Friday, January 3, 2020

Best Albums (& Song) of 2019

Previous editions: 2018 albums and songs,  2017 albums and songs, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012.

As for 2019, here goes...

Best albums #20-#11

20. Julia Jacklin - Crushing
19. Matthew Logan Vasquez - Light'n Up
18. Purple Mountains - Purple Mountains
17. Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell!
16. Jim Jones and the Righteous Mind - CollectiV
15. Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow
14. Jim James, Teddy Abrams & the Louisville Orchestra - The Order of Nature
13. Jenny Lewis - On The Line
12. Better Oblivion Community Center - Better Oblivion Community Center
11. FONTAINES D.C. - Dogrel

And a little slower for the top ten...

10. Death Machine - Orbit
Image result for death machine orbit"

This album came out in November and I only seriously listened to it in December. When I was playing with the order of my top 20, it cropped up and I had to drop something off, then it kept climbing when I compared it with albums higher up the list.

Maybe it's recency bias, but I just couldn't keep this Danish downbeat gem out of my top 10.

Perfect music for writing, or the arrival of a climate apocalypse.

9. The Murder Capital - When I Have Fears
Image result for murder capital when i have fears"

Ireland produced the two great rock debuts of 2019. Where FONTAINES D.C. is more straight-ahead punk, The Murder Capital is post-punk - less angry, more articulate, but prone to the odd art-school-dropout overreach.

I'm excited to see where both these bands go next.

8. Big Thief - Two Hands
Image result for big thief two hands album cover"

Big Thief put out their third album, UFOF, in May 2019, and it has some good songs and one great track ('Cattails'). But the band wasn't quite done after recording UFOF and went back into the studio to record its "Earth twin", Two Hands, which is the stronger, more cohesive, more urgent album.

Looking forward to seeing them in Wellington in May 2020!!

7. Orville Peck - Pony
Image result for orville peck pony"

Roy Orbison eat your heart out, cover your face in leather fringe and confess your love for a fellow cowboy!

I'm not averse to gimmicks and alter-egos in music (see the way Lana Del Rey always seems to squeak onto my best of the year lists), but the music has to stand on its own feet - and Pony certainly does that.

6. Angie McMahon - Salt
Image result for angie mcmahon album cover"

There are a lot of female singer-songwriters on this list. McMahon's sounds is probably the most rock-adjacent. There's echoes of fellow Australian Courtney Barnett in the self-deprecating humour (see 'Pasta'), but McMahon is a more traditional singer, which means she's good company in most any situation.

5. The Rails - Cancel the Sun
Image result for the rails cancel the sun"

On first listen I thought, "This sounds like an updated version of Richard and Linda Thompson", and then I found out that the lead female vocalist, Kami Thompson, is their daughter. This is another husband and wife duo (the dude is James Walbourne) but it's not just a carbon copy of the previous generation.

It sounds fresh and timeless. Great stuff.

4. Marika Hackman - Any Human Friend
Image result for marika hackman any human friend"

If Angie McMahon is rock-adjacent, Hackman is the pop-adjacent singer-songwriter on this list, with more electronic blips and beats and the kind of melodies you find yourself humming when hanging out the washing.

But it's when you focus on the lyrics, which are dark and mordantly funny, that these songs take on their full power.

I loved her debut in 2017, and she's taken it to another level here.

3. Allie Crow Buckley - So Romantic
Image result for allie crow buckley so romantic"

'So Romatic' only has six songs, so it's better described as an EP than a full album. And the final track, a cover of Black Sabbath's 'Changes' I can take or leave. But the other five songs are so great, each a world unto themselves, that this feels like a major event.

I've listened to these songs so much over the last 11 months, and have no reservation putting So Romantic this high.

2. Pedro the Lion - Phoenix
Image result for pedro the lion phoenix"

I've praised Dave Bazan before on this blog (see: 2018's song of the year). I was excited about his return to the Pedro the Lion moniker, if only that it meant new material in early 2019. But Phoenix exceeded my expectations.

'Yellow Bike' is the greatest song about childhood and the melancholy of nostalgia. (Bonus points for my son, who got his first pedal-bike this year, liking the song, too.)

'Quietest Friend' might be the best song Bazan has ever written. 'Model Homes' is surely in his top 10.

Just a great fucking album from a new hero of mine.

1. Aldous Harding - Designer
Image result for aldous harding designer"

I appreciated Harding's previous album, 2017's Party, without properly loving it. But in Designer, it felt like the weirdness and idiosyncrasy fully fused with the music and I couldn't help fall madly for this album.

My kids love 'The Barrel' (though the blue alien mask in the video freaks them out) and 'Fixture Picture' - a sure barometer of Harding's pop-hit chops. 'Zoo Eyes', 'Designer', and 'Pilot' compete for the best song on the album from an 'adult contemporary' perspective, if that category was applied to grown ups who enjoy being challenged (rather than the opposite).

These songs are great live - or maybe it's better to say that Harding is great live: no song is ever sung quite the same way. It's so powerful to see someone sit inside their oddness, to be their oddness, and make art you know will hold its power as the years pass.

There's no artist, from NZ or otherwise, I'm more excited about seeing where they go next than Aldous Harding.

Song of the Year

As with previous years, if an artist has an album on the list above they're automatically disqualified from this category.

In researching this year's winner, I grew to love the album on which this one song appears, but I figure it's better to have the number 1 song than an album somewhere in the 8-16 range. 

Before I get to the winner, some highly commended ribbons:
  • 'Scare Easy' - T Hardy Morris
  • 'Exit Stations' - NE-HI
  • 'Monster Moon' - Sun June

But the champ this year is 'I Get No Joy' by Jade Bird

Image result for jade bird"
Catchy, angry, ironically joy-inducing, in and out in two and a half minutes... what a single!

Jade Bird has such a great voice. Despite the song hurtling forward at 90 miles an hour, her phrasing is immaculate. The fast-twitch version of Phoebe Bridgers. 

Check out her self-titled debut album, too, please and thank you. I certainly will be listening to it a lot in January.

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