Welcome to 2019, a time where music has splintered into so many different directions that it feels increasingly futile to try and conceptualise it as any kind of coherent whole. To be fair we gave up years ago and now cheerfully embrace the chaos. So what follows are numerous rabbit holes, strange tangents, and unexpected moments of ecstatic beauty. There’s a ridiculous amount of truly great music here – that regardless of your fetish will keep you going for hours. So thanks for reading in 2019, thanks to all our writers, but most of all thanks to the incredible awe inspiring musicians who continue create transcendent and inspiring works of art in our culturally desolate times. Chaos Reigns.
Bob Baker Fish (Features Editor)
Praed – Doomsday Survival Kit (Akuphone)
Bombastic electrified slabs of breathless hyper energetic psychedelic Shaabi that will grab you by the throat and drag you into an ecstatic hypnosis.
Zonal – Wrecked (Relapse Records)
Hard to choose between this and Kevin Martin’s amazing highly personal Room40 release Sirens, or his dark dub poetry King Midas Sound. In the end it was the hard edged brutality and Moor Mother’s twisted vocals. I was a big fan of Techno Animal, and love that this collaboration with Justin Broadrick continues.
Maleem Mahmoud Ghania with Pharoah Sanders – The Trance Of Seven Colors (Zehra)
Oh how I have waited for this to be reissued. Sanders transcends his jazz roots dancing around Moroccan Gnawa trance music and the results are nothing short of sublime.
Lee Scratch Perry – Makumba Rock (On U Sound)
10 inch discoplate of a new tripped out, screwed and demented take on the best track off Sherwood and Perry’s recent album.
Ustad Saami – God is Not A Terrorist (Glitterbeat)
So a 75 year old Pakastani manages to create some of the most powerful music I’ve ever heard. There’s a purity, intensity, anguish and joy in Saami’s plaintive wails. It’s not just about the notes on the 49 note scale he hits. It’s the way it fills you.
Peter Hollo (Website Editor)
Top 5 releases with cello in 2019
I’m always seeking out interesting approaches for playing my instrument, or incorporating it into non-classical contexts.
I was spoiled for choice this year: 2019 was a year in which Nils Frahm collaborator Anne Müller released her delightful debut solo album on Erased Tapes; English cellist Oliver Coates released a side of a split cassette on Italian label OOH-sounds that slides from elegiac cello harmonies through Reichian pop-classical to a finale of processed cello, electronics and breakbeats which gradually gets more rave & idm-influenced as the track goes on; Fat Cat side label 130701 released a remix EP of Polish cellist Resina; and I’m only just processing the incredible work of Ot to, not to, the mysterious lo-fi-hi-tech deconstructed r’n’b of Ian Mugerwa, which frequently harnesses his cello in amongst the artfully mislaid samples, instruments and vocal melisma.
Those contenders aside, here’s my five picks:
Ecker & Meulyzer – Carbon [Subtext Recordings]
I leapt on the new album from Belgian cellist Koenraad Ecker & percussionist Frederik Meulyzer because I love Ecker’s work with duos Lumisokea and Stray Dogs, and Subtext Recordings is a very reliable outlet for bass music, abstract sound & electro-acoustic work. And then as I researched Meulyzer I realised that Ecker & Meulyzer ARE Stray Dogs. Not a million miles from Ecker’s work with Andrea Taeggi in Lumisokea, Stray Dogs showcases a mix of percussion-driven industrial techno and acoustic/processed acoustic sounds. Under their own surnames, their music leans a little more on sound design around Ecker’s cello – multi-tracked bowed discords, sonorous scrapings of horsehair on catgut and clunking of wood – made even more stunning as this album was recorded in Norway at the very remote Svalbard Global Seed Vault, one of a number of secure seed banks around the world housing seeds for a wide variety of essential crops to be used in the event of a global ecological calamity. In these times of climate crisis, it’s vital stuff, and I’m all for instrumental music that engages with subject matter like this – making this important space come alive with resonance.
BirdWorld – UNDA [Focused Silence]
Last year I was delighted to discover the London/Oslo duo BirdWorld, made up of Gregor Riddell on cello & electronics and Adam Teixeira on drums & percussion. They have now found a home on the English experimental label Focused Silence for the debut album UNDA. It’s beautiful and very mysterious stuff – Gregor said to me of their music that they are “really interested in trying to depict a sound that hovers in between reality and a dream state, a bit folkloric/voodoo, we like the idea that music is capable of hypnotising and evoking a sense of magic.” I’d say they have done a pretty good job of that here – whether through distorted bowed cymbals and tremolo cello noise, or softly walking basslines, or decontextualised samples of various sorts. Fascinating sounds.
Annelyse Gelman & Jason Grier – About Repulsion [Fonograf Editions]
This one’s a stretch, but I’m really keen to include it and I can because of the incredible opening track, which is centred around the guest cello of Clare Monfredo – a creative arrangement with harmonics, a plucked ostinato and bowed countermelodies. Eventually Gelman’s vocals & the cello are subsumed & caught up in Grier’s electronic manipulations before breaking free. Gelman, a poet herself, has assembled samples from various contemporary poets on the record as well – Max Ritvo features on the “Maxes”. On “Rain”, multiple versions of Gelman’s singing competes with more & less recognizable field recordings. For all the alienating techniques, it’s incredibly emotive music.
Mary Rapp, Carl Dewhurst & Simon Barker – By ONe of thE Night [Mary Rapp Bandcamp]
Proficient on cello, double bass and vocals, Mary Rapp is one of the great musical talents to emerge from Sydney’s music scene in the last few years. Her solo performances with cello & vocals (and no effects or amplification) are riveting, but here she’s joined by two veteran improvisers from Sydney, guitarist Carl Dewhurst and Simon Barker, creating improvised songs recorded live by Richard Belkner at Free Energy Device Studios in Camperdown, Sydney. Any free jazz freakout tendencies are undercut by drones, repeating patterns and Rapp’s raw, emotive vocals. Her cello, like Arthur Russell’s, finds expression through scratchy harshness as much as melody, and a kind of expressionism that doesn’t necessarily care for demonstrative virtuosity. In any case, it’s an extraordinary collection of songs.
Tomeka Reid Quartet – Old New [Cuneiform]
The brilliant cellist Tomeka Reid released her second quartet album in 2019. Reid’s quartet is a remarkable collection of musicians, with the recent MacArthur Genius Mary Halvorson on guitar, Jason Roebke on double bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. Halvorson’s guitar playing is incredibly expressive, and along with Roebke’s warm bass melds and contrasts with Reid’s versatile cello, whether through angular bop lead lines, scratchy avant-garde anti-melodies, romantic ballads or plucked jazz lines. Although there have been some cellists in the jazz world before (Erik Friedlander and Hank Roberts among others), Tomeka Reid is really pioneering the idea of cellist as jazz leader, and it’s a delight to behold.
I’d like to give a shoutout to Jaimie Branch’s second album Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise, released by International Anthem. Tomeka Reid played with Jaimie Branch when both were in Chicago, but now that both have moved to New York and are much in demand, Reid has been replaced by another amazing cellist, Lester St. Louis, an improv specialist whose contributions are absolutely central to this music too. Branch’s new album has all the virtues of her first, and also vocals on two tracks, including the stretched-out dirgey blues number that (just about) starts the album, calling out “a bunch of wild-eyed racists” (and also paying homage to various other songs throughout) with singing that’s as passionate and distinctive as her trumpet playing. St. Louis’ inventive playing, from industrious bowing to bass-like plucking, is heard all over the album, and even showcased solo on a “lesterlude”.
Seb Chan (founder)
Anatolian Weapons & Seirios Savvaidis – To The Mother Of Gods (Beats In Space)
This collaboration between Anatolian Weapons, a DJ/producer better known for his quirky dancefloor productions and Greek folk singer Seirios Savvaidis was a lovely surprise. It reminded me a lot of mid 1980s eclectic dance music that worked in teh ’space between’ rather than settling into anything particular genre. Each time this would come on at home, I’d immediately recognise the basslines, and have to hit repeat.
As One – Communion (De:Tuned)
Kirk DeGeorgio returned this year with a throwback to his mid 1990s alias As One, with a sterling set of heavily Detroit-influenced dreamy ambient techno that wouldn’t be out of place of Warp around that period, or, for that matter, the covers of 1970s pulp science fiction novels.
Deadbeat & Camara – Trinity Thirty (Constellation)
Berlin-based dub techno producer Deadbeat doing a cover-version of the Cowboy Junkies Trinity Sessions – recorded for Montreeal’s Constellation Records? Yep. With vocalist Camara this album was the sound of Winter for me.
Keifer – Superbloom/Bridges (Stones Throw)
Basically two halves of the same album, Superbloom and Bridges are two excellent EPs of loop-based hip hop beats and jazz piano. Deceptively simple and earwormingly constructed, they’re perfect summer listening.
Tenesha the Wordsmith – Peacocks & Other Savage Beasts (On The Corner)
Oakland’s Tenesha the Wordsmith’s debuit with electronic beats by DJ Khalab was a fiery slam poetry that was a worthy follow up to a eries of excellent guest spots and EPs of past years.
Shida Shahabi – Shifts (130701)
Stockholm-based cellist Shida Shahabi put out one of several excellent albums released this year on Fat Cat’s offshoot 130701. It was a toss up between this and Ian William Craig’s new duo with Missy Donaldson called Minor Pieces.
Freddie Gibbs and Madlib – Bandana (ESGN, Keep Cool Records, Madlib Invazion, and RCA Records)
It was either this or Danny Brown for rap record of the year. A great album, but in a world where I had to choose between Madvillainy or Piñata and Bandana, I’d probably still choose Madvillainy, would you?
Paul Mac – Cataplexy/Redfern Address (Here To Hell)
I didn’t get a chance to really listen to the album but these two tracks both had huge, but different vibes. And Paul Mac in a best of 2019, why not aye.
Kim Gordon – Paprika Pony (Matador)
Again I haven’t really listened to the album too much yet but this track is a low-key incredible joint.
Tunes Of Negation – Reach The Endless Sea (Cosmo Rhythmatic)
My mate Elliot posted a track off this on his old facebook page, so I had a listen. I don’t know too much about the release, but I do know it is pretty damn fascinating.
Tim Hecker – Anoyo (Kranky)
Yeah I dunno, another year another Tim Hecker on my top five. What can I say, there’s a certain purity to what he does. And it was released on my birthday, so that’s nice.
The Budos Band – V (Daptone Records)
Filthy. That’s the word that comes to mind with this thing. Record covers sticky with rings left from high-octane beverages. The smell of hot dust in the back of an amplifier. The floor of a cinema showing naught but exploitation flicks. Something you might’ve heard once in a dream. Cinematic and sexy.
Bobby Krlic – Midsommar Original Score (Milan)
Under his own name rather than the familiar Haxan Cloak moniker, Krlic’s soundtrack to the lights-on horror film ‘Midsommar’ is far less sparse than his regular releases. There’s minimalism, sure, but it’s tempered with a string-driven, glowing feeling of growth, of sunrise warmth. There’s screams, as expected, but the real horror seems to be the ease with which this soundtrack can flip uneasiness towards triumph.
Uboa – The Origin of My Depression (self-released)
Holy fuck, this is grim. A worm burrowing inwards, a mixture of layered, echoing voice and malignant screams; ambient uncertainty and all-out noise. This is the soundtrack to panicked self-loathing, and the weight of the album is absolutely crushing. It’s testimony from the area where the self’s seams begin to split.
The Caretaker – Everywhere, an empty bliss (History Always Favours The Winners)
A surprise release to mark the conclusion of Leyland Kirby’s ‘Everywhere, at the end of time’, this album is a collection of ideas. Of snippets that were woven into the larger work, but which stand on their own. Given that the final Caretaker album is about dementia’s occluding progression, this isn’t a happy listen. But it’s a deeply human one, reminding us that nobody escapes alive.
David Terry & Eye Spirit – The White Horse of the Sun (Opal Tapes)
Two instruments, two microphones and a four-track. A voice. Cello and accordion. Almost two hours. Deep DEEP drones that wouldn’t be out of place on a Phill Niblock album. And always, just around the corner, murmuring voices, and the howl of winds. A remarkably engrossing listen, and one that rewards close attention.
Personally speaking, 2019 is a year I’m going to be very glad to see the back of – my annus horribilis, if you will.
But musically speaking, its been a year of pleasant surprises from some of my ‘usual suspects’, unexpected discoveries, and crate-digging gems. In fact, I’m even so bold to say that time and again the music in my life saved me from losing the plot. Praise the LORD for quality earworms, I say. So, as instructed by Mr Bob Baker Fish, here be my 2019 list – and as per usual, in no particular order :
Thom Yorke – Suspiria(XL Recordings)
I hope someone has advised Mr Yorke to ensure that rickety old upright piano of his is placed into a temperature controlled storage unit for safe keeping- otherwise, he’ll never be able to replicate THAT sound which has become emblematic of his most doleful repertoire. On the (almost) title track ‘Suspirium’, Yorke gifts us with a plaintive and wistful vocal, coupled with the most perfect flute counter melody (never thought I’d write that ever!). Best listened to in the dark.
Elder Island – The Omnitone Collection (The Orchard)
Bristol based Elder Island exhibit such a fascinating range of influences and yet manage to absorb them all, ensuring that their output is original and punchy. Songs like single ‘Kape Fear’ start you thinking that its going to be a sparse backbeat driven ditty with a touch of EBTG – but suddenly some seriously Kraftwerk/New Order-like programmed synth washes in, then takes a turn into dubby house – and we’re off into another dimension. Great vocals by Katy too, with her mesmeric tonal quality. I hope they find more ears in 2020.
Charles Owens Trio – Three and Thirteen (ropeadope)
It wouldn’t be one of my annual top 5 lists if it didn’t include some jazz – I’ve persisted in my mission to get more people listening to jazz for at least, oh, thirty years. My conversion rate is pretty respectable so I ain’t giving up just yet! Charles Owens is a relatively recent discovery for me and he is worth some time investment, for sure. A masterful sax player, Owens conjures up the tones and textures of all sorts of past legends whilst remaining fresh and a man of his own playing. Originals such as the utterly engaging ‘Say you will’ flows into the standard ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’, with a random Christmas carol ‘God Rest ye Merry Gentleman’ thrown in for good measure. Well worth a few listens at least!
Johann Johannson -12 Conversations with Thilo Heinzmann (with Echo Collective) (Deutsche Grammaphon)
Searing melodic lines, funereal silences, mesmeric repetitions, majestic chord clusters – before his untimely death, Johannson managed to capture all of these things and more across his prolific output, many for string orchestras or ensembles. In this latest release, Johannson has provided the perfect coda for his life’s work – although no doubt there will be plenty of future re-recordings if his oeuvre’s increasing popularity is anything to go by. Those who attended the stunning performance of ‘Last and First Men’ at the Sydney Opera House during Vivid 2019 will know what I’m talking about…
Sampa the Great – The Return and Energy (Ninja Tune)
I’ve got a great big soft spot for Sampa. She’s sassy, she clearly knows her music history – expressed in the writing, the impeccable samples and the stylin’ – and Sampa is definitely a woman on a mission. What’s not to love? Lyrically Sampa is no pushover – she avoids the repetitive catch phrases typical of many of her contemporaries (I won’t call them peers because they are not equals!) while simultaneously coining her own hooks. Final Form is still on high rotation (particularly in my office – sorry not sorry to my long suffering staff!).
TT SKTLS – Soft Play
The thing that gets me about this record is that I can’t figure out how it was made. We have layers of electronic sounds smashing against each other, with processed vocals and circuit bent oddness…. It really stands alone as a thing of beauty. TT Sktls is/was the most recent name for Melbourne based musician and visual artist Alex Cuffe. Soft Play was released quietly this year, after TT Sktls had been retired as an act. I encourage you to follow this link and slip a few coins in Alex’s purse for this excellent release.
Jennifer Kent’s follow to the excellent Babadook is at once a departure as well as a logical next step. Contrasting the brutality of colonialism with inherent racial privilege was a bold move, but one that we really needed to see in Australian cinema. Any popular form of entertainment that highlights the abhorrent treatment of our First Nations people needs to be seen as widely as possible, and while this film has been criticised from several angles about several aspects of the production and story, I feel like this is an essential film. It isn’t easy to watch, it’s traumatic and disturbing, bleak and beautiful. Absolutely essential.
Kevin Richard Martin
To say that Kevin Martin has had a busy year would be an understatement. I don’t know how he does it, but he has managed to release album after album of incredibly high quality work, from the heartbreakingly dense Sirens to the crushing Zonal LP, and King Midas Sound to name a few, plus managing to have a family and run events Kev probably should sit down for a minute. But I hear there might be a new Bug LP soon, so yeah, that’ll be good.
Another film that hit us this year was Ari Aster’s follow up to Hereditary. Midsommar paints a slow burning pagan horror, not dissimilar to The Wicker Man, and while it goes where expected for the most part, it is a masterclass of dread and anxiety. Stunning cinematography and great performances make this a joy, if you like creepy weird Nordic death cult films. Luckily I do, so I loved it.
Call me boring but this band have about one million amazing songs and I can’t help but find new ones to fall in love with all the time. This year they reissued their brain-meltingly amazing 2010 self titled LP as well as the Big Laughing Jym EP. Several more of their releases fell into my greasy hands this year and I narrowly missed out on seeing them in NYC by a week. Bummer. Anyway, take a handful of mushrooms, or whatever else you dig and melt into this….
The Passion of the Christ
Being raised without any connection to any type of religion has left me spiritually floundering, clutching at weird things like Discordianism and The Church of the Subgenius. Thankfully Mel Gibson has made a film that shows us heathens the reality about the death of Jesus, the son of God, in the outstanding 2004 masterpiece The Passion of the Christ. Jesus. Yep. Weirdo Mel decided to paint the last hours of Jesus of Nazareth’s life so brutally and graphically in this insane biopic that it is almost impossible to believe it exists. I saw it as the cinema when it first came out, but picked it up on disc this year from a garage sale, and Jesus it’s intense. Apparently several people were struck by lightning during the production, so you know God approves of it. Seriously this is one of the best films of all time. See it.
Kim Gordon – No Home Record (Matador)
When I first played this record it made me feel equal parts queasy, suffocated, hip, and quite frankly confused about the state of many of the world’s environments, cultures and identities. It still makes me feel all those things, but as the year wore on I found myself drawn more and more to its addictive and heady melange of punk, no wave and industrial noise. Gordon remains as enigmatic and timelessly cool as ever as she continues to matter-of-factly deal with a range of contemporary concerns.
Jenny Hval – The Practice of Love (Sacred Bones Records)
This is another immaculate experimental pop release from the Norwegian auteur. Expanding on the ‘90s trance sound suggested on Blood Bitch’s ‘Secret Touch’, the album deals with all sorts of concerns around the theme of love and its representations in contemporary culture in her own inimitable, conversational style.
Jessica Pratt – Quiet Signs (City Slang)
Ideal for late nights and early mornings, the latest from the US psychedelic folk singer-songwriter expands on her earlier records with a quietly accomplished set that seems to exist in a world of its own. Adding some additional sounds to her usually bare instrumentation, Quiet Signs is still proudly lo-fi with an intimate heart, by an artist doing it all on her own terms.
Caterina Barbieri – Ecstatic Computation (Editions Mego)
After a few months of travelling earlier in the year and not listening to new music for a while, Ecstatic Computation was an album that helped bring me back into my regular surroundings. That shouldn’t be of particular surprise, given Barbieri has made a truly mesmerising album full of hypnotic, sensuous and exploratory trance that’s always looking skyward. With such an exuberant personality, and with such an obvious passion for and mastery of her technology, I can’t wait to see where Barbieri goes from here.
Cate Le Bon – Reward (Mexican Summer)
Utterly charming 10 song set from the Welsh singer-songwriter with more than a dash of ‘70s folk rock sounds, with electronic touches and plenty of intricate and unexpected detailing that rewards repeat listens. With an incredibly tight band, Le Bon uses evocative, bizarre and at times gut-wrenching imagery to evoke an oddly comforting sense of isolation and accentuate the weirdness of the everyday.
Rough Fields – Music for 18 Musicians: Rough Fields Overdubbed Version (Bomb Shop)
This is a beautiful reworking of Reich’s seminal masterpiece, the first by a solo artist overdubbing each of the layers. Rough Fields – the moniker of UK artist James Birchall – inserts earnest melodicas, field recordings and acoustic guitars to Reich’s chamber instrumentation to add a new vulnerability to the work.
Tal Wilkenfeld – Love Remains (BMG)
Wilkenfeld steps out of her super high profile sideman shoes (Jeff Beck, Herbie Hancock) to release her debut vocal album. Love Remains snarls, sways and coos throughout.
Cameron Jones – The Waterfall Way (Independent)
The debut album from Australian gyspy jazz troubadour, Cameron Jones. Joyful and relentlessly energetic music led by a true student of the art.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers (Constellation)
Tunng – Songs You Make At Night (Full Time Hobby)
Tunng are consistently great. This record in part harks back to early 2000s folktronica, whilst fearlessly embracing pop hooks and earworm melodies.
Hell Interface – Illusion [Remix] (Societas x Tape)
Each time that Warp Records achieves another decade of existence something very interesting happens. And for the third time the WXAXRXP Showcase took over NTS. Any BoC couldn’t have helped but to get utterly excited by the Societas X Tapes that streamed on Sunday. It was Boards Of Canada’s first ever Dj mix, it was going to be filled with secrets. This Hell Interface Remix being one of them, blending Grace Jones, the 80’s band Imagination, and Aquarius (Version 3). Right after a supposed unreleased vignette from Boards. Mindblowing.
Colorlist – When The Time Is Right
From Colorlist’s first album in over 5 years on the admired Serein label. ‘When The Time Is Right’ is probably the most soothing track that I’ve heard the whole year.
Adam Basanta – Joy
What is musique concrète’s aim? Adam Basanta takes a new approach here and creates an otherworldly journey on his album ‘Intricate Connections Formed Without Touch’.
Odd Nosdam – Cookies
An experienced crate digger, Odd Nosdam does it again with Mirrors, his new LP on Alien Transistor. ‘Cookies’ is one of those tunes that I just had to play a million times.
EOB – Santa Teresa
Every Radiohead-head went probably nuts after realising that the guy in charge of most of their atmospheres was finally going to release his debut album. Remember Treefingers from Kid A? This is Ed O’Brien exploring that topic in full length. ‘Santa Teresa’ was just the first single that was released.
Dj. Flugvél Og Geimskip – Apocolypse
Our Atlantis was released on the Dutch imprint Geertruida by Icelandic artist Steinunn Harðardóttir. ‘Apocolypse’ is a shamanic mixture of folk and psychedelia that has variations on its BPM and it’s just…haunting.
A label recommended as a bonus: Guerrilla Tunes. https://guerrillatunes.bandcamp.com
Hailing from Córdoba, Argentina, Guerrilla Tunes has been putting out cassettes of experimental, ambient, IDM, downtempo, dreams, etc. There were just too many releases to choose one. Try starting with Mauricio Island or Fake Cities.
Finally a proper radio-station hailing from Buenos Aires, 24 hours full-on electronic music with exclusive material. Launched their streaming sessions with Zadig, and they’ve got very interesting radio shows such as Jonas Kopp doing ambient and experimental, Catnapp with her ‘Gato Fantasma’ show and showcases from labels such as Aula Magna Records, Move (Colombia) and more!
Ifriqiyya Electrique, Laylet el-Boree (Glitterbeat)
Loscil, Equivalents (Kranky)
M. Geddes Gengras, I Am the Last of That Green and Warm-Hued World (Hausu Mountain)
Ana Roxanne, ~~~ (Leaving Records)
R beny, Echo´s Verse (Dauw)
Vanessa Wagner, Inland Versions (InFine)
Tsone, Pagan Oceans I, II, III (Home Normal)