In this article, Jon Lindblom lists his favourite albums of 2019.
Another year where deconstructed dance music has been the most central sonic theme for me. It had a lot to offer in 2019, with plenty of releases that I hold as some of its best so far (as can be seen below). Other than that, it was a year with many new albums and a few comebacks by artists that I value a lot – yet which nevertheless did not make a huge impression on me this time, compared to most of their earlier releases (e.g. Swans, Jenny Hval, Deathprod, King Midas Sound, Earth and Klein). Yet some, like those by Tool and FKA twigs, turned out to be just as good as I had hoped.
10. Holly Herndon – PROTO (4AD)
Celebrating the distribution of intelligence in everything from microorganisms to humans and artificial intelligences, PROTO is another compelling concept-album by Herndon (following the great Platform from 2015). Once again putting the synthetically augmented voice at the centre – this time also reinforced by a vocal ensemble and an A.I. baby – the album convincingly synthesises folk singing and live training sessions with processed electronic vocals and contributions from the A.I., in forms ranging from the intimate to the epic and the compellingly experimental.
9. Debit – System EP (NAAFI)
Debit’s music oscillates between ambient and club, of which the latter constitutes the most interesting side of her work for me. This latest EP is all about the club profile of Debit, and compellingly synthesises techno, footwork and industrial with sounds of her native Mexico (more specifically, so-called tribal guarachero). Like artists such as Nkisi and Deena Abdelwahed, it is indeed Debit’s ability to synthesise sonic components well-known in the Western world with sounds that have been marginalised by Western modernity that makes her music such a fascinating listen.
8. Aïsha Devi – S.L.F. EP (Houndstooth)
With S.L.F., Aïsha Devi continues to put out great music in the style that she took up once she switched from her previous moniker Kate Wax to using her real name: a compelling form of deconstructed pop/club music that draws upon genres such as techno, trap and trance – with her warped vocals always providing an important extra dimension to the solid instrumental work. S.L.F. may only be an EP, but still showcases everything that is great about Devi’s ‘aetheraves’.
7. AQXDM – Infrared EP (Houndstooth)
AQXDM is the moniker of two new acquaintances to me: Aquarian and Deapmash, who reunited this year with their second EP Infrared – following one entitled Aegis that came out in 2018. Like its predecessor, Infrared is organised around the synthetic fusions of warped techno and jungle in the form of what Houndstooth refers to as ‘hypnotic, big room, golden-era rave’ that also exhibits the more recent experimental profile of deconstructed dance music. Indeed, tracks like the great ‘Tunnel Vision’ explicate the fact that the two do not necessarily need to be strictly opposed.
6. Rainer Veil – Vanity (Modern Love)
After a somewhat slow start, Rainer Veil’s long-awaited debut album Vanity really kicks off from the fourth track and then maintains a steady momentum all the way to its end. Building upon the deconstructed sonic profile of EPs such as their brilliant New Brutalism (2014), Vanity is another masterful example of the mutant rhythms (and hallucinatory sonic textures) that deconstructed dance music has to offer. The previous reference to New Brutalism is indeed apt, as the duo’s music – when at its best – conveys a similar sense of formal novelty as the modernist architectural style once did, through a comparable kind of (sonic) geometric experimentalism.
5. FKA twigs – MAGDALENE (Young Turks)
With MAGDALENE, FKA twigs confirms her position as one of the most exciting voices in contemporary (art) pop. Indeed, as I noted in my review of the album, for those of us who grew up listening to artists like Björk, it is encouraging to see that there are some younger artists who have emerged since that have taken on the important function of distributing the popular subversive in a for the most part disappointingly bland pop cultural landscape. Not just through the music, but also through the construction of a compelling cultural persona that utilises quintessential pop cultural resources – from fashion and dance, to music videos and album covers – in order to invoke an outside beyond the Oedipal grid of late capitalist, popular culture.
4. Nkisi – 7 Directions (UIQ)
Masterfully synthesising Congolese rhythms with the modern production techniques of electronic dance music, Nkisi’s debut album for UIQ certainly lived up to the high expectations. Despite moving away from the more hardcore-inspired sonic profile of her recent EP’s Kill (2017) and The Dark Orchestra (2018), the album stands out because of what to me is the most compelling component of Nkisi’s music: its rhythmic complexity, which makes most forms of contemporary electronic dance music sound disappointingly one-dimensional in comparison. In contrast, 7 Directions is nothing but a masterful exercise in rhythmic experiments backed up by glistening, synthetic soundscapes.
3. M.E.S.H. – Hart… Aber Fair! EP (Janus Berlin)
Despite its short duration of just above 21 minutes, Hart… Aber Fair! is M.E.S.H.’s best release to date (but listen to the long version, with all individual tracks mixed together), as it puts his mutant rhythms and cybernetic textures upfront. After a somewhat modest two-minute intro, a heavy base drum kicks in and sets the tone for a remarkable tour de force of deconstructed dance music that explicates not just the best of M.E.S.H. – but of this ‘anti-genre’ as such.
2. W00DY – My Diary EP (Self-released)
Whereas W00DY’s previous releases have moments of brilliance, they generally feel a bit too rhythmically rigid in my opinion. But My Diary does not have that problem at all. Like Hart… Aber Fair!, it is a relatively short release that nevertheless is the best by the artist in question since it successfully augments the most interesting aspects of her work so far. In this case, a rhythmic frenzy that draws upon jungle, gabber and footwork in particular – through a compelling kind of fast-paced, synthetic formalism.
1. Tool – Fear Inoculum (Tool Dissectional, Volcano, RCA)
The previous Tool-album came out in 2006 – before the popular sway of social media, as well as music streaming and other platform businesses that are quintessential to what the technologically-oriented psychologist Sherry Turkle has referred to as a ‘culture of distraction’. In this thoroughly mutated cultural landscape, one may wonder if releasing an album with roots in 70s prog and 90s alt-metal – including the lengthy tracks and concentrated listening central to most of it – still makes sense. It certainly does for this listener, at least, who still cannot but be thoroughly captivated by the formal complexity of Tool’s music. Sure, it is certainly familiar by now – but at the same time as always pushed even further within its particular aesthetic territories, in ways that should serve as standards to aspire to for younger musicians that have grown up in the culture of distraction and have similar uncompromising aesthetic ambitions.