2019: First Quarter Favorites 23 incredible releases from the last three months

For each year's first three quarters, we celebrate by sharing a list of our favorite music releases. Unlike our year-end lists, these quarter features are casually compiled, with an aim to spotlight the underdogs and the lesser-heard among the more popular picks. More from this series

Open wide! As we head deeper into 2019, decade-end lists will start vomiting across our fractured media landscape, and they’ll all be frustratingly, beautifully incomplete. Incredible music is always slipping through the cracks for various reasons, and unfortunately “timing” is one of them. Like how it went for, say, Some Rap Songs for TMT last year and Bish Bosch (RIP!) for nearly everyone in 2012, some of our favorite 2019 releases will be sacrificed due to timing.

This year’s quarter lists will hopefully temper the expected biases of these features (including our own). And if these first few months are any indication, then we can expect not so much decade-defining statements as simple gestures oscillating between specificity and ubiquity: from death to immortality (Nivhek, ana roxanne), from schizoid psychodrama to black sprituality (j. b. glazer, Solange), from loss to wholeness (Maja S. K. Ratkje, Crystallmess), from a passing void we hardly knew was there (Nonlocal Forecast) to worlds that never really existed (The Caretaker). It will be diffuse (Triad God). It will be infinite (Yugen Blakrok). It will be Universal (Ariana Grande). WOW!

Love you all for reading the site. Thank you, thank you.

Triad God

黑社會 Triad


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In 2012, the FBI shut down Megaupload, Vladimir Putin was elected president of Russia, and CERN discovered the Higgs boson. It was the end of the Mayan calendar, but the beginning of Triad God. NXB, the first collaboration between Palmistry and London-based MC Vinh Ngan, entered the Hippos in Tanks catalog at the height of the label’s iconic status, nestled alongside career highlights from the likes of James Ferraro, Nguzunguzu, Gatekeeper, Physical Therapy, and Dean Blunt. Much of what Birkut wrote in the TMT review of NXB could still be written about Triad God; Vinh is still mumbling bilingual rhymes over “dreamy, fashionable electronic music,” and indeed the phrase “fashionable electronic music” reappears in Alex Brown’s review of 黑社會 Triad. But it should also be said that 黑社會 Triad is more than a mirror of contemporary fashion. It is a lush and possessing affair, through which boundaries — between tracks, between languages, between people — become mobile and diffuse, like wafting pillars of smoke. While some have benefited in their enjoyment of 黑社會 Triad by picking up some Cantonese, I like listening to it through the veil of untranslation. In any case, its primary means of address is not verbal. In familiarity and idiosyncrasy alike, it calls upon all of us to listen in new ways.

Nonlocal Forecast

Bubble Universe!

[Hausu Mountain]

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Not many people bother with cable TV anymore. The ritual of waking up, flipping the TV to The Weather Channel, putting on the coffee while the week’s temperatures and precipitation estimates linger about the screen — all that’s fading in the age of the smartphone. And with it fades a sublime musical space, where soft, kinda-jazzy music buries itself in the blue haze of a screen. The Weather Channel was among the last hideouts for the strange ambiance of fusion and New Age, most of which evokes the mood of a dentist’s office from the 90s. And yet it’s a sound I now relish, something that scratches the itch of recollection mixed with fascination. Nonlocal Forecast’s album Bubble Universe! is very much informed by music(s) associated with The Weather Channel, but Angel Marcloid successfully avoids the hackneyed theme of nostalgia by exploring a realm that’s original and hitherto unexamined. Picking up the sonic torch from a passing void we hardly knew was there, she hones in on the structural/melodic underpinnings of New Age/jazz fusion until they transform into HD MIDI iterations more suited for 2019. This polished, shimmering glacier of an album is bound to make you feel something, though what that is I can’t really tell you. But whatever it might be, it’s surely to be a feeling you can’t quite place, one that’s somehow both familiar and strange.

Maja S. K. Ratkje


[Rune Grammofon]

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Hunger (in Norwegian, Sult) envies many ardors. There’s the book, the ballet, and now the song, each that fastens onto a hunger that is real, even if that for which is hungered has become imaginary or unreal, in loss or in satiety. For who ever desires what is not gone? While her handsewn organ spins its breathy yearning, dissolving its desire into the dust that burdens not even the air, Maja S. K. Ratkje’s voice traces that sublime but sorrowful emptiness that, in utter absence, suffers no pain of desire, full of the things it lacks. How luscious is loss! In a trembleless treble, her clarity, like love itself, bade us welcome to feast and to fast on our lack, and we felt deliciously of it.

Jay Mitta

Tatizo Pesa

[Nyege Nyege Tapes]

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Tatizo Pesa, the second entry into the ongoing Sisso Studios series from Nyege Nyege Tapes, is always on the brink: Teetering on impassability but somehow firmly reachable. Within the boundaries of definable club music trends, past and present — witness that warp-speed Night Slugs vibe on “Mwakidimba,” the MC-led title track, and G-funk by way of DJ Rashad synth bursts passim — yet only ever riding its own wave, a sui generis eruption of knotty beats and flailing limbs. Jay Mitta constructs a singeli funhouse, one in which the generic elements are turned inside-out, splayed and punctured by relentless drums, pillars of bass, and meowing cats. Indeed, as with the other movers and shakersin Dar Es Salaam, time itself seems like a flingable object in Jay Mitta’s toolbox; I lose myself momentarily between the beats of the exemplary “Don Bet,” only finding my footing again when that delirious synth line reemerges, and then… fade out. Don’t second guess Tatizo Pesa, not for one minute.

Ariana Grande

thank u, next


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Hey, what the heck is this fluffy sack of saccharine doing on one of TMT’s esoteric, highfalutin, indisputably taste-making quarter favorites lists?? I blame it on Grande’s illimitable croon reaching downright eerie new heights of soothing intimacy and emotional intensity on this release — coupled with the fact that it dropped riiiiiiiight in time for Valentine’s Day, and all of us here at the TMT Advanced Center For Needlessly Critical Listening were basically sucrose-high and champagne-drunk during that whole middle week of February. It also didn’t hurt that Grande’s deft modernization of classic Pop tropes and Romantic texts gave all of us aging, jaded hipsters hope that there are still a few ways left for a tune to wring a little universality out of our private romantic blunders. I mean: I’d gladly pop a dozen candy-coated tablets each day in order to wake up in the morning and feel like I wasn’t some emotionally abnormal and isolated piece of shit, wouldn’t you?

For each year's first three quarters, we celebrate by sharing a list of our favorite music releases. Unlike our year-end lists, these quarter features are casually compiled, with an aim to spotlight the underdogs and the lesser-heard among the more popular picks. More from this series

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