My favourite albums of 2019

 

Kim Gordon – No Home Record

The one I’ve found myself coming back to over and over this year. An inspired, gritty, deeply sexy, violent, very modern record that’s wholly more thrilling than anything her former group, Sonic Youth, or its other, more prolific members have produced since 1990. No wave, hip hop, glitchy, stuttering electronica and that ice cool voice are fed through the meat grinder to create something utterly unlike anything else in 2019.

 


His Name Is Alive – All The Mirrors In The House (Early Recordings 1979 – 1986)


Treated with some skepticism on its original release – how could Warn Defever, only ten years old in 1979 when he made the first of these astonishingly adult ambient recordings, have possibly absorbed the full complexity and technique of Brian Eno who, even then, was still deeply immersed in single-handedly inventing the genre? If you can lay that to one side – and I advise you do – you’ll quickly become mesmerised by this panoply of subterranean piano, reverberant synth and Defever’s particular way with double-tracked, gently picked acoustic guitar (later revisited on his eerie 1990 4AD Records debut/masterpiece, ‘Livonia’). It’s a beautiful, mysterious, prodigious work. I hope, somewhere, there’s more of this stuff.


Sun Kil Moon – I Also Want To Die In New Orleans


Another year, another 3 or 4 Mark Kozelek albums. With an artist this prolific, it’s understandable that even his most ardent fans may not be able to keep up with the pace. But for me, Kozelek is akin to a great America short story writer who’s worth taking the time to immerse yourself in, preferably with headphones. His albums are like audio books and it’s rare that anything he writes and records is less than absorbing, hilarious or wonderfully melancholy – often within the same, invariably aeonic song.

Carla Dal Forno – Look Up Sharp

Carla Dal Forno may well have read my operator’s manual. Her work, a lush tapestry of lo-fi beatboxes, synth washes and crystalline bass riffs, topped off with her somewhat astral vox, pushes all my buttons. Part Pink Industry, part AC Marias, part Thick Pigeon, ‘Look Up Sharp,’ is a smart, beautifully measured album that inspires repeated listening.
Thom Yorke – Anima

The sound has long been instantly recognisable – these tiers of skittery beats, disharmonic synths, off-kilter loops and yearning vocals. Yorke has, of course, deeply ingested the entire Aphex Twin back catalogue (I particularly hear much Polygon Window here) but his best work is actually when he’s not regurgitating it. ‘Dawn Chorus,’ on paper, barely more than a simple, repetitive analogue synth refrain and a close-miked vocal is peculiarly moving. Likewise, ‘The Axe,’ a bed-fellow of Radiohead’s ‘You And Whose Army?,’ is Yorke at his most potent – disappointed, provoking.

Mark Kozelek/Petra Haden – Joey Always Smiled

Impossible to choose between this and the aforementioned Sun Kil Moon album as, to my ears, it beats such a similar drum, being as it is, the continuation of Mark Kozelek’s not-so-secret diary set to lovely, though never imposing music. We are now, far, far away from Kozelek’s earlier band incarnation, Red House Painters, that you may find yourself stranded. The average track length here is around 10 minutes but if you can manage the monolithic ‘1983 Era MTV Music Is The Soundtrack to Outcasts Being Bullied By Jocks’ in one sitting, you can welcome yourself to the most rewarding of private clubs.

 


HTRK – Venus In Leo


There’s a lulling, whoozy sexiness to HTRK that, as with Carla Dal Forno, reminds me greatly of early 80’s budget, lo-fi, bedroom studio sketches, caked in soft reverb and 4-track warmth. Jonnine Standish has a drowsy, near monotone voice that perfectly compliments Nigel Yang’s beautiful, spectral lo-fi dreamscapes and their fondness for minimal bass, primitive drum machines and chorused guitar FX suggests a sweetly narcotic retrospection. Their fully instrumental soundtrack to Jeffrey Peixoto’s Scientology documentary, ‘Over The Rainbow’, also released this year, is an equally laudable companion piece.