Dream Shelter [mixtape]

Dream Shelter began a few weeks ago when I put together a few tracks that really vibed well, but it wasn’t until the gravity of the global pandemic hit me that I could tie it all together into a proper mix. I needed the sound of adventure and I felt drawn to a very specific mood that I ended up finding spread across an odd gathering of scenes and sounds.

This is music for pure escape when you can’t leave home. Genre-agnostic tunes sourced from across the globe from 1978 to 1995. It’s hard for any of us to handle something so world altering, but I truly believe that the right music can help. We’ve got a long way to go, so I just want to spread the love and good feelings. We’re all in this together.

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Emergence [mixtape]

Hey, it’s 2020 and I’m back with a new mixtape. Emergence is a total immersion in decaying dub techno oceans and deep ambient fog, echoing outward over cold synth mountaintops and cavernous drum valleys and finally the warmth and comfort of home coming into focus.

Here we go:

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25 Best Techno Albums of 2019

Hi. Welcome to the Optimistic Underground list of the best techno albums of 2019. I’m just one person so this is the list of music I personally heard – and I know I missed a LOT. But I also heard an incredible amount of brilliant music. Far too much to fit on the 50 best albums of 2019, in fact. Because the two genres I listen to most, ambient and techno, composed a great deal of the albums I had saved over the year, I decided it would be a good idea to give them each their own list. So here we are.

Although some of these albums appear on the main list and some do not, consider them all equally and highly recommended for any techno fans. Also, while many of the albums on the big list could have been considered techno in the loosest sense, I went for a more focused attack here. These albums are (almost) all solidly, irrefutably techno music. It’s a vast genre that often bleeds into house music, ambient, and far more out-there sounds, but it centers on an instantly recognizable core that hasn’t changed much in the decades since it was born.

[Ambient fans: don’t miss the 20 best ambient albums of 2019.]

When there simply wasn’t enough room to include everything I loved in the year, I made a new list. A specific list. Here we go, in alphabetical order:

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20 Best Ambient Albums of 2019

Hi. Welcome to the Optimistic Underground list of the best ambient albums of 2019. Of course, I’m just one person so this is the list of music I personally heard – and I know I missed a LOT. But I also heard an incredible amount of brilliant music. Far too much to fit on the 50 best albums of 2019, in fact. Because the two genres I listen to most, ambient and techno, composed a great deal of the albums I had saved over the year, I decided it would be a good idea to give them each their own list. So here we are.

Although some of these albums were on the main list and some were not, consider them all equally and highly recommended for any ambient music fans. From pure dreamy drone workouts to more knotty, experimental stuff, there’s a broad range of experiences here. Even still, it’s only a glimpse at the vast expanse of what this genre is capable of producing. Many fans and artists have different definitions of what, exactly, ambient music is. To me, it’s an open idea, encompassing a whole ecosystem of sounds that can be placid, nervous, swooning, sad, beautiful, even triumphant. I made a list of the 32 best ambient albums ever made a few years ago and, while I could probably swap any of them out for another beloved record, I stand by  every choice completely. Similarly, I can’t recommend the below albums enough.

[Techno fans: don’t miss the 25 best techno albums of 2019.]

When there simply wasn’t enough room to include everything I loved in the year, I made a new list. A specific list. Here we go, in alphabetical order:

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50 Best Albums of 2019

My favorite neighborhood basketball hoop.

Hi. Welcome to the Optimistic Underground album of the year list for 2019. Every single release here is something special, worth your time to listen, worth every minute I spent writing it all down in the hopes that you’ll check it out.

These fifty albums were painfully carved down from over one hundred twenty – I keep an open document every year, adding a name every time I feel deeply struck on any level. There’s always so much incredible music to love every year. Too much to catch it all. So that’s why I keep doing this every year; I find so many treasures in others’ lists. If any of these artists make a new fan with my help, I’m happy. That’s all I’m here to do. They enrich my life so much, and I try to spread the love.

I wouldn’t rank anything if I thought it’d be just as effective, but let’s be honest: ranking makes a list more interesting. Plus, I feel far more strongly about some of these albums than others. So, while the exact numbers may not matter so much, the general direction of the list does. The albums at the top are the ones I’ve spun more than anything, the ones I most clearly see myself looping years into the future.

As with every year, there’s always an overabundance of magical music; the trick is just finding it, and finding the time to hear it all. I’m just one person so I know I’m forgetting loads of great releases – please let me know what I’m missing in the comments.

Be sure to check the 20 best ambient albums and 25 best techno albums of 2019 if you’re a fan of either genre, want to catch up, or just want to get into them. I simply had too many great examples of both this year, so I made a couple extra lists to better cover them.

Anyway, here are the 50 best albums of 2019. I hope you find something special.

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Hypersleep [mixtape]

It’s October, my birth month. The time of the year when everything in Michigan melts into cold mush and outdoor summer adventure turns to quiet moments by the window, watching leaves fall on the wet grey world. When I think of autumn, I think of decay, decomposition, death, dissolving. There’s a kind of freedom in that sense of letting go. Giving yourself over to an experience, a long slide into the dark of winter, a plunge that turns gelid and snowblind before it ends.

I don’t romanticize this time with hot apple cider or maple brushed bonfires in the backyard, but I do have a sort of entropic affection for the way life near the forty fifth parallel changes so completely within a month. So I made a mix to kind of sound like how this time feels. Because I’m a total dork, I called it Hypersleep.

As I hastily but pretty spot-on wrote as my upload finished, it’s a deep dream dive from atmospheric future techno through a wormhole of ambient, drone, and new age, toward an altogether weirder, experimentally tinged genre-agnostic ending. These 80 minutes are meant to feel like one long freefall that gradually slows and transforms as it goes deeper and darker. The final pieces are so far from the first, stylistically & emotionally. Listen when you want to feel different than you do right now.

Press play to hear it now:

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Meltdown [mixtape]

Meltdown may come as a surprise to a lot of listeners. It’s not ambient, it’s not techno, it’s not modern, and it’s not really all that cosmic. But this set of disco-funk-electro-synth floor stompers has a lot in common with the type of music typically shared here. The relentless dance pulse, the future-synth textures, and the lonely nighttime neon vibes are all here. And like all great music, it is deeply psychedelic.

Because a large part of my musical heart belongs to house music and its endless permutations, I always wanted to explore some of the genre’s roots in a mixtape. Especially because it’s long since become sort of synonymous with a white, European audience, I wanted to emphasize the distinctly black and queer origins of the sound. That doesn’t mean there are no white folks in this set; some of the funkiest musicians to play were caucasian as can be. It just means that my ears were focused most directly on the space where disco and funk met Hi-NRG and synth pop, where artists of color were pushing music production forward in a way that the wider world wasn’t always ready for. The tracks here, for my money, feel utterly fresh while undeniably evoking their era: the years surrounding 1982, when I was born.

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