Tuesday, December 31, 2019

That Wonderful Year in Music... 2019

I've reviewed nearly six decades of music. From my experience, the last year of any given decade is either a high point or culmination (1969, 1979) or... simply not (1989, 2009). I'm relieved to say this year falls into the former category. Any year ending in 9 offers an opportunity for hindsight, and some of musical trends in the latter half of the decade flourished and persisted into 2019. Eclecticism ruled, but specifically it was a banner year for female-identifying songwriters. 2019 goes to toe-to-toe with 2010 and 2016 as the best years for music in this past decade, and this is just a sampling of why.

1. Titanic Rising, Weyes Blood. Full confession: I'm a sucker for lush orchestration. Fans of Cocteau Twins and Low (and to some degree, 1970s FM radio) will not be out of place listening to Natalie Mering and company's fourth effort. The songcraft is driven and confident, simultaneously meandering and meticulously detailed.
2. Bandana, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib. I feel bad for sleeping on their first collaboration, 2014's Pinata. That album established FG&M as a formidable hip-hop duo, and Bandana, their major label debut, augments their building legend. The beats on here are insane.
3. Magdalene, FKA Twigs. Speaking of 2014, another album worth the wait. Tahilah Barnett (aka Twigs) suffered for her art in the past half-decade: the end of a long-term relationship, followed by a battle with uterine fibroids, inform her "resurrection" as a modern-day Mary Magdalene.
4. All Mirrors, Angel Olsen
5. Shea Butter Baby, Ari Lennox
6. When I Get Home, Solange
7. Reward, Cate Le Bon
8. Norman F***ing Rockwell, Lana Del Rey
9. Ventura, Anderson .Paak
10. Pony, Orville Peck.  Imagine Chris Isaak meeting David Lynch. This is not your father's country album.

11. My Finest Work Yet, Andrew Bird
12. On The Line, Jenny Lewis
13. Igor, Tyler, The Creator
14. I Am Easy to Find, The National
15. Remind Me Tomorrow, Sharon Van Etten. An indie darling and coffee house favorite, Van Etten traded composing on guitar for piano for her most recent work. The result was a more emotionally naked, ferociously beautiful piece of art and maybe her best album yet.
16. Grey Area, Little Simz
17. ANIMA, Thom Yorke
18. Hiding Places, Billy Woods & Kenny Segal
19. Ginger, Brockhampton
20. Father of the Bride, Vampire Weekend. The remaining trio weathered a personnel change, switched coasts, and met some new collaborators in the six years since Modern Vampires of the City. It's not necessarily a new sound for VW, but all these changes made for more mature songwriting and a laid-back, more optimistic aesthetic.

1. Glitter Wolf, Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom. In some ways, the globe-hopping Miller has become a Ser Brianne of Tarth for modern creative jazz: a tall, imposing warrior that can no longer be underestimated. Miller's ability an edge to the softest music, while darting from klezmer to post-bop to Cuban jazz, is hard to match.
2. Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise, Jaimie Branch
3. 12 Little Spells, Esperanza Spaulding
4. Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery, The Comet is Coming
5. Immigrance, Snarky Puppy

Best Album of 2019 Some People Recommended But I Haven't Heard Yet: Crush, Floating Points. I'll listen to it on Spotify soon enough. Mea culpa, I ran out of time.

SINGLES (in no order):
"The Best," Self Esteem
"Like Sugar," Shaka Khan
"Doubt," Radical Face
"No Squares," Chika
"No Bullets Spent," Spoon
"Forever Half Mast," Lucy Dacus
"Heaven Help Me," Lizzo
"Truth Hurts," Lizzo
"Peach Fuzz," Caamp
"Some Mutts (Can't Be Muzzled)," Amyl and The Sniffers

"Turn the Light," Karen O. and Danger Mouse
"Bad Guy," Billie Eilish
"Boys in the Better Land," Fontaines D.C.
"Mumbay," Sarathy Korwar
"Fire," Black Pumas
"Last Straw," Nerija
"Supernature," Modern Nature
"Sing Along," Sturgill Simpson
"Stay High," Brittany Howard
"Bad Idea!" girl in red

Best Song of 2019 That I Didn't Realize Was a 51-Year-Old Buffalo Springfield Cover: "Questions," Jakob Dylan feat. Eric Clapton and Stephen Stills

1. "ANIMA," Thom Yorke. This Netflix exclusive, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (who also helmed the HAIM clip, see below) embraces its own Charlie Chaplin-meets-Kurt Weill vibe.
2. "Akindo Fighter," Emiko Shibamura. The type of music video that has to be experienced and digested whole, the story behind this sixty-something Japanese rapper and her "vision" is not something I can encapsulate here.
3. "Kids Turned Out Fine," A$AP Rocky. It's an understatement to say music videos in the YouTube age have grown more experimental and obtuse, and Rocky is just one artist has both enabled and benefited from this new frontier. Known for making dead-serious social commentary *and* goofy, drugged-out clips, "Kids" lands somewhere in between with mesmerizing results.
4. "Holy Water," Galantis. Synchronized swimming in an underappreciated art.
5. "Unemployed," Tierra Whack. A deliciously (pun intended) macabre video about sentient potatoes, as Whack wittily riffs on hating your job.
6. "Land of the Free," The Killers. The Spike Lee/Brandon Flowers collab we didn't know we needed.
7. "Hand Solo," Marika Hackman. It's a double entendre. I'll let you figure it out.
8. "Red Bull and Hennessey," Jenny Lewis. A song of the year candidate beyond a doubt, the video is behind the scenes footage of a music video concept that didn't come together. At least they didn't completely waste Jeff Goldblum and Beck.
9. "Almeda," Solange. As oblique as the album it came from, this clip is a surreal bliss-out, a brown and black moodscape about identity and individuality.
10. "Summer Girl," HAIM. That's a lot of shirts.

Honorable Mention: "Compliance," Preoccupations. All hail the tree creature!

Your thoughts?


Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Random Notes, December 2019

Happy holidays, all 20 of you:

+ Any hope for removing Donald Trump from office will die in the senate. Even though the impeachment has relatively coasted through the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives --on partisan lines, naturally-- its hard to imagine anyone in the historically unilateral GOP to flip on Trump. History will serve the House Democrats well, but the nation and government alike are polarized. If anything, this will potentially shape up the 2020 election as a feast for incumbents; both the left and right have galvanized their bases, like happy warriors for their respective causes. At least now Trump has the stigma of not being able to be pardoned.

+ I still can't quite make heads or tails of the Bears' rollercoaster season. Perhaps the hype was too much, I don't think any one person or party is to blame. I suppose some of the onus lies on Mitch Trubisky, a capable but admittedly inconsistent quarterback. The defense did their job, as long as Khalil Mack was healthy. Matt Nagy was brilliant one second and confounding the next. At the same time, the Packers and Vikings both improved their respective defenses, and if you look at the big picture, all three teams were just wailing on the Lions. Onward to 2020, I suppose.

+ I haven't seen Episode IX yet, and I have no inclination to see "Cats." No spoilers please, and thank you for asking.

In a Few Days: the year in music, 2019.


Sunday, December 1, 2019

Two Random Notes, Late November 2019

I have a lot to catch up on:

+ The impeachment process has been damning so far. No matter how conservative news/talk radio spins it, the Ukraine infraction should be the end of the Trump administration. If President Trump wants to prove his innocence, he can't just tweet his alibi. I would love to see him --or more likely, his inner circle-- testify before Congress.

+ It's Thanksgiving weekend, and I am thankful for having some financial stability (for now), being able to explore the world, a friendly and accommodating roommate, my friends, and my remaining family. I give a hearty "no thanks" to political gridlock, right-wing echo chambers, and gaslighting.