The 25 best albums of the last three months: January to March 2019

Every three months, FACT rounds up the best albums that have passed through our inboxes and over our desks. We just closed out 2019’s first quarter and as usual FACT’s list is filled with a diverse selection of albums and EPs from across the electronic music spectrum and beyond.

Even a cursory look at dance music Twitter in the last few months has been stressful. We’re in tense times; electronic music has been colonized so frequently that as it begins to look like change might be possible, there’s plenty of kickback from the old guard.

The way we absorb music is so different from how it was even a decade ago, with mixes, playlists and even live sets now just as important as albums. The democratization that p2p sharing and streaming hinted at came, and it may not have had the knock-on effect we thought it would have – large brands and major labels still control the narrative – but on the fringes, as usual, innovation is rife.

The selection of albums and EPs in FACT’s first Quarter Report of 2019 highlight the diversity and innovation in electronic music right now. From Iranian IDM and Finnish ambient music to 200BPM Tanzanian bangers and Donna Haraway-influenced nightmare grime, these are the records you need to hear right now.


Best albums January - March 2019

96 Back
Excitable, Girl
(CPU Records)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

Excitable, Girl is producer Evan Majumdar-Swift’s astonishing debut album and his second outing on CPU Records, the Sheffield label keeping the maverick spirit of bleep alive. All 12 tracks featured on the LP are absolute belters, tying together spidery synth lines, frenetic drum programming and soulful, Plaid-esque melodies. ‘Matryoshka’ and ‘Excited, Boy’ twist IDM and electro into exciting new shapes, while the destructive ‘Ghzel Tea’ wreaks havoc with cavernous bass pressure. Fellow northern wunderkind Happa shows up on the monolithic ‘Lezi’ before slinking off again to clear the stage for the off-kilter piano of ‘Vennsate’ and the jubilant title track. HBJ


Best albums January - March 2019

9T Antiope
Nocebo
(PTP)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

From the shells of grainy noise that pockmark the record’s opening sequence, to its prevailing themes of death, Nocebo is an unsettling listen. But it’s also a cathartic one. Across one five-part composition, split into two halves for cassette, vocalist Sara Shamloo – and 9T’s remaining member Nima Aghiani – allays the pain of her brothers’ deaths with a record that takes its title from a clinical term about the negative placebo effect. The resulting document is an emotional sound tapestry that features everything from swelling choral vocals, flecks of prog metal, and a grueling soundscape that prizes open the gates to a deep watery oblivion. ACW


Best albums January - March 2019

AceMo
All My Life
(Self-released)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

Recorded between 2016 and 2018, AceMo’s spectacular All My Life combines the influence of everything from lo-fi house and mainstream ‘90s dance anthems to mushy, Dilla-esque beatmaking. On ‘I Love Daft Punk and You Do Too’ he channels the spirit of Thomas Bangalter through Detroit house, while the redlining crunch of ‘Myrtle Avenue Party Track’ sounds like a lost classic salvaged from the dollar bin. The record’s closer – a ceiling-slapping cut with John F.M. on vocals and a ‘90s plot twist that’s too good to spoil – might just be one of the tracks of the year. SW


Best albums January - March 2019

Celestial Trax
Serpent Power
(True Aether)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

Over the last few years, producer Joni Judén has shifted his sound significantly, moving from the club-ready sound of his early Rinse-released EPs and pushing into deeper crevices, exploring ambient and new age textures. Serpent Power is his most confident, well-realized release to date, recorded over a year in various locations around Finland. There’s a peacefulness to these compositions that stands in contrast with his previous work; here, Judén sounds completely at ease with his process, weaving tangled field recordings in and out of instrumental snippets and haunting, breathy drones and tones. It’s like Gas melting into Daniel Lanois, remixed by M. Geddes Gengras. JT


Best albums January - March 2019

Dis Fig
Purge
(PTP)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

Dis Fig’s bewitching debut album spins a chrome-plated web of industrial power electronics and harsh, overdriven noise. However, there’s a natural musicality running through the album’s core. Hinting at the Berlin-based producer’s former dream of becoming a jazz star, flashes of trumpet and trombone open the record on ‘Drum Fife Bugle’, while ‘The Hermit’s angelic, multitracked vocals, which embrace tonality rather than lyrical dexterity, celebrate her voice. “Purge is about confronting the feelings which you have been avoiding” says the singer. Her scratchy, blood-curdling scream on ‘Alive’ scrawls out the ominous words: “I came to see if you’re alive”. ACW


Best albums January - March 2019

DJ Plead
Pleats Plead EP
(Nervous Horizon)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

Lebanese-Australian producer DJ Plead delves into his musical heritage on this killer EP, which creates a new club hybrid from the rhythms and timbres of Lebanese music and the hard-as-nails, forward-facing club music TSVI and Wallwork’s Nervous Horizon label has become known for. With other artists working at the fringes of contemporary club exploring texture and abstract structures, there’s something refreshingly unfussy about these tracks that stands out. SW


Best albums January - March 2019

Dreezy
Big Dreez
(Interscope)

Spotify / Apple Music

Another important voice from Chicago, Dreezy asserts herself powerfully on Big Dreez, her follow-up to 2016’s enjoyable No Hard Feelings. Here, the rapper and singer has tightened up her style, distilling the promise of her last few years of output into a lean selection of memorable bangers. ‘No Love’ is the obvious standout, showcasing Dreezy’s effortless flow and keen ear for hooks over a beat that snatches all the best bits of Rick Ross’s neon-blasted Rich Forever mixtape and reforms them for 2019. “I speak to a lot of the girls in Chicago and around the world about what I’m going through,” she told Billboard earlier this year. Big Dreez does exactly that and asserts her as a Chicago staple in a scene that’s still suffocatingly male. JT


Best albums January - March 2019

DUKE
Uingizaji Hewa
(Nyege Nyege Tapes)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

Tanzania’s breakneck singeli sound has been gaining traction outside of Dar Es Salaam since Ugandan imprint Nyege Nyege Tapes released the genre-defining Sounds of Sisso complilation back in 2017. DJ and producer DUKE represents another focal point of the movement and sits at the helm of nearby studio Pajoma Records, working alongside MCs like MCZO, Dogo Lizzi, Pirato MC and Kashiwashi. Uingizaji Hewa is a window into the scene, illustrating DUKE’s command of the technology as he fuses off-kilter samples and processed field recordings with rhythms that roll with hypnotic urgency. DUKE performed alongside MCZO at this year’s CTM Festival in Berghain and stunned the building into frothy convulsions – you might not be able to witness the impact of that performance here, but you can get damn close. JT


Best albums January - March 2019

KLEFT
H+ Sexualis
Domestic Exile

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

Glaswegian radical queer feminist punk Vickie Macdonald, aka KLEFT, is composing a soundtrack, in the words of their label, Domestic Exile, “to take down the capital power structure of the dominant system of patriarchal club venues and abhorrent fuckers”. As informed by Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto as it is by underground club music, H+ Sexualis is an unholy, Cronenbergian splice of brutalizing hardcore techno, blistering dubstep and nightmare grime. Destined to decimate the dancefloors of dingy basement clubs throughout the globe, the six tracks collected on the EP are just as likely to melt your skin off as they are to move your body. Long live the new flesh. HBJ


Best albums January - March 2019

LAFAWNDAH
ANCESTOR BOY
(Condordia)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

ANCESTOR BOY doesn’t sound like a debut album; its well-manicured arc of global dance and pop references, formed into a narrative detailing life’s stateless complexity, feels like the work of an artist who’s got her bullshit squared away already. Here, LAFAWNDAH dissolves her more assertive influences – Prince, Björk, Sade, Kate Bush – into a palette of viscous electronics that dribble and bubble beneath her ballads, belters and lullabies. It’s an album of songs layered with sonic references to a contemporary global conversation, but LAFAWNDAH doesn’t seek to colonize or appropriate. Her experience of the world’s diversity and familiarity (the album was pieced together in Los Angeles, Mexico City, New York, London, and Paris) and her upbringing in France with Egyptian and Iranian parents has given her an invaluable perspective, and one we don’t hear anywhere near frequently enough. JT


Best albums January - March 2019

LUCKI
Freewave 3
(Self-released)

Spotify / Apple Music

Despite being only 22, Chicago’s Lucki has already lived multiple lives. Back in 2013, under the Lucki Eck$ moniker, he released his debut Alternative Trap, bridging the gap between Chief Keef’s narcotic drill and Chance The Rapper’s more positive, psychedelic Chicago sound. It proved popular and influential, but facing mental health problems, addiction issues and fatherhood, Lucki took a break from music in 2016. Now he’s back with a more developed, nuanced sound; his unmistakable slurred flow is intact, but these are tales of love, heartbreak and regret, not youthful bravado. Freewave 3 is a faded, melancholy picture of isolating times, with fractured, anxious productions from ChaseTheMoney and Earl Sweatshirt backing up Lucki’s bruised confessionals. JT


Best albums January - March 2019

MSYLMA
Dhil-un Taht Shajarat Al-Zaqum
(Halcyon Veil)

Spotify / Apple Music

Saudi Arabian vocalist and producer MYSLMA conjures the relentless originality of the recently-departed Scott Walker on his debut album, Dhil-un Taht Shajarat Al-Zaqum. MYSLMA bases his words in pre-Islamic and Islamic theology, using Qu’ranic poetry to illustrate a narrative about family, trauma and loss. Draping his stark, powerful vocals over chattering, exploratory productions from ZULI, Karim El Ghazoly, 1127 and himself, MYSLMA tells a story that doesn’t always need words. His emotional vulnerability is constantly in view, whether you understand Arabic or not. JT


Best albums January - March 2019

Murlo
Dolos
(Coil Records)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

Dolos is a long-awaited extended glimpse at the technicolor sci-fi universe that Murlo has been painstakingly crafting since his earliest releases on Mixpak, Rinse and Glacial Sound. Yet, while the euphoric hyper-garage of ‘Evaporate’ and the cybernetic bassline of ‘End Of The Road’ are testament to Murlo’s irresistible formula, tracks like the futuristic sinogrime sex-jam ‘Outer Body’ and ‘Watching The Sun Through Eyelids’, which is essentially the east Midlander’s version of Vangelis’s ‘Blade Runner Blues’, indicate a profoundly cinematic direction for the producer. The effect is only increased when experienced in combination with the stunning Dolos graphic novel, written and illustrated by Murlo himself. HBJ


Best albums 2019

Nivhek
After its own death / Walking in a spiral towards the house
(Self-released)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

There is a moment on Side B of ‘After its own death’ that seems to typifies Liz Harris’s project Nivek’s thrilling descent into obfuscation and abstraction. An echoing field recording of someone coughing heralds a speaker-shredding barrage of chasmic noise that is over as soon as it begins, instantaneously fading to faint birdsong and calm voices. Unlike the haunting sparseness of Harris’s last two albums as Grouper – Ruins and Grid Of Points – her work as Nivhek seems in active pursuit of such polarity, crafting a mutable aural landscape of foggy uncertainty and thick melancholy through which we as listeners can wander through. HBJ


Best albums January - March 2019

Nkisi
7 Directions
(UIQ)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

Nkisi’s seven-track assault course of heavy percussion is more dancefloor-ready than most releases on UIQ, but her debut LP is a perfect fit for the experimental and deep-thinking label. Taking inspiration from psychoacoustics and African cosmology, the Congolese producer looks at her Euro-techno and hardstyle obsessions through an alternative lens, resulting in a ferocious contribution to the Afrofuturist continuum. ACW


Best albums January - March 2019

Ossia
Devil’s Dance
(Blackest Ever Black)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

Of all the members of Bristol’s sprawling Young Echo collective, Ossia is one of the trickiest to pin down. His debut solo album, Devil’s Dance, is just as varied as his discography, folding in dub with the scuzzy noise textures he explores on the FuckPunk label he runs with Vessel and even sludgy, EBM-leaning techno. It closes with ’Vertigo’, a disorienting 23-minute epic that drags free jazz into the realms of dark ambient and out the other side. Bleak and beautiful, Devil’s Dance owes as much to the sound of the Radiophonic Workshop as it does to Bristol’s dub heritage. SW


Best albums January - March 2019

Rabit
The Dope Show
(Self-released)

Bandcamp

Aphex Twin and Boosie Badazz? Lana Del Rey and Salem? Tirzah chopped ‘n’ screwed? It could only be the work of the singular Rabit, whose incredible run of screw tapes comes to a close with The Dope Show, the third in a trilogy that also includes last year’s Cry Alone Die Alone and Bricks In A Drought. The premise is simple, take a selection of emotive pop vocal performances, chuck them in a blender with some of the darkest and dustiest Southern rap imaginable and add a gram or so of high-grade THC. It’s a lethal combination and with The Dope Show, Rabit has perfected an incredibly potent recipe. HBJ


Best albums January - March 2019

Rian Treanor
ATAXIA
(Planet Mu)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

ATAXIA, the title of Rotherham producer Rian Treanor’s debut album, shares its name with a group of disorders that affect coordination, speech, and balance. It’s an apt name for a collection of club tracks that seem designed to make your body move in new and unexpected ways, taking cues from computer music and rave to create angular rhythms that interlock with cascading prismatic textures. Treanor’s hi-def, genre-agnostic style has been in development for several years now, but across these nine tracks he throws fresh ideas into every twist and turn. SW


Best albums January - March 2019

Sissel Wincent
Assorted Lights
(Rösten)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

Sissel Wincent’s latest EP Assorted Lights is billed as a blend of minimalism and gabber, which sounds contradictory until you hear it. Wincent treats her influences without obvious hierarchy, shoehorning gabber’s relentless energy into structures that connect the dots between Bristol’s Timedance crew and Pan Sonic. But she doesn’t rely on tropes, templates and familiar sonic signifiers – her music is futuristic, unique and seemingly willing to collapse at any moment. At times, it sounds like a cinematic meditation on club formula, as distorted bass and anxious, squealing synths oscillate wildly beneath undulating, unexpected rhythms. JT


Best albums January - March 2019

Slikback
Tomo
(Hakuna Kulala)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

Last year’s Lasakaneku was one of FACT’s favorite releases of the year, launching a powerful new voice in club music. Slikback’s genre-fluid approach to beatmaking – folding his unique Kenyan vocabulary into rap, dubstep, footwork and more – made the EP a giant leap forward for bass and club music, and its followup Tomo is even better. These six tracks dissolve a plethora of different rhythms into buzzing new forms, but Slikback avoids the trappings of “IDM”; Tomo is never indulgent, it’s exploratory and exciting – an experimental vision of a new world of possibilities. But even at his most challenging, Slikback never loses sight of the dancers, offering bass and bounce to anyone eager enough to pay attention. JT


Best albums January - March 2019

Solange
When I Get Home
(Columbia)

Spotify / Apple Music

For the follow-up to her 2016 breakthrough A Seat At The Table, Solange has documented an exploratory, magical-realist trip through her native Houston. Spanning spiritual jazz, contemporary trap and Houston rap, When I Get Home brings together an exhaustive cast of collaborators, from Earl Sweatshirt and Gucci Mane to Panda Bear and Standing On The Corner, yet foregoes the amplification of any one voice in the service of a unifying, mythological vision of her hometown. Like Earl Sweatshirt on Some Rap Songs and Tierra Whack on Whack’s World, Solange emphasizes mood and finely-tuned motif over conventional song structure and pulls the whole thing off as effortlessly as she twirls a black cowboy hat around her finger in the album’s accompanying short film. HBJ


Best albums January - March 2019

Tamaryn
Dreaming the Dark
(DERO Arcade)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

It’s been almost ten years since dream-pop innovator Tamaryn released her debut album of modern shoegaze, The Waves; with her latest, Dreaming the Dark, she’s embraced a full-on synth-fantasia. A collaborator of both Coil’s Drew McDowall and Kristin Kontrol, fka Dee Dee Penny of Dum Dum Girls, Tamaryn has always been the kind of artist who can pull from dark, staticky corners and breathless ethereality to create some of the most transfixing pop formations. Here, she is gleaming brighter than ever. CL


Best albums January - March 2019

Temp-Illusion
Autolected
(Zabte Sote)

Bandcamp / Spotify

Tehran-based producers Shahin Entezami and Behrang Najafi have been producing eerie, experimental electronic music for almost a decade, refining their process and developing a sound that could easily be linked to Iranian pioneer Sote who, incidentally, released this album on his Zabte Sote label. But Temp-Illusion have a defiant, psychedelic edge and Autolected – an hour-long live recording split into two parts – sounds distinct, unusual and fresh. Loping from woozy noise into clipped, rhythmic electronic funk without so much as a pause for breath, the album is as deep, dark and destructive as anything you might find on a certain Northern duo’s recent NTS Sessions set. JT


Best albums January - March 2019

Triad God
Triad
(Presto?!)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

It’s been seven years since Triad God, aka south London-raised Vietnamese-Chinese enigma Vinh Ngan, dropped a FACT freestyle and released his breakthrough tape on Hippos in Tanks. With sad dancehall doyen Palmistry back in tow, Ngan returns with another record of nonchalant genius that shares a minor chord synergy with the trance of new label home, Lorenzo Senni’s Presto?! imprint. Bright production from Palmistry flirts with trendy marimba presets, but the record goes deeper too. Half-singing and half-rapping in Cantonese and English, vocal manipulation adds a cryptic layer to a meandering trip that explores language, identity and hip-hop (“yo, yo/ rapping is a lifestyle/ you know what the fuck I’m saying”) on haunting album standout ‘Gway Lo’. ACW


Best albums January - March 2019

Southfrap Alliance
Southfrap Vol.1 – Dans Tes Morts
(Southfrap)

Bandcamp

Hybridized, hyper-fast, genre-bending club music isn’t too difficult to find in an era where the Bang Face Weekender is covered in The Guardian, but in France, things are going a little faster and a little harder, and they’re getting a lot weirder. Southfrap Vol. 1 is the first compilation from the Southfrap Alliance, a Marseille-based crew highlighting the wild innovation of young DJs and producers in the South of France. Alongside DJ outfits like Paris’s Casual Gabberz, Southfrap sit in a space where the tempo hovers between 150bpm and 200bpm and no genre is left untouched: expect to hear reggaeton, trap and Eurodance tropes echo jubilantly around slurred raps, YouTube samples and snippets of better-known hits. Southfrap Vol. 1 is Now That’s What I Call Music for the ketamine and hi-vis crew; it’s a musical anti-Brexit campaign, in a re-purposed Venga Bus. JT

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