I feel like I go through the motions every year, repeating the same diatribe, but this time, there is a minor change of circumstances, and even a little bit of excitement. After all, who knows what can happen next in this crazy time we live in? As the site, and ourselves by extension, enter a new decade, one that hopefully that leads to plenty of promise, and one that can only dismay us from the gradual doomsday scenario that the planet seems to be sliding into of late, we glance back one final time into the 2010s (the tenties?) and upon the last year’s worth of music. Compiling this list was somewhat difficult this time around, as I appear to have forgotten more incredible albums than I remember listening to. Even then, to get to the point of narrowing down a contendership of just ten albums, the list was very much disputed the entire time. Alas, the list was finally cemented, and here’s what delights 2019 provided my, and now potentially your, earholes.
10. Fatal FE – Music of the Spheres
The Fail Emotions/Fatal FE saga has been brought up several times on this site, stemming from the departure of founding member Ilya Fatal, now fronting this continuation of the project. While both bands now seemingly co-exist, this could be considered the true sequel to the breakneck, tentatively dubbed ‘trance-metal’ that Fail Emotions originally gained traction for. Exhilarating in composition, creative in execution, and still unlike very few bands conceived on this planet, this synth-charged metalcore monster energises and throws down, but also sparks the childlike wonder of how far genres can truly bend, twist, and contort.
9. Download – Unknown Room
The most productive of all of Skinny Puppy’s offshoots, Cevin Key and Phil Western take the helm once again for a kaleidoscopic atom-smashing of electronic yesteryears and sampling, for what would end up being Western’s swansong. The largely experimental ambient soundscapes have not slowed down in conception, and arguably, stand as their most compelling to date. Techno still very much pulses throughout the core of Download, yet the rich, deeply textured sounds evolve and flourish organically as much as they do mechanically. Like warping and writhing biomass becoming robotic, but in a beautiful and feverish manner.
8. A Swarm of the Sun – The Woods
If The Rifts was an excellent translation of a sad, near apocalyptic journey through this lifetime, then The Woods is the hauntingly bleak aftermath of that event. Running at just three, ten plus minute odysseys, A Swarm of the Sun’s strength has always laid in yielding a trident of sorrow to run through listeners, but this iteration of their solemn, often explosive post-rock, portrays an overwhelming sense of isolation phenomenally well. No record has sounded so sparse, but so moving, this year. Imitators and contemporaries be damned, if this Swedish duo’s penchant for crafting a salient, unforgettably tragic masterpiece doesn’t stir any feeling in your bones, then you may be already be in the ground.
7 . Silk Road Assassins – State of Ruin
When these three producers came together to form Silk Road Assassins, the sounds that would develop and emerge over the past four years, progressively became more darker and cinematic, than grime and trap instrumentals would have you believe. And it serves all the better for it. A dystopian, monochromatic portrait of a realm very much in decay, the ebb and flow of beats, gritty, shadowed basslines, and reverb that carries on into the ether, constructs an audio-visual attack that despite verging on discomfort, and the apex of societal dread, still manages to marvel in the wake of atmospheric collapse. A chilling and evocative listen at its very best.
6. Capital X – Unlocked
A synth-pop duo with enough attitude, barbs, and fury, to make electroclash pretenders weep in their wake, Capital X is pitch-perfect pop politics at its most outrageously infectious. More punchy than a title fight, and with the flair and talent to boot, this immersive, streetwise anthology talks tough and makes you believe it. Owing as much to Salt ‘n’ Pepa as to Atari Teenage Riot, Unlocked isn’t so much unlocked as it is unleashed; an artistic whirlwind of analogue synths, frenetic drum loops, and meandering harmonies that could tussle with the 80’s best output, while losing none of its modern savvy.
5. Johnny Deathshadow – D.R.E.A.M.
Neue Deutsche Härte arguments aside, this goth-metal troupe wove together a more grandiose, contemplative tapestry on their sophomore album, and not compromising on their blend of rap, industrial, punk, and metal whatsoever. The results are a far more theatrical encounter naturally, but still pack more venom and bite than some bands manage in a lifetime. Rip-roaring while awash with ethereal gloom, yet still poignantly planted in the reality of the struggling human psyche, the combination of balls-to-the-wall entertainment, and an address to mental health so many can find comfort within, D.R.E.A.M. sonically might resemble a nightmare to some, but it’s a joyous musical respite to another.
4. Brutus – Nest
Trying to put simply into words what kind of shifting, defiant beast Brutus best fits is a Herculean feat. Hardcore, post-rock, math rock, and even progressive rock tropes have simply no hope of shackling this unstoppable trio, fronted by the frighteningly formidable Stefanie Mannaerts, as she pounds sixty shades of shit out of her kit, and projects her voice so passionately, that it will leave listeners trembling one moment, and in tears the next. This is a once in a lifetime band, only on their soaring second album, and it feels like they’ve already conquered the planet with a sound so triumphant, so boundary-shattering, superstardom is certifiable.
3. Mr.Kitty – Ephemeral
The most ambitious, diverse, and immaculate compendium of Forrest Avery LaMaire’s career, spans over two hours and not only solidifies his transition into a dark electronic mastermind, but into a position of musical maturity also. Ephemeral stands as a tribute to the passing of his best friend, alongside the rush of memories and feelings attached so eloquently composed throughout, death a prevalent theme in its duration. Mr.Kitty’s signature formula of black poetry and inescapable synth hooks still remains in tact, but sharpen production and stripped back vocal processing, gift a newer vulnerability not formerly present, and perhaps it is that, that makes Ephemeral such a rewarding listen front to back.
2. Randolph & Mortimer – Manifesto for a Modern World
While in the strictest sense a compilation of their best work to date and new music included, Manifesto for a Modern World exemplifies the EBM renaissance so tremendously, that future scholars should rightly hold this Sheffield unit’s work in high esteem. A powerhouse playground of thumping drums, skull-buzzing synths, the occasional thrashing guitar, and socio-political discontent present and accounted for, Randolph & Mortimer bring industrial truly back to its roots, that of a dancefloor ablaze with scorched steel, and distain for the powers that be. Bridling with scathing intensity, in an earworm heavy configuration, these gentlemen can only go even higher from here.
1. Car Bomb – Mordial
Meshuggah arguably may have been the first to perform anything dubbed as ‘jazz metal,’ but Car Bomb are essentially the band that shot into space with it. Rightfully acknowledged as sonic innovators and masters of their craft, Mordial, only their fourth album in their 19 years as a band, represents four titans at the absolute height of their powers, atomising all onlookers with their wave of hyperactive tempo switches, unrelenting heaviness, and the conjuration of guitar noise that baffles and bewilders. Devastating in one blink, and melancholic in the next, the 45 minutes you spend inside Mordial is like experiencing a battle royale of natural disasters; uncontrollably chaotic and undeniably breathtaking in equal measure.
And that is the best of 2019, of course subjectively, but it hopefully is a feast for avid music adventurers seeking sounds they could’ve missed, or opinions to agree/disagree with. Besides, covering EVERYTHING 2019 had to offer never was humanly viable anyway. Feel free to share whatever thoughts on your mind to do with this list regardless.
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