The 25 best albums of the last three months: July to September 2019

Every three months, FACT rounds up the best music that has passed through our inboxes and over our desks. With September over and the third quarter of 2019 closed out, we’ve examined the fringes to bring you the most exciting releases from the wider electronic music landscape and elsewhere.

Our Third Quarter Report is always about re-examining summer’s delights and this year, in particular, we are seeing artists pushing their own boundaries. Lisbon producer Violet flipped her youthful love of Bon Jovi kitsch into her most innovative release to date while Pittsburgh’s W00dy crafted freaked-out gabber and footwork to keep you warm just before the months start getting cold. We saw the softer side of Jenny Hval – which for the Paradise Rot author means slightly less witchy than usual – and a celebration of FACT’s favorite R&B vocalists Jazmine Sullivan and Alexandria on Kindness’s triumphant Something Like a War. Chromatics returned, right after it became fall, with their first full-length in seven years, an album worthy of forgetting about the whole Dear Tommy debacle and a reminder that good things come to those who wait.


Barker
Utility
(Ostgut Ton)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

The title of Sam Barker’s debut album, Utility, suggests a far more functional experience than it delivers. As with last year’s standout EP Debiasing, the Berghain resident and Leisure System co-founder ditches the kick drum and explores how far he can bend the idea of techno is before it breaks, crafting an album more in tune with the music of kosmische pioneers Manuel Göttsching and Klaus Schulze than his Ostgut Ton labelmates. Utility’s simple, devastating chord progressions paint a vivid picture of the utopian power of dance music while sandblasting your brain with serotonin. The techno trends and fads of the late 2010s will come and go but Utility already feels like a timeless classic. SW


Chromatics
Fade to Grey
(Italians Do It Better)

Spotify / Apple Music

Closer to Grey opens with a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence’. Whether or not it’s a gesture toward the unpredictable lore of the never-released Dear Tommy, it is the perfect preamble to the album that unfolds: “Hello darkness, my old friend” is a deft encapsulation of what we love about Chromatics. From their signature breathy ’60s girl-group mutations on ‘You’re No Good’ and a crunchy cover of The Jesus & Mary Chain’s ‘On the Wall’ to light-touch tinkering with trip-hop on ‘Light As a Feather’ and ‘Touch Red’, Closer to Grey evokes Chromatics’ time-tested ability to evoke a feeling that there’s something else lurking beneath the shadows. And for that, we can forgive dear Johnny for the wait. CL


Charli XCX
Charli
(Atlantic)

Spotify / Apple Music

Charli XCX’s third studio album is best summed up by a lyric from opener ‘Next Level Charli’: “Bump bump, in the rave / Go forever and ever”. The British singer has long been ahead of the curve when it comes to fusing electronic and pop music, and Charli achieves this in a way that’s sonically intriguing yet still accessible and full of unabashed bops. She delivers strobey, synth-heavy collabs (what’s a rave without friends?), as well as the quieter moments between nights out: breakfasts in bed and breakups; poignancy and paranoia. But then the bass hits and the beat goes on, forever and ever. KR


E-Saggila
My World My Way
(Northern Electronics)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

On My World My Way, E-Saggila gives herself a formally unbound space to indulge, from the epic RPG-esque orchestration of ‘Stars Dying in Succession’ to the trap-inflected beats of ‘Alia’ which skitter around shrieking vocals from Club Chai-affiliate Thoom. The through-line that deftly makes sense of all this is E-Saggila’s mighty, enveloping production style. It unfurls in each track like the whole horizon and deserves to be listened to as loud as possible. NP


Gabber Modus Operandi
HOXXXYA
(SVBKVLT)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

Please, let’s make 2020 the year that the term ‘rave’ no longer stands as a lazy signifier for weak pills, anodyne acid house and parties on the M25. When we think of raving, let’s instead look to acts like Gabber Modus Operandi, the Indonesian duo whose new album, HOXXXYA, is a contender for the most exciting half hour of dance music to be released this year. By rewriting traditional forms of Indonesian music such as gamelan and dangdut with a demonic medley of black metal, trance and happy hardcore, Kasimyn and Ican Harem have forged a collection of rave tunes with one foot in the distant past and the other in the far-flung future. HBJ


Jenny Hval
The Practice of Love
(Sacred Bones)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

If 2017’s Blood Bitch, FACT’s no. 1 album of that year, cast Norwegian experimental multi-instrumentalist Jenny Hval a witch, a vampire, an otherworldly succubus, The Practice of Love is the flip side of the same coin. It sounds like a love paean from another dimension but healing this time instead of destructive. While it retains the somewhat jarring, disjointed compositions that have put Hval at the forefront of avant-garde music, it is by far her most accessible record, taking its cue from, among other electronic sub-genres, ’90s trance — on the title track, Hval, Vivan Wang (formerly of the Observatory) and Australian singer-songwriter Laura Jane create a spoken word exploration of the meaning of love over ethereal synth waves. It’s an emotional core that anchors the album and opens up Hval’s sound to a brand new world of possibilities. CC


Kindness
Something Like a War
(Female Energy)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

Ever since Adam Bainbridge began recording as Kindness back in 2009, the off kilter pop-R&B project always seemed like an essential part of a greater whole —and in the interim, Kindness has become almost as popular for their music as for their writing, remixing, production and radio work. This is one of the reasons why Something Like a War feels like an event, a cohesive universe of disco, R&B, club and radio pop that holds on to the homegrown essence that has always set them apart for their peers. There are tinges of Arthur Russell’s cool baritone and woozy strings, but updated for the 21st century. And when star featured vocalist Robyn appears on the mid-tempo ‘The Warning’, Kindness is able to effortlessly mold and guide her towards the sound he nailed on this production work on last year’s Honey. Within their somewhat-chaotic self-made world, Kindness has perfectly engineered their ideal environment, something between soft introspection and extroverted excess. CC


Klein
Lifetime
ijn inc.

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

Klein continuously pushes her music forward. For her second album Lifetime — which the south London adventurer likens to “giving someone your diary” — she has constructed a hypnotic personal collage that explores spirituality and makes clever use of samples and field recordings, from haunted gospel choirs and a Bible debate to dialogue from ‘race film’ pioneer Spencer Williams. Still leaning on an abstract sensibility, and yet presented in sharper focus than the grainy noise of her previous releases, Klein puts her memories and ideas through a mangle of complex sound design, inviting us into her world for a compelling timeless classic that’s hard to put down. ACW


Leonce
Penetration Testing
Morph Tracks

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

Atlanta’s Leonce is hardly a newcomer. The young producer and DJ has been hard at work in his city and around the USA for years, building a community and crafting a unique sound that’s rooted in the hybrid club styles found scattered throughout the US South. Penetration Testing is exactly the fusion that house and techno needs, skating the line between the basement party and the sex dungeon and pulling influence from Baltimore club, R&B and gqom. It’s also the debut release from Morph Tracks – Leonce and Jsport’s new label that aims to prioritize queer black and brown artists – and disrupts a pallid scene with a smirk and a middle finger to the dance music establishment. JT


Loraine James
For You & I
(Hyperdub)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

For You And I is a phenomenal first LP from a bold new voice. It’s both an exploration of the difficulties faced being in queer relationship in London and a snapshot of the city’s changing musical landscape in 2019; jazz, UK drill and grime are all touch points, spliced together with abstract electronic textures to create a collage of sound and interior narrative that make you feel as if you’re walking the streets of north London in Loraine James’s shoes. There are parallels with both fellow Hyperdub artist Burial’s musical night bus journeys and Actress’s introspective techno, though James carves out a unique sound that vividly reflects her own reality and the contemporary city around it. SW


Mahalia
Love and Compromise
(Atlantic)

Spotify / Apple Music

On her second studio album, Mahalia expands her guitar-strumming folk into slow-burn neo-soul, her angelic voice and Leicester accent draping over radio-ready production like warm satin. Her reverence for ’90s R&B shines through on breakup burner ‘What You Did’, which flips the same soul sample as Cam’ron and Juelz Santana’s ‘Oh Boy’ and trots out tour mate Ella Mai for an Aaliyah-inspired video. LC


Maral
Mahur Club
(Astral Plane Recordings)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

A good mixtape is a thing of great beauty, and LA’s Maral nudges into exquisite territory on her debut release Mahur Club. Dense and brittle the point of collapse, the tape barges through genres like a Katamari ball, absorbing elements from rap, reggaeton, dub, psychedelia and US club music and filtering everything through a Persian cultural lens. If that sounds hard to imagine, it’s on purpose: Maral’s music is delightfully idiosyncratic and the mixtape plays like a warped stream of consciousness or a hyperactive sketchbook of microscopic sound collages. JT


Maxo Kream
Brandon Banks
(RCA)

Spotify / Apple Music

On his major label debut, Houston rapper Maxo Kream is all substance. His lyrics are dense, his subject matter is heavy. He’s too unpretentious (and hilarious) to pose as a “conscious rapper” and his life is too real to become a punchline or a meme. But his true-to-life tales of those trapped by mass imprisonment, gang violence and drug addiction prove he’s one of hip-hop’s most brilliant modern storytellers. We hope his talent won’t go unrecognized ’till it’s too late. LC


MoMa Ready
The NYC Dance Project
(self-released)

Bandcamp

In his own words, MoMa Ready’s The NYC Dance Project is simply a collection of “wild edits and some big tunes to party to until the end of time”, dropped onto Bandcamp on a whim one night in July. However, overlooking this digital-only collection of tracks from 2016-2019 would mean missing out on one of the year’s most thrilling house albums from one of NYC’s most exciting new artists. It’s a mix of nostalgic and the new: right at home with the rough and ready four-to-the-floor club tracks that have emerged from NYC over the past decade, made with samples that are a tribute to black dance music of the past. SW


Not Waving & Dark Mark
Downwelling
(Ecstatic)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

“Downwelling” can be defined as “the process of accumulation and sinking of higher density material beneath lower density material”. This is a fitting metaphor for one of the most unexpected and devastating collaborations of the year, one that sees Mark Lanegan’s weighty growl slowly sinking to the bottom of Not Waving’s gauzy ocean of sound. The ghost of the late Scott Walker haunts the album’s nine tracks as ‘Dark Mark’ ornaments his sonic descent with esoteric lyricism and a weary delivery, yet the narrative he weaves is one of quiet faith, juxtaposing human fallibility with our resistant capacity to connect with one another. HBJ


Octo Octa
Resonant Body
(T4T LUV NRG)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

Maya Bouldry-Morrison’s first album after transitioning, Where Are We Going?, was cerebral, with a tinkling celestial sparseness and an uncertainty that reflected the title. Two years later, her debut release on T4T LUV NRG (the label she runs with DJ, producer and romantic partner Eris Drew) is a euphoric celebration of the body: the ecstatic joy of the dancefloor, and the psychic and physical bonds created through connection and love.

With meditative cover art by her wife Brooke and song titles like ‘Ecstatic Beat’, the project is deeply personal, a cohesive message transmitted through rave-ready breakbeats and house vocal samples. LC


Oli XL
Rogue Intruder, Soul Enhancer
(BLOOM)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

The main element that separates Oli XL from his glitchy neo-IDM peers is that he appears to be genuinely having fun with his material. The obsessively chopped samples and intricate sound design might nod to the hydraulic foley grime of Bloom, but Oli XL juxtaposes this with the plasticky, deadpan humor of PC Music and the carnivalesque quality of Basement Jaxx, who he cites as a primary influence. Rogue Intruder, Soul Enhancer never takes itself too seriously, dropping in cheeky samples or dialog snippets to break up the pulses, bleeps and cracks. When the chorus from Beck’s ‘Loser’ appears on ‘Clumsy’, sung and pitched up to sound like a surreal kids TV character and piped through a sparse backdrop of electronic wiggles and a broken 2-step rhythm, it’s hard not to giggle. JT


Pelada
Movimiento Para Cambio
(PAN)

Bandcamp / Spotify

It’s impossible to cleave dance music from its political roots. Even those who claim the genre is simply an excuse for hedonism don’t seem to grasp that hedonism itself is politicized. Montreal-based duo Pelada don’t even try to deny their music’s revolutionary power. Movimiento Para Cambio fuses Tobias Rochmann’s brittle IDM-adjacent house and club forms with Chris Vargas’ brutal polemic and manages to sound dangerous and new, whether you understand the Spanish lyrics or not. As screamed words and phrases bounce in-between bass womps and familiar house staples (the legendary Korg M1 is pastiched on stand-out banger ‘Habla Tu Verdad’), it’s hard not to feel stirred by Pelada’s passion, power and dedication. They are speaking their truth, but it’s up to us to listen. JT


Rabit
STAR BELLY
self-released

Bandcamp

Rabit’s rapidly growing series of screw tapes sound so personal that the experience of listening to them seems akin to inviting the producer over to your house, getting incredibly stoned and watching him gleefully flick through your record collection before he blends all of your favorite southern rap into all of your favorite pop songs. As the audio from a 1998 interview with DJ Screw melts into the etherized opening strums of Mazzy Star’s ‘Fade Into You’, it’s as though you can hear all of Rabit’s formative influences and teen angst coalescing into a complete, slo-mo vision, a fantasy mixtape warped with low-bitrate distortion. HBJ


rRoxymore
Face To Phase
(Don’t Be Afraid)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

On her first full-length, rRoxymore flexes her experimental muscle for a rhythmic hall of mirrors strewn with broken beats and dreamy pads. Beginning on a beatless note with the rich ambient dreamscape of ‘Home is Where the Music Is’, Face to Phase soon dives off the bass end with the low-key banger ‘Passages’, casting a spell of noirish magic that enchants a record which flits effortlessly between club and cushion. The French-born, Berlin-based innovator represents the adventurous side of house and techno, and this daring dossier of sound is the perfect expression of her paradigm-shifting artistry. ACW


RUI HO
In Pursuit of the Sun 逐日
(Objects Ltd)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

When a genre becomes oversaturated or stagnant, the best artists are always able to reach inside their own stories and reinvigorate and reinvent their scenes. Berlin-based Chinese DJ/producer RUI HO has done just that, taking the upbeat techno and club house that thrives in Germany’s capital and injecting it with a healthy dose of traditional Chinese melodies and rhythms. The result is a track like opener ‘Wings of Light’, that pairs an old school Baltimore shuffle with a crystalline, hypnotic synth that perfectly mimics a guqin, a stringed Chinese instrument. This melding of cultures permeates the entire record, making In Pursuit of the Sun 逐日 seem both futuristic, nostalgic and decidedly now. CC


Violet
Bed of Roses
(Dark Entries)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

For her debut album, Inês Coutinho, aka Lisbon-based multitasker Violet, took a step back from the breakbeat-infused euphoria of her previous club-minded releases. Built from schlocky synthscapes and silvery drum machine jams, Bed of Roses toys with everything from ’80s electro-funk and synth-pop to ambient, techno and reggaeton. Written over the course of seven years, the title nods to the Bon Jovi song she loved as a child and the album is a self-described “healing device” for Coutinho as she recalls her teenage self. Bed of Roses isn’t necessarily what you’d expect to hear from the producer who brought ‘Togetherness’ to the dancefloor but that’s what makes it so good. ACW


W00dy
My Diary
(self-released)

Bandcamp

W00dy makes club music for weirdos and My Diary offers wickedly quick and glitchy bangers that seem to forcefully tug against the leashes of their bpms. It’s music made for ravers that want to thrash, noise kids that crave the rave and all post-genre absurdists desiring something fanatically different than your EDM standards. W00dy’s sound could be understood as some acid-drum ‘n’ bass-gabber-footwork hybrid or just gorgeous sonic gibberish, beyond clear comprehension, immersed in its own heavily-hyphenated mishmash. A totally overstated delight. NP


xin
MELTS INTO LOVE
(Subtext)

Bandcamp

Over the last 30 years, tropes from what is often casually called “bass music” – a diverse range of sub-heavy dance music rooted in Jamaican soundsystem culture and UK hardcore – have become completely absorbed into the wider dance lexicon. In 2019 it’s almost hard to go to a club and not hear musical elements linked to this lineage: sirens, hoover bass, chopped amen breaks – the list is long. So it’s to xin’s credit that they have been able to assemble an album that expertly references hardcore, dubstep and D&B without resorting to any obvious tropes. MELTS INTO LOVE is a deliriously psychedelic record and slithers in and out of the brain with the visceral body horror of a David Cronenberg movie. When hardcore or D&B is referenced, it’s corrupted, distorted and melted into this heaving, viscous slop. At once terrifying and welcoming, it’s the soundtrack to a new era of cyberpunk anxiety. JT


YATTA
WAHALA
(PTP)

Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music

WAHALA is poetry: it understands language as a carrier of history, images and associative emotions. “This album is about being black, being trans, and being African on foreign land. It’s about the tension, splitting, mania, psychosis, and depression” writes YATTA, who realizes these themes by exploring the choral potential of the most vulnerable of all solo instruments, voice. Really consider YATTA’s words, their different singing and speaking styles that range from blues to chiptune (“It’s also about making jokes”), the radical edits and elaborately layered arrangements and WAHALA will be some of your most essential listening of 2019 and beyond. NP

Read next: The 25 best albums of the last three months: April to June 2019

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