This very strange decade has finally ended, and it’s harder to keep track of things these days. Pictures, songs, and paragraphs wash across my screen one minute and disappear the next. I find myself increasingly relying upon lists. Traces of nostalgia are beginning to appear in my thinking, a desire for finite collections and limited entertainments. This is a natural side-effect of getting older, but perhaps it’s not all in my head. Maybe we are living through uniquely disorienting times. This year I heard a more spiritual bent in my favorite records, something nervy and apocalyptic that craves refuge. But whether this reflects the general mood or my own needs, I cannot say.

Earth – Full Upon Her Burning Lips

Sargent House | Bandcamp

Vintage slow-motion grind that lopes through America’s midnight parking lots, pool halls, and dead-end bars while finding occasional moments of beautiful light.

Chihei Hatakeyama – Forgotten Hill

Room 40 | Bandcamp

Perfect ambience that shimmers without being saccharine.

Dissemblance – Over the Sand

Mannequin | Bandcamp

Jet black synthetics and blurred vocals like the echo of a 1980s new wave hit from that was once upbeat and fun but after three decades of psychosocial distortion, now only the skeleton remains.

Kali Malone – The Sacrificial Code

Ideal Recordings | Bandcamp

The album I’ve returned to the most this winter. At first it sounds like a childhood memory of an old woman tuning the church organ before the service begins. Then it slowly reveals itself as an austere and dignified sanctuary for noisy and decadent times.

MMMD – Egoismo

Antifrost | Bandcamp

Hymnal chanting, cello, and drone from Greece that feels like an existential shiver in church.

Monokultur – LP

2019 | Bandcamp

A sprawling record that stitches together detuned weirdness, pastoral ambience, and icy Swedish vocals that conjure images of dead rock-and-rollers with cigarettes bouncing on their lips while guitars screech and purr at the margins.

Rafael Anton Irisarri – Solastalgia

Room 40 | Bandcamp

Symphonic ambience that sounds like an elegy for snow fields and decaying glaciers—and it introduced me to the defining word for the next decade: solastalgia, the mental or existential distress caused by environmental change.

Topdown Dialectic – Vol. 2

Peak Oil | Bandcamp

A welcome return to the anonymous mythos of techno when mysterious transmissions appeared on white labels without context, origin, or reference point. These eight unnamed tracks from an unknown source rework the best elements of the genre for stranger days.

Vatican Shadow – American Flesh for Violence

Hospital Productions | Bandcamp

An exercise in grainy drums and haunted tones with bombastic titles that increasingly sound less like paranoid conspiracy and more like reality. Throughout the year, Dominick Fernow has been steadily reissuing cassettes from his Vatican Shadow project, and with titles like Media in the Service of Terror, Oklahoma Military Academy, and Rubbish of the Floodwaters, this feels like the logical soundtrack for the final seasons of America.

Sunn O))) – Life Metal / Pyroclasts

Southern Lord | Bandcamp

A spartan workhorse built from slow-motion guitars that feel like they’re holding the world together even when everything feels like it’s falling apart.

Alessandro Cortini – Volume Massimo

Mute | Boomkat | Spotify

Sleek synthesizers that swerve, glide, and snarl before opening up into something utterly cinematic that left me thinking about making a cognitive leap into the future.

See also 2018 Rotation.