ACL 2019 ~ The Year in Review

2019 was the most tumultuous year in recent history, and the troubles of the world spilled into the world of instrumental music.  The artists we cover had a great amount to say about xenophobia, climate change, the #MeToo Movement, Brexit and walls, but ironically, one would have to read their press releases, liner notes and interviews to know it.  This latter dilemma stems from a sea change in the industry, as streaming has overtaken physical sales (while ironically, vinyl sales have finally overtaken CD sales).  We continue to be proud of the public statements made by the artists we cover; we’re just not sure that they are being heard.  This is where reviews come in.  We take a closer listen, but we also aim to take a closer look (and no, we have no plans to start a sister site with that name!).  While social issues were key in last year’s music as well (see our 2018 Year in Review), this year they surfaced with greater urgency and a call to political activism.  We have only this chance to procure a better life for our children; once it is gone, there may be no turning back.

One of the more peculiar things that happened this year is that Brexit didn’t happen, which left a lot of spring releases stranded.  We’d like to think that they had an influence.  Even the expected Halloween exit fell through.  From Richard Luke to Matthew Herbert, multiple artists railed against the machine ~ and continue to do so at this writing.  Blind Cave Salamander, Ecker & Muelyzer, moltamole and more tackled the threat of glacial melt, making us wonder if the Field Recording genre might soon become our most relevant category.  Kate Carr made us wonder if vaunted new technologies were making us lose contact with each other at the same time as they promised better connectivity.  Matana Roberts and Rachel Grimes released twinned albums addressing America’s shameful record on gender and race.  Chris Weeks and Richard Skelton each used the word border in the titles of their releases.

Music can be an escape, but it can also be a motivator.  To hear the artists we love tackle such subjects is to feel aligned with a greater cause ~ that of calling humanity to its greatest potential.  It’s easy to get discouraged, but the music and field recordings sent to our site make us feel less alone; on good days, they even make us feel that we’re on the right path, on the verge of a new awakening.

2019 was also the year our submissions exploded.  While this is a sign of health, it’s a challenge for writers, artists and labels alike, as we’re covering the same amount of music as we always have, but a smaller percentage of submissions than ever before.  Our average chances of review are one in eight, but the 50 albums/week level doubled for six weeks this fall.  This is a good time to remind our readers what we’re all about: we focus on approximately one album a day and give it a closer listen.  We’d love to be comprehensive, but we’d rather write decent posts about a few things that mediocre posts about many.  This being said, we are grateful to every artist, label and promoter who sends music our way and gives us so much to choose from!

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be presenting our annual year-end lists in three phases, the third one unique to this year.  The first phase involves specialty lists (Best Winter Music, Best Videogame Scores and more).  The second phase includes seven genre lists, followed by an overall Top 20.  This year a Best of Decade phase will follow, bringing us to 2020 and our Winter Music Preview.  We hope you’ll return daily to read and hear what we have in store!  On behalf of the entire staff, thank you for your readership, and may your holy days be happy and bright!

Richard Allen



  1. Ben

    Continuously grateful, year after year (Can you believe how long it’s been?), for your work.

  2. Michael

    I want to say two things, a negative and a positive note:
    On the one hand, I think you are overemphasizing the political messages of artists – even though i strongly sympathize with them. Art cannot convince anyone of anything they’re not already convinced of. If you believe climate change doesn’t exist, even the best album won’t motivate you to demonstrate. If you think racial inequality is a sign of humanity being inherently bad, the best lyrics won’t make you an activist. – The problem with emphasizing the parts of the artworks you were already convinced of before listening to it, is that listening then very quickly becomes an act of patting yourself on the shoulder.

    On the other hand, you actually do deserve to pat yourself on the shoulder. I love this blog. Reading it is my favorite morning activity. If I’m being negative, it’s only because there is so much good here. Thank you for your work and passion.

    • Thanks Michael ~ music alone may not be enough to change someone’s mind, but (speaking from my own experience) it can provide the push of motivation that moves one from passive to active. One of the factors we’ve noticed here at ACL is an alignment of purpose from the artists we cover (and even those we don’t) ~ which means that once a listener takes that step toward activism, one may feel in solidarity with a globe of like-minded musicians. Considering the breadth of artists, it’s amazing to see that they are far more unified than any control group might be (for example, the U.S. red/blue split is about 50%, while the artists on our site overwhelmingly tilt toward blue).

    • captainfreakout

      Just pitching in to say thanks as well, and to say that the arts, but music in particular, don’t solve the world’s problems, and that’s OK. I also don’t think most musicians release albums to convince people of something. Still, all these politically-inclined works do help understand and contextualize what’s happening around us, as well as express things that maybe many of us feel, right at the intersection where essays and words might fail. They are not replacements for essays and words, however, nor should they be. Like Rich suggests above, the networks they create are networks of shared sentiments, and that’s a powerful experience, even if it doesn’t “do” anything in a traditional sense. 🙂

      • Michael

        Thank you both for taking the time to reply. It’s highly appreciated.
        I can’t say my uneasiness is gone. But if this blog and the music you promote makes cool people feel in solidarity with a globe of like minded musicians/a network of shared sentiments, I most definetly won’t complain about that 🙂

  3. T7

    Thank you for bringing us top reviews. ACL is a master reference !!

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