We listened to a lot of music this year. The new music we enjoyed the most ran the gamut from blissed-out ambient work to cathartic examples of hip-hop and hardcore. Also in there were some notable collaborations, expansive artistic statements, and next-level work from artists in their prime — a sonically disparate mixtape that never fails to energize.
Shopping, The Official Body
Both live and on record, Sh0pping are one of the tightest, most innovative, and most essential bands making music today. Politically relevant and gloriously catchy, this is thoughtful punk rock you can dance to.
Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth
Do you like your jazz with plenty of conceptual rigor behind it, performed by a tenor saxophonist backed by a stunning array of musicians? Well then, we’d like to direct your attention to Kamasi Washington’s sprawling new album, which sends his sound in a host of new directions.
Longtime associates and collaborators from dälek and Faust teamed up with saxophonist Mats Gustafsson for this new project. The result felt less like an unruly collaboration and more like the latest work from a group of likeminded musicians, going from blissed-out to kinetic and back again, with Gustafsson’s roaring sax adding an unsettling layer.
Alex Zhang Hungtai, Divine Weight
You may well know Alex Zhang Hungtai from his previous project, Dirty Beaches. Here, he manipulates a series of saxophone recordings, taking them to unpredictable places and pushing his sound towards something unpredictable and transcendent.
Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore, Ghost Forests
Both Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore have been on tremendous creative streaks lately, so it’s no surprise that this collaboration shines in a host of ways. Lattimore’s beatific harp work and Baird’s haunting voice and guitar converge, creating a moving and textured document.
A$AP Rocky, Testing
(ASAP Worldwide/Polo Grounds Music/RCA)
A$AP Rocky’s third studio album found him pushing his sound into unfamiliar places, collaborating with the likes of FKA Twigs and Frank Ocean and exploring a host of sonic textures and experiments. Sometimes artistic risks pay off dramatically; this album is a prime example of that.
The latest album from Danish post-punks Iceage was the sort of layered, complex, damaged rock record that sounds impeccable in theory but can be hard to pull off. That they do this expertly here, revitalizing their sound in the process, is one of many highlights to be found on Beyondless.
Christina Vantzou, No.4
Christina Vantzou’s albums for Kranky have upheld an impressive level of quality over the years; this latest one may be her best yet, blending a tactile ambience with a haunting sense of atmosphere.
Turnstile, Time & Space
On their latest album, Turnstile tap into an essential hardcore energy. (Alternately: mosh it up!) But there’s also enough interesting twists on the genre to keep this album interesting for anyone who thought they’d seen it all.
Clarice Jensen, For This From That Will Be Filled
Haunting, blissed-out, cell0-heavy compositions abounding with a mournful sensibility and a powerful sense of place. This is an eminently listenable album, and one that seems to suffuse a space with its own uncanny energy.