For individual songs, please find these in my yearly best-of list on Apple Music, Spotify and YouTube. Note that these playlists only include tracks released this calendar year.
I Was Impressed By
For the longest time, I had a solitary King Krule song in my library courtesy of Benji B’s excellent year-end playlists. This year, I decided to look up the artist whose name I thought came from Donkey Kong’s arch-nemesis (spoiler: it is sadly not the origin).
6 Feet Beneath the Moon sounds ethereal at times, and this is partly due to the haunting and magical instruments that dovetail with Archy Marshall’s unique vocal cords. The album is simultaneously intimate, solitary but accessible. You could argue that his second album, The Ooz, is objectively better (and the sound refined), but this is extremely impressive for a 19-year old.
The music doesn’t sound dated. Please give it a try!
- Easy, Easy
- Border Line
- Ocean Bed
- Neptune Estate
- The Krockadile
Amon Tobin has been around for the longest time, and there's a chance that you might have heard his music somewhere: an electronic club, a movie, a TV show or the acclaimed video game, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.
In 2015, the Brazilian virtuoso decided to essentially create a soundtrack for those 70s / 80s space exploration movies that sometimes include elements of horror. Dear readers, he knocked it out of the park.
There is an intense sense of scale akin I suppose to discovering that you are insignificant in the wake of the great cosmos. Perfect ambient music for work, or any of your role-playing sessions.
- Encounter On Io (Lee Gamble Remix)
- Adrestea Contact (Logos Remix)
Tyler, the Creator is one of my favorite artists. I don’t know how the human body can contain so much creativity. IGOR was released earlier this and year and his arguably his best work.
While his previous effort, Flower Boy, was a magnum opus focused on the start and blooming of a new relationship, IGOR is easily its dark twin wherein Tyler deals with the breakup and all the emotions that come with it. Eerily enough, both mirror the start and end of a relationship of mine and were released at roughly the same period: 2017 and 2019.
IGOR continues to highlight his growth both as a human being and one of the premier artists of his generation. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
- IGOR’s Theme (feat. Kali Uchis & Lil Uzi Vert)
- EARFQUAKE (feat. Charlie Wilson, Devonté Hynes & Playboi Carti)
- NEW MAGIC WAND (feat. Santigold & A$AP Rocky)
- A BOY IS A GUN
- PUPPET (feat. Kanye West)
- WHAT'S GOOD (feat. slowthai)
- GONE, GONE / THANK YOU
This album had been sitting in my library for years. I guess this is what the streaming age has done to us: instead of appreciating things as soon as we get them (read: physically purchase it), we just file it away to never look at again.
Ravedeath, 1972 is a perfect winter album and is nigh impossible to listen to a single track as they all flow into each other. Having said that, I did list some highlights below so you can get a feel for Tim's layered, look into mortality and eternity itself.
I gotta listen to all his other stuff before the winter finishes.
- Analog Paralysis, 1978
- The Piano Drop
- In the Air III
Ludwig Göransson (named after Beethoven) is known for his outstanding work with director Ryan Coogler (he of Fruitvale Station, Creed, and Black Panther Fame) and being behind the boards of the multi-talented Donald Glover / Childish Gambino. The latter is an integral part of the TV shows Community and Atlanta as well as releasing wondrous songs such as This is America and Redbone.
When Ludwig was tasked with creating the exotic sound of The Mandalorian, the madman decided to craft an individual score for each episode. He’s managed to create an iconic theme that far surpasses anything in the Disney-released Star Wars films.
I am extremely excited to hear his score for Christopher “Can Do Almost Nothing Wrong Except Interstellar and Dunkirk” Nolan’s TENƎT.
- The Mandalorian
- The Mudhorn
- Whistling Bird
- Spirit of the Woods
Technically, I cheated. This is not an album, but rather a compilation of songs that the mysterious Burial has worked on this decade. The release itself is interesting as throughout the decade, William Bevan (in a bit of foresight) decided to eschew the album format and release a steady stream of EPs and singles alone or with other dubstep stalwarts Zombie and The Bug (Kevin Martin).
Yes, your eyes did just read dubstep. However, the most popular variant of the form was popularized by Skrillex and the like is actually called “bro step”. Yeah, I know, I’m one of those. But unlike hip-hop instrumental and its many variants, there is a profound difference in these two. The largest, of course, being the tempo or BPM (beats-per-minute).
Here, the tracks (for better-or-worse) fit a narrative structure that delivers ominous drones and uplifting but subdued, hymns. It is hauntology in aural form.
I do recommend starting from his seminal albums first, and then delving into this cacophony of delight. The folks at the Passion of the Weiss did an excellent write-up about the compilation.
What could possibly be better than the Watchmen TV show? Well, the soundtrack for one!
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross made a Faustian bargain and then found a loophole in the contract that allows them to live well beyond the age of 27. It is the only explanation I have for them creating consistently great music over the case of 3 decades.
Remember how everyone went crazy for Daft Punk’s soundtrack for Tron: Legacy?
This is just as good, if not better.
- NUN WITH A MOTHERF&ING GUN
- I'LL WAIT
- THE BRICK
- A TRAVELLER FROM AN ANTIQUE LAND
- GHRAIB ME A TERRORIST
I Was Disappointed By
The Q is a great musician, able to talk about the pleasures of life with a certain panache. His iconic bucket hat, followed by an iconic snarling voice are the cherries on top.
Following two Grammy-nominated albums (yes, I know that it’s essentially a popularity contest…but they were legit good) and a dizzying array of top-notch guest appearances…the world was feverishly waiting for his next great album.
It came. And went. That’s how you know you did badly. Not great, but not terrible. ScHoolboy Q sounds tired and lethargic even on supposedly high energy bangers. There are some stand out tracks though, especially those that tackle mental health, fame, and his role as a father.
You know what pissed me off though?
In literally every other song he's featured this year, he sounds like his old self. I suppose some experiments pay off, and others don’t.
Chase & Status was my introduction to Drum & Bass. Though to be fair, I had heard some in the soundtracks of Rockstar Games’ Midnight Club and Grand Theft Auto series.
As such, I would always get excited whenever they released a new album. I knew I could count on them for glass-shattering bass, and a variety of guest vocalists such as the menacing Pusha T, Zimbabwean Takura (who loves exaggerating his African accent), and made-for-national anthems Jacob Banks.
RTRN II Jungle was too much of a departure for me. I like Jungle as a genre, but they really went in. The album sales and critical reception disagree with me though.
Best of the Rest
- The Lion King: The Gift by Beyoncé - A much more pan-African album than Lamar’s Black Panther one. But it still neglects large swaths of the continent. Nevertheless, your ears won’t regret this.
- Bandana by Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - The return of the winning combination of Freddie Gibbs’ ridiculous flow and Madlib’s insane production. The man composed every song on an iPhone. Pity about the former’s anti-vaxxer position.
- Diaspora by Goldlink - I'm gonna let Yoh Phillips from DJ Booth handle this one: “a one-man Afropunk lineup, molding and morphing a potpourri of soundscapes in his image”.
- Lifa by Heilung- A last-minute discovery thanks to Microsoft and Ninja Theory’s fantastic Hellblade II trailer. I honestly think a Nordic shaman time-traveled to the 21st century and recorded an album once he discovered modern drums. It’s brilliant.
- The Nothing by Korn - The metal band has not has the best of years since 2002’s Untouchables. Seven (!) average albums have been released since then, and only in 2019 can we truly say that Korn has not only returned to form but adapted with the times. Let's hope the next one goes the extra mile with creativity.
- Fever by Megan Thee Stallion - A multi-dimensional female empowerment album. Megan sparks joy.
- MF BLOOM + Flowervillain II by MF DOOM vs. Tyler The Creator - A laid-back mash-up of two wildly different artists. It just works.
- Purple Mountains by Purple Mountains - David Berman tragically committed suicide after releasing this critically acclaimed album. The content certainly speaks to me and my experience throughout almost the entirety of 2019.
- The Return by Sampa the Great - Ninja Tune is one of those music labels that nurtures a dizzying array of talent across different genres. While mainly known for their electronic work, they have done a terrific job in supporting Zambian-Australian singer-songwriter and rapper. One for the future.
- II by TNGHT - Not as good as their debut effort, but quite an earworm of an album. It definitely sounds more spacious.