Engage phase 3! This is the ranked portion of our best of 2019 extravaganza! These are the 20 albums I remember the most fondly, those that resonated the most with me, and of which I keep the most vivid memories. So, let’s begin the last stretch of this comically long journey with numbers 20 through 11!
Part XXI: 20-11
20: Whim Ensemble – Pre-Fall (Actuellecd)
The avant-garde duo of pianist Ofer Pelz and percussionist Preston Beebe just released Pre-Fall, an amalgamation of various experiments in the spontaneous synchronicity of the two performers here. While the recorded output is a fantastic experience in its own right, there is something truly mesmerizing in witnessing such performance being played live, as I had the chance to. Hopefully, you’ll get to do the same, but in the meantime, let this incredible release engulf you whole.
19: Catatonic Effigy – Putrid Tendency (Iluso)
Guitarist Álvaro Domene is always in the coolest projects, the latest of which takes the form of Catatonic Effigy, an avant-garde metal trio including Colin Marston on bass and Mike Caratti on drums. It’s unknown whether the tracks on this record are composed or improvised, but my money is on a certain mix of both. It seems that the three freely play against one another until one theme comes about and brings them all together for, generally, a short time, before they diverge again into unknown territories. It’s tough to put words on this, but I love it so much; it’s my favourite thing. It comes out in November!
18: John Zorn – The Hierophant (Tzadik)
It’s the same thing as always, with John Zorn: The Hierophant is astoundingly great but also pretty hard to find. I guess that a musician with his reputation can afford to be cryptic and not listener-friendly. Zorn’s newest album for jazz trio is nowhere to be found streaming online, but a fan like me had a little money saved just for that disc. First of all, the visuals and packaging are stellar. The dark and mystic sleeve hides a second sleeve, darker still and with a Tarot depiction, which then holds a bright white disc along with a card, just like a Tarot card. Uncovering this album for the first time is an experience in itself. Listening to it is quite another. The nine compositions on record each represent a card of the deck, heralded by “The Hierophant” title track, which is possibly my favourite one as well. Dissonant, winding, surprising, and eventful: those are four qualitatives that go quite well with the whole of the album overall. But then, not only are the compositions brilliant, the performers have made their marks as well. Most striking to me, as a bassist, is Trevor Dunn’s bass lines, which are all over the place; creative and varied as well as played with an undoubtable mastery. Of course, there are also the parts played by Brian Marsella on piano, which is truly the centrepiece of the album, and the drums of Kenny Wollesen, its backbone. The Hierophant is an astonishing album, and I’m already looking forward to John’s next release.
17: The Richmond Avant-Improv Collective – Multiplicity (Thirsty Leaves Music)
Known more succinctly as RAIC, the Richmond Avant-Improv Collective is an ensemble made of a great number of musicians. Correspondingly, they also create music from a wide variety of genres and styles. Multiplicity goes from free jazz to post-metal and noise rock, and does each excellently and doubtlessly. It’s a truly amazing album, very diverse and proficient in many musical languages! A must!
16: Pixvae – Cali (Compagnie 4000)
Ahh, yes! Ever since I saw the first signs of a new album by the French-Colombian collective Pixvae, I became ecstatic. Their previous, self-titled album is still a favourite of mine, and the new one follows suit and improves on it. Pixvae is a bit tough to describe to the uninitiated. They definitely are playing metal music—the distorted guitar suggests some influence of djent or metalcore—but everything else points away from them being actually metal. Their songs include infectious Latin grooves, stellar vocal performances from one main singer and a brilliant backing choir, providing ample room for harmony and counterpoint, and plural folkloric instruments. It is undeniably one of the highlights of the year. Marvellous release!
15: Fleshworld – The Essence Has Changed, but the Details Remain (This Charming Man)
I’ve already praised this album for its striking album art, as soon as it was announced. Now, I can also praise it for its music. Fleshworld is a Polish blackened post-hardcore group with noise and sludge elements, and the band is at the top of the art on The Essence Has Changed, but the Details Remain. The album is very methodical and purposeful; the compositions use that post-rock swelling and crescendo to great effect, and, with the addition of the band’s blackened and sludge influences, coalesce into an even more appealing whole. All of this makes for a stellar album.
14: Wyxz – Yiy
Wickman was a great album, but Yiy—stylized as YiY—goes even farther. Wyxz is a harsh and aggressive avant-garde progressive rock band. Technical and experimental, they want to challenge preconceived ideas and musical norms. All of this, and more, is achieved on Yiy, which came out earlier this month. It’s truly a beauty, in all its noisy haze. One that I urge you to listen to!
13: Club Sieste – Club Sieste (Collectif Coax)
France again… Club Sieste is an experimental noise jazz group of improvisers. If you’re not intellectually salivating from this brief description, this might not be for you. The thirty-minute recording features the musicians at their peak on their respective instruments: saxophone, bass, vibraphone, guitars, drums, and electronics. Yes, it’s noisy; yes, it’s abrasive, and it’s all that I love! Give yourself the pleasure of listening to this beast!
12: Alexander Noice – Noice (Orenda)
Okay, this has got to be one of the best experimental pop albums of the year. Is it even that genre? I cannot tell. It definitely has pop sensibilities and deep roots in it, but it also has the backbone of avant-prog, such as Yolk or jazz like Freaks. It also has the pomp of The Knells but without the full choir . . . In the end, it’s an astounding album perhaps more fitting alongside Zappa than Coltrane or Björk, but at home anywhere near those three.
11: Ghost Rhythms – Live at Yoshiwara (Cuneiform)
French progressive ensemble Ghost Rhythms‘s long-awaited live album! I’ve got to say, their studio albums were highly impressive in their own rights, but this live rendition of their compositions is even more so… The project aims at playing around with rhythmic concepts, hence the name, and so it’s something that immediately appeals to me, an outed rhythmophile. This CD is filled to the brim with stellar performances and genius compositions. I mean, it’s on Cuneiform Records, so you know it’s quality, right? Moreover, I’m talking about it, so, go and do yourself a favour!