34. BILL MACKAY - FOUNTAIN FIRE (DRAG CITY)
It is tempting to say that Bill MacKay straddles a line between traditional modes of rambling American folk and the Avant-Garde. The truth is Bill has established residency in both states. Bill’s exquisite retelling of American idealism and unrest are all over this record, from the downright pleasant “Welcome” to the noisy, and searing acid-blues of “Arcadia”. The affable Chicago mainstay has many homes and modes of transport between them.
33. KI ONI - YOU MADE IT OUT OF THE FOREST ALIVE (ATLANTIC RHYTHMS)
Shame on me for forgetting how masterfully realized Chuck Soo-Hoo’s late-late night ambient bangers are. Ki Oni’s latest finds the electronic artist stretching out a bit, taking a leisurely approach to his unfolding rhythmic patterns that sound like they are floating up from some basement club. Bright and crisp percussion are added layer by layer creating a hypnotic strand of submerged dance music.
32. SLOW GLOWS - STARGAZE ROCK N' ROLL (ROSE HILL)
Slow Glows are a Shoegaze trio from Cincinnati, OH that play an engrossing and moving Rock N’ Roll shaded by a deep study of late 80’s / early 90’s effects-laden rock that recalls the best of Galaxie 500, Jesus and the Mary Chain and Chapterhouse. Kelli Redding’s spectral shimmer on her guitar work steals the show – completely muting and blunting all outside stimulus when it hits between the ears.
31. RAFAEL ANTON IRISARRI - SOLASTALGIA (ROOM40)
It’s not too often that I can’t get past the first track of an album. “Decay Waves” is such a strong opener that I find myself returning to it over and over, letting the waves of drone nestled just inside the black wash over my troubled pysche. Staring down planetary extinction, Irisarri wordlessly captures the fragility and deepening despondency while still reveling in the wonder of it all. Masterful work.
30. WIZARD APPRENTICE - DIG A PIT (RATSKIN RECORDS)
Wizard Apprentice should be mandatory listening for anyone thinking about becoming an “adult”. In Dig a Pit and last year’s indelible I Am Invisible Wizard Apprentice gives a masterclass on accessing, identifying and sticking with emotions and human practices like self-forgiveness, and in this case, the angular nature of intimate partner violence and psychological abuse – sung with an unflinching gaze towards the person and patterns engaging in violence.
29. LONG SHADOW DUO - LIFELONG (LILLERNE TAPES)
A record made by Marcus Maurice and Neil Lord could literally sound like anything. The two traverse so much musical ground that it’s almost a relief to hear the two settle into a hypnotic, reverb-heavy sonic explorations that recall Windy & Carl, Basinski and Aarktica on their collaborative tape. A perfect listen to completely sink a solid 30 minutes of regenerative bliss. Self-care for the heads.
28. AMERICAN GRANDMA - SUPERDOG (OBSOLETE MEDIA OBJECTS)
Superdog is not just a great album because it perfectly captures a nexus of American slowcore like Seam, Beadhead and The Van Pelt, but because the Denver trio have an extra-sensory ability to push things in the red, pull back and let it simmer and when to shift into a mathy double-time to wring out every drop of emotion from these songs. Expect great things.
27. FOREST MANAGEMENT - AFTER DARK (AMERICAN DREAMS)
John Daniel has had a hell of a year, which he caps off with what is probably his most unlikely masterpiece. Sourced completely from manipulated from a vinyl copy of Debussy’s La Mer, After Dark captures haunting surges of drone that recall Basinski and The Caretaker or approximate the hurtling into the inky blackness on a late-night drive where all of your senses are at a 10. Order it with custom-made lavender soap. How fresh is that pairing?
26. IDRA - NELIPOT (PITCH THE NOISE)
The Italian sound artist has created a truly beautiful electro-acoustic album with Nelipot. Francesca Pavesi creates subtle movements wherein she weaves textural drones, manipulated sound sources from a variety of acoustic instruments to create complex and layered compositions that bear repeated listens. The highlight of this album is her trumpet – which after put through a variety of effects sounds utterly otherworldly.
25. FKA TWIGS - MAGDALENE (YOUNG TURKS)
I remember being utterly cornered by this record one night. As an ambassador for her singular approach to experimental sound production, self-evident pop hooks and total control over the entire package of the FKA Twigs mythos, Magdalene is a pretty damn near perfect record.
24. LACING - WITHOUT (ELDER MAGICK)
I feel like Without has been living with me for most of this year. While exploring extremely personal themes of growing up in an abusive household and the ensuing emotional fallout, the themes of loss of innocence, hurt and resilience are universal. The way the Chattanooga Shoegaze band buries their also universally catchy pop hooks under layers and layers of aural sheen is completely captivating.
23. ANGEL OLSEN - ALL MIRRORS (JAGJAGUWAR)
I’m not sure what I can add to the overall consensus for this being a grand and utterly unmissable artistic statement in 2019.
22. HAVE A NICE LIFE - SEA OF WORRY (THE FLENSER)
If they ever make another record, Sea of Worry will likely stand out as HANL’s least-bleak and most diverse record out of the semi-legendary Connecticut duo. The slight uplift of Side A is tempered, and in some ways, dashed by the hellfire and brimstone of the album’s B-Side. “Destinos” makes me ache in every single way.
21. CRYSTAL MYSLAJEK - COVE (MOON GLYPH)
Crystal Myslajek’s compositions are both spectral and crushingly heavy. Composed solely on a grand piano with some subtle synthesizer accoutrements, Cove delves into stately melodies, ghostly choral vocals and Myslajek’s commanding vocals that float in between the composition’s fleeting focal points. If you were ever looking for a spiritual companion to Grouper’s Ruins, this is it.
20. FIRETOOLZ - FIELD WHISPERS (INTO THE CRYSTAL PALACE) (ORANGE MILK RECORDS)
“While Field Whispers might seem allied to vaporware in its post-digital, internet-fueled collage aesthetic and its occasional utilization of chintzy or MIDI-tone timbres, in truth Marcloid carefully programs and painstakingly performs each of the elements she threads through her tracks, pushing the project closer to the realms of combinatory prog and experimental sound design.” So true. The scope and technicality displayed on this record is staggering.
19. CURVED LIGHT - AIRS OF MODALITY (UNIFACTOR TAPES)
Recorded live as a soundtrack the horror for the classic Japanese horror film Kwaidan – specifically Hoichi the Earless – Airs of Modality brims with bright New Age tones underscored by a deeply unsettling ground floor that seethes with and roils with the discontentment of a hungry ghost. Separated from its source those two modalities are held in perfect tension with one another, creating a completely engrossing and captivating record.
18. INDIRA VALEY - YEMAS (ANTIQUATED FUTURE)
Following her brilliant 2018 release No Me Tengas Miedo, the Portland based artist builds her powerful compositions from the ground up, paying close attention to the interplay between looped choral vocals and intricate instrumentation. The result feels loose, leaving plenty of room for exploration and chance encounters, but clockmaker precise, every vocal line and percussive signature lining up squarely in time.
17. AYANKOKO - Kia Sao ກ້ຽວສາວ (CHINABOT)
Kia Sao by the French-Laotian experimental / jazz artist David Somphrachanh Vilayleck is a meditation on the reciprocal and non-linear nature of trauma. In 2018 after extensive flooding, Landmines and unexploded bombs laid and dropped during the Vietnam war were dislodged and carried throughout the countryside. Kia Sao embodies many different voices to tell this story, from prog-influenced jazz to off-kilter beats and complex rhythmic passages.
16. BENOÎT PIOULARD - SYLVA (MORR MUSIC)
In somewhat of a surprise record for Benoît Pioulard – Sylva is a gorgeous visual and auditory exploration of Thomas Meluch’s travels through the United States as he documented these hikes and visits through photos taken on his Polaroid SX70. The record, out on Morr Music features 84 pages of these photos. The music is vintage Benoît Pioulard, saturated passages, aching wordless vocals and hushed Another Green World era pop done with Meluch’s characteristic warmth and grace.
15. TRUPA TRUPA - OF THE SUN (LOVITT RECORDS)
Probably one of the most vital indie rock bands to come out in the last 10 years hails from the Polish city of Gdańsk along the coast of the Baltic City. TRUPA TRUPA play an intense and intricate form of kraut rock that rejects the genre’s cosmic escapism and instead uses the forms minimalism to dig deep into the complex and overwhelming world-burning that was 2019.