01. LAURA LUNA CASTILLO - "FOLKSONOMIES" (CUDIGHI RECORDS)
“Immersive” is an adjective that I reserve solely for this kind of world-making synthesizer music. Combining lapping synths, strings and lo-fi bit-crushed beats, Folksonomies finds the Puebla, Mexico based artist completely at the helm of her craft. Her compositions pull a lot of weight as if dragging a reluctant and damaged psyche into the light. Hands down the most “immersive” listening experience this year.
02. EARTHEN SEA - "GRASS AND TREES" (KRANKY)
Creating “dub techno dissembled into stray pulses and spare parts”, the component parts of Jacob Long’s Earthen Sea project are loose covalent bonds that swirl around one another picking up and accruing meaning on each passing. A new piano phrase, dissociated beats, buried dub and detritus-filled tonal shifts are brought to the surface on each cycle, opening whole new neural pathways.
03. ELDER ONES - "FROM UNTRUTH" (NORTHERN SPY)
Amirtha Kidambi’s Elder Ones project is a fully realized and executed inditement of the structures of capitalism, white supremacy and colonialism and the resulting violence that shades almost all of our interactions. Leading an ensemble of talented jazz musicians, “From Untruth” channels transcendent truth tellers of the avant-garde into our 2019 hellscape.
04. HELADO NEGRO - "THIS IS HOW YOU SMILE" (RVNG. INTL)
This is How You Smile is one of those records that has brought me to tears just remembering that it exists. Roberto Carlos Lange has the ability to write lines, hooks and spacious melodies that find ways to nestle into your brain, triggering the saddest, sweetest nostalgia. There are a lot of ways you can spend your time, make some space for this record in your life.
05. Ветвь - "Пространство"
There is so much I want to know about this Kazan, Russia based Cathedral-Pop band. Translated as “New Open Cult” as their band camp handle, Ветвь creates soaring ambient-pop music that is as influenced as Orthodox liturgical music as it is by the Shoegaze guitars that grace this newly fleshed-out album that completely came out of nowhere and floors me every time I hear it.
06. JAEHO HWANG - "NON-SELF비자아"
Combining harsh industrial clamor and broken club beats with traditional Korean instrument samples, Jaeho Hwang uses this fractured musical landscape to explore the Buddhist concept of anatta – the belief that there is no unchanging, permanent soul or essence in living beings. Refracted through our digital lives, Non-Self is a doorway in which we see lives as culminations of all that is and has been.
07. DJ_ONLYCHILD - "PEACE IS EVERY STEP"
Tyler Smith, who also records under the name Blue Nude, has created a driving, completely disorienting collection of electronic compositions that pull from busted-eardrum House, ambient music and field recordings. It’s hard not to hear these songs and slip into a transcendent space of peace and exuberance or a sense of constantly being in flux – forever traveling and never arriving.
08. NATALIE ROSE LEBRECHT - "MANDARAVA ROSE" (GALTTA MEDIA)
LeBrecht has chosen to dedicate these songs to Alice Coletrane Turiyasangitananda. As a series of devotional songs, LeBrecht sends her voice out into the dark cosmos as an exhalation caught up in some kind of solar wind, a call without any thought of response. It’s within this deeply resonant timbre of her voice that much of the magic of this record happens.
09. ISAAC HELSEN AND WAYNE ROBERT THOMAS - "RÁS" (PAST INSIDE THE PRESENT)
There are few ambient passages that truly break my heart more than Wayne Robert Thomas’s opening “Cantus for Mark David Hollis”. Remembering the Talk Talk lead singer and bandleader, Thomas’s composition is reverential, with Thomas sending up guitar lines arching through the cathedral rafters like silent prayers for the dead. PITP has had an excellent 2019, this is possibly their finest release ever.
10. DOLPHIN MIDWIVES - "LIMINAL GARDEN" (SOUNDS ET AL / BEACON SOUND)
Bringing together harp, voice and electronic processing, on Liminal Garden we hear Sage Fisher crafting composition that sound utterly three-dimensional – sounds come in from every conceivable space. These sounds are often doubled and delayed creating a space of control and chance where Fisher’s virtuoso playing is able to find fertile ground in ever shifting tonal passages.
11. FIBRIL - "S/T" (ALREADY DEAD TAPES)
Marcus Maurice created a metal-tinged shoegaze album this year. Filtered through Marcus’s weirdo-pop sensibilities Fibril is one of the most disorienting heavy records I’ve heard since Pyramids 2008 Self-Titled masterpiece. Fibril doesn’t fuck around – it pushes extreme tempos and processing on guitars and vocals to the outer edges while still retaining the genre’s form and shape enough to keep it as a landmark while swimming in the deep waters of Marcus Maurice’s idiosyncratic musical worldview.
12. BATH CONSOLIDATED - "NARRYER GNEISS TERRANE" (ORANGE MILK RECORDS)
Kansas City-based artist Noelle Johnson has created a challenging, intense and often staggeringly beautiful record that contemplates millennial myth making. According to Johnson, “A millennial is someone caught in between the past and the future.This perspective naturally has a desire to be recognized. There is a fear in this generation of being lost or effaced from the canon of mythology, for example, legacy fomo….This album is copying and pasting my peers into Dante’s Inferno or the bible and seeing what happens.”
13. AMELIA COURTHOUSE - "RUBY GLASS" (SPINSTER)
If Ruby Glass just consisted of “murphie 1” as a sidelong composition, it would already be one of my favorites of this year. Joining that track, however, are 4 other songs that walk with a sense of purpose, heaviness and reverence. Minimal compositions played out on piano with spacious reverb or over two notes on a guitar, Amelia Courthouse (Wooden Wand’s Leah Toth) has created a hymnbient masterpiece.
14. AMULETS - "BETWEEN DISTANT AND REMOTE" (BEACON SOUND)
On his first album on vinyl, AMULETS has created his most current and effecting statement of artistic clarity. Randall Taylor has slowly perfected his craft of marrying overdriven guitar lines that pierce the veil of an entire sea of looped tape passages, buried piano lines, micro counter-melodies and aching tonal shifts. There have been a lot of stand out moments in AMULETS discography, this one hits all of the most salient points.