Keys are probably the dearest instrument to my heart, and I love digging into albums to unearth the solos, atmospheres, and melodies that keyboardists create. Below are my top ten picks for keys in 2019.
10. Danny Estrin – Voyager
Aside from having an unmistakable voice, Danny is the keyboardist for Australia’s Voyager, as well. He plays a gorgeous grand piano, but is just as brilliant on the keytar. The final track on the band’s new album has one of my favorite synth solos of the year.
9. Tree Stewart – The Emerald Dawn
Tree plays alongside some amazing musicians in The Emerald Dawn, and she holds her own, sometimes outshining them all. She can do the technical stuff, no problem. On the band’s latest album “Nocturne”, she showed her more textured, atmospheric side, too. She created some of the most haunting passages of music I heard all year.
8. Magnus Holmberg – Darkwater
Darkwater is as melodic as they come, and that is partially due to Magnus’ input. His piercing, emotive keyboard lines are rich and lush to the point where you feel completely immersed. Darkwater wouldn’t be the same without him.
7. Dave Kerzner – In Continuum
With In Continuum, Dave took up the Sound of Contact mantle, and it seems he is the brains behind it all. Because of that, his brilliant keyboard performances on both albums can be missed. One of the best things about SoC was the playful, otherworldly keys and solos, and Dave doesn’t miss a beat with providing more of that luscious, celestial sound I love so well.
6. Michał Wojtas – Amarok
Michał has a great voice and is a fantastic guitarist, as well. On the latest Amarok album, though, he published a progressive electronic album designed to fit a dance called “The Storm”. So, obviously, his keys were front and center, and they were amazing, to say the least. Deep textures, strong melodies, and utter abstraction rule the day in his performance.
5. Peter Baumann and Paul Baslinger – Neuland
Peter and Paul, both former members of Tangerine Dream, released their debut under Neuland. As you can see from the images, their rigs were complex, and for good reason. These two artists created some of the most haunting, transcendent ambient soundscapes I’ve heard in years, and so their performances were brilliant.
4. Anthony Gonzalez – M83
M83’s latest album is like a love affair with keys. It entrances, enchants, and flirts with all sorts of melody, color, and profundity. Anthony’s use of only retro analog synths really enhanced the entire endeavor, as well.
3. Gleb Kolyadin – Iamthemorning
Gleb is one of the best pianists I’ve ever heard. His whirling, fomenting grand piano is always so gorgeous up against Marjana’s raw lyrics and effervescent vocals. On Iamthemorning’s “The Bell”, he is as brilliant as always.
2. Martijn Westerholt – Delain
Over the last year, I have fallen in love with Martijn’s sense of style. Delain released an EP earlier this year, and then a couple new singles. All in all, it wasn’t a full album kind of year for the band, but Martijn’s keys still stuck out in my mind. His epic, proggy, illustrious keyboard solos elevate everything around him, but he’s also accessible and purposefully beautiful with what he plays. I can’t wait to hear more from him on the new Delain record in 2020.
***1. Mats Bender – Introitus***
After hearing Introitus’ latest album “Shadows”, I knew Mats would take the cake in keys for 2019. He is already one of my favorites, but his performance on that album is simply searing, synthy, colorful goodness. Not only does he inject grit or texture into everything he touches, but he even revisited some melodies off the band’s debut album, which won me over immediately. Mats is truly a master at what he does, and he deserves a place with the best of all time.
Have you listened to the Eliot Minn on keyboards in The Far Meadow? I think they are superb.
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