Last year I did a simple scrape of LastFM to build a mathematical list of my top albums. This year, I spent a fair amount of the summer making mixes for my bike rides, which skewed things a bit toward more aggressive or energetic stuff. So I spent the last month or so revisiting everything I picked up in 2019, and found I needed to expand the list out to twenty to ensure I could write about all the great music that came out this year. 2019 was an embarrassment of riches. The order is entirely without rank, these are all equally awesome.
Harsh R - Physical World
Harsh R merges hardcore's aggression with EBM's sonic experimentation. Physical World is technically an EP, but it doesn't feel like a sampler. It's a shot, rather than a beer. This album packs wave after wave of brutal assaults into a mere seventeen minutes. The stand out track is Make No Mistake, which should at least get your foot stomping if not sending you pogoing around the house. Avi delivers sneering contempt right up there with the greats, on Queen of Trash he even sounds a bit like Steve Albini. If you don't grab anything else on this list, grab this EP.
Black Pumas - Black Pumas
I am 100% there for a soul revival. Of course, of all the places to produce a pristinely produced modern soul band, it would be Austin. Black Pumas don’t miss a note and the guitars sound absolutely perfect. The amount of buzz around these guys means I’m likely not alone in my love of their riff on soul. Their self-titled album is a strong debut. OCT 33 rips out of your speaker with a quiet guitar riff and a filtered vocal that evokes the spirits of Stax. There’s a deference to classic style here, but in a way that doesn’t feel like karaoke. Touch the Sky has a groove to it that should keep your foot tapping until the horn section pops in and runs away with you. The sound design ensures you know this is a tribute to soul, but it’s rooted in modern production.
HEALTH - VOL.4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR
This is another band that sits right in a sweet spot for me. HEALTH combines the big beats and crunchy guitar of industrial, but brings a sense of earnest vulnerability via lead singer Jake Duzsik. VOL.4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR chugs from track to track and doesn’t relent. This album is bleak, but beautifully so. The creeping sense of Armageddon is coming amongst club lights and hangovers. Black Static probably best channels that sentiment with the line “God is coming, he don’t remember me.” The Message is just pure rock energy. It’s got a big stomping beat and a crunchy riff that you won’t forget. This album clocks in at just under 40 minutes, but doesn’t waste a second. It’s dense, aggressive, and over a few listens you'll see just how much is layered together to create Health's unique sound.
Glass Apple Bonzai - The All-Nite Starlite Electronic Café
Daniel Belasco was doing synthwave before most of those hipsters were even born. His third album as Glass Apple Bonzai, The All-Nite Starlite Electronic Café, finds him perfecting his mix of retro synths and amazing hooks into a nearly perfect form, shimmering off the record. Radio is a stomping anthem from the stars, with a big chorus. Starlight closes the record with a hopeful note that evokes driving in the middle of the night. The record has the aesthetic as the kids say, but it does it better than you’ve heard before.
TV HWY - Starship Interiors
An album that is equally great for a long walk in the woods as spending a day reading on the couch, Starship Interiors has gotten a ton of play from me this year outside any playlists I might have made. TV HWY is the latest project by Dead When I Found Her’s Michael Arthur Holloway. Like his Industrial Project, TV HWY has amazing sound design. The tripped out and spacey synths vary and change from track to track, but still come together as a cohesive whole. Each of the track names is a sci-fi reference, though I confess to missing a couple. Icarus II is a nice dreamy track with an echoing beat. Nostromo is a track with a clanging beat that hews a little closer to Holloway’s work in Dead When I Found Her. If you’re at all a fan of heady techno, this album is worth looking at.
It's For Us - Stay
It’s For Us is capital P post-punk. Equally aggressive and moody, Stay is an album that keeps moving and washes over you on the first few listens. The band says that the album comes from heavy times in their personal life, so as you dig in you get to the loss and turmoil that fuels the fury. Huddinge starts with an echoey bass line and Camilla’s voice, it’s a powerful effect that leads into a track that’s a mournful dirge. At the middle point of the album, it’s a strong anchor. Catcher in the Rye is a more upbeat song that brings the latter half of the album back to a rolling boil.
Black Dots - Everything Has Gotta Change
Blacks Dots are a band I came across when Razorcake published them playing Everything Has Gotta Change as a preview months before the album came out. Rocking and emotional in the style of Dillinger Four or The Slow Death, the band blew me way while I waited patiently for the final product. I wasn’t disappointed. This record is a buzzsaw of frustrated ambition and lost weekends. I Knew It! I’m Surrounded By Assholes is probably the stand out track with the great line, “Warm beer tastes better when you’re drinking all alone, it tastes even better on the sidewalk.” Opa finds the band in a stomping anthemic mode, evoking the best memories of basement shows and lost weekends listening to records.
Angel Olsen - All Mirrors
Lush and full of strings, All Mirrors is an experience of a record. There’s not a bad song on here as Angel Olsen mixes melancholic songs with atmospheric synths and strings. The result sounds a bit out of time as it’s drawing huge influence from the past, like The Ronettes and Peggy Lee,but filtered through modern production and Olsen strong voice as a songwriter. New Love Cassette is probably my favorite on the album, with a throbbing, slow bass line that oozes out of your headphones. Tonight takes a slow sad track and fills it with strings elevating the melancholic mood to an epic sendoff. Though, to be honest, there’s not a bad track on here. (No Bandcamp embeds for these songs, so just doing the embed for the whole album.)
Devours - Iconoclast
When an album opens with “Nostalgia’s the worst. Who even needs to gives a fuck about the ‘90s anymore. But I can’t get enough of it.” I am going to pay attention. Iconoclast finds Devours deconstructing his own bottomless nostalgia, identity, and mental health. All of this is done over deconstructed pop with infectious hooks, but the sonic palette is never boring. There’s echoes of chip tunes, classical synth-pop, and grimy techno all coming together to make an album that sounds entirely new. The title track closes the album to make sure you don’t miss the point with the final line “No god will ever shame me” fading out. (In true 90’s fashion there is a hidden track, but it’s more of an outro.) Gimp Mask is a straight ahead pop song apologizing for not being in love, but the hook combines a pile of synths and samples into glitchy beautiful mess.
Klack - Introducing The 1984 Renault LeCar
Bringing together Eric from Null Device and Matt from Caustic was always a winning proposition. Klack lets the two bring together their aesthetic and musical sensibilties with an eye on the classics of the genre. With two EP’s this year, along with a couple of singles, they really hit their stride in creating exciting music that draws from the entire history of electronic music. Lost Without You is a straight-ahead pop song with a catchy hook. This ended up as one of my most listened to tracks of the year. Time v1.1 closes the album with a slow track channeling some classic string sounds and a dual vocal that shows the strengths of both members. Grab this EP, grab the new EP, grab all the singles. Klack is an act you shouldn’t miss.
Comaduster - Darker Matter
The drum programming on Darker Matter deserves an entry by itself. From start to finish this album throbs with power. One of the things that best defines Comaduster as a project is the approach to sound design. The palette is broad and dense, ensuring that each listen you go back for a little more. A track like Fever Rift manages to be at once aggressive musically but soft through a vocal melody that is pushed up and down throughout the mix. Bad Blood builds from the quiet of the song that precedes it into a cacophony of stomping noise. Had this not come out at the beginning of the December it would have gotten a lot more play throughout the year. Comaduster is a project that defies categorization, and draws from a ton of different influences to create something unlike anything else on this list.
Null Device - Line Of Sight
Line of Sight finds Null Device locked into both their sound and their song writing. There’s not a spare track on this album, every minute is packed with excellent hooks and great lyrics. The album's leads off with a lot of urgency and gently eases you into a string of great synth pop tracks. So Bizarre evokes a classic genre sound but packs it in a slick modern production that’s almost addictive. Heartbeat in the Noise is a slower ballad less likely to conjure dancing around the house, but Jill Sheridan’s vocals should hit you right in the feels.
clipping. - There Existed An Addiction To Blood
When a record ends with a eighteen minute track called Piano Burning and it is what it says right on the tin, you’re not dealing with your average album. But then again clipping. isn’t your average project. Daveed Diggs called There Existed An Addiction To Blood a permutation of horrorcore, and producers Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson bring the noise match the lyrics. There’s piles of static and noise behind Diggs’ rhymes, mixing together to make something wholly unique in hip-hop. The lyricism is vivid, Club Down renders modern America in the light of a post apocalypse. Run For Your Life is a straight crime story recast as a paranoid slasher flick. There’s exciting things happening as the first generation of artists who grew up in the genre mixer of the Internet come of age, and if this is what we get, I’m in.
Physical Wash - Physical Death
￼It’s going to be hard to talk about Physical Wash without talking about Susan Subtract’s work in High-Functioning Flesh. That project, over a series of three albums and an EP, infused punk’s anger into drum machines, synthesizers, and samplers to create an original sounds that sat at the edge of EBM and Industrial, but was clearly something new. Physical Death picks up that thread but weaves it into something different. The glitchy sample work and heavy beats are still here, but the sound design is more inventive and the mix more lo-fi and aggressive. It hews closer to a traditional industrial sound, but without sacrificing any of the inventiveness or aggression. Way Down definitely evokes some of the classic HFF sound with its glitched samples, but the sound is a bit darker than where they left off. Deprived closes the album with more of a groove, but is still filled with the same urgency as the other tracks.
Stats - Other People's Lives
After I heard Stats first EP, I described them to people as The Talking Heads polished to a perfect pop sheen. Their first full-length Other People’s Lives still starts from the same angular funk place, but with a much wider variety of sounds. The hooks are a bit tighter as well, this record cruises along. A Change of Scenery is a danceable ode to traveling and wanderlust. From A High Sky is a more downtempo track about how that distance catches up with you. The last couple songs are ballads that slow down the album down a bit, but other than that sequencing mistake, it’s great.
Boris The Sprinkler - Vespa To Venus
If you don’t understand why Boris The Sprinkler releasing their first album in almost twenty years is exciting, you probably missed the hey day of Pop Punk in the ‘90s. (Which is fine, you don’t have to be disappointed about what shitheads Ben Weasel and Joe Queer turned out to be.) What you shouldn’t miss is the mixture of juvenile jokes, excellent hooks, and a danceable rhythm section that is Boris The Sprinkler. Vespa To Venus finds the band in fine form despite their long torpor in the Northwoods of Wisconsin—their pop sensibilities are honed to a sharp edge. Wip Wap Woo shows off N0rb’s love of Bubblegum garage bands from the 60’s. (When We Wore) The Haircuts (We Were The Ones) is a celebration and self-mockery of nostalgia, at the very least the self-awareness should make you smile. It doesn’t hurt that song has one of the best bass lines on the whole record. This is album is good enough, it's a place to start if you never heard them before.
Statiqbloom - Asphyxia
Noisy, loud, and aggressive. If you were looking to ease someone back into modern industrial that had fallen off, Statiqbloom wouldn’t be a bad place to start. That isn’t to mean that it sounds dated, there’s nary a Terminator keyboard to be found on Asphyxia. Instead, you get a layer of static over every sound, and the vocals cut above the mix in a growl. Possession is a stomper that should put a sneer on your face. Eight Hearts, Eight Spikes is a shout into the void that rattles your bones. This is visceral music, exactly what Industrial should be.
Mono - Nowhere Now Here
Mono is probably the most vital of the Post-Rock wave from the late ‘90s/early ‘00s. They have a focus on creating impressionistic suites based on theme, and Nowhere Now Here invokes a bombed out city after a war. There’s signs of life, but the feeling is bleak and haunting. After You Comes The Flood is the track that will grab you, coming after a quiet intro the drums are giant and dominate the sound. Meet Us Where The Night Ends is a slower track, but has a really interesting interplay in the rhythm section. Mono is a band that never really caught in the US, but that’s a shame because they’re fantastic.
Uranium Club - The Cosmo Cleaners
It feels like we’re always in need of more bands like Uranium Club. Angular, slightly discordant, and aggressive, this record refuses to fade into the background. Channeling the anarchic stylings of NoMeansNo or Gang of Four, this is the best kind of post-punk. Grease Monkey is about a man who may be a little too in love with his car. Man is the Loneliest Animal has a nice swing to it, but is still aggressive. This is a short record, but inventive and fun.
Kontravoid - Too Deep
If there is an act that shows the vitality of the current industrial/EBM scene, it's Kontravoid. Loud ear shattering beats that still make you shake your ass meet a dense array of synths that ensure Too Deep is never boring. Lyrically the record is no slouch either. The vocals are echoey and down in the mix, so the stories of loneliness and isolation might take a couple of listens to sink in, but there's a lot to unpack here. His tendency toward melody puts him ahead of many of his contemporaries, spotlighted on the title track. It has this awesome hook that gels with the chorus perfectly, making some aggressive pop that should lure even skeptical listeners not down for squelching synths. So It Seems (Version 2) is more of a straight ahead EBM track, complete with stomping beat and throbbing bass lines. I slept on this record for a few months after it came out, don't make the same mistake I did. Grab it now.