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!