From the Intercom: The Best Albums of 2019
Cyber-gothic electronic artist yeule knows how to create an ethereal soundscape. In her breathing debut Serotonin II, the title of the album plays a huge role in painting the context of Yeule’s world–manifesting a dream-like, all-enveloping liminal state. On ASMR-inducing, whispery songs like “Pixel Affection” and quiet dance anthem “Pocky Boy,” yeule breathes life into a state of tranquility that you won’t wake up from until she hits the last note. Throughout her expansive, glittering pieces, yeule examines beauty, love, and darkness through a shadowy lens.
Abhi the Nomad
Within the context of Austin-based rapper Abhi the Nomad’s Modern Trash, the world has already fallen into a place of disrepair. Coded by white hazmat suits and bleak visuals (glaringly apparent across his music videos and album artwork), some of the songs on Modern Trash make some very compelling arguments about the current state of the world at large (“House of Clocks”). But while environmental concerns are scant outside of a few pointed references, Modern Trash succeeds most when Abhi is churning out honest, mischievous bangers about his own life story (“Modern Boi,” “Me No Evil,” “Tell Me Nothing”). Scattered throughout the big-band-influenced, playfully referential album (try to spot Smash Bros, Spongebob, Anthony Fantano and South Park references among others), Abhi never fails to draw upon relatable experiences that elevate his already-cosmopolitan songs to the next level. They may call him “modern trash,” but that won’t be the case for long.
At times, Melbourne-based Sui Zhen’s Losing, Linda can get downright eerie. An album about life, the virtual world, and grief, Losing, Linda is filled with gorgeous electronic hums that evoke otherworldly feelings of tranquility and uneasiness (“Perfect Place,” “Another Life”). In other moments like breezy, swaying “I Could Be There” or the sexuality redefining “Being a Woman,” flute-filled compositions round out space for Sui Zhen to add some levity into the technologically inspired, glistening mix. Losing, Linda, therefore, refuses to be distilled–thanks to all of the creeping factors that it has going for it. Together with her army long-haired, uncanny valley invoking doppelgangers, Sui Zhen is going to take you to her perfect place.
Head in the Clouds II
At this point, 88Rising and hype are somewhat synonymous. After changing the game in 2018 with a slew of successful releases, 88Rising returned this year with a victory lap in the form of Head in the Clouds II. Featuring their gargantuan hip hop/pop/rap roster of artists (Rich Brian, Joji, NIKI, plus others), 88Rising proves why they’re at the top of the game with gleefully collaborative songs that shuffle your favorite artists around, creating new impeccable pairings that only strengthen 88rising’s name brand. Hitting nearly every genre across the pop/hip-hop spectrum, Head in the Clouds II is undoubtedly a fun time–wholly packed with bangers, dance anthems, and endless hypeeeeeee.
Spending Eternity in a Japanese Convenience Store
One of the year’s best Midwest emo albums didn’t come from the States–rather, it came from Singapore’s own emo trio Forests. Surprise released on New Year’s day of 2019, Spending Eternity in a Japanese Convenience Store is a refreshing take on the genre–dousing calculated guitar chords and rock-out screamo with cheesy pickup lines and love letters guaranteed to make the music lover in you groan. Case in point: “Excuse me are you Bjork? / Cause you’re out of this world!” and the deprecating “I’ll never be the joy to your division.” In other moments, Forests aren’t afraid to lash out with scrappy quips like, “To hell with you / Goodnight to everyone except you!” There’s a tremendous joy to be had when listening to Forests when they’re enamored in one moment and lovelorn in the next, but they never fail to make it work with their punchy style. Thanks to their raging angst that makes for great crowd singalongs, Spending Eternity in a Japanese Convenience Store is the best album to unleash to. One thing’s for certain: Forests must be having a blast.
While Melbourne-based R&B artist Yeo’s Recovery Channel mostly draws upon his own life experiences, it might be hard to tell upon your first listen to the record. Brooding, groovy, and aching with sleek beats, Recovery Channel is an album that is undeniably embossed with coded messages and deeper meanings–though it’s hard to tell on its surface (“Restless,” “The Comments”). But despite turning politically conscious rhetoric into ground-shaking bangers, an overarching theme over the course of the album is Yeo working out his own relationship troubles and navigating the feeling of loneliness from the beginning (“Six Years,” “Always With Me”) to end (“By Myself”). When the previously foreshadowed 90s-inspired ballad “Don’t Let Me Blind You” shows up in the albums final moment (it first makes an appearance at the end of “Always With Me”), Yeo has finally succumbed to that empty feeling, bursting with a heavy climactic weight. Recovery Channel is thus not just an album filled with jams and bangers (including “Bear,” the album opener that samples the musician’s dog) but it also does exactly what the singer set out to do–working through his emotions and finding beauty within the darkest of feelings.
Ourselves the Elves
Self is Universe
For anyone looking to inhibit that niche space between weirdo-quirk garage folk and dream pop psychedelia, look no further than the Philippines’s own “foursome” Ourselves the Elves. Injecting streaks of color from genres far and wide (shoegaze/surf rock/garage rock) into their comfortable universe, Ourselves the Elves pulls all of their musical inspirations into a dusty, vintage package. Bolstered by lead singer Alayana Cabral’s lean, muscular voice, Ourselves the Elves seem to be a band from another era that somehow got timewarped into modern times. From hazy late-night pizza prank orders (“That 70s Show”) to sleepy reveries of fragmented relationships (“Okay Okay I’m Wrong I’m Sorry”), Self is Universe is an album that you can easily cruise through on a relaxed night out.
Malaysian pop musician Yuna has been in the game for more than eight years now, but it wasn’t until 2016’s surprise hit “Crush” with Usher that she was launched into the mainstream spotlight. Since then, Yuna has transformed her mostly acoustic/electronic-lite productions into R&B-leaning, pop-friendly jams. In Rouge, Yuna’s fourth full-length feature, there’s a sense that the pop transformation has been finalized–complete with A-list collaborations and impeccable music production. But even though she’s fully crossed into the radio realm, Yuna’s strong identity as an artist can’t be quashed even when working with musical juggernauts like Tyler the Creator, G-Eazy, Little Simz, and Jay Park. Yuna is still very much the center of the show. Rouge works by being centered around Yuna’s lovely lyrics and smooth voice which would have made Rouge a hit even without high-profile friends (“(Not) The Love Of My Life,” “Forget About You”). Even more commendable is the fact that while a majority of the album is dedicated to emotional love songs, some space is importantly dedicated to Yuna’s own story and identity (“Likes,” “Tiada Akhir”). Rouge proves that even though you can be a major pop star, you don’t have to compromise on your sense of self.