This mix collects representative cuts from the vast bounty of this year's excellent metal, art rock, noise rock, goth, and dark IDM releases.
I'd close with my traditional "enjoy," but that's really not the point here.
Nonetheless, this is one of the two best of of our 2019 genre-specific mixes, closing with two of 2019s most striking songs in Lingua Ignota's searingly intense DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR and Nick Cave's long mediation on the acceptance of death Hollywood.
Here's the Spotify Link. Explore!
1. Lions (featuring Vivian Wang) - Jenny Hval: Inspired in part by the 1985 German film of the same name, Norwegian avant-poppist Jenny Hval's seventh album The Practice Of Love is her first to ever tackle the weighty subject of love, but unsurprisingly, does so in an iconoclastic way, never once concerning itself with romantic love, but instead all the other ways passion drives our lives. Also Hval's first foray into dance-inspired music, particularly 90s-flavored trance, paganistic album and mix opener Lions suggests a deep connection to the natural world is far more important and spiritual than a relationship with God.
2. For Everything - The Murder Capital: Searingly intense, this opening track from the Dublin post-punker's debut When I Have Fears (Strong Recommend) sets the table perfectly for all that follows on the album, the Pixie-ish quiet/loud dynamics, the often brilliant, unpredictable guitars, and the impassioned, angst-ridden vocals, all packaged in a jagged, festering wound-styled presentation.
3. bmbmbm - black midi: Quite possibly the best noise-rock album of 2019 came to us via a quartet of BRIT school performing art students out of London. Labeling themselves black midi, their debut Of Schlagenheim (Solid Recommend) traffics in many of the most repellent aspects of whiny indie, post-punk, math rock and experimental rock, but it all comes together in a surprisingly compelling way. Brilliantly mixed and daringly unpinned down directionally, the songwriting doesn't always match the band's youthful ambition, but there's enough conceptual daring convincingly pulled off here to suggest a we might have a budding new Radiohead-caliber art-rock talent on the horizon. We're profiling two songs on this mix, starting here with the band's lead single and best known song, the marvelously grating, in-your-face bmbmbm.
4. FRAGRANT IS MY MANY FLOWER'D CROWN - Lingua Ignota: The brotherhood of men (in the worst, protective-of-each-others-misdeeds, sense of the concept) is the focus of Lingua Ignota's fury on this relatively quieter number from her devastating CALIGULA (Strong Recommend).
5. Girl With Basket Of Fruit - Xiu Xiu: One of the most jarring (and at times most exciting) listening experiences of 2019, experimental San Jose-based avant-rockers Xiu Xiu's Girl With A Basket Of Fruit (Solid Recommend) is a Death Grips-reminiscent non-stop assault of chaotic percussive hammers and aggressively off-putting lyrical fragments, as the album's opening track presented here makes more than clear.
6. Leviathan - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: A bit of an anomaly on an album full of deeply probing lyrical mediations on working through grief following the loss of his son, Ghosteen (Highest Recommend) disk one closer Leviathan, seems by contrast, simplistic, maybe even banal, the phrase "Oh my oh my oh my oh my / I love my baby and my baby loves me" just repeated over and over on top of gorgeous backing vocals for 95% of the song. But personally, I think, given the songs title and placement, it may be the most personal and important song on the album, a simple positive mantra Cave actually repeated to himself regularly to carry the weight of the pain, stay connected to his son, or maybe even more likely, given how many marriages are destroyed by the death of a child, to not lose connection to his wife as they worked through the aftermath in very different ways.
7. Mars For The Rich - King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard: Give credit where credit is due; while not all of this crazy prolific Aussie psych rock act's efforts are of the highest caliber, the deserve high marks for always switching up their conceptual approach. On 2019's banging Infest The Rat's Nest (Solid Recommend), arguably the band's best effort since Nonagon Infinity, they eschew their psychedelic tendencies to dial in directly into the spirit of Judas Priest's early speed metal efforts and an appropriately over-the-top tale of planetary exploration spurred by cataclysmic global warming to produce one of the most satisfying (and blistering) hard rock albums of the year, perfectly encapsulated by opening track Mars For The Rich featured here.
8. I Am A Very Rude Person - Thom Yorke: Though at first listen it seems comfortable to follow very much in the same dark electronic path Yorke and regular producer Nigel Goodrich have carved out on Yorke's previous two solo releases, deeper examination reveals 2019's ANIMA (Solid Recommend) has added light elements of R&B and Funk swing to the established formula Yorke/Goodrich formula, a subtle shift that effectively powers my favorite cut for the record, I Am A Very Rude Person.
9. Civil Servant - Richard Dawson: One of the darkest, most agitated albums of 2019, British Freak-folker Dawson's 2020 (Solid Recommend) is an intentionally anything but pleasant listen, with jarring, jittery, inorganic musical backdrops laying the foundation for ridiculously detailed third person narratives exploring the humanity crushing flaws of capitalism and modern day barbarism coursing through the veins of contemporary British life. In short, not an album for the weak-eared or more mainstream-oriented, but for those that can stomach it, a fascinating listen both musically and lyrically. Representative track Civil Servant here is very much par for the course.
10. Every Last Coffee Or Tea - 75 Dollar Bill: Though not everyday fare, Every Last Coffee or Tea is one of the more genuinely appealing tracks on this oft-antongonistic mix, finding the New York experimental rock/jazz duo 75 Dollar Bill fully incorporating guitarist Che Chen's passion for traditional Mauritanian music in this flowing, riveting instrumental opener from 2019's I Was Real.
11. Feet - Fat White Family: After taking a detour to explore artificial madness with the likes of Sean Lennon and Yoko for enjoyably decadent and theatrical Interplanetary Class Classics as 2017 Moonlandingz, British lo-fi gutter rockers returned proper in 2019 with their third album Serf's Up! which added some dance beats, better production, and produced what very well may be their best song to date, Feet presented here.
12. Fire Is Coming - Flying Lotus w/ David Lynch: Throwaway nuttiness from inventive LA-Based producer Flying Lotus and his 2019 release Flamagra as he sets one of his trademark beats underneath a twisted spoken-word David Lynch narrative.
13. I'm Tired Of Your Repeating Story - Otoboke Beaver: One of my favorite discoveries of 2019, Japanese all-female punk rockers Otoboke Beaver offer up an crazed high-energy attack that has to be seen live to be fully appreciated (and which I was fortunate enough to at the last Coachella I attended). This track comes from their US debut ITEKOMA HITS (Solid Recommend), which compiles all their early Japanese singles with a near equal number of impassioned originals. If being screamed at enthusiastically by diminuative Japanese waifs is your thing, Otoboke Beaver is the band for you.
14. Fear Inoculum - Tool: Love the opening three minutes here from the opening track to trance-metal-legends Tool's otherwise mildly disappointing, low energy Fear Inoculum (Solid Recommend), a sophisticated, polished album which never feels bad by any stretch, but outside those opening minutes here and a few short stretches in the back half also almost never truly takes flight.
15. Sex - Rammstein: 2019's best selling album in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, RAMMSTEIN (Solid Recommend) finds the Neue Deutsche Hart/industrial dance-metal pioneers still in peak form despite the ten year layoff since their previous studio release.
16. Murdered Out - Kim Gordon: A bit of a cheat, Murdered Out was first recorded in 2016 when Sonic Youth founder Kim Gordon met producer Justin Raisen at an airbnb and he asked if she'd be willing to lend vocals to some stuff he was working on. But since first effort led to further collaboration between the two that ultimately resulted in Gordon's first solo album, 2019's No Home Record (Mild Recommend) it felt like Murdered Out was the only logical representative cut.
17. Breaking Bread - Matmos: After having crafted genuine, surprisingly effective music solely from field-recordings of non-instruments as wildly diverse as washing machines and manipulated cow bladders, San Francisco sample-masters Matmos turn their attention to the musical possibilities of everyday plastics on Plastic Anniversary (Solid Recommend), and once again, the results are surprisingly effective.
18. Unsainted - Slipknot: My favorite song from one of the strongest metal efforts of 2019, Slipknot's We Are Not Your Kind (Solid Recommend) finds the veteran band both delivering the requisite top tier pummeling riffs while also finding plenty of room for experimentation and broadening of the palette. Doesn't quite hit the majesty of say a Tool or Deafheaven at their best, but at many times the album feels like they are successfully gunning for the same broad appeal (as least as far as contemporary metal acts can court broad appeal).
19. CYTOKINESIS - KARYYN: Maybe the most haunting electronic release of 2019, Syrian-American multi-faceted artist KARYYN's full-length debut The Quanta Series (Solid Recommend), is highly abstract but nonetheless heavy, emotionally charged stuff, as Karyyn works through the emotional anguish triggered by the loss of beloved relatives and a cherished childhood summer school in the ongoing Syrian conflict.
20. People - The 1975: I haven't heard popular mainstream Brit pop act The 1975's 2020 release Notes On A Conditional Form yet, but man was this lead single from the album a surprise. Talk about a stylistic shift! People is one of the most in-your-face aggressive songs of 2019, and has to have repulsed a significant number of the bands fans. Will be interesting to see if the rest of the new album follows form, or if people is just an edgy outlier.
21. Aibohphobia - Girl Band: There are conceptually anchored songs, and then there's Girl Band's awesome Aibohphobia from the Irish post-punk/noise rock acts 2019 full-length release The Talkies, which viscerally captures the song's central theme (a fear of palindromes) by physically recording the song backwards in the studio and then playing that backwards recording backwards as the final version was committed to disc/vinyl - the exact same trick David Lynch utilized to create the Dwarf's singular speaking rhythms in Twin Peaks.
22. Infinity Vibraphones - These New Puritans: Heavy shades of the recently passed Mark Hollis and Talk Talk on this track here from the Barnett brothers-led British neo-classicists These New Puritans fourth studio release Inside The Rose.
23. Feeling Fades - The Murder Capital: Self-loathing takes center stage here on this standout track from When I Have Fears as Murder Capital lead singer James McGovern's castigates himself for his diminish emotional reaction to his friend's suicide as time passes on.
24. Economy Of Death - Refused: While not the ear-opening groundbreaker that was 1998's versatile The Shape Of Punk To Come, Refused's 2019 release, War Music, was an encouraging return to form for the anarchist Swedish hardcore outfit since getting back together in 2012.
25. Pale Sun - Baroness: One of the best reviewed heavy metal albums of 2019, Barnoness's sprawling Gold & Grey (Solid Recommend) is overstuffed with surging rockers and artful, unpredictable prog-metal excursions, but it was one of the album's quieter numbers, brooding album closer Pale Sun, that caught my ear most.
26. Alienation - Holly Herndon: It will be interesting to see if fifty years from now, cutting edge electronic musician Holly Herndon's fascinating Proto (Solid Recommend) is referenced in a historical retrospective on the development of arts oriented AI, because if I'm correct about this, Proto is the first album in which artificial intelligence deserves a portion of the songwriting credit. Herndon, a Stanford doctorate in music and acoustics, worked with collaborator Mat Dryhurst to train an AI affectionately named spawn in genre vocal traditions, especially folk, gospel, and old-world choral harmonies, and then let Spawn do its thing. And the most surprising thing, though definitely unusual, the album, which includes some of those recorded training sessions in addition to actual compositions, is actually quite accessible, even emotionally stirring at times. Can't wait to see if there's another chapter for this project.
27. Name and Number - Mark Lanegan: Though I wouldn't quite call veteran grunge pioneer Mark Lanegan's latest solo effort Somebody's Knocking (Mild Recommend) a full blown move into electronic music, I did see one review that labeled it as Lanegan's equivalent to a dark disco party album, and I feel that description is fairly apt. Definitely fits the bill with our representative track Name and Number here at least.
28. Office Rage - Control Top: Early single here from an up-and-coming Philly-based hardcore trio and their 2019 debut Covert Contracts.
29. Claim It - Klein: Intriguing dark electronic piece from Nigerian/South London pop-collagist Klein's full-length debut Lifetime.
30. Love Is A Parasite - Blanck Mass: It just wouldn't be an off-putting mix proper without a kick-ass, surging, droney contribution from Fuck Buttons veteran noise maker Benjamin John Powers and his fourth full-length outing Animated Violence Mild under his Blanck Mass solo moniker.
31. Full Blown Meltdown - PUP: We'll hear a better representative track from Canadian punk-pop outfit Pathetic Use of Potential (aka PUP) Morbid Stuff (Solid Recommend) a bit down the line on Vol 6 - All Things Rockin', but best track Full Blown Meltdown has such an in-your-face, screamo-feel, it felt better served on this mix here.
32. It's Coming It's Real - Swans: Starting over with a revamped lineup after having created arguably the finest body of experimental/post rock music of the 2010s in the oft championed here Seer Triology (The Seer, To Be Kind, The Glowing Man), this new incarnation of Swans presents a far quieter, more mediative Michael Gira than what one encountered in the decade before on Leaving Meaning (Mild Recommend). But despite the very chill, almost folksy vibe, there are still a number of compelling tracks, particularly our selection here - It's Coming It's Real.
33. Do You Doubt Me Traitor - Lingua Ignota: And now the song nobody has been waiting for but everyone should hear at least once, Lingua Ignota's horrifying deep dive into the primal anguish of physical abuse, taken once again from her masterful CALIGULA (Strong Recommend). A song to be experienced and felt rather than analyzed.
34. Ducter - Black Midi: Here's one more from young London art-rocker's Black Midi's debut Schlagenheim, the album's wild ride closing track Ducter.
35. Hollywood - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: At 14:12, it was too long to stand as the representative track of Nick Cave's Ghosteen (Highest recommend) on Vol 2 - Best Albums Left, but for my money, this final meditation on dealing with the enduring grief following the death of his son in 2015, which concludes with the ages old parable of the mustard seeds, is the #1 best song of 2020.