Our favourite albums of the year
By Texture Crew
As we round off 2019, we can reflect on the first full year of operation for Texture Magazine: We've published 17 articles, a host of mixes from friends old and new, and published a print edition. The team has grown, our roster of writers has grown, and our tastes have grown too! To reflect this, we will be dividing our end of year retrospective into two parts. This first half features 'Honourable Mentions': albums chosen externally to our communal process as specific favourites of each of our writers. Below that sits our mutually agreed-upon ranking of the top 15 albums of 2019. Lists are close-to-impossible to compile in any satisfying way, so by providing multiple opportunities for expression and curation we have hoped to reflect the increasingly diverse tastes of those on our site. Rest assured everything you read about below will be bone-chilling, awe-inspiring, soul-searching and mind-expanding in due measure. It's all brilliant music, and we hope you dive in and pull out a new favourite before the 2010s are irretrievably passed on by. Let's get it.
My bleary-eyed commute to London this winter has mainly taken its tempo from the self-titled EP by Jude Woodhead (Saint Jude), released via Slow Dance Records – the dance music label, events and arts collective based in south London. I think I first discovered Jude on the Slow Dance Soundcloud, and got excited by his tempered (softer?) club music featured on their 2018 compilation. Growing up stimulated by the influential soundscapes of Floating Points, Four Tet and Nicolas Jaar, Jude combines familiar beats with hallucinogenic sounds and hushed vocals with striking depth and richness. One of Jude’s tracks released last year, ‘For the Birds’ – which pairs haunting Arabic vocals by his friend Rachida and a gradually pulsing, synthesized melody – was accompanied by a music video that captured, in handheld footage, care-free evenings wandering around London underneath sunset skies. The melancholic lead track, ‘Deaf Ears, Blind Years’, samples the lyrics from dream pop band Alvvays’ 2018 tune ‘Dreams Tonite’ (a song that I definitely overplayed last summer), is shot through with a delicacy and rawness that offers a gorgeous remedy to urban malaise.
Every now and again we stumble upon an album that quietly evolves as it’s absorbed—its images, chord changes and lyrics, gradually weaving themselves into the fabric of our own makeup until it exists, uniquely, for us. Sister album to Big Thief’s recent release Two Hands, U.F.O.F – its ‘alien twin’ – enacts this very journey, a quiet display of subtle beauty blossoming from its brutal, emotional core. With each new listen, U.F.O.F grows into something more magical, more focused and increasingly more important. Floods of colour – warm auburn, orange, gold eyes – collide and merge. When I hear the title track ‘U.F.O.F’, I feel as though I’m sat on a towering cliff, 'blue maps' below, legs dangling over the edge. The electric guitar throbs hypnotically amidst extra-terrestrial humming and subtly mystical percussion lines; lead vocalist Adrianne Lenker sings of the ‘best kiss’ she ever had, which was ‘the flickering/ Of the water so clear and bright’. Big Thief have carried me through both the highest and lowest phases of my life, and U.F.O.F is an unforgettable, boundless addition to their mesmerizing discography. Much like Lenker's solo work, the album is full of characters and places that we immediately feel a part of, casting shadows of a past that instantly seem familiar to us. By the time you finish listening, the story is half yours.
In a year of killer compilations (Total Solidarity, PDA, Illegal Data, Nervous Horizon, Femme Culture etc. - the list goes on), Summer Storms offered a surprising sense of coherence and vision. Curated both to celebrate 10 years of Posh Isolation and to honour a lost friend, the album has an inherent tension woven into its DNA. Evident in a largely ambient-leaning format, it also features live classical instrumentation on a number of offerings, abrasively distorted synthesizers, and floating, clouded trap cuts. The overall effect is one of quiet contemplation, occasionally punctuated by rapidly spiralling outbursts of energy, and suitably mirrors the label's output which ranges from harsh noise to sublime field recordings. The Artist Formerly Known as Varg appears at least twice on here, but the standout is centrefold piece 'October Poem'. Sandwiched between oqbqbo's shattered offering 'Serial.ex' and the lush ambience of Croatian Amor's 'Strong Heart Omoni', the piece layers ruggedly spoken Swedish with accordion and stringed instruments. The sharp change in direction at the centrepoint of the album resonates with the internal conflict of celebrating both a lost friend and the continuation of a heartfelt communal project. Summer Storms is a yearning, personal account that is enhanced, rather than hamstrung, by its multitudinous contributors.
Dog's Fart Is So Bad The Cat Throws Up
The glistening cover art of this debut album, replete with "12 Massive Hits of the Year" sticker, tells a somewhat confusing story when paired with a title inspired by a viral video. Much like the video in question (actually two seperate snippets cleverly spliced together in a whip pan), the real story is one of sublime production - a focused application of the art with the sole intention of destroying dancefloors and car subwoofers alike. True to the aforementioned sticker this album is straight fire, albeit an inferno delivered with a wink and a smile. Every track hits hard, an amorphous chimera of diasporic French sounds, rave, bass music, trance, 'deconstructed' crashes, and a prismatic array of samples extracted from the omnisphere of popular culture. Fundamentally the album provides the aesthetic overtones of 'avante-garde' production whilst refusing to compromise on the driving heart of rave. Dog's Fart Is So Bad The Cat Throws Up combines retrospective and futuristic ideas with all the subtlety and grace of an 8 second youtube haiku. At all tempos, and in an emotional range from acidic slammers (Mortal Kombat) to soaring euphoria (Diablo Verde Part. II), J-ZBEL deliver a riotous sampler of rave music from the year 2092.
Jesus is King
‘2010s: In Kanye's Wake’ is an incredible essay by Tiny Mix Tapes’ Adam Rothbarth (Texture co-editors look away now) tracing the evolution of 2010’s post-808s & Heartbreak Kanye into the ‘New Kanye’: the jackass, the connector, the greatest living rock star on the planet, the self-proclaimed God, the fashion designer, the father, the Trump-supporter – the behemoth that is Kanye fucking West. The Life Of Pablo and what followed represented the logical extreme of Kanye’s absorption in excess and stardom – the culmination of his dazzling and terrifying mutation into the hyperreal rock star whose deplorable comments and questionable friendships caused him to be hated even by some of his core fans. When you reach these dizzying heights of fame and notoriety, where else can you go? Who else can you turn to?
"Yeah, you’re lookin’ at the church in the night sky/ Wonderin’ whether God’s gonna say hi/ Oh, you’re lookin’ at the church in the night sky/ And you wonder where is God in your nightlife", Sampha sings on ‘Saint Pablo’, prophesising the jack-knife in Kanye’s artistic trajectory that arrived this October. Jesus Is King is the same unashamed self-indulgence and immersion in late capitalism that we have seen from Kanye this decade, but told exclusively through the lens of the Christian experience. "That’s why I charge the prices that I charge/ I can’t be out here dancin’ with the stars/ No, I cannot let my family starve/ I go hard, that’s on God", he raps on ‘On God’, the garish synth arpeggio and blistering beat beneath amplifying the sense of spiritual rapture.
Many people dismissed Jesus Is King very quickly, and in many ways justifiably – the production quality and mastering is suspect at times, and the total lack of swear words and crude jokes can feel flat when set against the visceral energy of 2010s best Kanye tracks. I accept these shortcomings, but I also think Jesus Is King serves as an interesting new development in Kanye West as a person, artist and cultural phenomenon. The last few years have been alienating and painful even for fans who had previously defended every outburst and creative shift in direction. But you’ll still struggle to find someone as shocking and surprising in each artistic swerve as Kanye West.
Everywhere At The End Of Time - Stage 6
History Always Favours The Winners
James Leyland Kirby’s Caretaker is a 20-year project exploring the harrowing effects of memory loss through sound. Everywhere At The End Of Time, split into 6 ‘stages’, charts the progressive advancement of Alzheimer’s disease, with each stage marking a distinct chapter of the condition. Kirby douses crackly 1920s/30s British ballroom pop samples in reverb and echo, the sounds degrading and contorting as time passes. Stage 1’s blissful nostalgia gradually dissolves into the murky landscape; by Stage 5, the intermittently familiar melodies have become so twisted that the comfort they initially evoked is now hostile and unrecognisable. Yet by the time Stage 6 unravels, the samples have become so insubstantial and that the drone descending upon the wasteland is oddly calming. The experience has become ‘A Confusion So Thick You Forget Forgetting’, bringing with it a defeat that is forlorn, but at ease – everything is lost in the fog, so you stop looking for anything. Then, right at the end, a clear, classical choral piece emerges, a lucid elegy marking the conclusion of The Caretaker – the journey into nothingness has reached its destination.
I feel like I will never get over just how fucking heartbreakingly beautiful this project is. Kirby’s immersive memory palace is an breathtaking exploration of one of the most mystifying facts of human psychology, and an artistic representation of what it might be like for that palace to crumble. How someone can so delicately capture something so unimaginably devastating defies explanation.
I first discovered Nubiyan Twist performing at the Ealing Jazz festival 2 years ago. I have since been an avid follower of theirs, and was immediately full of anticipation on hearing the announcement that a new album was in the works in 2018. My lofty expectations were however massively surpassed with the release of Jungle Run this year. Being a fairly genre-fluid band, the album is comprised of contrasting angles and approaches, but all maintain a common thread making their music truly unique: Their skill at blending sounds from a wide range of cultures makes Nubiyan Twist a perfect example of the potential that the fusion of genres holds, and this is crystallised in Jungle Run. One aspect of their music that always impresses me is the ability to transform a simple 4/4 beat into a more complex sounding one, achieved with syncopation, unusual rhythms and intertwining melodies passed around the 10-piece band. A prime example is heard in the titular track 'Jungle Run', with rhythmic stabs being exchanged between the vocals, rhythm section and flute, injecting the more mellow verses with a groovin' interlude. Nubiyan Twist are a band that continues to promote equity through their music, all of which is definitely worth a listen (much more than once as I have found).
After stumbling across Quantic as a DJ playing a set on The Lot Radio, his unique taste focusing on soul, funk, salsa and jazz, led me to check out his latest release: Atlantic Oscillations. At a point in time when I was craving a shot of new music, this album could not have been a better fit. Quantic’s uncanny ability to amalgamate acoustic, orchestral, and electronic instrumentation so well was what initially drew me to his sound, despite the sonic contrast that is usually an uneasy trait for composition.The combination of his openness to many different styles that crop up in the album, from Columbian inspired 'La Refexion' to West African influences in 'Motivic Retrograde', and the fact that the majority of the musical material is recorded live in his studio instead of using samples kept me hooked. That Quantic was able to realise an entire live recorded album from originally only electronic sketches in Ableton is impressive on its own right. I have found myself frequently returning to Atlantic Oscillations when in need of a jolt of energy and a boogie, and would definitely recommend this album to anyone who finds themselves in the same position.
King of Hypocrisy
Without fanfare on his self-titled vinyl label, Madrid-based Polish artist Wojciech Taranczuk (a.k.a. Ketiov) released one of the most breath-taking albums of the year. Before you’ve listened to one note of music, you’re struck with the how entirely King Of Hypocrisy embraces the vulnerability of its creator, from the self-denigrating title and unadulterated album cover on which Taranczuk is seen half-naked, back turned, to the covert manner of its release and track names such as 'Broken Heart Vessel' and 'Record of Thoughts'. The music, though mainly wordless, pulsates with expression; elegantly crafted soundscapes and field recordings backdrop each track, placing the listener in a temporary acoustic world in which spacious pads and diaphanous melodies saturate the air. The album builds to a goose-bump inducing climax in 'Complexity of Life' with breathy vocal chops and bass guitar riffs swirling around the atmosphere from which they are borne. Truly immersive and painstakingly arranged, this one merits listening to from start to finish for maximum catharsis.
By the end of 2019, Paul Woolford will have released four albums under his Special Request alias in the past 8 months. That’s right. Four albums. What did you do this year?
It would be downright rude not to give a nod to one of these LPs, not least because all of them are of the highest quality and together illustrate Woolford’s remarkable and unrelenting versatility as a producer. Vortex, the first and most boisterous album which hit the shelves back in May, takes the gold. The press release told us to expect strictly “bowel-evacuating bangers”, and I’m happy to report that I found this to be 50% correct. A sonic smorgasbord of frenetic breakbeats, rip-roaring basslines and frayed metallic synths, tracks veer through jungle, techno, gabber, hardcore and back again with no respite and never faltering below 130bpm. While the album constitutes a serious dancefloor arsenal, the irreverent way in which it was conceived imbues it with a refreshing playfulness. As Woolford put it, "I had a right fucking doss making this”.
Dog Show Records
1000 gecs is essentially a 23-minute rapid-fire of internet references that are loosely held together with some of the worst and weirdest sounds of the last two decades. It’s like driving past a car crash: it’s awful but you can’t help looking. It is an album created for and by ‘Extremely Online’ people, existing on an unclear level of irony, constant referencing of their phones and with the withered attention span that has become the new normal in recent years. The 1-2-minute tracks are all dripping with autotune but otherwise have very little in common, hopping from brostep warps to gabber thuds to soulja boy and then to ska, honest, no-fooling ska, without any warning or even a cursory look back. These genre defying Cronenberg monsters are deliberately coarse, gimmicky and often actively stressful to listen to, but as an ‘Extremely Online’ person myself it’s impossible not to be taken in by the charm of these rare and forgotten treasures of the MySpace era.
The Practice of Love
Sacred Bones Records
To write a pop album about love that feels fresh in 2019 is a tall order to the say the least – it may just be the most oversaturated market in the entire music industry. But Jenny Hval is certainly not one to shy away from a challenge when it comes to her albums, tackling topics like menstruation, capitalism and vampirism in her six previous endeavours before trying her hand in an entirely new field this year with a coming-of-age novel. Here, once again, where others have zigged she has zagged, choosing to focus to focus on the rituals of love and its more cerebral aspects over a more traditional, perhaps heteronormative approach to love and sex: the result is her most personal, vulnerable album to date. Hval and her collaborators, Vivian Wang, Laura Jean and Felicia Atkinson, explore questions about relationships that many of us ask ourselves but don’t ever hear represented musically – ‘Accident’ wrestles with idea of unplanned pregnancies, fertility and the decision to remain childless, a kind of ‘anti-romance’ that harkens back to the film that is this album’s namesake. Sonically, Hval is drawing influence from the music that soundtracked the age at which these questions were beginning to grow in pertinence for her – 90s trance – enveloping her characteristically crystalline vocals with shimmering synths, subtle touches of brass and the occasional breakbeat to drive the album forward.
The Practice of Love
Sacred Bones Records
To write a pop album about love that feels fresh in 2019 is a tall order to the say the least – it may just be the most oversaturated market in the entire music industry. But Jenny Hval is certainly not one to shy away from a challenge when it comes to her albums, tackling topics like menstruation, capitalism and vampirism in her six previous endeavours before trying her hand in an entirely new field this year with a coming-of-age novel. Here, once again, where others have zigged she has zagged, choosing to focus to focus on the rituals of love and its more cerebral aspects over a more traditional, perhaps heteronormative approach to love and sex: the result is her most personal, vulnerable album to date. Hval and her collaborators, Vivian Wang, Laura Jean and Felicia Atkinson, explore questions about relationships that many of us ask ourselves but don’t ever hear represented musically – ‘Accident’ wrestles with idea of unplanned pregnancies, fertility and the decision to remain childless, a kind of ‘anti-romance’ that harkens back to the film from which the album takes its name. Sonically, Hval is drawing influence from the music that soundtracked the age at which these questions were beginning to grow in pertinence for her – 90s trance – enveloping her characteristically crystalline vocals with shimmering synths, subtle touches of brass and the occasional breakbeat to drive the album forward.
Joyful Noise Recordings
For a record apparently so quiet and serene, there's a curious tenseness to the songs on Malibu's One Life. It's something you're unaware of until roughly the mid-point of each of these five tracks; whether an emerging piano sequence ('Lost at Sea'), gently stuttering keys ('Tiliting On Windmills') or an ascending vocal ('One Life'), something shifts and the composition unfolds, ever so slightly, but enough. Yet, this registers not so much as shock as an opening-up to spaces undreamt. The ultimate beauty of this staggering EP is how it reveals something rather alien, otherworldly beneath its painstakingly crafted balms. We've only got One Life and Malibu reminds us to be attentive to all of its rhythms, whether everyday or unknown.
OUR TOP 15
Hunger In Me Living
Chatting to Tim Zha (Organ Tapes) earlier this year, I was moved and inspired by the thoughtfulness with which he related his blurry vocal delivery to his reluctance to expose the intimate details of his life. He summarised his creative approach as follows: “I try to find a way that I can make music that I guess is still raw, but without kind of being like ‘X happened to me and I feel X way about it’”. In many ways, the modesty of this frank description understates the immensely powerful interaction at the heart of Zha’s music: the balance between not wanting to expose his vulnerability while still expressing some kind of vulnerability. In navigating this tension between two seemingly contradictory forces, Hunger In Me Living resembles a collage of indescribable emotions that are foregrounded precisely because they are indescribable. Words and phrases occasionally emerge at the surface, only to fold into each other before you can connect them to the rest of the canvas. What you’re left with is a tentative snapshot whose affective resonance lingers because of its wordlessness. You’re unsure of how it makes you feel, but you’re sure that it’s something important.
As the label name ‘Quiet Time’ alludes to, ambient music is sometimes best experienced as a world in which to be alone - to step back life’s whirlwind distractions and enter a mindset in which the best thing you can do is to just be. Ulla Straus’ Big Room pushes this simultaneous feeling of distance and calmness even further, amplifying that sense that life is happening very far away from you. Her languid, muted percussion loosens each moment of time to create a hypnagogic state of consciousness, stretching out that confusion you feel when drifting off to sleep across the whole 30 minutes of the album. This dreamworld contains some of the gentlest pads you could ever imagine – the way they glide like glorious streams of water and light makes ‘Billow’ the kind of song you want to spend the rest of your life listening to. Big Room’s suspension between wakefulness and sleepiness demonstrates the Philadelphian artist’s ability to access those tranquil states hidden in the next room, making her one of the most exciting new forces in the American ambient underground.
Rogue Intruder, Soul Enhancer
Charli goes hard and goes fast and never looks back
how you turn it up and scream like it's 2099
late nights like Click, feeling like crying, all on you, just wanna break glass
1999-2099: century of tears
times we wish we could go back to the old Charli
but nightmare future's here where we've all become someone better and
boom boom go forever and ever and
Rogue Intruder, Soul Enhancer
When the time comes that humanity and its superior silicon-based companions start to realise the limitations of homo sapiens’ form and self-determination, the AI we birthed will teach us to mesh our very essences with the technology we obsess over, creating the ultimate consumer-consumable hybrid in our march towards a total global unification of mind and machine. There will be no need to farm or feed, no need to travel, no need to add to the distress of a burnt and drowning planet. Everything you could possibly imagine can be experienced internally on a cost-per-sensation basis, allowing you to pay for only the depth of experience you can afford. And while all culture as we know it will have been disassembled and bundled into one giant internet melee, as we continue to erase the boundaries between physical existence and online experience we will collectively begin to live a life of pure hashtag fueled, live reaction, RGB euphoria.
Rogue Intruder, Soul Enhancer is the soundtrack to this Twilight Zone-esque narrative in my mind. Chattering mechanical voices delivering inchoate but strangely melancholy musings such as “I don’t even know what I should do” and “why don’t you kill me” are offset by crisp futuristic FX and chirpy commercial snippets punctuating the large white spaces of the musical canvas. With his debut album, Oli XL provides a restrained but beautifully rhythmic and oddly affecting foray into the inorganic side of music. Try listening again if you don’t feel it first time.
For You and I
I'll be reiterating here what I wrote in my 3x3 recommendation of this album in the month that it came out: Loraine James' Hyperdub debut is beautiful, abrasive, and exhilarating in equal measure. It is a deeply personal examination of her life through the lens of the flat in which she grew up, came out, and produced this stunning piece of music; a reflective blend of musical influences and memories that are brought into coherence with stunning clarity and vision. James has been an incredibly exciting producer to follow this year, and to create such a landmark artistic statement on the eve of the new decade only promises brighter things ahead. I wrote previously that "For You and I delivers both the pain of the thorns and the beauty of the blossoming flower", and I stand by this (admittedly slightly cheesy) statement. It has rightfully topped numerous end of year lists to the point where the only thing I can recommend at this point is that you listen to it thoroughly, and then get yourself down to one of James' banging live sets to experience the whole thing again (plus much more) in the flesh.
In its full-frontal embrace of club music, most notably trap and trance, Eartheater's (a.k.a. Alexandra Drewchin) latest mixtape doesn't so much abandon the experimental forays of her previous work as it does sharpen and magnify them. Trinity is undoubtedly Drewchin's most accessible work to date but it's also perhaps her most brutal and glaring. She drags us into a space as much dreamt crime-scene as nightmarish dancefloor, where insatiable desire and moonlit regret haunt every turn. Yet even among the feast of dank and pulverizing beats, its arguably the dexterity of Drewchin's voice that remains most impressive in this forward-march of a record. On "High Tide" her slewn-out vocals cascade and stumble in a manner curiously resemblant of Drake at his veering-from-rapping-to-singing best. Any resignation in Drewchin' tone is counterposed by the viscerality injected into the chorus build-up in this all-too short banger. Such stuttering and soaring is wielded to further excellent effect on "Spill the Milk", while on "Lick My Tears" Drewchin's vocals seemingly can't stop going higher, even as the beat thunderously digs in. The record finishes strongly on "Solid Liquid Gas", where Drewchin deploys her vocal range so the content of inhaling, heavy breathing and evaporating is almost felt through the song's form. Equal parts bodily and cerebral, this is a gem of a record and we can't wait to see where the tide takes us next.
Alfa Mist consistently manages to perfectly blend melancholy and pensive sentiments with subtle and barely noticeable uplifting overtones - a style of composition that is incredibly rewarding and enjoyable to experience. Such skill is only improved by the exceptional improvisation that can be heard in almost every track, and although it may be one instrumentalist taking a solo it is immediately apparent that all the band members never cease to communicate with each other. The result is a thoroughly engaging and human set of recordings. I was pleasantly surprised by the incorporation of strings, which provided an extremely welcome variation in sound and wove in yet another layer of depth to the music. I don’t see myself getting bored with number of inspiring solos found within this album. I am already looking forward to any future project that Alfa Mist has in store - if he sticks to his 2 years per album routine it will be fascinating to see how he develops his sound further.
Critics make much of Lafawndah’s Iranian-Egyptian heritage and diverse domicile affiliations, a theme which is analysed to within an inch its life when grappling with the enigmatic lyricisms which permeate her latest album, Ancestor Boy. While following this line of enquiry is an intriguing and justifiable means of deciphering her artistic intentions or cultural postures, in the few words I have I would like to emphasise how her unique experience translates into an equally unique brand of electrifying leftfield pop. The ‘cacophony’ to which the name Lafawndah refers in Arabic is realised in some style on the opening track; a scratchy alarm-like pulse and clattering drums sit beneath an exalted voice where the half-sung, half-shouted introspection "I would never know / Which colour / … they wanna see me in" is posited. ‘Daddy’ strikes a less riotous but similarly emotive chord, with a vocal melody bristling with secrecy and anguish – "Fear eats the soul / Leaves a flavour" - weaves in and around sonorous and artfully diffused percussion. The folklore-tinged mysticism and plight of self-discovery instilled in the lyrics certainly make Ancestor Boy conceptually stimulating, but it’s the irresistible drums and incredible versatility of Lafawndah’s voice forming the backbone of the album which make it truly inimitable and a joy to listen to.
Kuro is a 2017 arthouse picture depicting a Japanese woman, Romi, living in Paris with her paraplegic lover, Milou. Its voiceover story, a set of anecdotes narrated by Romi, appears to run parallel to the visual story, a selection of delicate shots of Paris interspersed with intrusively intimate interactions between Romi and Milou. This deliberate ‘split’ in the film produces an “’in-between’ space, a space where what is heard and seen continually wrestle with one another.” As well as co-directing and starring in Kuro, Tujiko Noriko soundtracks this liminal world, expertly capturing the tension between these two emotional trajectories. At times, her muted keys are sparse, like stuttering voices struggling to find articulation. Other times, they are given a fuller expression, like the deep exhalations of someone tired and sad. What emerges from these disconnected moments of somethingness is a dislocated but tender perspective of the ‘in-between’ space, like watching someone moving behind a curtain, their dancing shadows making odd but brilliant gestures.
Nathan Micay (f.k.a. Bwana) is a polymath with an unusual combination of specialist areas, putting himself forward as an up-and-coming DJ/producer, fitness junkie and big-time anime freak. It is therefore unsurprising that his debut LP, Blue Spring, was equally eclectic in its source materials and reference points, coming to fruition as a retro-futurist narrative of renegade ravers fighting back against a system that oppresses them. The plot, and some of the samples scattered throughout, draw from the ill-famed Castlemorton Common free rave that sparked sufficient controversy in 1992 to result in an attempted ban of rave music and its ‘repetitive beats’, heightening that conflict into a prolonged struggle with a police state. The listener is pulled into this cyberpunk parallel world with deliciously 80s synthesisers that carve their way through this album, growing into euphoric trance anthems or simply meandering around one of Micay’s modernised breakbeats. For all of its glitz and glamour, Blue Spring deftly toes the line, but never crosses into kitsch. This is due to Micay’s delicate touch, counterbalancing the larger-than-life synths with the twinkling ambience of this alternate universe, conjuring up shimmering galaxies and sleepy forest clearings.
Here’s an idea: a ‘musical drip’. It’s like an IV drip, but instead of delivering fluid into your veins it delivers music directly into your temporal lobe without having to filter it through your ears which generally have a multitude of external stimuli vying for your attention and distracting you from the good stuff. Should such a device ever exist, I will be spooning Barker’s techno ambrosia straight into my brain on a daily basis until I get some kind of acoustic instrument deficiency or put myself in a synth-induced coma.
Flight of fancy aside, Utility is a serious piece of auditory engineering from a producer who won earnt himself many fans off the back of his acclaimed Debiasing EP from last year. Club music innovators have been questioning the industry’s reliance on the kick drum recently, and Barker’s latest nine-track offering is perhaps the most compelling argument that we can make do without. If you’re not convinced, then I’d would strongly encourage you turn up the volume and allow the billowing synthesizers of 'Hedonic Treadmill' and effervescent percussion of 'Experience Machines' to dissolve your scepticism. You’ll find the functional album title belies a well of emotion.
And Elon, if you’re reading this then hit me up and we’ll get going on that musical drip.
The Comet is Coming
Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery
Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery contains a truly inordinate amount of energy, often stemming from Shabaka Hutching’s fervid playing but equally supported by the pulsing basslines and weighty drumming of Dan Leavers and Max Hallett respectively. It is an impressive showcase of the versatility of the group’s sound, with the layout of the album alternating between energetic and downbeat whilst seldom crossing into tranquillity. This form is bookended by tracks with an audibly looser form in which Shabaka Hutchings takes the opportunity to speak to the listener, beginning with mellow and lyrical melody lines, and finishing in expressive flurries wrought with emotion. Having seen Sons of Kemet perform at Somerset House in July, and The Comet Is Coming at We Out Here in August, I can confirm first hand that Shabaka Hutchings and the group’s energy live is even more explosive than heard via any record or digital format. Having previously stated that they "wanted to go back to the seventies and imagine the music of the future, but back then", the accompanying art is decidedly appropriate. With a clear nod towards 2001: A Space Odyssey’s monolith (1968), The Comet is Coming clearly situate themselves as part of a field which continues to push the boundaries of jazz-fusion in previously unexplored directions.
Erika de Casier
Independent Jeep Music
In an age of permanent digital documentation and expansive information access, it seems the tension of past and future seeps into every creative decision. Our choices this year are populated by direct influence from the past, and visions of a different future. Like a mosquito full of dinosaur DNA trapped in amber, it can feel as though the most forward-thinking music is simultaneously held in stasis. In a way, the rise of 'conceptronica' (explain and identify below, 10 marks), seems to me to account for a large part of why this album was loved by so many of us this year. Erika de Casier's influences are as transparent as that crystalline prison: the heyday of RnB is held aloft and acts as a singular influence on the album as a whole. This is however then extruded through the lens of an upbringing in Copenhagen and the influence of the serene Regelbau sound to produce an album of absolute warmth, a rarified revisiting of an old sound that heightens it's strongest features and smooths out many of the flaws. Essentials is catchy, uplifting, and is the musical equivalent of slowly sinking into a soft bed with clean sheets as you text your crush on your Motorola Razr. It's pure, intensely listenable, and offers respite from the bleeding edge, if only for an hour or so.
The principle of creating music with lofty ideals in mind is a valiant one, and has produced some of the years' best music. But at other times tunes like 'Do My Thing' are required, with (fish) hooks that remain lodged deep in your brain as you float through theday on cloud 10. The accompanying video is equally light and particularly endearing as de Casier drifts through Copenhagen on a bike. In 2019, Essentials has proven its worth: a much needed sonic counterpoint to much of the music we're otherwise digging, like a warm embrace of a familiar friend you haven't caught up with in years. Oh, and it's also exquisitely produced and features some absolutely cracking remixes by the likes of DJ Sports and others. De Casier has delivered a twinkling example of a singular vision.
For an album borne out of examinations into object orientated perception and polyrhythmic sequencing, Ecstatic Computation is remarkably lithe. Part of the Senni-esque lineage of 'ambient' music that is anything but, Barbieri's deployment of soaring saw-waves and evolving arpeggiated sequences continuously unfolds across the album, moving between scattered noise and sublime choral elements with an organic touch. Classical musicianship training is brought to bear on this otherwise angular, glistening concept and the result is music that would sound as comfortable in a Romanesque cathedral as it does in the main hall of Printworks. All patch cables and anime haircut, the music swells out of cavernously lightless corners and vaulted ceilings even as kilowatts of lighting attempt to fill the void. Yet there is power in the old as in the new - 'Arrows of Time' is uniquely moving in its connection to medieval choral arrangements. The music on this album is spellbinding, contemplative, and mystical even as it draws away from such ancient concepts, and reaches both further back and further forward than any other music on display at present. As we stare into the dark unknown of the coming decade, it's safe to say it might feel a little something like Ecstatic Computation. Formless perhaps. Untethered. But at it's heart both particularly human and unrecognisably alien.
In the four years since FKA twigs' last full-length, Tahlilah Barnett had a break-up and underwent surgery to remove tumours from her womb. These traumas informed the making of MAGDALENE, yet such deeply personal experiences often find their expression through more univesal narratives, whether internal and external demands for perfection ('thousand eyes'), fidelity ('holy terrain') or feelings of debt to another ('home with you'). The figure of Mary Magdalene, which has been historically distorted and rewritten by men, provides the thematic glue to the record, as twigs foregrounds the devalued and unwaged, necessary labour typically performed by women, and how the path toward emancipation begins through giving narrative to such dissociation: "A woman's work, a woman's prerogative. A woman's time to embrace she must put herself first." twigs talks about being wrapped in cellophane while imploring an unknown figure to "make love to all that you see." MAGDALENE is a space where Home is inextricably tied to Escape, where the neurotic, selfless and sacrifical always threatens to overflow in a flood of desire, all the while unable leave anything behind.
It's perhaps lazy to draw comparisons with Kate Bush, another master of experimental pop, yet it's hard not to recognize both the stylistic and thematic infuence of the great 'Running Up That Hill' on 'sad day', perhaps the best thing on MAGDALENE. As the skittering piano threatens euphoria, the song ultimately unravels and collapses around what is perhaps ultimate failure, perhaps a wish for something better: "You're Running...And I tried...Have you ever Made a Wish before?" But whereas Bush is running up that hill to reach the divine, to transcend the domestic through True Love, twigs is running decidedly down (as she proclaims, nether dutifully nor autonomously, on 'home with you'); wish fulfilment cannot find solace away from the earthly and mutilated. On 'daybed,' another glorious standout, twigs addresses the immobilization of a deep depression as she enumerates aspects of her domestic life-world: "dirty are my dishes, many are my wishes...possessive is my daybed," a citadel against the oncoming tide.
PROTO is a musical and technological marvel – of all the albums we’ve played and replayed in 2019, this entry is uniquely ground-breaking. In this, her third album to date, Herndon takes her love for vocal processing, that she has fostered since Movement back in 2012, and completely reimagines it in an extraordinary ensemble of digital and analogue voices. Herndon’s major collaborator and musical mentee for this project was Spawn, an AI processor created with the help of Jules LaPlace and her partner Mat Dryhurst. The fledgling composer is a collection of neural networks that were trained on many hours of spoken and sung vocal inputs from Herndon and her other (human) collaborators. In creating their own data sets from a limited number of voices and not drawing from the vast pools of speech data available online, they were conceiving an ‘inhuman child’ that was truly their own. Through a process of machine learning, Spawn would take in this information and then add her own musical flourishes before outputting the ‘track’, eventually reaching the impressive level of production proficiency heard in PROTO.
As well as a novel approach to music composition, PROTO has a novel outlook on artificial intelligence itself. In an overwhelming tide of media that espouses a future where robotic overlords are rounding up the last remaining humans to draft into the bitcoin wars, Herndon remains unphased and cautiously optimistic about human-computer relations. The crux of this challenge to the dystopian ideal comes in ‘Extreme Love’, a spoken-word interlude that calls on the listener to love this ‘next species’ more than we currently love ourselves: especially while in its nascent stage. Although this may all sound very ray guns and hoverboards, there is an undeniable humanity and humility to the project. The message of PROTO is twofold, with an overarching structure that tells a story of learning and nurturing that mirrors a number of the important milestones in human infant development. From ‘Birth’, Spawn starts out just like us, engaging in forms of vocal play, cooing and babbling, to improve our grasp of the meaning and of the apparatus. And like us, Spawn masters her vocal control through listening and repetition, as shown by the live training sessions that appear once near start of the album and again towards the end. In these delightful peeks behind the curtain, the learning curve of this ‘AI baby’ is quite apparent, advancing from the whispered, incoherent burbling heard in ‘Canaan’ to a more mature mimicry in ‘Evening Shades’. The later attempt is still far from facsimile however, with its intense jitteriness and truncation of phrases; it is this willingness to preserve the ugliness and imperfections that makes the album feel all the more human, even through all of the processing. PROTO certainly resides within the uncanny valley, but perhaps occupies a space higher up the slopes than one may first imagine, given the technological innovation involved. This result is a remarkable feat for one of the first ever albums produced in collaboration with some exciting, if frightening technology and could well be looked back on as being a pivotal moment in music history.
Wow. 2019, uh, happened. It's been a tough year, soundtracked by a wealth of incredibly good music, and documented in a tiny proportion by us here on this site. We want to take a moment to thank everyone who has spoken to us for interview, allowed us into their festivals, and every single musician creating new and exciting things in these difficult times. Thank you to everyone who has read our articles, pitched to us, contributed photos, words, ideas, and anything else. You have made Texture what it is and will continue to do so. With that in mind, as we gear up for the final dance of 2019, get in touch. Send us an instagram DM, a soundcloud link, an email, or a telegram. We're excited for what 2020 will bring, and hope you'll join us to see where it leads.
Words by Ed Graham, Tom Graham, Alex Greenwood, Max Greenwood, Christian Jones, Oskar Jones and Georgina Quach