30. clipping. – There Existed an Addiction to Blood
Drink it up. Blood is both healer and reaper in clipping.’s horrorcore art piece, a masterstroke which arranges stretched skin and body parts into fragments of stories, quickening our pulses with the adrenaline while never letting us off the hook for enjoying ourselves while human beings lose their lives. Daveed Diggs is the perfect rapper to walk this fine line. He intones like a robot in the second person, but writes like peak Stephen King, sinking into his characters completely and placing them in the context of their messy, insane, damaged lives. At its best, when clipping. combine ear-splitting harsh noise with banging rap, when Diggs marries existential and physical horror with unbelievable flows, There Existed an Addiction to Blood recalls, of all things, the fantastic digital age-anxiety attack of Childish Gambino’s “II. Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information)”.
So we end up with something like a concept album broken down into freeze-frame images, leaving the listener to fill in the blanks as clipping. love us to. Does the former student in “He Dead” buy silver bullets because he knows the werewolf of “Story 7”? Is the poor, doomed kid of the uncomfortably immersive “Run For Your Life” the one being displayed in a Deep Web red room in “The Show”? Is the suicidal meditation ritual outlined in “Attunement” a counterpoint to “All In Your Head”‘s spiritual possession? Does any of this really matter, when Diggs spits the best verse of the year on “Blood of the Fang” and the production on “La Mala Ordina” and “Club Down” goes that fucking hard? The answer is probably not, but scrambling for the subtle connections, meta-references and hints is part of the fun. It’s all blood, saviour or killer, between characters who kill for self-defense or kill for fun, run until their feet blister or die in the back of a taxi — it all comes back to blood. Drink it up. –Rowan
29. Jimmy Eat World – Surviving
Jimmy Eat World, moreso than any other band of their ilk, are locked in a constant internal war. Lush, romantic, tough-lessons-about-life Jimmy sometimes takes the lead, other times it’s the hard-rocking power pop side that comes out right. Like a whole lot of sadboi pop-punk fans I lean towards the former (and having just turned 23, you can guess which song I’m currently avoiding with a feeling a lot like dread), yet I’m also gently pleased that the latter side won out on Surviving.
Their shortest, and easily funnest album since 2001’s Bleed American, Surviving sees Jimmy Eat World refusing to let the pace slacken. Even when one of their all-time finest love songs in “Delivery” or the slow-burn epic “Recommit” tease out their slower side, it’s with the understanding that the strong rhythms will never cede their ground, as on the dreamy title track of Integrity Blues. The band are at their best finding new paths to familiar conclusions, whether that’s “One Mil” going full Weezer with some beta-male sappiness, “All the Way (Stay)” busting out a sax solo so ’80s I will be offended if the Community movie doesn’t use it for a John Hughes homage, or “Congratulations” with its much-hyped chug-fest ending.
I doubt if anyone will call Surviving their favourite Jimmy album ten years from now, but that’s somehow part of its oddball charm. The most consistent band of their era took a break from constantly outdoing themselves, and just did what comes naturally – throwing out songs other bands would trade an entire discography to write. Twenty years deep into an insanely good career, Jimmy Eat World are still finding small ways to deliver big surprises. –Rowan
28. Borknagar – True North
After nearly a quarter-century of prolific activity, it’s understandable that there might have been some reticence in spinning True North knowing that Vintersorg, Jens Ryland, and Baard Kolstad weren’t to be found in this iteration of Borknagar. While the album’s artwork parallels its sonic imagery, True North stands out in the Norwegian quintet’s discography because the band have flipped the script: rather than black metal with progressive and folk flourishes, the record is instead a predominantly progressive metal offering with black and folk metal elements seamlessly interwoven into an exceptionally melodic and viscerally expressive listening experience.
Bassist ICS Vortex returns to primary vocal duties, not dissimilar to the Quintessence days — but there’s an appreciable difference in his singing prowess between then and now, both in his cleans and in his growls and rasps. Part of it may be attributed to Jens Borgen’s masterful production, but Vortex sounds sublime on tracks like indisputable album highlight “Up North”. Lazare is no slouch, either, as the mesmerizing “Voices” is a wholly satisfying conclusion to the record. One of the album’s many strengths lies in their vocal interplay, and the duties are [nearly] equitably split across True North. As far as instrumentation goes, Lazare’s keys add vivid layers of warmth where appropriate, and newcomers Bjørn Rønnow and Jostein Thomassen flawlessly integrate themselves as if they’ve been longtime collaborators (the latter’s work in the frost-enveloped “Tidal” is particularly noteworthy).
Fans of the black metal-tinged Borknagar will still find lots to enjoy; the icy ethos is best represented in the roaring, sufficiently-Scandinavian opener “Thunderous”, the aforementioned “Tidal”, or the incendiary “The Fire That Burns”. Meanwhile, the resplendent “Lights” is another obvious highlight, and “Wild Father’s Heart” – a beautiful eulogy to founding member Øystein Garnes Brun’s father – spotlights the atmospheric side of the record. In all, True North is anything but recycling a tried-and-true formula; twenty-five years from now, it might be cited as the quintessential Borknagar record in their storied discography. –Jom
27. The Highwomen – The Highwomen
If the debut album by The Highwomen flew outside your radar, you missed perhaps the smoothest collaborative effort of the year. Brandi Carlile is the beating heart of the group – her powerful voice taking center stage when necessary – but every single member contributes in a memorable way. Whether it’s Maren Morris’ upbeat, sarcastic honky-tonk swagger of “Loose Change” or the opening powerhouse written by Carlile and Natalie Hemby, The Highwomen is crammed full of passion and attitude. It also has some notable additions such as Jason Isbell – arguably the male country star of the decade – providing some slick guitar twang on the addictive single “Redesigning Women”.
The variety throughout The Highwomen is part of what keeps pulling me back, but it wouldn’t be so affecting without such strong performances by all involved. The opener is a haunting Americana track that cuts you to the core right from its first breath – only the layered harmonies give it a glimmer of optimism. On the other hand, Amanda Shires gets a chance to show off just how fantastic she really is, with vocals that soar to the finish line on “Cocktail and a Song”. Whether you’re a country enthusiast or you’ve barely dabbled in the stuff, The Highwomen has a little something for everyone to enjoy. The supergroup’s debut stormed out of the gates swinging; there’s no doubt in my mind this is the album of its kind for 2019. Come for the infectious country pop melodies, stay for the heart-wrenching croons of the desolate slow-burners. You won’t be disappointed with this colorful and incredibly poignant gem of a record. –Atari
26. Solange – When I Get Home
When I Get Home is the ultimate triumph Solange Knowles has sought for many years; the record that is the culmination of years of seeking out the meaning of identity: the identity of the black culture, of being a woman, and of her worth as a person. Not to get too deep, but When I Get Home is this close to transforming into full-blown R&B therapy, with Solange inquiring into the intricacies of the culture in her own home and of those around her. A spoken word interlude, “Can I Hold the Mic”, opines of her own personal crisis and attempting to come to terms with the true difficulties of connecting with others and putting that to music: “I can’t be a singular expression of myself / too many manifestations / too many troubles.” Yet within such an existential dilemma and a struggle to find oneself, Solange does indeed come to a divine realization, long after the Playboi Carti and Gucci Mane features and after the intense introspection, does Solange figure it out: “You can work through me / You can say what you need in my mind / I’ll be your vessel / I’ll do it every time / And I won’t stop ’til I get it right.” In order to do right by others, she herself must open herself up to others and connect with them. In the great search for meaning, Solange found her own personal truth. –Frippertronics
25. PUP – Morbid Stuff
Everything great about PUP comes down to their attitude. From the band’s name, Pathetic Use of Potential — a quote from band leader Stefan Babcock’s grandma — to their sophomore record The Dream is Over, named after a remark by Babcock’s doctor when he was diagnosed with seemingly career-ending vocal cord injury, PUP thrive on spite. They’re snarky in a sincere way that allows them to fit difficult subject matter into light musical arrangements, not unlike parallel parking a car into a tight space in one seamless motion. Babcock has been having some pretty dark thoughts, and he’s going to air his grievances to you, but he’s gonna butter you up first.
The current kings of pop-punk always balance the bitter with the sweet with almost beach-bright and squeaky-clean guitar work to back up lyrics about drinking too much, hating everyone, and fucking up your life. There’s still plenty of punk anthems to be found on Morbid Stuff, but PUP have settled down a bit musically, especially on the epic “Scorpion Hill”, which is a new height for a scarily consistent band. The third verse is particularly harrowing — “My sweat-soaked mattress / Corner of the room / Cigarettes and matches / In the fading afternoon / And a picture of my kid, yeah, he’s smiling / It’s the first day of school” — and musically, it’s bombastic and brash in the middle with a somber beginning and ending. Essentially, “Scorpion Hill” is better than whatever your song of the year is. PUP get the job fucking done as Morbid Stuff is pulse-pumping-pop-punk-perfection. –Trebor.
24. Matana Roberts – COIN COIN Chapter Four: Memphis
“I speak memory, I sing an american survival through horn, song, sadness, a sometimes gladness. I stand on the backs of many people, from so many different walks of life and difference, that never had a chance to express themselves as expressively as I have been given the privilege. In these sonic renderings, I celebrate the me, I celebrate the we, in all that is now, and all that is yet to come or will be… Thanks for listening.” –Matana Roberts
Across four albums in her proposed 12-part series, Matana Roberts has written about history. The obvious interpretation can be immediately felt through her music’s long, disorienting assemblage of genres, a lineage that begins and detours and escapes through the trapdoors of blues, jazz, post-rock, folk, all tethered then unspooled in jagged compositions. Then too we hear it in Roberts’ spoken word poetry, the rich timbre of her voice that sharpens or serenades or howls through verses shaped from a thorough, if not life-long research into Black American history.
But to write about history is to accept a hidden duality to such a statement, where intent can foster in what we choose to frame through our limited construct of the past. And that I believe is where the COIN COIN Chapter series gains its significance beyond its stunning musical attributes (pivoting from the solo Chapter Three, Roberts is backed by four new players in her revolving band of multi-instrumentalists). Memory and research resolve themselves in real-time as Roberts lives and breathes; not unique to the art world, no, but rarely do we find an artist who so pointedly articulates the profound sense of being, of sketching a body of work that will one day fashion together with singular purpose, how this journey impresses upon her work and conjures new reflections of old memories, whether through the content of a poem or the ill-temper of her saxophone. COIN COIN Chapter Four: Memphis is a conscious and challenging distillation of a life between albums, and a compounding of all those before them. –Lewis
23. Xiu Xiu – Girl with Basket of Fruit
Listening to Xiu Xiu always means signing up for a wild ride. Forget might have been the closest to a gateway to their universe in terms of accessibility; still, Girl with Basket of Fruit makes sure to break you at some point. Perhaps the band’s most unconventional release yet, the LP builds up an insane amount of tension while being simply merciless. Jamie Stewart and Angela Seo discharge all the accumulated anger, sorrow, stress, and anxiety, blending them with ritual, mythology, or occult themes and imagery. The results are tales of humiliation, loss, unrequited love, mutilation, murder, addiction, and misogyny to name a few. They can be absurd at times, but mostly end up harrowing, downright awkward, or brutally blunt. Moreover, the fitting music takes every emotion to the next level, featuring several exotic percussion and stringed instruments, plus a multitude of synthesizers, piano, and extensive studio manipulation. Rarely are they playing a straightforward or comforting progression. There are occasional gentle moments; however, they usually unfold painful or macabre stories.
The whole experience is akin to reading a book where people describe their innermost issues and fears. You might be surprised, terrified, or unfazed, but you keep reading because it’s interesting at the very least. Xiu Xiu have pushed themselves over the edge with Girl with Basket of Fruit and the results paid off. Few artists manage to create such visceral, volatile music while keeping it tight, too. –Raul Stanciu
22. Russian Girlfriends – In the Parlance of Our Times
My list of Top Tracks on last.fm has stayed static for a decade, with no song on the list newer than 2008. That changed this year when I heard Russian Girlfriends’ In the Parlance of Our Times and proceeded to listen to closing track “Babylon is for Lovers” 82 times as of this writing. “White Guilt White Heat” follows close behind at 71 plays. Simply put, no album hit me harder than this hybrid of punk aggression and big rock moments, my personal favorite of 2019. Barely exceeding a half hour in runtime, it comes in, says what it wants to say, then gets out. And what does it have to say? Treatises on American expansionism, native genocide, and religious hypocrisy live beside songs about canine euthanasia, toxic relationships, and pissin’ off the homophobes. At the end, Russian Girlfriends leave us with the best song of the year, the one I listened to more than any other song in the last few months, the one where they tell me that I’ll never be alone. Regardless of what that says about me, I’m still not tired of hearing it. –Channing Freeman
21. Kishi Bashi – Omoiyari
Calling music ‘visual’ is usually a cop-out; a flighty critic’s tool used to describe music which makes the listener’s imagination do something. But on Omoiyari, the exuberant multi-instrumentalist Kishi Bashi makes music that incites the imagination and ensnares all the senses. “Penny Rabbit and Summer Bear”, with its wistful anamnesis, is alive with youth, summer, the ocean — a picture of sounds and images recalling an unlived memory that is real and vibrant enough to take the listener to that time and place. It’s filled with sights and sounds of summer, the smell of the ocean, the feeling of air — a breathless snapshot of a scene and memory.
His weighty exploration of the post-internment of Japanese-Americans is distilled into universal stories, outlining the struggles in the turbulent sociopolitical atmosphere of the country today. The theatrical “Summer of ’42” paints such an image, but the pervasive story of love gives the song a tragic an achingly human view. Kishi Bashi is a master of influencing his listeners to feel these things. Maybe it’s emotional manipulation, but it’s done in such a way that it doesn’t feel forced.
Omoiyari is a lovingly dedicated album that Kishi Bashi wants us to hear, one filled with stories and memories so deeply personal and affecting that it forces listeners to empathize. In a modern America where children are kept in cages — starved, sexually abused, and taken from their families — the album stands not only as a vital and important document, but a cautionary collection of tales. –Xenophanes
20. The National – I Am Easy to Find
Like Trouble Will Find Me meets EL VY, The National pursue a lighter direction that magnifies the holes of light in the darker atmospheres of Boxer, Trouble Will Find Me, and Sleep Well Beast; it sounds just as sprawling as those while feeling breezier overall. The tracklist might be a challenge for some to get through, as some experiments aren’t entirely successful and feel like filler in such a lengthy run time. The band are unhinged in many ways, emphasizing more spacious elements that approach ‘soundtracking emotional moments’-levels of Explosions in the Sky, like “Dust Swirls in Strange Light” and the enchanting outro of album highlight “So Far, So Fast”. The best they have to offer is where they sound most like themselves, with the straightforward ballad “Light Years”, high energy “Where is Her Head”, High Violet-era “Rylan”, and “Oblivions” all providing just as much variety and goodness as Sleep Well Beast. Both albums are like two sides of the same coin, with this one being the more reflective, grown-up evolution as the lyrics explore the duo of a complicated relationship from both perspectives. The band have always been for depressed white-collar yuppies, but they reach a new level of maturity here and continue to age gracefully. I Am Easy to Find isn’t quite as magnificent as The National’s classics, but it’s clear the band’s music is still just as elegant and passionate with rewarding new dimensions. –Benjamin Kuettel
19. The Dangerous Summer – Mother Nature
Pop-punk music that “feels like summer” is such a genre cliché that, when it occurs, it borders on self-parody. Of course none of the rules seem to apply to The Dangerous Summer, who in Mother Nature have crafted one of the warmest pop-punk offerings in recent memory without it sounding the slightest bit recycled. Their perpetual youth springs from AJ Perdomo’s heart-on-sleeve lyrics and his ever-sincere delivery of content that would sound half as affecting coming from any other vocalist. Perdomo’s passion and urgency has allowed The Dangerous Summer to mature rather than transform: while he anchors the ship, the rest of the band is free to add gorgeous wrinkles to a formula that was admittedly starting to wear a bit thin circa 2018’s self-titled venture. Mother Nature suffers no such stagnancy, from “It Is Real”‘s electronic intro/outro to the haunting autotune of “Better Light”. Again, they’re not quite shape-shifting so much as they are blooming within their own comfort zone – as evidenced by the fact that the majority of Mother Nature is still very much a familiar canvas of crowd-pleasers. On “Way Down”, Perdomo hits those gruff notes that practically reduce you to tears; on the title track, he again tugs at your heartstrings with emotive lyrical gems (“You surrender the pain left behind those eyes / You have to let that change you”); meanwhile, cornerstones like “Virginia” and “Violent Red” each feel like a brilliant melding of Golden Record meets Warpaint. Pop-punk may be a dying/dead scene overflowing with embarrassingly dated techniques, but as elder statesmen, The Dangerous Summer are immune to their decaying surroundings. They could write ten more albums about the virtues of summer love and the anguish of having your heart broken, and we’d still hang on their every word. That’s what happens when you care this much about your craft: the tangible emotion carries over to the consumer and resonates on a level deeper than any trend. As long as Perdomo continues to feel everything so beautifully and put it to music, The Dangerous Summer will be relevant. With perhaps their best album ever coming in 2019, Mother Nature is proof of that. –Sowing
18. FKA Twigs – Magdalene
Tahliah Barnett is one those rare artists who are capable of transforming their personal traumas into great art. Following on her major health problems and tumultuous break-up, Magdalene is an achingly personal record that never shies away from strong and oftentimes painful emotions. However, Barnett emerges more resilient than ever before, just as if the creation process of this album had some therapeutic effect on her. It’s easy to see why Twigs chose the biblical figure of Mary Magdalene as her role model and inspiration: she perfectly embodies the duality between vulnerability and seductiveness that’s always been present in the artist’s work. This time around though, the futuristic R’n’B of her debut and the bombast of her amazing M3LL155X EP are traded for a more toned-down approach. Magdalene is an expansive art pop record at its core, with a wide range of influences ranging from Bjork to Kate Bush. Twigs’ unique voice and memorable melody lines are paramount to the record’s huge appeal, as she’s equally adept at soul-crushing ballads and empowering anthems. Add to that an excellent multifaceted production from a slew of esteemed collaborators and you get a break-up album for the ages. –Greg.
17. Great Grandpa – Four of Arrows
John Jeremiah Sullivan once described Axl Rose as “a poet of the dark, unresolved coda.” Much has been made of the ’90s-inspired sound that Great Grandpa use to inspired effect on Four of Arrows, but more than all that, it is Axl’s squandered legacy that they revitalize. Here’s another thing you need to know about Great Grandpa: those lyrics, the ones that sound so much like the desperate questions that Axl used to scream, share authorship among each of the five band members. But singer Alex Menne somehow imbues each word with the personality and emotion of the great singer-songwriters, and the musicians, as lyrical collaborators, know just when to twist the sonic knife in all the right places. In 2019, no band performed as tightly as Great Grandpa, and no vocalist was as effective as Menne. “Do you feel the same thing that I do?” they sing on “Mono no Aware”, over and over, sounding like Dolores O’Riordan singing words that Axl wrote, and the guitar sounds like sonar pulses in the background, searching ever outward, finding nothing but a beautiful impermanence. –Channing Freeman
16. Serpent Column – Mirror in Darkness
Bear with me here — Serpent Column’s Mirror in Darkness has some of the best skramz moments of the decade. In its black metal bones lies a marrow of mid-’90s emo with touches of modern death metal. Touted as kin to Deathspell Omega (what “weird metal” album isn’t?), this one-man black metal project turns savage sounds into something surprisingly layered and emotive. But the riffs and pained vocals recall pageninetynine and Orchid more so than Deathspell (tell me that riff in “Ausweg” couldn’t be found in a Converge song!).
Notable as they are, these moments are just a small part of a vibrant tapestry, uncommon from bands like Serpent Column. The album is a collection of different sounds across the metal spectrum, and blended in such a way that it initially feels simple; a basic cacophony of modern black metal buzzwords. Yet the challenge lies under the raw noise and barrage of blast beats. Dig deeper, and Mirror in Darkness reveals itself as a challenging and uncompromisingly heady record which stands out amongst its comparatively rote kin. –Xenophanes
15. Tyler, the Creator – IGOR
IGOR is a poignant rebuke to the idea of sacrificing one’s idiosyncrasies in the face of growth and ambition, that we must curtail antics to be taken seriously as an artist. Here is an experiment in compressed soul and pop music that, despite the notable shift away from the structures of hip-hop, is a masterful summation of Tyler, the Creator’s predilections as a producer and songwriter, a fully realized concept album that deepens with every melodic turn. Coming on the heels of 2017’s Flower Boy (itself a stirring career high that helped Tyler shed his image as this generation’s juvenile musical savant), IGOR reveals itself to be a moving portrait of queer love and self-care in 2019, full of the humor and pathos we have come to expect from Tyler, the Creator. It is to Tyler’s immense credit over the course of this decade that it seems only natural now to say so. –Lewis
14. Copeland – Blushing
Blushing is the best executed concept album in recent memory. The atmosphere is awash in a mesmerizing ambiance that immediately plunges your senses into the ethereal. The theme, laid out by the gorgeous whispers of “Pope” (“Are you awake?”) and “It Felt So Real” (“Then you just smiled, like you woke up”), is also continually built upon by frontman Aaron Marsh’s brilliant lyricism. The album takes you on the journey of a man who – while immersed in this elaborate dream – finds perfect love, has his heart shattered, questions the meaning of life, and then awakens. In the process, Aaron Marsh establishes himself as one of the greatest penmen in all of indie-rock, with lyrical brushstrokes that depict that ever-famous rush that comes from love at first sight (“I’ll be kissing rhythms from your neck, chasing melodies around your skin”), unrequited pining for a relationship (“How long will I yearn for the warmth of your center, while I spin in your perimeter?”), the subsequent emotional fallout (“A blur of streetlights, through my tears they’re beautiful / I might crash my car just to feel something pull my world apart”), and the brutal reality of isolation (“These days I’m terrified of silence, my thoughts unbearable in the quiet”). Marsh offers a silver lining on “Strange Flower”, which is a moment of redemption and heart-wrenching transparency: “Call me desperate, at times I am for you / call me fuck up, at least I pull myself up.” The emotional rollercoaster is dizzying enough to make you feel like you’re in a dream, which is precisely the goal.
The cleverness of Blushing actually resides outside of its spellbinding romance, however; it’s the way that Marsh uses heartbreak as a platform for existentialism that elevates this to true art. The idea of one’s place in the world surfaces frequently until it becomes a motif: we see it on “Pope” when he laments, “I never belonged on this pebble where I stand” and again on “Skywriter” when he ponders how his existence will leave an impact after he’s gone: “Some nights he screams into the infinite, tries to write a line that will outlive him.” The album continually calls into question what is actually real: if you fall in love in a dream, are those feelings valid? Is it any less crazy than thinking that perfect love exists in the real world, or that it will ever last? Is love – or life for that matter – anything more than what we make it? These are the kinds of things Marsh waxes poetic about atop a canvas of cold, unfeeling ambiance and warm instrumental flourishes. Blushing is practically Shakespearean in its drama and intrigue, blurring the line between the dream world and reality; between romance and existence; between life and death. This might be the quintessential breakup record of the year (decade?), but anyone who listens to it and begins to dissect its many intricacies knows that it’s so much more. –Sowing
13. Angel Olsen – All Mirrors
Or: The Re-education and liberation of Angel Olsen.
There’s a lot to dissect on All Mirrors, not least of which that confrontational banner. A title that reflects so much vitriol and emotional weight, so much spartan restraint applied to hide the inception of such an extroverted work. Healing by way of publicly weathering storms as a means of assuaging dignity. In less confident hands, All Mirrors could have been calamitous, and even with Olsen holding the reins this still makes for claustrophobic listening. All Mirrors is all sound all of the time; intense, massive in scope and deafening with its emotional heft. Its intimate provenance contradicts its grandeur though; Angel turns her self-interrogation and examinations on love into grand-scale theatrics, commanding attention with enough searing aural violence to fill halls with her declarations. Voice moving through and above deafening swells of orchestral lamentations, framed by echo and heartbreak, yet standing tall like some biblical emblem.
Re-examination does little to dampen the solace here, though Olsen remains steadfast by the album’s dying moments. All Mirrors doesn’t adhere to the usual stereotypes of such overt heart-on-sleeve illuminations; she instead has constructed a support system, one that props up and provides a fitting dignity to its listening faithful. Yes, this album begins with anger, denial and confusion but they’re ultimately rejected with a powerful grace that gives way to strength and authority. An emotional maelstrom, but Olsen weathers the storm appropriately. –Dev
12. Tool – Fear Inoculum
Arguably one of the most anticipated metal albums of all time, Fear Inoculum was lining up with destiny to fail spectacularly. It’s to be expected when you leave a thirteen-year gap in between albums – culture and trends change, hype gets inflated to immeasurable levels, and more importantly, people change. During the 10,000 Days era of Tool they were easily my favourite band, but by the middle of the 2010s my interest in them had waned exponentially: I had moved on to different kinds of music and accepted the band were never coming back. Hell, even when Tool had finally released Fear Inoculum‘s title-track, I still had little hope in them meeting the high expectations everyone had set for the album, but moreover, the song itself was far from noteworthy and echoed a 10,000 Days backdrop with a B-side presentation to it. However, in typical Tool fashion, against all the odds, here we are at the end of 2019 and Fear Inoculum stands tall as one of my favourite releases from not only this year but potentially the decade.
Upon hearing the album in its entirety, it’s clear “Fear Inoculum” is the safe introduction to warm you back into their world, because Fear Inoculum – like most things Tool are involved in – is the antithesis of modern music practices. With a run time of just under ninety minutes, this album forces you to slow down and appreciate the setting, the mood, and the songwriting. It requires repeated listens to fully grasp and reap the album’s rewards, and it fights fervently against the fast food consumption mantra pegged to the way we listen to music these days; its proclivities ensure that you don’t get that quick-hit satisfaction from your first couple of runs through it. It wants your undivided attention. And honestly, Tool’s contrarian ideals have always been based at the heart of their music, but even by their standards they pushed it to the brink here – any other band doing the same thing would have surely failed in their endeavours. The reason for Tool’s success is obvious: it’s down to sublime songwriting. Album closer “7empest”, for example, is easily one of the band’s most ambitious, self-indulgent masterpieces, filled with a myriad of guitar solos and long-winded, hypnotic instrumental parts. But its extravagance isn’t the focal point, it’s the way it is intertwined with elements that hearken back as far as the Ænima era; a progressive epic that pokes at nostalgia whilst moving forwards, creatively.
Climb over the hump of Fear Inoculum‘s prosaic introductory piece and you’ll discover a flawless masterpiece filled with awe-inspiring musicianship, resilient vocal performances from Maynard, and a structure that will have you transfixed to its methods right up until the very end. It’s not a departure from their last couple of albums; instead it refines the framework and centres itself around hedonism – the end result formulates a journey I haven’t heard this well-crafted in a very long time. Fear Inoculum doesn’t just meet the hype, it exceeds it the only way Tool know how. –Simon
11. Vi Som Alskade Varandra Sa Mycket – Det Onda. Det Goda. Det Vackra. Det Fula.
Det Onda… is a masterful weaving of tortured cries and sunlit, gleaming landscapes, its guitar lines like the glimmer of snow on a clear winter day. What sets it apart is that its atmospheric, twinkling elements aren’t just superficial smatters of glitter — there really is the presence of pain and optimism alike, coexisting both uneasily and harmoniously. “Hjärtats förlorade slag”, one of my personal favourites from the album, begins with a simple, yet heartbreaking verse that juxtaposes Arvid Ringborg’s vocals with a gently paced melody that explodes into a shimmering post-rock riff; the song finds steelier resolve towards the end, with a somewhat foreboding bass note that underpins a tense bridge. The way Det Onda… concludes is also an interesting surprise that belies its more uplifting side — the sunny “Ensamhet urholkar själen”, with its major-key climbs, gives way to “Vilse i pannkakan”, a spirited closer that also adds some ambiguous darkness to the album. –Claire Q.