So, the end of the year. Another one where you've failed to progress any further in your job. Another one where you can no longer squint to avoid the grey hairs. And another one where the world is seemingly in chaos.
But, fear not, the records released in 2019 were of an exceptional standard. And here's my pick of the best.
20. Bad Religion 'Age of Unreason'
The finest export from the San Fernando Valley (besides Bret Easton Ellis and Haim), 'Age of Unreason' sees the band tacking the Trump presidency, the post-truth climate and depression. All without ever forgetting their knack for bouncey melodies and power chord punk rock. Plus they get marks for using the lines "An apocryphal popular mythology or a civilisation in wane/Whatever your assessment is, a paradox remains..." as an opening gambit for a song.
19. Kehlani 'While We Wait'
Following on from her lacklustre 2017 album 'SweetSexySavage', Kehlani knuckled down and delivered this 'all killer no filler' set of R&B jams that demonstate the sweetness of her vocals and contrast beautifully with the icy sounding production. As a result it gives this "commercial mixtape" a genuinely emotional punch lacking in most R&B records today. More of this and less of the bloated fillers in future, Kehlani.
18. The Accused A.D 'The Ghoul in the Mirror'
Pioneers of crossover thrash, Seattle hardcore kings The Accused have been inactive since 2009's 'The Curse of Martha Splatterhead.' So the original members (minus guitarist Tommy Niemeyer) saw an opening and regrouped as The Accused A.D. And thank fuck they did, because this slice of punk/metal goodness was a constant on the turntable this year. Great album sleeve, and they cover 'Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo' as well!
17. Scorn 'Cafe Mor'
Pioneering both grindcore and dubstep in Napalm Death and Scorn respectively, anyone would have forgiven Mick Harris for resting on his laurels. Instead, he's reactivated Scorn and given us a set of tough, dark and groovy tunes that stand toe to toe with his back catalogue and demonstrate the ever powerful influence of dub reggae in the underground. Jason Williamson from Sleaford Mods even makes an appearance.
16. Possessed 'Revelations of Oblivion'
Blurring the boundaries between thrash and death metal with 1985's masterpiece 'Seven Churches', Possessed are still devastating in the live arena. This, their first album since 1986, does not fuck with the formula and is utterly plummeting, and songs like 'Abandonded' just leave you speechless at the power on display. Forget your plastic, cookie cutter death metal. Possessed still fucking rule the roost.
15. slowthai 'Nothing Great About Britain'
Causing controversy at the Mercury Music Prize ceremony by holding up a mache of Boris Johnson's head capped an insane year for the Northampton born MC, outshining Skepta (who makes a guest appearance here) with an album that sticks two fingers up at the state of Britain in 2019 while the beats straddle a line between grime's abrasive tendencies and dubstep's more cerebral moments.
14. Carla dal Forno 'Look Up Sharp'
A world of atmospheric post punk, post industrial and post dubstep landscapes fill 'Look Up Sharp', with Carla's voice often sounding like she's lost in the wilderness, hoping for human interaction. Perfect soundtrack for October through to January, which never fails to startle with a mix of tunefulness and chilly backdrops.
13. Tyler, The Creator 'Igor'
Once banned from entering the UK, Tyler demonstrates on 'Igor' that he is at the place where Kanye West should be. Blurring the boundaries between the personal and the fantastical, Tyler told us not to expect a rap album but what he did not tell us was to expect an album about the highs and lows of love in the 21st century.
12. Stephen Mallinder 'Um Dada'
Former Cabaret Voltaire member Mal revisits the 'Body and Soul' era of the Cabs (where they embraced the 'godfathers of techno' title) with some modern flourishes and the ever present vocal effects and distortion. Thorougly modern sounding, it's perfect for clubbing or listening in the house on a wet Tuesday evening.
11. Red Death 'Sickness Divine'
Having been a fan since these guys dropped their demo tape in 2014, I was proud to see them move up to Century Media Records. My only worry was if it was going to dilute their intensity and thankfully 'Sickness Divine' shows that I have nothing to worry about. Although more thrash than hardcore, it still kicks gargantuan arse.
10. Test Dept 'Disturbance'
Over twenty years since their last album (and first since reforming in 2014), 'Disturbance' serves as the perfect Molotov cocktail for 2019. As hard hitting, political and abrasive as anything they've done in the past, they tackle the legacy of the miners strike, slum landlords and the modern capitalist nightmare.
9. Lingua Ignota 'Caligua'
Despite the meme worthy cover, this is an elaborate descent into madness which manages to be pretty, grandiose, terrifying, medieval sounding and utterly noisy. But unlike most 'noise' records, there is a sense of history and redemption present throughout which makes the listener feel they're hearing frequencies from another world.
8. Patrick Cowley 'Mechanical Fantasy Box'
Compiling recordings made between 1973 and 1980, 'Mechanical Fantasy Box' is a solid testament to the genius of Cowley as he melded his love of jazz fusion with disco and primitive synth noodlings. Hard to believe he went from these to remixing 'I Feel Love' within a few years. While certain tracks betray their influences in place, others are scarily prescient.
7. Glen Branca 'The Third Ascension'
Released posthumously, this serves as a fitting epitaph for the No Wave pioneer. While not as grandiose as some of his other works, you'll still find yourself being swept up in a whirling dervish of power and loudness that will lift you from your immediate surroundings into terrain close to where the stars begin and end.
6. USA/Mexico 'Matamoros'
When you've got a Butthole Surfer in a band, you know to expect chaos. What you don't expect is for the slow, plummeting music to be as immense as it should be. Tapping into that vein of sordid goodness that fuels the best sludge metal and noise punk, 'Matamoros' proved that depravity was the key sound of 2019.
5. Terminal Cheesecake 'Le Sacre Du Lièvre'
Veterans of the UK psych/noise scene, Terminal Cheesecake now find themselves being hailed as the elder statesmen, thanks to their members being active in bands like Gnod, Luminous Bodies and Gum Takes Teeth. The fact that they still put out records that have dub rhythms, heavy (and spacey) guitars and are cocooned in a wall of noise warms the cockles of my heart.
4. Swans 'Leaving Meaning'
After 2016's slightly disappointing 'The Glowing Man', Michael Gira took the time to reconfigure Swans and indulge in some leanings that have not been evident in a long time. Still heavy on the repetitive rhythms, chiming guitars and Gira's croon, 'Leaving Meaning' breathes some much needed mellowness to modern day Swans.
3. Deafkids 'Metaprogramação'
The most fascinating release of the year, akin to This Heat collaborating with Discharge. A noisy, atmospheric and experimental record which is skull-crushingly heavy in places. Although some will find themselves longing for more heavy moments, such people are fools. Such dissonance in musical form is to be welcomed.
2. HEALTH 'Vol 4 - Slaves of Fear'
Very few bands capture Western living the way HEALTH do. Pulling between harsh noise and hauntingly beautiful expressions, the lure of retro imagery and modern technology, they create a soundscape that is utterly enthralling but also angry in it's resignation. While earlier albums were full of creative sketches as opposed to fully formed songs, 'Vol 4 - Slaves of Fear' is a balance between the two worlds, and it's impossible to not get lost in.
1. Rainbow Grave 'No You'
Ex members of Napalm Death and Doom playing sludgy noise rock? Always going to be a winner in my book. What I didn't anticipate was just how hypnotic it was going to be. How psychedelic it was going to be, and just how bludgeoning it was going to be. All delivered with a knowingly sneer for a vocal. Perfect for the journey into work on Monday morning and the trek home to your damp ridden flat.
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.