Okay, so I had a hard time editing this down to under 2 hrs of music for this edition. That’s a reasonable playlist length, right? Some got pushed to next time because there’s a lot music coming out right now. I got into a lot of new latin music in the last few weeks, so there’s probably more latin music in this edition than I’ve ever included before. US, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Chile, Spain, Nigeria, UK, and Australia all represented by the artists included here.
Kansas City band, Making Movies, has long been a favorite that I’ve shared here. Each of their full-length records has been featured here. Now theyve shared their cover of “Listening Wind” by Talking Heads, and I am absolutely loving it. They’ve got a new album on the way, so more to come!
I’m a huge fan of this new Flock of Dimes album, Head of Roses. “Price of Blue” certainly grabbed my attention before the album was released. Flock of Dimes is the solo outlet of Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak. She has also collaborated and toured with Bob Iver and Sylvan Esso. Some of these collaborators make appearances on the record including Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso and Matt McCaughan of Bon Iver. Where other projects Wasner has done are collaborative efforts, though, Flock of Dimes is her own artistic vision, and it showcases her strength as a songwriter. In this, her second full-length, the growth in songwriting is evident. This is among my favorites so far this year.
Other favorites in this edition are Tony Allen, Centavrvs, Xenia Rubinos, Rodrigo y Gabriela, and Hiss Golden Messenger.
tracklist: Flock of Dimes – 2 Heads The Joy Formidable – Into the Blue Goat Girl – They Bite On You Tune-yards – Cannonball Field Music – No Pressure Jungle – Keep Moving Dub Collective – Shield & Spear Tony Allen, Sampa the Great, – Stumbling Down Making Movies, Calvin Arsenia, Jeremy Kittel – Listening Wind Buscabulla – Eva Dessa – Life on Land Helado Negro – Futurism Flock of Dimes – One More Hour Xenia Rubinos – Did My Best Clara Peya, Alba Flores, Ana Tijoux – Mujer Frontera Mello Music Group, Open Mike Eagle, Elaquent, Namir Blade – Symbol of Hope Phife Dawg, Redman, Busta Rhymes – Nutshell Pt II L’Orange, Namir Blade, Quelle Chris – Point to Point Mello Music Group, Oddisee – No Trouble Camila Moreno – Hice a Mi Amor Llorar Centavrvs, Cornelio Reyna Tercero – Me Cai De La Nube Marinah – Desalma Nano Stern, Simón González – Ya Es Tiempo Rodrigo y Gabriela – Street Fighter Mas Valerie June – Two Roads Waxahatchee – Light of a Clear Blue Morning Hiss Golden Messenger – Sanctuary Quivers – Radio Song Middle Kids – Today We’re The Greatest Tune-Yards – be not afraid.
I had a list of over 40 artists to work through for this edition. When it came time to start writing this post, I still had a lot of decisions to make. Some gets cut, some gets pushed to next time because it just doesn’t fit… and this is the list I’ve managed to build this time around.
No One Sing Like You Anymore, the new posthumous album of covers by Chris Cornell actually came out back in December, but the release was rather quiet, and at the time I was writing my year-end posts so it slipped by me. There is some really good material here, and some of it unheard before. Several of them had been performed live and were well-known. Chris had performed Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” a number of times, and had performed Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire” at a Temple of the Dog reunion show as well. I’ve enjoyed this collection, and it really shows how broad Cornell’s listening and influences were (Something you probably already know if you’re at all familiar with his music over the years). No one sings like Chris anymore.
Marlon Craft has a new album out that I’ve not yet listened to, but he also has this new single that isn’t on the album and that song has really grabbed my attention this week. I was not really all that familiar with his music before, but “State of the Union” certainly made me want to be. So expect more from Marlon Craft because I’ll be giving his new album How We Intended a listen soon.
Describing bands and artists is something I sometimes find difficult, because genres don’t have clear boundaries. The Weather Station has fallen victim to this before by simply getting slapped with the labels “folk” and “singer-songwriter” as if that were enough to tell you what her music sounded like. The new album, Ignorance, has quite a big sound. It delves into jazz rhythms and definite pop beats, big string arrangements as well as more sparsely-arranged and intimate moments. The album feels versatile with the ease it moves from song to song, and Lindeman’s gentle voice ties it all together so well.
It’s a long list this edition, but it’s some really great stuff. Some other favorites of mine this time were Corvair, Arooj Aftab, David Huckfelt, Gotham, and Flyying Colours.
tracklist: Chvrches – Science/Visions Corvair – Sailor Down The Weather Station – Tried to Tell You BoomBaptist – Komfort Food Namir Blade, L’orange – Corner Store Scandal Tony Allen, Ben Okri, Skepta – Cosmosis Tune-Yards – make it right. St Vincent – Pay Your Way in Pain Chris Cornell – Get It While You Can Middle Kids – R U 4 Me? Sharon Van Etten, Big Red Machine – A Crime Wolf Alice – The Last Man on Earth Joe Pug – Crescent Bridge Valley Maker – Pine Trees Eliza Shaddad – Blossom David Huckfelt – Land of Room Enough and Time Enough Bow Thayer – This Thing Called God Arooj Aftab – Mohabbat Mdou Moctar – Tala Tannam Vic Mensa, Wyclef Jean, Chance the Rapper – SHELTER Marlon Craft – State of the Union Mello Music Group, L’Orange, Solemn Brigham, Marlowe Aesop Rock – Long Legged Larry Gotham, Talib Kweli, Diamond D, Busta Rhymes – The Quiet One Claud – Gold Flyying Colours – White Knuckles
Whew, it’s been a week. I didn’t write anything, but I do have a playlist here!
tracklist: Making Movies – Could You? Dessa – Bombs Away PRICE, Bas, Wyclef Jean – Selfish Django Django – Right the Wrongs Japanese Breakfast – Be Sweet Chaka Khan, Idina Menzel – I’m Every Woman Black Pumas, Lucius – Strangers Bruno Mars, Anderson.Paak, Silk Sonic – Leave the Door Open Damian Jurado – Helena Fruit Bats – On The Avalon Stairs Middle Kids – Stacking Chairs Flyying Colours – Goodtimes Dry Cleaning – Strong Feelings Gretchen Parlato – Sweet Love Madlib – The New Normal Valerie June – Stay Emilee, Maya Jane Coles – Rodeo (Maya Jane Coles Remix) Jehnny Beth, Rone – French Countryside (Rone Remix) Rick Holmstrom – Don’t Wake Me Nathaniel Rateliff – Redemption Painted Shrines, Woods – Heaven and Holy Neil Young – Like a Hurricane (Live)
Another big list again this edition as there is a lot of great new music coming right now. As has become typical of the Fortnightly, this one covers a lot of ground stylistically, and hopefully brings some things to the surface that weren’t previously familiar to you.
Rick Holmstrom has not released a solo album for about 9 years, but he’s released plenty as guitar player and band leader for Mavis Staples. His new album, See That Light, gives a look at what makes Rick such a great artist himself. Listening to Rick has a throwback sound, but with a freshness not found with just any seasoned and skilled picker. Holmstrom had recorded and toured with various bluesmen and bands before spending the last nearly 15 years as bandleader for Mavis Staples, and becoming a big part of her tightknit and straightforward blues-gospel sound. His tremolo-drenched guitar sound reaches back to influences that would have to include Mavis own father, Pop Staples (who was well-known for heavy use of tremolo).
One of the more unusual artists included this edition is Senyawa. Rully Shabara and Wukir Suryadi formed the experimental group in 2010 in Yogyakarta on the Indonesian island of Java. while having a modern, avante-garde, experimental aesthetic, the group also include various traditional instruments and vocal techniques, and often has taken on the descriptor “neo-tribal” along side “metalcore”. Unafraid to mix modern with traditional as well as blending edgy with atmospheric. Alkisah is their 9th studio album.
Other favorites in this edition include Fruit Bats, Black Thought, Flock of Dimes, and hey… how about that Tom Jones tune?
tracklist: Rostam – These Kids We Knew Fruit Bats – Holy Rose Dinosaur Jr – I Ran Away Black Pistol Fire – Pick Your Poison When Rivers Meet – Walking On The Wire Rick Holmstrom – Take My Hand Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio – From the Streets Black Thought, C.S. Armstrong, Angela Hunte – Welcome to America Slowthai – focus Valerie June – Why the Bright Stars Glow Anisa Romero – Sliver Julien Baker – Bloodshot Cassandra Jenkins – Michaelangelo Sun June – Singing Midnight Alleys – Broken Ties & Stolen Lines Wild Pink – Pacific City Bow Thayer – Ata Ni Flock of Dimes – Price of Blue Tom Jones – Talking Reality Television Blues The Hold Steady – The Prior Procedure Senyawa – Alkisah II Chihei Hatakeyama – Night Wind
It’s hard to know quite where to start or who to feature for Black History Month. You could focus on any era in recorded music, and include hours of music that shaped and changed everything after it. So where to start, where to end, the iconic or the understated influences? Nothing any of us listens to now is without a debt of gratitude to black artists. What would our musical tradition be without The Supremes, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, or Jimi Hendrix?
As someone who grew up in the a bubble of Christian music, my first breaking out of that bubble was Blues and Classic rock. I was led there by beginning to learn guitar in high school, and I was drawn to the notable guitar players. These days I find Classic Rock Radio to be one of the most intolerable things to listen to. Don’t get me wrong, I still love a lot of the music they play, but I find it to be one of the most whitewashed spaces you’re likely to encounter. Aside from a few Hendrix songs in regular rotation, you’ll not find black artists represented on Classic Rock stations. Prince will usually be ignored. Freddie King will be ignored. James Brown will be ignored. Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters will be ignored. They’ll acknowledge the influence, but not the actual music. It leaves you with the impression that black artists only affected the landscape of our musical tradition in an indirect way, and it drives me nuts. So, that’s my long-held rant that I needed to get off my chest.
I gathered over 6 hrs of music for this playlist before really starting to arrange things in some kind of order, and had to whittle things down. Being undecided over what criteria I was using, I tried to keep a mix of the iconic, the influential, the forgotten, the overlooked, the poignant, the past, the present. 65 songs, but it really is just skimming the surface in many ways and there is much more I could have included. Maybe you’ll find much of it familiar, and maybe you’ll discover something long-hidden. Enjoy!
Robert Johnson – Terraplane Blues Lead Belly – Midnight Special Muddy Waters – I Just Want to Make Love to You Jimi Hendrix – Bold As Love LL Cool J – Rock The Bells Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar – Freedom The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go Freddie King – Going Down Otis Redding – (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay Billie Holiday – Yesterdays Charlie Parker – April in Paris The Meters – Cissy Strut Nina Simone – Wild is the Wind Mississippi John Hurt – Louis Collins Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit The Staple Singers – Why? (Am I Treated so Bad) Sam Cooke – A Change is Gonna Come Marvin Gaye – Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) Moses Sumney – Rank & File Baby Huey – Hard Times Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Steal Away Aretha Franklin – Spirit in the Dark Curtis Mayfield – Move On Up Isaac Hayes – Our Day Will Come Wu Tang Clan – C.R.E.A.M. Bad Brains – Banned in D.C. Afrika Bambaataa, The Soulsonic Force – Renegades of Funk Sly & The Family Stone – I Want to Take You Higher Childish Gambino – Boogieman Ray Charles – Let the Good Times Roll Magic Sam – Sweet Home Chicago Little Richard – Long Tall Sally Wilson Pickett – In The Midnight Hour Etta James – Fool That I Am Bill Withers – Use Me Fela Kut, Africa 70 – Zombie Sinkane – Passenger Funkadelic – Can You Get to That Prince – I Wanna Be Your Lover Ibibio Sound Machine – Just Go Forward (Ka I So) Grace Jones – The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game Betty Davis – They Say I’m Different Queen Latifah – Nature of a Sista’ Public Enemy – Bring the Noise Songhoy Blues – Voter Kele – Between Me and My Maker N.W.A. – Express Yourself Albert King – Born Under a Bad Sign Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode James Brown – The Payback Nas – N.Y. State of Mind Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans – Blue in Green Duke Ellington, John Coltrane – In a Sentimental Mood A Tribe Called Quest – Check the Rhime Sudan Archives – Pay Attention Junior Murvin – Police & Thieves Bob Marley & The Wailers – Waiting In Vain Stevie Wonder – You are the Sunshine of my Life Ann Peebles – Run, Run, Run Meklit, Preservation Hall Horns – You Are My Luck Gil Scott-Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised Rapsody, Mereba – Myrlie Kendrick Lamar, Rapsody – Complexion (A Zulu Love) Mavis Staples – I’ll Be Rested Elmore James – The Sky is Crying
There’s some new songs here that have me really excited. Those sort of songs that you can listen to over and over, and that you can really feel. New releases have really picked up quick, and here I am with the second list in a row that is a full hour and a half long. I took a look back this weekend as well. As of 2 weeks ago, I’ve been making these Fortnightly Playlists for 5 years. I didn’t start writing here until toward the end of the first year when I decided I wanted to write a little more for my year-end favorites in 2016, but the first Fortnightly Playlist appeared on January 31st, 2016. I don’t know if I expected to do it so long, but I’m still very much enjoying it.
I wanted to draw attention to Valerie June. This song, “You and I”, that opens the playlist this edition is one of my favorite songs right now. It hit me immediately when I heard it earlier this week, and I immediately wanted to hear it again. Valerie June has appeared here before with her 2017 album, The Order of Time, and I’m very excited for her upcoming release, The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers. 4 years since her last full-length release, but June has clearly been busy as she has an upcoming book release as well.
My favorite instrumental release so far this year has to be Sitka Sun’s All The Way West. It’s not a long record. 6 tracks clocking in at just over half an hour, but it has really grabbed and held my attention. I sometimes find it hard to explain why a particular record does this, and especially so with an instrumental album. Sitka Sun brings us this well-constructed jazz album with a firm rhythmic structure, Central American flair, and a little psychedelic improvisation mixed in. When an instrumental record captures me this way, I’m sometimes struck by the ability music alone has to make you feel something.
Other favorites in this edition are Wild Pink, Anisa Romero (Sky Cries Mary), Femi Kuti, and We Are KING.
tracklist: Valerie June – You and I Bomba Estereo – Agua Hannah Jadagu – Think Too Much Middle Kids – Questions Julien Baker – Favor Wild Pink – The Shining but Tropical Dry Cleaning – Scratchcard Lanyard Foo Fighters – Cloudspotter The Lounge Society – Burn the Heather Ayron Jones – Mercy The Hold Steady – Spices Balmorhea, Lisa Morgenstern – The Myth Anisa Romero – Borrowed London Grammar – Lose Your Head Flock of Dimes – Two Echo of the Low Light – Afterlife Bicep – Sundial Yuno – Somebody Femi Kuti – As We Struggle Everyday Jay Gonzalez – Sunspot Adrianne Lenker – anything Saintseneca – All You’ve Got Is Everyone We Are KING – Space Oddity Sitka Sun – Long Shadow
Some early favorites for the year appearing here, and some of them are total surprises. There are some real gems here, and I had a lot to work with and even had to cut a few to keep this one a reasonable length. Just one month in and 2021 is delivering some great new albums, as well as promising many more in the works.
I’ve got to start with this new Tune-Yards single, “hold yourself.” This one was a surprise for me, and it’s connected with me, I think, more than anything they’ve ever released. So combine that with their now well-established reputation for boundary-pushing, genre-blending indie-pop, and this has gotten me pretty excited to hear more from them.
Last weekend, I spent a good chunk of time with the new Steve Earle album, J.T. It was back in August that we learned of the passing of Steve’s son, Justin Townes Earle. This new release is 10 covers of Justin’s songs, and closes with an incredible tribute song called “Last Words”. It’s worth noting that this might be Steve’s best song that he’s ever written. Every line hits right to the heart. Somehow, with this song Steve was able to communicate all the mess of emotions that he’d felt with Justin’s passing. It’s a heartbreaking song, but it’s also beautiful. At some point, play that song and listen to it without any other distraction. Listen to every word, and feel it.
I follow a lot of luthiers on Instagram. I love seeing the craftsmanship. Well, one of my favorite builders is Mule Resophonic Guitars, and I’ve found a few artists through them that have ended up on the Fortnightly. Most recently through Mule, I’ve found Larkin Poe. The duo are sisters Megan and Rebecca Lovell and following a breakout album in 2020, they’ve now released a collection of covers. I don’t think you’ll find a better modern blues sound than what these two have developed over their now 6 album catalog. Gritty, mean-sounding riffs that make you scrunch your face up and say “oooh…” Their singing and their guitar-work together is just absolutely perfect. It’s got that bourbon-soaked, smokey bar, dusty road kind of soul.
Ity was tricky this edition fitting in what I wanted to, and some things have been pushed to next time or cut. There’s a lot of great new music out right now and coming soon. This list was pushing an hour and a half, and it took some last minute changes to make it fit together nicely. Besides what I’ve already mentioned here, some favorites are Sitka Sun, Crazy Arm, Arlo Parks, Goldmund, and this killer Run The Jewels remix with Mexican Institute of Sound.
tracklist: Sitka Sun – Dauntless Run the Jewels – Ooh La La (Mexican Institute of Sound remix) Kali Uchis, Buscabulla – la luz(Fin) Buscabulla Remix KAMAUU – MANGO Arlo Parks – Hope Tune-Yards – hold yourself. Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio – Right Place, Right Time Breeze Brewin, Juggaknots, Marco Polo – King Oxymoron Madlib – Road of the Lonely Ones Goat Girl – Badibaba Jess Locke – Destroy Everything Bleach Lab – Old Ways Crazy Arm – Fear Up Larkin Poe – Fly Away Steve Earle – Last Words Dan Wriggins – Dent Holly Macve – Be My Friend Pearl Charles – Sweet Sunshine Wine Hand Habits – 4th of July Eddie Vedder – Future Days-acoustic at home John Fogerty – Weeping in the Promised Land Oux – Rise Goldmund – The One Who Stands By
Mixing in some sounds from around the world in this edition with artists from Cape Verde, Brazil, Ecuador, New Zealand, Belgium, England and Puerto Rico.
Dessa put out a new single on the 15th, and has announced a project called Ides in which she intends to release one song on the 15th of each month in 2021. This first single is called “Rome”, and has touches on the more aggressive side of Dessa’s music with high-tempo and hard beats breaking into huge chorus. I’m excited to see this project from an artist that has typically stuck to album format. Whether at the year’s end we’ll have a cohesive album or a collection of singles will be interesting to find out. Either way, I think there will be some great music here.
We’ve got a 2nd new single from the upcoming Julien Baker album, and it’s got a big sound. I’m looking forward to this big sound from Baker. She has, up ’til now, stuck with a sparse sound, and this project promises to be something different. It’s good to see an artist take risks and step away from what has worked for them in the past. From what we’ve heard so far from the album, this risk was a good step forward for her. The full band sound is working well, and it suits the material.
Other favorites of mine in this edition are The Hold Steady, Nicola Cruz, Jeremy Pinnell, and this collaboration between Aili and Transistorcake.
tracklist: iLe – donde nadie mas Respira The Chills – You’re Immortal Aili, Transistorcake – Dansu Arlo Parks – Caroline Nicola Cruz – Individuality Riddim Caroline Polachek – Breathless Moon Palace – Faultlines The Avalanches – Take Care In Your Dreaming Shaka – Tokio e Rio Dessa – Rome Chris Alford, Justin Peake – A Course in Water Elida Almeida – Di Pundi Nu Bem Jeremy Pinnell – Joey David Nance – When the Cover Comes Off Lana Del Ray – Chemtrails Over the Country Club Julien Baker – Hardline The Hold Steady – Heavy Covenant
Welcome to 2021. Let’s hope we can make it better than 2020. So this, my first post of the year will be a mixture of some looks back and some looks forward. The past couple years, this post (the first after my top albums of the year) has typically been one of the few that includes music that isn’t released within the past year. There will be albums I slept on and discovered late (in a few years, I may declare them among my favorite 2020 releases though they didn’t get much or attention hear), music released too late in the year to have ended up on my year-end list, music from a few artists who passed in 2020, and some looks ahead at music I’m most excited for in 2021.
For late releases, there is one king of them all this year. We Will Always Love You by The Avalanches is an instant classic. It was released about 3 weeks ago. Now I’d heard some singles from it, but I didn’t sit and listen to it fully until this week. Hearing it in its entirety made me love the singles more. As an album, it is a masterstroke. The guest spots throughout include Mick Jones, Neneh Cherry, Leon Bridges, Johnny Marr, Kurt Vile, Sampa the Great, Tricky, Karen O, and on and on and on. I can’t give this enough praise, and I’ve heard plenty of people ammending their year-end favorites with this at the top of the list.
One that will bug me is that I didn’t include Lianne La Havas in my top 25. I love her self-titled release this year, and I think I got it wrong leaving that out, so I’ve included her in this list. Obviously, the cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes” was a track that stunned me, but the entire record is worth your time.
There are two upcoming releases that I’d say I’m most looking forward to, but several others I’m watching for as well. The two are Nilufer Yanya and The Hold Steady. Now, I always look forward to new material from The Hold Steady, but, in particular, I really enjoyed this new single they released called “Family Farm”. Sonically, it’s classic Hold Steady at their best with driving hard rock, piano breaks, and Craig Finn’s distinct storytelling. Nilufer Yanya is a different case, and isn’t super well-known to me although I’ve shared her music here before. Her 2019 album, Miss Universe, had some good moments, but it was the release of the first single from her upcoming release that really grabbed my attention. I shared that single, “Crash”, back in late October, and they’ve added 2 more tracks since. So far, this album looks very promising.
Most forefront in my mind this week of artists we’ve lost this year is rapper and beatmaker, MF DOOM. Always one to be intensely private, Daniel Dumile had actually passed two months before it was announced on December 31st. No cause of death was reported in keeping with his determined shunning of the spotlight. He performed as characters, and kept a mask on for all public appearances (and notably sent others out in the mask at times). What he did as a lyricist changed hip-hop forever though. In many ways, his style was the culmination of the evolution of all hip-hop before him. Things that other pioneers had just touched on or glimpsed in pieces were now fully formed in his flurry of releases in the mid-00’s. His last solo release came in ’09, but he remained active as a serial collaborator appearing on numerous projects (most recently an apparent posthumous release from just weeks ago with Badbadnotgood). He was very comfortable writing multi-syllabic rhymes to the point that every syllable in the entire line rhymed with every syllable in the next. He knew the rules of rhyming and how to break them in such a way that his words flowed like no one before, and have influenced everyone since. “Just remember all caps when you spell the man name.”
The reason I’ve written about DOOM so much is that the news is fresh, and I think his achievements are understated in by many. So much has happened this year, and we’ve lost absolute legends. John Prine, Toots Hibbert and Eddie Van Halen are 3 giants in their respective genres. Any modern singer-songwriter or country artist owes a debt of gratitude to John Prine. His storytelling has shaped music well beyond the boundaries of genre, and you hear his influence in the writing of many today. Eddie Van Halen… do I even need to say anything? Forever pushing the boundaries of how the guitarwas played. Sure, when it comes to deep, profound, heartfelt lyricism, Van Halen won’t be top of anyone’s list. That was never the point, and who says it always needs to be? Eddie’s guitar playing, as with DOOM’s rhyming, changed everything. Toots Hibbert has the distinction of coining the term that would become the name of his genre. He championed Reggae even unto his latest shortly before his passing.
tracklist: Courtney Marie Andrews, Molly Sarle, Liz Cooper & The Stampede – America Bedouine, Waxahatchee, Hurray For The Riff Raff – Thirteen Sarah Jarosz – Up In The Clouds John Prine – Glory of True Love Jeffrey Foucault – Real Hard Thinking Van Halen – Dance the Night Away Cherry Glazerr – Rabbit Hole Nilufer Yanya – Same Damn Luck ASTU – Reckless MF DOOM, Madlib – Accordion Toots & The Maytals – Got to be Tough The Avalanches – The Divine Chord King Krule – Alone, Omen 3 Leaf Dog, Thirstin Howl the 3rd, BVA – Still Thirsty MF DOOM, Badbadnotgood – The Chocolate Conquistadors Lianne La Havas – Green Papaya Nilufer Yaya – Day 7.5093 Toots & The Maytals – Pressure Drop Van Halen – Mean Street The Hold Steady – Family Farm The Besnard Lakes – Feuds with Guns John Prine – Boundless Love
So here’s this playlist of my featuring my favorite albums of the year. You could stream it 24/7 for a month, and each of the artists might get a cheeseburger out of it. Seriously though, if you find an artist that you love, then support them! Buy the record! Go to a show when those become a thing again! I hope you enjoy this music, and thanks for reading things I wrote and listening to music I compiled this year. I hope you found artists and albums that you connected with here. One of the things I love doing is fitting in a lot of different styles, and still making the playlist flow from song to song. It’s a challenge for me, and I think it keeps it interesting and enjoyable to listen. In terms of challenge, these 10 records were definitely that. I did my best to make them fit together, and I think that it represents the Fortnightly Playlist pretty well. You’ll notice I don’t really have much negative to say here. These 10 albums may not be for everyone, but for their styles and what I found in them… I think they’re near perfect records.
10. Courtney Marie Andrews – Old Flowers Beautiful country/folk ballads with a voice that reaches straight to your heart. Old Flowers is an album that came from a long relationship ending, and the heartache, confusion, persistent love, and hindsight perspective all come through loud and clear. Andrew’s voice is gorgeous, but made more powerful by the material that she’s felt deeply. When she sings, you feel it. The warm instrumentation is a masterclass, and the arrangements are flawless.
9. Marlowe – Marlowe 2 It’s 3 years in a row now that a L’Orange project has found itself in my top 10. 2018’s Marlowe landed at #3, last year’s Complicate Yourself With Violence was #4, and this year there was considerable excitement to see he was going to be rejoined by Solemn Brigham to make a 2nd Marlowe record. L’Orange uses far different source material from many other DJs. Older, dustier jazz and blues are employed, and there is a narrative of sorts created by samples from old radio theatre. Solemn Brigham is a raw, unpolished rapper, and I love how this fits together with L’Orange’s production. There’s a genuine feeling to it. It’s as if he’s hearing the beat being created, he’s writing his rhymes and then rapping himself breathless… there’s this urgency you get from Solemn. Some reviews I’ve seen note this lack of polish as a negative, but I find it to be irresistibly genuine.
8. Loma – Don’t Shy Away Jonathan Meiburg has been a feature of this blog since it began. Back in 2016, I was very much taken by Shearwater’s album, Jetplane & Oxbow, and it’s been a record that has stuck with me since. When Loma began as a collaboration of Jonathan Meiburg, Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski, I was immediately drawn in by particular tracks on their self-titled first album in 2018. This year, when I heard “Half Silences” on the radio while driving, I knew it had to be them. This album has built well on their foundation, and I found myself listening to favorite song after favorite song… the entire album is just that good. They have a gift for making things simple and intimate, while also feeling grand and atmospheric. The vocal melodies are full of hooks that keep you engaged. Start-to-finish, a beautiful album.
7. Songhoy Blues – Optimisme The story of Songhoy Blues is something I find incredible. When displaced from their homes in Northern Mali by a jihadist group, and driven south to Mali’s capital, Bamako, this group of refugees formed the group to create music they felt captured the spirit of their homeland. Optimisme is now the 3rd album from the group, and it finds them broadening their sound into hard rock territory while retaining the Malian rhythms and the vocal stylings that hold their music firmly in their desert blues roots. If you haven’t yet seen this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMPEK1YHM4w) of them performing on the banks of the river in Bamako this year for a radio broadcast for KEXP in Seattle, then stop right now and watch it. They perform even for no live audience with an incredible passion and intensity. This group is on my must-see list when live music returns. As a guitarist, their riffs are irresistable. At this point, I’d also like to mention how much I like the cover art on all 10 of these albums.
6. Joshua Burnside – Into the Depths of Hell This record is something of a stylistic chameleon. Close, intimate chamber-folk at much of its core, but building to big, orchestral blasts of electronic crescendos and woven throughout with atmospheric, found-sound sampling. The Northern Irish singer-songwriter, touches on numerous lyrical themes in the record, and a number of them are dark musings. Apocalyptic visions, suicide, dysfunction and tragedy all rear their head through the record, but all appearing amid beautiful composition. This is a record that you can listen to start-to-finish on repeat and keep getting more and more from it. The variance in orchestration is a journey in itself. Guitar, banjo, piano, horns, cello weaving together creating entirely different feelings from song to song and moment to moment.
5. Joensuu 1685 – ÖB Shimmering, sparkling synth landscapes, ringing guitars, crashing cymbals, and reverb-drenched vocals create a grand sound in this album. The record is actually built from the bones of an album the band had been making back in the late ’00s. A hiatus found frontman, Mikko Joensuu, releasing an incredible solo trilogy (Amen I, II, and III), and while Markus (Mikko’s brother) and Risto (also named Joensuu, but unrelated) played in the post-rock band, Sinai. So these songs cover a long time period. Some date back to ’09, and some as recent as ’19. That said, it impressively still comes together as a cohesive whole in spite of all ground covered in the bandmembers personal lives and in their relationships with one another.
4. Gabriel Teodros – What You Leave Behind It’s been quite a year for Gabriel Teodros. He took on a weekday DJ show (www.kexp.org, 5-7 AM PST) and has been a big part of my continuing musical journey this year, his home burnt down this year as he and his partner lost nearly all their possessions, and then there is this incredible album. Each morning since this summer I have begun my day with Gabriel’s words and playlist (usually coming in somewhere in the middle of his radio show), and it seems now that it would be inevitable that I’d begin to connect with the perspectives that he shares on this record. “Every Scar” was a standout for me as I listened to it more. It wasnt’ the first song that I found myself obsessed with, but it was one of many that stuck with me once it hit me. “I fell out of love before I knew what it meant, and I lived on the bus when I couldn’t pay rent” are striking opening lines, and it’s just one example of numerous moments on this record that I found myself thinking on at length. Sonically, Gabriel has a dusty, lo-fi approach rooted in classic soul & gospel music, and leans on laid back beats. He has a calm yet gripping voice. Soulful guest vocals feature on several tracks, and most notably for me is Jennifer Johns performance on “Hold Ya Head”.
3. IDLES – Ultra Mono A pure, punk rage with a message of unity and love. IDLES 3rd record continues in their now established tradition, but with more focus than ever on making the record sound perfect. I saw an interview of guitarist, Mark Bowen, noting that there were particular sonic markers that they were not hitting on 2018’s Joy is an Act of Resistance that they were determined to hit on this record. In particular, it was in the drum sound. If you haven’t heard this record, then you may not know that the drums… sound… massive. Apparently, the kit was set up in a brick-walled room that for the recording, and I don’t know if I’ve ever heard drum sounds that hit so hard as they do on this album. They are absolutely killer. Add to it that the songs in this body of work had a steady, brutal punchiness to leave you feeling battered. You won’t find a better punk rock album than this in 2020, or if you do then I want to hear it.
2. Deep Sea Diver – Impossible Weight “But that was then and this is now, I tried so hard not to let you all down, It’s an impossible weight.” The chorus of the title track, appropriately, acts as a centerpiece for the record. Feeling the pressure of expectations, not so muchon the superficial level of needing to please fans with an album (although, maybe that is there a bit), but much more on the interpersonal level of meeting what your closest relationships expect of a person. How one should be. This song and this album resonated loud and long in our current political climate at a point when many of us feel our lives feel imbued with division a turmoil. Jessica Dobson wrote many of the song from dark a dark place personally, and after/during a stretch when she found it difficult to find any joy in making music. There are a variety of sources for her subject matter, and to build a cohesive album from this is truly impressive.
1. Moses Sumney – Grae Initially, the album was released in two parts, and with the second the physical double album was made available. By a twist, this album focused on struggles with feelings of isolation suddenly became an album very well suited for this year in particular. The first part being released in February and the second in May, many of us were realizing how “islanded” we were, and perhaps how we had been more islanded before than we had known. I primarily listened to this record in vinyl form, and it shaped how I listened to it. I began to think of the double-album in terms of four movements with each side of each disc. When I listened to it, I found I often listened to the final side two or three times. This is why I’ve chosen to close my playlist with all three tracks from this fourth side. It is essentially a longform version of “Bless Me” with the preceding track a conversational spoken word piece hitting home the album’s theme, and the final track, “before you go” acting as a coda to “Bless Me”.
tracklist: Joensuu 1685 – Hey My Friend (We’re Here Again) Moses Sumney – Virile Loma – Breaking Waves Like a Stone Deep Sea Diver – Impossible Weight IDLES – Grounds Songhoy Blues – Badala Marlowe – Future Power Sources Gabriel Teodros – What You Leave Behind Joshua Burnside – And You Evade Him/Born in the Blood Courtney Marie Andrews – If I Told Deep Sea Diver – Shattering the Hourglass Loma – Given a Sign Gabriel Teodros – If They Come For Me In The Morning… Moses Sumney – Colouour Courtney Marie Andrews – Ships in the Night Joensuu 1685 – Light in the Heart of Our Town Songhoy Blues – Barre Marlowe – Small Business IDLES – Kill Them with Kindness Joshua Burnside – Noa Mercier Joensuu 1685 – I’m In Paradise Loma – Half Silences Joshua Burnside – Driving Alone in the City at Night Courtney Marie Andrews – Together or Alone Gabriel Teodros – Every Scar Marlowe – Preach Honest Songhoy Blues – Dournia Deep Sea Diver – Eyes Are Red (Don’t Be Afraid) IDLES – A Hymn Moses Sumney – and so I come to isolation Moses Sumney – Bless Me Moses Sumney – before you go