SACHA’S BEST OF 2019

(AND UH… OTHER YEARS)

On New Year’s Eve last year, I decided that my main resolution would be to listen to at least two albums each week; one new (from the last six months or so) and one from before 2019. I actually stuck to it, so I’ve decided to attempt to digest the experience. I’m not under the pretense of being a tastemaker or influencer; mine are no more legitimate than others’ experiences, but they are the only experiences I can write about. So here I go.

I decided to rank these albums in order of how much I enjoyed them personally, using a rudimentary tier system as I went along (masterful > great > very good > good > ok > flawed > bad). The ‘masterful’ tier was only used twice, and only for albums released before 2019. However, there honestly isn’t an album on these lists that I didn’t find enjoyable on some level. That’s generally how I experience music; I focus on what I enjoy about a project even if it is obviously flawed or not consistent with my usual taste. There were only four albums that I deemed ‘flawed’ (that A$AP Rocky record features at least one absolute banger though) and the ‘bad’ tier was never used. There were many more that I deemed just ‘ok’; records which provided enjoyment but were ultimately somewhat disappointing. Some of my favourite artists careened into this category, such as Mac DeMarco, Beck (after releasing two remarkable records consecutively) and Chance the Rapper, who used 2019 to make a remarkable metamorphosis from icon to meme after dropping his ill-conceived ‘debut album’ (his previous works are referred to as mixtapes) and not being able to stop telling Twitter how much he loves his wife. Poor Chance. The relentless wholesomeness of the record genuinely elevated my mood on first listen though, so I still gleaned some merit. ‘Hot Shower’ is pretty enjoyable, despite MadeinTYO’s best efforts to ruin it with what might be the most laughably bad verse I’ve ever heard.

I can’t remember the last pop-punk record that was anywhere near as good as Pup’s Morbid Stuff. It made me realise that the genre is not dead, and I have neither outgrown it nor do I hate it, it’s just usually made by either novice I can’t remember the last pop-punk record that was anywhere near as good as Pup’s Morbid Stuff. It made me realise that the genre is not dead, and I have neither outgrown it nor do I hate it, it’s just usually made by either novice musicians who have a very boring grasp of harmony and rhythm, or aging manchildren who have put aside hating each other for long enough to flesh out their retirement funds. There is a lot of refreshing content here: infusions of odd time signatures; chord progressions that unfold effortlessly behind expressive instrumentation and catchy melodies, none of which seem surplus; and moments of chugging breakdowns (‘Full Blown Meltdown’), noise-rock influence (‘City’) and intentionally jarring lo-fi production (‘Morbid Stuff’). Stefan Babcock’s lyrics and vocal deliveries are sometimes funny and sometimes tragic, but always potently sincere. ‘Full Blown Meltdown’ is an evocative rant that needs to be Googled and read in full (seriously), and then there’s the very special song that is ‘Scorpion Hill’. Its opening is sparse yet anthemic and typically angsty, and while the ensuing guitar melody is melancholic, it certainly didn’t prepare me for the fantastically paced realness of the lyrics. Around the end of the second verse the scale of the bleakness starts unfolding, then all of a sudden I’m holding back tears at the mention of the child on his first day of school. Every time, no exaggeration. There are maybe two other songs I can think of that have this effect on me, but this one is the most extreme. The takeaway is that this is an album devoid of all pretense in an era when pretense rules supreme. Speaking of pretense…

After a thirteen-year drought, progressive metal band Tool’s comeback record divided fans. Personally, I love it as much as I had hoped I would. (Massive cliché incoming: I waited until my partner was asleep, smoked a joint, listened to the whole 86 minutes on good headphones and sank into the sofa in awe. I guess I am just that guy.) For context, there is very little that shaped my musical identity as much as this album’s 2006 predecessor 10,000 Days; a record that is not often regarded as one of the band’s best. As a fifteen year-old drummer I inevitably fell victim to Tool like a lamb to the slaughter, sparking an interest in rhythmically complex music. But while I loved that record, I always felt that they could top it — it was so different to previous works that I thought the band must be on the verge of refining this newer hypnotic, tribal, introspective element of their sound. And while I understand others’ reasons for disappointment, for me Fear Inoculum delivers this refinement with a sense of delayed gratification; it’s the continuation of 10,000 Days that I used to imagine. While some reviewers lamented the songs’ lengths and indulgences, the ambitious exploration of rhythmic potential within a song is what defines my Tool experience. As a musician, complex music does something for me that simpler music does not: when music is as dense as this, the part of my brain that is always ‘keeping up’ musically to some extent is able to turn off and accept that it doesn’t know what’s coming. It’s like I regain some aural naiveté that I had lost along the way. I’d advise staying away from the fan theories on the band’s subreddit though.

Every new King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard album seems to try its hand at a different style — this time it’s a thrash metal concept album channelling the likes of Slayer, Metallica and Black Sabbath. The A-side chronicles Earth’s ecological collapse, while the B-side follows a group of rebels attempting to settle on Venus after being forced to leave Earth, falling victim to ‘Venusian sickness’ and the like. As with previous releases, the band has employed a seamless tracklisting which works better here than ever due to the relentless nature of the music. In keeping with their reputation as one of the most prolific acts in the game, this is the second King Gizzard record of 2019 after Fishing for Fishies, which I plan on hearing soon.

Billie Eilish’s debut lives up to the hype. If it hadn’t been for one of my young singing students I might not have bought into it, but I’m so glad I did. It’s got me really excited to see what the sibling songwriting team of Billie and Finneas will do next. The production here is phenomenal thanks to the latter — if I’d ranked albums based on production this would top the list, no question. The track ‘xanny’ uses an incredible technique in its choruses: glitchy distortion and panning effects are applied to the vocal but sidechained to a filthy synth bass, meaning that the effects only kick in whenever the bass is present. The result is a bass track that sounds like it’s somehow powerful enough to disturb other elements of the track. In terms of production on individual songs this year, Vampire Weekend’s ‘Sympathy’ is too damn cool to not be my number one. That double bass-led breakdown may also be my favourite musical moment of 2019. My immediate thought was ‘this is going to be used to sell some big corporation’s product’ — sure enough, it was later claimed by Apple. Alas, I’m doomed to live a life of cultural prescience. Foresight is 20/20. I digress — the rest of this record is unfortunately spotty, but there are some wonderfully upbeat tracks like ‘Harmony Hall’ and ‘How Long?’ as well as nice features by the likes of Danielle Haim and Steve Lacy.

If you don’t know Jacob Collier yet, please take this opportunity to familiarise yourself. This 25 year-old may be the greatest musical mind of our generation. I promise you this is not an exaggeration — to support this claim I would actually recommend not starting with any of his records but the short BBC video of him tapping five different rhythms with five different digits on one hand, making a dense polyrhythm. Then I’d draw your attention to his YouTube content, where he has been building a following since he was a teenager. Then I’d insist that you grab your most immersive headphones, wait until the quietest hour of the night, and play his a capellaarrangement of Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s ‘Moon River’. The session file consisted of 5292 audio regions’ worth of vocals according to his Instagram, all of which work together to create gnarly reharmonisations and modulations using just about every phonetic sound across Collier’s huge range. The madman even employs microtonality effectively — listen for the glorious extended microtonal glissando from 7:00–7:47. To quote Adam Neely: ‘that guy is obnoxiously good at music’. I’m aware that many people don’t love his music and I do find some of his video content to be a bit cringe-inducing, but I wouldn’t change a thing about him. This album shows that he’s dedicating his life to being as creative as possible and just unashamedly doing his thing, and it’s great to behold.

Other highlights include feel-good funk masters Vulfpeck’s late entry; a live recording of their incredible sell-out Madison Square Garden show, The Raconteurs’ solid comeback album (it’s just a shame Jack White has outed himself as a boomer with his ‘no phones at my gigs’ policy), Lana del Ray finding her sound in Norman Fucking Rockwell! and virtuosic ensemble Snarky Puppy’s most artistically cohesive album to date in Immigrance. There are some lesser known artists in there too, so allow me to briefly flash my hipster credentials: tortuganónima (Spanish for ‘anonymous turtle’) is a fantastic Chilean math-rock band I’ve been following since 2012 (I think I discovered them on Bandcamp when my old math-rock band released an EP around the same time). Unlike a lot of their contemporaries the band always manages to avoid sounding too clinical in their rhythmic accuracy, maintaining a sense of chaos akin to bands like At the Drive-In. Beige Palace’s debut LP Leg is a very refreshing listen — the minimalist hardcore band from Leeds manages to hit the sweet spot between noisy instrumentation and flattering production, while the tongue-in-cheek lyrics are often genuinely hilarious. And while I might be late to the party on this one, my discovery of the Scottish Highlands’ Elephant Sessions was certainly a 2019 highlight; the band seamlessly blends Celtic music with math- and indie-rock in a way that makes me wonder why I haven’t heard it more often.

I listened to a lot of local music this year too — this was kind of a bonus weekly objective after listening to my two LPs. I opted against ranking these predominantly Belfast-based artists on the basis that it would be a political faux pas for me as a musician in the scene, but I will mention some highlights. Until this year I had completely slept on Robocobra Quartet. Their 2016 debut album Music for All Occasions blew me away; its flavour of ‘art-rock meets jazz’ satisfying a longing I didn’t know I had. I decided to make this album the exception to the rule and feature it in my pre-2019 list for a few reasons: it’s the only pre-2019 local full-length I listened to this year, I don’t know them personally, and I absolutely love it.

While Mosmo Strange’s Dingus EP was released on CD format in 2018 (I’ve been blasting it in my wee Clio ever since), its digital release wasn’t until 2019, so it gets a mention here. I’ve said to anyone who will listen that the title track is, without question, my favourite track of 2018, and I stand by it. The band’s new EP Sippy Cup is also very good, using a considerably more raw, DIY approach to its advantage. NEWT’s Autoimmune is a mathy EP with so much replay value for me due to catchy tracks like ‘He Loves You’, and the band is seriously impressive live in a completely different way. My dear friend Don Maple has had a very prolific year, both as an artist and a human being: he got married in June, dropped a great full-length album called Sorry in August as well as the surprisingly filthy hip hop single ‘No Internet.’ in December, and is due to drop a real life baby in 2020 (please don’t actually drop your baby). Pascalwillnotsurvivethis released two beautiful EPs, the most recent of which (Castaway)being recorded in New Jersey and produced by Jamie Hewitt on his phone, à la Steve Lacy. Jealous of the Birds’ gradual world domination has been very entertaining to watch, Wynona Bleach recorded an album in Portugal with fucking Bill Ryder-Jones producing, and elsewhere there has been great activity from HAVVK, Dreamreading, John Andrews, Denise Chaila, Hot Cops, Alpha Chrome Yayo, Romeo Indigo Romeo, Gemma Bradley, Willoware Jackson, EVA, Beauty Sleep, Sex Hardcore, Junk Drawer, Joel Harkin, Problem Patterns, Sasha Samara, Dandelion Tea, Kojaque, blxxd, Gender Chores, Dugout, Paper Tigers, and so many more that I’ve forgotten. Just read the rest of this zine! And yes, I have featured my own single in the Spotify playlists. (Don’t @ me). I can proudly say that ‘Dreamers’ features some of the best songwriting and production I’ve ever done, and I’m beyond excited to share the rest of the EP with you in early 2020. Big things coming and all that. 


It’s nice that I’m still figuring out exactly what I like, while simultaneously maintaining respect for the music I grew up with. And the year is not over yet — I’ll be listening to a few more records and adding highlights to the playlists until 2020. I might even update this article and post it in a digital format, so watch Zool’s/Sacha’s social media for that. Then I’ll start the whole wretched process again, except next year I’ll aspire to write a paragraph on each as I go along instead of pulling an all-nighter in mid-December. Thank you so much for reading. x

– Adam Sacha Weston

LISTEN NOW

SACHA’S BEST OF 2019 – Spotify playlist
SACHA’S BEST OF 2019 (AND UHH… OTHER YEARS) – Spotify playlist

2019 Albums

Great

  1. Pup – Morbid Stuff
  2. Tool – Fear Inoculum
  3. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Infest the Rats’ Nest
  4. Billie Eilish – When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

Very good

  1. Jacob Collier – Djesse Vol. 2
  2. Snarky Puppy – Immigrance
  3. Tyler, the Creator – IGOR
  4. Vulfpeck – Live at Madison Square Garden
  5. Anderson .Paak – Ventura
  6. Tropical Fuck Storm – Braindrops
  7. Elephant Sessions – What Makes You
  8. tortuganónima – Imago
  9. Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin¿
  10. Raketkanon – RKTKN #3
  11. Beige Palace – Leg
  12. Pixies – Beneath the Eyrie
  13. Battles – Juice B Crypts
  14. Lana del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell! 
  15. American Football – LP3
  16. The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger
  17. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
  18. HOMESHAKE – Helium
  19. Chon – Chon
  20. BROCKHAMPTON – Ginger
  21. Body Hound – No Moon

Good

  1. (Sandy) Alex G – House of Sugar
  2. Desert Sessions – Vols. 11 & 12
  3. Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
  4. Free Nationals – Free Nationals
  5. Pixvae – Cali
  6. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana
  7. Solange – When I Get Home
  8. Fontaines DC – Dogrel
  9. Mini Mansions – Guy Walks into a Bar…
  10. Metronomy – Metronomy Forever
  11. Crumb – Jinx
  12. Biffy Clyro – Balance, Not Symmetry
  13. Christian Fitness – You Are the Ambulance
  14. Mattiel – Satis Factory
  15. Cursive – Get Fixed
  16. Steve Lacy – Apollo XXI

Ok

  1. Kanye West – Jesus is King
  2. Mac DeMarco – Here Comes the Cowboy
  3. All Tvvins – Just to Exist
  4. Beck – Hyperspace
  5. Chance the Rapper – The Big Day
  6. Hobo Johnson – The Fall of Hobo Johnson
  7. Toro y Moi – Outer Peace

Flawed

  1. Pluralone – To Be One With You

My Favourite Songs of 2019

  1. Pup – Scorpion Hill
  2. Vampire Weekend – Sympathy
  3. (Sandy) Alex G – Gretel
  4. Pup – Full Blown Meltdown
  5. HOMESHAKE – Nothing Could Be Better
  6. Jacob Collier – Moon River
  7. Tyler, the Creator – NEW MAGIC WAND
  8. Elephant Sessions – Tyagarah
  9. Danny Brown – Dirty Laundry
  10. Billie Eilish – bad guy
  11. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Venusian 1
  12. Anderson .Paak – Winners Circle
  13. Still Woozy – Habit
  14. Beige Palace – Dr. Thingy
  15. Tropical Fuck Storm – Maria 63

Honourable mention: Desert Sessions – Chic Tweetz

An album’s opening track is key to setting the tone and outlining themes. Similarly, its closer should provide a satisfying sense of denouement that ties everything together. Both the opener and closer are often highlights in a very different way to how a single would be. With that in mind: 

2019’s best openers: 

  1. Tyler, the Creator – IGOR’S THEME (from IGOR)
  2. Battles – Ambulance (from Juice B Crypts)
  3. Anderson .Paak ft. André 3000 – Come Home (from Ventura)
  4. Snarky Puppy – Chonks (from Immigrance)
  5. Pup – Morbid Stuff (from Morbid Stuff)

2019’s best closers: 

  1. Tropical Fuck Storm – Maria 63 (from Braindrops)
  2. BROCKHAMPTON – VICTOR ROBERTS (from GINGER
  3. tortuganónima – Imago (from Imago)
  4. Jacob Collier – Time to Rest Your Weary Head (from Djesse, Vol. 2)
  5. Anderson .Paak ft. Nate Dogg – What Can We Do? (from Ventura

Pre-2019 albums: 

Masterful

  1. Joni Mitchell – Blue (1971)
  2. King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King (1969) 

Great

  1. Makaya McCraven – Universal Beings (2018)
  2. Beck – Morning Phase (2014)
  3. Robocobra Quartet – Music for All Occasions (2016)
  4. Sparklehorse – Good Morning Spider (1998)
  5. Robert Palmer – Sneaking Sally Through the Alley (1974)
  6. The Beatles – Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967 – a relisten from years ago)
  7. Man Man – Rabbit Habits (2008)
  8. Camel – Mirage (1974)
  9. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme (1965) 
  10. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps (2017)
  11. Pixvae – Pixvae (2016) 
  12. Millionaire – Outside the Simian Flock (2001)
  13. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake (2018)
  14. Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance (2018)

Very good

  1. Andrew Jackson Jihad – People Who Can Eat People are the Luckiest People in the World (2007)
  2. John Lennon – Imagine (1971)
  3. Talking Heads – Remain in Light (1980 – a relisten from years ago)
  4. The Postal Service – Give Up (2003)
  5. toe – the book about my idle plot on a vague anxiety (2005)
  6. Pile – Dripping (2012) 
  7. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
  8. Massive Attack – Mezzanine (1998) 
  9. (Sandy) Alex G – Trick (2015)
  10. The Claypool-Lennon Delirium – Monolith of Phobos (2016)
  11. Genesis – Duke (1980)
  12. The Prodigy – Fat of the Land (1997)

Good

  1. Future of the Left – The Peace and Truce of Future of the Left (2016)
  2. Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes (2012)
  3. Rolo Tomassi – Time Will Die and Love Will Bury it (2018)
  4. Dot Hacker – Inhibition (2012)
  5. Deftones – Koi No Yokan (2012)
  6. Dutch Uncles – Big Balloon (2017)
  7. Tool – Undertow (1993 – a relisten from years ago) 
  8. The Internet – Hive Mind (2018)
  9. John Mayer – The Search for Everything (2017)
  10. Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts (2018)
  11. EUT – Fool for the Vibes (2018)
  12. Frank Zappa – Hot Rats (1969)
  13. Scott Walker – Scott 4 (1969)
  14. Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation (1988)
  15. Falling – Out of Sight (2016)
  16. Alice in Chains – Dirt (1992)
  17. Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated at Last (2015)
  18. BADBADNOTGOOD – IV (2016)
  19. David Bowie – Young Americans (1975)
  20. Protest the Hero – Scurrilous (2011) 
  21. Farao – Till It’s All Forgotten (2015)
  22. REM – Automatic for the People (1992)
  23. 21 Pilots – Trench (2018)
  24. The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships (2018) 

Ok

  1. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Style (2015) 
  2. TT – LoveLaws (2018) 
  3. The Sooper Swag Project – Badd Timing (2016) 

Flawed

  1. A$AP Rocky – LONG.LIVE.A$AP (2013) 
  2. Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs (1970) 
  3. KNOWER – Life (2016) 

Token ‘album of the decade’ list in case people don’t already know: 

  1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
  2. [an expanse of sonic quality] (2010 – 2019)
  3. Everything else that came out this decade (2010 – 2019)
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