Music Features

2019’s Best Albums You Haven’t Heard

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As we hit the first of July, it’s time to reflect back on some albums and EPs that might’ve flown under the radar for you over the first six months of 2019. Below are our writers’ selections for records they thought could use a bit more shine as we hit the midway mark.

2019 100 gecs

100 Gecs – 1000 GECS

Genre: Post-Internet

Favorite Tracks: “money machine,” “800db cloud,” “stupid horse,” “xXXi_wud_nvrstøp_ÜXXx,” “ringtone,” “hand crushed by a mallet”

In many ways, I really think the past decade of the internet and its relationship with musical discourse and output has peaked with 1000 GECS. An ingeniously situated album at the nexus of practically every online microgenre to have existed in the 2010s, not since discussions of FLORAL SHOPPE has a release been so universally despised and loved on the same token (heck, the project even has its own fake sequel release mostly confirmed as false a la yesteryear’s FLORAL SHOPPE 2 debacle), and while you’re likely to find message board vitriol to make your stomach churn, there’s just such a certain je ne sais quoi to Laura Les and Dylan Brady’s debut full-length that I find it hard not to be utterly charmed. Part of why 1000 GECS is so clever is the fact that any and every attempt to capture the lightning-in-a-bottle appeal of it is bound to sound dated a few weeks later, much less a full year and beyond. Let’s give it a try: trying to map its labyrinthine influences and references is a fool’s game, but to give you just a hint, I can plot reasonable connections to Bladee, Sicko Mobb, Hannah Diamond, GFOTY, Kero Kero Bonito, Brokencyde, blink-182, and a wide swath of anonymous nightcore and bronycore SoundCloud uploads in equal measure. How the heck am I ever going to explain that to my kids? All that is to say that, yes, it’s hopelessly Online, but the entirely neo-genuine (that’s right baby, “post-ironic” doesn’t do it justice) flip and polish of each and every piece of sonic detritus that has filtered into our ear canals, by meme, /mu/, or Melonhead, the last 10 years is to be applauded. A theoretical and conceptual compilation album, an archive that establishes agency while simultaneously existing as a just-winking-enough bit of retro-fitted nostalgia, an honest-to-goodness trip of an album in the best and worst ways possible… 1000 GECS is something special, and I know for a fact it’s something I’ll never stop thinking about. Also, “stupid horse” is a clutch wild card pick for Song of the Summer. [Thomas Seraydarian]

2019 Aly and AJ

Aly & AJ – SANCTUARY

Genre: Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Don’t Go Changing,” “Star Maps”

You’re just as shocked as I. When a co-worker of mine put on “Don’t Go Changing” a month ago, it (unsurprisingly) sent a ripple through the office. I mean, first, the elephant in the room: That album cover!! We’ve become conditioned to expect former child stars to make insane 180° pivots to appease adult audiences, but that cover is still a doozy (that’s a full ass! She went full ass—both cheeks!). Secondly: When was the last time you really even thought about Aly & AJ? Yeah, yeah, even as I type this someone is going to yell about how perfect “Potential Breakup Song” is, but the duo’s early songs are inarguably dated, locked firmly in 2007 alongside Perezhilton and shutter shades. But thirdly, and thankfully this ostensibly far less immediate point won out: The song was good! Great, even. Coming a week prior to what was decidedly the sexi—er, flashier ‘80s synth-bop collection DEDICATED, I’d dare stake a claim that if SANCTUARY isn’t a better collection of divine pop songs, it’s one that at the very least punches outside the weight class with more vigor and surprise. Certainly Aly & AJ are stealing from Carly Rae Jepsen’s playbook here—by not attempting to focus on any modern pop trends, the entire EP exists in its own self-created atmosphere, honing in on walking-on-air R&B and pop while copping the style of artists like Empress Of and Chairlift. It’s admittedly major label appeal disguised by indie pop conventions, but it’s masterfully done—the ascending earworm chorus of highlight “Star Maps” or gated drum build on the cathartic melancholy closer “Sanctuary” feel bigger than the sum of their parts because despite having tons of obvious pop appeal, SANCTUARY just isn’t something that gets run as crowd-pleasing multi-platinum Top 40 radio play any more. And sure, at this point most of my writing about this topic boils down to just pop nostalgia navel-gazing, but fuck it, this EP slaps and I’m not here to appologize for two has-been Disney stars succesfully bullying their way back to relevancy with a splendidly tight and dancy EP. So there. [CJ Simonson]

2019 Buke

Buke & Gase – SCHOLARS

Genre: Noise Pop, Avant-Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Stumbler,” “Scholars,” “Pink Boots,” “Grips,” “Flock,” “No Land”

Six years ago, Buke & Gase released an album called GENERAL DOME that was so outré, I was shocked to find that barely anybody in music criticism was talking at length about a band who literally make their own instruments. And while the 2013 LP leans a bit esoteric at times, their design is unforgettably dynamic, with a style reminiscent of experimental pop/rock colleagues like Dirty Projectors, Deerhoof, and Battles. Their third full-length release, SCHOLARS, is surprisingly pop without ever making you think you’ve just accidentally clicked on the “Poptronix” Spotify mood playlist. Tracks wallop and grind with nuance reminiscent of industrial music, while lead singer Arone Dyer’s supple vocals take unexpected—and thoroughly captivating—crusades through fuzzing acoustics, electronic flourishes, and writhing arrangements. I mean, what kind of balls do you have to have to write a pop song in a 5/4 time signature (“Pink Boots”)?! A political album without being obvious or even inflammatory, SCHOLARS channels stewed angst into sonic combustions that jump from a disquieting simmer to a rolling boil quick as a wink, with surprising continuity and dexterity. I can’t describe this album as necessarily “danceable” (my usual metric for categorizing pop music), but god damn if Buke & Gase don’t write some of the most strangely intoxicating melodies I’ve heard since BITTE ORCA. I can point you to several standouts: the gritty, climbing pre-chorus into the sweet release of “Grips”; the craggy, oddly-metered lilt of “Flock”; the stuttering and spacious admonition of “No Land.” It may take a few listens to catch on, but the bones are there to chew. With all its skeins and doglegs, SCHOLARS’ throughline thumps with the weight of an iron gavel, and there’s no way you won’t be turning your head at the sound of the strike. [Sienna Kresge]

2019 No Rome

No Rome – CRYING IN THE PRETTIEST PLACES

Genre: Emo, Electrorock, Indie Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Cashmoney,” “Pink”

With the state of our world, I really think there is room for everyone to be emo. I could list all of the awful shit going on and talk about how we’re being conditioned to deal with things in horrid ways, but I’m not going to! After all, aren’t we constantly inundated by messaging that reminds us of our imminent doom? Being aware of the fullness of our spectrum of emotions doesn’t always have to feel sad. Semi-bleak lyrical content juxtaposed by beats you can bop to is extremely my shit. No Rome’s CRYING IN THE PRETTIEST PLACES is a delightfully forward-thinking pop EP ripe with emo sensibilities. Guendoline Rome Viray Gomez’s specific strain of emo involves tweendom and all of the melodrama that comes with the experiences and fleeting relationships of those very turbulent years. After being flown out from Manila to London, Gomez signed with London based independent label Dirty Hit in 2017. A lot of the production on this latest EP is similar to that of the 1975, especially considering that some of his songs feature or were produced by members of that band. His songwriting, while akin to Matty Healy’s, is still somehow distinct. Both the EP and Gomez’s songwriting shines because he understands and highlights the specificity of melodramatic moments, but doesn’t take himself too seriously while giving you the sense that he has a very strong vision for who he is. All six songs are distinct and pull references from different genres: “Rimbaud, Come And Sit For A While” is soft and melodic, “5 Ways To Bleach Your Hair” feels shoegaze-inspired, “Stoned In the Valley” takes on late-90s britpop a la Blur, and “Pink” feels like R&B with its romanticism and simple melodic chorus. One of my favorite tracks, “Cashmoney,” is about fashion; it takes a page out of The Radio Dept.’s book (“Heaven’s On Fire”) by opening with a quote from Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye in which he muses about personhood, purpose, and belonging. The rest of the song becomes Gomez flexing as he artfully talks about spending cash on his beloved if she promises her loyalty. It’s a melodic tune with some motion to it, as what sounds like a xylophone floats over rhythmic drums and my angst about being a person dissolves while I think about money I can’t spend. That song, much like the rest of the EP, acknowledges melodrama and grief but chooses to dance forward despite or because of life’s drama. [Amanda Ball]

2019 Pixel Grip

Pixel Grip – HEAVY HANDED

Genre: Indie Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Can’t Compete,” “Diamonds,” “Twentyfour,” “Right Side”

As MGRM’s resident, unofficial, self-appointed Chicago correspondent, I feel it is my solemn duty to shill for Chicago bands and artists as often as I can, and what better time to do so than in an Albums You Might Have Missed feature? As the first half of 2019 draws to a close, and I take stock of some of my favorite projects of the year so far, the new full-length LP from self-described “goth disco” outfit Pixel Grip’s HEAVY HANDED stands out. No matter when or where you are, there’s always retro sounds being revived for the present day, and of late, ‘80s synthpop has been getting its day in the sun. From MGMT to Carly Rae Jepsen, the sounds of the Pet Shop Boys and Tears For Fears are back in vogue, and Pixel Grip keep the wheels moving. HEAVY HANDED takes a lot of cues from one of the truly pioneering acts of the synthpop sound: Depeche Mode. The foreboding analog synthesizers and ominous, insistent drum machines effortlessly call to mind some of the signature moments on VIOLATOR, but with a little bit more syncopation and some of Depeche Mode’s deadly self-seriousness traded in for playful attitude and snark. Importantly, their sound design is very strong; the drums are punchy, the synths hit a variety of interesting textures, and everything is tastefully and effectively mixed. Lead singer Rita Lukea brings a range of different timbres to the songs, maintaining a versatility that helps the record stay fresh—sometimes she sounds like Annie Lennox, sometimes she sounds like Lorde. The interlude of “Tyler Take” leads into “Can’t Compete” with a sly bombast that hits harder than you may expect, and “Diamonds” is a bona fide banger with some incredibly witty lyrics (“Make me warmer than black tie in July”). “Twentyfour” and “Body Like That” are both immediately catchy highlights featuring lyrics that successfully come off as mysterious and almost dangerous, Lukea playing the part of femme fatale with ease. HEAVY HANDED is a fun and legitimately groovy record with an intensely dark underbelly, the kind of music you’d hear in a crowded dark nightclub, vision obscured by cigarette smoke and the haze of sweat emanating from the half-drunk dancing patrons around you. It’s a pretty great time, and if you can listen to this record without as much as an involuntary foot tap or head bob, you might want to check to make sure you still have a pulse. [Jacob Martin]

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1 Comment

  1. […] a year it’s been to be Online as far as music is concerned! With the Gec takeover in full effect and hidden gems like Hot Leather’s BRAIN POISON treasure for those willing to go […]

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