(Seb Painchaud, the main man behind Montréal’s Tumbleweed Dealer, has very expansive and very eclectic musical tastes, and a way with words, and so for a fourth year in a row we asked him to share a year-end list with us. As in every other year, his list pulls us off our usual beaten paths by highlighting some favorite releases that are way outside the usual metal lists… including a lot of very interesting Not-Metal.)
So this year I bring to you a proper top 20 albums list. No ‘Albums you might have missed’ bullshit, just straight up my 20 favorites. Why? Well, I’ve dubbed 2019 ‘The Year Of Good Not Great ©’ as it brought us a lot of more-of-the-same and I-preferred-their-previous-one outings that left me feeling like a jaded musical hipster complaining about every release as he clangs away at his typewriter in a Starbucks, mansplaining to every underage girl he can corner in a house party he doesn’t know anyone at about how he was into every band before they ‘sold out’ and owns an original first pressing copy of their demo on vinyl.
Honestly, I just didn’t have the luxury of cutting any albums off the list if I wanted to bring you 20 I really loved. That being said, now that I look back on this list, we did get a lot of great music this year. I just had to dig deeper, span more genres and discover new acts to compensate for the disappointment brought on by most albums I actually had high hopes for. But that hard work paid off, and now I get to bring to you my most diversified top 20 list to date. Metal purists, this is where you get off, go look up some demos for that wish list you’ll never be able to afford on Discog or something.
20. Girlsnails – Girlsnails
This one resides at number 20 not because of quality but because of quantity. I usually abstain from including EPs as it’s much easier to write a few amazing songs and get a 100% score than to write a full album that keeps up the same level of appreciation from the listener for every track AND finds the balance between variety and focus. But every year an EP sneaks into the list because I just CAN’T not include it. This year it’s this Toronto band’s first proper EP.
They blend the best of several genres I love from the twinkly math rock guitar riffs to the Midwestern Emo songwritting and the chorus-centric song writing of indie rock, all of that with horns sprinkled on top! If you and me are anything alike, that description sounds like sonic heaven to your ears, and the music will deliver even more than what you’re imagining right now.
19. Friendship – Undercurrent
You know it’ll be a brutal, balls-out Powerviolence affaire when it’s from Japan AND it has an ironically upbeat band name (I love telling unsuspecting people that two of my favorite bands are Friendship and Joy and they should really check ’em out without any further details as to what to expect).
I’ve been following these guys since the beginning and they have outdone themselves on this one. They keep the main ingredients of the genre (Okay, ingredient, singular: Brutality!) while building upon it with sludginess and some almost stonerish parts while never fully leaving their designated sub-sub-subgenre of grind and hardcore fucking on top of death metal’s car while he listens to punk and cheers them on.
18. Sühnopfer – Hic Regnant Borbonii Manes
Now I like me some cheesy as fuck symphonic black metal as much as the next man, but anytime someone hails an album as the epitome of the genre’s birth in the ’90s I always feel the need to trump their plastic-bats-and-top-hats attempt at a majestic dark atmosphere with actual orchestrated darkness: The first two Obtained Enslavement albums. If you like to pull that dick move on every Dimmu fan you meet like I do, then you’ll fucking love this album.
These guys play an updated version of that riffy as fuck, neoclassical tremolo picking riffs that you can’t figure out where they are going yet are for fucking sure along for the ride, topped with piano arpeggio shreds and shrieks that make you realise not all symphonic black metal needs to sacrifice atmosphere and veer into quasi power metal territory (not that there’s anything wrong with that! *said in my best Seinfeld impression*). These guys are the chicks with dicks of symphonic black metal, they just give you the best of both worlds!
17. Stolen Jars – A Reminder
Do you love Maps & Atlases’ Perch Patchwork? Do you fucking hate everything they’ve done since? This is some alternate universe timeline shit where they stayed good while modernising their sound. Has a bit of that math meets indie rock with an epic prog twist that was on that He Was Eaten By Owls album I kept recommending to everyone last year. Catchy but def not poppy, and experimental yet focused on songwriting, it’s a solid, engaging and beautiful album from beginning to end featuring a plethora of different instruments intermingling with each other, making for dense compositions that are still somehow very much easy listening music.
16. Painted Wives – Obsessed With The End
Newer Mastodon meets Alice In Chains meets Hipster Doom (think Pallbearer’s latest album), this one was a grower, as the mix is a bit hard to wrap your head around on the first listen. Once digested and you go into it knowing the different influences involved, you see how well they mix and play off of each other. Epic one second, full ’90s groove the next, going into these contrasting vibes seamlessly takes a lot of skill. Huge risk, big reward, and everything here hits its mark and gives you the money shot you crave, and the earwormy hooks will have you hating how good it is as it torments you by echoing in your brain all day long. You’ll be quietly singing to yourself in your best (or probably worst) Layne Staley impression, not even realising you’re do it out loud and annoying the fuck out of your coworkers.
Only when the third track ‘Fable’ kicks off can you realise that not only does grunge fit within the context of post-sludge/hipster doom, but it’ll have you wondering why the fuck no one else had attempted it before.
15. Imha Tarikat – Kara Ihlas
A marriage of several subgenres, think Black Metal but with an Oi Punk/Hardcore vocal delivery and a military vibe. One foot blast beats to pump your fist at and a singer who sounds like a general hyping his soldiers up as he sends them out to die on a hill, these guys make epic music that’s pretty melodic yet always brutal. If you think the mentions of punk and black metal in the same sentence means you can expect Crust/D-Beat similar to Martyrdöd, that’s only because words fail me in the description of their sound.
It’s a lot closer to the cold, warlike vibe of Mayhem’s Wolf’s Lair Abyss EP, with more of an Arckanum type guitar riffing and simple yet effective melodies draped over unrelenting driving energy produced by the drumming that gives it an old school punkish vibe. Kind of thing that gets you moshing like the Bushwackers while the beer you were too dumb to put down splashes everyone and pisses em off.
14. Slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain
A friend of mine posted Skepta’s Ignorance Is Bliss album on Facebook. Having no idea who or what they were, I clicked and immediately was sold on their brand of rap, having no idea I was about to discover a whole new sub-genre. I checked the comments on the post to see someone I didn’t know replying ‘if you like Grime, you’ll love Slowthai’. I looked up both the artist and the genre.
I’m no expert, but the way I understand it and what I hear in it is that Grime grew in the UK out of the electronic music scene and has now come to have rappers dropping rhymes over it. So think D&B modernized and turned into hip-hop beats. I’m no expert in electronic music either, so this is an oversimplification for anyone who needs an idea of what to expect — don’t go full techno nerd on me and throw around terms like ‘House Music’ like I’m supposed to know what the fuck that is.
Slowthai has a unique flow and Grime has a distinct vibe, so this album was a shocker for me at first. From the variety of beats to his delivery, everything caught me off-guard in a way I loved. Once you think you’ve grasped the range of influences melding into one, this 2CD masterpiece of modern hip hop throws you for another loop. Just the juxtaposition of the epic opening title track and the Prodigy-like “Doorman” makes you realise you’re in for quite a journey. The myriad of different sounds converging and mirroring his deconstruction of a post-Brexit not-so-Great Britain is a disconcerting experience, the type only a solid, boundary-pushing album can make you live. And I just can’t get enough of the way he says ‘ya cunt…’
13. Brand Of Sacrifice – God Hand
Usually an extreme band’s lyrical concept is nothing more than that. The best I’ve come to expect is that the overall vibe of the band fits the general theme of their song titles, where you can boil down the whole thing to a one word description like Space Themed Black Metal or Lovecraftian Death Metal. Not these guys. The only way to truly enjoy this album is to have watched, nay devoured with passion, the Berserk anime series. Even an ‘I only read the mangas’ anti-dub snob can’t fully comprehend the level of work that went into making this album, the audio version of Guts’ story, as the band takes several musical cues from the anime’s amazing score of classical music gone psycho, and their faster passages seem to have been written in an attempt to emulate the series’ frenetically paced fight scenes.
What might seem like just a great modern deathcore album in the vein of Within Destruction to most becomes the musical incarnation of one of the most heart-wrenching stories ever told to fans of the anime. Just like the protagonist in the story, these guys wield a ridiculously huge, blunt sword of brutality and are surrounded by symphonic elements highlighting the magic-infused world in which our (anti?) hero resides. This album shows that extreme music and anime go hand in hand and will have you contacting your musician friends to start an Akatsuki-themed blackened death band, or whatever combination of Japanese animation and brutal you land on.
12. Kelly Finnigan – The Tales People Tell
As some might have noticed if they’ve paid attention to these lists, I’m a huge fan of most things funky, be it afro beat or ’70s Jazz Rock. But I usually preferred the instrumental variety and would rarely cross over to anything Soul-related. My one big exception has always been Monophonics. Their short, ’60s soul inspired, catchy tracks with infectious hooks have always done it for me, their 2012 release In Your Brain being one of my desert-island albums, as I never tire of it. A big factor was the high level of musicianship found in their funky, slinky playing, but the selling point was always the strength of their vocalist. So when I saw that he was releasing a solo album I jumped at the opportunity to grab it on Bandcamp and was not disappointed.
He pushes the ’60s nostalgia even further than his band, to the point that you wonder if you haven’t heard some of the tracks before, but in a good way, as they don’t rip off any specific song but encapsulate that era’s vibe so perfectly you can’t believe songs like ‘Everytime It Rains’ and ‘I Don’t Want To Wait’ were released in 2019. Not only did this hit the same soft spot I had for Monophonic’s music, it got me to open up to a wider variety of Soul / R&B music, as I needed to get my hands on anything that gave me a fraction of the fix this album had. I’ve been chasing that soulful dragon ever since…
11. Club Night – What Life
Remember last year how you felt when you first heard The Armed’s Only Love? Now imagine this, but without the hardcore or any of the brutality at all. That’s how I felt listening to Club Night’s What Life.
I’m not saying they even know who The Armed are, but their brand of experimental, indie, slightly-mathish rock kind of floats melodies and harmonious vocals over a bed of harsher, more disjointed and dissonant riffs in a similar way. Everything is experimental when paid attention to, yet remains enjoyable in a ‘poppy on the surface kind of way’. Melding so many influences into a unique sound was no easy feat, as few albums manage to give you the emo-esque ‘sadly hopeful’ tingle in your spine while giving your head that ‘How is something so weird getting my head to nod’ line of questioning.
10. Xoth – Interdimensional Invocations
With the band name, artwork and single track I had heard before purchasing the album, I was expecting this to fill the Vektor-shaped hole David Disanto had punched into my heart. While the resemblance is there, this doesn’t even come close to describing the album, as it goes a lot further beyond the tech thrash boundaries set by that band.
On the first listen, I was caught by surprise at the upbeat, major-scale riffs they throw in here and there, making you feel like they included a cover version of your favorite puroresu wrestler’s theme song (If you don’t have a favorite Puro Wrestler than are you even really living at all?). It’s only when I re-listened to it knowing what to expect that I truly appreciated the way they skillfully switch between dark and dissonant, and melodic and catchy. If you think you’ve grasped what the band does by listening to the opening track, you’re in for quite the surprise when ‘Mountain Machines’ kicks off with just about the catchiest lead you’ve ever heard!
9. Petrol Girls – Cut & Stitch
I had never really been a fan of Riot Grrrl bands, nor was I really aware of the existence of them at all or what the term entailed before I jammed this album. They take the energy and rebellion of that genre and merge it with a more current type of playing. High energy doesn’t even begin to cover it. Top-notch music can elevate overly simple lyrics into anthems, and this is just what this does.
Whether it’s the album’s first proper song ‘The Sound’ that gets you yelling ‘This is the sound gathering, This is the sound resonating, This is the sound growing, This IS The Sound!’, or the insanely catchy beat of ‘Big Mouth’ that has you reciting along with their ironic speech that ‘Girls should be seen and not heard’ and singing along to the chorus of ‘I’m raising my voice louder…’, these folks prove what I’ve always said: Great music carries your message, not the other way around.
8.Vi Som Älskade Varandra Så Mycket – Det onda. Det goda. Det vackra. Det fula
One of the bands that got me over my innate reactionary disdain toward the term Screamo that my metal upbringing had imparted upon me (I just started calling it Skramz instead!), these guys are one of the bands that make me say that the line between post-black metal and this genre is thin and blurry. On their latest album, they take their brand of post-rock infused screamo and move it to a bigger, more epic scale, giving it all an almost cinematographic feel.
I was expecting another solid release from them, but this goes beyond that, this is the next evolution in the both genres. Where the Godspeed You Black Emperor-infused build-ups with high-pitched vocals over them have become an overdone staple of the genre, this band has managed to push it further, making it fresh again. It had been a while since something like this had given me goosebumps. This rivals that Respire album I was gushing over last year.
7. Ceschi – Sad, Fat Luck
I have been a huge fan of Ceschi for about a decade now. His The One Man Band Broke Up album blew me away. The right album at the right time. I needed something to throw myself in, and his brand of indie rock meets rap was unique and engrossing and offered the much-needed escape I needed in my life at that time. It’s one of those albums that brings me back, that is tied up to a specific portion of my life, that I’ve overplayed, and it has become heavy with attached memories and difficult to listen to.
Everything he has done since has been at the very least great, but never quite on the same level. Until this year. This is only one of the two albums he released this year, and although I strongly recommend you also check out the much more folky Sans Soleil, it’s Sad, Fat Luck that touched me on that level once again. The lyrical matter is deeper than most ‘openly honest’ albums. This isn’t songs about a dead homie. It’s songs about being sick of burying your homies. It isn’t a reactions to single events — you can feel just how over-full of emotions Ceschi is, and despite pouring so much into the tracks he writes, it’s never quite enough. You can feel the musical angst and the toll that the pain the process of writing this must take, and then you understand why he keeps flirting with retirement.
Musically it goes through so much terrain in the span of an album that it’d be hard to put into words. It’s the product of an insanely talented person who enjoys music in all its forms. It’s mostly a hip hop album, planting it firmly in one spot so that it has a solid foundation just so that everything that grows from it can branch out in every direction without ever being swept away. But it’s got a bit of everything. And a shit ton of feeling.
Be sure to check out his other 2019 release, Sans Soleil. You don’t know how bad you need a sad folk cover of Britney’s ‘Hit Me Baby One More’ time until you hear it.
6. Liturgy – H.A.Q.Q.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: It takes a pretentious asshole to push a genre so based on being closed-minded to new heights such as these. Does he come off like a conceited asshole in interviews? I don’t know, I don’t read that shit, nor do I read manifestos, but I don’t have a hard time imagining he does. How can you even write something, call it a Manifesto, and not be a gigantic douche canoe?? Question is: Who cares? Most of your favorite artists are probably dicks, you just don’t know it.
There is no other word that encompasses what I feel about the songwriting here other than ‘Genius’. My limited vocabulary has me giving away adjectives like ‘great’ and ‘amazing’ and overcompensating by peppering them with ‘fucking’, ‘god damn’ and ‘motherfucking’, but Genius is the one word I don’t use lightly. But it’s fitting here. It took him writing an overly pretentious, experimental for the sake of it, audio equivalent of sucking one’s own dick (hey I would if I could…) album that was The Ark Work for him to find the balance between what he wanted to accomplish and how it can still sound great like it did on Aesthethica.
I don’t think he has another one like H.A.Q.Q. in him. This is a once in a life time offering. But I wouldn’t change a single thing on it. It’s just fucking perfect. The way the themes weave in and out, the foreshadowing, the build-ups and pay-offs, this is the musical equivalent of a great literary novel and nothing else. This is Black Metal’s The Great Gatsby and should be treated as such. ‘God Of Love’ is my song of the year.
5. Karen O & Danger Mouse – Lux Prima
2019 will always be for me the year I fell in love with Danger Mouse, and it’s all Vince Gilligan’s fault.
As you all know, Breaking Bad is the single greatest TV series to have ever existed. When it was announced that a follow-up movie was being released on Netlfix, I did as most of you probably did: I re-watched the whole series from beginning to end in preparation for what could only be a life-altering watching experience. This being my 6th or 7th complete watch-through of the show, I noticed things I hadn’t before, especially with my musical pallet having widened since my last watch (see my Kelly Finnigan entry earlier). I discovered music I really enjoyed that I had never picked up on before while watching the show. One such moment was when the camera slowly drifted towards the Lily Of The Valley, confirming what we had all suspected yet wouldn’t admit to ourselves all along: Walter poisoned Brock (Oh shit, sorry, forgot to say Spoiler Alert if you’ve LIVED UNDER A FUCKING ROCK FOR THE LAST DECADE).
The song playing during that scene is called ‘Black’ and is from a collaborative album made by producer Danger Mouse and Norah Jones. It’s only when I started looking up the list of songs I liked during my re-watch that I realised the bad-ass soul track that plays when season one finishes and Tuco drives away after having beaten one of his own men to death? That’s Gnarls Barkley, featuring, you guessed it: Danger Mouse.
I went on a spree, grabbing every album D.M. has ever done, including his amazing colab with MF Doom, and eventually learned that he had just dropped a new one with an artist that was unknown to me: Karen O.
I put the album on with no expectations other than to once again be graced by the lush instrumentals I had come to expect from this amazing musician.
What I got blew my mind. The cabaret meets Pink Floyd vibe and Karen O’s beautiful voice creating mournful anthems to smoke-filled jazz rooms was beyond what I could ever have imagined.
I promptly checked out, and became a huge fan of, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but this album remains my favorite output from these two prolific artists whose music I can’t get enough of.
4. Astronoid – Astronoid
The pulse of punk rock surrounded in the lushness of blackgaze with the clean vocals soaring over it all, this album is going to be on everyone’s list and deservedly so. If you don’t love the song ‘I Dream In Lines’ something is seriously wrong with you bro. That moment about a minute in when the bass drums kick in and he sings ‘I’ll be fine… for just some time…’ has to be musical moment of the year.
3. Adrenalized – Operation Exodus
This summer I decided to get into shape in part by going on bike rides by myself whenever my son took a nap. I tended to jam stuff like D-Beat and Black Metal bands with a punkish drive, and I eventually just rediscovered the love I had for ‘skater punk’ in my high school years. I never really stopped listening to NOFX, but I hadn’t touched stuff like Lagwagon and Bad Religion in over two decades. I eventually moved on to discovering some of the more complex bands that had passed me by in the 6 months I spent as a Vans-wearing skater punk teenager in 1993, like Propaghandi and 88 Fingers Louie. I also eventually turned to the Facebook group of music lovers I frequent in search of newer acts (its name is NoGenreBias, look us up and hit us up, more than half the shit on this list was discovered on there!), and I was in luck, as these guys had just released a new one that was promptly recommended to me.
Midway between Shai Hulud and Propaghandi with a modern twist and an always-serious approach rare in the genre, these guys carved out 12 of the most drank-too-much-redbull anxious teen energy laden guitar driven anthems to growing year frustrations ever written. I don’t think I’ve ever biked as fast or enjoyed a work out as much as I did the day I first listened to this album entirely. I dare you not to sing along to the ‘AHHH AHHHH’s.
2. Dream Tröll – Second To None
At some point last year I discovered NWOTHM and spent weeks where it’s all I listened to as I scoured the internet for more bands that sounded like Eternal Champion. Through random clicking on Bandcamp, I discovered Dream Tröll’s first album, The Knight Of Rebellion, and was instantly won over.
Although the whole album was great, the opening track ‘Time For Vengeance’ had me hooked. It was leagues above the other songs, and just as good as the stuff on my beloved Eternal Champion’s album, but had a more distinct, unique sound. The chorus riff at 2m15 in the song was ALWAYS stuck in my head. I loved the fact that they embraced all of the ’80s, not just its NWOBHM bands, and that the singer sounded more like Phil Collins than a Bruce Dickinson wanna be. The guitar riffs and overall atmosphere had a more spacey, airy, almost sci-fi vibe to it. When they released a second album, I was hoping for at least one track as good as that one.
What I got was a full album of bangers beyond anything on the first album. Everything I loved on that track was what they ran with on the album, pushed further tenfold! That riff I loved in the chorus seemed to be the basis for this new album. The band are so unapologetically catchy that it goes full circle and avoids ever being cheesy, while the lyrics are obviously not meant to be taken seriously, almost a tongue-in-cheek comment on how silly Heavy Metal lyrics can be. But they rock so much that you sing along without a hint of cringe. Hard thing to do when you have a song about a serpent wearing a helmet! Every single song here could’ve been the lead single, they are ALL just that fucking good.
1. Misþyrming – Algleymi
Some albums elicit a physical response from the listener. Masterfully crafted music can cause a person to move without deciding to do so. This album will have you clasping the imaginary grapefruits of doom in a failed attempt to have your pose match the epicness of the sounds assaulting your earholes. You can’t possibly just sit there and listen to this. Your flesh reacts to it.
A more melodic and straightforward Deathspell Omega or a weirder more experimental Mgla, take your pick of descriptions, they outdo the latest offering of those two bands by melding the more extreme sides of both into an unrelenting onslaught that’s equal parts ugly and beautiful.
I googled a synonym for ‘Epic,’ as I’ve used that word a few times already, and all that came back was Legendary, an expression than can no longer be associated with anything else than Barney Stinson, so I’m just going to say that it makes you imagine dark clouds rolling over a hill as a shadowy figure stands atop it, as if he is the one conjuring the storm with the sole purpose of intimidating you with his dark powers so that you back down from this predestined clash of demons, and fueled by nothing but the adrenaline that this album gives you, you run up that moldy, corpse-ridden mountain and kick that old fuck right in the fucking balls. Cue grapefruit pose. Fade to black. End of list.