The Top Ten Albums Of 2019…So Far
As I sit here typing this, the month of August is already underway. And, yet, I continue to delay my annual “Top 10 Albums of [insert year here]…So Far” list. Under normal circumstances, this would have been posted mid-June (you know, at the actual midpoint of the year). Alas, for the past couple months I have managed to be both incredibly busy and incredibly lazy — sometimes simultaneously! The end result is that I’m a garbage person who has shirked his duties, and now I must pay for my transgressions. With blood.
There. While thinking about how to punish myself, I ripped a cuticle out with my teeth. Now my index finger is bleeding. I hope you’re happy.
Perhaps the reason for the delay has been that not much has really moved me so far this year. I’ve got a running list of about 30 new albums I like. Choosing a favorite is difficult because they’re all just…good. I think the most exciting album I’ve heard thus far was the score to the second season of Netflix’s Dark, which for all intents and purposes is a Ben Frost album. Actually, that album, the Bobby Krlic (aka Haxan Cloak) score for Midsommar, and the Cliff Martinez score for Too Old To Die Young might be the three best albums of the year so far, in my humble opinion. I usually make a separate Year-End list for soundtracks/scores, so those won’t be included here. Check all three of ’em out though, they’re great.
So, here I am. Half of 2019 is behind me. It’s time to reflect on the best music of the year, whether I like it or not. As I always say, “It’s never too early to start planning for December.” I don’t think I’ve ever said that, but I think it to myself sometimes. Anyway, here’s what I’ve dug most so far this year. Sometimes the top 10 stays the same between now and December, and sometimes there is upheaval. Who knows where it’ll go this year.
Here we go! If you click the artist and title you should be taken to their Bandcamp page. Please consider supporting these artists.
The Top Ten Albums Of 2019 (January – June)
10. Be Forest – Knocturne (We Were Never Being 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 my one friend who likes hip-hop and my one friend who likes 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.
09. 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 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.
08. 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.
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. Inter Arma – Sulphur English (Relapse) – 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. Perhaps I’ll have to go back and listen to their other albums in order to determine where it ranks in terms of heaviness. That said, “Stillness” might be my favorite metal track of 2019…so far. 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.
05. 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.
04. Kyle Bobby Dunn – From Here To Eternity (Past Inside The Present) – And yet! Hecker has not produced my favorite album of 2019…so far. 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.
03. Schoolboy Q – Crash Talk (Top Dawg / Interscope) – 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 card windows while winding through the streets of a new locale. “Tales,” “Water” and “Black Folk” are standouts. I’m sure this number will increase before the calendar turns from 2019 to 2020, but as of right now girlfriend has reached over and turned off “Chopstix” in the middle of the track at least twice, maybe three times. I’ll be sure to update that number when the time comes to post my final Top 100 Albums Of 2019 list.
02. 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, because Curse Of Conception and now Divide 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!
Why am I typing this out to an audience of like 20 people? I should just take it up with one of those kids who think this band sucks.
01. 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. It’s eye-opening, and eventually, you’ll come to a song you don’t recognize so you have to go back to their album Burst and listen to that. But once it’s over, you just want to listen to Nest again. Are you following this? Is it any wonder this has been my favorite album of the year so far? Hopefully, I’m as into it in November as I am now because I’ve got tickets to see ’em at The Echo and I’m super stoked. Check it out on Bandcamp, tell me what you think.
Have you heard a new album from 2019 you think I’d like? Shoot me an email or leave a comment below. That’s half the fun of writing these lists.
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