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MUSIC 2019: TOP 22 albums

Ok, here we go again! It's time for my favorite studio albums of the year.

This list only contains releases which came out in 2019 and are in my property in some form.

Why 22? Because it just seems like a reasonable number in relationship to the total of new stuff in my collection, even though with a couple of extra slots I could have included more very much worthwhile albums (Black Bombaim, Bees Made Honey In The Vein TreeVideodrones...). But at some point you have to cut, right?

As experience has told me, it doesn't necessarily mean much whether I rank an album as 5 or 19 in the long run anyway. This is just how I feel right now. The point of a list like this is not a winner's podium, but to recommend great shit.
So yes, I snuck in a couple of extra paragraphs with "similar artists", and even before that the number twenty-two isn't totally correct, since two bands get diligence points for putting out two albums. 

Of course there are also some hot candidates for the list, which are simply too fresh for me to put them in the ranking. (see some of the following reviews!)

I have out-sourced my favorite concerts this time, which means that there will be another post coming soon. And after that one I'll also write about my favorite EPs, live recordings and whatever else might come to mind.



    What happens when you put the two Finnish psychedelic black/death metal superpowers Dark Buddha Rising and Oranssi Pazuzu in a room and let them compose more than an hour of commissioned music, to be performed by ten people (including two drummers) on the Roadburn Festival main stage? - I daresay a mind-blowing once in a lifetime show. "Syntheosis" was such a success that it couldn't in good conscience be limited to this exclusive live performance, so consequently The Waste Of Space Orchestra went into the studio to tweak and polish the suite into a colossal dark monolith of an album, which in its epochal abyssal majesty is much grander than the sum of its parts.

  2. LINGUA IGNOTA - Caligula

    Hypothetically, if you wanted to take only one single lesson from this record, it would surely be:  Don't fuck with Kristin Hayter! But even though the woman-NOT-behind-the-curtain-BUT-right-center-stage of Lingua Ignota unleashes a frightening amount of rage here, you shouldn't reduce "Caligula" to its aggression towards her abuser, which is only one facet of the merciless exorcism, through which she frees herself from the helplessness of trauma. She pushes every lyrical and musical idea to its bleakest and most painful point and beyond. Between baroque neo-classical piano and downright obscene, cacophonous noise "Caligula" never allows you to rest. Beauty appears only as a cynical counterpoint or as an unattainable goal: "All I want is boundless love. All I know is violence."  While the revolt against a personal nightmare and the reversal of power therein could count as a positive backbone of "Caligula", this album remains horrifying on a profound and real level most artists don't ever dare nor even know how to touch.

  3. MAGMA - Zëss (Le Jour Du Néant)

    I know I'm repeating myself here, but ranking stuff you love is hard. You don't want to know how often I have switched the order of the first three entries in this list around! The main reason - and maybe even the only one - Zeuhl legends Magma didn't make it to the very top is a sense of sportsmanship, since "Zëss", the tale of the end of all ends, has already been performed in several unfinished versions for decades. And while I can understand why some fans prefer those earlier, sweatier and more rock-oriented incarnations of this at the same time minimalistic and excessive piece; this final version with The City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra fully integrated and mastermind Christian Vander on full French, Kobaïan and ad lib lead vocal duty is Magma at its peak cinematic. If this is indeed the last studio album of the fifty years old group, then they are going out with a Big Bang!

    [Since Vander is known to be one of the most obsessive worshippers of once-in-a-century artist and jazz giant John Coltrane alive, this is surely the proper place to appreciate the new "lost" 1964 album of the saxophone player. Partially used as the soundtrack for a Franco-Canadian Arthouse movie "Blue World" offers a wonderful insight into the only time the iconic Quartet went back to the studio to re-interpret already established material.]

  4. LOUISE LEMÓN - A Broken Heart Is An Open Heart

    Ten tracks of mostly synthie- or piano-dominated, melancholic soul with a vintage noir undertone. Easily overseeable song lengths, simple verse-chorus-schemata and almost always the voice being clearly in the foreground. That voice belonging to a blond Swedish pop / blues singer with a Francophile burlesque stage name. On paper the premise of Louise Lemón's "A Broken Heart Is An Open Heart" sounds like something that could maybe be nice... interesting... but most likely - let's be honest - just a weak European version of Lana Del Rey that's a little too late to the game.  In reality however Lemón's "death gospel" is an outstanding revelation. What makes this album so addictive above everything else is personality. And it's not only the charismatic touch of the singer / songwriter herself, but equally as important the personalities of both her producer and low frequency expert Randall Dunn and her band. While seldom anything remarkably flashy is played, the instrumentals are always on point right in the feels.

    [And speaking of Lana: With "Norman Fucking Rockwell!" Miss Lizzy Grant has released a more than respectable new album as well. Forgoing the "feat." guest singer/rapper excess of the previous record and relying on a mostly balladic sound with 60s and 70s vibes meeting dream pop, piano, acoustic guitar, but also serious psychedelic rock influences, she has delivered her most coherent work since "Ultraviolence". This new double album showcases how fucking great pop music can be - if it only wants.]

  5. SUNN O))) - Life Metal
    SUNN O))) - Pyroclasts

    One could argue that the drone metal giants played it very safe by going back to the roots on "Life Metal" and I wouldn't even disagree. Most of the four tracks on four record sides are mainly the core trio of Stephen O'Malley, Greg Anderson and Tos Nieuwenhuizen on droning guitars and Moog. But then there's also a short, but very important list of guest contributors, of which Hildur Guðnadóttir on Halldorophone, cello and vocals is the most vital. What makes this album stand out immediately however is the live recording approach and the fabulous production by Steve Albini. What a fucking sick, yet warm and sexy guitar sound! Damn, this is a Sunn O))) album which already sounds amazing if you listen to it in moderate volume.

    Created by the same people during the same recording session the band followed "Life Metal" up with a smaller twin called "Pyroclasts". These four eleven-minute-tracks are meditative improvisations over one note each, which Sunn O))) used to get into the right mood at the beginning of each recording day. They showcase the band at their most loose and ambient - and on the same creative level as their more composed work.

    Both albums wouldn't exist in the way they are without the other, and since they not only match in personnel, sound and layout, but are also both graced by spectacular paintings from Samantha Keely Smith, they form an impressive Gesamtkunstwerk of Sunn O))) in 2019.

  6. YAZZ AHMED - Polyhymnia

    Anyone who is familiar with Yazz Ahmed's previous album "La Saboteuse" or has seen her perform live, should already have noticed that the British-Bahraini trumpet and flugelhorn player is a unique driving force in the contemporary jazz fusion scene. On "Polyhymnia" the sound of her band gets even wilder, more complex and maximalist, with bass clarinet and vibraphone taking a back seat in favor of saxophone, piano and guitars. And even though her own instrumental skills are indisputable fantastic, her greatest strength might actually lie in her brilliant musical storytelling as a composer. Each track is a carefully thought-out tribute and takes you through the struggles and victories of one inspiring female figure from past or present, from civil rights icons Rosa Parks and Ruby Bridges, over Saudi-Arabian film director Lahan Al-Mansur, the Suffragettes and Paraphernalia / Colosseum saxophonist Barbara Thompson to Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who's illustration by Sophie Bass (who did vivid work for all of the album's muses) also graces the cover of "Polyhymnia".


    Great minds think alike? I'm not sure about that, with individuality being a crucial part of greatness and all. But in case of The Claypool Lennon Delirium I'm at least sure that the individual quirks and geniuses of Primus bass monstrosity Les Claypool and more-than-just-the-offspring-of-famous-parents Sean Ono Lennon add to something wonderfully odd and enjoyable, which despite its stratospheric class never takes itself too serious. The chemistry between them is unmistakably stronger than on their 2016 debut and it more than ever feels like the Primus bass was a time machine, which leads our heroes on an excellent adventure, which includes jams with King Crimson, Pink Floyd and of course the post Indian enlightenment Beatles.

  8. CHELSEA WOLFE - Birth Of Violence

    After floating more and more within thick electronic drones and walls of sludge and guitar riffs and noise on "Abyss" and "Hiss Spun", Chelsea Wolfe returns to a more minimalistic approach on "Birth Of Violence". Yet even though it focuses mostly on her voice and acoustic guitar and presents itself more accessible than her early doom folk releases, this selection of dark Americana is still soaked in mesmerizing eeriness.

    [A related American gothic atmosphere and vocal performance - yet at a slower pace and with more of an ambient soundtrack vibe - can be found on "Droneflower", the collaborative debut of Marissa Nadler and Stephen Brodsky.]

  9. SWANS - Leaving Meaning

    Gira disciples rejoice! It may have been hard to say goodbye to the longest-lived Swans incarnation in history, but that doesn't mean you have to fear a weak album now. "Leaving Meaning" is carried on the shoulders of a larger line-up, which varies from track to track, meaning that alongside new faces like lead vocalist on "The Nub" Baby Dee, the whole avantgarde jazz trio The Necks or the unmistakable ghostly-excentric background choir vocals of the Von Hausswolff sisters Anna and Maria, there are still lots of contributions by the likes of Thor Harris, Norman Westberg, Phil Puelo or Kristof Hahn. This double album is more vocal-centric than its humongous predecessors and doesn't reach their larger than life song lengths and convulsing noise peaks. But honestly - what does that really mean? This is still Swans, so it's large and viscerally thrilling beyond any ordinary scale.

  10. MONO - Nowhere Now Here

    Mono celebrated their twentieth anniversary this year. And the Japanese post rockers' recent double album is monumental evidence that they are showing absolutely no sign of weariness or will to do things in smaller, mortal proportions. From the haunting singing of Tamaki Kunishi in "Breathe" (the first vocal performance of a band member ever), over calm piano moments to orchestral interludes, from heart-wrenching lead guitar cascades to slow-building progressions exploding into harshest noise climaxes - there is not one dull second on any of the ten tracks of "Nowhere Now Here". Post perfection.

    [In case you want your dose of escapist instrumental transcendency in a rawer, more metal and riff-based form without all the orchestral sparkle on top, I strongly suggest to take a listen to the new record of Russian Circles, who made 2019 their "Blood Year".]

  11. BIG|BRAVE - A Gaze Among Them

    Great music doesn't necessarily need much of anything. Just one or two guitars. Just one or two chords. Just some gain and volume knobs turned to maximum. Just some drum hits at the right time. And fuck it, I don't even need to understand that weird accent or whatever of the singer, if she's as expressive as Robin Wattie. The Canadian trio Big|Brave once again makes the best of its decidedly limited toolbox and crafts a post no wave drone rock masterpiece which hammers you to the floor exactly like you know you always wanted it. And by the way: Everything is ok, your speakers are not dying in a crunchplosion. That's just the subtle guitar distortion.

  12. MOTORPSYCHO - The Crucible

    The style and gigantic size of the cover artwork already suggest that this new album of the hardest working band in Norwegian rock business is closely related to last year's masterpiece "The Tower". And it's indeed very true that you could view these three epic tracks as side E and F of said album. Even more on point you can understand them as a concentrated version of the most epic and crimsony "Tower" material, with even more ingredients from the whole Motorkitchen in each track. My favorite "Lux Aeterna" might be one of their most beautiful songs of all time - at least until it goes batshit crazy. "The Crucible" is Motorpsycho at peak mammoth prog. Masterful yet still cool as f...jord.


  13. Dylan Carlson (guitar/bass) and Adrienne Davies (drums) gracing the cover artwork of the long awaited new Earth album must be read as a statement. Just like back on "Hex; Or Printing In The Infernal Method" the band solely consisted of the core duo for this recording, yet this time even without any guest musicians. So above all "Full Upon Her Burning Lips" is a showcase of the chemistry and musical synergy of the two. The patience and coolness they are exuding here is unmatched. Music for cowboys to comb their beards to.


    Oh those delightfully brutish Dutch cavemen! My favorite drum and sax abuse duo has released yet another full album again, but this time with the transatlantic help from Scott Hedrick (Skeletonwitch), who gives it a very distinct touch with his contributions on guitar and piano. The result is one of the best works in their busy discography, maybe even THE best. For fifteen minutes "Bone Hill" is a minimalistic, only very subtly changing nerve-shredder  in the vein of "Womb Of God", until the guitar elevates it into the realm of glorious post black metal. Meanwhile "Death Bell" opens up totally new sonic paths with a tense groove and feel that makes it nothing short of the best post-reunion Swans song not written by Swans. And in case you're missing those impregnable walls of noise on "Leaving Meaning"; Dead Neanderthals give you an absolutely swans-worthy omniferous noise explosion with a trilling soprano saxophone on top. Fuck yeah!

  15. AMANDA PALMER - There Will Be No Intermission

    "I'm sorry that this story's gotten long / and that everybody's crying in this song" Amanda Palmer pleads for forgiveness in ironic self-awareness in "A Mother's Confession". But truly she has absolutely nothing to be sorry for. We are all adults here and can decide when we are in the right mood to listen to her magnus opus. Based mostly on piano or ukulele and her voice, but always ready to blow up in orchestral bombast the ten songs (plus ten classical interludes) on "There Will Be No Intermission" are an almost impossible task to listen to without at least coming close to tears at some point. It's not only Amanda's emotional honesty and the strength of vulnaribilty in her performance causing this, but also the choice of painful but necessary topics and the profound humanity with which she tackles them. Seldom have I heard an artist being such an empathic listener, ally and storyteller.

  16. RADARE - Der Endless Dream

    Despite the admittedly weird denglish title of "The Endless Dream", which probably somehow ties neatly into the unwritten narrative of this instrumental album, Radare have matured to songwriters, who can easily look eye to eye with the very best in post rock. While some of the similarities to Earth and Bohren und der Club of Gore, which had already been established on previous works, are still alive, the band has not only sped up the average tempo, but has also spiced it up with Badalamenti, library music, Carpenter and above all lots of Ennio Morricone. Arranged with standard rock instrumentation plus organ, keys and brass Radare have created a wide and suspenseful kaleidoscope of emotions which cannot leave you unmoved.

  17. MISþYRMING - Algleymi

    Fuuuuuck! When it comes to black metal that always keeps its originality and avoids all the worst clishés, but still is a hundred percent pure and true in its spirit, I can't help but immediately think of the raw Islandic inferno called Misþyrming. The relentless harsh brutality of "Algleymi" makes you want to reach into a volcano with your bare hands, mold balls of lava and through them around to destroy the world of those feeble mortal humans. And beyond that these guys are really good songwriters with a sense for effective melodies to counterpoint the in-your-face destructiveness. Misþyrming present everything that can make black metal fucking awesome with a crispness that feels like they had just right now invented the genre.

  18. LUCY IN BLUE - In Flight

    Speaking of amazing young bands from Iceland sounding so fresh and enthusiastic, you could believe they invented their particular genre: I give you Lucy In Blue and their accurate but very much their own creative take on early prog / jazz rock and above all psychedelic pre-"Dark Side Of The Moon" Pink Floyd. Just listen to these harmony vocals almost out-gilmour/wrighting Gilmour and Wright! And those are only one small portion of an album mostly filled with great instrumental ideas and arrangements. A perfect homage to an era long before the band members themselves were born, yet at the same time much more than that. And way more than you can seriously demand from a debut album.

  19. SABA ALIZADEH - Scattered Memories

    You may or may not have heard of it until now, but by recent regulations of the internet police AOTY lists which don't include at least one entry featuring the Iranian spike fiddle can be legally charged. Luckily for me kamancheh master Saba Alizadeh has released this album, on which he interweaves the ghostly spike fiddle sound with electronics and further Persian instruments, as well as vocal samples and field recordings, to create a compelling, mystically droning soundtrack for his home city Tehran.

    [And while you're already at it, you also need to check out another Karl Records release with oriental connotations: On "Kosmik Bazaar" the Turkish avantgarde free jazzers Konstrukt and Chicago scene saxophonist Ken Vandermark embark on a wild ride which takes them all over the place through everything that's way too artfully insane for the regular radio consumer.]

  20. THEON CROSS - Fyah

    Anyone wanna get into the hot tuba tub? No, the Sons Of Kemet haven't dropped a new album this soon yet, but their tuba wizard Theon Cross has done so, and his solo material doesn't stray too far from the sound of the band. Most of it is infectiously grooving trio work with his phat brass bass lines accompanied by drums and saxophones, with a few sparks of extra percussion, trombone or electric guitar here and there. The bridge between very traditional New Orleans jazz influences and modern beats and licks is so smooth that you could probably timetravel to any right party in the last hundred years and do the Marty McFly - but without embarrassing yourself. This shit is totally on fire!

    [Truth be told, this spot on the list had initially been reserved for another Son Of Kemet, who only very scarcely lost it. King Shabaka Hutchings' even more out there psychedelic electro fusion future jazz trio The Comet Is Coming has released a murderously good new album including a noteworthy guest appearance by rap poet Kate Tempest: "Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery".]

  21. KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD - Fishing For Fishies
    KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD - Infest The Rats' Nest

    Stu Mackenzie's Australian insane train has thrown two albums into the world in 2019, which both share environmental themes and many typical mannergizzms like the love for odd time signatures, but are also two very different sides of a coin.
    "Fishing For Fishing" is not as unbearably sweet as the firstly released title track might have suggested, but an album wish features very different genres and various levels of heaviness, held together by the concept of most of it being based on... boogie of all things. Who would have thought with song titles like "Boogieman Sam", "Plastic Boogie" and "Cyboogie"? Even though you really have to be in the mood for harmonica, this is a great addition to the fast-growing Gizzard discography.

    "Infest The Rats' Nest" however is a completely different beast with a stylistic choice that is surprising even for these notorious genre-hoppers. Apart from two tracks which are more 70s hard rock and Sabbath worshipping stoner doom, everything on this record is pure fucking thrash metal! King Gizzard embrace all the necessary go-tos of early Bay Area and German thrash and make them their own by performing sophisticated riff work with a garage punk attitude. And it fucking slays! A short, but extremely sweet headbanger.

  22. TWIN TEMPLE - Twin Temple

    Remember back in the 1950s, long before there was Heavy Metal, when we were swinging, jiving, singing and praising Lucifer to the organ- and saxophone-laden sound of Doo-Wop? What? You don't even remember that particular music style somewhere between rhythm and blues and big band jazz with those signature harmony vocals that gave it its name?
    Well, Alexandra and Zachary James, high priests of the cult and band called Twin Temple do remember. And they turned this idea into an entity, which is highly funny and entertaining, but also carries serious massages. But above all the quality of the pure musical performance is already good enough to make it work beyond the satanic shtick.

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