Hindsight is 2019: The Fortnightly Playlist, January 18th, 2020

Well, I took a short break here. It’s been nearly a month since I posted my 2019 favorites. This year my plans are to change how I do things here a bit. There will still be plenty of new music throughout the year, but I plan on doing some different playlists as well. In this list, I’ll include music from artists we lost in 2019 (and already in 2020), some music that flew beneath my radar in 2019, and some new music from this year. Some looking back, some looking forward.

My all-time favorite band, Pearl Jam, has announced a new album and tour. Their first since 2013’s Lightning Bolt. Over the holidays they released some old Ten Club material. There were several years where the band released Christmas singles that were available only through the fan club. Over the Holidays, they released various of these songs and other rarities. I’ve included the live version of “Gimme Some Truth” and their explosive cover of The Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me”. The new album, Gigaton, is among my most anticipated. If there’s a time and place for an aggressive Pearl Jam record, then it’s here and now.

Easily my favorite early release of 2020 is Algiers’ There Is No Year. This is a group that, for me, has always had fire to them. It’s an intense politically-conscious post-punk/industrial sound, but with a soul/gospel touch due to the amazing vocals of Franklin James Fisher.

So, when I went to see Star Wars last month, I left the theatre with a need to find a song. It was the Wonder Woman trailer that did it. It featured an amazing orchestral version of New Order’s “Blue Monday”. I found it. I’ve played it a lot lately. DC may have fumbled a lot of their film adaptations, but so far they’ve done well with this Wonder Woman. Whoever made the call to use this song deserves some credit.

Others releasing new music in 2020 are Wolf Parade, Smokey Brights, Son Volt, Andy Shauf, The Weeknd, Dan Deacon, Deserta, and Shopping. Lots to look forward to this year.

Artists who passed in 2019 and early 2020:

Ranking Roger – Roger Charlery holds a unique place in music with The Beat (or The English Beat) connecting ska and two-tone with the late 70’s-early 80’s Punk movement. After The Beat broke up, he and Dave Wakeling would form General Public and continue playing together into the 90’s. Roger had undergone surgery for two brain tumors, and was battling lung cancer when he passed away in March 2019 at 56.

Daniel Johnston – I never had drew direct influence from Johnston in particular, but with his passing I realized how many artists I love were influenced and inspired by him. Johnston is a fascinating person. He struggled throughout his life with multiple mental health issues, and was at times hospitalized due to being a danger to himself and others. His music takes a unique voice and message. Johnston was found dead of a suspected heart attack at his home in September 2019.

Dick Dale – Richard Antony Monsour certainly left his mark on American Music. His songs are instantly recognizable, and truly his alone. His title as the “King of Surf Guitar” is more accurate than other “King of…” titles. He essentially invented this style single-handedly. Dick Dale incorporated Middle Eastern and Eastern European melodies into American rock, and with his breakneck, staccato soloing created something no one else had done or ever would do again. It’s his and his alone. He “shedded” long before “shredding” was a term used in guitar playing. Dale’s parents were immigrants. His father was Lebanese and his mother was Polish. From an early age he was exposed to both of these folk traditions, and it was from this that he created some of the most instantly recognizable songs in all of American Music. Dick Dale continued touring in spite of his battle with cancer due to not being able to afford healthcare without the touring income. He never consumed alcohol or drugs, and gave up red meat in 1972 for health reasons. He passed away of heart and kidney failure at age 81 in March of 2019.

Neil Peart – Peart is a figure of legendary status in rock music. Rush is iconic, and Peart, in particular, is held as one of the greatest drummers of all-time. He was diagnosed with glioblastoma over 3 years ago, but as Rush had officially retired and the members were living private lives it was kept a closely-guarded secret until his passing on January 7th, 2020.

Shawn Smith – In 1993, with Seattle bands making waves all over the world with giants such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains, a band called Brad released their debut. It was initially a one-off side-project featuring Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam on guitar. This was also the first major release that featured Shawn Smith’s vocals. Brad would become an off-and-on project, and it helped launch Shawn’s other band, Satchel, as well as his very different side-project, Pigeonhed. He would also release several solo records and EPs throughout the 90’s and on until his last EP in 2016. Shawn was a well-known figure in the Seattle scene even though he did not reach the level of recognition that his peers did nationally or globally. He was reportedly working on a new Brad album at the time of his passing in April, 2019. This tribute to Andrew Wood is a song that would be on my list of “songs that make me tear up”.

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tracklist:
Daniel Johnston – True Love Will Find You In The End
Dick Dale – Misirlou
The English Beat – Save It For Later
Rush – The Spirit of Radio
Pigeonhed – Battle Flag
Satchel – Trouble Come Down
Brad – The Day Brings
Pronouns – How to Cope With Losing Someone You Barely Know
Pearl Jam – Gimme Some Truth
Pearl Jam – Love, Reign O’er Me
Craig Finn – It’s Never Been A Fair Fight (acoustic)
Andy Shauf – Living Room
Kali Uches – 10%
The Weeknd – Blinding Lights
Dan Deacon – Sat By a Tree
Wolf Parade – Julia, Take Your Man Home
Algiers – Hour of the Furnaces
Deserta – Hide
Shopping – Initiative
The Beat – Rock The Casbah (Live)
Dick Dale – The Wedge
Pigeonhed – Fire’s Coming Down
Satchel –  Not Too Late
Brad – Through the Day
Sebastian Bohm – Blue Monday

The Fortnightly Playlist, 2019 Favorites, Part 2: 10-1

My 2019 top 10. Let’s dive in! Here’s yer playlist:

10. The New Pornographers – In the Morse Code of the Brake Lights
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Carl Newman said that when this album started coming together he questioned himself saying, “Are there too many songs using car metaphors?”, and then decided “Maybe people will think it’s a concept album.” Well, concept album or not, this album grabbed and held my attention more than the last few records from the group. Something you’ll note in this top 10 (and really in the top few from last week’s list as well) is that I really feel there are no weak tracks on this record. This album grabbed my attention with the first couple singles, but held it because of the strength throughout. One thing that The New Pornographers have always been sneaky good at is knowing how to open and close an album. The first track and the last track are always the perfect way to open and close the album, respectively. Things like that go a long way to making a great record. It also helps that they really hit the sweet spot, and gave us a murderer’s row of great songs on this one.

9. The Highwomen – The Highwomen
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In terms of supergroups, this is about as good as it gets. Each artist is a rising star in her own rite, and the entire album is just bursting with the talent of Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Amanda Shires and Maren Morris. The first thing that hits you with this record is the vocals. The interplay and the harmonies of four stellar vocalists is absolutely beautiful, and it’s something special and rare in modern music. Beyond the vocals though, is a richly layered sound of guitars, piano, organ, violin. It’s a warm and soulful sound sound, and the songs are filled with positive messaging. Initially, I was most struck by “Highwomen” and “Crowded Table”, but the entire record is so good and more recently I’ve really been loving “Old Soul” and “Wheels of Laredo”. Also this year, the group contributed to the soundtrack for the movie “The Kitchen” with an incredible cover of Flletwood Mac’s “The Chain”.

8. Mark Lanegan – Somebody’s Knocking
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Mark Lanegan gave us a modern rock masterpiece this year. It’s dark and brooding, but it is not without hope and beauty. Lanegan has never been one to stick with a formula though. While there is plenty of his low rasp over fuzzed-out guitars, there is also much more electronic elements in this record. There are some bold connecting lines to New Order and Joy Division on this record. “Penthouse High” could easily be considered Lanegan’s love-letter to New Order. If you were to hear that song without his recognizable vocal, then you could mistake it for a New Order b-side you hadn’t heard. This could come off as cheap mimicry if not for the context of the album. Somebody’s Knocking easily shifts gears from 80’s to 90’s to 00’s to 10’s, and all in this context of Mark Lanegan’s unique touch and perspective.

7. Shredders – Great Hits
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Is this an album or an EP? I’ve heard EPs longer than this, but this is so sharp that it had to make the list. Doomtree these days is mainly operating in 2 main entities in my mind. There are still other side projects from Sims, Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak, but the two main operators right now are Shredders and Dessa. Where the full crew Doomtree albums are huge, Shredders is a leaner project. P.O.S. and Sims have been the two most prolific rappers in Doomtree, and so 2017’s debut, Dangerous Jumps, saw them trading bars in over some of Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger’s sharpest, fastest beats. I loved that record, and it narrowly missed my top 10 that year. What Great Hits does that Dangerous Jumps didn’t is that it sharpens the focus of the subject matter. There’s a cohesive message that comes through, especially on “Suburban Base”, “Vanilla ISIS” and “Ayeyayaya”. P.O.S is one of my favorite rappers, but I think this record is Sims at his finest. Their contrasting styles both hit top of their game. Sims is sharp and fast, P.O.S is aggressive and hard-hitting. If you get a chance to see these guys live, then take it. They are fast-paced and engaged like few others are, and they are super chill to hang out with after. If this was longer than 7-songs and a 20 minute run-time, then it could have landed above 7.

6. Making Movies – Ameri’kana
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This album made a late run for me, and certainly earned a spot in my top 10 favorites. Making Movies offers a spirited blend of Rock, Cumbia, Psychedelia, Son Cubano, and Americana that also makes sure its message is heard. The Kansas City quartet earned some Latin Grammy nods this year, and I would expect that it’s not for the last time. The guest appearances on this album from Flor de Toloache, Ruben Blades, Frankie Negron, and others are fantastic. What Making Movies offers is a confluence of many different styles from across Latin America as well as styles pioneered in the US, and they do it beautifully. This album is a must-listen.

5. L’Orange, Jeremiah Jae – Complicate Your Life With Violence
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L’Orange’s collaboration with Solemn Brigham, Marlowe, was my #3 last year, and now here is L’Orange again. The North Carolina-born producer constructs his album in a cinematic fashion using samples of old radio dramas, jazz and blues records and black-and-white films to piece together a plot and dialogue, and this time he’s paired up with Chicago rapper, Jeremiah Jae. The pair have worked together before on 2015’s The Night Took Us In Like Family, and it’s a pairing that work well. It’s clear that L’Orange thinks of each record in terms of fiml-genre. He’s basically said as much on his twitter as he discusses his albums as “my crime-drama record”, “my Western record” etc. This is a boot-camp war film riddled with scandal and maybe some madness thrown in. Personally, my highlight here is the artfully-done Elmore James samples on “Cool Hand”.

4. Black Pumas – Black Pumas
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Wow, did this group just come out of thin air this year? Apparently Eric Burton’s soulful vocals came from a combination of church, musical theater and a lot of busking. I think from the first time I heard “Colors” on the radio it was always going to be among my favorite songs of the year, but then listening to this in full I found there wasn’t a single weak link. The entire record, every song, is flat out amazing. It’s a warm, soulful overall sound that immediately gets you moving and singing along. How often do you here a song for the first time and feel like you need to sing along by the end? “Colors” remains among my very favorite songs of this year, but it’s also a good representation of this beautiful album. I love every aspect of this album. The soulful vocals, the bright guitars, the warm organ and rhodes piano, and the tight rhythm section. Can you ask for a better debut?

3. Malibu Ken – Malibu Ken

Don’t rest your eye on that cover too long. Yikes. This is certainly one of the weirder releases of the year, and I’d expect no less from this pair. Aesop Rock’s notoriously nasal wordsmith work combined with Tobacco’s effects-drenched production is a match made in… well, maybe not heaven exactly. There’s a blance they’ve had to strike here. If it were up to Tobacco’s tendancies, then Aes’s voice would become unrecognizably distorted by the layers of effects. Thankfully, the raps aren’t lost in the mix, and Aesop Rock’s lyrics have been running through my head a lot this year. The weird factor will undoubtedly turn some away from this project, but there’s so much to value in Aesop’s acrobatic wordplay and broad vocabulary being paired with Tobacco’s unconventional and distortion-soaked mixes. There’s great hooks in this record too, and thoughts that stick with the listener. There’s been some serious hours spent listening to this one in 2019.

2. Ibibio Sound Machine – Doko Mein
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If you know of an album this year that had more in terms of sheer energy, then I’m open to it. London-based Ibibio Sound Machine took my listening by storm this year. This slab of West-African Funk and Psychedelia mixed with modern alt-rock electro was amazing. Eno Williams powerful vocals and captivating stage presence were among my highlights this year, and seeing this band live in a packed-out High Dive in Seattle was one of my top moments of the year. The band is tight together, but still loose enough to improvise through their set. It’s hard to pinpoint particular pieces of this group to highlight without just listing all the members, and saying what they bring to the group. I’ll try though. Eno Williams energy up front is incredible. She runs the show. The rhythms of Jose (drums), John (bass), and Anselmo (percussion) keeps the groove driving. Those two things are the biggest factors to the group for me. Add that Alfred Bannerman is a phenomenal guitar player, and that the horns-section is absolutely blazing (and they layer in excellent contributions on keys as well), and now I listed everyone anyway. Love this album, and it could have been my favorite of the year if not for an absolute legend giving us a new classic.

1. Mavis Staples – We Get By
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Is there a musician I admire more as a person? I don’t think so. Mavis’ career has been a long and winding road that has made her integral in the development of all music today no matter the genre. Having read Greg Kot’s excellent biography of her this year, I could go on for awhile here about different aspects of her career and how she connects to Mahalia Jackson, Bob Dylan, Prince, Arcade Fire, Ry Cooder, Wilco, The Talking Heads, Sam Cooke, and on and on and on… I’ll try and center this about this record in particular. There is a little background necessary to set the stage for this amazing album. When the Staples Singers began, Pops stuck hard to Gospel. It wasn’t until encountering Martin Luther King Jr that things changed to a broader message. They built their most successful run on so-called “message songs”, that were rooted in their Gospel values, but went beyond the walls of the church and connected with people in universal ways (perhaps the way the Gospel was intended anyway, but that’s a different discussion).
All this needs to be said, as it is fundamental to Mavis’ resurgence in the last decade and a half. Mavis makes music with a message for the world as it is, and this year she connected beautifully. The album is produced and co-written by Ben Harper, who, you could say, is rooted in this Staples Singers school of thought. 2016’s Livin’ On a High Note saw Mavis singing songs written for her by various other artists, and Harper wrote my personal favorite track on that album in “Love and Trust”. The messaging of We Get By lands beautifully in part because Harper is such a keen student of this style. It’s the perfect record for this time and place because Mavis, more than many of her colleagues of Soul music, she remains very present. There’s a humility to Mavis that keeps her firmly with regular people rather than taking on soul-diva/rockstar persona. Songs of love, unity, equality and a bold embrace of change, songs that last, message songs necessary for the world we live in. Mavis Staples.

Here’s yer tracklist:
Making Movies, Ruben Blades – Delilah
Mark Lanegan – Gazing from the Shore
The New Pornographers – You’ll Need a New Back Seat Driver
Malibu Ken – Tuesday
Shredders – Vanilla ISIS
Ibibio Sound Machine – Wanna Come Down
L’Orange, Jeremiah Jae – Behavior Report
Black Pumas – Fire
The Highwomen – Old Soul
Mavis Staples – Heavy On My Mind
The New Pornographers – You Won’t Need Those Where You’re Going
L’Orange, Jeremiah Jae – My Everything is Bulletproof
Shredders – Young Bros
Malibu Ken – Sword Box
Mark Lanegan – Penthouse High
The Highwomen – The Highwomen
Black Pumas – Stay Gold
Mavis Staples, Ben Harper – We Get By
Making Movies, Ruben Blades – No Te Calles
Ibibio Sound Machine – She Work Very Hard
Malibu Ken – Purple Moss
The New Pornographers – Leather On The Seat
The Highwomen – Crowded Table
Making Movies – The Wake of the Fall (Nibiru)
Mark Lanegan – Paper Hat
L’Orange, Jeremiah Jae – Cool Hand
Shredders – Ayeyayaya
Ibibio Sound Machine – Tell Me (Doko Mein)
Black Pumas – Colors
Mavis Staples – One More Change

The Fortnightly Playlist, 2019 Favorites, Part 1: 25-11

I said something along these lines last year as well, but I’ll say it again. I’m not objective. Writing a “Best of…” just isn’t possible for me. It’s why every year people get annoyed with the Grammy’s for getting things wrong. Art effects us all on a personal level, and I just find it not in my ability to step outside my own perspective enough to say objectively what is or is not the “Best” albums of the year. These are my favorites. They are the albums that I connected with, and that meant something to me. I hope you enjoy it, and maybe you connected with some of them too.

Here’s yer playlist…

25. Sampa The Great – The Return
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Sampa the Great offered up this amazing record this year filled with soul grooves and sharp, incisive rhymes. The rich layering of vocals on tracks like “Freedom”, the bold and declaritive rapping on “Dare to Fly” and “Final Form”, and a amazing selection of guests have made this album really stand out. Sampa, born in Zambia, raised in Botswana, and now settled in Australia, brings a unique personal perspective and experience to her music.

24. Calexico, Iron & Wine – Years to Burn
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This collaboration was thought to be done after 2005’s In The Reins, but lo and behold they’ve joined forces once more! It’s such a rich, warm, and soft sound, and Sam Beam’s lead vocals are top notch here. I really enjoy both Calexico and Iron & Wine, and it’s something special to see them work together as this sort of mutual admiration society.

23. Lemolo – Swansea
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Lemolo really captured my attention back in 2015 with her 2nd release, Red Right Return. It was music like this that made me want to start sharing and eventually writing about music. I got to see her open for M.Ward in 2016, and she is an amazing performer as well. Swansea really builds on the sound she’s established, and it’s hard to find a weak track on it. This is a truly beautiful album.

22. Dessa, Minnesota Orchestra – Sound the Bells
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Live albums, compilations and such aren’t usually included in my year-end lists, but this one checked all the boxes that required inclusion. This is such a good performance. There are a few outside choices if she wanted a best-of collection, but it is the song choices and the compositions that make this so worth it. Dessa can do so much. She is certainly the most bold of the Doomtree collective in terms of stepping new territory. This is a clear example of that. Also, this may be the best version of “Warsaw” out there.

21. Andrew Bird – My Finest Work Yet

This one made impression on me immediately with the first single that was released before the album. “Bloodless” is a six-and-a-half minute wonder in a smooth jazz groove. It sounds both classic and modern, which is something I would argue that Bird is gifted at. Somehow he manages to layer things together just right to get this vintage feel while staying rooted here and now. Andrew Bird has an arsenal of talents, and blends them all together so well. It might be easy for someone to say “oh, that’s the guy that whistles a lot”, but his skills as a multi-instrumentalist, composer and songwriter are all very visible with this release.

20. Bon Iver – i,i
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Bon Iver has steadily widened the sound palette you’d expect of the project. What started as Justin Vernon’s largely acoustic and “woodsy” project has grown steadily with each release into the huge sound that you can hear on this record. To be honest, I think 22, a Million went farther out there in the sound, and this drew things back a little (in a good way). I went through cycles with this one. I really loved certain tracks at first, but then developed new favorites. It’s an amazing record.

19. Strand of Oaks – Eraserland
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This is a release that I wrote about back when it first came out, and I’m happy to see a number of those have really stuck with me this year. Tim Showalter was so open and vulnerable about where this album came from, and I have tremendous respect for his courage. He was at a low point, and said he didn’t think he’d ever make music again after the tour ended for his previous album, Hard Love. The members of My Morning Jacket contacted him while on a gap in their own tour schedule, and basically told him they wanted to be his backing band for the next record. They got him in the studio, and he wrote most of this record in a short period of time.

18. Sudan Archives – Athena
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This was among my most anticipated albums of the year. I’ve been waiting for a Sudan Archives full-length release for awhile now. There are some massive standout tracks on this album, and she proved my anticipation was not misplaced. There are some massive standout tracks on this record with “Glorious”, “Limitless” and “Confessions”. It really ended up missing my top 10 because there were some tracks that came off as weaker for me, but I was super happy to spend some serious hours with this album.

17. Cave Clove – Dollars to Tokens EP
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Look, you see the great albums I didn’t include, and you see the great albums I already listed. I rarely put EPs in my top albums, but this is a testament to how much I enjoyed this and how highly I think of this group. I discovered them last year when I saw them play a show at Scuttlebutt Brewery along with I Will Keep Your Ghost, The Tellers, and Smokey Brights. They put on a fantastic show, and I hope to see a lot more music from them in the future. I got to hang out and chat with them a little at that show, and they are also really cool people.

16. Kishi Bashi – Omoiyari
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Okay, so how many violinists can I put in this list? Andrew Bird, Sudan Archives, and no Kishi Bashi… but each one is so totally different. Kishi Bashi really made a record that I connected with this year. “Marigolds” is an absolutely beautiful song, “F Delano” explores a personal reflection on history and the lenses we view it with, and the record closes with a folksy romp in “Annie, Heart Thief of the Sea”. I feel like it is worth mentioning that has to be one of my favorite album covers as well.

15. Little Simz – GREY Area
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This album just struts to center stage. It rips the mic away from whoever is holding it, and doesn’t give it up until it’s done. This is most evident in the swagger of “Boss”. That mean bass riff, and Little Simz slamming every line in your face. Perhaps even better is the stripped down arrangement on “Pressure” where her writing and rhymes really reach a summit. Guest appearances by Michael Kiwanuka, Little Dragon, Cleo Sol, and Chronixx are perfect for what the record needs. Little Simz shows her varied talents with different stylings on tracks like “101 FM” and “Flowers”.

14. Rodrigo y Gabriela – Mettavolution
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I’m a guitar player, and this record just speaks to me on that level. The Mexican duo have put out one of the finest guitar records you can find this year. I think this one was made by guitarists and for guitarists. I absolutely love it, and that’s basically all there is to say. Oh wait, one more thing… that massive, 19-minute cover of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” to close the album is straight up jaw-dropping.

13. Sinkane – Depayse
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Take a moment to admire this album cover. If you’ve not heard this album, then know that this cover fits it perfectly. Sinkane’s music throws you into a vibrant world, and it’s bright, exciting and inviting. More than ever, Ahmed Gallab’s lyrics center around his Sudanese-American identity. His focus, more than many artists, is on the positive. There are struggles, but there is joy and celebration too.

12. Fontaines D.C. – Dogrel
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The Irish rockers initially formed after bonding with each other in the pub over James Joyce poetry. First off, it doesn’t get any more Irish than that, does it? There’s elements of that sort of romantic and quaint origin story that shine through in their punk-infused, high-energy, rough-edged sound. From the declarative opening track, “Big”, all the way through to the poetic ballad “Dublin City Sky”, there isn’t a weak track here. Lead singer, Grian Chatten’s, talk-speak delivery highlights his Irish accent and emphsizes their roots. The emphasis fits thematically with the community-rooted focus evident throughout the record. On another day this could easily have been in my top 10. Give it a listen. I fell in love with this record somewhere in between “Dublin in the rain is mine, a pregnant city with a Catholic mind” and “It was underneath the waking of the Dublin city sky.

11. Craig Finn – I Need a New War
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There was a fair chunk of this year that I thought this would make the top 10, and there was a bit where it slipped down the list forgotten. Craig Finn is just too good of a storyteller to ignore. He’s always had that storytelling aspect to his writing with The Hold Steady, but I think it comes out more consistently with his solo work. His songs are full of down-and-outers, but he humanizes rather than romanticizes. Sometimes sad, but often beautiful. Stylistically, Finn moves across a lot of different sounds here, but is rooted in folk-rock tradition.

Next week, I’ll continue with my top 10. What were some of your favorite records this year?

Here’s yer tracklist…
Lemolo – South of Sound
Craig Finn – Blankets
Strand of Oaks – Eraserland
Fontaines D.C. – Chequeless Reckless
Cave Clove – Edge of Emergency
Sampa The Great – Dare to Fly
Sudan Archives – Confessions
Dessa, Minnesota Orchestra – The Beekeeper (Live)
Bon Iver – We
Rodrigo y Gabriela – Terracentric
Calexico, Iron & Wine – Years to Burn
Kishi Bashi – F Delano
Andrew Bird – Bloodless
Little Simz – Pressure
Sinkane – Depayse
Dessa, Minnesota Orchestra – Warsaw (Live)
Sudan Archives – Pelicans in the Summer
Bon Iver – Faith
Lemolo – Swansea
Strand of Oaks – Weird Ways
Craig Finn – Carmen isn’t Coming in Today
Calexico, Iron & Wine – The Bitter Suite (Pajaro/Evil Eye/Tennessee Train)
Andrew Bird – Bellevue Bridge Club
Kishi Bashi – Annie, Heart Thief of the Sea
Cave Clove – I’m Still Tryin’
Sinkane – Ya Sudan
Sampa The Great – Final Form
Little Simz – Boss
Fontaines D.C. – Boys in the Better Land
Rodrigo y Gabriela – Echoes

The Fortnightly Playlist, December 8th, 2019

As has become my habit, there’s an uptick in posts scheduled for December as I look back on 2019. This is the last normal edition of the year for the Fortnightly, but we’ll have 2 parts looking at 2019 favorites and then an additional post that will look back on 2019 and mix in some 2020 previews.

“I don’t want to get bitter. I want us to get better. I want us to be kinder to ourselves and to each other.” These lines from Porridge Radio’s new single “Lilac” have stuck with me the last couple days, and been running through my head a lot. It’s this simple, beautiful thought, and it so needed to be said (or sung, as it were). I’m unfamiliar with their debut album from 2016 and “Lilac” is actually their 3rd single this year, but I’m happy to have that as my first impression of the group.

In recent years, there is a trend that has been building of covering full albums. In 2015, John Vanderslice covered David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs in full, Ben Gibbard did Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque in 2017, and I highly rated Angelique Kidjo’s version of the Talking Heads classic Remain in Light. The best of these give you a different look at a classic album while still maintaining the spirit of it. There are fine lines with this practice though, because you might be simply remaking something with the new musicians or you might not manage to capture the spirit of the original. Enter Kevin Devine. I’ve been a fan of Devine since about 2011, and I’ve written about him before on this blog (though not in much depth). Devine chose to give us his band’s take on Nirvana’s Nevermind. It’s no joke to take on a record that captured lightning in a bottle the way this record did in 1991. Devine remains pretty true to the original here. Arrangements stick to the intentional lo-fi punk of the original, and the most noticeable difference most of the way is simply that his voice is different than Cobain’s. Through much of the record, though, I wonder if it brings enough new to the surface. Where Vanderslice brought totally new arrangements to Diamond Dogs and Kidjo emphasized the African influences of Remain in Light, Devine sticks to the script much more. It offers insight to his influences more than fresh insight into the album. High points here are tracks like “Drain You”,”Lounge Act”, and “On A Plain” (tracks that offer a little more room due to not being overplayed). Overall, I liked the record, and I’m willing to indulge Devine’s expression of love for an album that is clearly significant to him. It certainly does underscore that this album is as relevant now as ever.

While I’m on the topic of covers… Miya Folick took on an intimidating one, and she hit it out of the park. Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” is about as perfect a song as has been made in the last 20 yrs, so when an artist approaches a song like this they need to be up to the task. I hear this on the radio Friday morning, and it gave me chills. Folick said of the song, “To me the greatest songs are the ones that feel like they always existed, like they were just waiting out in the ether for someone to discover them. It makes 100 percent sense that Ben Gibbard wrote ‘I Will Follow You Into the Dark’ in 15 minutes and feels like he channeled it. The song feels like a gift given to us to cope with loss and the unknown of death. It is a deeply special song, and I felt privileged to sing it.” Miya’s version of the song was released as part of the soundtrack for the Hulu series Looking for Alaska which is set in 2005 (the same year the original song was released on Death Cab for Cutie’s Plans album).

Some other favorites in this edition are Making Movies, Beabadoobee (bonus pts for a fun name), Dream Syndicate, SONS, Caribou, and DAM.

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Fortnightly Playlist:
Teen Daze – Open
Charly Bliss – Heaven
The Shivas – If You See Me
Beabadoobee – Are You Sure
Making Movies, Frankie Negron – Patria
Antibalas – Fight Am Finish
Free Nationals, Chronixx – Eternal Light
Lucy Dacus – In The Air Tonight
Dream Syndicate – Put Some Miles On
SONS – Waiting On My Own
Dogleg – Fox
Miya Folick – I Will Follow You Into the Dark
Norah Jones, Mavis Staples – I’ll Be Gone
Caribou – Home
DJ Shadow – Slingblade
DAM – Emta Njawzak Yamma
Kevin Devine – On A Plain
Porridge Radio – Lilac

The Fortnightly Playlist, November 24th, 2019

The end of the year is closing in, and I’m starting to look more at my favorite albums of the year and considering what to write. I keep a running list throughout the year, and things move up, down, back up, back down on it as the year progresses. Some albums hit you immediately and fade, others stick with you. That can make it difficult to balance the early releases with the latecomers. Feel free to share some of your favorites!

Sometimes there’s so many releases, that I’ll have my attention away from a band for awhile. And then I’ll turn on their most recent album and think, “wait, this came out 6 months ago, and how have I not been listening to it non-stop?!” Making Movies was like that this year. Ameri’kana was release back in late may, and before it’s release I included the first single in a playlist last spring. Somehow, my attention got pulled away to other releases, and I’m only now giving the album a good straight-through listen (actually, I’m on my 4th straight-through listen as I write this). The Kansas City band blends rock, cumbia, psychedelia, American roots and son cubano beautifully. Their record 2 yrs ago, I Am Another You, caught my attention and jumped into my top 10 records that year. Ameri’kana tops it. They weave between styles so well, and it makes the album ideal for a straight through listen.

If you’re familiar with this blog, then you know that I’m a big fan of the Doomtree and the various solo and side projects of the Minneappolis rap-collective. The latest release out of the Doomtree camp is Dessa’s live album performed with the Minnesota Orchestra. This album is amazing. The setlist for the show was curated so well, and the adaptations to orchestral arrangements are beautiful and intense. Sometimes a project like this can come off as a novelty, but Dessa loses none of her personality and engagement with her audience. You could make an argument that, stylistically, Dessa is the most versatile rapper of Doomtree. She’s more willing than the others to step outside of hip-hop, and excel in all areas. This collection shows the strength of her solo catalogue now, and it’s among the strongest of the group.

Other favorites in this collection are Wye Oak, Moses Sumney, Rudy Willingham, The Shivas, Mudhoney, and Nada Surf. Enjoy!

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Tracklist:
Blockhead – That’s How He Got Dead
Mark Lanegan – Night Flight to Kabul
Ms Lauryn Hill – Guarding My Gates
Rudy Willingham – Pool Party
Moses Sumney – Virile
Dessa, Minnesota Orchestra – The Beekeeper
Making Movies – The Wake of the Fall (Nibiru)
Algiers – Dispossession
The Districts – Hey Jo
Charly Bliss – Supermoon
Modest Mouse – I’m Still Here
Nada Surf – Something I Should Do
Wye Oak – Fortune
Heavy Lungs – Half Full
Mudhoney – Morning in America
Drive-By Truckers – Armageddon’s Back In Town
Courtney Barnett – Keep On
The Shivas – Start A Fire
Wolf Parade – Forest Green
DJ Shadow, Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon – Rain On Snow
Ricky Martin, Bad Bunny, Residente – Cantalo
Making Movies, Flor de Toloache – Tired of Giving In

The Fortnightly Playlist, November 10th, 2019

Well, it’s on the late side this time, and I haven’t written anything. I’ve especially been enjoying the new music from Michael Kiwanuka, Kele, Sudan Archives, Sturgill Simpson, SONS, and Danny Brown. I’m going to just keep it short and sweet this edition, and just leave you with the music.

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Kele – Cyril’s Blood
Sudan Archives – Limitless
Michael Kiwanuka – Hero
Automatic – Signal
Rudy Willingham – Do Your Thing
DJ shadow – Rosie
Brother Ali – Father Figures
Chance the Rapper – Town on a Hill
Sudan Archives – Iceland Moss
Danny Brown, Blood Orange – Shine
Sturgill Simpson – Sing Along
SONS – Ricochet
Lemolo – Rogue Wave
Tinariwen – Wartilla
Habib Koite – Ivazi
The Cave Singers – Take Care
Mikal Cronin – On The Shelf
Angel Olsen – New Love Cassette
Futurebirds – Waiting On a Call
The Foo Fighters – Spill

The Fortnightly Playlist,October 27th, 2019

This week I’ve happened to run afoul of highly-dedicated fans of both Lady Gaga and Kanye West on Twitter. I just happen to think that some of those big artists are more about hype and money than about art, and some fans take that personally I guess. That said, I don’t think much of Lady Gaga tweeting that “fame is prison” or Kanye spouting ignorant political statements for attention while proudly being off his meds. I think there are plenty of artists that don’t get the attention they deserve. It’s why you will from time to time see a big popstar included here, but only if I think highly of the music. This edition includes new singles from Michael Kiwanuka, Broken Bells, Julien Baker, Sudan Archives, Steve Mason, Wolf Parade, and Steve Gunn, a new collaboration from Sera Cahoone and Tomo Nakayama, and new albums from Neil Young, Joseph Arthur and Son Volt.

She’s been releasing some of my favorite music of the past couple years, so let’s talk Sudan Archives. We’re finally about to get her first full-length album after a pair of fantastic EPs from violinist and vocalist, Brittney Parks. Her Avant-garde violin playing, R&B groove, beautifully layered loops, and subtle yet powerful messaging give us a catchy and accessible sound with plenty of rewards to repeated listening. It’s complex and layered while still sounding sparse and open. I first heard “Wake Up” on the radio, and I found myself listing to her self-titled debut EP on repeat. In her singles and EP’s, every single track has been excellent, and if she can do this in the full album format then this will be among the best of the year without a doubt. If you aren’t familiar, then I highly recommend listening to Sudan Archives (2017), and Sink (2018). The new album, Athena, is out November 1st.

Neil Young has reunited with Crazy Horse after a 7-year break. It’s all got the the feel that you want and expect from a Neil Young & Crazy Horse record, but this is a group that you would never make a something for the feel-good nostalgia of it. Young is still very presen-minded and in-touch in his writing. In the band’s typical raw sound, the record blasts an impassioned environmentalist message directly and unapologetically. Neil and Crazy Horse remain consistent in their desire for a real and raw sound. You won’t find the auto-tune or polished production here. This record sounds like it would if they played it live. There’s a balance here that maybe goes under-appreciated. Keeping that missed note on a solo or that bit where the background vocals were out of sync rather than re-recording another take, but also not making a record that sounds like a jumbled mess. There are fine lines to walk, and some will find that truthful sound a bit uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s for those who appreciate that little crackle of an old record. Personally, I think they balance pretty well on that tightrope as they maybe lean a bit one way or the other at different points.

Some particular favorites of mine this edition include L’Orange & Jeremiah Jae, Sudan Archives, Sera Cahoone & Tomo Nakayama, Son Volt, and Steve Gunn.

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Tracklist:
Michael Kiwanuka – You Ain’t The Problem
Broken Bells – Good Luck
Steve Mason – Like a Ripple
Julien Baker – Tokyo
Lucy Dacus – Dancing in the Dark
Son Volt – Broadsides
Steve Gunn – Be Still Moon
Low Roar – Darkest Hour
Jesca Hoop – Outside of Eden (feat. Kate Stables & Justis)
Buscabullo – Vamona
Renata Flores – Qam Hina
Sara Hebe – Urgente
L’Orange, Jeremiah Jae – Clay Pigeons (feat. billy woods)
Kim Gordon – Paprika Pony
Sufjan Stevens, Timo Andres – IV
Sudan Archives – Glorious
Beck – Uneventful Days
Of Monsters and Men – Vulture, Vulture
Wolf Parade – Against the Day
Joseph Arthur – I’ll Be Around
Sera Cahoone, Tomo Nakayama – Crows
Neil Young & Crazy Horse – She Showed Me Love

The Fortnightly Playlist, October 13th, 2019

What am I most excited about in music right now? Typically, I just pick 2 or 3 to write about a little more, and leave it to the music to speak for itself. There’s a lot here, and there’s a lot to say. New Lemolo, Angel Olsen, Wilco, L’Orange, and Danny Brown albums, and new singles from DJ Shadow, Kele, Songhoy Blues, and HOLY.

I’ll start here. This week, as I was driving, I heard the new single from Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke. Now he released an album under his full name earlier this year already, but now is set to release another under his other moniker, Kele. This single, which I chose as the opener for this edition of the playlist, hit me instantly. It’s a 6-minute epic, but I was ready to listen again as soon as it was done. If this is what is in store for his next release, then I’m all in on it. It’s due out on November 1st, so more to come soon!

As I was building this list, I started thinking on country vocalists. I don’t think there’s a better male country vocalist currently than Jay Farrar of Son Volt, and, as no one who reads this blog will be surprised to hear, I would swear that Brandi Carlile is the best female country vocalist working today. I tend to steer away from making “the best” statements, and try to focus on my own favorites and what I connect with. I don’t think it is possible to really stay objective or even consistent on things like this. On this I’ll stand though, I think Jay Farrar and Brandi Carlile are the best, and this edition I’ve put them right next to each other in the playlist to try and highlight this.

L’Orange. Okay, so I came in late on this North Carolina beatmaker. Last year his album with Solemn Brigham, Marlowe, ranked as my 3rd favorite album of the year, and I’ve been filling myself in a bit on his back catalogue (both solo, and his collaborations with different rappers). He’s built his reputation sampling early jazz records and vintage radio broadcasts, and this new album with Jeremiah Jae is another beauty. L’Orange tends to make his albums as a genre of film. Marlowe was a crime drama that had a dry wit to it, and Complicate Your Life With Violence is like a war movie with apocalyptic tones. So far, the track that has stood out most to me, and which I’ve included here, is “Cool Hand” with multiple samples of Elmore James’ classic “Anna Lee”. I don’t know of another DJ out there sampling the way that L’Orange does, and creating a cinematic story in the same way. Listening to a L’Orange record is like listening to a radio-drama.

Are we halfway through October? What albums are your favorites so far this year?

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Tracklist:
Kele – Between Me and My Maker
Temples – The Howl
Songhoy Blues – Meet Me In The City
Brittany Howard – 13th Century Metal
Great Grandpa – Mono no Aware
HOLY – You shine on me (feat. Boys)
Lemolo – Heart to Hand
Angel Olsen – Impasse
Wilco – One and a Half Stars
Kurt Vile, The Sadies – Baby’s Arms
Son Volt – Holding Your Own
The Highwomen – Wheels of Laredo
Hiss Golden Messenger – Bright Direction (You’re a Dark Star Now)
Just Mustard – Seven
Ex Hex – Rainbow Shiner
Death Valley Girls – Dream Cleaver
Sheer Mag – Blood from a Stone
Mikal Cronin – Shelter
Sault – Living In America
L’Orange, Jeremiah Jae, Chester Watson – Cool Hand
Danny Brown – Change Up
DJ Shadow – Urgent, Important, Please Read (feat. Rockwell, Knuckles, Tef Poe, Daemon)

The Fortnightly Playlist, September 29th, 2019

Spotify recommends that I add Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, John Mayer, and OneRepublic to this playlist based on the songs I have selected. This is a clear example of why not to trust robots. I’m not sure how the robots think those artists fit with Sampa the Great, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The HU, or clipping. I have my suspicions of their algorithm.

The New Pornographers have been something of a constant for my musical tastes in the last 12 years or so. There has been changes to the group from record to record, but I don’t think any fans will complain about having an album that includes a bit more Neko Case than has often been the case before. It’s possible that this is the best record for some of the strongest aspects of the group. The singable melodies, the upbeat hooks, and the blending of all the vocalists are some of the reasons I’ve followed the band all this time. The 3 singles that came out before the record are all among the strongest tracks, and “Higher Beams”, “Leather On The Seat”, and “You’ll Need a New Backseat Driver” also stand out to me right away.

Blending Jazz, Soul, and Hip-Hop, Sampa the Great’s new album, The Return, has immediately landed high on my list for the year. She was born in Zambia, raised in Botswana, and is now based in Melbourne, Australia. The variety of influences comes through as well, yet they blend so well into a cohesive project. To top it all off, the album is chock full of solid guest contributions from artists I never knew before which, I aniticipate, will lead to more discoveries. The Motown groove of “Freedom”, the Hip-Hop swagger of “Final Form”, the dreamy trap beat, swelling strings, and psychadelic guitars of “The Return”, the Jazz-groove of “Dare to Fly”… this album takes you everywhere. How many albums of the year am I allowed to have?

Other favorites this edition are Brittany Howard, clipping., Raphael Saadiq, and The Highwomen.

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Tracklist:
Raphael Saadiq – Sinners Prayer
Sampa the Great, Ecca Vandal – Dare to Fly
Rapsody – Myrlie
Somos Guerreras – Hip Hop Don’t Stop
Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Eme Alfonso – Keep Your Head Up
Brittany Howard – Goat Head
Dessa, Minnesota Orchestra – Call Off Your Ghost (Live)
Lemolo – South of Sound
The New Pornographers – Higher Beams
Neal Francis – This Time
The Highwomen – Crowded Table
Death Cab For Cutie – Before The Bombs
Ceremony – In The Spirit World Now
The HU – Shoog Shoog
 clipping. – Nothing is Safe
Shredders – Shadap You Face, Pt. II
Temples – Context
Foals – Into the Surf
The Highwomen – If She Ever Leaves Me
The New Pornographers – One Kind of Solomon

The Fortnightly Playlist, September 15th, 2019

It’s been a dizzying week. At least we’ve got some new music here to make balance things out. This edition of the list is quite a globetrotter with artists from Ethiopia, Sweden, Australia, Mexico, Mongolia and Brazil all represented.

Brittany Howard’s upcoming album is one I’m certainly excited for. Her soulful voice has been central to the success of Alabama Shakes, and she’s no mediocre guitarist either. So far, the new material suggests that this new solo record will have an impressive diversity in sound. Each of the new songs released so far is very different, and I’m wildly curious how she’ll bring it all together in the album.

A record already out that I’ve been wildly impressed by in recent weeks is Eve by Rapsody. Admittedly, I’m not very familiar with her full catalog, and I’m slowly filling myself in on her decade or so of music. Included with this edition is a song that features a rapper I feel doesn’t get the full credit she deserves; Queen Latifah. Eve is a work dedicated to Rapsody’s heroines. Each of the 16 tracks named for Nina Simone, Sojourner Truth, Serena Williams, Michelle Obama, Afeni Shakur, Maya Angelou and others.

Other favorites here are The HU, Angel Olsen, Bow Thayer, Jenny & The Mexicats, and Temples.

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Tracklist:
Rapsody – Hatshepsut
Brittany Howard – Stay High
Beau Williams, The HamilTones – God Kept Me
Jenny & The Mexicats, Vetusta Morla – El Telon
Liniker e os Caramelows – Lava
HOLY – Hot On The Heels Of Love
Temples – You’re Either On Something
Jay Som – Tenderness
Lumineers – Salt and the Sea
Bow Thayer – Al’s Solution
The Highwomen – My Only Child
Angel Olsen – Lark
Sleater-Kinney – The Future is Here
The Hu – Wolf Totem
Ethiopian Records, Meklit – This Was Made Here (Ethiopian Records Remix)
Aster Aweke – Chewa
Open Mike Eagle – The Edge of New Clothes
Homeboy Sandman – Far Out
Perfume Genius – Eye in the Wall