorded by Kurt Ballou at Electrical Audio in Chicago, this one checks all the right boxes in terms of immediate induction into the Hall of Evan-rock. As a longtime fan of the band, I have to say this one was a welcome surprise. Much like Pelican (whose 2019 album also feels like a return to form) I had kind of shied away from Russian Circles in recent years. This one brought me back. There’s a rawness and a directness to it that maybe was lost somewhere between Memorial and Guidance. Tracks like “Milano” and “Arluck” are standouts, taking the Russian Circles sound I’ve grown so fond of and kicking it up a notch, giving what is already sinister a bit more weight.
55. Angel Olsen – All Mirrors (Jagjaguwar) – Intense, operatic, bombastic, this is Angel Olsen at her best. I much prefer the songs dominated by the 12-piece string section than the synth-y ones (the guy who produced this also produced the new Sharon Van Etten album), but overall it’s a brilliant effort.
54. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains (Drag City) – I have to admit, I was never a Silver Jews fan. I can’t remember how or why this opinion came to bore its way into my skull, but for a very long time I simply refused to give Dave Berman a chance to win me over. Now he’s gone, and the first time I heard Purple Mountains it changed everything. I’ve probably listened to this album thirty times in the past couple months alone, trying to make sense of it all. The warm alt-country vibes, the mariachi horns, pedal steel…they make for a truly inviting album. But the vocals are something else entirely, acting like an emotional contradiction to what you’re perceviing. It’s a way more challenging listen than it appears on its surface, but it has made for one of the more rewarding listening experiences of the year for me. I guess I’ll go back and investigate Silver Jews now.
53. William Doyle – Your Wilderness Revisited (William Doyle Records) – This is a fascinating album. It sounds like everything from Whitehouse to Roxy Music to The Beach Boys, and yet it all sounds perfectly modern. It’s a heady listen, and there is a lot packed into its 9 tracks, but each time I’ve listened I’ve unearthed something new. Whether it’s a witty phrasing, vocal trick, instrumental flourish or sonic historical reference, I enjoy this album more with each successive listen. [Listen to “Nobody Else Will Tell You” (MP3)]
52. Mamiffer – The Brilliant Tabernacle (Sige Records) – “With The Brilliant Tabernacle, [Faith] Coloccia has focused her work on encompassing the totality of the human experience. Herein she acknowledges both the joyful abundance and inherent suffering of life, while fostering a deep reverence for “pristine awareness” as accessed by the natural mind. This fecund drive was further bolstered by the birth of her first child after her last album The World Unseen. The attendant experiences with maternity—hope, love, strength, support, surrender, and more than anything, the cognition of the self at its most powerful: the embodiment of vulnerability—prompted the construction of The Brilliant Tabernacle.”
51. Caterina Barbieri – Ecstatic Computation (Editions Mego) – Maybe it’s because the atmosphere at work does not allow for it, but I’ve found myself listening to a lot less ambient electronic now than I used to. Maybe it’s because I have Ian waking me up every day with a link to a new metal album, and most of my day is spent finding time to listen to that before I move onto other music. Nevertheless, when Editions Mego was putting out albums like Fennesz and Pita and Emeralds I was locked into all their new releases. So I completely whiffed on Caterina Barbieri when it came out in May. Now it’s one of the highest-ranked electronic albums on this list! “The album revolves around the creative use of complex sequencing techniques and pattern-based operations to explore the artifacts of human perception and memory processes by ultimately inducing a sense of ecstasy and contemplation.
50. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow (Jagjaguwar) – Wow! Sharon from Ba Da Bing Records who used to fill my inbox with digital promos back in the day has gone and BLOWN UP in 2019, playing the Grammy Museum, doing one of those NPR Tiny Desk concerts, headlining tours, opening for some of the biggest names in Indie Rock…and putting out a killer new album. I can hear everything from Springsteen (“Seventeen”) to Low (“Jupiter 4”) and beyond in the production, but it’s still eminantly her sound. And it’s the best album she’s made yet. [Listen to “Comeback Kid” (MP3)]
49. Cave In – Final Transmission (Hydra Head Records) – When I saw Cave In live at the Caleb Scofield benefit in Los Angeles I assumed the band would play a few more shows and call it a day, but then a new album caught me by surprise. There had been demos that weren’t meant for public release recorded before Caleb’s death. Final Transimssion includes contributions from him on every track, be it bass, vocals, or guitar. It’s a tough listen knowing how the story unfolded, but the end result is still a fantastic Cave In album. It reminds me of their best work on albums like Jupiter and White Silence. It’s noisy and spaced-out and melodic, fitting in perfectly with the rest of the band’s canon. After an unfathomable, shocking tragedy, hopefully the surviving band members can move forward knowing they’ve left fans with a beautiful and lasting Final Transmission.
48. Tropical Fuck Storm – Braindrops (Joyful Noise) – It’s hard to fathom a modern rock band can record albums in successive years that are of nearly equal quality. Those electronic guys who are just manipulating sine waves with rooms full of machines can pump out like five or ten albums a year, but writing a full rock album is supposed to take some time. Usually. I guess when you’re writing about politics and pop culture these days there’s a lot to mine from on a daily basis. Whatever the case may be, Braindrops is a must for anyone who liked A Laughing Death In Meatspace. I’d go so far as to day it’s also a must for anyone who is unfamiliar with the band, but enjoys guitar-driven indie rock.
47. Have A Nice Life – Sea Of Worry (Flenser Records) – I was lucky enough to catch HANL twice live this year, so I could hear a song or two live before this album was released. My expectations following the concerts were actually pretty low, but I’m happy to report the studio versions of those songs far exceed what I heard in person. This has become one of my go-to morning run listens. It always feels like I hit the last traffic light (at the corner of Western and Hollywood) right around the time the ambient intro to the last track begins. That has nothing to do with whether or not I like the music, but the fact that it came out in November and is already among my Top 50 albums of the year should be a big clue that I’m enjoying it. Will it age as grafeully as Deathconsciousness or The Unnatural World? Only time will tell.
46. Teeth of The Sea – Wraith (Rocket Recordings) – When I learned that Teeth Of The Sea had a new album out, I immediately sought it out. I still think 2013’s Master is a near-flawless record. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Record Store Day release from 2014, and honestly don’t remember Highly Deadly Black Tarantula…but Wraith is great. There are still little psychedelic flourishes, but now their sound has matured a bit. The brass adds a new sonic texture, the beats are little crunchier and more techno-y than in the past, and it all comes together quite harmoniously.
45. Monolord – No Comfort (Relapse Records) – Fuzzy stoner metal with killer riffs, some wah-wah leads, the occasional plaintive passage, rinse, wash, repeat. For fans of Khemmis, Pallbearer, Electric Wizard, et. al..
44. Panopticon – The Crescendo Of Dusk (Bindrune Recordings) – It’s an EP, the songs were recorded during recording sessions for older albums, but it’s “new” Panopticon. At this point I feel naked without a Panopticon album on one of these lists.
43. Domkraft – Slow Fidelity (Blues Funeral) – “Sweden’s prolific post-apocalyptic doom trio return on the heels of their mindblowing album, Flood, with a new EP of mindbending heaviness. At nearly 30 minutes, Slow Fidelity builds on the band’s cataclysmic, looping riff foundation with new psychedelic and experimental touches. Also includes a mammoth jam-monster that features no less than three guest singers, including the singular Mark Lanegan along with Lea of Besvärjelsen and Marty of Slomatics. Let Swedish doom reign!” [Listen to “Where We Part Ways” (MP3)]
42. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana (RCA Records) – Somehow, this duos second album together sounds even more cohesive than Piñata (2014). Or maybe it’s that my critical ear has matured during the past five years when it comes to Hip-Hop. Or maybe it’s that Mike only turns me onto really good new releases from the genre.
41. Yellow Eyes – Rare Field Ceiling (Gilead Media) – Yet another twisted, dizzying array of blackened tunes from Yellow Eyes. Maybe it’s my imagination (I can’t take the time to listen to all three albums back to back when I have to re-listen to 99 other albums in order to write this post) but I feel like they’re adding a teensy bit more in the way of atmospherics with each successive album.
40. Elizabeth Colour Wheel – Nocebo (Flenser Records) – This is another one that grew on me over the course of the year (it was released in March). I distinctly didn’t like it when I first heard it, but have returned to it multiple times in recent weeks in order to re-evalute, and I found a lot to love during those listens. There are several moments when their ability to fuse genres coupled with rapid shifts in vocal delivery sound postively Oathbreaker-ian. Whereas that band skewed a bit closer to a blend of black metal and hardcore, Elizabeth Colour Wheel seems to draw from even more influences, at times approaching speed metal and grindcore. It’s a challenging listen, but one that has proven to be quite rewarding for me. [Listen to “23” (MP3)]
39. Bill Callahan – Shepherd In a Sheepskin Vest (Drag City) – Bill Callahan. He’s still doing it! And I’m still digging it!
38. Sunn O))) – Life Metal (Southern Lord) – I don’t think I’m speaking hyperbolically when I say that Life Metal and Pyroclasts are the best Sunn O))) albums since White1 and White2. This one, in particular, blew my mind right from the get-go. I’ve since listened multiple times, picking up on the little flourishes their guest musicians add at various points in the tiny spaces afforded by those deafening, low, slow, riffs. If for some reason you checked out around the time Kanon was released (as I did), you’d better come back and check these albums out. Life Metal, especially, will likely top many fans’ lists when it comes time to rank the best albums Sunn O))) has ever released.
37. Chrome Ghost – The Diving Bell (Transylvanian Tapes) – What the fuck?! A cassette-only release found its way onto this list?! Incredible! This was a late-year Ian recommendation that I’ve enjoyed immensely, even if the only way I’ll ever get to enjoy it is streaming online (no tape player, no CD or vinyl pressing that I’m aware of).For fans of Yob, Spirit Adrift, Khemmis, and all those bands that blend melody and earnest vocals with massive riffs and punishing rhythms.
36. Spirit Adrift – Divided By Darkness (20 Buck Spin) – Man, it’s a shame these guys don’t sound as good live as they do on record. Curse Of Conception and now Divided By Darkness are two incredible records. And, to be honest, Nathan’s voice rarely stays on key in concert. It’s quite annoying. Anyway, if you liked the aforementioned Curse (my #2 album of 2017) you’ll certainly enjoy Divided. Unless you’re one of those barely-of-drinking-age local space-rock-hard-rock-psych-metal kids who think Spirit Adrift is totally overrated but can’t quite elucidate why. Because I know one of those kids! And he makes me feel like a weird, old, out-of-touch dude when I’m rocking out to this. He just walks by my desk and lets out a heavy sigh. Not cool, bro. This might not be “old school” in a Thin Lizzy kind of way, but there’s another “old school” for guys like me who loved Metallica’s Black Album before Metallica was a joke, and that’s just as cool!
35. Future – The Wizrd (Epic Records) – I will never grow tired of slow, melancholic songs overflowing with references to sex and drugs…so of course there will always be a spot for a new Future album on this list. Now, where’s DS3?
34. Alcest – Spiritual Instinct (Nuclear Blast) – There’s something familiar and satisfying about a new Alcest record. Much like some other post-metal bands on this list (I’m looking at you, Astronoid) Alcest tends to dabble more on the brighter/shoegaze-y side of things, preferring to paint pictures in vibrant, dare I say hopeful light. After listening to so many hours of blackened, cold, sometimes even terrifying metal Alcest presents an opportunity to bathe in something more cheery and meaningful. It’s a welcome change.
33. The Moth Gatherer – Esoteric Oppression (Agonia Records) – I’ve been waiting for a band to take up the post-Neurosis, post-Isis mantle, and I think I can safely say that band is The Moth Gatherer. If either “Carry” or “So Did We” is one of your favorite Isis tunes, you’ll love this record. [Listen to “The Drone Kingdom” (MP3)]
32. Nivhek – After its own death / Walking in a spiral towards the house (Yellow Electric) – Man, have I missed having Liz Harris (aka Grouper) in my life. Since Jefre Cantu-Ledesma introduced me to Cover The Windows And The Walls in 2007 I’ve been obsessed with her enigmatic, gauzy, spacey compositions. This new project, Nivhek, is the sonic equivalent of playing with mercury, constantly shape-shifting and waxing and waning and endlessly refusing to conform to a specific shape or form. It’s exactly what I fell for ten-plus years ago.
31. Vanishing Twin – Age Of Immunity (Fire Records) – I know I just wrote a blurb that consisted solely of a comparison…like, two blurbs ago…but honestly I can’t write about Vanishing Twin without mentioning how it has filled the Broadcast-sized hole in my heart this year. And, if Stereolab didn’t get back together this year, it probably could have filled that hole in my heart as well!
30. Astronoid – Astronoid (Blood Music) – This is going to sound weird, but…I was actually nervous before this album came out. I was such a huge fan of Air — it was basically all I listened to when I ran for an entire year — that I didn’t think Astronoid could come close to replicating that magic. Then the first single, “I Dream In Lines” was released. I thought it sounded…too poppy. What was it I called Astronoid the first time around? Thrashgaze? Arena Emo? Dream Metal? Whatever that was, my first impression of the new material was more on the emo/arena rock/pop side of all those portmanteaus. But once I actually had the album in my hands and could listen to it, I felt like I understand the evolution better. This self-titled, sophomore album is Astronoid settling into their sound. It’s more positive, upbeat sounding, but the other sides of those portmanteaus, the thrash/metal/black-whatever…they’re still there, it’s just a little more glossy.
29. Danny Brown – Uknowwhatimsayin (Warp Records) – Mike and I are both in love with Danny Brown, and when we played Ian Atrocity Exhibition while I was home for Thanksgiving he shrugged it off and said it sounded like Anti-Pop Consortium. To each his own, I guess.
28. Lingua Ignota – Caligula (Profound Lore Records) – One of the most terrifying records of the year. The compositions are immense, the rage and catharsis Kristin Hayter is capable of channeling with her voice is exhilirating. This one is a downright stunner. Otherworldly. For fans of Pharmakon, Anna von Hausswolff, or for Chelsea Wolfe fans who are ready to ditch their diapers.
27. Pharmakon – Devour (Sacred Bones) – Speaking of Pharmakon (aka Margaret Chardiet), she returned in 2019 with a scathing new record. What does it say about the current state of music that this is the fourth time I’ve ranked Pharmakon among the 30 best albums in a given year, and yet this is her “worst” ranking on one of my lists…but I think this might now be my favorite album of hers? Either my methodolgy for ranking these albums is totally out of whack, or I’ve reached a point of my life where I’m (gasp) enjoying more new records than ever before.
26. Dead To A Dying World – Elegy (Profound Lore Records) – Everything is bigger in Texas, right? Even their fucking post-metal records. The inclusion of stringed instruments here enables Dead To A Dying World to soar above most of their peers with the ability to create awe-inspiring atmospherics to punctuate the doom and gloom with something so shimmering and beautiful. It never gets too heavy handed, either. It reminds me of everything from Mono to Eneferens to Godspeed. [Listen to “Syzygy” (MP3)]
25. Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars (Columbia Recors) – Don’t laugh. This shit sounds like a tribute to Glen Campbell mashed up with Nebraska. And since that’s my favorite Springsteen album, and the production on Western Stars is phenomenal, I’ve actually come to really, really like this record. Deal with it.
24. Falls Of Rauros – Patterns In Mythology (Gilead Media) – “The 5th full-length from Falls of Rauros, titled Patterns in Mythology, is both an expansion upon what was explored on Vigilance Perennial and a detour towards another direction entirely. Engineered, mixed, and mastered by Colin Marston at Menegroth, this record became both the heaviest and the most intricately detailed in the band’s career without forsaking the foundations the band is built upon; black metal operating in tandem with a melody more often heard in the folk and rock spheres. Thematically Patterns in Mythology touches upon the repeated failures of humanity, the subsequent rejection of human myth, and the uncertainty and vulnerability that follows.”
23. Inter Arma – Sulphur English (Relapse Records) – Easily my favorite Inter Arma record yet. I’ve slowly gotten into their music more with each passing album, but this one definitely speaks to me more than the others. On Paradise Gallows it seemed like they were flirting more with more atmospherics, but I prefer the way they contribute to the sound of Sulphur English more. There’s a pummeling, almost-unrelenting darkness that persists at the core of Inter Arma’s sound, but now the moments that feel almost…Pink Floyd-ian (?) better highlight those elements. Ian claims it is their heaviest album yet, but that hasn’t been my impression so far. That said, “Stillness” might be my favorite metal track of 2019. The repetition builds tension that I just don’t think was as present on previous albums, at least maybe not in this much abundance. One of the elements of Inter Arma’s sound that I appreciate the most is the vocals, which vary in style from song to song so much you’d think there are 3 or 4 vocalists in the group. It keeps their albums from boring me, which is something I get from singers who insist on a singular style, like that unyielding deep/guttural growl I associate with Dethklok.
22. Anderson.Paak – Ventura (Aftermath Entertainment) I forgot this one came out this year because April feels like so long ago. Definitely better than Malibu, probably better than Oxnard? I don’t know, you tell me.
21. Jenny Hval – The Practice Of Love (Sacred Bones) – In my humbe opinion, nothing is going to top Apocalypse, Girl. But The Practice Of Love comes close! Closer than Blood Bitch. As the press release states, “Across eight tracks, filled with arpeggiated synth washes and the kind of lilting beats that might have drifted, loose and unmoored, from some forgotten mid-’90s trance single, The Practice of Love feels, first and foremost, compellingly humane. Given the horror and viscera of her previous album, 2016’s Blood Bitch, The Practice of Love is almost subversive in its gentleness—a deep dive into what it means to grow older, to question one’s relationship to the earth and one’s self, and to hold a magnifying glass over the notion of what intimacy can mean.”
20. Fennesz – Agora (Touch) – I can’t believe it’s been five years since a proper Fennesz album (Bécs was the last one, right?). Jesus. Thankfully, Agora was worth the wait.
19. Rapsody – Eve (Roc Nation) – Seriously, I know this is #19 but it was one of my favorite rap albums of the year. Realistically there are only two albums ranked higher than it. But to have 3 Hip-Hop records in the top 20 is no small feat for someone who probably spent 10 of the past 14 years ignoring the genre entirely. Eve is a masterpiece.
18. Pelican – Nighttime Stories (Southern Lord) – You have no idea how happy it made me when I realized I actually liked a new Pelican album! I kind of fell out of love with the band after The Fire In Our Throats, feeling nonplussed about City Of Echoes and everything that came after it. But when I saw them live at the Caleb Scofield benefit they played three new songs that I dug. Then this album came out and it’s easily the best material they’ve recorded in over a decade. Its 50-or-so minutes pass like one long movement, with waves of urgency and contemplation that balance each other perfectly. If you loved Australasia and the early Pelican oeuvre, but maybe kind-of sort-of lost track over the years, definitely take the time to check this out. It might be their most cohesive collection of songs yet.
17. Blackwater Holylight – Veils Of Winter (RidingEasy Records) – Another Ian recommendation. Brilliant heavy psychedelia that comes close to approaching Windhand territory, but remains uniquely heavy and angelic at the same time. These ladies feel like a perfect addition to the 2020 Psycho Las Vegas lineup, and I for one would make a point of seeing them if they were asked to play.
16. A Winged Victory For The Sullen – The Undivided Five (Ninja Tune) – Finally, a proper follow-up to 2011’s eponymous album on Erased Tapes. Since then we’ve gotten film scores, a studio album of music for dance pieces (Atomos), and EPs. So, to me, this really is only the duo’s second proper studio album. No matter how you classify their catalog, one thing remains certain: the combined efforts of Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran are ingenious. I think I’ve caught them every time they’ve come to L.A., and I will be sure to see them in 2020 when they return to play in April.
15. Sandy (Alex G) – House Of Sugar (Domino Records) – I know it’s a common refrain when I’m writing about artists who have appeared on previous years’ Top 100 lists, but I think — with regards to Sandy (Alex G) — House Of Sugar is definitely my favorite album of his yet. The weirdo bedroom pop/rock/folk style is so honed in, so all-encompassing, that I can’t help but want to listen all the way through every single time I hear the first strains of the first track. When it comes to writing these blurbs, a lot of times I’ll sit and listen to a couple of songs to re-familiarize myself with an album. Throughout the year I’ll sketch some rough notes in a document I keep in my email drafts folder, then in December I’ll go back and listen again to see if I can better verbalize those original sketches. When I started listening to House Of Sugar again — and especially when “Hope” started playing — I remembered how much I love this record, and kept listening all the way through. Twice. If that isn’t a sign of a brilliant album, I don’t know what is. [Listen to “Hope” (MP3)]
14. Tim Hecker – Anoyo (Kranky) – Is it controversial to opine that I think I like Anoyo more than Konoyo? I listen to a good amount of Tim Hecker when I’m at work — because it puts me in a more serene headspace — and when given the choice, these days I’ll most likely select one of Anoyo or Love Stream or Harmony In Ultraviolet. I’m not entirely sure why that is, as both Anoyo and Konoyo are supposed to complement one another. Maybe, in the end, it just comes down to the melodies. Maybe it’s the sum of the parts being slightly different. Whatever it might be, I’m decidedly “Team Anoyo” and will be making up t-shirts so that if you pass me on the street you’ll know exactly where I stand. And if I see one of you coming from the opposite directly wearing a “Team Konoyo” shirt, you’d best believe we’re gonna fight.
13. White Ward – Love Exchange Failure (Debemur Morti Productions) – You all know how much I love black metal with a twist. This Ukranian band manages to flawlessly thread elements of Bohren And Der Club Of Gore (doom jazz!) and Angelo Badalamenti (noir scores!) into their black metal. Doom jazz noir metal. It’s fucking brilliant and made for easily the most inventive metal record of 2019. If you scroll down you’ll see there’s maybe one or two metal or metal-adjacent records that are ranked higher than this one overall, but I think this was the most fun experience I had listening to a new record this year. Ian gave me a little sketch of what I should expect but it totally exceeded my expectations. A soundtrack to existential ennui and cynicism, to a world that somehow both never sleeps and has come to a standstill, to a time in global history where there seems to no longer be any point to looking forward…not-so-subtly vocalized beneath all that post-metal and doom jazz and noir soundtrack music might be the most 2019 album of 2019. [Listen to “Poisonous Flowers Of Violence” (MP3)]
12. Slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain (Method Records) – It wouldn’t surprise me if some years from now I look back at this record and think I should have swapped it with Schoolboy Q and hailed it the best rap album of the year. Alas, both records came out within a few weeks of each other but somehow I ignored Mike telling me to check this out until…like October. So by virtue of having spent like six more months with Schoolboy Q than I did with Slowthai, I have to give it a higher ranking. Says Tom Critten of Loud and Quiet: “Brutally honest and amusingly witty with his flow, aggressive and dynamic with his production work, and captivatingly appealing with his charm and charisma, all taken together it assembles a hugely impressive, compelling and socially important listen. And whilst it’s a damning verdict on the current climate, all hope is not surrendered – after all, a full scale disavow of Britain does not feel like it’s reached in his prose.”
11. Be Forest – Knockturne (We Were Never Boring) – It’s been five years since I discovered Be Forest — via their album Earthbeat — which came recommended by Aquarius Records. I’m not going to lie, the fact that aQ closed its doors (and ceased its weekly newsletter) in 2016 has a lot to do with my inability to discover as much great new music as I used to. It hasn’t singlehandedly killed my tastes, but now I really only have word-of-mouth, which means Mike (Hip-Hop) and Ian (metal) dominate my tastes. None of this has any bearing on the new Be Forest album, which is fantastic. Dark, dancey shoegaze is probably the best way to describe these Italians. Their newest effort is certainly more tenebrous than Earthbeat, but the basic tenets of their sound remain. Maybe it’s more of a slow sway than a head bob? I feel like a sad goth in a cavernous dance club (or maybe the Twin Peaks black lodge?) waving back and forth quietly when I listen to this. Speaking of which, if you were a fan of the Twin Peaks third season bands that played the Roadhouse like Chromatics or Au Revoir Simone, you’d probably really like this album.
10. Kyle Bobby Dunn – From Here To Eternity (Past Inside The Present) – I am shocked. SHOCKED! That Tim Hecker did not produce my favorite electric/ambient album of 2019. That distinction goes to Kyle Bobby Dunn. I’ve actually gotten yelled at for listening to Kyle Bobby Dunn And The Infinite Sadness at work before, on account of it being a triple album that is light on…you know…dynamics. To say that there are “movements” to a Kyle Bobby Dunn album would be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as the concept of stillness (or pastoral-ness, which I’m not sure is a word) is paramount to his sound. In other words, this shit drones. And if you don’t like drones, you’re probably not going to like it. I, on the other hand, find it meditative. For someone who has a hard time slowing his brain down, this is exactly what it takes for me to center myself. There will always be multiple spots on any Swan Fungus Year-End list for ambient artists who drone, and this is the best I’ve heard so far in 2019.
09. Schoolboy Q – Crash Talk (Interscope Records) – Is it as good as Blank Face? Probably not. But is it more…accessible? Is it a little more fun? A little more upbeat? Definitely. To say that this album has twice soundtracked summer road trips (totally coincidental) this year says a lot about its desired listening circumstances. It just feels right rolling towards the bright lights of Vegas, or billowing out of car windows while winding through the streets of a new locale. “Tales,” “Water” and “Black Folk” are standouts. For those of you keeping track since June/July, the total number of times girlfriend has reached over and turned off “Chopstix” in the middle of the track this year was five. Here’s hoping I can annoy her with more Schoolboy Q in the year 2020.
08. These New Puritans – Inside the Rose (Infectious Music) – If Field Of Reeds is a perfect record, Inside The Rose is a near-perfect one. I like to think that Bark Psychosis picked up where Talk Talk left off, and then These New Puritans picked up where Bark Psychosis left off, taking that experimental “post-pop” sound into a stratosphere all their own. If the follow-up to Field Of Reeds would have sucked, it’d make perfect sense. “They flew too close to the sun,” I’d tell myself, subtly dropping my laptop and headphones into the trash bin (I don’t own the vinyl yet because it was a UK/EU-only release). But godfuckingdammit this record is marvelous in a way that doesn’t quite equal the mastery of its predecessor, but it also doesn’t beg for comparison. Does that make sense? No? Well, then, forgive me. I slept on These New Puritans until they were forced upon me. Consider this me returning that favor and forcing These New Puritans on you. You’ve been asleep too long. Wake up. [Listen to “Where the Trees Are On Fire” (MP3)]
07. Marissa Nadler & Stephen Brodsky – Droneflower (Sacred Bones) – I’m not sure entirely what I was expecting when I learned that one of my favorite modern songwriters (Nadler) was going to team up with the guy behind Cave In and Mutoid Man (Brodsky). My excitement was palpable. I pre-ordered the LP without even listening to the first released track, “For The Sun.” I stayed away from leaks and the official digital release (which came a few days before the record actually came in the mail). I have to be honest, I was not expecting covers of “Estranged” (GnR) and “In Spite Of Me” (Morphine), but I’m still enamored of the end result. The musicians complement each other shockingly well. Before its release, in my mind, I thought it would have been cool to see how Nadler might adjust to, say, Mutoid Man’s sound. The fact that Droneflower features Brodsky seamlessly integrating into the spectral, haunting, gauzy folk sound of Nadler’s turned out to be exactly what I wanted. And the cover of “Estranged” (my favorite GnR song as a kid)… I’ve seriously listened to it countless times, played it for dozens of friends, and have lobbied a couple of editors heavily for its inclusion in a trailer of some kind since that’s all the rage nowadays. The only negative takeaway from Droneflower I can think of is that I didn’t get to see the duo when they toured briefly in support of the album. BOO!
06. Mizmor – Cairn (Gilead Media) – In 2016 I ranked Yodh the #78 album of the year. Since then I’ve listened to that album many more times than 99% of the albums that out-ranked it that year. His combination of black and doom metal took a little time to grow on me, but once it clicked I knew I’d completely overlooked something special. When Cairn was released, I was ready for it. Four tracks, 57 minutes of unrelenting, emotionally taxing compositions traverse dark and light, pain and hope, sometimes switching on a dime. Whichever direction those transitions take you, from up to down or down to up, the end result is a truly moving album. That two “extreme” styles which appear to be diametrically opposed can come together so harmoniously is a testiment to his craft. Outstanding.
05. Aldous Harding – Designer (4AD) – Remember a few blurbs ago when I talked about how much girlfriend hates the song “Chopstix” by Schoolboy Q? The only song this year she hated more than that was “Fixture Picture” by my favorite Kiwi weirdo Aldous Harding. I would say, at this point, one out of every three times we’re in the car these days I try to sneak the song by her, and she complains that it sounds like nails on a chalkboard. And, unfortunately for her, it’s one of my favorite songs of the year. I have to admit though, it’s kind of a chicken-and-the-egg situation because I can’t remember which came first: my love for the song or my love of annoying the shit out of her. [Listen to “Fixture Picture” (MP3)]
04. Cult Of Luna – A Dawn To Fear (Metal Blade Records) – Writing about the Mizmor record got me thinking about some of the most egregious mistakes I’ve made while writing these Year-End lists. The first one that came to mind was that I didn’t make the Cult Of Lua/Julie Christmas album Mariner the #1 album of 2016. How the fuck did I make that absolute masterpiece #62? I’m so embarrassed and ashamed. I refuse to make the same mistake twice…which is why…Ugh. I’m doing it again, aren’t I? I’ve convinced myself this one belongs at #4 and I’m going to regret it later, aren’t I? Shit. It’s happening again.
03. Horse Jumper Of Love – So Divine (Run For Cover Records) – The most “Evan-rock” album of the year came from this Codeine channeling Microphones/Mt. Eerie/Pavement/Grandaddy amalgam that still sounds totally singular. This was the soundtrack to my summer, keeping us company on drives to Las Vegas, Colorado, and all over Los Angeles. Even my mother found it enjoyable when she was visiting, a ringing endorsement if ever there were one. There aren’t a lot of bands these days channeling the slowcore of the 90s, which is a shame because that’s an easy way to ascend to the top of the Swan Fungus Top 100 Albums Of The Year post. But also because it’s a genre that is still sadly unheralded, whose forebears’ sound is ripe for mining/modernizing. [Listen to “Poison” (MP3)]
02. Brutus – Nest (Sargent House) – Ian sent me this video one day at work and I think he just added that caption “dude” beneath it. I immediately pre-ordered their album without so much as looking up anything else they’d recorded. Much like the aforementioned Droneflower record, as new tracks dropped online I refused to listen to them. I waited for the record to arrive in the mail so that I could hear Nest as it was intended to be heard. The song titles left something to be desired. I knew about “War,” but “Fire?” “Cemetery?” “Blind?” What is this, a Silverchair album? Thankfully the Belgian power trio BRING IT, making for one of the most exciting records of the year so far. It might also be the most frenetic, intense collection of songs I’ve come across in 2019. Trying to fathom how these songs come from just three people can break your brain. So then you go online and start watching videos of their live performances to see how the songs translate live. Thankfully I got to catch them on their recent trip through Los Angeles, and I have to say…It’s eye-opening. In June or July or whenever I made that “Top 10 Albums Of The Year…So Far” list, this one was number one. And if it weren’t for one late-2019 release that came in and blew up everything I thought I knew about the year in music…Nest would be the #1 album of the year. [Listen to “War” (MP3)]
01. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen (Ghosteen Ltd.) – It took me all of about 30 seconds to realize this record was special. I didn’t even know Nick Cave had a new album coming out this year. Then I saw Ben Frost write on Instagram “stop what you’re doing and listen,” so of course I had to. There is, obviously, a lot to take into consideration when weighing Nick Cave’s career. He’s released some gobstopping albums. His output is nearly flawless. The way he seamlessly shifted his sound from From Her To Eternity to, say…Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus was the type of career arc that would have been monumental had he stopped recording albums in 2004. I don’t think it’s hyperbole or short-sighted to argue that Ghosteen might be the most powerful, compelling, masterful album he’s ever recorded. Whereas Skeleton Tree almost felt like too much — I’ll admit it’s a bit too uncomfotable and personal for me — Ghosteen approaches tragedy not as something that is not uniquely his but as something uniquely human. No one goes through life unscathed. We all experience loss, no one is ready for it, we all grieve and cope in different ways. We may not overcome it, but we all experience it. This is my reading of Ghosteen, and I don’t expect us all to come to the same conclusion about Cave’s intent, or what exactly he’s trying to put across to listeners with these songs. I just know nothing has moved me as much as this album in a very long time. My relationship with art is that of someone who looks at it (or hears it, or watches it, or reads it, etc. etc.) and hopes to feel something. The deeper the connection I make with it, the more lasting the impact and inspiration. I guess in the end that’s what I want to take from a piece of music, a piece of writing, a movie, a paiting…whatever. If it can elicit a change in state — happy to sad, sad to happy, safe to uncomfortable, terrified to amused — it has done its job. More than any other album this year, more than any other album in recent memeroy, Ghosteen has accomplished that. It is a masterpiece. [Listen to “Sun Forest” (MP3)]