Best Albums of the Year

Oh boy, it’s almost the end of the year, when everybody comes out with their lists. (And some are getting a jump on their best of the decade lists, but there’s no way in hell I’m going there.) And far be it from me to buck the crowd, so here’s my personal list of the best album of the year. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

Malibu Ken – Malibu Ken

The collaboration of Aesop Rock and Tobacco was something I looked at with cautious optimism. After all, I like both musicians separately, but I wasn’t honestly sure how they’d be able to combine rap and neo-psychedelic music and make it sound coherent. Not only does it work incredibly well, but it has been my favorite album since its January release. This is has been a hell of a bad year, and I listened to this album so much it’s borderline unhealthy. But it personally pulled me through a lot of bad shit, and you’ve got to love that.

Somehow, Aesop’s deceptively sharp flow and Tobacco’s woozy, cotton candy synths complement each other beautifully. It’s a tightwire act, but they never fall, and they do seem to bring out the best in each other. The album is surreal, but political and touching and funny, sometimes all at once. Right now, the world is shit and most of us are struggling in one way or another. It’s an unusual balm that’s also a call to action and a little bit like poetry at its best. It’s great. More unusual collaborations please.

Health – Vol 4: Slaves of Fear

Speaking of unusual collaborations, that’s something Health does quite a bit. They’re usually sold as singles, so you won’t really find any on this album, but that’s okay. Health is delightfully strange no matter what, and this album is no different. They’re kind of arty noise rock if you insist on pigeonholing them, and they are all about embracing their weird side. They too are aware we seem to be entering dystopian times – a common theme in most of the music I listened to this year, go figure – and honestly, they are built for it. To quote Hunter S. Thompson, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” They are the pro weirdoes we need right now, soundtracking our death march into the end times. But they’re not having a party in the nuclear bunker – honestly, they’re disappointed in us. And who wouldn’t be? Sometimes, you get what you deserve, and if that isn’t fucking horrifying, I don’t know what is.

Twilight Sad – It Won’t Be Like This All The Time

One thing you have to love about The Twilight Sad is they’re very much what it says on the tin. You want happy, upbeat pop tunes? Oh dear, you are looking in the wrong place. This is sad music, that also dabbles in anger and all the shitty things people are capable of inflicting on one another. (So, yes, custom made for the dystopia.) They are also very talented, and instead of mope music, you’re usually met with a sonic wash of guitars, sometimes threatening to overwhelm the darkness but never quite doing it. They have recorded two near-perfect albums in my estimation, that I have on hard repeat – Forget The Night Ahead and No One Can Ever Know. (Yes, even their album titles flirt with the dark side.) Honestly, this album title is optimistic in comparison to almost all their others. But I wouldn’t say this is a lighter album by any means. Is it almost perfect? No, but it is extremely good. And you can’t call an album that deals with so much grief, self-loathing, and betrayal a happy thing, but the band has been through some shit, and is aware that the world has caught up to them, and maybe we all need a bit of relief. There is a weird kindness in it. (Also, if you haven’t heard either Forget The Night Ahead or No One Can Ever Know, please give them a listen.)

Ladytron – Ladytron

Again, here’s another band that feels like it’s custom made for dystopian times. (They’d be a hell of a double bill with Health.) With their glossy beats and icy vocals, paired with some strange and often chilling lyrics, it’s like Ladytron was always trying to warn us, but we never quite heard them. Their latest album is full of further warnings, but also anger and disappointment. They know it’s all come off the rails, but they’re trying to move forward, as broken and bloody as they are. Still, it’s slick and polished, with that high shine that very few bands can project audibly, but Ladytron is great at that. They are a shiny, beautiful diamond that will fuck you up if you get too close. Always admirable.

Constant Smiles – John Waters

Not about our current dystopia! Named after everybody’s favorite filth elder, and part of what the band calls its “Divine Trash trilogy” – the first of which was named Divine, after the actor – this is a surprisingly mellow and tuneful soundtrack for whatever you’re doing. What does it have to do with John Waters? Damned if I know. But the music, which is a little shoegaze-y and a little modern psychedelia, is very pleasing, and sometimes, when it hits you just right, its like floating down a river. It’s a nice, brief spa day for your brain, and in these troubled times, it’s hard not to love that.

Vivian Girls – Memory

Yes, this band is aware that things are bad now, but respond with a bright, pop-y slice of shoegaze with a strange bit of positivity in its heart. If we’re going to get out of this mess in any fashion, we have to rely on each other, and this album has this “yay team” spirit that we so desperately need. In a time when little makes me think of happier times, this does. A beautifully unexpected surprise.

Torche – Admission

Can’t go anywhere without acknowledging my sludge metal pals, and Torche came out with a typically fine album this year. They’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, they’re just doing what they do, which is shove open the door and bludgeon you with riffs. And there’s something to be said for that kind of honest simplicity.

Sarah and The Safe Word – Red Hot & Holy

This is a hard album to explain, which is probably why I like it. It’s odd and propulsive, dropping in and out of various genres, sometimes in a single song. It’s serious and campy, catchy and arty, and queer as all get out. And Dig A Fancy Grave is the eat the rich anthem we’ve all been waiting for, and by all rights should have been the song of 2019.

Babel – Thirteen Exquisite Corpses

Okay, I’ll admit, this is a goddamn weird one. A drone ambient album by a drone ambient band, it’s hard to pull one song out of it. You really need to listen to the whole album as a piece. Will it make sense then? Not necessarily. But sometimes I need this trippy, weird as fuck stuff as a palate cleanser, and this album is weirdly beautiful.

Thom Yorke – Anima

Speaking of albums best listened to as a whole piece, Thom Yorke’s latest weirdo project is actually something of a triumph in general disquiet. Singly the songs are okay, but all together they’re slightly hallucinogenic. He also fits into the made for the dystopia slot too, as Radiohead’s been playing with those concepts since Ok Computer. What does any of this mean? Fuck if I know. But I’ve never heard someone sound so exhausted and emotionally bereft while singing, and that seems like it deserves some kind of mention.

Teeth of The Sea – Wraith

Not another weirdo instrumental band! But yes, it’s exactly that. I’m going to smack you all on the head with experimental music until you like it, and this album manages to tell a kind of story with hardly any vocals at all. No, it’s not necessarily happy – what’s your point? It’s still a journey worth taking.

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