Features Music Year End 2019 Scene Point Blank's Favorites: Year End (2019)

Year End 2019

Music: Scene Point Blank's Favorites: Year End (2019)

The end of a year and the end of a decade – 2019 is done and it's over to SPB to tell you about the best albums you heard (or didn't) over the past twelve months. Read on to discover the 25 records our staff collectively voted on as the best albums released in 2019, as well as their individual lists used to assemble the main one here. Let us know what we missed, and go and catch up on the ones you didn't catch last year. Happy listening!

Overall list

1

Idle Hands

Mana

Eisenwald

The metal scene is one that moves in cycles, with sub-genres becoming the flavour of the month before the hot new thing moves in to take over the masses for a short time. Goth rock, however, always seems to stay the course. There’s something about the sounds, the feelings, the time period it evokes, and for those reasons the style never seems to go out of fashion. For Idle Hands, those older days are the inspiration for one of the most impressive debuts of the year. Mana is only their first record but they already seem so assured and confident that it’s hard to believe the band have been together for only the best part of two years. Mana plays in an extremely cinematic way with songs that create a distinct narrative from beginning to end. It reads like a thrilling journey of finding love to losing hope and the tribulations that must be handled along with those exciting - and depressing - exploits of youth. (Cheryl)

2

DIÄT

Positive Disintegration

Iron Lung

Positive Disintegration is an ideal name for this album, the follow-up to Positive Energy, which DIÄT released in 2015. The record is dreary post-punk with a lot of repetition and monotone vocals that carry a beaten-down-by-the-world-but-the-show-must-go-on vibe. “We,” starts things on this path, but as the record progresses that exasperation turns to a call for action at times. DIÄT embrace monotonous tones while managing to make a diverse record, with strong, subtle, tight, and dense songwriting. (Loren)

3

Lingua Ignota

Caligula

Profound Lore

A second album merging metal, folk and noise rock, Rhode Island's Kristin Hayter unleashes a furious burst against domestic abuse and violence. Angry, powerful, operatic and sated on revenge, this is an experimental triumph. (Matt)

4

Blanck Mass

Animated Violence Mild

Sacred Bones

After the hiatus of Fuck Buttons, producer Benjamin John Power has been busy making this, his fourth Blanck Mass album. Crushing, distorted beats meet a manifesto on loss and capitalism, and powered seemingly by raw fury. (Matt)

5

Vånna Inget

Utopi

Gaphals Records

Vånna Inget is a band I almost forgot about. That’s what six years of absence can do. Things have not been completely quiet during those years to be honest: there's been a single and a live album, but those releases flew under my radar. Vånna Inget relies on catchy melodies and vocal lines that you will be able to reproduce for days. Their punk influences were already pretty minimal on Allvar. On Ingen Botten a bit of the punk edge was replaced by Joy Division influences. Reduce that punk edge even more and I am not sure if I can still enjoy it. Utopi puts this to the test. The sense of melody and Karolina’s voice are the two ingredients that tie these songs together, that prevent it from being a random collection of songs, which is something not be neglected. (Dennis)

6

Lightning Bolt

Sonic Citadel

Thrill Jockey

Album number seven from the duo renowned for the sheer loudness and distortion of their crumpled riffery and thrashing, and this time we can almost make out the words. Pushing the boundary but still riffing and gnarly, this is proof that 25 years doesn't always dull a band's sound. (Matt)

7

Lana Del Rey

Norman Fucking Rockwell!

Polydor / Interscope

Consensus seems to be that Norman Fucking Rockwell! speaks volumes about the nature of the American dream in contemporary times. Which is true. Moreover, Lana Del Rey's latest struck me as the druggy and depressive pop album we deserved in a year that was a kind of a mess from any number of perspectives. (Andy)

8

ESC Life

Born To Be Mild

PDV Records/Last Exit Music/Ill In The Head Records/Bartolini Records

What I really enjoy about this album (and their previous output) is how these guys have mastered the art of sounding completely relaxed and energetic at the same time. That combination for me makes it the ideal music for good weather. It allows me to relax without lulling me to sleep. A difficult combination to create, but ESC Life makes it happen on each and every song. The production is crystal clear and allows every instrument to shine; just what this type of music needs. (Dennis)

9

FKA Twigs

Magdalene

Young Turks

The artist known for covering the full spectrum—visual arts, dance, cinematography and multimedia—is back with an almost-concept album about Mary Magdalene, written by a Catholic school graduate. (Matt)

10

Pandemix

In Condemnation

Dirt Cult

Pandemix are new to me, and they’re difficult to sum up in just a few words. That’s a compliment. It’s punk by genre, but a few subgenre adjectives aren’t going to capture the band. In Condemnation isn’t exactly complex (we’re talking punk rock here), but it’s diverse in subtle ways that keep the energy level high and fresh as it shreds through 10 tracks in 28 minutes. There is so much variety, yet it’s cohesive and subtle without losing its tone or its own voice. I’m already excited to hear more from the band. (Loren)

11

Mizmor

Cairn

Gilead Media

The acceptance or rejection of religion is a process that is personal and can often be fraught with turmoil and fear. For Portland’s מזמור (written as Mizmor) the process of rejection of religion began late in life and for founder and sole recording member A.L.N. that process was one wracked with pain, guilt and the knowledge that God does not have the answers. The struggle between this and what was promised via religion is one that A.L.N. has documented through the blackened doom lens of Mizmor’s music since its inception seven years ago and the process has never felt more real and intimate than it does on Cairn. (Cheryl)

12

Ceremony

In the Spirit World Now

Relapse

It’s fun to introduce old Ceremony to their new fans and hear comments like, “Wow, that guy must’ve worked out his anger issues”. It’s true that Ross Farrar’s lyrics have recently favored elegant introspection over spiteful threats to fight society with hate-packed fists, or to strangle it, or to curb stomp it, or to watch it burn to the fucking ground. Ceremony haven’t been making angry hardcore for the past three albums, and the dance tracks on In the Spirit World Now are the furthest cry from their powerviolence days. And that’s ok, because they still play plenty of old stuff at their live shows, giving everyone a chance to mosh and stage dive in between swaying and bopping. In the Spirit World Now is a great foray into pop while still paying homage to their roots and their influences. (Stephanie)

13

Big Thief

U.F.O.F.

4AD

It's rather amazing that, while many artists struggle to get one decent album together in a given year, this quartet released two full-lengths in 2019, both of which are fantastic. I'm giving the slight edge to U.F.O.F. over Two Hands for the fact that it contained a song that, upon listening to for the first time, I immediately had to go back and listen to again. I haven't been similarly wowed by an "indie" project in quite a while. (Andy)

14

We Never Learned To Live

The Sleepwalk Transmissions

Holy Roar Records

This is a concept album comprised of short stories that are translated to songs. Every short story inspired by Philip K. Dick. The overarching theme of these stories is isolation. In these songs it is explored what it means to live in a world governed by technology and the isolation that can bring with it. Just think of the isolation we impose upon ourselves by the use of technology today. A pretty hot topic, isn’t it? With some albums I would recommend a couple of tracks to listen to. I refuse to do so with The Sleepwalk Transmissions. This is an album to be devoured in one sitting. And when you are done with that, you will probably go back to the A-side and repeat the process. Yeah, it is just that good. (Dennis)

15

Baroness

Gold & Grey

Abraxan Hymns

The Philadelphia four piece are back with this, their fifth record, and an extremely personal one at that. Tight, slick, filled with soundscapes and melodies, this is uplifting and profound all at once. (Matt)

16

Dead Bars

Regulars

A-F

Dead Bars are one of those bands that’s somehow both fun and super depressing. The lyricism is what you’ll normally read about with this band – and for good reason – but it’s all around fun-yet-meaningful punk that fits different moods and brings out different emotions depending on when you listen to it. Much like “I’m a Regular,” it took me a couple listens to fully get this record. I liked it, but the production seemed a little to crisp for a band I’d first heard on scruffy 7”s. Jack Endino’s production, best known for his work with Seattle bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden, just didn’t feel right. Repeated listening has appeased that first impression, though. (Loren)

17

Alcest

Spiritual Instinct

Nuclear Blast

Spirituality is one of the more personal topics that an artist can speak about within their music and it’s something that is coloured by experiences and by life as it happens around them. Where many find comfort, some find fear and where some find fear, many find comfort. For Alcest’s Neige (Stéphane Paut), that comfort comes from childhood experiences that he wholly believes happened and that he had no real outlet for until the discovery of music in his teens. For Alcest, the music is surely a catharsis and for listeners there is a similar effect on the psyche. Hope may not be offered but the allusion is that it is possible, that deep within the darkness it lives, like the transience of twilight. (Cheryl)

18

Glitterer

Looking Through the Shades

Anti-

Is this an art project? Stream of conscious? Are they even songs? Ned Russin, of Title Fight fame, uses this solo project to explore synths, soundscapes and drum machines. It's experimental, it's weird, it's powerful. You might even enjoy it. (Matt)

19

La Dispute

Panorama

Epitaph

Five years after the last release by the Grand Rapids post-hardcore heroes, they've signed to Epitaph and released this collection of strong grooves, clever guitar, introspective lyrics half-buried and powerful melody and melancholia. (Matt)

20

Laurie Anderson, Tenzin Choegyal, Jesse Paris Smith

Songs from the Bardo

Smithsonian Folkways

A combination of readings from the Tibetan Book of the Dead fused with sound collages, traditional instruments, piano and spoken word, this is one of the most original and intriguing releases this year. Not so much a collection of songs as an experience to sit down and be immersed in. (Matt)

21

Coathangers

The Devil You Know

Suicide Squeeze

Much of what I listen to on the regular is of the three-chord punk variety. While I want the bands in that field to switch up their sound, to develop and grow, the differences are usually pretty subtle in that world. The Coathangers, though, are something else and for some reason I’m always surprised when I put on each new record and hear the evolution first hand. So where does this record stand? It’s consistent all the way through and it meets every expectation. I won’t say it’s a gamechanger for the band, but it’s damn good. There’s clever alt-pop, rage, balladry and pretty much everything in between. (Loren)

22

Schammasch

Hearts Of No Light

Prosthetic Records

Hearts Of No Light is the sound of a band coming to terms with their future by exploring the darkened pathways of the past. After the monumental triple album Triangle of 2016, the expectations placed on the Swiss group from both outside the band and within it led to a deconstructing of their sound and the rebuilding of what drove them to create music in the beginning. Schammasch have long brought a more avant-garde tone to their take on black metal and where Hearts Of No Light succeeds, is in its ability to wrap those structures around the more traditional base elements of the genre. The band create cinematic, weighty soundscapes with the essence of black metal at its core yet it is moving defiantly into the future. (Cheryl)

23

Ossia

Devil's Dance

Blackest Ever Black

A debut album by this British dub/techno guru and it's unhinged: finishing with a 23 minute closing track and featuring appropriate levels of dread for something so titled, this is an exciting and essential listen for dub heads everywhere. (Matt)

24

BlackDots

Everything Has Gotta Change

Snappy Little Numbers / La Escalera Records

Some albums just hit you right away. I was vaguely aware of BlackDots – some friends saw them at The Fest last year and said nice things, so I figured I should check it out myself when a lovely one-sided 12” showed up at my door. Life is complex and so are the emotions conveyed within Everything Has Gotta Change. Like the title, it’s cynical and somewhat depressing. But it’s simultaneously uplifting and unifying – with the vocal tradeoffs and penchant for harmonies highlighting that metaphor. It’s not about the struggle; it’s about getting through the struggle.

25

Borknagar

True North

Centry Media Records

Is it really possible that the best pop song of the year is actually on a black metal record? With lead single "Up North," Norway's Borknagar have created a song full of delicous melody, a chorus with hooks for days and a message that is supremely important - we must look after this Earth. While Borknagar may have left behind the more obvious blackened elements of their sound, True North manages to retain that metallic sheen that we have come to love and still progress the genre into the future. ICS Vortex's clean vocal lines on the aforementioned "Up North" is potentially the voice performance of the year and for that alone, True North is a wonderful entry in their huge catalogue. (Cheryl)

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Words by the SPB team on Jan. 1, 2020, 3:16 p.m.

Main 19 photo by TLV and More

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Scene Point Blank's Favorites: Year End (2019)

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