From the Intercom: The Best Albums of 2019
Since the time that we first released our Best of 2018 Albums list in December of 2018, the scene for Asian/Anglo-Asian musical representation has remained largely stagnant. Roughly a year later, K-POP is still bigger than ever and evidently remains a major player in the game. 88Rising continues to grow: now hitting lofty heights like a complete takeover of Coachella and working with the music industry’s best producers. On the other hand, independent music artists still have trouble reaching the mainstream masses. Outside of algorithmic help by way of Spotify and YouTube (particular winners of 2019 include soft, relatable singers mxmtoon, khai dreams, and Jinsang), other musical artists don’t get their moment to shine.
In From the Intercom’s list of the best albums of 2019, we’ll take a look back at the albums that wholly captivated us and caught our attention–from tender soul-pop to experimental glitch-step to luscious dream pop, you’ll be sure to find something that you’ll enjoy as well.
While singer-songwriter/producer cehryl might not yet be a household name, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard of her subtle influences throughout the independent music scene. But her knack for reticent production is most apparent on her second full-length release Slow Motion, exemplifying what the singer-songwriter is capable of with thoughtful, R&B-tinged songs. As one of the most thematically cohesive albums of the year, Slow Motion explores the rush of blushing feelings framed by motifs of rising water (“Heat Wave,” “Natural Disaster,” “Titanic (the end)”), vintage cameras (“Home Video,” “It’s Blurry Here”) and metaphorical car rides (“Troubleshooting,” “Road Safety,” “Disconnect(ed)”) that all come together at the end. Charming, intimate, and filled with hesitant car-related signals, Slow Motion is a pleasant discourse on feelings that creep up on you when you least expect it.
Means to Me
Each of the ten songs on Long Beard’s sophomore album Means to Me bleed with a hazy longing. While many modern albums employ that same dreamy vibe to little effect, the fuzzed-out production of Means to Me allows the singer-songwriter to transform her sentimentally resonant loneliness at its core–drumming up emotional intensity amidst a neverending dream. All together, the album finds solace in reserved ruminations, somberly allowing the singer to relay her crushing lyrics with a teary-eyed hope.
Perhaps it’s Pillar, the sophomore album of Sydney-based dark pop musician Rainbow Chan, that serves as the best example as one of the year’s most inventive cross-cultural pop albums. Taking cues from the Rainbow Chan’s own cultural background, Pillar is an album that unabashedly samples Chinese musical motifs (“Pillar”), excerpts from her life (“Lull”), and rumbling beats while interweaving each song with a touch of experimental electronic production. While the majority of the album moves slowly with a definitive purpose, in its quicker moments Rainbow Chan adapts to the ferocity of the dancefloor just as easily (the pop/K-Rap banger “Love Isn’t Easy,” the urgent-sounding “Gaosuwo”). Infused with deep-shaking dread and a penchant for dance, Pillar is what apocalyptic pop sounds like.
While ((( O ))) [Sundrop Garden]’s name might be the most difficult to Google, the singer’s pictorial name is visually representative of the type of expansive, resounding R&B that is present on (((1))). Featuring airy layered vocal tracks and buoyant production that makes you feel weightless, ((( O ))) taps into a brand of R&B that almost seems loosely improvised (“Shuh Shuh,” “Remember”) yet curiously intricate. Tapping into the intrinsic energy of nature, creation, and the cosmos, just one listen is all it takes to be transported into (((O)))’s awe-inspiring take of the world.
Drinking Boys and Girls Choir
Scrappy, frantic energy permeates through the entirety of Busan-based skate-punks Drinking Boys and Girls Choir’s debut album Keep Drinking. Ripping through the 17 tracks on their album with reckless abandon, DBGC serves up musical jabs in the form of aggressive guitars, beer-fueled shouting, and a drummer that refuses to slow down. If you’re looking for a good time, this energetic trio knows exactly how to keep the good times (and the booze) flowing.
Look After August
Hunjiya (Alice Kim) has many friends. At least, that’s the obvious conclusion that you’ll come to when listening to (and watching the videos for) her soulful, astonishing debut album Look After August. Embedded in the very fiber of the album is that spirit of camaraderie, complete with sampled voice mails (“go to bed”), choral vocal layering, and an implicit thankfulness for the people around her (“friend’s house”). But while the presence of kindred spirits can be felt throughout, the real showcase here is in Kim’s powerhouse vocals. From the most liberating moments (“take care”) to the quieter, beautifully acoustic ones (“28B (The Window Seat)”), Kim’s off-kilter, cordial brand of soul-pop transcends that of any other release this year.
Tian Di Bu Ren
Named after the Taoist manuscript Tao Te Ching, Chinese experimental electronic musician Howie Lee’s Tian Di Bu Ren is otherworldly, albeit jarring and confrontational. Utilizing the diverse spectrum of traditional Eastern instruments, Tian Di Bu Ren is jam-packed with samples of scattered notes rarely found in the Western canon–tightly forming a clever tapestry of gnarled beauty. Taken as a whole, it’s an album that frantically collides, dissolves, and reforms its central structure repeatedly–intricately redefining the art of electronic music.
Li-Wei Chu is the chief editor of From the Intercom. When he’s not editing drafts and searching for new artists to cover for the website, he loves watching cult films, cooking, and listening to his ever-growing collection of vinyl records. You can follow him on LetterBoxd and make fun of his taste in movies here!