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The best albums of 2019

This year FACT’s best-of lists are not ranked. The editors couldn’t imagine putting out another assemblage of hierarchy in the world nor could we imagine the arbitrary metrics we’d have to employ to decide what’s better between, say, the frenetic "limb dance" of 33EMYBW or postmodernist pop from Charli XCX, Megan Thee Stallion's new-school homage to her hometown Houston or the emotional catharsis Dis Fig. We’re doing this to celebrate the music that we love, so we decided not to fuss over the outcome to a problem made of arbitrary math that has no solution. The results, listed in alphabetical order, are lovely.

Words: April Clare Welsh, Cameron Cook, Chal Ravens, Claire Lobenfeld, DeForrest Brown, Jr., Henry Bruce-Jones, Jesse Bernard, John Twells, Krystal Rodriguez, Lewis Gordon, Lorena Cupcake, Maya-Roisin Slater, Natalia Panzer, Scott Wilson, Stephanie Smith-Strickland

Art: Olivea Kelly

33EMYBW

Arthropods

(SVBKBLT)

33EMYBW is one of an unclassifiable wave of producers in Shanghai making some of the most exciting club music in the world right now. She describes her music as “limb dance”, and the frenetic, pattering rhythms she deploys mimic the body movements of the exoskeletal arthropods that give her second album its name. Arthropods is a thrilling, vital record full of deafening drums and delicate touches that genuinely deserves to be called futuristic – this is music for the dance floor that has been hyper-evolved and augmented beyond all recognition. SW

AceMo

All My Life

(self-released)

AceMo’s low-slung communal anthem ‘Where They At???’ may have been a talking point this year but All My Life holds a mirror up to his wider talents. It’s a basement-dwelling beat-tape for the US dance music underground, half-dipped in Detroit, half-dipped in New York and lovingly coated in DIY ideas and community. A collection of foggy hypnagogic jams recorded between 2016 and 2018, the album excels with the crunchy lo-fi of ‘Myrtle Ave. Party Track’, an homage to beloved-yet-bummy speakers and soundsystems the world over. Elsewhere, the warped filter house funk of ‘I Love Daft Punk And You Should Too’ teeters between scuzzy and sophisticated, like any good night out. ACW

Amazondotcom

Mirror River

(Subreal)

Four of the year’s most visionary tracks somehow all ended up on the same record: the extraordinary solo debut from Amazondotcom. Released on Subreal, the label operated by Amazondotcom and Mexicali-via-Los Angeles producer Siete Catorce, Mirror River captures just about everything that’s thrilling about global club music right now. ‘A Flower, Nocturnal and Permanent’ is a flawless opener, taking the anti-gravity chill of weightless grime and sticking it under a heat lamp until it throbs with a gaia-like force. The LA producer seems aware of the entire school of post-grime – particularly Different Circles artists like Logos and Chevel – but the shunting riddims of ‘Priestess’ and ‘Leopard’s Dream’ speak to a more long and tangled history of folk rhythms and their 21st century electronification. Irresistibly danceable and totally weird, it’s the debut of the year. CR

Angel Olsen

All Mirrors

(Jagjaguwar)

As the size of Angel Olsen's oeuvre grows so does her sound. All Mirrors is her most enveloping to-date, the profound pop of 'Shut Up Kiss Me' meets the melancholia of Burn Your Fire For No Witness and just becomes something big. You should, of course, take our word for it but Danny Brown is a fan, too. CL

Autechre

Warp Tapes 89-93

(Warp)

The tracks gathered on Warp Tapes 89-93 were originally broadcast during Autechre’s guest sets for Warp's 30th anniversary NTS takeover in June and present a more groove-oriented era leading up to their 1993 debut album for the label, Incunabula. Thirty years on, any club would be lucky to have these tracks live blasted out of its PA but for those of us wielding a set of headphones and a downloads folder, Warp Tapes 89-93 made for some of the year's most thrilling archival fodder. NP

Barker

Utility

(Ostgut Ton)

Following up last year’s Debiasing EP – a basically perfect four-track EP of bubbling, freezer-chilled electronic architecture – wasn’t going to be easy but Utility nails down a precise and unmistakable artistic vision, defined most of all by the lack of techno's trusty kick drum. At times it’s almost cloyingly emotive – if you’re feeling wobbly, ‘Hedonic Treadmill’ and ‘Posmean’ might just knock you down with their featherlight attack. But other times it’s murky and strange; the entropic dub of the final track is a black hole into which everything else falls, miserable yet bizarrely invigorating. Utility is hard to describe in mere language because, like all the best music, it’s really about how it makes your body feel and the emotions it pulls out of you at every turn. CR

Blood Orange

Angel's Pulse

(Domino Recording Company)

Creating and sharing mixtapes with friends is a labor of love, one that Dev Hynes has made a habit of in recent years. Angel’s Pulse holds within it all of the charm of a lackadaisical project of leftovers, but the intention and purpose that was heard on Negro Swan and Freetown Sound can also be heard on this year’s mixtape. Buoyed by the heaviness of black queer life, there’s a feeling of joy expressed on Angel’s Pulse that isn’t present on Blood Orange’s previous two projects even though it feels slightly subdued. Here, it seems, Hynes delivers a deft balance between melancholy and joy, knowing that the latter is somewhat temporary. JB

Caterina Barbieri

Ecstatic Computation

(Editions Mego)

Caterina Barbieri has described her work as “guitar music but with synthesizers”. This approach certainly shines through on Ecstatic Computation, where bursts of quick-moving arpeggios mimic chords and effortlessly lull listeners into repetition-induced trances. Another petal to add to Barberi’s impressive career, this record serves as further proof of her gift for spellbinding modular compositions. Full of enchanting melodies, this album lures you in with its beauty and keeps you mesmerized with its depth and undeniable character. MRS

Charli XCX

Charli

(Atlantic)

Postmodernism, by definition, is the art of reinvention. The reason why Charli XCX has become such a major force isn’t only on the strength of her music but because she has perfected the mirror trick of pretending to be a pop star while simultaneously actually being a pop star. It’s no coincidence that the opening track on Charli is called ‘Next Level Charli’, or that this album has cemented her sound as that of a corrupted AI idol run amok. Throughout Charli, Charli XCX plays the role of a pop puppet, gleefully pulling her own strings, every aspect of her pure, crystalline electro refracted to infinity and beyond. CC

DEBIT

System

(N.A.A.F.I.)

Over the course of Monterrey-born, New York-based producer DEBIT’s career, she’s interpreted Latin drum patterns, like the dembow riddim, through the conceptual lens of experimental techno.  On her latest release for N.A.A.F.I., she draws inspiration from tribal guarachero, a Northern Mexican genre that mixes tribal rhythms with Pre-Hispanic samples. Beats throb like a heartbeat; animal-like cries echo in the distance. Minimal percussion layers to capture the organic spontaneity of a drum circle. Teklife artist DJ Earl lends a hand on the final track, an anxious composition of yawning distortions, motorized whirrs and high-pitched hums. LC

Dis Fig

Purge

(PTP)

Like crying or screaming, Dis Fig’s debut is a form of emotional catharsis. “Purge is about confronting the feelings which you have been avoiding,” says the Berlin-based artist. “Consciously or subconsciously. Feelings you want to be feeling or ‘should’ be feeling but you can’t because your body won’t let you.” 

Dis Fig wades deep into an experimental gothic gloom; violent and fleshy growling and panting is trimmed on the rattling bones of power electronics. The scares peak on the gut-punch of ‘Unleash’ — a writhing, cyber-gothy slab of blood-curdling cries and pulverising hardstyle. It’s one of the gnarliest electronic tracks you’ll hear all year. ACW

DJ Haram

Grace

(Hyperdub)

Grace is built on the resonant tones of goblet-shaped darbuka drums. DJ Haram is known, in Philadelphia’s noise scene and beyond, for reinterpreting traditional Middle-Eastern percussion patterns into new forms.

The Discwoman affiliate is a master of balancing tension. On ‘Body Count,’ a rapid beat is punctuated with the explosive cocking of a gun and angelic strums of a harp. ‘Gemini Rising’ would fit perfectly in a horror score, thanks to a menacing bass line and chilling synths. Moor Mother, her collaborator in the experimental 700 Bliss project, chants haunting poetry on ‘Candle Light’. The energy of the drums charges these disparate elements, breathing them to life. LC

DJ Nigga Fox

Cartas Na Manga

(Príncipe)

Following last year’s Crânio EP for Warp, Rogério Brandão, aka DJ Nigga Fox, marked his Príncipe homecoming with one of the label’s best records yet. Its dreamier, inward-looking spirit suggests a new perspective gleaned from global acclaim. Brandão takes turns at expressive piano work, sci-fi frills and jazzy inflections, weaving an album of adventurous slow-burners that sizzles rather than slaps. He may be one of Príncipe’s leading batida lights and on Cartas Na Manga Brandão resides over his own idiosyncratic kingdom. ACW

Emily Sprague

Water Memory / Mount Vision

(RVNG Intl.)

When Emily Sprague isn’t making quietly gut-wrenching folk music as Florist, she’s crafting ambient postcards inspired by nature under her own name. NYC’s RVNG Intl. has collected two previously self-released cassettes into one album enabling listeners to luxuriate in Sprague’s crystalline evocations of mountains and lakes - cold, refreshing and unexpectedly affecting, particularly alongside her pitch-perfect poems which begin each half. “Water moves through us like emotions and through the earth like memories,” she says with a steady yet delicate tone, asking us to open up our bodies and minds to new perceptive possibilities. LG

Erika de Casier

Essentials

(Independent Jeep Music)

If Erika de Casier’s Essentials were its own world, it would be a Diddy-level-luxurious bedroom where the floors are covered in mist, translucent curtains sway in the breeze and everyone’s wearing silk pajamas. The Danish singer’s album feels intimate, her voice sultry yet sweet and delicate, like she’s singing solely for the listener. Add warm, ’90s R&B-indebted production and the comparisons to Aaliyah and Sade are obvious - but there’s no copycat work here, least of all in the trance-synth-whirring ‘What U Wanna Do’. Essentials sounds like the name of a greatest-hits compilation; that this is only de Casier’s debut is truly exciting. KR

Gabber Modus Operandi

HOXXXYA

(SVBKVLT)

With jack-hammering gabber beats as their driving force, Indonesian duo Gabber Modus Operandi are breathing new life into the maxim “Hardcore will never die.” HOXXXYA honors the varied musics that soundtrack their lives in Denpasar as it seamlessly blends Indonesian happy hardcore, metal, noise, gamelan sounds, regional folk-pop style Dangdut Koplo and what they describe as “everything in between”. It's this super local, community-driven betwixtness that gives their music its essential flair and it's endlessly thrilling to hear. NP

Galcher Lustwerk

Information

(Ghostly)

Galcher Lustwerk continues to set the standard for graceful debauchery with Information, a nocturnal dispatch from the low-lit, liminal space in between the party and the soft light of morning. Introducing warm live instrumentation and cold ad-libs to his already rich palette of deepest, darkest Midwest house and off-kilter hip-hop, Lustwerk sidles up to you like an elegant club demon that’s been awake all weekend, offering you a bump of ket before looking you in the eye and deadpanning: “I don’t do it for the clout, I just do it for the glory”. HBJ

Hiro Kone

A Fossil Begins To Bray

(Dais Records)

Hiro Kone reacts against ever-invasive and increasingly bleak techno-fascist forces by plugging in to tell some electronic tales straight from the heart. The highly narrative tracks stay abstract enough to spark our imaginations and, as with any story worth its salt, is all about the details. Meticulous editing asserts its presence as much as the brooding and doom-tinged sound design; tiny, well-placed voids of noise on 'Fabrication of Silence' grab our attention with their intense absence; her instruments huff fiercely and fantastically on 'Submerged Dragon' and become complex characters in Kone's conceptual and socially charged play. NP

Kali Malone

The Sacrificial Code

(iDEAL)

Following 2018’s Organ Dirges 2016​-​2017, Stockholm’s Kali Malone continues to cement herself as a vital force in the minimalist new wave alongside Subtext’s Ellen Arkbro. The Sacrificial Code is long - its 10 tracks clock in at nearly two hours - and devoid of any overly-expressive flourishes. Instead, the Stockholm artist’s austere playing is directed by number matrices. Close mic-ing means you can almost hear the air pushing through the pipe organ’s metal cylinders but the approach also illuminates the delicacy of her harmonic constructions which cascade gently with metronomic precision. Somber in mood, like a glacial funeral march, yet intensely peaceful, Malone’s soft breathy warbles offer welcome slowness in an intensely accelerating world. LG

Klein

Lifetime

(ijn inc)

Klein says the content of Lifetime is so personal it's like “giving someone your diary,” a descriptor anyone who has never written a journal in their own language might find hard to believe. There is nothing explicitly revealing in the music's constructions, a collection of vulnerable, sewn together vocal meditations, field recordings and many more collaged-pieces. It's a reminder that fearlessness doesn't always mean unafraid but possessing a willingness to bring what's difficult into the light. CL

Lafawndah

Ancestor Boy

(Concordia/!K7)

On the opening track of Ancestor Boy, Lafawndah sets a bold tone: “I would never know / Which color / They wanna see me in,” she chants. The artist and global transplant has spoken about not belonging and here she explores her mosaical identity through an experimental-pop lens and heartfelt (though sometimes cryptic) lyrics. Like Lafawndah herself, the album doesn’t stay in one place for long, whether it’s in the title track’s rapid-fire drums or in the ambient lullaby of ‘Joseph’. And when she closes the album by stating “I am an island,” it’s hard to tell if she’s singing it with pride or with pain. KR

LOFT

and departt from mono games

(Tri Angle)

and departt from mono games is an identity crisis made audible, or, as Aya Sinclair describes it, “an aggregate of 3 years of instability”. Sinclair (fka LOFT, now AYA) arranges the first three tracks of the project, ‘Lassanamae’, ’And Eats Itself…’ and ‘sSLABicks’, like four-dimensional sound objects, slotting together searing noise, metallic percussion and corroded bass to build impossible composite structures that continually shift and mutate. It is only once we are impelled to comprehend their precarious geometry that the producer’s final trick is revealed and the organ-rearranging, cuckoo-clock-in-a-washing-machine velocity of ‘That Hyde Trakk’ is unleashed, ossifying three years of pent up angst into one of the most satisfying club tracks of the year. HBJ

Loraine James

For You & I

(Hyperdub)

On her Hyperdub debut, London-based producer Loraine James uses the boundless constraints of ambient music as an endless canvas for emotionally vulnerable expression. Immersive in its interiority, the deeply personal project celebrates the intimacy of being in love while also expressing the anxiety imposed by navigating her environment as a queer black woman. 

‘Sensual’ focuses on the purity of singer Theo’s voice, drums pattering in the background like rain sliding off a window; it’s reminiscent of creating a new, shared world with a partner. In contrast, ‘So Scared’ features the producer’s own vocals, admitting the fear she feels expressing physical affection in public. LC

Malibu

One Life

(UNO)

There's an understated prettiness to Malibu's debut mini-album. The French producer and composer appeared on PAN's acclaimed 2017 compilation Mono No Aware and was noticed by Julianna Barwick, who encouraged the Joyful Noise label to sign her. The result is One Life, a charming, ambient voyage into an emotional world that sounds something like Cliff Martinez crossed with Chicane if it had been reworked by Laurel Halo. Soft, billowing ambience laps at the ears like frothing waves, inspiring hope and warmth without resorting to the numb, saccharine distraction of the Spotify scambient set. On the startling title track, cellist Oliver Coates meets Malibu's floating drones with heart-wrenching cinematic strings and the result is as magical and mysterious as any fairytale. This one's for the crybabies. JT

MC Yallah & Demaster

Kubali

(Nyege Nyege Tapes)

On their own, Debmaster's glitched-out productions provide charged beats and a surplus of hyperactive energy. Drawing on trends developing in the global bass and trap scenes his tracks are tenacious and pack a serious punch. Fortified with a voice as captivating as Kenya’s MC Yallah and you've got Kubali, a fierce example of how rap and dance music communities can join forces to push each other forward. The title track is an excellent display of this, with MC Yallah using her precision breath control to deliver rapid-fire jabs and Debmaster lending the song some menace with a hard-hitting beat on jangling metal chimes. MRS

Megan Thee Stallion

Fever

(300)

Megan Thee Stallion’s full-length debut is well-marinated in Southern rap traditions, paying homage to Houston hometown heroes like UGK, Scarface, Lil Keke and DJ Screw and featuring guest appearances from Memphis legend Juicy J and North Carolina newcomer DaBaby. It’s also steeped in an aggressive sort of sexual autonomy that harkens back to Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and Trina’s abilities to turn the tables on sexist tropes -  a swaggering expansion of the world Meg created with tracks like ‘Big Ole Freak’. It may be December but Hot Girl Summer still isn’t over; we’ve got the fever to tell. SS

MoMA Ready

The NYC Dance Project

(self-released)

Haus of Altr founder Wyatt D. Stevens’ study of classic house pays homage to legends who’ve come before, as well as contemporaries “that stay at the function until the last song.” MoMA Ready’s run of releases span genres and play with historical hallmarks without falling susceptible to cliché. With The NYC Dance Tapes, he restricts his palette to the tinkling pianos, reverberating bass and seductive vocals of house. The project functions as a link between the old legends and the new vanguard of POC artists pushing culture forward both in Brooklyn and across the world. LC

Moor Mother

Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes

(self-released)

Moor Mother’s epic sophomore release carries the weight of historical trauma with a level of poise secure in its spite. The record writhes in the details of black history and musical canon, grinding electronic programming, blues and gospel samples, and furious spoken word into the outer regions of free jazz. ‘Repeater’ starts the album with a spiritual heft not too unlike the astral works of Alice Coltrane, but twisted with a contemporary rage. Featuring contributions from contemporary sound sculptors like Bookworms and King Britt, Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes is full of cinematic, orchestral soundscapes that paint a stark picture of America’s structural assault on the black community, including white flight, carceral capitalism, the 1992 LA Riots. Released on the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade, Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes is a grueling metaphor for inherited trauma. DBJ

MSYLMA

Dhil-un Taht Shajarat Al-Zaqum

(Halcyon Veil)

Sung in classical Arabic and drawing from the traditions of pre-Islamic and Quaranic poetry, Dhil-un Taht Sharjarat Al-Zaqum is an album that sounds devotional while remaining affectingly earth-bound. This dichotomy is illuminated by a truly astonishing vocal performance, as MSYLMA’s voice flits from soulful yearning to solemn invocation and transcendent exclamation. Adorned with the trappings of scorched-earth industrial, weightless grime and lilting, lo-fi R&B, courtesy of producers Zuli, 1127, Karim El Ghazoly and MSYLMA himself, the Mecca-based artist’s vision might be epic in scale but his music remains resolutely somatic. HBJ

Nkisi

7 Directions

(UIQ)

Nkisi dialed down the speedy ferocity of her gabber-filled live sets for her debut LP, 7 Directions, a vital collection of widescreen techno that won’t give you a nosebleed but will still shake the room. It’s the perfect storm of brooding synths, skittering beats and ambient noise, all topped with a layer of doom. Inspired by her research in electroacoustics and heavily influenced by the cosmology of the Bantu-Kongo and the writings of scholar Dr. Kimbwandende Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau, to whom the album is dedicated, Nkisi proves she is a visionary who can engage on multiple levels. Lucky for us she’s only just getting started. ACW

Octo Octa

Resonant Body

(T4T LUV NRG)

Resonant Body, Brooklyn house DJ and producer Octo Octa’s fifth studio album, is undeniably fun. While most of her previous work featured more minimal soundscapes, Body is as close as she has ever gotten to a club record, pulsing with vocal samples and breakbeats, as if the Chemical Brothers had come up in ’10s Bushwick instead of ’90s Manchester. Tracks like ‘Move Your Body’ and ‘Ecstatic Beat’ are almost aggressive in joy -  like a stranger’s sweat on the dancefloor right after you’ve taken a pill, it feels great to have it rub off on you. CC

Oli XL

Rogue Intruder, Soul Enhancer

(Bloom)

Oli XL’s glitchy club tracks have always had a poppy, late ’90s feel – he’s cited Basement Jaxx as an influence – but on his debut album he deploys dry, self-deprecating lyrics and deadpan humor to create the year’s weirdest collections of vocal bangers. Throughout its squeaky, half-sung tracks, the young Swedish producer gleefully twists every sample as if he’s making balloon animals and uses vocal processing to add a cheeky blast of helium. Even if Rogue Intruder, Soul Enhancer isn’t exactly a self-assured album – shyness is baked into the delivery of every line – it’s overflowing with personality and a sense of fun all too often absent from experimental club music. SW

Palmistry

Afterlife

(Mixpak)

Whether he’s penning the sweetest ode to ketamine ever recorded or exploring Ableton on DMT, the scope of Benjy Keating’s commitment to hedonism has always been offset by an almost spiritual sense of innocence. On Afterlife he tackles universal themes of love and lust, as well as the poignant weight of the death of his father, with the catchiest, druggiest songs he has ever made. Imbuing crooked party anthems with the ecclesiastical grace of a chorister, he takes on Afrobeats and UKG with the same reverent, minimal approach to dancehall he perfected on his debut album Pagan, gliding on the updraft of his transcendent pop blueprint to even greater heights. HBJ

Pelada

Movimiento Para Cambio

(PAN)

Movimiento Para Cambio by Canadian electronic duo Pelada has the power to transform any drab city street into a strobe lined runway. With all the indignant bratty charm of a pop-punk star, Chris Vargas’ vocals whip you into action with anarchic shouts and snarls. They work in perfect tandem with producer Tobias Rochman’s breakbeats and ’90s house nods, his eclectic throwback style driving home every word. The album is chaos-inspiring, a collection of fiery protest songs that go from disavowing patriarchy to ruminating on climate change. Like a club-ready call to arms, Movimiento Para Cambio is the perfect selection for both your Saturday morning after hours and your revolution pre-game. MRS

Physical Therapy

It Takes A Village: The Sounds Of Physical Therapy

(Allergy Season)

Daniel Fisher fills It Takes A Village with nearly enough of his aliases and collaborators to flesh out a football team. The comp bounces from scenic drum’n’bass (‘Jungle Jerry’) and instrumental hip-hop (‘Green Buddha’) to delirious techno (‘Stefan Proper’) and blurry ambient (‘Car Culture’) with elated house and disco detours in between. It’s like experiencing a DJ play eccentric opener, headliner and closer sets all in the same wild night. But even with such a wide sonic diversity, it maintains a cohesiveness. KR

Rian Treanor

ATAXIA

(Planet Mu)

Reforming various UK rhythms, from grime’s clattering snares to awkwardly swinging 2-step, and bristling with laptop acid-crunch, Rian Treanor’s debut album successfully expands the intricately patterned vision of his earlier releases on labels such as The Death Of Rave. Treanor recalls Gábor Lázár and Errorsmith’s hyperactive oscillation between synthetic minimalism and cartoonish maximalism but ATAXIA is less groove-oriented than either of those artists’ recent work; the Rotherham artist opts for face-melting pointillism through an assault of kicks, clicks and blips. What’s surprising is the sharpness of Treanor’s melodies - ‘ATAXIA D1’, in particular, almost feels like pop music for cyborgs. LG

Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats

Anger Management

(Atlantic Records)

Black women’s rage has been weaponized by society as a shortcoming, used to denigrate and invalidate black women’s experiences, which makes the opening primal scream on Rico Nasty’s Anger Management even more powerful. Here, in tandem with almost-jovial production from Kenny Beats, she displays her mastery of storytelling, using anger as a narrative arc and creating a meditation on the phases of anger to acceptance. It is relatable right down to her sense of peace, which is tenuous, at best. SS

Slikback

Tomo

(Hakuna Kulala)

Tomo, Slikback’s second EP with Hakuna Kulala, opens up the contemporary dance music spectrum with a batch of physical, pulsating rhythm exercises, churning cut after cut of energy-infused beat constructions. The combination of grime, skittering trap hi-hats and doubled-up footwork kick drums makes for a novel update to all of the above - but with a touch that is particular to Slikback’s own approach. “I ended up just taking the best elements of what I thought sounded cool to me,” he said in an interview with DJ Mag earlier this year. “The snares in gqom or the 808s in trap music, or the weird drum patterns in footwork, just everything altogether, and it kinda just became what I do now.” DBJ

Solange

When I Get Home

(Columbia)

Truly, hats off to Solange for the career she has built for herself; things could have gone so wrong but they turned out so right. That aura of self-reflection, inner peace and gratitude has become the backbone of her indelible music. When I Get Home is an album of mantras, phrases repeated again and again like prayer, talismans to carry with you and caress fondly when needed. It’s a comfort knowing that Solange is doing the work, creating an aural safe space brimming with velvet harmonies and warm keyboards and crackling backbeats; and falling into its welcoming embrace was one of the most satisfying musical experiences of 2019. CC

Sote

Parallel Persia

(Diagonal)

Ata Ebtekar has spent 30 years experimenting with electronic sounds, tangling rave, classical music and drone and bending each element to fit his unique vision. On Parallel Persia, he reaches a fresh artistic peak, reshaping Iranian acoustic instruments with his advanced synthesizer techniques and creating a "Meta-Persian" experience. The result is a sci-fi world assembled from Persian roots, an experiment in form that shows the past, present and future simultaneously. The album heaves and breathes with an uncanny humanity, with the ring of santour decomposing into noise and drone and robotic vocals transforming imperceptibly into percussion. It's spiritual and virtual, real and hyperreal, post-genre and as invitingly chaotic as the complex world that surrounds us. JT

Sudan Archives

Athena

(Stones Throw)

Sudan Archives' 2017 self-titled EP was a drop-everything-and-listen release and the Stones Throw multi-hyphenate has pushed that sound again and again with her follow-up EP Sink and this year's impeccable debut full-length, Athena. The album is lyrically confessional but each song's sentiment is just as delicately explored in Sudan's singing and composing. Prismatic vocals give way to emotional strings, elsewhere meditative cooing is punctuated by staccato plucking. Her singular vision blooms throughout. CL

Summer Walker

Over It

(Interscope)

Vulnerability is at the core of Summer Walker’s debut studio album and within the milieu of her contemporaries, that’s part of what makes the project stand out. She details her struggles with social anxiety and finds a private space for catharsis over the course of 16 tracks. Much of the project is clearly informed by Walker’s love of ’90s R&B, bolstered by production from her boyfriend London On Da Track - who samples Usher with gusto - but the heartfelt lyrics, in all of their pain-striken specificity, are as modern as can be. SS

TAYHANA

Tierra del Fuego

(N.A.A.F.I.)

Every few months a new N.A.A.F.I. record comes along to upend your expectations and, y'know, casually change the course of the global dance continuum. That’s how it seemed in 2019, at any rate, and one of the most memorable missives from Mexico City’s best label came from Argentinian club kid TAYHANA. Known as part of the city’s HiedraH Club de Baile collective, TAYHANA approaches production with the mind of a (C)DJ, offering the full range of tempos – from slow-grind perreo to head-banging techno – and a considerable range of dark emotions. It’s heavy, almost apocalyptic stuff – ‘Hasta Hoy’ seems to be hurtling towards a violent showdown, aided by hardcore trap drums and strange plasticky sounds – but it’s also knowingly gothic and loads of fun. For the party at the end of the world, perhaps? A record that captures the vanguard of Latinx club music in all its radical intensities. CR

Tribe of Colin

Age of Aquarius

(Honest Jon's)

Age Of Aquarius guts the fundamental structure of techno and reconfigures its parts in live extended dub-cuts. It skirts the outer regions of dance music, taking considerable influence from the ethos of free jazz. Opening track ‘Creator God’ as well as the album’s name itself gesture at the energy music of Pharoah Sanders or Sun Ra, stoking the transcendental. Philosophy intact, Tribe of Colin folds concepts and ideas at the edge across programmed drums in an expansive way, reprogramming the logic of electronic rhythm music through live production. DBJ

Ulla Straus

Big Room

(Quiet Time Tapes)

Ulla Straus is an expert at setting a scene. Each track from Big Room feels like a curtain-up moment, unveiling the story of a space through a highly detailed soundscape. From the lazy slink of the drums on dub-influenced ‘Net’ to the angelic arpeggios of ‘Sister’, Straus takes us all over the map of modern ambient. While dabbling in clicks and shimmering pads, she maintains her own graceful and melancholic touch, washing over each new setting and lending it a frosty nostalgia. MRS

Violet

Bed of Roses

(Dark Entries)

Named after Bon Jovi's schmaltzy stadium rock power ballad, one of Violet's childhood favorites, Bed of Roses digs into memory and nostalgia towards self-discovery. Ambient synthscapes 'Tears in 1993' and 'Never Leave' muse alongside sunny, drum-heavy drivers 'In the Aquarius' and 'Half Crazy', while vocally embellished tracks like 'They Don't Wanna Know' really stand out for their personality and intimacy. Near the album's end, on 'Bed of Roses, Pt. II', she declares: “I think life is a bed of roses / But hey, there are thorns, too / Love is all there ever was” - a fittingly sentimental message to glean from this soulful journey. NP

W00dy

My Diary

(self-released)

Seething like an upset stomach recovering from three decades of squat parties on the outskirts of the hardcore continuum, My Diary is a fractal view of dance music history that plots an uneasy course to the future. The four tracks presented here are evolving experiments that remind of Phuture's psychedelic, improvised 'Acid Tracks', D&B veteran Equinox's collapsing Amiga jungle and Jlin's bass-leaden footwork transformations all at once. It's phosphorescent art piped from a sharp mind raised on a diet of basement noise, plastic pop and the slowly-decomposing gas station Twinkie of American culture. Sparkling and jubilant but never avoidant or simply escapist, W00dy's music is an amyl haze of popping synapses, 12-bit breaks, polyrhythmic bass and dislocated voices. Deconstructed? Nah. My Diary is cursed club music and proud. JT

xin

Melts into Love

(Subtext)

On MELTS INTO LOVE, xin mines the neurofunk genre for all it's worth, augmenting elements of dubstep and hardcore lore and subliming the formula into a gaseous haze. The anxious gasp of overdriven synthesized bass bubbles beneath inverted rhythms, teasing the brain with loosely recognizable sounds that aren't quite nostalgia and ain't hauntology. xin traverses an astral plane, coaxing unique textures from genres often hinged on self-satisfied grimness. It's almost cathartic, and with care and shocking attention to detail, xin de-claws a well-worn performance of frustrated masculinity, abstracting anger into a sound bath of surreal sensuality. Body horror never sounded so psychedelic, or so romantic. JT

Yu Su

Roll With the Punches

(Music From Memory)

The title of Yu Su’s EP, Roll With the Punches, is inspired by Chinese proverb that roughly translates to, “The Spring flows over plains and The Valley is born.” It’s a patient, organic process that yields wondrous results, just as compositions like the glistening ‘Little Birds, Moonbath’ and bubbling ‘Of Yesterday’ flow, blossom and evolve like a delicate ecosystem. A zen combination of ambient, downtempo and dubby soundscapes, Roll With the Punches simply offers a half-hour of much-needed serenity in an increasingly chaotic world. KR

Ziúr

ATØ

(Planet Mu)

As Berlin continues to feed its booming tourist industry with safe "business techno", Ziúr has embraced new technology and willfully ignored the prisons of genre, tempo or hierarchy. In 2019 she represents Berlin 3.0, an era where wild musical creativity is not just possible, but positively encouraged. ATØ is a mission statement, shorthand for "THE ALLIANCE TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD", and is made for "all the survivors, outcasts and weirdos". This sentiment drips from every siren, bleep and eerie vocal on the record, as rhythms tumble in and out of earshot and shards of rap, R&B, noise, punk and various club forms appear and disappear like restless spirits. Purity is avoided at every turn, but this isn't a noisy, nihilistic exercise in antagonism - it's a roadmap to a better life and a reminder that community is out there for all of us. JT

Read more https://www.factmag.com/2019/12/19/the-best-albums-of-2019/