Best Albums of 2019, Honorable Mention
The following list compiles those albums that I certainly believe are deserving of a word or two, but which did not make the final cut into my top ten albums of the year. They are in no particular order, and just because I write more about one than another does not necessarily mean one is better than the other. At this point I will also reiterate that my criteria for deciding and ranking albums is entirely personal: am I interested in what this artist is doing? Do I understand it? Does it resonate with my aesthetic preferences across media? Et cetera. So without further ado please enjoy these honorable mention albums, and please give them a listen if you have the chance. Oh and one more thing: support independent music!
Snufmumriko – Sekunder, Eoner
I think Snufmumriko has reached my top ten list the past two years, with his fabulous At First Light and Drömboken records in 2017 and 2018. The only difference this year is that, perhaps Sekunder, Eoner fails to take his sound to the kind of impossible, inventive spaces he experimented with on his last two efforts. Indeed, this feels like a Snufmumriko pop album, if such a thing could exist: it streamlines and synthesizes his previous albums in such a way that it removes some of the most interesting elements of his sound; the endless expanse and intense stasis he images of At First Light has here been discarded for more conventional song progression, and the mercurial excursions made on Drömboken seem significantly more volatile than anything here. That is obviously not to say that Sekunder, Eoner is a bad album, but it is certainly more focused, and with focus comes some opportunity cost.
Choice Tracks: “Jordeliv,” “Sekunder, eoner,” “Drömmens tassemarker”
The Chemical Brothers – No Geography
The new Chem Bros album is, by virtually any standard, better than Born in the Echoes. It is more articulately political; more satisfactorily experimental; and more thematically consistent. Its beats push Big Beat into new territory and probably mark the most interesting development for the genre this decade (and this is perhaps a much more significant accomplishment than their last good album, Further, which instead explored forms of House outside of Big Beat). Aurora Aksnes’ frequent vocal features give the album a narrative center and the best lyrical content the Brothers have had in over a decade. Perhaps the only faults I can find on this album are in its occasionally bouts of jejune psychedelic cultural humor, which are even more evident in the videos. That’s probably the only aspect of No Geography that keeps it from my top ten.
Choice Tracks: “Bango,” “No Geography,” “Got to Keep On,” “The Universe Sent Me,” “Catch Me I’m Falling”
You can learn more about No Geography on The Chemical Brothers’ website.
TR/ST – The Destroyer – 2
The latter half of TR/ST’s highly anticipated two-part album The Destroyer surprised me from its first notes: Robert Alfons had done quiet music before, but never anything this quiet and acoustic and tender. The incorporation of exciting new production techniques (acoustic instrumentation and sampling) brings this music into completely new territory for the duo and the Darkwave genre; if we add on top of that the strange song structures and increasing focus on electronic texture, The Destroyer – 2 clearly stands out as an exceptional work of sui generis within the general field of New Wave. It’s only a shame that Part 1 isn’t this good.
Choice Tracks: “Iris,” “Darling,” “cor,” “Shame, ” “The Stain”
Holly Herndon – PROTO
Herdon’s newest concept album about a synthetic hyper-human hive mind takes her music from something that sounded vaguely like operatic IDM into something significantly more confusing, Folk Choral Bass Music, which is about as exciting as it sounds. That said, like her previous music, the album is more about its idea than its narrative progression or mutation; in other words it follows its concept to a tee, which, personally speaking, distances me from the work structurally. So as much as I like it, it’s a difficult mass to grab a hold of; the album feels monolithically conceptual to me. For that reason and for only that reason I have had a tough time engaging with it on an intimate level and thusly I leave it off of my top ten.
Choice Tracks, “Eternal,” “Extreme Love,” “Frontier,” “Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt,” “Last Gasp”
DR – One Day in June
It is difficult to find an ambient album that brilliantly captures the simplicity of a day, a breeze, a cloud, a table, or some such noun standing as only itself. But One Day in June—recorded just as the title implies, on a single day in June 2017—stands as just such an artifact, a work that allows that which surrounds you to be simply as it is. Beyond that its excellent use of space (and a strategic winter release?) gives the album a degree of memory resonance, adding a layer of nostalgia (thus the work captures a summer day even if it isn’t summer). I would love to analyze this album more minutely in a better context, but for now I think I’ll leave it at that.
Choice Tracks: “1706_15,” “Peacefully,” “Peacefully #2,” “1706_15 #2,” “Low Frequencies,” “Last One for Today”
Lingua Lustra – Emotiv Motifs
Unlike much of Lingua Lustra’s work, which typically centers around a sonic theme or premise, Emotiv Motifs moves through several different ambient spaces and styles, almost like a series of vignettes. But this never detracts from the quality of the music, which is virtually entirely top-notch, nor does it deprive the album of its unity or continuity. Indeed it feels instead like a series of short stories set in the same barren, post-societal future. I have written about this album much more extensively here, and would recommend you check out that review for more detail.
Choice Tracks: “A Friend That’s Always There,” “Among the Roses,” “Theme of a Cloudy Day,” “Sky,” “Underneath”
The Appleseed Cast – The Fleeting Light of Impermanence
As fart as Midwest Post-Emo goes, The Fleeting Light of Impermanence is a fantastic record, but for a band that has done so much experimentation with different production techniques, with incorporating different flavors of Post-Rock, and with different song structures, this feels like a step back. The tracks almost always use the same guitar tones and synth tones; they mostly all begin with instrumental introductions; and even in terms of performances the band never seems to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. If this were any other band, I would say fine; this is great, but this is The Appleseed Cast, and I expect more. Therefore, this album has been relegated to the Honorable Mentions list.
Choice Tracks: “Time the Destroyer,” “Collision,” “Asking the Fire for Medicine,” “Last Words and Final Celebrations”
By Isak McCune