2019 Albums of the Year; 10–1.
10. Employed to Serve — Eternal Forward Motion
A Golden Heavy
I found out about these guys’ last record way late, and it honestly would have more than likely been my favorite album of 2017 if I had heard it in time. This album picks up right where their last left off. Kinetic and massive, the guitars are heavy and explosive, the screams are guttural and the bed of sounds that the meat of the songs rest on are just as ambient, making you want to listen through the bedlam and hear some of the interesting stuff they have going on in the backdrop. It swirls and rolls. The riffs found within these songs are so varied, so multifaceted, that often you’ll feel like you’re hearing multiple different songs within one track. And hey, have to shout them out: these breakdowns are joyous revelations. Always unique, always ones worth waiting for. Not feeling the body of the song? Just wait for the break. You’ll want to go back and see what the band had been setting up for you. This record is a shining gem in their discography, one that marks a jump from a place where they had powerful and incredible heavy songs together on an album to one that feels like a complete and thorough work, an album from front to back that will mark a transition into one of those bands who are most respected in the industry.
Check Out: Dull Ache Behind My Eyes
9. Jessica Pratt — Quiet Signs
Her sound recalls for me a lot of the ethereal tones of Cocorosie and Azure Ray. The songs barely exist, floating like flecks of atmosphere in the blades of light that reach through window blinds. The record passes like a daydream, a pleasant and hazy passage of time. It feels equally like loss and birth, discovery and nostalgia. In all its earnestness, I can really feel comparisons to solo Anthony Green stuff, and hidden Coheed and Cambria tracks as well. There is definitely a link between the elvish tones and the distant guitars that are scratched here. Even the way some of the vocals are delivered, some of the pronunciation feels a little bit like Mewithoutyou. The record flies by far too quickly, like time spent with someone you’ve missed.
Check Out: As the World Turns
8. Norma Jean — All Hail
A Swinging Pendulum
FUCK. From the very first moments of this record, you know it’s going to be a wild bullet shot from a terrifying chamber. The songs here are gauntlets of grief linked together by filthy breakdowns. There’s something about the way that the vocals are shouted in a state of pure desperation that instills the same kind of terror that this band’s breakthrough debut bullied you into feeling. This album grabs you by the adam’s apple and forces eye contact. I can’t believe how groovy so many of these tracks are. I have made some of the most ugly faces conjurable during some of the heaviest parts of these songs. The guitars on these songs coil and gnash with a golden venom that you want to drink deeply from, despite the swirling illness you’ll take from it. Even on the track ‘/with_errors’, my least favorite on the record, there is something irresistible about the way it ends. And that’s just it: no matter how you feel about any of these tracks individually in full, there are always moments that will utterly FLOOR you. And even still, with all of the love that I have for the dimension bending savagery that Norma Jean is capable of, it’s still nice to see that they still don’t shy away from the pure strength and efficacy of a battering ram.
Check Out: Anna
7. Throes — In the Hands of An Angry God
The Labored Hands of a Working Class God
No bullshit. No frills or outside details to try and make you believe that this was written and constructed for anything other than a frenzied and elaborate hate. This music sounds like pain and mayhem, a maelstrom of frayed rope and black splatter patterns. Throes are sludgy when they have to be. They are fast when they have to be. And always violent. On ‘They Never Spoke’, you can hear the bass strings vibrating at such a slow pace, a loose and slacked note held out for full seconds. I love hearing parts of some of these songs (like the churning machinery of ‘Nothing New’ at 2:05) and checking the time left on a song and knowing there is still a whole other half of the track left. These songs feel like onslaughts. I consistently feel (in the best way): HOW IS THERE MORE? The punishment never ends. The flood pours and pours. And amidst this I stare off, nodding away feeling empowered by the bleakness, by the hurt and by the inverted glow.
Check Out: Derelict
6. Counterparts — Nothing Left to Love
When I envisioned the reasons that I liked Counterparts when I first heard them, THIS ALBUM is the perception I had of them in my mind. Fast and heavy. Incredible chords that shapeshifted along with the parts that were hitting you in the face faster than a hall of mirrors. Breakdowns that made you want to punch out windshields. Hearing this record revives me from any ailment, picks me up and throws me into the fray no matter how resistant I feel. It feels like discovering an album that masters of the genre have cited as an inspiration for years and years. I feel like there will be bands in five and ten years who are going to try to make records that sound like this one and use this as the reason that they picked up a guitar. This is such a fun record, one that brings me back to earth after spending too much time listening to records that require a lot more cerebral involvement. So many times, listening to this album there are parts that I will just have to out and say “oh, HELL yeah.” Look, I get it. If you listen to one track and you like it, you’re gonna get a bunch of other songs that sound almost identical. For me, this is fine. Give me a double. Keep these spin kicks coming.
Check Out: Ocean of Another
5. Johnny Booth — Firsthand Accounts
I’m so proud of this band. I have followed them (or at least their name) from when they were just a bunch of dudes from Long Island making heavy music. With the release of this album, I’m absolutely blown away that they’ve come this far and have made such professional sounding, shredding tunes. Man, those grooves. There are parts of these songs that hit in ways that pure percussion solos bring out. Wavey, funky, bendy mean-face summoning spaces of pure unbelievable menace. And hey, what would a heavy, gnarly album like this be without its signature breakdowns? Absolutely delicious moments of enormous build, then full release. Many many times throughout this record, I’m left laughing at what a blast these breaks are. At least three “ho-ho-hoooly fuck”s. There is so much technical mastery going on in these songs, too. Lots of perfectly placed slides and time changes. The drumming really jumps off the page for me, perforating and sharp and always attacking. I love this album and the way that while the songs are so heavy and such a joy to listen to, each song has more to it, more of a personality, more “sounds”, more samples and more ideas that are in place that don’t simply web breakdowns and verses together. These are robust and organic compositions built around concepts bigger than The Heaviest Moment. The final two tracks of this record do such crazy things to make you want to go back and listen to the whole record on repeat. Blistering record. Then that last break? Absolute mayhem.
Check Out: Choke
4. Ithaca — The Language of Injury
Setting the Bar For Modern Aggressive Music
The record opens up with balled fisted rage pummeling down your door. As the majority of the music falls to the background, Djamila’s voice backs you into a corner, rigid pointer finger into your chest and forces you to hear her piece. This album bullies you in such supreme fashion. One song after the next hits you and hits you like a volley of arrows intent on tearing down a fortress. It’s relentless. There’s riffing and horror chords and breakdowns and absofuckinglutely everything you would want from a melodic hardcore record. This was a record that came out early in the year and it set the tone as one of the best records of the year. It set the bar as one of the records I would compare many of the other aggressive records to throughout the rest of the year. The highs and lows of the record (and the quality therein) really set a broad spectrum for the kinds of stuff I was looking for in 2019. The sheer number of influences that I could detect from one song to the next was so varied and simply so deep that it resonated with me on many, many different pages. As I put this list together, I started to see a pattern. This was a year in which a lot of heavy bands, metal influenced bands, “whatever” core bands were having a HELL of a year and so many were making it onto this list. And as I started to finish up and organize the bands for who went where in the Top 50, I was unsure if this record was going to hold its place. In fact, it is the last record I listened to during the process. And it held. fucking. fast. This record is a punisher for the ages, one that takes time to shine a light through a slowly spinning prism, but to immediately follow this up with a blinding torrent of ferocity.
Check Out: Slow Negative Order
3. Thom Yorke — ANIMA
So often for me, I find that electronic music lacks any sort of soul or emotion or feeling. Unless I know the creator or have the music associate itself with any organically experienced event, I tend to lose the plot a little bit and become disinterested almost immediately. That is until Thom Yorke started creating solo records. At their core, they feel very much like songs you’d hear in a London discoteque (aptly), but the way they have been manipulated, shaped and altered, they feel more like aural collages. These are voyages deep into reverb forests, warning signs imploring you to hike deeper and to never leave, your every thought and observation carved into the bark of every tree in your own handwriting. With all of the mastery that Yorke has absorbed and discovered and invented, it’s a real treat to experience him operate within a freeform and boundless medium. There is no band to keep up with or collaborate with, there are no contemporary song structures to populate. This instead feels like organic creation at the heart of a universe still ripe for life forms, planets and umbilical black holes. In ‘Dawn Chorus’, it’s like he’s speaking directly to you, face to face, and the buzzing keys are effervescing emotions, all peripheral activity slowing to a crawl as you receive his eternal message.
Check Out: Twist
2. Health — Vol. 4 :: Slaves of Fear
Temptation on the Vine
This album is pure deception. It wants you influenced, corrupted. Probably dead by the end of it. It will bring you there by your own carelessness or by its own hands. These are some of the hardest songs I’ve heard all year (and there is some HEAVY stuff that came out this year), but with the neongelic vocals, the addicting MDM hooks, the soaring euphorium, you will want to come closer and closer to the seething death found within this fruit. There was a time where I lived on this hard edge, where I dove down deep enough to feel the blood bulging through capillaries, pressing myself to the very verge before pulling back from the certain dark touch of beyond. This record (and all of their previous ones) capture that feeling better than any band I’ve ever had the experience of listening to. There is violent industry at work in the machinery of this record. Nothing else sounds like this. Nothing else feels like this.
Check Out: Strange Days (1999)
1. Big Thief — UFOF
When I first heard the title track of this record, I was held in bemarveled captivation. Caught staring back like a little kid at an aquarium who has locked eyes with a great sea creature but was being pulled along and ahead by a plodding parent. I could not break it from my thought. I even brought it up in conversation to coworkers who ultimately would never listen to the song anyway. Like that feeling when you first have that eye contact with a person you want to keep calling out to, to cement them in your life. I did something I almost never do in 2019: I bought the record without following up or listening on Spotify. It was obsession. Getting through the first track had me in a small trance, the drift and the lull of it. Then with the Coheed and Cambria-esque scream towards the end of the song, I have to say, I was pulled through a veil. And just as soon as Contact ended, UFOF began and as if I was hearing my Manchurian Candidate code song, I was seized in place, rocking back and forth, eyes aflood. The way that Aurora slow dances with a phantom in a gown made by woodland creatures, I wanted to waltz with my laptop, my ipad, my turntable, the record itself. When it ended, I started the tracks over again. I knew this was special. I knew this had a hold on me like few pieces of art do. The way that one imagines an idyllic fjord, an ice dune where you watch the Northern Lights, the way that people who value family over all picture a massive dining room with all of their kin around them… that was this record. And when UFOF ended for the third or fourth time, I let the record continue through. Pianos drift in like daydreams during long conversations. Guitars pluck and dangle and disappear like ghost hallways. But it’s the voice. Adrianne Lenker’s voice that holds me. It wavers through an ether that feels synced exclusively with the listener, a solitary inner voice that only you can hear. It cries for help, it asks for what it wants, it finds an equilibrium with you and paints its aura around you. It shimmers from the listener’s shoulders, from their fingers as they walk, hovering an inch above the ground. There is a decompression period on this one for me, where after I have listened to it, I have to gently ease myself back into a lower consciousness, one that will allow me to interact with people on an even level, one where I realize that not all stimulus is woven with this same gilded thread. This record has the ancient soul of an abandoned piano, possessed by the demons and angels that have inhabited it and allowed the blood to course through it, unable to be exorcised, only worshipped.
Check Out: UFOF