Much like last year, December is a time for me to let up on my new music intake and sit back with some old favorites. To reflect on this wonderful year (wonderful for music at least) I’ll be posting the same summative features as I did in 2018. Hope you enjoy. My regular review schedule will most likely resume in the new year. Thank you to everyone for your support and love.
2019, just like 2018 (which is why I’ve very lazily reprinted the exact same introduction) was a year in which I discovered lots of new artists and got to hear new music from artists I already love. There were, however, several artists who managed to occupy both voids due to their prolificacy throughout the year. These are my personal picks for the “most valuable players” in music this year.
The work of the endlessly creative and innovative Italian sound artist Andrea Borghi has been an important part of my music listening ever since I first heard Musica per Nastro God knows how many years ago. From hybrid sound composition and sculpture works in the form of his unique discomateria prepared records and other solo endeavors to collective improvisation, Borghi engages sound in ceaselessly various settings. In 2019 he’s been especially prolific, releasing 3discos, a collection of works composed between 2017 and 2018, on rhizome.s in February; VHS, an intimate yet raucous odyssey into the titular format that’s far and away one of my favorite albums this year, on Misanthropic Agenda in May; four textile/turntable experiments in the form of the Tistre cassette on Dinzu Artefacts in July; texts_und, a short cassette filled with lush, immersive, minuscule soundscapes, on Sounds Against Humanity in October; and recorded the ambitious Su Se Stesso as a member of the long-running improvisational quartet VipCancro.
The mysterious Vessel of Iniquity, though officially known as the solo endeavor of musician “A.white,” can just as easily be thought of as a pitch black cavern that births this nightmarish and disturbing music. The project’s self-titled debut came out on Sentient Ruin last year, but the volume was more than pumped up in 2019 with the release of the Void of Infinite Horror LP, again on Sentient Ruin, and four subsequent self-released digital albums of remarkably consistent excellence. While Void of Infinite Horror is easily one of my favorite records from this year, I’ve not even come close to wearing it out because I have fantastic companion releases like Star of the Morning and Imitator of Miracles to give me my fix.
Being prolific is more difficult with hip-hop than most genres, and it’s easy for artists who release too much music to sacrifice either quality or accessibility—or both. I’m sure we can all name some great examples. New Jersey MC Mach-Hommy (hereafter MH) isn’t as young as many of the NYC undergrounders currently taking the abstract hip-hop world by storm, but with a longer time on Earth comes wisdom, patience, and reticence. MH is known for his anonymity and reclusive nature, and his hermitic inclinations imbue his dusty boom bap beatscapes and cryptic lyricism with a unique sense of isolation that’s both unsettling and comforting. I first fell in love with MH’s music with the help of Fete des Morts aka Dia de las Muertos, and his 2019 ventures have further cemented that love: Tuez-les tous, the first of two superb collaborations with DJ Muggs (along with Kill Em All, which also introduced a new moniker for the duo), is easily one of the best hip-hop releases this year, and the short but sweet Wap Konn Jòj! is a wonderful entry in the contemporary abstract hip-hop canon.
I first encountered Theo Gowans’ music long before I heard anything by Territorial Gobbing (TG); the Leeds-based multi-instrumentalist is also a member of the irreverent noise rock ensemble Thank, whose 2017 EP Sexghost Hellscape is an all-time personal favorite. Gowans’ solo work as TG combines the same delirious, nihilistic surrealism with a more abstract palette of dictaphone skronk, mangled vocalizations, broken electronics, and anything else that catches his ear. April’s Stud Mechanism on Cadmus Tape was the first I heard, but Gowans stayed busy with releases on Cardboard Club (Ham Man Bone Jacket), Opal Tapes (Capitalist Art Is Cartoons Fucking), Panurus Productions (Sausage Chain), Infant Tree (Bit My Tongue Clean Off), and Base Materialism (Zoinks!). He also lent his talents to a collaboration with Model Warships on Wormhole World and the second side of Leap Wars’ Low Priest Run on Cadmus.
Daphne X (shortened from Xanthopoulou) is a very new discovery of mine, but I’ve had plenty of material to pore over in the form of her deconstructed, glitched-marred poetry remnants of January’s Jaguar 100% and the enrapturing digital dissections of To Be Brave on Sono Space. In addition to contributing a track to the third installment of Sono Space’s Sound Maps for the Dreamer compilation series, Xanthopoulou also curated Cachichi, an online radio platform for avant-garde music and sound art with a focus on her home base of Barcelona, Spain. Xanthopoulou may not have released an avalanche of music this year, but with the massive amount of excitement I feel for future endeavors she might as well have.