In music, there’s a lot that can be said without ever uttering a single word, and 2019 turned out to be an excellent example of the many ways in which that idea can be borne out. Of course, there are genres where a lyrical no-fly zone is the norm, like jazz, classical, and electronic, so it’s no surprise to find some of the year’s most ear-catching instrumental tunes coming from those quarters (and you will indeed encounter a couple herein). But even in the realms of rock, funk, and folk, where most of the time, vocals are a given, 2019 produced a number of tracks where either the singer stuffs a sock in it or there isn’t one to begin with.
You might think that corralling cuts from all across the stylistic spectrum like this would result in a playlist with only slightly less schizophrenia than a double feature of Shine and A Beautiful Mind and that the disparate genres would wind up sounding incongruent. But that’s not the case at all. Maybe there’s something about the absence of the human voice that normalizes these tunes’ unexpected tumbles into each other.
When the neo-psychedelic guitar frenzy of Chris Forsyth segues into the minimalist avant-jazz of trumpeter Steph Richards, or the elegant, solo acoustic-guitar tapestries of Michael Chapman bump up against the tinkling electronic manipulations of Sarah Louise, and then that segues into the beyond-category madness of TOOL, it ought to feel as if you’re following a circuitous path, but it doesn’t. By the time the syncopated funk grooves of Lettuce give way to the flesh-tearing punk-jazz melee of Blacks’ Myths with a surprising degree of ease, you’ll have long since stopped worrying about genre distinctions and settled into some of the most intoxicating wordless wonders of 2019.