I don’t think a ‘best of’ list can be created, I’ve not listened to everything out there to be able to definitively say something is ‘the best of’ and I don’t know how I can rank albums. How do you compare a drone album to an indie guitar pop album and say one is better than the other? And even if you could, music is not a competition, so why rank them.
So here is a list of songs of the released I enjoyed over 2019. I did impose some rules on my list. We all know that Kim Gordon released the best album Sonic Youth never made, and it’s an odd numbered year so there was a new Swans album, but these are the releases that will prop up every other list, so I’ve gone for relatively unknown artists who don’t feature on these sorts of lists very often. I’ve also sourced all the music from Bandcamp because let’s support the artist that way instead of Spotify.
So here is my list, maybe you can use it to find inspiration or a new favorite band.
Fuvk – Golden Girl
I feel a strange nostalgia for 90s lofi indie With many releases on Slovakian label Z Tapes but none more so than Fuvk, the moniker of Shirley Zhu from Austin, Texas. Her songs are beautiful and melancholic but with a brutal sense of humour and Golden Girl is no different, Shirley’s bittersweet voice over minimal guitar and strings.
Sing Sinck, Sing – are Sing Sinck, Sing
How does one write a protest song when ‘protest’ is just another vertical in a corporation’s spreadsheet? For Sing Sinck, Sing the new collaboration between Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Efrim Menuck and Growing’s Kevin Doria the answer seems to be with maximal electronica. The immense wall of sound provides the backdrop for Efrim’s vocals, which still maintain the anarchist themes that has formed his work with A Silver Mt. Zion over the last two decades, laments about the police and state brutality, inequality and oppression, but as always, Efrim’s message has never been one of doom and despair but one of hope and encouragement, of the “small stubborn light that always remains.”
This is protest music that can’t be stolen and repackaged as a $50 T-shirt sold in the mall and I’m looking forward to more of it.
Tripp Mirror – Always Be Running
Belfast producer Stevie Mac loves Netrunner so much that he made a cinematic synth soundtrack for it. Eight tracks each with a completely different feel representing a different faction. To say this was simply a synthwave album would be a lazy comparison, yes, there are 80’s touches, ‘Breaking News’ sounds like the intro to an 80’s action TV show, which is in no way a bad thing, but the sound design is fantastic, and the arrangements are more complex, going far beyond what would commonly be accepted as synthwave, the introduction of the strings at the close of the opening track ‘Awakening Center’ is one of my favourite moments in music in recent months.
This is an album that really should be heard by as many people as possible so take a listen.
GOATS – Far Out
GOATS, a collaboration between Declan Owen, Alan Morse Davies and Jorge Mario Zuleta, not to be confused with the psych-rock group Goat, released their debut album this year on Submarine Broadcasting Company, entitled Far Out and it is a collage of sound. Taking inspiration from The Residents and The Beta Band, droning synths, field recordings of marching bands and car horns, snippets of folk tunes, indian sitar, violin freak outs, white noise, no sound source is safe, but they all come together as a near seamless tapestry, the very disparate elements feel like they belong together.
Enablers – Zones
Is any band deserves to be bigger, it’s Enablers. Their music has inspired and encouraged me to pick up a guitar many times over the years, and while Slint can return from retirement every 5 years to replay Spiderland to sell out audiences, Enablers have been plugging away getting no recognition while creating music that can be as angry and vitriolic as it can intricate and beautiful, maturity in both sound and thought. Guitar riffs intertwine around each other as the drums roll and pound, while Pete Simonelli’s baritone words explore the human condition through vignettes and tales of the madness, the filth, the beauty and the humour that make up life.
65daysofstatic – Fugue State
Sheffield’s 65daysofstatic grew out of the post rock scene of the early 2000’s but while their peers got stuck in the crescendo-core rut, 65daysofstatic grew, evolved and while they still retain the glitchy, blast beat heavy tunes, the sounds have become more experimental, more unpredictable, more diverse over the years.
This year they have started a subscription club on Bandcamp, with a new EP every month and although there are still about 6 months left to go, the releases so far have been outstanding and any of them could be featured here. Instead I’ve chosen to feature Fugue State which is a collection of versions of a live performance piece they did a number of years back, and is possibly one of the most innovative guitar pieces in recent times. Multiple MIDI controlled guitar drones weave around each other, stuttering and building rhythms.
65daysofstatic also releases an album this year, Replicr2019, and although it is very good, it’s not on Bandcamp, so I’m not going to mention it.
MAbH – On Being Pollinated
MAbH provides us with a beautiful collage of tape loops, noises, field recordings and synths, wrapped in an equally beautiful package that represents all stages of the life cycle through the seasons, they joyful and bustling spring to the cold and desolate winter months.
Full review at: https://ihrtn.net/review-mabh-on-being-pollinated/
C. Moody Crews – LA, 2000
Named for the city with many faces, LA, 2000 takes the listener on a cross town journey, a late night bus ride with hazy woozy synth drones and puncturing industrial transients before disembarking at the dawn ocean.
Full review at: https://ihrtn.net/review-c-moody-crews-la-2000/
qualchan. – the end of all seasons.
A master magician presents a beat tape filled with fragments of imagined 80’s songs passing by and fading into and out of our subconscious, leaving us wondering why they seem so familiar, yet so new.
Full review at: https://ihrtn.net/review-qualchan-the-end-of-all-seasons/
Forhill – Figments
I’ve listened to a fat amount of Synthwave music this year and after a while it all starts to sound the same. The same arpeggios, the same arrangements, the same structure. Boston producer Forhill, has collected his back catalogue of singles as one album and it shows where a producer can take the sounds when not following the rules of the genre. These are 80s sounds in a modern context with no hint of nostalgia in mind.