Japan, Brazil, Iceland, Poland, India, Norway, Italy, Greece, Austria, Yemen, Belgium, Mexico, Croatia, Iran, Slovenia, Angola.
• BEST OF 2019 – Part 1: Netherlands, Lebanon, Slovakia, China, New Zealand, Colombia, Belarus, South Africa, Canada, Ukraine, Peru, Germany, Tunisia, Serbia, Dominican Rep., Luxembourg
• BEST OF 2019 – Part 2: Turkey, Lithuania, Venezuela, France, Georgia, Morocco, Latvia, Taiwan, North Macedonia, Australia, Argentina, Mali, Sweden, Mongolia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Malaysia
• BEST OF 2019 – Part 4: Finland, Chile, Thailand, Israel, Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, Denmark, Egypt, Singapore, Jordan, Spain, Niger, Bulgaria, Guatemala, Hungary, Kuwait
• BEST OF 2019 – Part 5: South Korea, Estonia, Indonesia, Ecuador, Russia, Philippines, Switzerland, Pakistan, Costa Rica, Vietnam, Faroe Islands, Palestine, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay, Portugal, Czechia.
Sawa Angstrom – “ICE”
If you like artists like Yellow Magic Orchestra, Cornelius or Buffalo Daughter, try this electronic trio from Kyoto. Their sound, simply, consist of voice, synthesizers and sampler. But it feels there’s much more than that. Their new songs remind me of Björk and other Icelandic musicians, and the harsh nature of this country.
In Sawa Angstrom, all members write songs and arrange instruments together. Female singer-songwriter Marina Kodama sings the way that legendary Boredoms’ guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto loves. The other two acclaimed musicians are male singer and sound engineer Satoshi Yoshioka, who is also a member of chamber pop band Llama, while Jun Hamada also plays as a bassist in funk band Lainy J Groove and supporting YeYe.
As a trio, they bring a new texture to what we in Japan call “city pop”. Surrounded by metallic or noisy beats, their tender voices might actually heal the loneliness of a big city. (Toyokazu Mori)
Liniker e os Caramelows – “Goela Abaixo”
Brazil is going through hard times, both in social and political matters. In the musical community, some artists got the job to show other points of view to the public. But in between releases that encourage people to go to the fight, the group Liniker e os Caramelows emerged, with the proposal of spreading love and affection in a divided society.
In its most recent album, called “Goela Abaixo” (“Down the Gullet”), the transsexual singer Liniker Barros used her voice to talk to people about the importance of taking care of the ones you love.
Meanwhile, the soul-inspired sonority helps deepen further this message. It’s clean. It’s beautiful. Goela Abaixo clearly serves as a light in the dark to make people believe that there’s still hope for this world. (Pedro Henrique Pinheiro)
Bjarki – “Happy Earthday”
Some albums feel less like a listening experience and more like a visit to a distinctive physical place with its own colours, shapes, sites and pathways. So it is with Bjarki’s “Happy Earthday” — a one hour trip that takes you over clouds and under waves to empty sunset beaches; through wild rainforests, and over rippling fields, and maybe, at times, into a wild, green version of a future city.
Influences from the giants of the genre are apparent, but ultimately irrelevant, as Bjarki paints from the palette of the canon, making confident strokes that are distinctively his own. There are ambient, midnight blue, star-speckled washes of sound, twitchy rhythms, undulating melodies and floating rhythms, all delivered with a sense of sparky imagination.
After a loud headphone listen, you’ll come out of a comfortable trance, having been taken, for a while, out of yourself, to a new wild future country. (John Rogers)
Babadag – “Šulinys”
Fronted by Ola Bilińska, Badabag is a project dedicated to exploring musical traditions from Poland’s eastern borderland. On “Šulinys,” they take on sutartinės, traditional polyvocal songs from neighboring Lithuania, and rearrange them in contemporary fashion. What results is a dazzling mix of traditions, languages, and musical styles.
Beautiful folk melodies and arresting polyvocal harmonies pass smoothly into psychedelic grooves and cosmic rock vibes, creating a mystical sonic world that seems to have a life of its own. “Šulinys” feels like a spiritual journey, touching something deep within us, regardless of where we come from.
“Šulinys” came out in the very first days of 2019, and such early releases tend to get forgotten as the year goes on. But for both of us, it turned out to be the album we’d keep coming back to again and again. (Artur Szarecki & Mariusz Herma)
Selected with: Daniel Brożek, Bartek Chaciński, Marcin Flint, Przemysław Gulda, Paweł Klimczak, Michał Klimko, Jakub Knera, Bartosz Nowicki, Lech Podhalicz, Rafał Samborski, Jędrzej Słodkowski, Jarek Szubrycht, Piotr Szwed, Jacek Świąder, Łukasz Wawro, Michał Wieczorek, Bartek Woynicz.
Peter Cat Recording Co. – “Bismillah”
Peter Cat Recording Co. are perhaps one of the hardest working bands in India right now, and have been for a little while. Having watched them for almost a decade now, it’s safe to say this is their moment in the sun, and I hope that the clouds don’t approach any time soon.
Having already found some sort of global success, in whatever indie way, with their debut record, the New-Delhi quartet delivered a melodic, melancholic sucker punch with “Bismillah”. The band’s sophomore release firmly places them at the helm of what it means to be a band in India in the year 2019. Be it their astute songwriting, narrative arcs on the album, visual aesthetic, poignant music videos, and most importantly – a live experience like none other – the band have it all locked down.
If there’s a record I had on repeat through the year, or a band I eagerly waited to watch live, it is Peter Cat Recording Co., and I can’t wait for their next steps. Make that leaps. (Naman Saraiya)
Other recommended albums:
• Ahmer x Sez On The Beat – “Little Kid, Big Dreams”
• Kumail – “Yasmin”
• Lifafa – “Jaago”
• Riatsu – “Safe With Me”
• Parekh & Singh – “Science City”
Konradsen – “Saints and Sebastian Stories”
Konradsen’s debut album “Saints and Sebastian Stories” is like a shining light in the dark. It’s composed of delicate layers of mechanical pianos, synths, horns, a lonesome violin and the signature voice of the Jenny Marie Sabel. Together with Eirik Vindgren she forms the duo who, with a little help from their friends, recorded the album.
“Saints and Sebastian Stories” is rich in devine and everyday details. The album is one of those albums where you can press play and just zone out. And those albums are quite rare to find these days. (Edvard Granum Dillner)
Be Forest – “Knocturne”
“Knocturne”, the third album by this three-piece from Pesaro, is their most imaginative and inspired yet. Be Forest stated they were attracted by the deepest abyss and by the idea of a never ending darkness, and the content of the album clearly reflects this.
Jay Glass Dubs – “Epitaph”
Dimitris Papadatos has been an active composer, producer and sound artist, for many years now, releasing music under different aliases as KU, The Hydra and finally Jay Glass Dubs. He has collaborated with many labels such as The Tapeworm, Infinite Waves, Phinery, Inner Ear, Ecstatic Recordings and Berceuse Heroique, to name a few, while his first proper album as Jay Glass Dubs, titled “Epitaph”, came out via Bristol’s Bokeh Versions.
This year, the Athens-based producer, drops into his blender, along with Jamaican-influenced sounds and heavy drums, echoes of ancient Greek mystics and choral music, UK funk and breakbeats, and of course even darker synths, to complete his gothic dub vision. Meanwhile, the appearances from the experimental saxophonist Ben Vince (Curl, Where To Now, Hessle Audio) and the greek vocalist Yorgia Karidi bring beautifully haunted human interferences to his dub techno, which flows endlessly.
2019 was an especially good year for Dimitris Papadatos, with his internationally critically-acclaimed “Epitaph” joining annual Best Of The Year lists like Mojo’s, Boomkat’s or The Wire’s, among others. And though it’s not an easy going album, believe me, it worths your attention too. (Ares Buras)
Other recommended albums:
• Anatolian Weapons feat. Seirios Savvaidis – “To The Mother Of Gods”
• Larry Gus – “Subservient”
• Mazoha – “Μπάσταρδο”
• Electric Litany – “Under a Common Sky”
• Babis Papadopoulos – “Fables of the Useless”
Selected by: Aggelos Kleitsikas (avopolis.gr), Antonis Xagas (mic.gr), Ares Buras (beehype), M. Hulot (LiFO), Markos Fragos (gone4sure), Michalis E (Rodon Fm), Marianna Vasileiou (mic.gr), Panagiotis Stathopoulos (Lung Fanzine)
HVOB – “Rocco”
They are the electronic music export Nr. 1 from Austria: the duo HVOB. Anna Müller and Paul Wallner are touring around the globe from the USA to India, from China to Africa. After being on the big stages and playing the top festivals with live-drummer and impressive light show, they decided to return to their origin, the dark club nights. Their fourth record “Rocco” is an exciting journey from gloomy techno tracks to fragile electronic songs with pop flair. The multilayered soundscapes develop a hypnotic maelmstrom.
Their attention to detail is extraordinary. Paul spent almost two years to find the right bass drum sound you can hear now on the amazing dance-monster-track “Butter”. A song like “A List” combines Anna’s touching voice with soft synthesizer melodies, melancholic piano cords and an almost jazzy drum groove. And the intriguing track “Sync” is, despite the reduced arrangement, a complex masterpiece that Aphex Twin would love.
But “Rocco” is not a hedonistic club-record. On the lyrical level it is a concept album about the process of “letting go”, getting rid of toxic relationships and about the fear of change. To many people, HVOB’s music is not only danceable, but has also a therapeutic impact. A woman from Egypt showed up after a show and told Anna how their music helped her getting through a rough time when she was trying to break up with her boyfriend. She finally managed to live a new life and was so thankful for HVOB’s music. So, Anna and Paul dedicated the record to this Egypt girl called Rocco.
A wonderful story about a wonderful record that not only makes people dance their heartbreak away but also embraces us with heart-warming melodies and sounds spreading the feeling of being well understood. (Andreas Gstettner-Brugger, Radio FM4)
Other recommended albums:
• 5K HD – “High Performer”
• MOTSA – “Perspectives”
• Scarabeusdream – “Crescendo”
• Bilderbuch – “Vernissage My Heart”
• Viech – “Niemand wird sich erinnern, dass wir hier waren”
El Khat – “Saadia Jefferson”
This is the debut album of El Khat (القات), a widely commented band led by Eyal El Wahab, a Yemenite Jew and a former lead cellist of the Jerusalem Andalusian Orchestra. Other musicians of the band come from Morocco, Iraq and Poland.
On “Saadia Jefferson” (سعديا جيفيرسون), Eyal El Wahab decided to process traditional folk songs from Yemen through contemporary and quite global inspirations, plus their unrestrained imagination of the quartet’s members. So beside guitars, trumpets, sequencers or darbucka there are such home-made instruments like percussion and string instruments produced from olive oil and tomato cans, petrol canisters, bicycle wheels, jerry cans, broken shelf or a rope.
Add poignant vocals to the mix and you get one of the most original album’s we’ve heard recently. With such an idiosyncratic release you can’t predict whether someone will love it or hate it, but we can promise “Saadia Jefferson” is something you haven’t heard not only within the orbit of Yemenite music. (Lina Rim)
Other recommended albums:
• A-WA – “Bayti Fi Rasi”
Balthazar – “Fever”
The members of Balthazar have not been sitting still between 2015 (“Thin Walls”) and 2019. There’s a huge chance that you recently listened to or at least heard about the dark mysterious Warhaus (Maarten Devoldere), the atypically groovy J. Bernardt (Jinte Deprez) or the more radio friendly Zimmerman (Simon Casier). They all released their own albums, Warhaus even two. Many music fans in Belgium and other countries were wondering which influence this would have on Balthazar.
“Fever” lives up to the expectations by combining classic Balthazar elements with some new ingredients. The bass gets you moving like it used to do, inescapable like a wobbling carpet under your feet. The two voices remain pretty complementary in different ways. The violins are still there, even though Patricia Vanneste decided to quit the band. The drums have never been the most ear catching part of the Balthazar sound but like in most teams, the players in the less visible roles are often the beating heart that puts the cherry on the pie.
Let us hope that Balthazar will not keep us waiting for another five years now. If they deliver another wonderful album, we will gladly excuse them for wait again, though.
I’d like to thank all my friends from the press/venues/festivals who sent me their top 5. You know who you are. (Brett Summers)
Belafonte Sensacional – “Soy Piedra”
The history of Mexico’s last 13 years has sadly been written in blood. Immersed in violence, it would be impossible for art not to reflect the pain of those who suffer every day… In music, one of the projects that best reflects this atmosphere in our country is Belafonte Sensacional.
Dark at times, bright in many others, their album “Soy piedra” is driven by the deep voice of the singer Israel Ramírez, who is perfectly accompanied by guitar, bass, drums, trumpet, piano and cello. These 11 songs make up a hopeless look not only at my country, but also at the world we live in. One of the highlights is “La noche total”, that in its three minutes goes through different moods, but with a fast pace that doesn’t let us go until the very end.
With that sense of hopelessness, spiced up with blunt punk rock, Belafonte Sensacional give us an album that transports us to a different time, to a different place, to a different state… Hopefully also to a different reality. (Asfaltos)
Šumovi protiv valova – “Šumovi protiv valova”
2019 will be remembered as the year when instrumental music beat everything else in Croatia. Even votes from our voting poll show this, because the top three albums are post-rock Šumovi protiv valova, space rock jazz Chui and psych-funk Nemanja.
The band Šumovi protiv valova has existed for more than 10 years, but only at the beginning of the 2019 they managed to finish their debut album with the same name as the name of the band – “Šumovi protiv valova”. They put years of experience into these six very powerful songs, mixing post-rock sound with ambient, kraut-rock, gothic… And everything was recorded analog.
So, if you just want to relax and have the opportunity to go somewhere far far away, “Šumovi protiv valova” is the right album. Just put the vinyl on and your journey begins. Where will it take you? I don’t know, but I’m sure that you will enjoy it, just like our voting poll did. (Siniša Miklaužić)
Selected by: Boris Abramović (music-box), Predrag Brlek (Terapija), Tin Đudajek (Ziher/Vibrabox), Dubravko Jagatić (Nacional), Ivan Laić (Ravno do dna), Ana Patrlj (CIRF), Gorav Pavlov (Ruralna gorila/Potlista), Marin Tomić (Terapija), Siniša Miklaužić (Muzika.hr / beehype)
Mahan Mirarab – “Persian Side of Jazz, Vol.2”
“Persian Side of Jazz, Vol.2” is the continuation of Mahan Mirarab’s endeavours for a decade to shape and develop “Persian jazz”. “Persian Side of Jazz, Vol.1” (2010) with Wolfi Rainer and Robert Jukic, “Sahel-e Tehran” (2012) with Naima band, “Unity” (2014) with Babak Maddah, “Kahgel” (2016) with Hamzeh Yeganeh and “Derakht” (2017) with Golnar Shahyar are the earlier examples of his efforts.
The Vienna-based jazz guitar virtuoso and one of the pioneers of playing Iranian classical microtonal scales, folk tunes a.k.a maqam, as well as the Iranian rhythms on fretless guitar – inspired by Erkan Oğur, Turkish pioneer of microtonal fretless guitar – tries to recreate a jazzy Persian music that sounds integrated and homogeneous.
As an immigrant, he tries to create Persian jazz with mostly other immigrants, but he is not just trying to employ some elements from jazz music nor creating an orientalist Western music with Eastern elements. This album is the result of life experiences of several musicians in diaspora, who try to form a community and create a music adequate to their situation as immigrant musicians.
In this album, Martin Berauer (bass) and Amir Wahba (percussion) accompany Mahan as the core members of his band, alongside Kaveh Sarvarian (tombak and ney), David Six (piano), Mona Matbou Riahi (clarinet) and his partner Golnar Shahyar (vocals). (Ali Eshqi)
Other recommended albums:
• Damahi – “Dar Man Boro Shekar”
• Maryam Sirvan – “Songs of an Empty Room”
• Abdi Ohadi – “Blue Man”
• Psychic Bloom – “Mysterious Temple”
• Ali Azimi – “Of Love and Other Evils”
Balans – “a vam je jasno”
Forget glossy production and fully fleshed-out songs: this year’s gem is a rough one. Balans is the hypnotic lo-fi brainchild of Andrej Pervanje and Kristin Čona, as accessible as it is absurd. Released by the prolific ‘bedroom recordings’ label ŠOP Records, this album confidently peeks out of the musty practice space into the wide world.
The musical means are minimal: deceptively simple, kraut-infused bass lines dominate while the tinny drum machine barely keeps up and sneaky guitars set accents. Kristin keeps throwing the listener little melodic bones, disguised as yelps and howls, and convincingly drifts into borderline psychedelia. The simplistic, repetitive lyrics may appear mundane, but perceptivness is palpable in the fury of Andrej’s delivery every time his good-humored, out-of-context ramblings tip over into bursts of manic croaking.
As the songs go on in their muffled glory, all echo and crackle, the twitchy upbeat pace turns more ruminative in the second half. But listen through to the end – and then find an excuse to go see Balans live. With an immediate emotional connection between band and audience, that’s where the fireworks really go off. (Matej Holc, selection by ex-HrupMag team and friends)
DJ Nigga Fox – “Cartas Na Manga”
Born in Angola, Rogério Brandão resides in Lisbon and releases his music via dance-oriented Príncipe label, also based in Portugal’s capital. His most accomplished effort yet, “Cartas Na Manga” came six years after his first EP. (Two years later, Thom Yorke would mention he’s listening to DJ Nigga Fox and that was it.)
Just like his previous releases, “Cartas Na Manga” bring a unique, sometimes maniacal mix of Brandão’s Angolan original inspirations (like kizomba or kuduro) with the global bass / house / techno scene. While it’s a totally danceable album that deserves a proper soundsystem, you’ll enjoy is as much on your headphones, taking a walk across your busy city. (T. Mecha)