Complex Distractions Presents : Favorite Albums of 2019

As I’ve sat here for the last few days compiling a list of the albums I’ve listened to this year with the end result being a “favorite albums” compilation, I began wondering to myself “Why?” Why do I feel that my opinion is of any interest to all of you? I’m just some guy in the Midwest that deals with the same things everyone else deals with. I work a 9 to 5, I worry about my kids and their futures, I look for the best deals at the grocery store, I deal with anxiety, I obsess over things I have no control over, and I know I didn’t try hard enough when I was in school. So why do I think that making these year-end lists are of any importance to anyone outside of my own skull?

But just as I’m almost talking myself out of the whole list shenanigans, something occurs to me: It’s important to me. I started this page 8 years, posting my first review on December 8th, 2011. It was a review for St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy, and it wasn’t very good. But it was a start. It was the first time I put my thoughts on music out into the vast void of the internet universe for anybody to come across and read. It felt good to do it, too. You know that phrase “Get it off your chest”? Well that’s what I was doing. I could talk exhaustively about music to anyone willing to take that ride with me, but there weren’t a whole lot of folks that wanted to(my 5-year old son at the time just wasn’t down for chatting about the finer points of Krautrock or the Midwestern Gothic pop of Summerteeth.) Starting this page allowed me a space to speak my mind on one of the few constants in my life: music. The music chats turned into personal stories about my life; be it my childhood, personal experiences, my kids, and opinions on the current state of our societal downslide.

This blog became a pulpit to which I could spew my daily sermons on music, film, life, and art geekery in general. It also became a place to vent. A pressure release. I think I’ve become a better person because of this blog. Actually, I know I have.

So why do I make these year-end lists? Because it makes me feel good. Hopefully, they make you feel good, too. Or at the very least, it might get you to click on a link or hit up a search engine and check out something you didn’t know existed before. Either way, here’s my favorite albums of 2019.

XOXO,

J


40. Ffion : Momentum

39. Monarch : Beyond The Blue Sky

38. Lightning Dust : Spectre

37. Repeated Viewing : The Beach House

36. worriedaboutsatan : revenant

35. The Claypool Lennon Delirium : South of Reality

34. Fir Cone Children : Fog Surrounds Us

33. Blue Tomorrows : Without Color

32. Alone in the Woods : Kwaidan

31. Blanck Mass : Animated Violence Mild

30. Repeated Viewing and Timothy Fife Explore Paranormal Sounds of the Synth

29. Mr Eff : Eyes Down

28. Umberto : Helpless Spectator

27. Papir : VI

26. Paul Gilbert : Behold Electric Guitar

25. Circadian Rhythm Section : Safety in Numbers

24. Steve Moore : Beloved Exile

23. Com Truise : Persuasion System

22. Chris Cohen : Self-Titled

21. Thomas Ragsdale : The Pentagram

20. Missions : Subcreature

Late night vibes permeate Missions’ Holodeck Records debut Subcreature. A mixture of neon glow, dark electro funk, and robotic vocals turn this electronic album into its own neo-futuristic world. A place where anything is possible in the shadows with the right propulsive rhythm and slinky melody.

19. Black Mountain : Destroyer

While never reaching the heights of their masterpiece IV, Destroyer does feel like a new beginning for Black Mountain. With the departure of OG members Amber Webber and Joshua Wells, the future seemed a little bleak for the Vancouver psych rock crew. Fortunately lead singer/songwriter Stephen McBean was hit with a shot of inspiration after getting his drivers license and Destroyer became the album equivalent of a 1977 Pontiac Firebird with a 350 V8 and a killer 8-track in the dash.

18. Lightning Bolt : Sonic Citadel

The sonic assault of Lightning Bolt has never mellowed, it’s only been honed in and sharpened to a precise weapon. Brian Gibson and Brian Chippendale have made one of their best and most accessible albums in Sonic Citadel, a tour-de-force in pummeling rhythms and virtuosic bass-playing. Chippendale’s vocals are the clearest they’ve been, giving Lightning Bolt their poppiest sound yet(but like, pop that beats you over the head.)

17. Skeleton Beach : Ritual

Gene Priest has made a modern Komische masterpiece with Ritual. As Skeleton Beach, Priest hits the analog hardware and goes circuital exploring on a serious level. Ritual is an earthbound, Gothic masterpiece, capturing the vibe of Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra and Rubycon while giving those vibes a serious ritualistic spin.

16. Galactic Protector : Evening

Galactic Protector’s Evening is this sublime little musical world where it’s like Moebius art come to life. Bryan Richie’s debut on Burning Witches Records paints a colorful landscape in hazy synths and lo-fi rhythms. It’s a record you can slip into and get lost in. Electronic psych for the low key android.

15. Videodrones : Atavistic Future

Jakob Skott and Kristoffer Ovesen started Videodrones back in 2016 as this modular synth duo that rattled skulls with a mix of Giallo dread, sci-fi buzz, and circuital noise violence that pretty much melted my frontal lobe. On their third release, the far-out Atavistic Future, Skott and Ovesen switched things up considerably. Instead of dark synth structures and horror vibes Videodrones goes more experimental space drift. Arpeggiated notes intermingle with more Komische vibes to create one of the wildest electronic records this year.

14. Wilco : Ode To Joy

For about a decade now Wilco have been putting out consistently “good” records. That is to say, they’re performed to perfection, produced and recorded magnificently, and have at least three or four songs on them that remind us of the greatness that used to be. Ode To Joy, the first new Wilco record since 2016s Wilco Schmilco, seems to have found some of that magic. The songs are subtle and sweet, while the quiet nature of the record may hide all the exquisite layers the band has covered these songs in. Ode To Joy sounds like A Ghost Is Born after years of therapy.

13. Pentagram Home Video : Who’s Here? I’m Here, You’re Here

The latest from Pentagram Home Video sees the lo-fi synth project moving from lost cult horror films of the early 80s to the seedy underworld of leather bars and ether-soaked degradation. The trademark hazy synth grime is replaced with LSD-drenched acid house and dance floor grooves. There’s still plenty of synth sleaze, but it’s topped off with four-on-the-floor strut and shadowy intentions around every corner.

12. Billow Observatory : III: Chroma/Contour

There’s a sci-fi element to the musical world of Billow Observatory. I don’t think it’s an intentional flavor, but it’s a result of the cavernous, dark sound the psychedelic/ambient duo create. Jonas Munk and Jason Kolb have been collaborating as Billow Observatory since 2012s self-titled effort. Since they moved to Azure Vista there have been two more records, the more brightly lit II: Plains/Patterns(2017) and this year’s towering III: Chroma/Contour. Their newest is monolithic in sound and feel; a cavernous sound world where a shimmering single guitar line feels like it’s traveled light years to get to our ears. Subtle electronics paint worlds we’ve yet to discover. The international nature of Billow Observatory’s collaboration(Munk resides in Denmark while Kolb lives in Michigan) creates chasms of time where the two can take time to sculpt sounds and grow the right mood and feel, where as in the same room the two might feel more rushed to complete something. The result this year, III: Chroma/Contour, is an absolutely stunning exercise in restraint and mood.

11. Pye Corner Audio : Hollow Earth

Hollow Earth doesn’t stray too far from albums like Sleep Games, Stasis, and the many EPs Martin Jenkins has released over the years as Pye Corner Audio. But that’s the point when dropping the needle on a PCA album, you want to revisit those similar ghosts and exquisite dark places. The simple rhythms, woozy synths, and general wormholes filled with things not of this earth. Hollow Earth is another masterpiece in subtle fears mixed with mildly groovy rhythms. Light-headed science fiction soundtracks to seances and haunted discotheques. Otherworldly melodies that slink into your brain like smoke from some unidentified fire. Hollow Earth has that in spades.

10. Astral TV : Travelling The Circuits

On their follow-up to 2017s excellent Chrystal Shores, Astral TVs Rasmus Rasmussen and Keith Canisius pulled back some of the new age vibes and low key sounds for more experimental and ambitious songs. The results are a dizzying mix of spatial vibes and Berlin School headiness. Astral TV has spread their sound out a bit, taking time through synth and guitar workouts to explore heavier sonic realms. Travelling The Circuits is a band evolving. Get it here

9. Jay Som : Anak Ko

The California native Melina Duterte, known musically as Jay Som, has been making quiet bedroom pop for the last few years. On her latest, Anak Ko, Duterte seems to have slipped right into her “sound”. A mixture of indie pop and early 90s British alternative inflected with almost jazz undertones. Songs are heartfelt and insanely catchy, while reflecting a sort of darkness regarding the world around her. Even at 25 years old Duterte has proven one of the most thoughtful songwriters working today, and just three albums in. I can’t wait to see where she goes from here. Get it here

8. Metavari : Absurda

The latest from Nate Utesch is a bold move. An album of songs that are re-scores of David Lynch short films. In theory that’s kind of a crazy idea, given that Lynch is a total vision kind of auteur. Everything is figured out in his head, from story to shots to cinematography to music. If you’re stepping up to re-imagine an aspect of David Lynch’s process you better be up to the task. Of course, Metavari is up to the task. Absurda is a mixture of sound, melody, visceral force, and abstraction. The results have stayed in my brain since I first heard them. Listen to Absurda and find out for yourself. Get it here.

7. Pinkish Black : Concept Unification

Pinkish Black have stayed true to their sound from the beginning, which is desolation, melancholy, heavy, and Gothic. As heavy as the synth/drum duo get there’s still a sense of strong melody, even when the songs are about death and all the gloom you can handle. Daron Beck and Jon Teague have made, what I consider, their absolute masterpiece with Concept Unification. They’ve found the perfect balance of heavy, dark, experimental, and emotional release here. This record is a bold statement, heard loud and clear. Get it here. 

6. Majeure : Mass Flashback

Since 2010 Zombi drummer extraordinaire has been releasing solo work as Majeure. Where Zombi stays true to sci-fi themes and Rush-like workouts, Majeure is more mysterious and atmospheric. AE Paterra returned this year as Majeure to release the excellent Mass Flashback. From the beginning, Paterra has forged a sound equal in progressive heft and Krautrock intentions. On Mass Flashback AE Paterra hones in on his strength in melody, atmosphere, and sonic heft, making one of Majeure’s most compelling and accessible albums yet. Get it here.

5. Cory Kilduff : When It All Gets To Be Too Much

Cory Kilduff’s sublime and emotional debut When It All Gets To Be Too Much might be the best John Hughes soundtrack you’ve never heard. Locking into the vibe of early 80s Tangerine Dream, OMD, as well as inspiration from composers like Paul Haslinger and Cliff Martinez, Kilduff has made an earnest and irony-free nod to the films that gutted us emotionally growing up. His synth-constructed album soars and builds moments of emotional honesty. It’s not a sad album, but as the title suggests sometimes it does get to be too much. Cory Kilduff has made an album for those moments of contemplation, raw emotion, and when our eyes are wide open to the possibility that things may get hard. I’ve absolutely adored this record from day one. Get it here.

4. Thom Yorke : Anima

Thom Yorke has always hidden his real life problems and anxieties under a layer of Philip K Dick paranoia. Relationship and political problems were re-purposed into dystopian tales of fear and “Big Brother is watching” angst. All of that is great, but sometimes the emotional heft gets lost in hefty tales and grandiose ideals. With Anima I feel we’ve gotten the rawest, most real Thom Yorke album, ever. There’s still the usual futurist doom and gloom, but when you have a song like “Dawn Chorus” or “Last I Heard(…He Was Circling The Drain)” or “Runwayaway” you can’t help feel like Yorke is opening up. This is the best album Yorke has made since 2013s Amok. Densely built with plenty of Yorke’s signature Flying Lotus/Four Tet/Burial hat tipping, but this feels very much like a guy finding his place among giants. Less a midlife crisis, and more a midlife awakening.

3. Jonas Munk & Nicklas Sorensen : Always Already Here

The musical partnership between Jonas Munk and Nicklas Sorensen began years ago with Munk mastering and releasing albums by Sorensen’s main gig Papir. This led to Solo, the 2016 debut release of Nicklas Sorensen which saw Munk producing. Solo was followed by Solo 2, once again produced by Munk as well as having him play more synths and add more sonic touches. It was inevitable that these two would get together and make a fully collaborative LP. Always Already Here is the result of a year of recording and experimenting in the studio. Taking inspiration from experimental composers like Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass, Always Already Here is a dizzying LP with looping guitars, interlocking textures, and almost hypnotic synth structures. It’s almost like music taking the form of geometric theorems and postulated melodies. This is truly next level, but there’s still plenty of room for improvisation and free-form composition. Simply put, this record is high musical art. Get it here.

2. Skragn : Stund

One of the biggest musical surprises for me this year was Skragn, the solo music project of Danish musician Marco Egeberg. Egeberg quietly released Skragn’s Stund back in April, and in my opinion too quiet. This record must be heard. Stund is a stunning album that hits all those classic early 80s synth vibes. From the soundtracks of Tangerine Dream to Harmonia to Wang Chung’s score for To Live and Die In LA. There’s a very distinct flow to the record, one that moves from melancholy to indifference to deep contemplation.

Albums like Stund are the reason I started this blog. I want people to hear this album and love it as much as I do. A random email from a complete stranger halfway around the world asking if I’d be interested in hearing his record turns into that album becoming one of my favorites of the year. You must listen to this record. Get it here.

And my favorite album of the year,

Hunter Complex : Open Sea

I haven’t quite figured out what it is about Hunter Complex’ Open Sea that’s captured my imagination, but it’s been my most listened to album in 2019. Maybe because I’ve lived with it for the entire year, having immersed myself in it late December of 2018. I’ve listened to it in the dead of winter, in the rebirth of spring, during the heat of the summer, and in the fading foliage of fall. It sits perfectly in every season and every mood. It could be that Lars Meijer doesn’t sound like really anyone. His influences range from Mark Isham to Prince to Guided By Voices. He takes elements of all of those and turns it into something quite unique, alien, and yet so familiar.

Open Sea sounds like something that could’ve soundtracked an episode of Miami Vice or an early John McTiernan film. There’s a maturity to the compositions here that give the whole thing added musical heft. Meijer harkens back to a time when guys in the 30s and 40s were still being played on radio and television. It was a time when it wasn’t just a young person’s game(Jan Hammer was 36 when he started scoring Miami Vice.) There was still a sense of individualism in popular music culture. Having a singular voice in your style was seen as a good thing, not a nail in your career’s coffin.

The whole of Open Sea is engaging, forward-thinking, and connects on a very visceral level. It’s odd and beautiful and sees a unique musical vision come to fruition. Get it here


So that was my opinion, what’s yours? What did you hear this year that moved you? Let me know. Check out my Spotify playlist below. A sampler platter of my favorite albums this year. I’ll be back in a day or two with my favorite soundtracks of 2019. Then, we’re hitting the favorites of the decade. Yep, we’re almost ready to jump into a new ten year run of music, film, books, and global tragedies. I can’t wait.

 

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