The end of the decade brings the question: what next? The last end of the decade in 2009 had a far happier tinge to it. Obama was in his first year of office, and even with a recession that left plenty of people either underemployed (like myself, happy to have any job) or unemployed completely, there was a sense of optimism that rolled through. Animal Collective was relevant, and only small pangs of sadness appeared with various nostalgia-laden micro-movements. I knew of course that this feeling of goodwill had darker underpinnings to it but at least on the surface these problems appeared somewhat surmountable.
With the end of this decade, this is a sense of doom. I see it reflected in the culture with a seemingly endless number of dystopias and true crime specials. I see it too with the number of scandal documentaries of people being swindled out of their money. There is an outrage out there sometimes well-deserved, sometimes not which permeates the entirety of the world. Maybe the United States started it, whoever started it is irrelevant for it is here and apparently quite comfortable in its surroundings.
My hope for the next decade is a lot of the rottenness that lingers in the air dissipates. The intolerance that seems to be clinging onto power I hope becomes quite uncomfortable and is eventually defeated around the world. I would like all of my friends to be safe to express who they are without fear. As I write this, I see tons of people online who share yet another awful form of harassment. The environment appears to suffer from this with tons more pollution being pumped into the air and the burning of the Earth’s lung on putrid smoke. Seeing what is happening to our forests breaks my heart, especially now that I live in the actual woods.
All of my favorite albums of this year offered me a bit of hope. Some of these did so in a surprisingly direct way, some taking more subtle swings. Whatever the case, 2019 presented a nice unique grouping of work to get fully absorbed in, as almost all of my favorite works came from artists I hadn’t heard before, either due to their getting established onto a larger label or simply avoiding my attention for many years. In a few wonderful cases they simply presented the best work I had seen from them for a long time.
On the shockingly good but always paid-attention-to variety, Bogdan Raczynski’s “Rave ‘Till You Cry” stunned me. First, I hadn’t heard from him in decades and then he puts this out, his playful little jabs of noise. Bill Callahan’s been on my radar for literally decades and I always appreciated his work, but there was always a sourness there. With “Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest” he sings about his life but does so in a way that feels he has lived. I rather enjoyed the experience. Two artists I never thought in a million years I would see together put out “Corpse Flower”, specifically Mike Patton and Jean-Claude Vannier. Vannier’s bizarre, woozy arrangements alongside Patton’s patented weirdness made the experience an absolute joy. Purple Mountains may seem like a new project, but it is the result of David Berman’s return to the musical world. Formerly of the Silver Jews, the Purple Mountains had a raw, personal quality with the opener feeling particularly biting.
Long-time favorites appeared on my radar, though they too surprised. I was surprised to see the solo debut of Kim Gordon’s “No Home Record”. Her autobiography opened a lot of her life to me, elements of which resonated with a bit of my own family history. Seeing her vision interrupted by other bandmates made it better. Tyler, the Creator, came out with a wonderfully jazz electro “Igor” where he got even more honest. For my perennial favorite, Lambchop, they used auto tune. When I first read that, I avoided “This (is what I wanted to tell you)”, but eventually gained enough courage to give it a try. Hearing it, it is advisable to listen to twice at a time, for it is structured perfectly. Jessica Pratt’s “Quiet Signs” is a whispered record so intimate I felt as if I was spying on her singing to herself. Evol’s “GRM Trax” opted for the reverse: a huge five hour undertaking of acid techno gone awry. Droning buzzing it is a thing that one processes over several weeks to truly understand. Andy Stott’s “It Should Be Us” marks his upcoming album with an EP the length of an album, moody lumbering beats. Barker’s “Utility” made me very happy for I heard his EP a year or two ago and adored it, with the full-length debut not disappointing me in the slightest.
Weyes Blood did intimacy as a half-dream dream-nightmare. By far and above my favorite album of the year, I hope she one day does a Twin Peaks soundtrack. Beguiling, her cryptic lyrics, haunting arrangements, and steady voice gave me shivers the first time I heard it. For someone as jaded as I am about music, that is no mean feat. Sharon Van Etten’s “Remind Me Tomorrow” offered a lighter take on that similar style, allowing a bit more sunlight into the proceedings. Despite its electronic origins, Caterina Barbieri’s “Ecstatic Computation” goes in a similar fashion. The opening for this album is exquisitely elegant.
Then there are the truly leftfield discoveries, the ones that I did not expect even in the slightest. Duster’s “Capsule Losing Contact” seems strangely timely as it explores themes of alienation, showing them to be a little ahead of their time in the late 90s but suited for this time. Kit Sebastian proves to exist in no specific timeline with their alluring psychedelic 60s Turkish balladry on “Mantra Moderne”. Equiknoxx becomes a little looser with “Eternal Children” an album I highly recommend blasting. Finlay Shakespeare’s “Domestic Economy” embraces 80s jerky electro anxiety with a starkly modern edge. Duke’s “Uingizaji Hewa” shows the incredible work that the wonderful Ugandan label Nyege Nyege Tapes has been putting out the past few years. In this instance, honestly, I would recommend all of their releases for this year, but Duke had a particularly hypnotic entrancement for me. On the best possible hybrid of my fevered dreams Maral creates a thing of gorgeous grime with “Mahur Club”.
My yearly caveat that I did not listen to nearly enough music this year rings true yet again. Any additional suggestions, pointers, are always appreciated. Here’s hoping that 2020 heralds the beginning of a brighter and more optimistic period.
1. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow
2. Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
3. Caterina Barbieri – Ecstatic Computation
4. Tyler, the Creator – Igor
5. Mike Patton, Jean-Claude Vannier – Corpse Flower
6. Duster – Capsule Losing Contact
7. Bill Callahan – Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest
8. Kit Sebastian – Mantra Moderne
9. Kim Gordon – No Home Record
10. Bogdan Raczynski – Rave ‘Till You Cry
11. Equiknoxx – Eternal Children
12. Duke – Uingizaji Hewa
13. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains
14. Jessica Pratt – Quiet Signs
15. Lambchop – This (is what I wanted to tell you)
16. Maral – Mahur Club
17. Finlay Shakespeare – Domestic Economy
18. Andy Stott – It Should Be Us
19. Barker – Utility
20. Evol – GRM Trax