2019 Physical Media Retrospect

A Year of Physical Media

2019 bucked a lot of trends with music distribution. Cassettes are seeing a small comeback likely due to their low-cost and accessibility. CDs were once thought to be going the way of the dinosaur but have enjoyed a moderate increase in sales. Vinyl is still climbing the sales charts and turntable manufacturers are rushing to meet this demand. All of this is great news for physical media, but what physical releases stand out above the rest? Let’s look at 2019’s exceptional releases

Le Butcherettes – bi/MENTAL

The cover and record itself

Fans of gritty garage rock look no further than bi/MENTAL. The Mexican punk band returns with Teri Gender Bender hitting as hard as ever. The rhythms groove and the vocals soar together for raw and authentic punk anthem after anthem. Le Butcherettes take cues from The Melvins and At the Drive-In musically; visually they are from the same school of glam as David Bowie. bi/MENTAL is an album of contrasts. Every song name is formatted like the album title. This consistency of formatting follows with the song’s themes. Every song is a personal survivors anthem dripping in raw, creative anger. Chilean superstar Mon Laferte even joins the band for the song La Sandia. The record itself received a few different variations, including the red and black edition reviewed here.

  • strong/ENOUGH
  • give/UP
  • La Sandia

Tyler, the Creator – Igor

A variety of physical copies of Igor

Tyler, the Creator has grown from his Odd Future shock rap days and has embraced neo-soul. Igor tells the story of a tragic breakup and lost love. The album begins with a 30 second warm analog synthesizer note. Igor’s Theme sets the tone for the album; low fidelity production and moments you wish Tyler would duplicate. During Igor’s Theme you get a short appearance by a church choir, never to hear from them again. Such a simple idea makes a statement of production and writing choice, keeping the listener on edge and not knowing what to expect. Tyler is a capable singer and still chooses to pitch up his voice from his regular baritone register to a head voice. This isn’t Alvin and the Chipmunks though; the emotional impact of the music is still felt.

Features from Playboi Carti, Solange, Kanye West, and Pharell are perfectly timed and never overstay their welcome. Each of these features bring different timbres that fit each song’s intended effect. This isn’t just a neo-soul album, as songs such as A Boy is a Gun* and What’s Good demonstrate how hard Tyler can rap. Igor saw several physical releases, from the standard CD, a pink cassette, 180-gram black vinyl, a picture disc, and a special mint green vinyl with alternative cover.

  • Earfquake
  • A Boy is a Gun*
  • Runnin’ Outta Time

tricot – Repeat

The transparent and glass-like packaging for Repeat.

Japan’s tricot continues to innovate math rock with j-pop sensibilities. The five-track EP begins with a pan-African rhythm on top of an acapella harmony called good morning. Motoko “Motifour” Kida adds her distinct choppy and polyrhythmic guitar playing on top of this building composition. At first this sounds dizzyingly out of time yet perfectly in place at the same time. good morning’s drums never end, smoothly gliding into Great Invention. Time signatures bounce back and forth like a tennis ball across the courtyard. butter is as close to a ballad as the band has written, the six-minute song is moody yet playful. Ikkyu Nakajima focuses solely on singing and the result is a dreamy shoegaze vibe that has something new to discover each listen.

tricot’s independent status allows the to experiment and play with new ideas as well as have fun with the distribution. Repeat is available digitally, but the real fun is with the limited edition mini-disc. French social theorist Jean Baudrillard espouses the virtue and purity of glass in his book System of Objects. Repeat takes this to the next level with ultra-minimalist packaging, with even the data on the disc taking no more space than what is required. This creates a glass-like halo around the music. The semi-transparent art focuses on the object of music; play, rewind, fast forward, progress, and the repeat symbol. The name of the EP may be Repeat, but tricot proves they are moving forward

  • Great Invention
  • butter
  • Warukuchi

Bat for Lashes – Lost Girls


The cover, sunset splatter, and cassette versions of Lost Girls

Lost Girls is the first ablum released by Natasha Khan after becoming independent. Expectations set forth by her previous record company were high; they had hoped for Khan to be the next Bjork or Kate Bush. While these influences are evident, Khan weaves a dreamy catalog of five musical odyssey’s all her own. Like Odysseus, Khan’s journey has many twists and turns for style. Lost Girls tells the story of a group of misfit girls in 1980s Los Angeles. The music is befitting the setting and era. Heavy brassy synths and popping 808 drum samples intermix with Khan’s haunting contra alto to create the perfect setlist for ghouls and ghosts.

The desert atmosphere envelopes songs such as The Hunger, Desert Man, and Vampires, while hints of Duran Duran peek through songs like Feel for You. Variety does not come at the price of consistency; every song is as carefully crafted as the last. Natasha Khan maybe on a new journey as an independent artist, but she is no lost girl.

  • The Hunger
  • So Good
  • Mountains

Opeth – In Cauda Venenum

In Cauda Venenum’s surreal covers

Opeth’s long and illustrious existence as a band has many peaks, with their latest effort In Cauda Venenum being their highest in many years. The album is an ethereal experience, with extra terrestrial synthesizers on Garden of Earthly Delights creating ambient atmospheres. There is a quick 180 turn to heavy metal that is sudden enough to give unexpecting listeners whiplash. Pin-pointing Opeth’s influences and genre is never easy, as this album sets to prove. Within two minutes, Dignity switches from Gregorian chants, jazz inspired rhythms, bluesy guitars, and soft folk music. This is best experienced and not described as words fail to do it justice.

About words, there are two versions available. One is in Swedish and the other in English. This review is about the Swedish version, but both are sung expertly by Mikael Ã…kerfeldt. He no longer does death growls in new music, something dearly missed, but his operatic voice has range enough to cover the entire spectrum of emotion.

  • Dignity
  • Heart in Hand
  • Charlatan

Other Standouts

This is only a small sample of new music released in 2019. Other stand out releases include Tool’s first album in 13 years with Fear Innoculum and the amazing physical edition including a HD screen and art book. Solange released her latest with When I Get Home while paying tribute to Alice Coltrane in the process. Drab Majesty released another synthwave masterpiece with Modern Mirror. New York’s Vampire Weekend released their first album with out the brilliant Rostam Batmanglij, and still managed to create a brilliant pop album. Lingua Ignota released her latest art piece, Caligula, a reflection on the anger and satisfaction felt with revenge. Frank Ocean also left his hideout and released a slew of singles, including four on 7″ vinyl, which are set to release early 2020. A new decade is before us, and music will be here to keep us company.

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Jose Diaz

Collector of analog media.

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