WPTS 2019 AOTY Picks
Just in the nick of time to maintain relevance within the confines of 2019, here are some of our thirty favorite records from this year. Albums get more “highly rated” at WPTS as the article progresses, so give yourself some time to read through completely! Thanks to everyone who has read an article or tuned in this year for your support. I highly recommend getting around to as much of this music as possible, as these are records we think are truly great.
When I saw a 50-something Stephen Malkmus trigger a drum machine outro for a cover of Pavement’s “Fight This Generation,” I witnessed someone absolutely in their element, unfazed by the fact that they fronted one of the best bands ever. Instead of trying to make another Pavement album, Malkmus continued to chase the new and exciting, and Groove Denied is the perfectly ripe fruit of that chase. Letting his trusty axe play second to synthesizers and drum machines, the slacker-rock-icon-turned-button-pusher crafted a seriously good electronic album that is way more than just a gimmick. These 10 songs cover a lot of the back alleys of electronic music (there’s synthpop, Kraftwerk type beats, brooding ambience, coldwave, you name it) while still showcasing his slick guitar work. Malkmus is a rare frontman who isn’t trying to be the band he once was, but rather showing us that he still knows how to write a melody we’ll be humming all year.
Question Everything / Sony
Arizona Baby is Kevin Abstract’s third studio album (though he has all but removed his first album mtv1987 from streaming services) and his most mature and well produced project yet. This was released in three parts, first as two 3 song EPs, and finally as a full album, over the course of three weeks. Abstract utilizes frequent BROCKHAMPTON collaborator Ryan Beatty, two members of the group Joba and Bearface, as well as up and coming artist Dominic Fike, utilizing their skills mostly on hooks and bridges. Abstract sticks with Romil Hemnani, a member of BROCKHAMPTON as their main producer who has produced Abstract’s previous studio albums as well, while also bringing in Jack Antonoff, accomplished producer, formerly of indie pop band fun. Antonoff’s input gives the project a different feeling than all of Abstract’s previous work. The decision to use live instrumentation when constructing the album differentiates it from all of Hemnani and Abstract’s previous work. Abstract ascends to his poppiest on tracks like “Peach,” a summery ballad reminiscing on the past, but also his most experimental on tracks like “American Problem,” which ebbs and flows only to eventually soar. The album, like all of Abstract’s material, is incredibly personal, tackling Abstract’s youth, insecurities, issues with substances, and place in the world as a gay black man from the South. It’s hard to recommend any one track, but “Peach” is a beautifully melancholic pop song.
Coin Coin Chapter 4: Memphis
In the fourth installment of her Coin Coin series, Matana Roberts crafts the most dense, stimulating, and thought-provoking album of the year. It is an INSANE free jazz/spoken word/spiritual jazz album that absolutely demands the listeners attention throughout the entire 46-minute journey. The long passages of free jazz throughout are segmented by spoken word passages by Matana Roberts about black history, culture, struggles, and successes. There are about a thousand different sonic elements that are carefully composed to create this extremely moving picture of African-American struggles and the metaphorical “passing of the torch” for future generations to be better than the generation before them. No single track does justice for the entire album experience, so its best consumed front-to-back (and then front-to-back again).
Forever Turned Around
Whitney has a way of making albums that just burrow straight to the heart. The singer’s falsetto and simple melodies are inviting to sing along to, but the trumpet and strings elevate many songs to feel like anthems. Forever Turned Around’s predominant theme of coping with change is so universal, but Whitney is so sincere that every word sticks. But most importantly, this album feels so summery that it’s liberating. Forever Turned Around was fun to drive to when it dropped in late August, but consider this: all the WPTS music reviewers are Pitt students. In a cold and challenging fall semester, Whitney’s work served as the most warm escapist experience I could imagine. Over the course of Pennsylvania’s autumn/winter mix, this album went from a fun and pleasant listen to a magical experience, and I’m so grateful for it.
In a year chock-full of explosive hardcore, Pittsburgh’s own Shin Guard asserted themselves into the “best of” conversation as soon as 2020 was released. 2020 is a pretty complicated record, whether that’s seeing the band subscribe to the Converge school of frenetic dissonance or taking on spoken word attempts not too distant from La Dispute. 2020 is a skittle in the bag of 2019s hardcore M&Ms; while some bands worshiped the breakdown, Shin Guard stepped to their own beat and put out a record that feels wholly vicious and unique. There’s skramz, there’s guitar harmonies, and there are some guitar passages that evoke Polyphia. When all is said and done, I just wanna say thanks Shin Guard!
Berkley’s On Fire
Fueled By Ramen
The fantastic sophomore album from the boys in SWMRS still holds as one of the strongest California Bay Punk Rock records of the year. Formally Emily’s Army, brothers Cole and Max Becker along with Seb Mueller and Joey Armstong (son of Billie Joe Armstong) released their debut album, Drive North, in February of 2016. Honestly, I had high hopes for LP2, but to top Drive North would be impressive – and they sure as heck did. Berkeley’s On Fire is an album for the rock and roll kids. The debut single of the same name features powerful guitars, Cole’s loose and emotional vocals and a solid drum beat to warm up the masses for what would be an incredible album. From the slower, dreamy tracks like “Too Much Coffee,” “Ikea Date,” and “Bad Allergies” (all lead-sung by Max) to absolute rock bangers like “Lose Lose Lose” and “Trashbag Baby,” which features both Max and Cole dueting. From the detailed and strong instrumentals to their bold lyrics and using their voice to show what they believe – music is the future and the kids are the future. I also had the pleasure of seeing them live at the Rex Theater here in South Side and I have never been happier to have ribcage bruises and no voice.
Sui Zhen crafts a dubby atmosphere linked as much to the bouncy curiosity of early Kraftwerk as it is to the sounds of 80s muzak and city pop. It’s common to feel a discreteness with dance music: distinct layers come and go, continuity is assumed, tracks begin and then they end. This album is different. Zhen’s instrumentals eb and flow, serene sounds surfacing more like koi circling a pond than looped schematics on a computer. Losing, Linda is content where it is, contained in its own world, a very rewrite of what it means to be digital where ones and zeros are replaced by fresh leaves and pebbles. It’s equal parts organic and synthetic, somewhere between a monastic ceremony and an eco-friendly dance club.
On Ghosteen, Nick Cave sings of tragedy and grief. Not in the wry observational tone of 1996’s Murder Ballads, nor the shock-induced distance of 2016’s Skeleton Tree, recorded mostly before the accidental death of his son; this is an artifact of deep grief, a meditative work that spends its significant runtime trying ever harder to break through and find hope. It does, and it is the most beautiful record of 2019 and of Cave’s long and storied career. The arrangements are fairly simple, the melodies are pure, Cave’s voice mostly unadorned over little but pianos and soft electronics, shining through as he sings of loss and hope. It’s a gorgeous piece of work, one of the most fulfilling records in a year where most of us could really use a little fulfillment. Just let “Galleon Ship” wash over you and feel that no matter what you’ve lost, there’s something out there to be found.
You Did This / Triple Crown
Cleveland-based rock group Heart Attack Man has returned in 2019 with their sophomore album, Fake Blood. During my first time listening to Fake Blood, I knew that this album would be a standout of the year. The album invites the audience to be swept away in the energetic power anthems such as “Sugar Coated,” but Fake Blood quickly becomes emotional and truly poignant. Every track is a true treat, but the standout track from the album is “Cut My Losses.’ The song is for anyone who has dealt with manipulative people in their lives. It shouts out proudly that no one deserves to face this abuse, and we need to cut these people out of our lives no matter how hard it might be. Fake Blood has been one of the best albums I have listened to this year, and I cannot wait to see what Heart Attack Man does next.
I Am Easy to Find
The National are kings of the moody, the serene, the spacious and sad. On I Am Easy to Find, they pull back entirely from the fire that defined their early records to settle in a gorgeous landscape of drum patterns, piano, and the voices of women. It’s a beautiful piece of work, one that you can sit back with and feel, whether in the perfect slow burn of “So Far So Fast” or the propulsive bizarrely-danceable meditations of “Where Is Her Head.” It also features “Rylan,” the best song of the year and one of the finest The National have ever put together. Put on your headphones and fall into the warmth of I Am Easy to Find.
Dublin-based post-punk newcomers Fontaines DC roared to the forefront of the 2019 album of the year discussions with their debut album, Dogrel. Similar to their contemporaries, Idles and Shame, Fontaines DC’s album is a response to the ever-changing social climate of Europe. But instead of being fueled by revolutionary rage or disgust, Dogrel is an ode to the days before Dublin was as bustling and tech-dominated as it is today. Their message is conveyed through Grian Chatten’s almost spoken lyrics in his distinct Irish brogue, accented by powerful double-guitar driven chord progressions. Fontaines DC brings up a more level-headed and very resonant perspective on the UK’s march through modernity. Their music cannot stop anything from happening, but through Dogrel, they heed their listeners to approach modern change with caution, warning them to not be blinded by ambition, all while honing their essential post-punk sound.
The album cover of Titanic Rising shows Natalie Mering, going by Weyes Blood for her past four releases, floating in a water filled room. This image perfectly captures the emotions and musical approach expressed on the album. Titanic Rising merges sentimental reflection with looking forward to the future, all emphasized with production that harkens back to down-tempo ballads of the 70s and 80s. Titanic Rising is Weyes Blood’s most ambitious and content-rich project yet, and her execution was near perfect. The lyrics––though laden with nostalgia for childhood and a time where things didn’t matter as much––aren’t sickeningly stuck in the past. Nostalgia is much more of a basis for the album than the focus. She prioritizes self-realization and embracing change through your past experience. In an interview following the release, Weyes Blood told Pitchfork: “I want to make sure everybody feels like they deserve to be alive,” and the blend of ethereal production and relavant lyricism embody that goal perfectly.
For indie folk-rock band Big Thief, the question was not whether they should make our top albums of the year list, but which album of theirs should be on it. Miraculously releasing two full length albums in less than a year, you would expect a sort of redundancy to take place in the songs presented. On the contrary, however, both albums add decidedly different flavors to Big Thief’s repertoire. While Two Hands (October 11) offers a compelling emotional energy, we preferred the atmospheric world of U.F.O.F (May 3). A step away from the band’s usual unprocessed production, this album connects the natural sounds of the drums, voice, guitar, and bass to the perhaps even more natural sounds of the world around them. Sampling and ambient synths lead to the band’s sound simultaneously becoming more intimate as well as otherworldly. Though perhaps changing stylistically, the heart of the group has always been the songwriting of lead singer Adrianne Lenker. A curious individual, Lenker’s lyrics speak of life in a way that is courageously personal yet anchored in something any listener can relate to. On Unidentified Flying Object Friend, she reaches out to something deceptively far away and attempts to bring it closer for a warm, wistful embrace.
Guns by Quelle Chris is the first rap album this year that made me full-on ugly cry. Quelle Chris manages to hit very close to home on Guns. It’s a perfect rap album; no line isn’t well thought out. It’s one of the most politically provocative albums that came out this year. However it’s not just the lyrics and the content of this album that made me ball my eyes out; it’s the music paired with this brilliant lyricism. Every song is well thought out and careful, the order of the songs is careful, and the production is perfect. The song “Sunday Mass” is my favorite on Guns, because it’s very piercing and smart. It also leads into the idea that people frequently are too comfortable with the number of hate crimes that happen. I highly recommend listening to Guns.
Tender Loving Empire
Released at the start of 2019, Mujeres has been in my heavy rotation all year; this is bilingual freak folk for any- and every- occasion. Luz Elena Mendoza infuses passion in every track of the release, weaving together Spanish and English to create sentiments that bridge the gap between the two languages. What really strikes me about this album is Mendoza’s versatility; Mujeres features tracks ranging from gentle, acoustic melodies like “Follow Your Feet” to catchy, electronic cacophonies like “Bruja de Brujas.” Through it all, Mendoza never sacrifices her fervor. Mujeres– meaning “woman” in Spanish- is all at once about love, about failure, about the generational pain of Mendoza’s foremothers, about Mendoza’s experiences as a Latina in contemporary America. Mujeres transcends genre, creating a fully immersive experience and presenting the listener with an album that is as enigmatic as it is intense.
Released in June, Anima is Thom Yorke’s fourth solo album. Yorke is an extremely talented songwriter and he shows his versatility with his latest album. His use of syncopation with his unique beats stand out in this album, along with the atmospheric synths that fill your ears. Songs like “Twist” and “Not the News” inspire me to get up and do my best impression of Thom dancing around on stage while he plays. But then, tracks like “Dawn Chorus” are heart wrenching piece and feel like they could come straight from 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool. If you are looking to truly experience this album I recommend you watch the riveting short film that was produced along with the album. Anima is Thom Yorke’s best solo album yet and one of the best albums I listened to all year.
Since the start of Charli’s collaboration with PC Music creator A.G. Cook, Charli XCX had not put out an album, instead labeling album length pieces as mixtapes to push them out faster and quicker. However this streak was broken this year with the drop of what she frames as her most personal body of work, Charli. This album is unique in that it has a lot of her newer style of music in it but it also has moments of True Romance hints to it (which was her album prior to Sucker) which contained hits such as “Boom Clap” on it. As was common with the other mixtapes she released in 2017, there are as many features on the album as it seems she could have possibly fit in. In my opinion, the top songs to listen for on this album are “Gone,” “Official,” and “Click.” The album coincided with a global tour, which sold out most venues and had many surprise guest appearances. One thing that was disappointing about the release was the absence of her leaked tracks, which she later said she would never release because of how upsetting it was to have her work taken away from her. As disappointing as it was to lose a lot of great work to listen to, this album was something new which was nice in its own way.
Future-funk. Trap-House. Indie-Pop. Toro Y Moi (Chaz Bundwick) has always been one to jump genres between albums, but Outer Peace marks his best effort yet. This album mixes the psychedelia and synthpop of his early efforts with a new influence of R&B and trap. This album is just one great song after another. My roommates and I have had many debates about which one comes out on top. Whether it is the LCD Soundsystem-referencing “Laws of the Universe” or the nighttime driving, trap ballad “Monte Carlo” or any of the others. I have come to the decision there is no correct choice. This album just goes, and I still have not gotten enough of it since its release in January. With his mixtape, Soul Trash, later in the year Chaz showed he is still innovating, and I cannot wait to see what’s next.
The Seduction of Kansas
The Seduction of Kansas is Priests’ second studio album, delivering hard-hitting political commentary through their quintessential post-punk sound. Heavy, yet laced with Americana twang, The Seduction of Kansas is thoroughly enjoyable, utterly reminiscent of what lies to the far west of Pittsburgh. Scathing lyrics on songs like YouTube Sartre (“There’s no way to overthrow the bourgeoise / except tossing a hand grenade into your society”) juxtapose the existential, abstract themes expressed on their previous release, Nothing Feels Natural, aligning more with the anarchist sentiments professed in their initial EP, Bodies and Control and Money and Power. Katie Alice Greer’s powerful calls to action, paired with especially powerful bass riffs and wailing guitar, leave my ears ringing (in the best way possible).
When I Get Home
Solange seriously kills it with this album, taking the unreal sense of flow blueprinted in 2016’s A Seat at the Table and fitting it with a much more minimal blend of nu-jazz and experimental R&B. Knowles’ impossibly smooth vocals glide atop a hazy bed of retro-futuristic drum machines and synths, the pulsing heart of the music manifesting more like a flickering candle than the mechanic levels of an equalizer. Despite its fascinating hooks and pure swagger, listening to When I Get Home feels more like an experiment with the building blocks of pop music, crossing cloud-rap with the restraint of later-day Talk Talk. It just happens to be one of the most enjoyable listens of the year, too. Along for the ride are some of the most trailblazing musicians in pop music right now (Earl Sweatshirt, Panda Bear, Tyler the Creator, Standing on the Corner, Sampha), making for one of the most quintessentially late-2010s albums I have heard.
Jay Som feels like she has finally come into her own on her latest album, Anak Ko. All of Jay Som’s previous albums were beautiful, but this one stood out amongst the others, easily becoming my favorite album she has released thus far. It incorporates softness and hardness simultaneously, beautifully weaving together impactful lyrics with soft, dreamy melodies. This album is the first that Melina Duterte (Jay Som) produced on her own, which contributes to the album’s perfection in my opinion. She masters the dream-pop sound, with the incorporation of powerful guitar riffs and lush beats on many of the tracks. Her voice is one of her most valuable instruments, delicately blending with the rest of her instruments without getting lost. Songs like “Tenderness” and “Superbike” stand out on this album as instant favorites of mine, as they are accessible to listeners of dream pop music, while still pushing the boundaries of the genre. Jay Som worked to create an album that was honest and expressive; the finished product is one of the most beautiful, memorable albums of the year.—Elyssa Pollio & Sarah Worthington
All My Heroes Are Cornballs
“XMAS BB EAT A FRUITCAKE OR SUM” — JPEG to his spotify fans, advertising his latest project All My Heroes are Cornballs. The eclectic nature of his advert captures the album well. Combining elements of vaporware, noise music, rnb, pop, trap, and rap, All My Heroes is rhapsodic in nature, blending all of his influences homogeneously. He samples indiscriminately, from Taylor Swift’s most recent record, to Soulja Boy’s Fortnite twitch stream, even still to hardcore German techno artists Atari Teenage Riot. In creating the album, he reportedly wrote 93 songs (89 for the year he was born, and 4 more because he can’t count), and edited it down. The spread is apparent in listening. Peggy uses musical styles as a narrative tool, with melodic beat breaks showing his softer side, and abrupt hardcore bars showing a darker side. All My Heroes is a truly unique album, a very rare superlative in the digital age. From Grimy Waifu, a vaporwave instrumental with slow sensitive bars to Kenan vs. Kel, an energetic set of power chords with aggressive delivery, JPEGMAFIA has made it clear that his music will never be pigeonholed.
100 gecs came in hot and sticky. 745 sticky to be exact. 1000 gecs is the most fun album that came out of 2019 in my opinion. With tracks like money machine and stupid horse, delivering crazy beats that make you want to dance like crazy, how could anyone argue? The music is a magical concoction of synths and autotune that was brewed with just the right amounts of experimental, pop, and electronic influence. 100 gecs caught me off guard, taking over my playlists in no time at all. The album takes nothing too seriously, while delivering serious bangers. It is an experimental electronic-pop lover’s dream. Some of the tracks sound like they came straight out of a blender, resulting in a wonderful mix of beats and synths and auto-tune that is quite addicting. After one listen I was hooked. I couldn’t shake the shake. The lyrics are funny and somehow relatable, with lines like “lost the money in my bank account, oh no” on “stupid horse”, which is a song about betting all of your money on a horse race and losing. I watch the Kentucky Derby, so I guess you could say I know the feeling. I’d bet my money on their stupid horse that this album will not be the end for 100 gecs. They certainly have a few more gecs up their sleeves. Maybe I’m talking a lot of big game for someone who drives a honda civic, but at least my arms are cute. I can only hope to hear more of their unique and entertaining music in the future, as this album was one of my favorites of the year.
Tyler has deftly deviated from the path Flower Boy seemingly set him on, taking influences from soul and funk in his samples, coating them in a rough and abrasive style with sharp drums, synths and aggressive vocals. IGOR is most easily characterized as rough and lo-fi, but it is often beautiful as well, the dichotomy reminds me of 2015’s Cherry Bomb. This is epitomized on the track “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE”, where Tyler transitions from his screechy, pitched up vocals and lofi drums to the soothing smooth vocals of Charlie Wilson and a number of female collaborators. On IGOR, collaborators are important, though Tyler deemphasizes them, pitch shifting vocals from famous artists like Lil Uzi Vert to the point where they’re unrecognizable. He also manipulates his own voice, as he has on every album, to great effect. He predominantly shifts it up, as Tyler has gone on record that he dislikes his deep singing voice. The large amount of vocal manipulation leads the album to have a great deal of cohesion, when it first came out fans struggled to determine who was on each track. Tyler raps and sings about a failed relationship throughout the album, and the listener can hear it deteriorate in real time as Tyler’s emotions flow from lovestruck glee on “EARFQUAKE”, pure rage on “NEW MAGIC WAND”, and eventually realizing he’s lost his love on “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU”. IGOR undoubtedly contests Flower Boy and/or Wolf for the position of best Tyler, the Creator album, and I’d say it wins, so don’t miss out on this album.
Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones)
Originally leaked anonymously in 2013, Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones) is a testament to Jai Paul’s creativity and adaptability; the deliberate rerelease of what was once out of his control, after a six-year hiatus spurred by the chaos that ensued from the original leak. The creation of a new narrative, in which Paul honors the fact that his leaked tracks were so well-received, preserving the truncated nature of his work. What captivates me about Paul’s rerelease is his embracement of the unfinished. While Bait Ones features some of Paul’s more polished tracks like “BTSTU” and “jasmine,” it also showcases his incomplete tracks, most of which have moments of dead air amidst the music or abrupt endings- leaving the listener curious, with a slight idea of what could have been. And, while the story is intriguing, the album also delivers in terms of musical quality. Bait Ones is an incredibly dynamic electronic paradise, pulling samples from sickly-sweet 90s R&B jams, musical numbers from vintage Hindi movies, and more. Paul demonstrates that he is a jack of all trades- shifting from whispery lines to falsetto vocals, bolstering his tracks with everything from standard electronic loops to cowbells to whip-crack sound effects. All in all, Bait Ones is an album that keeps me on my toes with every listen. It is an album with layers, an album that is just rough enough around the edges to keep me wanting more from the tracks without sacrificing listenability. I’ll be jamming to this album well into the next decade, for sure.
There are many elements to the music and persona of English singer FKA twigs. In a word, however, she is intense. There is a softness to her voice, a demeanor that can misdirect you from this truth, and an admirable cockiness that reminds you that she is anything but mild. Art is laced throughout every aspect of her being, coming through in her dance, music, style, and philosophy, resulting in a woman and artist of formidable status. With MAGDALENE, twigs recalls the story of Mary Magdalene, which she sees as “the beginning of the patriarchy taking control of the narrative of women.” Channeling energy from this history, twigs commands her album as if to say, “you will not overlook me.” Cast aside the philosophical content, and the heart of this album becomes the operatic voice of twigs. Soaring over, under, and in between all her songs, twigs’ voice becomes an instrument not unlike the plethora of strange and beautiful synths heard in her music. Simultaneously, she brings life to noise and commotion, making them appear as natives in her peculiar universe. The beats are eccentric, yet often accessible, and showcase a masterclass in sound design. MAGDALENE is an album of beautifully intense artistry; it would be a crime to overlook FKA twigs any longer.
Bon Iver’s i,i is honest and expressive, evoking feelings of longing, struggle, and hope. Justin Vernon did not hold back on this album, which quickly became my top album of the year for so many reasons. He allows himself to be vulnerable, giving us access to his thoughts and feelings and breaking down all barriers between himself and the listener. Vernon’s typically soft, airy vocals were left on 22, A Million, replaced by vocals that stand out amongst the accompanying synths, drums, guitar, and piano, sounding strong and substantial. His voice cries out over the layers of beautiful, unique electronic melodies, driving each track through a maze of lyrics addressing current issues like climate change, poverty and homelessness. “I can hear I can hear crying”, Vernon sings on the seventh track on the album, “Naeem.” The lyrics are powerful and resonant, sticking with you long after the song is over. The final track on the album has a similar effect, leaving you to ponder lyrics like “now it comes to mind, we are terrified, so we run and hide for a verified little peace”. i,i also preserves a very deliberate feeling of collaboration, with contributions from a variety of artists like Moses Sumney and Bruce Hornsby. It was written by many, to be heard and felt by everyone–not just i,i, but also “U (Man Like);” and “We”.
If I had to choose one word to describe black midi and their debut album, it would be simply “dynamic”. Black midi’s Schlagenheim might be one of the most ecclectic and avant-garde albums that I have heard this year. Every song seems to stem from a different genre and style from the last. The album shows influence from a multitude of genres, including math rock, post-punk, avant-garde metal, funk rock, no wave, noise rock, among others. Not only that, but the musicians are also wonderful. I don’t think I’ve heard more crisp yet extreme drum grooves before those presented here. The band’s vocalists are some of the most odd and energetic I’ve heard as of recent. Schlagenheim fully shows what black midi is capable of musically, and only serves to paint a bright future for what is to come from the band. It is truly is a wonderful album, and is definitely a must listen for any fans of experimental rock.
Fates Worse Than Death
Local legends, Short Fictions, finally released their debut album Fates Worse Than Death this December. Having molded their sound throughout the basements of Pittsburgh, Sam Treber and co are here with an album about the things that make living in these time hard. The gentrification of our favorite spots throughout town, the impending doom of climate change, and feelings of unrequited love. The lyrics throughout this album are relatable for those of us who are dreading our futures and are afraid of what comes next. Sound-wise, they mix the sounds of their previous EPs, bending the genres of skramz and twinkle-core emo rock. The guitars throughout the album soar and the melodies are catchy. On album closer, “Property of Pigeons,” they introduce a metal-inspired breakbeat to their traditional song and scream on the way out to “let love go,” beautifully closing this fantastic debut album.
Burying chipmunk vocals and his trademark pan flute keyboard into haunting heartland narratives reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen, Alex G pitches another perfect curveball that is as unique as it is convoluted and emotional. House of Sugar steers through dark woods of gambling, addiction, and death, making no real stylistic commitments throughout its entire runtime. It serves as both a frightening portrait of failed American dreams and a showcase of Alex’s skill as an author, tying melancholic unease to any genre he sees fit. This anxiousness is at its height in the middle of the album, as the hollow “Project 2” manages to pack the emotive punch of “Mis” or “Change” into a lyric-less electronic soundscape.
Though the addictive melodies are here in spades, as we tunnel deeper into the ugliness of its characters, the sugar house emerges as a symbol of what is both alluring and concerning to excess: infinitely sweet, but positively damning. These are stories of lives anchored in and defined by mistakes. And as these haunting micro-narratives connect into a jigsaw puzzle of vivid storytelling, House of Sugar begs the question: why is it so easy to slip into the skin of these characters?