50. Bon Iver – i,i
Bon Iver decides to look outward now, a nice evolution from the introverted and elusive nature of 22, A Million. His latest is a bit more inviting and less fragmented, while maintaining the unique sounds of Million. More than ever, Justin Vernon sounds more open here, crooning of his belief in album highlight “Faith” and generally providing a brighter musical tone. The vulnerable nature of “Hey, Ma” and “Marion” recall the more traditional nature of Bon Iver’s earlier work, but like many other tracks, they end just as you become familiar with them. i,i feels like a series of vignettes from a certain point of view; a kaleidoscope of moments in time that capture feelings, important events, and revelations with his usual quirky lyrical style and fusing of musical styles and tones. –Benjamin Kuettel
49. The Tallest Man On Earth – I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream.
There’s never been anything particularly flashy about Kristian Matsson’s music. Simplicity and a raw earnestness have been the Swedish songwriter’s calling card for well over a decade, lightly touched up by sparse, elegant instrumentation and a seesaw wail of a voice that has, over the years, matured into an incisive, finely-honed blade. Nearly a decade after 2010’s seminal The Wild Hunt, I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream encapsulates everything that Matsson still does better than all his contemporaries, relating greyscale narratives that slowly come alive with color as his melodies unfurl – hues of red, green, and many, many shades of blue. There’s been some criticism of Matsson releasing a record that continues mining the same bedrock that he’s been excavating his whole career; where Dark Bird Is Home dealt bluntly with Matsson’s divorce, I Love You examines the aftermath, the loneliness of hotel bars in nameless second-rate cities and the disorienting impermanence of a life on a constant road. To be disappointed in Matsson’s unwillingness to depart from what may be considered a tired formula, however, is to miss some of the most resonant, rewarding music of his career. I Love You is emotionally devastating and musically assured, a contrast that speaks to Matsson’s persistent growth as a songwriter and the deft production choices sprinkled throughout. The music, shifting from upbeat stomps to wistful dissonance, reflects an ongoing struggle to regain his footing, to find some center in a man seemingly lost in two places at once: away from the only home he’s known in the form of a person he can no longer go back to. Yet the beauty of I Love You is that Matsson is still able to find some romance in those empty, untethered moments in the middle of nowhere while he searches for some way to regain a stability he may never find again. If this is The Tallest Man on Earth spinning his wheels, I’ll be happy to stay in place a little longer, listening. –Rudy K.
(tie) 47. The Comet is Coming – Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery
Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery is exactly what you’d expect jazz to become in 2019. The modern sound of electronic drum and bass permeates the experience, providing our futuristic landscape, while the constant improvisation of horns and reeds keeps the sound human and jazz – whether they’re getting the same semi-robotic distortion or not. “Summon the Fire” and “Super Zodiac” have an intense, danceable energy, while tracks like “Birth of Creation”, “Blood of the Past”, and “Unity” are more tribal and ritualistic, but all of the tracks synthesize into a journey for horn-centered improvisational music from its early roots to its place in a society where the cars are only just beginning to drive themselves. –Thompson D. Gerhart
(tie) 47. Desolate – Exceptionalism
Exceptionalism, for all its purported ego, stands as an unassuming master work for Sven Weiseman’s alter ego Desolate. Slowly transitioning away from the kind of atmospheric garage shufflers that became the plug to fill the void that was Burial shying away from doing anything Burial to something more mysterious and ethereal has truly breathed new life into Weiseman’s already impeccable pedigree. In turns rapturous and melancholic, Exceptionalism glides on threads of picturesque histories, twisting and pirouetting through panoramas of cavernous luster. What truly elevates this release though is how simply the record is presented – there’s no ordained pomp or ceremony, just the most welcome overburdening of the senses. Exceptionalism melts into the marrow; beauty and conviction are in abundance here, and comfort and motivation are both provoked from this. Unflinching in its depth and unwavering in its attempts at meditative seduction, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better release this year that throws everything at you in the hopes that you’ll do absolutely nothing in return. –Dev
46. Big Thief – Two Hands
I’ve known – truly known, not just fleetingly – Big Thief’s music for less than a month and they’ve already bruised my soul in the gentlest of ways. Adrianne Lenker’s lyrics are cryptic enough that when they abruptly become plain you sit the fuck up and pay attention, like when “Shoulders” rides that sweet lullaby melody straight into the “blood of the man who killed my mother with his hands” chorus, or how “Cut My Hair” takes the album’s distorted self-image and anxiety and reduces it to a plea for a haircut; or when, of course, Lenker screams, “It’s not the hunger revealing” and changes the landscape of the entire record. U.F.O.F. is clean and pristine in its own way, but I think Two Hands sits a little closer to the chest, much as it lets imperfections and studio hiss bleed across the mic. It’s brilliant how they released these albums in the wrong order, forcing us now to look back and re-evaluate: the only way I can imagine hearing them is to let Two Hands cut, scald and excoriate you, making it all the sweeter when U.F.O.F. bathes and cleans your wounds. –Rowan
45. Counterparts – Nothing Left to Love
In the span of ten years with six full-length releases, Counterparts have fine-tuned and perfected their blend of metallic melodic hardcore into a well-greased, powerful machine. On Nothing Left to Love, vocalist Brendan Murphy continues to be the heart and soul of the band: dire, life-beaten lyrics collide with despondent vocals, but the strength here is in that delivery of his, that charisma, which continues to have legions of fans flock to each subsequent album and sing (yell) back at Counterparts’ live shows. The riffs fly and collide like normal; everything about Nothing Left to Love is very by-the-books Counterparts. But that also means it still measures up to the high-quality standards of the band’s past work, too, if not being some grand next evolutionary step for them as artists. You come to Counterparts knowing what you’ll get, and Nothing Left to Love will absolutely not let you down. –Jared P.
44. Opeth – In Cauda Venenum
Opeth managed to end this decade with the strongest material from their ongoing progressive rock odyssey. In Cauda Venenum sums up into a very cohesive whole, with previous experimentation in structure and versatility, while heavily boosting the emotional side. Its contrasts are gorgeous, using gentle, melancholic acoustic segments amid sturdy rhythms. Everything flows amazingly well throughout the epic, 70-minute journey. Front man Mikael Åkerfeldt nicely balanced the wandering progressions with the melodic detours here. Most importantly, he boldly sang some of his most emotional hooks that really do justice to the presented story. There’s more passion and power in his voice than we were previously accustomed to. As we are led into vulnerable territory (“Lovelorn Crime”, “The Garroter”, or “All Things Will Pass”), the soft heart of the LP unfolds. The results are above expectations and also opened new doors for the group to further explore next. –Raul Stanciu
43. Periphery – Periphery IV: Hail Stan
Periphery IV: Bad Subtitle has, shockingly, finally found the balance between bombast, melody, and structure that the band have been simultaneously winding towards and away from for the better part of the decade. It doesn’t feel like Misha Mansoor and company have given up much in the way of their polyrhythmic roots, but something in the spacing of their melodies, breakdowns, time signature changes, and assorted prog metal bells and whistles gives P4 an authentic, naturally-evolving sound that continues to carry the band’s signature bravado and excess while finally catering to the way your brain wants to process music.
The real question is whether or not good ol’ Stan could do us a favor and convince Periphery to write better subtitles for their albums now. A record this good deserves better. –Thompson D. Gerhart
42. Flying Lotus – Flamagra
Whatever your thoughts ended up being surrounding Flylo’s last LP You’re Dead! was always going to be a difficult body of work to follow up. Steven Ellison has always weathered a fair amount of well-deserved acclaim throughout his career, and while his fascinatingly morbid approach to life’s last great mystery might not have been his most notable of works, as a statement of intent it remains as his most profound, his most defining — but also his most daunting. Flamagra pares back a little on the grandiosity, and it remains all the more vital for it. Five years in the making, dining with David Lynch and eternal burning fires on the hilltop aside, Flamagra doesn’t require existential tomfoolery to be consumed. It succeeds by acting like an excursion back to the more stylistically smoother elements of his earlier works, while retaining all the flash and the technical ferocity he’s accumulated over the years. The album is still a dense and abstruse affair, riddled with impenetrable passages that flash and pierce like helicopter lights over LA skies, but it all feels more remarkably palatable and succinct. A kaleidoscopic and energetic verve permeates this album at every turn, and while its intricacies might be a touch more normalized than what Flylo has been accustomed to knocking out recently, the worlds created on Flamagra are as every bit elaborate and shockingly inventive as every thing that’s come before it. A rush of memories captured in fleeting moments doesn’t stop this album from being a boldly cohesive and crucial entry in the evidence for Flylo’s continued acceptance as the most forward thinking beatmaker of our time. Life after death indeed. –Dev
41. Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind
Slipknot’s rather obvious decline this past ten years brought little hope for We Are Not Your Kind, to put it politely. However, like a lot of the older metal acts this year, they’ve defied all the odds and served up a record that represents everything the band is about. This is easily the best album Slipknot have produced in fifteen years. The band sit on a razor’s edge, balancing their accessible anthemic choruses with the instrumental brutality of their former years. Long has Corey been a detriment to Slipknot, serving up complacency and banality for his vocal performances; now, here he can proudly proclaim to be the leader he once was. The fire in his belly is evident, and the album as a whole sounds like a calling to the band’s visceral years, only with a more mature handling on the songs. This is easily the biggest surprise of the year, so if you were reluctant to check it out initially, it’s well worth giving a go. –Simon
40. James Blake – Assume Form
You’d be forgiven for thinking Assume Form narcissistic, at least in comparison to Blake’s other works. Though the musician appears in some form or another on all three prior album covers, it’s never with as much confidence, as little distortion, as on his latest. Blake stares past the viewer, as though through a mirror, striking a pose signalling either the artist’s despair or his feeling himself. Whichever, I think Assume Form reflects a genuine attempt at overcoming despair via self-affirmation. To be sure, the album is, in spite of being Blake’s poppiest — dare I say happiest to date — still a moody affair. But on it, Blake displays a confidence (in himself, his anxieties, his relationships) that makes Assume Form his most intoxicating to date. –BlushfulHippocrene
39. La Dispute – Panorama
In spite of some big moments (at least one per song, really), something about Panorama feels effortless. For some, that might pose a problem; after all, La Dispute have always been about the melodrama. What’s striking, though, is that in spite of this seeming effortlessness, the melodrama remains: it’s in “YOU ASCENDANT”‘s preoccupation with death; in the huge, shouted-word chorus of “VIEW FROM OUR BEDROOM WINDOW”; in the title “ANXIETY PANORAMA”, all caps. It’s just that these moments are, ironically, overshadowed by the band’s increased mastery over subtlety, their more developed confidence in La Dispute’s softer songwriting. “YOU ASCENDANT”‘s climax is, for this reason, nowhere near as heartrending on first instance as, say, a “King Park”; its final minute, however – its literal and emotional crescendo – feels far more hard-earned. Jordan Dreyer has, at last, come to terms with the searching, the uncertainty. To what end? I don’t know. –BlushfulHippocrene
38. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Infest the Rats’ Nest
I don’t know what decade King Gizzard (and his Lizard Wizard) are stuck in, but time travelers of the world, please let them be. The insanely catchy psyched-out proto-thrash of Infest the Rats’ Nest strikes a surprising complement to its space-traveling futurism and pseudo-environmentalist message. Who would think that refrains of a guttural “THERE IS NO PLANET B!” reprised throughout an album with the punk roots and fast-but-not-’90s-fast riffing of early metal would be so damn astonishing to us in 2019? This sort of sound is steadily becoming lost to time and its sudden reemergence may be a contributor, but it’s the absurd genre-chameleon talent of King Gizzard that makes Infest the Rats’ Nest a piece out of time that’s both relevant and impressive in today’s cosmic space. –Thompson D. Gerhart
37. Tim Bowness – Flowers at the Scene
Tim Bowness goes for a classic sound here, but in no way is it redundant or a throwback to something you’ve heard before. The album traverses a range of moods, some more successful than others, and is strongest in the last third with highlights like “Borderline”, “Ghostlike”, and “Killing to Survive”. An impressive roster of guest musicians add their talent to the project, including Andy Partridge, Peter Hammill, and Steven Wilson. The diversity is welcome and recalls Wild Opera from his band with Steven Wilson, No-Man. Bowness’ vocals are as strong as ever and the songwriting is immediate and even catchy in places, particularly the title track and “Borderline”. Bowness has proven a remarkable ability to churn out fantastic music this year with this and the new No-Man. He’s created an impressive roster of solo albums this whole past decade culminating with this, an unpredictable record that strikes a fine balance of being eclectic and accessible. –Benjamin Kuettel
36. Black Midi – Schlagenheim
The debut of London genre-bending luminaries Black Midi is in a class by itself. It almost seems like the band just selected a myriad of divergent genres to create some music out of them. Yet, they succeeded tremendously producing a record that’s equally complex, visceral and batshit crazy, a surprising amalgam of noise rock, math rock, post-punk and jazz fusion that may confuse some listeners used to tried-out formulas of popular music. In fact, Schlagenheim needs time to draw you in and exudes its allure with subsequent listens. When it does so, you’re in for a treat as superbly crafted dissonance is complemented by totally unhinged vocals and the permeating atmosphere of mystery. It’s not all about the noise and schizoid mindset though. Black Midi provide some respite from the outbursts of seemingly uncontrolled noise with effectively spaced-out build-ups, which makes every song into a trippy, one-of-a-kind experience. This is a mightily impressive debut which shows that their potential for growth is limitless. –Greg.
35. Soen – Lotus
Soen have settled into a dependable place as a progressive metal supergroup to be regarded as more than just the Tool clones they were once known as. The addition of keyboards adds color to their main sound, providing a nice contrast from the heavier sections and some quiet, reflective moments as well. Lotus further establishes a confidence for the band to be themselves and follow their own musical path. They’ve held their own and evolved into something special this decade, being among the best of the genre in that time. –Benjamin Kuettel
34. Wicca Phase Springs Eternal – Suffer On
I felt embarrassed, maybe, listening to Wicca Phase Springs Eternal in high school. Tigers Jaw was fine; Adam McIlwee was not. If I loved it – and God knows, deep down, I did – it had to be justified by some thin veil of irony only the initiated were privy to, an intentional glibness on the part of McIlwee that said, ‘I know this shit ain’t good, man; I know I can’t sing, but that’s the point.’ It might still be the point – one doesn’t listen to Wicca Phase for his technical prowess – but let’s face it, Suffer On is nothing if not sincere. It wears its heart on its sleeve and isn’t afraid to show its hand at first instance. Which isn’t to say there’s nothing to it – there is – but if there is a “point”, it’s its unabashedness: Suffer On marries overproduced (i.e., Will Yip-handled) acoustic emo music with trendy hook-driven pop trap and shameless four-on-the-floor(ish) bombast with little irony to genuinely magnificent results. –BlushfulHippocrene
33. Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin¿
Though the question Danny Brown’s latest poses is clearly a rhetorical wisecrack – that punctuation mark brooks no dissent about that – the answer would be: uhh… not really? While it would overstate the case to suggest that this represents a polar opposite to 2017’s This Is A Statement™ Atrocity Exhibition, it’s certainly a lot more fun, a lot more boastful, a lot more japing and less introspective and — oh, right. The hybrid.
We’ve seen Danny focalise his hybrid personae to effect before, but never across albums: this one is all hedonistic Danny, trying to “live his best life” and positing “what’s in the dark, always come to light” across jaunty, soulful beats, including three excellently narcotic-OD ones by Q-Tip. The whole thing feels different and could be accused of being mellow, or not treating subjects with the gravity they deserve, but what makes uknowhatimsayin¿ great is knowing that Danny is still an iconoclast – and that for the last ten years he hasn’t been so damn stressed. Ever seen a roach with babies have babies? Haven’t seen it but I think I’ve heard it. –Winesburgohio
32. Moon Tooth – Crux
I’m a simple man. I heard catchy, modern metal with saxophones in “Trust” and I was sold. Crux is an album with roots in modern metal from the Periphery school of aggressive lows, but with a slower, more deliberate approach that rises above with progressive accents like the twang of “Awe at All Angles”, the piercing keyboards of “Musketeers”, and the sparse use of that sweet, sweet sax on “Trust”.
Crux is an album built on bending conventional structures, but never quite breaking them; writing tight, crushing lows, but counterbalancing them with moments of appropriate air and melody. It’s this duality that grants Crux incredible crossover appeal to both those that want something they can bang their head to on the open road and those who want an album they can meditate over and get lost in on a quiet night at home.
Either experience offers an opportunity to discover a new nuance inserted masterfully into the album by Moon Tooth, making it a pleasure to revisit again and again. –Thompson D. Gerhart
31. Torche – Admission
One of the most rewarding albums in Torche’s catalog so far, Admission displays a more mature sound while retaining the qualities of highlights such as Harmonicraft or Meanderthal. Featuring a diverse range of earworms, the quartet switches from punk (“From Here”, “What Was”), to sludgy doom (“Times Missing”, “Infierno”), as well as shoegaze-oriented, alternative rock-on-steroids numbers (the title track, “Changes Come”). The fuzz-drenched riffs are always really dense and groovy, whereas the pounding drums push them forward as much as possible. It’s been a while since the band felt this inspired and rejuvenated, so you can feel their enthusiasm seeping throughout the tracks. Admission‘s energy is infectious; plus, the harder it kicks, the more fun it becomes. –Raul Stanciu