Where Did All the Good Music Go? It’s Right Here

With the 2019 Grammy’s just passed and a recent New York Times op-ed bemoaning the loudness wars and poor sound quality of today’s top artists, I figured it was the perfect time to put together a list of music recommendations.

I’ve put together this list not in the interest of refuting claims that the Billboard Top 40 hits aren’t poorly recorded and mastered (they are) nor am I actually all that interested in rebelling against the Grammy’s – I work as a musician and engineer and pay pretty much no attention to them in the first place. What I’m looking to do is draw attention to new music and artists who do sincerely care about sound quality, and luckily, there’s so many out there I had a hard time paring the list down to just twelve.

All of the music on this list is from 2019. I think that says a lot about how much good stuff really is out there. I’ve attempted to curate the list with an eye towards diversity, and it has a little bit of everything on it, from electronic to classical, so I’m hoping it will have a little something for almost everyone out there. All the album on this list I’ve listened to several times and feel confident in recommending them for both their musical and sonic qualities, both on headphones and on two-channel systems.

So, whether you follow the Grammy’s and the loudness wars or not, my hope is that this list introduces you to some fresh and exciting new music and encourages you to dig further into all the music being released lately that does sound good. Happy listening!

  • Manu Katche – The Scope Jazz fusion with electronic and French house elements.
  • Julia Kent – Temporal Cello and other instruments on a loop pedal, sort of ethereal, ambient or soundtrack type music, but more melodic than chillout electronic.
  • R.L. Burnside – Long Distance Blues music from a legend, recorded pristinely. You can even understand some of what he’s saying on this album.
  • Ivan Conti – Poison Fruit Brazilian music of all kinds, from experimental to straight ahead samba and bossa nova.
  • Nicola Cruz – Siku Ethnic Central American instruments combined with light electronic elements.
  • Mavis Staples – Live in London Soul music, Mavis Staples style.
  • Eva Zaicik – Venez Chere Ombre Classical music from the baroque period, some operatic elements.
  • Que Vola ? – Que Vola ? Frame drums and small drums combined with jazzy brass and wind instruments.
  • Rival Sons – Feral Roots Rock n’ Roll.
  • Aaron Siegel – A Great Many Minimalist/Soundtrack-esque Classical music, somewhat similar to John Adams or Steve Reich, but with more melodic movement.
  • City Girl – Somnolent Nova Electronic chillwave.
  • HieYon Choi – Beethoven Piano Sonatas Nos. 18, 26, 27, 30 A fascinating new take on some of Beethoven’s lesser known piano sonatas.

jpelg's picture

After bemoaning how several septuagenarians handily showed up "artists" a quarter of their age, and singers who can't seem to manage a live performance on-key, yet received "album of the year" and "country album of the year" awards, I look forward to going through your list. Thank you!

Bisbee68's picture

I'm steaming Rival Sons on Tidal right now. It is very good! Though I would hesitate to call it a rock album. Alternative perhaps.
My vote for one of the best rock albums of 2018 would be Godsmack's "When Legends Rise". Though there were many awesome rock albums to come out in 2018.
Thanks for making the list/suggestions! I will definitely be a Rival Sons listener from here on out!

Grover Neville's picture

Maybe rock and roll was a little too emphatic. Honestly though, unless we're talking about Greta Van Fleet throwback stuff, almost all of the new 'alternative' music I hear nowadays sounds like rock to me. But genre aside, I liked it so that's what really matters. Glad you're enjoying it in any case! You might also look up White Denim's more recent work if you liked the Rival Sons album.

Bisbee68's picture

Thanks for the suggestion! I will definitely check them out too!

RyanG's picture

Thanks for all of your music updates! Here is a spotify playlist i made with songs from 2018: https://open.spotify.com/user/ericwerner/playlist/0DFIdzBPvFd70cFBZvSjM3...

It runs the gamut from Sleep to boygenius to Accu, Low, and Janelle Monae. Thanks again for all of your music tips!

Grover Neville's picture

Cool! I’ll check it out. If you’re interested, and you use Facebook, I help run a group called ‘New Album Releases’ on FB. We have contributors in various genres and we look through each weeks album releases and recommend albums each week that are musically and sonically excellent. You might find more things you like there.

MRC01's picture

Grover, thanks for the recommendations! The Eva Zaicik recording is one of the best I have heard. Sublime music, expertly performed and extremely well recorded. Not only big dynamics, but excellent tonal balance and natural voicing.

But I don't understand how you could recommend Rival Sons as a good recording. So much dynamic compression it squeezes all the life out of the music, it measures only a DR5! I found nothing special about this recording, sadly typical over-compressed and over-processed. This is solid good rock music that deserves a better recording.

Grover Neville's picture

Thanks for the comment. Yes, its quite compressed - however I’ll point out that its not nearly as conpressed as most of the current rock music coming out, which isn’ nevessarily a good argument however, I don’t nevessarily see compression as a bad thing. If things are brickwalled to distortion at the cost of any soundstage or quality, yes, it is too much. However there are some albums that are hugely compressed that i still find enjoyable and sonically worthwhile. Jean Rohe and the end of the world show is an album ive played to a really good reception for a lot of audiophiles, and its actually quite compressed, although it still sounds excellent.
Basically, I think of it this way. The ear does some automatic compression during live listening, and in fact things that are TOO dynamic, like some very quiet classical can be less than enjoyable. I think a certain amount if compression to further the pleasing illusion in our homes is warranted in this case. Tellarc Recordings for example are close mikes and bave some compression, but are among the most popular classical recordings of all time.
Again, none of this is to say that I advicate over compressing things. I dont, but I also understand, as a recording engineer and musician, that Rock music has a long history with compression which audiophiles aren’t about to untangle. I believe that even loud, compressed rock music still has the potential for good sound (detail, tone, frequency balance, dynamic and transient punch, clean bass, etc.)
Again, thats my take. I think in terms of fidelity you’re right - more compression is more loss of detail. However, in my student days I tried to do some really pristine rock recordings of bands at my conservatory. They usually disnt sound that great. Its VERY hard to get distorted electric guitars to sound all prostine and pretty. They aren’t that way to begin with usually. Its possible, but quite difficult. My point with this is not to defend overcompression, but rather to say that when I jusge an album, yes I take fidelity into account, but I also take sonic oersonality into account. A classical album recorded like the Rival Sons album would be atrocious. Rival sons recorded like a classical album would be less than pleasant I suspect. The sonics are a bit gritty, like the music. In a sense, this is a value jusgemet that is totally subjective. But isnt the musical choice subjective as well? I know audiophiles who listen to ariana grande on expensive systems. Would I recommend an album like that on an audiophile blog? No, probably not. But what itcomes down to for me is ultimately the MUSIC first, and the a somic check to make sure it has a level of fidelity I find acceptable for audiophile listening. I would love to be super picky about recordings, but unfortunately if I did that, I would have a list full of classical and some jazz, and that wouldnt be very interesting now would it? I do also strive for musical variety.
Which, if you’re interested (and use Facebook) do check out the group ‘New Album Releases’ in which I and several contributors pore through new album releases every week and try to curate the best musical and sonic releases we can find. There is a LOT of good classical already in 2019.

MRC01's picture

I appreciate your detailed thoughts. Like you, I don't mind some compression, especially with rock music where it can make a more exciting sound. But past a certain point it sounds artificial and detracts from the artistic expression. If you're a drum or bass player, there's a difference between ba-da-DAT, ba-DA-dat, and BA-da-dat. Too much compression squashes this and other subtleties of musical expression -- it turns into a crushing wall of sound -- which can be a powerful artistic effect, but one that becomes even more powerful when it has dynamic contrast to accentuate it!

By comparison of "how much is too much", take a PF classic, Wish You Were Here. I believe it's among the best recorded rock albums of all time and I just measured mine at DR14. Steven Wilson's Yes remix, another candidate for "best sounding rock album", measures DR13. By comparison, Feral Roots is DR5. With that kind of DR, it might as well be an 8-bit recording!

I understand bands want to use compression to make it sound as loud as possible on the radio, on streaming for people listening on cheap earbuds in noisy environments. Why not go ahead and do that, yet make the CD and high res downloads less compressed and higher quality?

BTW, I don't mean to nit-pick or start another endless "loudness war" debate. I appreciate your taste and will check out your other recommendations.

steazeus's picture

I registered an account just so that I could comment and say that I was genuinely surprised at the quality of these picks. Didn't expect to find such good music from IF. Poison Fruit is in particular straight up fire. Keep it up with these music picks!

Grover Neville's picture

Glad to hear it! I really put a lot of though into this regarding variety, sound quality and musical interest.
Expect to see more of this going forward, and if you want a weekly collection of great new albums, do check out New Album Releases on Facebook. We basically do this for new albums every week!



guerillaw's picture

Thank you for taking the time to make these recommendations, but please include a format or formats where the music is available and/or sounds its best. I prefer to listen to Vinyl, some people hate it, so it would help to know how you heard the music at its best to track down the right version or know the version is not for you.

There are , unfortunately, many times when a wonderful LP is rendered far less so by a terrible digitization onto CD or vie versa when the only LPs available are horrible pressings and you are better off with a high res copy.

Keep up the good work.