Alex’s Top 5 Albums of 2019!

Gaming Fyx is (for the most part) a podcast about video games; but longtime listeners might know that, at one point in my life, I was a professional musician! I hold a degree in music from Berklee, and have performed all over the world. Music has been a huge part of my life from a very young age, and I’ve gotta say, 2019 was an absolutely stellar year for new music! The end of the year seems like the perfect time to talk about some of the best we’ve seen in 2019, so without further ado, let’s jump right in!

Every album has a hyperlink to its Spotify page, and the highlighted tracks all link directly to those particular songs on Spotify!

Honourable Mentions

Coldrain – The Side Effects
(Post-Hardcore, Metalcore)

The Side Effects is a fantastic effort from this killer Japanese group. “Mayday” is maybe one of my overall favourite songs of the year! The rest of the album is good; but definitely check out “Mayday,” it is super great!

Fuki – Million Scarlets
(J-Pop, Electropop, Power Metal)

Fuki is an exceptional singer – one with an exceptionally powerful, dynamic voice. Her album Million Scarlets explores a ton of genres, from straight-up J-Pop to triumphant Power Metal. It’s a great journey from start-to-finish and has something for everyone. 

Gavin Castleton – Weak Intl.
(Hip Hop, Pop, Electronica)

Gavin is one of my all-time favourite artists, and this album is a 5-song EP which has a total running time of about 5 minutes. It is basically a big diss track, and is steeped within Agile methodology and startup/programmer culture. As a programmer/musician, it hits every part of my psyche in the best ways.

GRiZ – Ride Waves
(Funktronic, Dubstep, Trip Hop)

GRiZ is a force for positivity, along with being a really fantastic musician. I’ve been a big fan of his since his Good Will Prevail album, and will continue to be a fan going forward! Ride Waves is another great album with some heavy hitting songs in his signature, upbeat, catchy style!

Jacob Collier – Djesse Vol. 2
(Jazz, Pop)

I wouldn’t hesitate to say that Jacob is one of modern music’s most brilliant, talented minds. I have a massive amount of respect for him, and Djesse Vol. 2 is an exceptional album. I feel that it is overall better and far more cohesive than Vol 1, even if Vol 2s highest points don’t reach as high as Vol 1s. 

Joanna Wang – Love is Calling Me
(Pop, Folk)

Joanna Wang is my favourite Taiwanese artist, and she makes a triumphant return with an album of her (modern) takes on a bunch of popular, traditional Chinese songs. The arrangements are stunningly gorgeous, and Joanna continues to be one of the most expressive performers I can call to mind. Also, the album switches languages all the time – Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, English… She sounds great in any language!

Leprous – Pitfalls
(Dark Pop, Prog Rock/Metal)

There are few bands with a more diverse catalogue than Leprous. Their first album felt like prog influenced directly by black and death metal, whereas 2019’s Pitfalls feels like a straight-forward pop album with prog elements, and occasionally distorted guitars. It is an easy album to recommend to fans of any genre, and is a wonderful soundtrack to any day!

Snarky Puppy – Immigrance

Immigrance is a slow burn of an album, but when you peel back the layers there is musical brilliance shining back at you behind every arrangement. Snarky Puppy’s musicianship is second-to-none, and any fan of Jazz definitely needs to check out their albums – along with this one, Tell Your Friends and Sylva are modern classics. 

Albums of the Year!

5) Feed Me – High Street Creeps
(EDM, Dubstep)

EDM is a genre where attention to detail and the overall production quality can often differentiate a good artist from a great one. Jon Gooch (Feed Me) can easily be considered a top tier producer, and on top of that, a massively musically creative perfectionist. I’ve been a big fan of his work since 2013, and High Street Creeps is one of his best efforts in quite some time.

The album is diverse, and showcases his ability to be a titan in whatever genre he chooses. Progressive House? He’s got that. Dubstep? Yep. Trap? Not much on this album, but still yes. Big room house? Absolutely. Pop? You know it. The first time listening through High Street Creeps is a fantastic experience because it holds your attention and leaves you anticipating what comes next. I love putting this album on when I’m at work and letting it wash over me as I type away over the course of a day.

Three Highlighted Tracks: Barrel Roll, Own Ghost, Defiant

4) Thank You Scientist – Terraformer
(Progressive Metal, Jazz Fusion)

Thank You Scientist is one of the freshest, most unique bands in the modern prog scene. I was already a huge fan of their catalogue, and was on board to check Terraformer out as soon as it was announced. Originally, I was a bit nervous because of some lineup/personnel changes in the band; but my fears were quickly assuaged as the opening minutes flew by. I think it is safe to say that Terraformer not only holds up to the standards of their previous albums, but it also evolves their sound into something more cohesive, mature, and powerful than ever before.

Every track of this long (nearly 1.5hr) album offers a ton, and each one is super listenable on its own. They have remarkably catchy choruses, often surrounded by the tastiest proggy desserts showcasing the musical proclivities of every member of the band. Their sound continues to be wholly unique – somewhere between jazz, fusion, metal, and pop. Sal’s voice continues to be the glue holding everything together, and I genuinely have very few critiques of the album in general. It is a triumphant album, and an excellent entry point if you have never listened to Thank You Scientist before!

Three Highlighted Tracks: Son of a Serpent, Everyday Ghosts, Anchor

3) Periphery – Periphery IV: HAIL STAN
(Progressive Metal, Djent) 

On-the-whole, Hail Stan is probably the heaviest album on this list; but it is remarkably approachable for people who aren’t already steeped in metal culture. When it wants to hit hard, it hits hard; but the band also knows when to lighten things up and shine a light on the gentler side of their sound. The whole album has a very pleasant “flow,” and there isn’t a single weak track across the entire thing. While it may be less technically complex than some of their previous albums, it is by far their most musically engaging and listenable work to date. It has taken the place of Periphery II as my favourite of their albums, and I can’t emphasize how much I love this album.

Also, while the technicality of the tracks may be dialed back a bit when compared to some of their older albums, that isn’t a bad thing. A criticism some raised against the older albums were how they could be an aural assault of complex guitar lines and time signatures which require a calculator to keep track of. Hail Stan is more structured, and they’ve ditched constantly throwing insane harmonized guitar lines at you in favour of having beautifully crafted songs with thoughtfulness to the cohesive whole (… but also with moments of insane harmonized guitar lines at you – just not so constant anymore). Hail Stan is an amazing album, and in my opinion, a required listen for any fan of modern metal. 

Three Highlighted Tracks: It’s Only Smiles, Blood Eagle, Satellites

2) Clément Belio – Patience
(Prog, Jazz, Metal, Hip Hop, Gospel, Rock)

This album came out of nowhere for me. I happened upon it when browsing the /r/progmetal subreddit for recommendations, and gave it a shot on a whim. I was not prepared for just what a work of art this album would be. I originally started listening to it in the background as I was working; but it quickly commanded my entire attention. By the fourth track I was focused on nothing but the exquisite compositions, elegant arrangements, and spectacular musicality. This album is a masterwork and is now easily one of my all-time favourite albums.

There isn’t a single wasted moment, every note is placed with mindful consideration for its role in the piece, and there are surprises around every corner. One moment you’ll be enjoying a catchy, jazzy ostinato section when it will evolve into a majestic, djent-y, metal evolution of that concept while feeling natural in its progression. It transcends just being a great album, and is – simply put – beautiful. Clément Belio has a lifelong fan in me, and I cannot wait to see what he does next.

Three Highlighted Tracks: Take Your Time, Chromatic Curtain, Trampoline

1)  Devin Townsend – Empath
(Prog, New Age, Ambient, Death Metal, Country, Chamber, Musical Theatre, Rock)

Devin Townsend has been one of my biggest inspirations since I first heard Synchestra back in 2006. I was aware of Strapping Young Lad, and liked them; but Synchestra showed me that the same person who was able to create such brutal, heavy, intense songs could also craft gorgeous, flowery melodies that soothe the soul rather than stir it up. I’ve followed his career ever since, and have been met with albums I’ve adored, along with ones which did almost nothing for me. In all honesty, the album he had put out prior to this one – Transcendence – was a big whiff for me and I was worried that maybe I wasn’t a Devin Townsend fan anymore.

Well… Empath came out, and any expectations I could possibly have had were shattered. Not only am I comfortable and confident in saying I am a huge Devin Townsend fan, I’m also comfortable saying that – to me – Devin is permanently solidified as a musical genius. He and Frank Zappa hold equal footing in my mind, and I can’t emphasize enough just how important that comparison is to me.

Listening to the album for the first time was an event. I set aside everything else I was doing, fired up my studio monitors (fancy speakers), turned off all the lights and gave it my full attention as I experienced it from start to finish. By the time it was over, I was silent for a solid fifteen minutes as I collected my thoughts. The first thing that came to mind was that it is a beautifully personal album. The second is that it was a musical masterpiece, the likes of which I don’t know if I’ll see again in my lifetime. After that was a cascade of feelings the album called to mind, and finally, unconditional adoration.

In my opinion, the album is best listened in one go. While each song is fantastic in its own right, I genuinely think it is an album to be experienced from start to finish. When taken that way, you aren’t listening to ten tracks – instead you’re listening to one idea. It isn’t just an idea however, it is a state of consciousness which demands your attention and takes you along for the ride down its winding path of introspection. Every second of it is curated, and there isn’t a weak moment throughout.

While I could stammer on about the album for a long time, I will leave off with this final thought – Empath is, by far, my favourite album. Not just of 2019, but perhaps of all time.

Three Highlighted Tracks: ……  The whole thing.

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