In this article, Jon Lindblom lists his top five albums of the year.

5. Loraine James – Reflection (Hyperdub)

To someone like me, who is a big fan of electronic music that brings together elements of club and pop music with an experimental edge, listening to the work of Loraine James is always exciting as this is what she does brilliantly. And her second album, Reflection, is certainly somewhat of a tour de force of contemporary club music filtered through her exciting experimental mindset. As often with this kind of music, the latter particularly manifests itself in terms of the rhythms – which are as varied as compelling throughout the album and that also work brilliantly alongside the large number of guest vocalists, as well as James’ own, which powerfully amplify its pop elements similarly to how the rhythms fuel its experimental side.

4. Sunn O))) – Metta, Benevolence BBC 6 Music: Live on the Invitation of Mary Anne Hobbs (Southern Lord)

For me, this is actually Sunn O)))’s best release since 2009’s Monoliths and Dimensions, and probably their best live recording ever. Based on compositions from 2019’s Life Metal and Pyroclasts, the most exciting thing with Metta, Benevolence is how it augments the three chosen tracks to the point where they basically feel like new compositions. The first two tracks from Pyroclasts powerfully incorporates Anna von Hausswolff’s synth and wordless chants, whereas the extended, 32-minute version of ‘Troubled Air’ from Life Metal adds a beautiful trombone solo by Steve Moore. These additions are not just beautiful in themselves – they yet again showcase how the band’s many collaborators all provide new perspectives on, and resonances with, their basic wall of heavy drones (and vice versa).

3. Arca – KICK ii (XL)

2. Arca – KicK iii (XL)

Towards the end of the year, Arca put out no less than four(!) more parts in the series of albums that began last year with KiCk I. Unsurprisingly for someone with my musical taste, it is the first two (more club-oriented) albums that stand out the most. They are very much a continuation of the more pop-oriented style of KiCk I, even though they slowly slide into more and more experimental trajectories. This is particularly evident on the second part, which (brilliantly) opens with a few more straightforward dembow bangers until Arca’s skills of sonic deconstruction become dominant. And the third part is all about the latter, in the form of a labyrinthine sonic construction, similar to last year’s brilliant @@@@ (in fact, KICK ii and KicK iii’s mixture of pop and experimental club somewhat mirror KiCk I and @@@@), whose extraordinary formal complexity for me only was trumped by the record that tops this list.

1. Low – Hey What (Sub Pop)

On Hey What, Low continues the remarkable transformation of their sound that was first introduced on 2018’s great Double Negative. Like with that record, it may be referred to as an expansion of the possibilities of rock music in the tradition of bands such as Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine – but this is at the same time also a bit misleading, since they do not sound like them at all. On the contrary, what is so exciting about Hey What and its predecessor is how unique they both are. Indeed, this is probably the most exiting take on rock that I have heard since Swans The Seer (2012) and its two follow-ups. For listening to Hey What, particularly for the first few times, is certainly an experience of genuine confusion and disorientation (in a good way) that comes with encountering something really new. It is a kind of ‘noise rock’, but done in a compellingly original way that is oriented around the contrast between the dual harmonic vocals of the two band-members (often unprocessed and positioned very loudly and prominently in the mix) and what can only be described as an instrumental maelstrom of remarkable formal complexity (of noise, loops, drone and ambient). This contrast between vocals of a more traditional kind and rock music moving towards a kind of maximal sonic abstraction (also through electronic instrumentation) is indeed what makes this not just the best album of the year in my book, but also one of the best rock albums in a long time. And the fact that this is Low’s 13th album 28 years into their career as a band makes it even more compelling, since it is not often that you see that kind of reinvention at this point in a band’s career.