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.
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