Press "Enter" to skip to content

Stephen’s Albums of the Year

It was an unusual year at Independent Clauses, as I experimented with new formats, new genres, and new ways of writing. Not everything that I did worked, but it was all interesting to me. I am hopeful that people found the music that I wrote about as part of these experiments as entertaining and moving as I did. With that caveat out of the way, here’s my top ten of the year. Thanks to everyone who has been a part of Independent Clauses over the years, but particularly if you stuck with me through this year. Lisa’s albums of the year will come tomorrow.

1. Walk Home InsteadMake Sure. In a year where I mostly listened to electronic music, I found a folk/indie-pop album as the one I couldn’t shake the most. It wasn’t even a question when I sat down to write this: Walk Home Instead is gonna be the album I’m listening to in 10 years out of all that I listened to this year. It was essentially the only contender for album of the year. Joshua Aubrey Jackson’s latest project takes the best of all his previous work (catchy melodies, memorable lyrics, pitch-perfect arrangements, moods that stay for a whole album) and honed it all to the finest point he’s yet reached. This album sounds like I want to feel: it’s warm, relaxed, comfortable, and yet vital. “Deal Breakers” is a perfect place to start: it’s tender, honest, and perfectly engineered. Just a fantastic song on a fantastic release. Here’s to more Make Sure.

2. Zelda and Chill – Mikel. In a year where I spent much of my time exploring electronic music, Mikel’s mashup of Legend of Zelda music and downtempo beats was one of the true gold finds. Many video game mashups can feel kitschy or jokey, but this never does–it is honest, earnest, hardworking composition from the starting point of Zelda tunes. Even if you’re not a fan of Zelda or even video games, there is plenty to enjoy here.

3. Regions of Time – Traversable Wormhole. On the other end of the spectrum of electronica, I discovered this year that I like deep techno cuts. Like, I want the bass hits to sound like punches, the vibe to be dense, the length to be long, and the pace relentless. This album provides all of that. It is basically one long, pounding, sci-fi techno song, and I love it for that.

4. MØDVLXXR – 0010×0010. This takes deep techno cuts and mixes it with breakbeats, ambient, post-rock, and even industrial. It is hugely adventurous, boundary-pushing, experimental electronic music. It apparently is the score to what must be the world’s most intense art gallery experience.

4. Moon Preach – Sun Speak. Guitar and drums post-rock that revels in layers, textures, ambiance, and groove. This is post-rock that speaks in its own language instead of other people’s, and a unique voice is always worth getting up for.

5. Mister Lies – Mister Lies. An abstract electronica record with a pop music bent and a tendency to throw multiple genres together for fun in a midnight-blue mood. I explained it best the first time: “It’s hard to pin down, yet it’s hard to stay away from. I keep coming back to it over and over; it’s been a near companion for the last few months. It captures a certain sort of mood where the days blend together and time is difficult to parse; things are happening fast, or slow, or fast-then-slow, and it’s all a lot to process. That mood. You know, modern life mood.”

6. Poké and ChillMikel. Mikel’s second entry on this list is perhaps an even more impressive feat than Zelda and Chill. The nostalgia boost from the iconic Zelda songs gives a firm launching point, but Pokémon’s music has rarely been as iconic as other franchises; much of the music is low-key traveling accompaniment or city songs that truly served as background in the games. Yet he spins gold out of them. Even “Trainer Battle” is chilled out to the max. If you like downtempo music, this record is very high-quality.

7. Bioluminescence – Teen Daze. Teen Daze has been working at such a high level for so long that it’s hard to remember the last time that something came out that wasn’t brilliant. This work is truly fascinating, an almost-perfect distillation of the electronic-acoustic fusion he’s looking for.

8. Ströme – Martin Kohlstedt. On this record, Kohlstedt is a composer working primarily with a choir and a minimal amount of surrounding instrumentation. Kohlstedt’s partner GewandhausChor performs all sorts of roles and inhabits all sorts of spaces that I have rarely heard choirs go to. It is haunting, clever, innovative, and lovely.

9. Hasta El Cielo – KhruangbinWhy not take last year’s album and turn it into a dub record to make it this year’s record? This completely reworked version of 2018’s Con Todo El Mundo sounds absolutely fantastic as a bass’n’drums-heavy mood record. Great working music.

10. Phonotron – WE’VE GOT MUSCLES. This instrumental rock album balances torrential with ethereal in a powerful display of songwriting. The opening riff from opening track “Le massacre du printemps” was one of the most memorably electrifying moments of the year for me.