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.
I say this with no reservation: Steve Hauschildt is one of the most creatively generous artists working in electronic music today. His work is utterly timeless, unmoored from trends and familiar signposts alike. On his latest album, Strands, he seamlessly blends the entire spectrum of dreamy synthesizer music into a breathless futuristic rush.
Where All Is Fled crawled under my skin after a while. I listened, I liked it, and I listened again. Then I kept listening at work. I looped the album every time I drove. This sound world was burrowing its way inside me for weeks before I realized what was happening. The way this album became one of my favorites of the past year was almost… passive aggressive.
Basically, I feel like turning everything into craziness. It’s off, it won’t ever match, it’s.. what?
This is perfect.
I meant the music; this is one of the most perfect moments so far during my journey through all 110 freely shared Aphex Twin (as user48736353001 on Soundcloud) songs. The couplet of 4 Red Calx[slo] and luke vibert spiral staircase [future music competition] [afx remix] stands apart in a menagerie of music that already consists of some of the best stuff I’ve heard all year. Completely given away for free.
Red Calx is an aural lullaby in hushed, ambient tones. Ultra-minimal construction, with merely a small, undulating melody slowly evaporates into fog, it’s gorgeous in a highly specific way. Brian Eno would have sold his soul for this little riff. There’s nothing much to it, but what is there is undeniable.
The second track races through a laser forest over a wobbly synth rhythm and noodly ray gun melodies, a perfect counterpoint to the meditative calm before it.
Those words at the beginning? The remnants of trying to blog drunk from my phone, apparently. I found an unpublished post that I don’t remember starting. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
If you’re an Aphex fan and haven’t already done so, get to the user48736353001 page and click Download on everything. Absolutely everything. This is great music by one of the most important artists alive today, and it’s free. You can also simply listen to it streaming, but there’s no guarantee this music will remain in perpetuity.