It’s that time of year again! Where I can subjectively judge and rank works of art based upon a skill that I am not even close to possessing. But in all seriousness, there were so many amazing and important records that came out this year. And as with any end-of-year list, I’m sure that I missed the boat on some gems and didn’t get to hear some others, but here are the records that spoke the most to me and made my ears happy throughout the year.
Also, even though they didn’t make my “Top 10” for a variety of reasons, there were still dozens of other amazing and stunning records this year, including Animal Collective’s Ballet Slippers (a live album of old material commemorating the 10th anniversary of Merriweather Post Pavilion), a beautiful full-length debut from self-trained violinist Sudan Archives in Athena, and an all around spectacular release in Sharon Van Etten’s Remind Me Tomorrow.
10. Bibio – Ribbons
9. Teebs – Anicca
8. Salami Rose Joe Louis – Zdenka 2080
7. Panda Bear – Buoys
6. Body Meat – Truck Music
5. Holly Herndon – PROTO
Making use of a choral ensemble (that sounds more that of coral than human at times) and an AI program affectionately named Spawn, Berlin-based Holly Herndon’s PROTO is otherworldly at its core. One listen to the short interlude “Extreme Love” shows that Herndon here is preoccupied with far more than daily societal life, but some inexplicable truth at the base of all life. One of the first prototypes of time travel, the record looks far to the future, long past the fate of the human species. If PROTO were released thirty years from now, it would still be heralded as long before its time.
4. HOMESHAKE – Helium
Montreal’s Peter Sagar follows up 2017’s Fresh Air with another diamond in the slacker rough in Helium, an album perfect for late night and early morning listens, as well as any smoke break in between. Perhaps inspiring the title, Sagar’s natural and vocoder-based falsetto drapes the record with melancholy (like the slow creep of Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter) as he sings of love in the age of technological loneliness. The result is stripped-down yet beautiful, with patchwork interludes made of samples and synths that complete the full listening experience.
3. Flying Lotus – Flamagrama
My personal artist of the decade Steven Ellison (aka Flying Lotus) continues his reign with Flamagrama, another amazing record showing how all-encompassing the term “electronic” can really be. In addition to his mind-altering midi wizardry, Ellison now brings elements of horror from his recent soundtracks and films to his studio album (check out the David Lynch-inspired “Fire Is Coming”). The record relies more than ever on a wide-ranging, all-star cast of features (including Tierra Whack, Denzel Curry, Toro Y Moi, Solange, and still many more), a wealth of experience and brilliance.
2. Avey Tare – Cows on Hourglass Pond
Dave Portner’s newest solo venture in Cows on Hourglass Pond finds the perfect balance between 2010’s swamp-tronic Down There and 2017’s acoustic guitar-centered Eucalyptus, a new form of electroacoustic folk. Sampled beats and driving guitar strums meet classic AnCo noise-fueled freakouts (tracks like “Chilly Blue” and “Nostalgia in Lemonade”), not to mention the incredible vocal alterations and layerings ever-present with Avey Tare. No matter the semantics in genre, Cows evokes your sense of childhood wonder as Animal Collective releases always do. As the quartet continues to evolve with individual and joint releases in style and sound, the same imaginative spirit of their early releases (now twenty-some years ago) remains.
1. Moor Mother – Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes
How to describe the indescribable. Camae Ayewa has been doing this for years as Moor Mother with a variety of solo, group, and collaborative releases, but Analog Fluids would take the cake if there was any left. Ayewa takes the culmination of daily atrocities and betrayals against the Black community and shoves it down the listeners’ throats, bypassing the understatement and concealment of White media. As Moor Mother raps/preaches with spoken word, the harshest of noise electronics seem bent on unsettling you at every twist and turn. We don’t deserve to feel settled as we “keep the TV on, swipe left, keep strolling.” Analog Fluids is a punch in the face, a reminder to those who need it that “America” was built on colonialism and still runs on racism. Without a doubt one of the most important records out right now.