Well, somehow we’re already over halfway through 2019, so here’s my favourite music from the year thus far.I have been a little less diligent in tracking my listening this year than I was previously, but of the 200+ albums I have listened to so far this year, there are 11 that I think truly fit the bill of musical greatness and achieve something well beyond the ordinary or the every day. I’ve already written about two of those albums – D∆WN’s new breed and duendita’s direct line to My Creator – in some detail, so I won’t be writing about them here, but they remain among my favourite records of the year. For each album I’ve dropped a telling quotation or brief description, a genre description, and one of my favourite or most emblematic tracks (an ear worm, if you will). Hopefully you find at least a hidden gem or two to enjoy.
Caroline Shaw / Attacca Quartet – Orange
Genre: Contemporary Classical (String Quartet)
Description: Shaw, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, describes the album as a garden that she and the Attacca Quartet are tending. She goes on: “Hints of past years’ growth remain in the soil, and so the new growth has been partially shaped by the old,” explains Shaw. “The colors are vivid and familiar, and the shapes of the leaves follow a pattern that you seem to know until you don’t. This album is a celebration of the simple, immediate, unadorned beauty of a natural, everyday, familiar thing.”
Moodymann – Sinner
Description: Kenny Dixon, Jr., better known as Moodymann, has been at this for a while. He released his first album in 1997 and has gone on to release 10 more studio albums in the subsequent years. He also founded 2 record labels and released a plethora of singles, EPs, and DJ mixes over the years. But this very well may be the reclusive artist’s best release yet. Built on samples and his trademark mix of live instrumentation and electronic production, Sinner is funky as hell. Easily the grooviest (and most fun) album on this list.
Leif – Loom Dream
Genre: Electronic (Ambient)
Description: Made up of two 17-minute suites, but presented on the album as six tracks, Loom Dream, according to Leif, “invites us to peacefully reconnect with the living world by placing us amongst lush sonic verdure.”
Cherry Glazerr – Stuffed & Ready
Description: It seems my prediction at the start of the year that this may be the year of female-fronted avant-R&B performers and groups was a bit too narrow in focus. There has been a tonne of great music put out so far this year by female-led bands who are actively confronting the misogyny and anti-feminist modes of thought and being that that are still widely accepted (and trafficked by the child–rapist in the White House).
“Flesh and bones, giving in
I can’t see the fog I’m in
But it’s there, in my eyes
In my car, in the sky
I’m so tired, weekend in
I’m an unproductive sin
Special lady with her issues
You can sue me if I kiss you.”
from “Wasted Nun”
Boy Harsher – Careful
Description: Boy Harsher describe themselves as “a dark electronic duo that produces gritty dance beats infused with ethereal vocals, creating a sound that is eerie, intense and incredibly danceable. Augustus Muller develops the underbelly of sound with minimal beats and grinding synths, where Jae Matthews whispers, screams and chants on top.” That’s a pretty accurate description, honestly, but Careful manages to put all the pieces together in a way their previous releases haven’t for me.
I’ve been wasting time
Oh your begging eyes
In my mind.
Help me to become –
The one who got away
Face the fire
It makes me wild
Makes me wild.
from “Face the Fire”
Julia Kent – Temporal
Genre: Experimental / Contemporary Classical
Description: Cellist and composer Julia Kent describes Temporal as “a meditation on the passing of time and the fragility of existence.” Her previous work, particularly Asperities, relied more heavily on electronic manipulation, but on Temporal Kent is focused on a more “organic, human sound.” Many of these works originally started as compositions for theatre and dance productions, which Kent pays homage to on the album, featuring ghostly echoes and textural layers of distorted voices.
Default Genders – Main Pop Girl 2019
Description: Default Genders is Jaime Brooks who describes herself as, “a careless man’s careful daughter” though there’s very little that’s careful about this album or its subject matter. Main Pop Girl 2019 is full of samples, mashed together instrumentation and spoken word vocals that reminisce about the past, discuss drug deals (and addictions), and contemplate identity. The simplest way I can come up with to describe this album is that if you combined The Hold Steady, Girl Talk, and about a kilo of ketamine in a blender and drank it, I feel like the resulting smoothie would taste something like Main Pop Girl 2019.
i had a dream that
i was fifteen and
i could see everything that
was about to happen
and i could stop it
oh like it was nothing
today somebody told me they want the old me back
i know, i know, i know – somebody had to hold me back
today somebody told me they want the old me back
i know, i know, i now – not even the old me
wants the old me back
from “sophie (emphasis mine) [ft. beth sawlts]”
Deli Girls – I Don’t Know How To Be Happy
Genre: Punk / Noise
Description: This is – by far – the most abrasive album on this list. More than once a track from this album has randomly come on at my apartment while I’ve had people over and, without fail, the conversation froze and everyone just sort of stared at my stereo system. Their label describes the core concerns of the record as: “dealing with police surveillance, oppressive power dynamics and social hypocrisy.” Over ravenous synths and drum lines, the vocals feature shrieks, screams, moans, and yelps all decrying the sad political and societal state of 2019.
XXX – Second Language
Description: XXX are a South Korean hip-hop duo consisting of rapper Kim Ximya and producer Frnk. Their second album, aptly titled Second Language (yes their debut album was just called Language), features some of the most exciting production and vocal delivery of any hip-hop record I’ve heard this year. Frnk deftly blends production trends from K-Pop, North-American rap, EDM, and Western pop music into some of the most captivating and exciting beats of the year. For his part, Kim Ximya mixes various flows, vocal deliveries, and blends Korean with English in his raps. Easily the most unique and forward-looking hip-hop album I’ve heard this year.