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
As I do each year, I’ll begin with a disclaimer about my year-end list. I don’t think it is possible to engage with music (or any art) in a purely objective way. This isn’t a “best albums of the year” list. It is my favorites. It’s what I engaged with most, and became works that meant something to me. We approach art with all of our own baggage, who we are, what we are going through. Your list, undoubtedly, is different from mine, but maybe something here also resonated with you. I’d love to know what your favorites were this year whether similar to mine or different. Next week I’ll be adding part 2 which will be my top 10. Enjoy!
25. Busta Rhymes – Extinction Level Event 2 Damn if we didn’t need an album like this in 2020! Busta is a Hip-Hop legend at this point, and 2020 felt like it needed is fast-paced, aggressive, powerful voice (not to mention it felt like we were in an extinction level event). It’s hard to talk about this album without putting the focus on “Look Over Your Shoulder”. As Busta put it in an interview on The Daily Show, “it became clear we were sittin’ on a different type of gem”. Both Busta and Kendrick put in a monster verse, and the samples of young Michael Jackson chopped up and tying the whole thing together is a stroke of genius.
24. Blimes and Gab – Talk About It Where I live this album was a big deal. Being from the Seattle area, and Gifted Gab being a local artist had something to do with it perhaps. Gab has collaborated with San Fransisco’s Blimes Brixton on a couple singles over the past few years, but this is the first full-length project from the pair. For me personally, “Sacred” and the title track are the standouts here.
23. Smokey Brights – I Love You But Damn Another local release here! I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Smokey Brights perform a couple times in the last few years, and they are a joy. This was one of the more lighthearted releases I engaged with this year, but still with the Smokey’s genuine touch.
22. Run The Jewels – RTJ4 As with the Busta Rhymes album, there are certain artists and albums that land in the right time and place. This was a year for Run the Jewels, and you could tell they knew it. El-P and Killer Mike came striding into 2020 knowing full well they’re album was going to be a touchstone. This one will be on a lot of top album lists this year, no doubt.
21. SAULT – Untitled (Black is…) SAULT had 2 albums last year, and 2 again this year. They came out of seemingly nowhere, and there is still a lot of uncertainty about who is behind the project. What is known is that each album has been timely and profound. Black is… was their first release for the year, and as an additional treat there is a nice appearance from Michael Kiwanuka as well.
20. Andy Shauf – Neon Skyline Andy Shauf is an artist that I’ve known since way back. I think the first time I saw Andy live must have been in 2008 or 2009. He played several times at the small bible college both I and his brother attended. I am sort of blown away seeing the artist Andy has become now, and the music he is making. It is oddly rewarding to see an artist whose homemade album you bought back in the day now playing on Jimmy Kimmel and making an album like this.
19. Fantastic Negrito – Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? Xaviar Amin Dphrepaulezz is an artist who has had an incredible journey to this point. His first record deal was signed back in 1993, but a near fatal car crash led to the record company terminating the contract. It was a long recovery, and he quit making music entirely. He returned in 2014, and his 2nd and 3rd record after his return each bagged him Grammy’s for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Major standout songs on this record are “Chocolate Samurai” and “How Long?”
18. Childish Gambino – 3.15.20 Donald Glover does what he wants. Rumors had been that the Childish Gambino name would be retired, and since have THE song of 2018 there appeared to be no news of anything different from that. Then as lockdowns began hitting in the US and many other parts of the world, 3.15.20 appeared. The title was simply the date it first appeared on his own website, and most of the track titles were just the run-time they of the album in which they appear. For all the unknowns there was a lot contained in the record, some lush pop music blended in with artsy stylings. Less funk and psychedelic than had previously been included on Childish Gambino works, but still very clearly something uniquely Childish Gambino.
17. Throwing Muses – Sun Racket Somehow both atmospheric and intense, the latest offering from Throwing Muses felt like the brooding, dark, alt-rock album that I needed as we entered an Autumn that was about to last 10 years. The opening track, “Dark Blue”, was certainly a highlight, and one of my favorite songs of the year. This is their most concise work in a while, and it may be among their best.
16. Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension At this point, any announcement of new music from Sufjan would cause significant buzz, but with a massive lead single over 12 minutes called “America” it seemed to garner some attention. In terms of the sound, the album has a fair amount of similarity to Age of Adz, but with intimate moments throughout.This is something Sufjan has mastered. He can have this huge, complex and dense sound, but with these moments where it doesn’t feel so intimidating.
15. Pearl Jam – Gigaton Forever and always my favorite band. As many will say of their favorite band, a new record is difficult to form an opinion of immediately. This record has some highlight tracks that fit so well in the Pearl Jam catalogue. Soaring, anthemic choruses that are tailor-made to have a stadium singing along, and a message laced with a dose of righteous punk rage.
14. SAULT – Untitled (Rise…) Yep, the second SAULT record ranked a bit higher for me. Rise turned a little more hopeful, and built more on their broad sound incorporating rock, soul and roots. I connected more with this collection of songs than any of their material to-date.
13. Drive-By Truckers – The Unravelling I always look forward to a new Drive-By Truckers album, and this was no exception. Cooley and Hood trading vocals, and the band sounding tight. It seems each record is a highwater mark all it’s own. While American Band was, for me, their best work, but this is a fitting follow up. They quickly got another release out this year with The New OK, which featured some new songs as well as additional songs from the sessions for this album.
12. This is the Kit – Off Off On This album was so close to being in my top 10, and it really is a beautiful album. Kate Stables’ writing is better than even on this one, and sonically I found it reminded me of Sufjan Steven’s state albums. The varied instrumentation with horns, sax and banjo may play a role in that.
11. Mark Lanegan – Straight Songs of Sorrow Lanegan has a gift for making dark songs sound so good. I read his memoir this summer, and I found out why. What a dark and difficult book that was. It certainly gave insight into the entrapment of addiction, and you can see why the phrase “survivor’s guilt” comes up in his interviews sometimes. Straight Songs of Sorrow continues his lengthening run of releasing a new album every year, and what’s more significant is that he continue to push boundaries with his music.
tracklist: Pearl Jam – Who Ever Said Drive-By Truckers – Grievance Merchants Fantastic Negrito – Chocolate Samurai SAULT, Michael Kiwanuka – Bow Childish Gambino – 35.31 Blimes and Gab – Talk About It Smokey Brights – I Won’t Lie 4 You SAULT – Fearless Busta Rhymes, Kendrick Lamar – Look Over Your Shoulder Sufjan Stevens – Run Away With Me This is the Kit – Was Magician Andy Shauf – Thirteen Hours Mark Lanegan – Daylight in the Nocturnal House Throwing Muses – St Charles Run the Jewels, Josh Homme, Mavis Staples – pulling the pin Busta Rhymes – Don’t Go Fantastic Negrito – How Long? Blimes and Gab – Sacred SAULT – Wildfires SAULT – Free This is the Kit – Slider Drive-By Truckers – Rosemary with a Bible and a Gun Mark Lanegan – I Wouldn’t Want to Say Pearl Jam – Seven O’Clock Throwing Muses – Dark Blue Childish Gambino, Ariana Grande – Time Run The Jewels, Zack de la Rocha, Pharrell Williams – JU$T Sufjan Stevens – America Andy Shauf – Changer Smokey Brights – Shelter Me
Here we are…December. This will the last business-as-usual playlist of the year. There are some late albums dropping still, and those often don’t get the attention in the albums of the year melee as they don’t get the chance to build what other records have. Things take a few listens to really get going. This will be a mix of late 2020 records, and early singles from what’s ahead in 2021.
Northern Irish singer/songwriter, Joshua Burnside, first came to my attention a couple years back when I saw a piece written about a music festival there featuring several local artists. His 2018 EP, All Round The Light Said, was enough to let me know that I’d want to pay attention. His new full-length album, Into The Depths of Hell, is a beautiful work of art. He incorporates a number of different styles in his music, and complex crafting in each song.
I’ve included a few holiday songs this time around, and I always look forward to finding good arrangements to combat the tired box-store playlists that inundate us every year. In particular, Phoebe Bridgers new cover of Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December” really struck me this week. To be honest, I wasn’t all that familiar with the song, and I’m so glad that this new version of it has brought it to my attention.
Other favorites in this edition are Oumou Sangare, The Hold Steady, Eddie Vedder, and Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio.
Phoebe Bridgers – If We Make It Through December Brigid Mae Power – Head Above the Water Joshua Burnside – Driving Alone in the City at Night Eddie Vedder – Matter of Time Gabriel Teodros, Jonathan Emile – Nothing Buendia – Espejo Tune-yards – nowhere, man Aesop Rock – Gauze Erik Blood, Envy of Denmark – What Happens on Friday Loma – Don’t Shy Away Oumou Sangare – Mali Niale Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio – Call Your Mom Walter Smith III, Matthew Stevens, Micah Thomas, Linda May Han Oh, Nate Smith – Cowboy Alicia Keys, Brandi Carlile – A Beautiful Noise Black Pumas – Christmas Will Really Be Christmas The Hold Steady – Family Farm Mourn – House, Hold Quivers – Country Feedback Joshua Burnside – And You Evade Him/Born in the Blood The Young Evils – For The Moon Sharon Van Etten – Silent Night
I’ve bookended this edition with covers of some classic tunes. Brittany Howard’s powerful version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” hits hard, and Karen O and Willie Nelson’s gentle duet of “Under Pressure” is thoughtful and beautiful. These seemed a good way to frame this one.
I hadn’t yet heard much of the new Loma album, Don’t Shy Away, when a song came on the radio. I could tell it was a song Jonathan Meiburg had a hand in. I knew it had to be Loma, as it wasn’t quite a Shearwater sound. The melody, though, had a distinct sound. Sure enough it was “Half Silences” I’ve now listened to the full album straight through, and it is excellent. For me, their first record had certain highpoints that were incredible, but this record sustains this through every song. It’s something special.
I also want to highlight Black Thought’s latest record, Streams of Thought Vol. 3. He’s always been known as an incisive writer and rapper, and now it’s been so cool to see him do these solo projects and get an idea of who he is as a solo artist shaping his own sound.
Other favorites in this edition are Ghetto Kumbe, illuminanti hotties, and Erik Blood.
Brittany Howard – You’ll Never Walk Alone Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) Ghetto Kumbe – Vamo a Dale Duro Vel the Wonder – Trophy Wife Residente – Yo Te Quiero a Ti Nels Cline – Passed Down Loma – Half Silences Midnight Oil – First Nation Death Valley Girls – I’d Rather Be Dreaming Quivers – Texarkana Illuminati hotties – ppl plzr Sunflower Bean – Moment in the Sun Left at London – 6 Feet Erik Blood & Gary V – Rent is Due Loma – Given a Sign Mint Field – Delicadeza Bartees Strange – Stone Meadows Shame – Water in the Well Black Thought – State Prisoner Boof – Chicken With Waffles Tierra Whack – DoraRoisin Murphy – Murphy’s Law Karen O, Willie Nelson – Under Pressure
Well, it’s been quite the fortnight. A lot has happened since my last post and playlist, and you can certainly expect some of that emotion to be evident in the song choices here. Enjoy, everyone!
There are a lot of rootsy selections in this edition, but I want to draw attention, in particular to Lianne La Havas. What an excellent album she’s come out with this year, and the song of hers that I chose to include in this edition is a cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes”. Her version really draws out the jazz connection in the song wonderfully. Give her album a full listen, and you won’t regret it.
I also want to highlight Joensuu 1685. This Finnish group draws a bold line to the emotional and intimate rock music of Frightened Rabbit, but certainly with their own sparkling, shimmering twist to things. I first became aware of the group through Mikko Joensuu’s “Amen trilogy”, and I’m glad to engage with some new music from the full band.
Other favorites this time around are Trummors, Sauti Sol, Busta Rhymes, and Skyway Man.
tracklist: Resistance Revival Chorus – I Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind Stayed On Freedom) Trummors – Late Arriver The Nude Party – Easier Said Than Done Calexico – Hear the Bells Kurt Vile, John Prine – How Lucky Sauti Sol, Soweto Gospel Choir – Brighter Days Tank & the Bangas, Hasizzle, Keedy Black, Big Choo – To Be Real Rapsody – 12 Problems Dessa – Tyranny Aesop Rock – Pizza Alley Busta Rhymes, Kendrick Lamar – Look Over Your Shoulder Open Mike Eagle – I’m a Joestar (Black Power Fantasy) Joensuu 1685 – Running In Our Graves Xyla, Oso Feo – Cold Eartheater – Diamond in the Bedrock Joensuu 1685 – Gloria Bob Mould – Forecast of Rain SG Goodman – Which Side Are You On? RVG – I Used To Love You Skyway Man – Muddy Water Cut Worms – Last Words to a Refugee Dillon Warnek – Freedom and Me This is the Kit – Carry Us Please Lianne La Havas – Weird Fishes Joensuu 1685 – I’m In Paradise
I’m just going to put this out there… this might be the best list I’ve made all year. I was working out the order over the last couple days, and realized how much I am loving music right now. I hope you enjoy this just as much.
This week I was taken by surprise by the new This is the Kit album, Off Off On. It quite suddenly launched itself into my favorites of the year. The record has a quiet power to it. There are points with banjo or saxophone that just touch on bluegrass and jazz, but evading being pinpointed. Kate Stables has made something special here.
There are several songs in this list that tackle difficult topics, and are intensely personal. Open Mike Eagle, Amanda Shires and Courtney Marie Andrews offered some very intimate work recently, and it’s worth bringing attention to the courage that takes to be vulnerable with your audience.
Sometimes a song hits you, and it’s just what you need. Yesterday, after a long, difficult week I was finding some solace in going through the music for this. Brand new Stevie Wonder lifted me up so much. Throw in guest spots from Busta Rhymes and Rapsody, and you’ve got me all in. Speaking of Rapsody, she also appears on this new 2020 remix of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”, and her verse is a stunner. If you asked me about the best lyricists in the last 10 years, then Rapsody would be in the conversation.
Other favorites in this edition are Nilufer Yanya, Songhoy Blues, Polyrhythmics, and Deep Sea Diver.
Deep Sea Diver – Eyes are Red (Don’t Be Afraid) Open Mike Eagle – Everything Ends Last Year Durand Jones & the Indications – Power to the People Stevie Wonder, Rapsody, Cordae, CHIKA, Busta Rhymes – Can’t Put It In The Hands Of Fate Public Enemy, Nas, Rapsody, Black Thought, Jahi, YG, ?uestlove -Fight the Power:Remix 2020 Polyrhythmics – Zion Budos Band – Sixth Hammer Delvon Lamar Organ Trio – Fo Sho Arlo Parks – Green Eyes This is the Kit – Found Out Drive-By Truckers – The Distance M. Ward – For Heaven’s Sake Throwing Muses – Sue’s Courtney Marie Andrews – Ships in the Night Amanda Shires, Jason Isbell – The Problem This is the Kit – Was Magician Tricky, Oh Land – I’m in the Doorway Nilufer Yanya – Crash Dylan Cartlidge – Cheerleader Bootsy Collins, George Benson, The Williams Singers – The Power of the One Songhoy Blues – Dournia Mourn – Men Bartees Strange – Mustang Clipping – Check the Lock Tobacco – Centaur Skin
What is it? October now? I guess the new Deep Sea Diver album comes out this week. In fact that pre-ordered vinyl has already been shipped. I’ve included their latest single, “Wishing” here, as well as new singles from Pearl Jam, and a collaboration between Zion I and Fantastic Negrito.
I want to draw your attention to this amazing new album by Sa-Roc called The Sharecropper’s Daughter. Sa-Roc is an impressive MC, and this album among the best of 2020. Race and womanhood are at the heart of this record without apology, and delivered with a voice powerful enough to compete with any other MC.
There’s been a lot of Mark Lanegan playing in our house lately. I just finished reading his memoir, and his dark, beautiful music has accompanied that well. Lanegan’s latest offering, Straight Songs of Sorrow, is another remarkable chapter in his recent prolific run. Really, ever since he’s gotten clean, we’ve had a release from Lanegan either solo or collaboration. Seattle has an unfortunate history of losing our singers before their time, and I’m thankful we’ve still got Mark Lanegan with us.
Other favorites I’ve not yet mentioned in this edition are Cloquet, Kevin Devine and Amber Mark.
tracklist: Deep Sea Diver – Wishing David Wirsig – Duck and Cover Mark Lanegan – Churchbells, Ghosts IDLES – War El Ten Eleven – With Report Bob Mould – Heart On My Sleeve Pearl Jam – Get It Back Chong the Nomad – Provider Lazerbeak – Top Down Amber Mark – My People Sa-Roc – Lay It Down Zion I, Fantastic Negrito – Try & Try Paper Tiger – Knuckles Esther Rose – Thirteen Yola – Hold On Kevin Devine – Taking Shape Samuel Joseph Smythe – End Titles El Ten Eleven – All of This Bliss Doesn’t Come Without a Price
“Do you hear that thunder? That’s the sound of strength in numbers!”
“Let’s sieze the day, All hold hands, chase the pricks away.”
If The Clash wrote began writing the punk gospel, then the latest record from IDLES, Ultra Mono, feels like one of the late epistles written by an apostle of punk awaiting trial. A letter to the punks of the world in dark times insisting still “If you want to beat the machine, keep your teeth clean and kill ’em with kindness”.
There’s a lot more to cover this week. New records from Fleet Foxes, Bob Mould, and Sufjan Stevens, the title track from the final album by Toots & The Maytals (RIP Toots Hibbert), and new singles from Pixies, Black Thought, and Janelle Monae. Of course, It’s been 3 weeks instead of my usual 2 since I last posted, so there’s a lot of music to share.
Marika Hackman – Realiti IDLES – Kill Them With Kindness Mark Lanegan – Daylight in the Nocturnal House Throwing Muses – St. Charles Pixies – Hear Me Out Nation of Language – Gouge Away Dave Hause, Amethyst Kiah, Kam Franklin – Your Ghost David Wirsig – March Local Natives, Sylvan Esso – Dark Days Sufjan Stevens – Run Away With Me First Aid Kit – Come Give Me Love Chuck Prophet – Love Doesn’t Come From the Barrel of a Gun Toots & the Maytals – Got To Be Tough Black Thought, Pusha T, Swizz Beats, Killer Mike – Good Morning Pete Rock, Camp Lo, Talib Kweli – Ladies & Gentlemen Janelle Monae – Turntables Sault – Fearless John Vanderslice – lure mice condemn erase Bronson – Foundation Aesop Rock – The Gates Eddie Vedder, Nick Zinner – Cartography (Nick Zinner Remix) Matt Berninger – One More Second Fleet Foxes – Going-to-the-Sun Road Bob Mould – Forecast of Rain IDLES – Ne Touche Pas Moi
I have this desire to always keep including new and different sounds here. What I always say is this: “You probably won’t like everything I include, but you’ll always find something you like.” This tends to match the feedback I often get, so I think it is working. This blog has been going for nearly 4 years, and the playlists go back another year before the blog. Looking back at some of the early lists this week, I realize that how the process of just paying attention has evolved and broadened my own musical preferences.
Missing live music has certainly been a feature of 2020. The last show I went to was back on January 18th. I saw Dessa and Monakr at The Crocodile in Seattle. I don’t really recall the last time I went over 6 months without going to a show. If you count every local gig at every coffee shop, then it would probably go back to before I could drive. There’s a few artists in the list this edition that I’ve seen live. Sarah Jarosz, Deep Sea Diver, and Naked Giants (x2). I sure hope 2021 holds live music again.
I wanted to point out Mark Lanegan this edition. Lanegan was frontman for Screaming Trees their entire run. They didn’t see the kind of success that some of their fellow Washington bands did through the ’90s, but Lanegan, in particular, has shown himself to be a lasting talent. He’s thankfully also very prolific. It seems now that we can just expect an album every year from him, and we can also expect it to be excellent. He also published his memoir back in April, and I’ve heard it is a very difficult but good read. It’s on my booklist for sure.
Other favorites of mine in this edition are Fantastic Negrito, Hinds, Throwing Muses, Barbi Recananti, and The Harlem Gospel Travelers.
tracklist: Sondre Lerche – Patience Fantastic Negrito – Chocolate Samurai Nicola Cruz – Yeva Disclosure, Fatoumata Diawara – Douha (Mali Mali) Chong the Nomad – On Fire Lila Ike – Stars Align Blu & Exile – The Feeling Gregory Porter – Faith in Love Deep Sea Diver, Sharon Van Etten – Impossible Weight Mark Lanegan – I Wouldn’t Want to Say Throwing Muses – Bo Diddley Bridge Bibio – Sleep On The Wing Sarah Jarosz – Empty Square The Harlem Gospel Travelers – Fight On! Wyatt Waddell – Fight! Gordon Koang – South Sudan Bronko Yotte – Galvano Barbi Recanati – Que No Hinds – Take Me Back Mourn – Call You Back Naked Giants – Take a Chance Son Lux – Last Light