Best of 2019

It’s late November and apart from next weeks (Nov 29th) release of Pop Ambient 2020 there’s nothing likely to scare my annual album list. I spent a ridiculous amount of time listening to old 80s records this year. Despite that, many gems were still found in 2019.

 

#10
The Brian Jonestown Massacre – The Brian Jonestown Massacre
Their one millionth studio album. No sign of a dip in standard.  Everything about the album is quality even down to the vinyl release – slate vinyl, shiney inner and plastic outer sleeves. It’s proper rock ‘n’ roll, with the BJM languid twist. I’m slowly working my way through purchasing the back catalogue. I fear I may never get there.

 

#9
Edwin CollinsBadbea
We saw Edwin this year playing in Dundee. Despite everything that’s happened to him he still writes great tunes and has an unmistakable voice. The tunes on Badbea stack up very well when played next to the classic Orange Juice tracks live. It’s a blessing he is still making music. It would’ve been my Scottish Album of the Year, but that’s just me. The train from Glasgow to London is still running.

 

#8
Sigur Ros presents Liminal Sleep
2.5 hours long, a more bitseize version of the Max Richter concept album Sleep. I love it when Jonsi gets all ambient on us. Works a treat as it has soundtracked my sleep many a time during 2019.

 

#7
Slow MeadowHappy Occident
I fell behind with album releases and listened a lot of ambient albums in a short space of time to catch-up. Many fell by the wayside, but Slow Meadows album shone through. I’m still playing it now and it currently soundtracks those sunrises whilst travelling to work. It’s short but perfectly formed.

 

#6
Cigarettes After SexCry
Pretty much the same as their debut album. That’s totally alright by me. A band that suits the darker nights. Somber, soporific and uplifting at the same time. Love them, love Cry.

 

#5
A Winged Victory for the SullenThe Undivided Five
Four years I’d been waiting on this. The proper studio follow up to the immense Atomos. Nothing wrong with Iris, but it was a film score. Whilst The Undivided Five doesn’t tell a story like it’s predecessor, it is packed with lush orchestration throughout. Accompanied by a ‘making of’ documentary, it showed the level of detail these two incredible artists go to when creating an album.

 

#4
Sebastian PlanoVerve
This made the start of the year interesting. An album with a story, (see full review Sebastian Plano – Verve) it is a surprise it was ever made. It’s lush atmospheric piano stuff and includes Purples, my favourite tune of 2019.

 

#3
Colm Mac Con IomaireThe River Holds Its Breath
Suggested you me by a friend at work (cheers TT). Fiddles abound, it’s instrumental and very Celtic. I found myself listening to more traditional music in the second half of the year, with Rura also being discovered. It still makes me smile whenever I hear it even though I know every twist and turn of the album. It hasn’t been released on vinyl sadly, but we live in hope.

 

#2
Thom YorkeAnima
I grew to love this over a period of time. The short movie supporting the album on Netflix helped me understand the album better. It’s electronic, downbeat and glitchy. The vinyl packaging is gorgeous, with hand drawn images on both the cardboard inner sleeves. The vinyl also includes an extra track – Ladies & Gentleman, Thank You For Coming – a borderline euro screamer. See full review Thom Yorke – Anima

 

#1
Violeta Vicci Autovia
Classical violinist (viola, electronics etc.) meets production legend Youth and an absolutely gorgeous, ambient album is born. I was blown away from first listen and I’ve grown to love it more as the months have passed. Even if you’re not an ambient lover, this is still worth a listen. Released in August, this was the first in a line of wonderful album releases, some of those mentioned above. However, Autovia remains the best. Nice white vinyl to boot.

Thom Yorke – Anima

Album of the year alert!

I can’t stop playing this album. ANIMA, Thom Yorke’s third solo album is his most melodic and emotive work to date. Although the style hasn’t changed much since The Eraser or Tomorrows Modern Boxes, there is a rhythm that is present here which is more evident than his other 2 releases. Whilst the first 2 solo releases were also electronic and rhythmic in nature, they were not driven by it. Anima can move you physically as well as emotionally.

The album release was accompanied by a short film released on Netflix. The film shows Thom Yorke and the others dancing rhythmically in what appears to be some dystopian future, all set against 3 of the tracks on Anima. The film shows Yorke trying to escape from his grim existence, running uphill where others appear to accept their fate. Not being able to walk through turnstiles when others pass through with no problems. Losing that bag, the important bag, what’s with the bag? Watching the film helps Anima make more sense. It is beautifully choreographed with the actors (who are dancers) moving in a jerky manner along to the rhythm of the music. That’s my take on it anyway, it’s probably actually totally different.

The album is filled with glitches, baselines, dark lyrics and gorgeous swells. That influence of Flying Lotus is also very evident. It is not particularly aimed at the dance floor (however, much of Anima would work in clubs) but it is clearly electronic music. The beauty of the swells makes even the gloomiest of lyrics sound, perhaps, cheerful, but definitely poignant. Thom Yorke‘s vocal style also adding melancholy to the mix.

From the intro to Traffic with its’ breakbeats and its’ bass line, it is clear that Anima is a little bit different to what’s gone before in Thom Yorke‘s extensive back catalogue. The break towards the end of the track is big but rather than wind up and kick-in as expected, it leads into Last I Heard. From a gentle start, much is layered on, but ultimately, this tune spend its duration in the break. This ends up being one of the more ambient pieces. Twist, initially, changes all that. This is a tune of 2 halves, as midway through strings and piano take over. Layered vocals are used to great effect. It all comes to a crescendo where album highlight, Dawn Chorus, starts up. When this plays in the film, he is with his female partner (I believe his partner in real life). Standing side by side, one rolling over the other, growing ever closer. It’s a simple, beautiful bit of music. ‘If you could do it all again…’

I Am a Very Rude Person, is the weakest track on the album, but it is useful as seems to divide Anima in 2. It feels almost RnB. Not a poor track by any means but just not as strong. The glitch of Not the News is the most club friendly moment on Anima. It peaks 4 times before one of the swells appears and washes over the other layers. It’s gorgeous.

‘I thought we had a deal’, is repeated throughout The Axe. The guitar melody over a jungle rhythm = works well. On the final 2 tracks Impossible Nots and Runwayaway, the listener is reminded that Thom Yorke is in Radiohead. It’s still structured by breakbeats and basslines, but feels more like modern day Radiohead. ‘This is when you know, who your real friend are‘ is repeated over a bassline throughout Runwayaway and then it’s done. Abruptly finishing. Totally sublime.