Wednesday, January 1, 2020

My Favorite Music of 2019

It's time for my annual look-back at the music I purchased during the past 12 months and the albums among them that I enjoyed the most. Admittedly, I appear to have gone a bit overboard by acquiring 68 new albums. That's a lot for me.  But a lot of those are me me finally deciding to buy all of Led Zeppelin's albums on CD to replace my LPs. After seeing Phil Collins in concert this year I did the same for his early catalog. Then I did something similar for The Beatles.

With that out of the way, and in no particular order, here are the albums that are my favorites from 2019.

Red Kite's Debut

The instrumental progressive rock on the self-titled debut album from Norwegian quartet Red Kite has an old soul. To my ears there's a late 1960s and early 1970s anthemic ecstasy that could be dropped comfortably into the soundtrack for Apocalypse Now. Balanced between rugged improvisation and careful composition, the albums five tracks left me wanting more. Notable tracks for me are the barely constrained crescendo of 13 Enemas for Good Luck (I appreciate the oxymoronic humor) and the jazz-tinged and soulful You Don't Know, You Don't Know (in which the frustration is almost palpable). Available on Bandcamp from RareNoise Records, I can't wait to hear what these guys do next.

Soundtracks for Winter Departures by ILUITEQ

When it comes to ambient music, I've listened to a lot. Over time I have discovered a lot of ambience that I like. Then there are the ambient albums that I love. Immediately. On the first play. And I can't put into words the reasons why. One of my all-time favorite ambient recordings is Winter Garden by Eraldo Bernocchi, Harold Budd, and Robin Guthrie. Soundtracks for Winter Departures, the debut album from the duo known as ILUITEQ, may be my favorite ambience since Winter Garden. Soundtracks is lush, rhythmically pulsing, richly orchestrated, deep and dynamic. I lack the words to describe the music properly but I can say that I'm happier for the joy this recording has delivered. Available on Bandcamp from TXT Recordings.

Everything by SONAR

This was the year I became a huge fan of Switzerland's SONAR. My fandom was triggered by 2018's album Vortex featuring David Torn, the subsequent live album Live at Moods, and guitarist Stephan Thelen's solo album, Fractal Guitar.  What did these guys offer during 2019? Only the follow-up recording to their work with Torn, Tranceportation Vol. 1. (From which I infer there will be a Vol. 2 during 2020. One can hope.) As the band describes themselves, they eschew individual virtuosity for the group's polyrhythmic, tritonal guitar sound. The result I can only describe as a highly-rhythmic form of ambience. However, with the addition of Torn's slashing lead guitar, the overall effect is heightened by an order of magnitude. Torn's guitar jaggedly weaves through the space created by the band. I'll repeat Sid Smith's words: "Had MC Escher made music instead of drawing impossible and perplexing perspectives, it would sound like Sonar." Available on Bandcamp from RareNoise Records, I really should buy their complete catalog.

What else did the band have to offer in 2019? The Bill Laswell Mix Translations are a dub mix of tracks from Vortex. And Stephan Thelen remixed his solo album into The Fractal Guitar Remixes and Extra Tracks.

Honorable Mentions

I feel bad about including some albums that I love in this section as opposed to giving them full treatment like the ones above, but in the interest of space and time...
I also want to thank the folks at RareNoise Records for their annual "Leap of Faith" offering which allows you to buy in advance all their new releases in the coming year (and not have to pay for shipping). This may be the best thing that's happened to my music listening in the last decade. 2020's LoF should be announced soon.


Even after everything I've written above, I still feel bad about not mentioning other artists and albums from 2019 that I have really enjoyed. So here's the complete list of all my new music from 2019. And as I like to say, "I don't know much about music, but I sure like the sound it makes."

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