Top 89 of 2019: Caleb Brennan, associate blogger


Top 89 of 2019
Top 89 of 2019 (MPR Graphic)

Albums of the year

Body Meat: Truck Music

People have been pondering and speculating what the future will look and sound like since the Industrial Revolution. These sorts of fantasies typically fall on either side of a binary: a sleek and chrome world with utopian technology or a dystopian hellscape polluted with chemicals and authoritarian governments. Neither of these possibilities reflects the future that has come into being, the future that is now our present. I say this because Truck Music, the debut LP by producer, songwriter, drummer, and singer Christopher Taylor (a.k.a. Body Meat) aptly reflects what I think the next decade will sound like. Taylor weaponizes Auto-Tune and trap music in cohabitation with Afrobeat, post-punk, and R&B. The result is a sound that is refreshingly new and defies classification; Truck Music is both totally computerized and undeniably human. It is the merger of computer music with an undeniably human controller. Despite being audibly artificial, there is more than a ghost in the shell; there is the possibility of a post-genre world.

(Sandy) Alex G: House of Sugar

The color palette of House of Sugar is astounding: songs like "In My Arms" are as blue as Picasso's The Old Guitarist, the orange and red of "Gretel" bleeds like the carcass of fall leaves, the mournful grey of "Hope," etc. This mixture of moods is matched by the eclectic conjugations of Alex G's vocals. On some tracks, his drawl is almost tongue-and-check. Other times, in post-production, he pitches his vocals up or down to reflect the demeanor or gender of his characters. As a composer and producer, the Philadelphia native invokes the same distorted folk-rock of Live Rust Neil Young with the gleeful tinkering of Animal Collective. The final product is a fascinating album that is redefining the rock and pop genres.

Billy Woods: Hiding Places

Poverty, anger and hopelessness are turned into the foundational themes of the best rap album of the year. These aren't exactly uncommon themes for a genre that is defined by the black urban experience, but Woods finds a way to make his rhymes pop with deeply compelling imagery and damning evidence that austerity has hollowed out all he holds dear. To boot, the production is striking: every bass line manages to be cantankerous but dynamic, thunderous electric guitar is spruced liberally while funeral march drums thud through the mix. It's a brutal album with brutal sociological sounds and ideas.

Empath: Active Listening: Night on Earth

Raw energy is the defining feature of the year's best punk record; Active Listening is a series of stuttering and disjointed jam sessions that always come together at the last minute. This technique allows for the noisy feedback and sputtering drums to flourish without being overzealous. All the while, lead singer Catherine Elicson's callous, yet inflective and swaggering vocal style dominates the mix like a spazzed-out Kim Deal.

100 Gecs: 1000 Gecs

1000 Gecs is death by a thousand genres: the "hyperpop" duo uses every musical influence to create a world where punk, emo, death metal, K-pop, dubstep, and house are mish-mashed together into a chimera of chaotic compulsion. It's the soundtrack to a Katamari game where the goal is to consume every piece of internet detritus.

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Bandana

The hardened, hyper-realism of Freddie Gibbs is once again paired with the harmonic grittiness and grand master production of Madlib. The results are self-evident: a hip-hop album that encapsulates everything the genre is all about; compelling narratives, humorous wordplay, and turning irresistible samples that grease analog melodies and tonic drum machines.

Holly Herndon: PROTO

Gorgeous vocal and electronic arrangements are paired with brilliantly computerized drums on this musicologist-turned-experimental-composer's most in-depth work to date. Herndon's artistry relies on the notion of the computer and the human voice as the compelling instruments of our time; finding stunning textures when these two aspects are combined into a digitized rush of emotions.

Nilufer Yanya: Miss Universe

A strong contender for Rookie of the Year, Nilufer Yanya's debut LP, Miss Universe, is a methodical and punchy analysis of being young, downwardly mobile, and confused in the digital age. Yanya's pop sensibilities and old-soul guitar chops are the backbone of an album that explores feeling utterly directionless in the culture of consumption. However, she still finds space for optimism and poetry while dissecting the feel of total alienation.

Pile: Green and Gray

The Boston quartet continues to be one of the last remaining bands to rely entirely on guitars to carry its experimental rock. Chaos and control is the name of the game: how many meticulous melodies can we put in motion? But despite how often they deconstruct the rock genre, Pile always bring a song up to a raging, anthemic battle cry; on Green and Grey, they prove they can balance primal passion with interpretive songwriting.

Cate Le Bon: Reward

Krautrock and post-punk are strung together with poptimist twine on this subtly complex LP. Le Bon combines repetition and intricacy that will put you into a mechanized trance. And yet despite being emotionally pale, the Welsh songwriter's dry delivery and distance will make you so curious that you'll keep coming back for more.

Honorable Mentions:

Charli XCX: Charli
JPEGMafia: All My Heroes Are Cornballs
Lighting Bolt: Sonic Citadel
Kim Gordon: No Home Record
Faye Webster: Atlanta Millionaires Club

Singles of the year

Charli XCX, Christine and the Queens: "Gone"

The flagship single for Britain's cyber-pop queen's best LP to date, "Gone" is everything that is great about electronic pop music: glitchy melodies, titanium choruses, and a song structure that is both synchronized and turbulent.

Aldous Harding: "The Barrel"

With instrumental and vocal techniques that would make Kate Bush blush, "The Barrel" showcases this Kiwi's ability to make absurdist lyricism into one of the catchiest, yet tender songs of the year.

Mannequin P*ssy: "Drunk II"

Easily the most compelling and emotional punk releases of this year, a break-up anthem for couples that split and get back together like clockwork.

Frank Ocean: "DHL"

Pop music's most powerful enigma quietly dropped one of his most avant-gardes, yet contemporary tracks to date. The Boo Radley of R&B somehow found a way to combine SoundCloud rap with post-punk and dub.

Caroline Polachek: "So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings"

The bubbly and infatuating demeanor of the former Chairlift frontwoman is masterfully mixed with eccentric, Imogen-Heap-inspired production that will leave you simultaneously playfully grinning and struck with melancholy.

Big Thief: "Not"

Across two albums, Big Thief have broken our hearts and then tended to them with gauze and ginger. The most impressive aspect of "Not" is how pensive and wise its rhythm is, all the while being one of the heaviest rock songs of 2019.

Clairo: "Bags"

In a landmark year for the Gen Z pop songstress, "Bags" was further proof that accusations of being an industry plant were completely misguided; Clairo's minimalistic and transparent approach to pop music is anything but disingenuous.

FKA twigs, Future: "holy terrain"

This track makes the case that high and low art are entirely arbitrary designations; trap music and baroque melding together to form liquid bronze.

The Japanese House: "Maybe You're the Reason"

One of the more promising up-and-comers from a newly revitalized British pop scene. While Billie Eilish is making mall goths cool, The Japanese House is helping rectify the new wave aesthetic.

Arthur Russell: "You Did It Yourself"

The prolific and highly influential composer and pop tinkerer's archive has once again been raided for public consumption.

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