ACL 2019 ~ Top Ten Rock, Post-Rock, Folk & Jazz

2019 was the best year for post-rock in recent memory. We knew it early; by spring we were well on our way to a top ten.  The dominance of post-rock on this year’s list is a sign of strength which may inspire sighs of relief; no other instrumental genre has been pronounced dead so often over such a long period of time.  Another bonus for vinyl lovers was the sheer amount of beauty available in the format, thanks to the dedication of labels across the board (one such example shown to the left).  But while post-rock provides the lead, a few outliers managed to crash the party as well, including an ebullient vocal album, an American Primitive album and a collection of avant world music.  Just when we thought we had it all figured out!  And now, A Closer Listen presents the top ten albums of 2019 in Rock, Post-Rock, Folk & Jazz!

astrïd ~ A Porthole (I) (Gizeh)
The first of a planned duo of conceptual releases, A Porthole (I) is a journey through the unfathomable depths of the ocean. astrïd linger on each of four immersive tracks, allowing acoustic textures and simplistic string and guitar melodies to persist and repeat until a sense of almost claustrophobia descends ~ for what is the sea but the total absence of space? Fusing their chamber/post-rock sensibilities with droning instrumentation and jazzy percussion, the quartet have constructed a pristine porthole to a mysterious world both mesmerizing and unsettling. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

Original Review

Ikarus ~ Mosaismic (Ronin Rhythm)
On Mosaismic, wordless oohs coalesce with rigid hi hats and jagged piano. Swiss quintet Ikarus jam out an icy jazz sequence of tracks enamored with collective angularity. On “Aligulin,” a duo of serene yet poised voices float around an effortlessly contrasting rhythm section; “Meridian” inversely begins with an awkwardly pulsating backdrop of agitated, jacknife snare. Each passing staccato hit digs deeper into the confounding, groovy atmosphere.  (Josh Hughes)

Original Review

Mono ~ Nowhere Now Here (Pelagic)
Nowhere Now Here grabbed me in a way no Mono record has since Hymn to the Immortal Wind. It is no more divergent than any other of their nine LPs, yet shows the new-look quartet (new drummer) with a newfound vitality, unsaddled from expectation. As a set of orchestral post-rock, there’s still plenty of storm-raising peaks (“After You Comes the Flood”) and melancholic lows (“Parting”), but in between there are synth-driven pieces, shifting rhythms, more brass and ~ yes ~ even prominent vocals. The band has felt stuck at the crossroads of modern composition and post-rock for a few years now; here, they throw the map away and simply drive. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

Original Review

Old Solar ~ SEE (Self-Released)
SEE is the year’s biggest post-rock surprise.  We hadn’t heard of the band before, but then again, they weren’t a band; Old Solar was a solo artist.  Expanding to a quartet was a wonderful move. The album celebrates all four solstices, with a track for every season (plus a benediction), so there’s something to play no matter the month; or one may let the platter spin like the earth and imagine the whole year at once.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

The Pirate Ship Quintet ~ Emitter (Denovali)
Emitter is an album of perfect flow, meant to be enjoyed as a single 70-minute journey.  Along the way, one will encounter sirens on a rock, decorations of strings and a comforting choir.  Over the years, the band has experimented with many sounds, finally producing this symphony.  They seem comfortable in their skin for the first time, their flag secure on the mast.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Russian Circles ~ Blood Year (Sargent House)
This deep into their career, the ever-pummeling post-metal outfit Russian Circles certainly know what they’re reaching for when they break out that slow burning riff four minutes into a seven minute track. Blood Year is excellent proof of the band’s second wind in the 2010s, full of expectedly thrashing landscapes with titles like “Hunter Moon” and “Ghost on High” that seem void of intentional signifiers. The open-endedness of the record’s angst and passion continues the template set by 2013’s Memorial. Here they sound enlivened as ever, reaching gushing climaxes that conjure powerfully hushed thunderstorms in the distance.  (Josh Hughes)

Original Review

Širom ~ A Universe that Roasts Blossoms for a Horse (Glitterbeat)
The surreal nature of A Universe that Roasts Blossoms for a Horse derives from the ecstatic juxtapositions of a myriad folk instruments and styles, making it an entirely unique proposition. It is world music without prejudice, a commonality born from the absurdity of the concept itself: for some, it might not even be music as we understand it. In the alternate universe that this album opens the door towards we do not lose anything to unity, but gain everything by emphasizing the differences in transition. After all, if we can do something that horses cannot, which is cook, well, why wouldn’t we share that distinction with them, taking perhaps one of their favorite foods? (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Wander ~ March (Self-Released)
It’s all about the melody and the drums.  This Bay Area band broke big this year with their first set in five years; last time out, the drummer was only a teen.  While March is more mature, the playful patina of youth remains intact.  These instrumentals are so smooth that one can almost sing along with them. This is the joy of being in a band at the prime of one’s life.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

We Lost the Sea ~ Triumph & Disaster (Bird’s Robe/Dunk!/Holy Roar/Transition Loss)
An aura of sadness wafts across Triumph & Disaster, a concept album that views the end of the world through a personal lens.  One may follow the story through the liner notes, or one may allow the riffs and melodies to wash over the ears like an encroaching sea.  The question “Are we really too late?” echoes in the listener’s ears long after the music has ended.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

William Tyler ~ Goes West (Merge Records)
On his fifth record, William Tyler trades in the frontage road serenity of Modern Country and Deseret Canyon for the watermelon pink haze of mid-evening. Recalling the simplified sheen of an Agnes Martin painting, Tyler and his cohort of likeminded countrymen create a warm world of evocative storytelling full of American Primitive finger picking and gorgeous chord patterns. Most tracks rely on a two-part, major key structure that blissfully hits like a slow saunter through sun-drenched neighborhoods.  (Josh Hughes)

Original Review

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