Most Disappointing Releases of 2019
Of course, every year so many albums are released, so some inevitably fail to live up to our expectations. I like to write about these albums because I think such a practice is productive as a way of reflecting on our personal aesthetic choices and preferences and thereby learning more about ourselves. Indeed, opinions like these always say more about the listener than the artist.
Typically I do not award “Choice Tracks” to my Disappointing Releases, but this year there are multiple entries that include one or two exceptionally good songs (although apparently these songs are not good enough to redeem the work as a whole). I will also say the following releases are in no particular order. Please bear these things in mind while reading.
Flying Lotus – Flamagra
Theoretically, Flamagra is an incredible album: it contains Flylo’s most diverse cast of collaborators to date; it synthesizes many of his previous styles to create something new and forward-looking; and its many tracks are tied together by a central theme. Unfortunately in practice these characteristics work against the album: all the features make it feel more like a showcase of different artists than one cohesive whole (much like Humanz); the album’s synthesized styles feel less fresh, original, and relevant than any of Flying Lotus’s other work; and in order to tie such a sprawling spectrum of tracks together, the theme is mostly superficial and nominal: it’s the fire album. Consequently Flamagra mostly works as a compilation of ideas Flylo has had during the five year interval since the spectacular You’re Dead, and like any good compilation, there are excellent moments, but those moments are never brought together as adroitly as on Flylo’s previous releases. Thus despite the obviously wonderful aspects of Flamagra, it still felt quite disappointing to me.
Exceptional Tracks: “Post Requisite,” “More,” “Spontaneous,” “Takashi,” “Black Balloons Reprise,” “Remind U,” “FF4”
You can read more about Flamagra on its website.
Lamb – The Secret of Letting Go
Lamb no longer feels like outsider pop they once were. The Secret of Letting Go sounds like a surrender to the forces of mainstream demand, perhaps brought about by Andy Barlow’s recent collaboration with U2. But whatever the cause, I don’t like it very much at all. There are decent tracks on this album, but frankly even they don’t match any of Lamb’s earlier work.
You can read more about Lamb on their website.
MONO – Nowhere Now Here
Like Flamagra, Nowhere Now Here is by no means a bad album, but when you consider the hype generated by the success of their last album and their return to working with producer Steve Albini and announcement that one of the songs would be the first time MONO would incorporate vocals—when one considers all of that, I think it’s pretty apparent how much of a let down this is. The single and vocal track are too repetitive and dynamically monotonous. Some of the best moments have unintentional mic overloads. The vocals are… well. That said there are a few absolutely incredible tracks, so please check out the ones listed below.
Exceptional Tracks: “Nowhere, Now Here,” “Sorrow,” “Meet Us Where the Night Ends”
Plaid – Polymer
Although Polymer is clearly interesting in terms of its political theme, and its sound engineering is, like all Plaid albums, incredible—I found the composition of the songs (mostly loop based and underdeveloped) rather dull relative to their previous two albums. This despite the compelling structural potential prompted by the premise: electronic music talking about the current British political climate and of course the global climate. That said I have multiple friends who put this on their Best of 2019 lists, so maybe there’s just something I’m not getting. Please feel free to comment if you have any thoughts.
Exceptional Tracks: “Maru,” “Dancers,” “Nurula,” “Recall,” “Crown Shy”
Check out all the weird things they’ve got going on over at the Plaid website.
Bon Iver – i, i
Bon Iver basically compromised all of the interesting electronic things about 22, A Million for his new record. The only positive improvement made appears to be in the lyrics, which are now touchingly political instead of harrowingly personal. Unfortunately this wasn’t enough to keep me interested.
As you might expect, the Bon Iver website is as freaky as the artwork.
By Isak McCune