The last three months have given us an abundance of great records. The 25 albums on this list contain a whole universe of sounds, from raucous hardcore to potent jazz to industrial music from Africa. These are the Best Albums of Spring 2019.
Much critical hay is made of Aldous Harding’s artistic inscrutability, from the metaphorical mishmush of her lyrics and the theatrical voices she uses to sing them, to the exaggerated ruffs and tall hats she wears while wiggling un-sexily in her music videos. It’s all too much! What could she possibly mean by it all? On third LP Designer, the New Zealand artist answers her critics and gives the people what they want while remaining true to her offbeat artistic choices, declaring her intention to “live with melody and have an honest time” on the record’s sprightly opening track “Fixture Picture.” On Designer, Harding’s tilted folk-pop is dressed up with sophisticated instrumentation, and slinky grooves that are a million miles away from the keening vibratos and banged-out piano chords she favored on 2017’s gothic table-for-one Party. Dialing down the high drama gives Harding room to be a little more playful yet there’s the inescapable feeling that the record’s carnival atmosphere is more for our benefit than hers—“It’s the greatest show on earth you shall receive,” she sings on mid-album banger “Zoo Eyes,” in as big a pop chorus as she’s ever done. Designer still leaves plenty of room for vulnerability and it’s in these quieter moments where Harding’s depth as an artist is most apparent. “I don’t know how to behave,” she admits on “Pilot,” the record’s devastating closer. Featuring only Harding’s gorgeous voice over a simple series of piano chords, it’s a song that ranks among Harding’s finest in its restrained power and sincere examination of a search for grace that never ends even when the party does.
Percussionist Brijean Murphy and producer Doug Stewart’s collaborative project, Brijean, has created a glamorous house record in their debut, Walkie Talkie. Harkening back to the glory days of disco, Walkie Talkie merges togethers elements of house, jazz, and Latin soul to create a tropical pop fusion sound that is immensely enjoyable. “Like You Do” is a quixotic track that pairs Brijean’s lush vocals with an infectious percussive beat. Latin-influenced “Show and Tell” shines with Brijean’s conga playing. Single “Walkie Talkie” plays up on the tropical house vibe of the album and brings together Brijean’s sensuous vocals and a pop-esque, danceable track. Walkie Talkie is a dreamy ride.
Carla Geneve’s self-titled debut album is a delightful listen. Introspective and clear, the songs on Geneve’s debut serve as an introduction to her honest and direct songwriting and grunge-influenced rock sound. The songs on this album deal mostly with love and identity. Single “Yesterday’s Clothes” is a radically vulnerable song about guilt and love and Geneve’s voice radiates over the guitar riffs. On “2001,” Geneve sings, “I am not in touch with my emotions, I am a little kid going through the motions,” over a steady guitar melody in an ode to loneliness. On the pensive album closer, “I Hate You (For Making Me Not Want To Leave The City),” Geneve’s voice shines over the guitar ballad. Carla Geneve is a substantial debut from a singular voice.
Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
Christelle Bofale’s Swim Team is a sumptuous introduction to Bofale’s unparalleled sound. The Austin-based singer brings multiple influences to Swim Team—Bofale counts Joni Mitchell and Alex G as inspirations—including jazz, rock, soul, and the musical traditions of her family’s native Congo. “Moving On, Getting On,” the album’s opening song, pairs Bofale’s resonant voice with sweeping guitar riffs. On the soulful “Origami Dreams,” Bofale sings, “Make up your mind, I don’t have the time to wait on you.” Album standout, “U Ouchea” is a seven-minute narrative that merges Bofale’s steady voice, melancholy lyrics, and an expansive guitar melody. At its core, Swim Team is an album about mental health and serves as a keyhole opening to Bofale’s inner life and a primer for her unique voice.
Glaswegian brother-sister duo Comfort (Natalie sing-shouts and manipulates electronics; Sean plays precise, pounding drum lines) may make relatively minimalist industrial-punk, but their energy is maximal. Natalie’s notes to the record are a delightful fuck-you to anyone who might disparage or deny her womanhood, as a trans woman: “I have nothing to live for but myself,” she writes. “My womanhood needs no permission. This record is for the people who don’t make it, the people who don’t feel safe enough to live it, the people who will be, the people who are. We deserve our beauty. And the world will catch up to us.” It’s a sentiment close to my heart, which may be one of the reasons these songs feel like such a jolt of electricity to me. It’s not just my own relation to the message that makes this such a necessary release, though; there is an urgency and a joy to Sean’s simple but clean percussion, and to Natalie’s vocal delivery. The squiggles and slashes of electro-noise might at first feel a bit disorienting, but as they settle into patterns across the course of a song like “Calm of the Crowd,” there’s something downright, well, comforting about them.
Not Passing needs no embellishments, no studio trickery, no complex layering. I dislike using hackneyed words like “powerful” when it comes to statements around marginalized identities; such words usually communicate a kind of liberal sentimentality, a desire to appeal to otherwise-unsympathetic parties through the revelation and packaging of trauma. That is not what this record is about at all. It stands on its own two feet. It is a declaration of self. It is for Natalie, and for Sean. We just get the privilege of listening in.
Damon Locks – Black Monument Ensemble
Where Future Unfolds
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
The no-contest standout moment of Damon Locks’ Where Future Unfolds happens four songs in, when 7-year-old Rayna Golding steps up to the microphone and sings, “I can rebuild a nation no longer working out.” Those nine words act as a kind of summary statement for the entire album, recorded at a live performance in Chicago with a group Locks has dubbed “Black Monument Ensemble.” Where Future Unfolds assesses a nation that is crippled by systemic prejudice and injustice—a nation that’s “no longer working out”—and sets its eyes on rebuilding it. Locks does this, in part, by looking to the past: throughout the record, samples of speeches from the Civil Rights era are laid against slow-boiling gospel, soul, and jazz. In addition to its potent message, what dazzles about Future is its construction: it’s hard to pin down what Locks is doing at any given moment. A song like “The Future?” opens as a crashing free-jazz number, with woodpecker-like drums and a frenetic sax line, but it’s followed by “Power,” which lands like a manic hybrid of gospel and noise music. Album closer “From a Spark to a Fire” pits choral music against a rattling rhythm line that gestures toward electronic music. That Locks is also a visual artist comes as no surprise—there’s something deft, visionary, and artful about the way he collages together 20 disparate elements to make something dizzyingly complex, but stunning in its beauty. Where Future Unfolds is a cutting referendum on our current era, and a challenge to believe that new world is possible if we roll up our sleeves and get to work on rebuilding it.
Atlanta Millionaires Club
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP, Vinyl
Faye Webster got her start singing country-influenced folk and that strain of Americana is evident on the decidedly alternative Atlanta Millionaire. On opener “Room Temperature,” Webster croons yearningly over a vintage country sounding melody with a twangy guitar riff. On the dreamy “Kingston,” Webster sings, “Baby tell me where you want to go, baby tell me what you want to know,” over a saxophone laden track. On the airy, “Flowers” which features rapper Father, Webster’s honeyed voice shines. On “Jonny (Reprise),” Webster’s speaking voice over a melody closes out the album. Atlanta Millionaire is a good introduction to Webster’s evolving sound.
How Am I Not Myself?
Cassette, , Vinyl LP
French Vanilla aren’t fucking around on How Am I Not Myself?, but then again they never were. Even on their self-titled release (which made Bandcamp’s best of 2017), this freaky gang of saxophone art-punks from East Hollywood were finding a fresh way to make new wave anti-capitalist again with songs that were as unconventional as they were cool. But that achievement was not sufficient preparation for the atomic bomb they detonate on How Am I Not Myself, an outrageously charismatic and funky sophomore LP that actually does sound like it came from Planet Claire—or at least some far groovier utopian future where the patriarchy has been smashed and everyone is free to be their true selves. French Vanilla are a band with big ideas and heaps of personality, and How Am I Not Myself is an extremely stylish record (check out the album art,) though the songs themselves are too weird to be called stylized. Truly, there are so many moments on How Am I Not Myself? that seem to come completely out of left field—the way Daniel Trautfield’s jittery saxophone cuts through the sultry disco intro to “All The Time” or how vocalist Sally Spitz bursts into an avant-garde chorus of yips and whoops on mid-album highlight “Suddenly”—but afterwards makes total sense because, duh, you were so busy dancing you forget this was punk.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
After staging a successful crossover effort with 2016’s Paramount, ascendant Orange County hardcore band Fury gave the sophomore slump a swift kick in the ass with Failed Entertainment, their Run For Cover debut produced by grunge legend Jack Endino. By rejecting punk’s rigid minimalism for a cleaner, burlier sound reminiscent of, but by no means indebted to, ’90s post-hardcore, the group successfully mined the untapped populist appeal that’s been ripening in the recesses of their sheer force from the very start, exploiting it to anthemic effect on standouts like “Birds of Paradise” and “Angels Over Berlin.” Genre purism is toxic; here’s the antidote.
Georgia Anne Muldrow
Producer Georgia Anne Muldrow’s career has spanned over 15 years and VWETO II is just another gem to add to her long list of stellar projects. VWETO II is filled to the brim with funk, soul, and Afro-futurist influences. Album opener, “Almost Trendy,” kicks off the project with a futuristic melody. Soul single “Bronx Skates,” sounds akin to the soul hits of the 1970s. Closing track, “Yoyo Ma fOnk,” ends VWETO II on a futuristic note. Muldrow took care to create a project that clearly has a single vision, but experiments with different sounds on each track. VWETO II is esoteric, eccentric and fun—its music feels at home at both a family reunion or a futurist art exhibit. Muldrow has done what she does best with VWETO II and that is keep the music focused on the past and future.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Rock music has eaten its own tail about 10 times over by now so what a delight to find that Greys, always a serviceable if not entirely distinguishable outfit, have used their third LP to double down on the one magical quality the genre’s been lacking for what feels like ages: a sense of the unexpected. It’s impossible to predict where the band will go next on the brainy, brave Age Hasn’t Spoiled You, a real leap forward for the Toronto band. This is a truly Big record in both sound and stylistic scope, zigging and zagging through a litany of bummed-out late ’90s/early ’00s alt-rock tones and buzzy effects, without digging too deeply into any of them. The band remains above the fray with smart production choices that embed the most nostalgic musical references around the edges of the songs, allowing the constant tension created by the threat of chaos to power the record through its myriad twists and turns. Age Hasn’t Spoiled You doesn’t feel like an effortless record—one must always try hard when keeping so many plates in the air at once—but in a musical landscape that prefers to reward conformity, or at the very least conventionality, that Greys were unafraid to take such a huge risk feels like a much-needed catharsis.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Button/Pin/Patch
We’ve been living with pop songs for so long that it’s gotten easy to underestimate just how difficult it is to write a good one. And yet on Keepsake, Brisbane musician Harriette Pilbeam delivers 10 of them in a row, each as radiant and winning as the last. In our interview with her for Bandcamp’s Certified series, Pilbeam talked about taking her music career seriously, and that dedication is obvious in every note of Keepsake. Everything is perfectly placed: the way Hatchie’s voice floats in after the bridge on the Sundays-channelling “Her Own Heart”—my pick for album standout—or the way she nails the Wish-era guitar tone of Robert Smith on the solo in dance-pop single “Obsessed.” There are genre signifiers in her music to be sure, dreampop and shoegaze among the most prominent. But where the classic albums in that vein tended to let their melodies drift along hazily, Pilbeam centers her songs on candy-dipped hooks, the sturdiness of which offset the translucence of the guitars. And what hooks they are! From the gentle tug of opener “Not That Kind” to the breathless hurtle of album closer “Keep,” Hatchie proves herself a master of the format, and every song shows evidence of both deep craft and almost supernatural pop instincts. Keepsake isn’t just on track to be the album of the summer—it’s one of the best of the year.
Idle Hands’ Mana encapsulates everything we love about goth rock: the gloom, the grit, the gall, the moribund grandeur verging on outright camp. In the spirit of forefathers like Danzig and Christian Death, the Portland band spend their debut chained to the dark side, all too eager to raise hell. Across the bludgeoning record, lead singer Gabriel Franco evokes fallen lovers (“Jackie”), giant, fire-breathing lizards (“Dragon, Why Do You Cry?”), sacrificial cults (“Nightfall”), and even death itself (“It’ll Be Over Before You Know It”), his every incantation affirmed by swooning guitars and tempestuous drums. Factor in the crisp production and easy-to-digest song structures, and it’s hard not to fall under the record’s spell.
Laylet El Booree
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP,
Over the course of the last 15 or so years, thanks to the efforts of labels like Soundway and Analog Africa, classic music from all parts of the African continent have been made available for overdue appreciation by Western audiences. New labels like Sahel Sounds and Nyege Nyege Tapes fill out the other end of the spectrum, showcasing new artists from countries like Uganda an Mali. Yet even among that wealth of music, there is no band that sounds quite like Ifriqyya Electrique. The group updates the sound of the Banga ritual, used to contact ancient spirits, with electric guitar and pounding drums. The resulting fusion, on marvelous display on Laylet El Booree, is something like Western industrial music: pulsing, grinding music powered by riffs that roar like turbine engines and topped with soaring group chants. “He Eh Lalla” heaves and lurches its way forward, guitars jackhammering down in the empty space between the all-together-now singing. “Danee Danee” is moodier, its thrumming bass, clattering drums, and occasional crackle of digital noise sounding like an instrumental extract from The Downward Spiral. And while the Banga ritual is meant to invoke a trance-like state, Laylet El Booree feels like it’s after something else—a rave on the edge of a volcano, or a party in an active construction site. This is frantic, physical music, songs that emerged wholecloth from the minds of their creators, and that have no clear equal.
Compact Disc (CD), Cassette, Vinyl LP
In our interview with Kedr Livanskiy, she situated Your Need in the context of recovery after a long period of isolation and depression. That’s exactly what it sounds like: its sharp streaks of neon synthesizer and bounding rhythms feel like someone emerging from a dark apartment into the blinding sunlight. The breadth of electronic music Livanskiy draws on here is vast: the murky dub cadence of the title track, the soulful haunted house of “Why Love,” the pop-ambient balladry of “LED.” There’s a sense of joy at the record’s core that is undeniable: the way Livanskiy sounds like she’s beaming while rattling off the lyrics, “Tom’s Diner”-style, on “Sky Kisses,” or the way the electronics zip around like manic fireflies in the anthemic “Ivan Kupala,” a song about an imaginary rave in a Russian village. Even the eerie “Kiska,” with a snippet of Livanskiy’s voice repeating a childlike vocal phrase over and over, feels giddy and hopeful. In the end, Your Need feels like a celebration, a batch of euphoric dance songs that pounce, leap, and soar.
Mourning [A] BLKStar
The ensemble R&B of Cleveland collective Mourning [a] BLKstar certainly recalls the politically driven funk and soul of the ‘70s, but this is no throwback pastiche; instead, they deftly weave together the histories of radical movements for black power in America over the last few decades. “Harlem River Drive OG” is an update of a song that appears on 2018’s (also excellent) The Garner Poems, and an obvious reference both in name and in musical style to Eddie Palmieri’s Afro-Cuban classic Harlem River Drive, from 1971. Mourning [a] BLKstar’s LaToya Kent, as Harlem River Drive’s Jimmy Norman did, uses New York geography to get at greater disparities. For Norman, the neglect of the neighborhood that birthed the Harlem Renaissance spoke to obvious structural racism; for Kent, it is the forces of gentrification displacing her from her heritage that speak to the same. While The Garner Poems had a more somber, reflective tone (it is, of course, named for Eric Garner, a victim of police brutality in 2014), Reckoning feels full of energy—anger, sexuality, love—and forward motion. (The two are complementary moods, of course; one must reflect to move, must move to reflect.) Whether employing sensual grooves (“Sweet Oil”), upbeat funk (“Hold Me”), or summoning righteous rage and strength (“BLK Musak”), this is an album full of precise musicianship and smart choices that’s just a delight to listen to through and through. Mourning [a] BLKstar know their history to know their present, and to imagine a better future.
I need to cop to the fact that I’ve always had an ambivalent relationship with remix records. They always felt like “deleted scenes” on a DVD—they’re fun to experience, but they rarely add anything new to what you already know. So I was caught completely off-guard by Penelope Redeux, a whole-cloth reinvention of Penelope Trappes’ 2018 album Penelope Two. The collaborators don’t just fiddle with the beats or tweak the vocals—they rebuild almost everything around Trappes’ voice. What’s more, it all hangs together as a cohesive statement—there’s no frenetic gabba rework followed by neon-colored rave. Everything in Redeux is set in a kind of mysterious shadow world, where Trappes is relegated to a ghost in the distance. The way her voice floats behind the rippling blanket of electronics in Cosey Fanni Tutti’s rework of “Carry Me” is genuinely chilling, and even on numbers like JFDR’s gorgeous folktronica take on “Maeve,” she feels distant and supernatural. Felicia Atkinson reduces “Burn On” to a graveside elegy, pairing Trappes’ vocal melody with field recordings of birds and crickets and leave crackling underfoot. Penelope Redeux isn’t simply a parallel work to the original—it’s an entirely new record unto itself, one suffused with shadow, and impossible to resist.
A Journey Into Madness
All’s unwell for U.K. hardcore outfit Scrap Brain, whose dizzying, blown-out sound lurches from stomping riffs to shrieking, scratching noise to off-kilter grooves in a way that feels delightfully free-associative. (Multiple people have compared them to Flipper, and I would say that’s fair, but not in a direct sound-alike way; they have that group’s original sense of off-the-map wildness.) Vocalist Camille Reardon’s blunt lyrics tackle the realities of being queer, mentally ill, a radical leftist, and feeling alone in a world on fire. “Why should I believe in a service funded by a government that wants me dead and has killed countless people like me?,” they ask on “Lean In,” which considers the way healthcare, and mental health care in particular, treats queer and trans people. Their delivery can turn from pointedly flip to a howl of pure rage on a dime. Roiling with discomfort and agitation, A Journey Into Madness is one worth taking over and over.
Night of the Worm Moon
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette, T-Shirt/Apparel
Though she conjures up an electrical storm of rockstar fireworks with her main gig, La Luz, Shana Cleveland settles into a more contemplative mode on solo LP Night of the Worm Moon. A mellow set of sci-fi lullabies written on acoustic guitar rank, the songs on Night rank among the most haunted recordings of Cleveland’s career. “Fingerpicking feels more meditative to me so I go to a more introspective place lyrically and thematically when I play acoustic guitar,” Cleveland told Bandcamp in an interview about Night of the Worm Moon, and certainly her fingerpicked patterns create a gentle rhythmic flow that becomes nearly ambient in its soothing tones and pensive unfurling. But what anchors Night isn’t just Cleveland’s accomplished musicianship, but how she expertly excavates wisdom from weirdness on songs that toe the line between what is real and what seems half-remembered from a dream. “Nothing’s the loudest sound in a house when no one’s around,” Cleveland sings on the title track, a truly spooky song wherein the artist imagines herself as a constant presence who watches from within the walls. Throughout Night of the Worm Moon, Cleveland uses the potent power of such psychedelic signifiers to illuminate bright emotional truths in a darkening world that will probably never make sense again.
A Quiet Farewell, 2016 – 2018
Most instrumental hip-hop artists utilize nostalgic sounds in order to forge a personal connection with the listener—meticulous loops, studied scratches, and pristine samples arranged into comfort food for the ’90s heads and soul fanatics. The debut album from NYC producer-composer Slauson Malone, aka Jasper Maralis, deconstructs these bridges slowly and steadily, to a point beyond recognition: Soothing jazz and soul passages combust into abrupt beat changes, sparse folktronica guitars swaddle demonic, pitch-altered vocals; sound collages melt and warp from second to second, measure to measure, the rotating door of guests spinning all the while (L.A. rapper Pink Siifu, Medhane cellist Nicky Wetherell, and more). Rarely has a record painted the nightmarish shades of nostalgia so vividly.
Nothing Great About Britain
A withering sociopolitical survey, disquieting autobiography, and grime protest rally wrapped up into one, Slowthai’s debut LP is a sophisticated record that’s wholly devoid of decorum. In the first two tracks alone, the Northhampton, UK MC born Tyrion Frampton reduces an adored Prince a gaudy knick-knack, the same kind sold at his wedding not too long ago (“Harry’s just a mug”); adopts an exaggerated chav accent to hit on Kate Middleton (“You’re an English rose, I wouldn’t lie to you”), and calls Queen Elizabeth II a cunt — to her face. The gravity of this proudly gutter-born mindset, too, is particularly heavily-felt on songs like “Crack,” a seemingly-optimistic message to an ex-lover darkened by sobering, addiction-related innuendos, and “Doorman,” a rousing hardcore jaunt that begins and ends with a sample from a 1983 documentary on squatter punks. Frampton does none of this for shock value, mind you — as suggested by the cover art, There’s Nothing Great About Britain is Slowthai sending “Keep Calm And Carry On™” to the stocks for a change, and letting the ugly truth have its day.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
“Close the door to your mouth and get the fuck in the car!” It’s an order that Stef Chura half sings, half-speaks halfway through the chugging “Method Man,” a big fat rock song that embodies the rattle and swagger of the Detroit artist’s sophomore release Midnight, itself a big fat rock record that staggers and struts like a drunk trying to walk straight, its riffs as sticky as a dive bar’s beer-sloshed floor and Chura’s delightful yips and yodels bearing the slurry quality of just a few too many bottles of Bud. Though the record has its straightforward moments —“Lemme do a jumping jack over your heart,” implores Chura on giddy number “Jumping Jack”—this is not pop and the medicine isn’t going doing easy and rarely in less than 2 minutes. Like the old rock records of yore, Midnight rewards repeat listening, the better to savor the ways Chura and Toledo find to reshape her loosey-goosey song structures into songs with edges as sharp and polished as diamonds. Though Chura’s always been a creative, exciting guitarist, she’s equally as inventive with her vocals on Midnight. On the chorus of tightly wound “Scream,” she sings, “If only you could hear me scream!” three times in a row, changing the inflection of the final word so it sounds like “scram” or “scree-yum,” playfully expounding upon the possibilities of language while her fingers explore the boundaries of the electric guitar. “My girl is 3-dimensional,” exclaims Chura joyfully on “3D girl,” and she is.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Team Dresch were one of the queer punk lodestones of the ‘90s underground, and as such were an absurdly important band for a lot of people, myself included (which led to some pretty intense conversation when I interviewed guitarist Kaia Wilson and drummer Melissa York). In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, the group—which has been less broken up than mostly inactive—have reissued remastered versions of their two fantastic LPs and a brand new track (!), as well as this lovely collection of non-album tracks. Though they wrote about the violence of and personal relationships disrupted by homophobia with incisive clarity (see “Endtime Relay”), Team Dresch also wrote some of the best lesbian love songs of the ‘90s, including the punchy, sweet-and-sour “Hand Grenade,” which appears here (and appeared on a number of mixtapes I made for girls I wanted very much to kiss when I was a teen). Sure, they had plenty of brash energy, but one should never discount the power a perfectly executed pop chorus can have (after all, what glitters could just be the sunlight hitting the blade of a knife).
For those just discovering this singular group and those of us who are digging back into their discography fondly, this compilation displays all the qualities that make them so essential—the taut hooks, the bouncy rhythms, the lyrical prowess—with a slight rawness and roughness to it that hints at the emotional experience of seeing them live. There are some more experimental tracks here, too, like the sinuous, somewhat sinister “What Can a Lover Do?”—at their best, B-sides compilations pull in those kinds of tracks too, lending a fuller perspective to one’s appreciation of a group. Beginning with their debut material and ending with their early 2000s singles, Choices, Chances, Changes is a welcome addition to the small Team Dresch canon, and very much not just for completists.
On their inaugural album as Wilma Vritra, Odd Future co-founder Pyramid Vritra and British producer/guitarist Wilma Archer galvanize a potent collaborative chemistry into a marvel of hip-hop impressionism that’s as stylistically adventurous as it is impeccably balanced. You never know where the pair’s creative whims will take the pair at any given moment — or for that matter, where one track ends and the other begins; “Shallow Grave,” a churning track which contrasts Pyramid’s nihilistic street politics with Archer’s perky oboes and funhouse synths, gives way to a shimmering, acid-drenched R&B song (“The Hill”), before progressing to yacht-rock (“Earnie”), flute-flecked funk jam (“Over Girls”), and even water-logged eastern folk (“Ugly Duckling”). These two make an odd musical couple, all right — and a phenomenal one at that.
Dig a Pit
Tieraney Carter, A.K.A. Wizard Apprentice, performs in front of “a psychedelic, Max Headroom-like avatar” of herself; her music is so spare and haunting that confronting the audience directly without a sort of visual mediator might be a bit much. (It allows her to focus on her singing and live electronic manipulation, too.) The Oakland experimental artist has touched a number of different styles across her last few releases—drone, electro-pop, and so on—but on Dig A Pit, her latest and most intimate release, an autobiographical account of an abusive relationship, she sounds most assuredly herself. Carter’s voice, clear and constant, is front and center in the mix (as it should be for such truth-telling); over minimal industrial-acid squelches (“Desire to Learn”), horror-soundtrack synths and strings (“Exorcism”), and delicate guitar plucks (“You Won”) she turns raw internal dialogue external, inverting the power dynamics of abuse by turning a painful, isolating experience into art that her listeners can connect to. It’s not by any means a light listen, but it is a stunningly beautiful one.