BEST OF 2019: Part 3 – 5 – 1

Having finished this, it possibly requires even further splitting up but, hey, it’s January now and nobody needs another end of year list being drawn out any longer than is strictly necessary. Still, strap in for a lengthy explanation of my top five favourites from 2019. What a year for music!

  1. Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising [LISTEN]

Sometimes, an album just gradually takes over. You don’t expect it, you don’t realise how much you’re playing it and you suddenly twig that you know it inside out. The sweeping orchestral backdrops to many of the songs on ‘Titanic Rising’ have been on a loop in my subconscious for much of this year, occasionally getting loud enough for me to realise what it is I’m humming away at. The woozy swirl of ‘Andromeda’ is utterly hypnotic, Natalie Mering’s emphatic vocal exerting a gravitational pull on everything around it.

‘Everyday’ stomps about with an early-Seventies pop-rock swagger with hints of ELO and all sorts in there, while ‘Something To Believe’ builds to a full on late-Beatles, early-solo Macca crescendo that is on a par with most of Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Songs From Northern Britain’ as having the capacity to achieve a musical mental reboot. The bleepy synths take a curiously stately sideways turn towards the end of ‘Movies’ and ‘Wild Time’ evokes memories of (the soon to finally release another album) A Girl Called Eddy. ‘Picture Me Better’ feels like it belongs in the reflective moment of a redemptive musical and the instrumental conclusion that follows neatly rounds of a rather grandiose experience. It’s out of time and yet timeless. One for the contemplative hours of winter that lie ahead. 

  1. Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka [LISTEN]

I adored ‘Love and Hate’ but it came out in the year of no full listso I didn’t get to hammer that point home around 2016’s festivities. My emphatic Clash review is still online though, should you need any persuasion to give that corker a go. In the three years that followed, one whole album’s worth of material was scrapped and a fresh approach was taken. The epic Seventies soul of his second record is still at play here colliding with Nineties electric soul and 21stcentury jazz, while David Axelrod symbolically twiddles with the controls. The scope is phenomenal and the ground covered on one record makes it feel like one of those ‘Buried Treasure’ titles you read about in Mojo which are pitched as world beaters. I appreciate I’m having my hyperbolic cake and eating it with that statement but a) it deserves it and b) that’s all the rage these days, right?

One moment of glory is when Kiwanuka’s lead vocal comes back in around the 2:15 mark of ‘I’ve Been Dazed’. Another is the string swell around 1:40 of ‘Piano Joint (This Kind Of Love). Then there’s the start of ‘Hero’ when it becomes clear that the recording has been tinkered with. What about the dragged-heel drum that brings back the beat four minutes into ‘Hard To Say Goodbye’? Oh, there is a great deal to love here. Crank it up on your preferred listening setup and let it do its thing. Michael Kiwanuka is a very special artist and I’m genuinely excited to see where he goes next.

  1. Stella Donnelly – Beware Of The Dogs [LISTEN]

My Green Man envy was especially strong this year. Almost all of the most splendid people on my Twitter timeline were there and raving about various wondrous performances across those few idyllic days in the Welsh countryside. We’re wondering if it might be time to introduce the little one to the experience in the next year or two, but for now it’s all vicarious. Amongst the noise this time came much chat about Stella Donnelly. I’d seen the sleeve of her EP, ‘Thrush Metal’, posted online a few times but had listened without giving my full attention and moved on. This time, however, I thought I should probably investigate and what I found was a brilliant lyricist with some outrageously catchy songs.

The keening harmonies at the start of ‘Mosquito’ are more restorative than an afternoon nap. The mid-paced jangle of ‘Season’s Greetings’ is joyous, making its eventual conclusion all the more striking. Her voice is utterly brilliant, ascending majestically at times while being pointedly, ironically conversational at others. This is a performance in so many ways and this is an artist who truly understands the power of language, something I find myself gravitating towards more and more in this world so increasingly disinterested in experts and knowledge.

The twitchy rhythms of ‘Die’ and the Dubstar-ish ‘Watching Telly’ hark back to aspects of the Nineties indie fringe (scene, not Ashcroft) while the lilting title track is stunning building to such a potently ferocious conclusion. You might already know ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ from its appearance on that aforementioned EP, but that doesn’t negate what a brilliant song it is. The combination of some meticulous lyrics, a ranging, raw vocal and a sparse electric guitar accompaniment make for something truly potent.

It’s funny, it’s shocking, it’s righteously furious and it is oh so very great.

  1. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains [LISTEN]

I genuinely think any of the big five albums of 2019 could have been list toppers in other years. What a record this is. The music of Silver Jews had been in my peripheral hearing for some time but, for whatever reason that massively escapes me right now, I hadn’t ever really taken the time to appreciate what was so clearly a band ideally suited to my tastes. That group was parked in the late-Noughties and its leader, David Berman, retreated from the spotlight for almost a decade. His re-emergence under the name Purple Mountains in 2019 was a cause for much celebration in certain quarters and the lead single, ‘All My Happiness Is Gone’, quickly caught my ear. But, still, I didn’t follow the thread. It was only when the horrible news of his death emerged in August that I read so many compelling pieces about his work that I properly took the time.

If you don’t know his music, be sure to listen to ‘American Water’, ‘Starlite Walker’, ‘The Natural Bridge’ and ‘Bright Flight’ some time soon. And then the rest. And then buy ‘Actual Air’, his recently reprinted and often stunning poetry collection. The first song on the eponymous Purple Mountains has the following stanza labelled as the chorus in his handwritten lyrics:

“A setback can be a setup

for a comeback if you don’t let up

but this kind of hurting won’t heal.

The end of all wanting is all I’ve been wanting

and that’s just the way that I feel.”

Echoes of ‘Blackstar’ abounded as some of his biggest fans expressed disbelief that they hadn’t seen it there, right in front of them, when they had first played the album. It is, of course, one of those records that will now forever be entwined with the circumstances close to its release. Berman was due to go on his first tour in an age only days after the point when he ended his life and there was such visceral shock from those to whom his music had always meant so much. I’ve since joined those ranks, but I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Let’s not generalise this record and overthink every lyric. The luscious wash of ‘Snow Is Falling In Manhattan’ is utterly gorgeous, despite a chorus that just involves the word “snow” being repeated with its vowel elongated to varying extents. And then there’s the lyric to ‘Maybe I’m The Only One For Me’. Whatever the subtext, “If no-one’s fond of fucking me, maybe no-one’s fucking fond of me” is a hilariously brilliant line.

This will be heralded as a masterpiece one day, so let’s just get in ahead of the crowd. A truly, truly special album.

  1. The National – I Am Easy To Find [LISTEN]

With a couple of weeks remaining before Christmas, Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena played host to arguably my band of the decade, The National. ‘High Violet’ was the moment where I truly fell in love and I have written at length previously about how it got me through a pretty grim year. Curiously, they have offered that service several times since and ‘I Am Easy To Find’ has been ballast and balm in the choppy waters of 2019. I have listened to this album more than any other in the past twelve months, and by some stretch. Not since ‘High Violet’ has an album dominated my listening quite so much and it actually reminded me of the pre-digital era when you would play your purchases over and over to make sure they seemed like good value. It was off-line on my phone, the first thing streaming in hi-res when I finally embraced the 21stcentury and added a streamer to my setup and, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit, I own three different vinyl editions of this record. Not the red swirly bollocks though, obviously. To witness these songs played live was something incredibly special. Screens offered images adorned with the paint streaks of the artwork, while an audience resisted the temptation to talk through the slow ones. ‘Quiet Light’ had me moist-eyed within the first ten minutes and by the time the audience singalong of ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’ neared its conclusion I was in a state of near-euphoria. Not at all bad given the state of the world right now. Seriously, look at this setlist.

I could wang on about this record for longer than it takes to play the thing. It’s one thing to work with a range of female vocalists across the course of an album, but it’s quite another to find such utterly perfect fits. Gail Ann Dorsey is a sensational choice, elevating ‘Hey Rosey’ and ‘You Had Your Soul With You’ to stratospheric heights, her voice the note perfect foil for Matt Berninger’s ageing creak. Kate Stables’ work on the title track and long-term live favourite ‘Rylan’ is similarly glorious and when both combine with Lisa Hannigan on ‘Not In Kansas’ it’s very special indeed. That track in particular is one highlight amongst many. Lyrically, it is immense, sprawling all over the place in a piece which is split into several movements. Evocative landscapes emerge:

“My bedroom is a stranger’s gunroom

Ohio’s in a downward spiral

Can’t go back there anymore

Since alt-right opium went viral”

both offering political heartache and plain nostalgia:

“I’m binging hard on Annette Bening

And listening to R.E.M. again

Begin The Begin over and over

Begin The Begin over and over.”

It’s somewhere between songwriting, poetry and performance art and as much as I understand why it didn’t make it to a live setting, I would have appreciated the opportunity to see if my emotions exploded in its presence.

The aforementioned title track is staggeringly pretty, the lift in Stables’ voice on the line “if you ever come around this way again you’ll see me” one of my favourite musical moments of 2019. And all this is without mentioning ‘Where Is Her Head’ featuring Eve Owen, a British singer-songwriter just embarking on her career. She takes the lead on a frantic charge, proving to be the fourth perfect additional voice for this band to be used on one album. I understand why the purists might not be able to trace the line from ‘Alligator’ to here but I feel like they are massively missing out.

‘So Far So Fast’ is a curious beast, with six and a half minutes of fidgeting synths below Lisa Hannigan’s glacial poise, Berninger’s emphatic mid-song participation and skittering percussion. It’s unlike anything else on the album and utterly beautiful in its assertively slow pace. And let’s not forget the majesty of ‘Hairpin Turns’, with Dorsey and Hannigan, and closer ‘Light Years’ which evokes the joys of non-album single and soundtrack piece ‘Exile Vilify’.

The art direction is magnificent and the accompanying film offers an interesting route into the songs. The lyric booklet included with the vinyl is a delight and I can’t think of a single thing I’d want to change about the whole album. It hasn’t been a critical favourite in the end of year lists, possibly because they’re established, it’s quite slow and pretty long. But, honestly, don’t see any of those things as negatives because they oh so emphatically are not once you actually hear the thing.

I Am Easy To Find over and over

I Am Easy To Find over and over.

BEST OF 2019: Part 2 – 15 – 6

I know I said Part 2 would wrap it up but I ended up writing more than I intended to for albums 15-6 and thought it best to add a further split. So, below you will find the next ten corkers from 2019. As always, feel free to comment either here or on the ‘socials’.

  1. Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center [LISTEN]

Conor Oberst and his Bright Eyes work have always  been easy on the ear but it was the presence of Phoebe Bridgers in this double act that commanded my attention. Her marvellous ‘Stranger In The Alps’ debut from 2017 was in my top ten of that year and her work on the boygenius EP – with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker – from 2018 is well worth a listen too. Their combined musical DNA is a logical brand of folk-rock with effervescent chugging and elevated choruses. There’s something of a Crowded House sensibility in there amongst many other things, particularly when Oberst is hovering behind Bridgers’ vocals, as on ‘Dylan Thomas’. ‘Exception To The Rule’ pairs a metronomic synth with crunched percussion and builds a beautifully warped pop smash. There’s much to like here, with two artists who just seem to bounce off each other naturally. Really love the sleeve too!

  1. Cate Le Bon – Reward [LISTEN]

Regular readers of these lists will not be in anyway surprised to find ‘Reward’ occupying a slot in the 2019 countdown. Cate Le Bon is consistently brilliant. She doesn’t release bad records and if you don’t already own ‘Mug Museum’, you really should be kind to yourself and sort that out. ‘Reward’ is arguably a little more immediately accessible than some of her previous records and came out of a period of time in the Lake District in which she “may have lost [her] mind a little at times.” Opener ‘Miami’ is a floaty, hazy dreamscape before giving way to ‘Daylight Matters’, which feels like slightly more familiar territory. The plucked rollercoaster of notes that form the core of ‘Home To You’ is a particular highlight. Aching lyrics are often lost amongst playful melodies but give it time and ‘Reward’ is an incredibly compelling listen. Still brilliant.

  1. Aldous Harding – Designer [LISTEN]

Her debut album was released on a very poor quality vinyl pressing, but the music still shone through. It was one of those releases about which Ash from Spillers Records in Cardiff – one of the world’s very best music shops – was emphatically rhapsodising. When that happens, you purchase on trust. To listen back to that album now – ticks, pops and crackle included – is fascinating. From the Celtic folk flushes of five years previous we get to the enveloping, atmospheric intensity of ‘Designer’. The hiccupping, Beta Band-y percussion of ‘Designer’ is utterly magical while the languidly hypnotic ‘Zoo Eyes’ has more than a hint of the aforementioned Cate Le Bon about it. ‘The Barrel’ is another corker, bedecked with some very fine bass clarinet from Stephen Black, Mr Sweet Baboo. I’d like to think I’d say this even if it didn’t have him on it and it hadn’t been recorded in Monmouth and I hadn’t first encountered her thanks to Spillers, but I really feel like this album sounds pretty Welsh to me. A great recent piece by Jude Rogers adds some detail.

  1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen [LISTEN]

What is there left to be said about this album? ‘Skeleton Tree’ was hugely important to me back in 2016 when I experienced loss and new life but failed to compile a list. The sonic intensity, full of scratchy unease, captured raw emotions applied to songs written before the loss of his son, and ‘Ghosteen’ comes after several years of reflection and unthinkable grief. It is beautiful, often relatable and best consumed in its entirety. ‘Waiting For You’ is heart-breaking but strangely uplifting by giving form to difficult feelings. Indeed, that is what much of ‘Ghosteen’ does so well. The artwork is bizarre and the two parts to the record a little curious, but this is a standalone piece. This won’t be filleted for a greatest hits one day. As much as I identify with those saying how well it captures notions of grief, it is for that reason I can’t spend too long with it right now. I know it’s special, but I don’t often reach for it. Should it be higher in the list? Maybe.

  1. Lucy Rose – No Words Left [LISTEN]

I knew the name and the previous releases had briefly held my attention, but I really didn’t expect to find a stark, plaintive piano-driven album that scratches a Laura Marling-shaped itch here. The polished indie and sanitised soul of previous efforts which seemed calculated for afternoon slots at boutique music and food festivals across the land have all vanished and this feels like an artist finally setting out on their own and following their muse. ‘Solo(w)’ builds to a quite magnificent conclusion that clambers out of the speakers and purposefully occupies the space around you. ‘Conversation’ and ‘Treat Me Like A Woman’ address her concerns about life and its requirements in sparse but intense performances while ‘Nobody Comes Round Here’ conjures a partially condensed window view of rain-soaked countryside. It took me a few attempts to get a good vinyl copy, but don’t make the mistake of assuming you know what Lucy Rose sounds like without spending time with the wonders of ‘No Words Left’.

  1. Big Thief – U.F.O.F. [LISTEN]

Two great albums in one year is just showing off. I’d say this just nudges ‘Two Hands’, but it’s hard not to think of them as one body of work. Back in the Noughties, it would have been a deluxe CD reissue set with a bonus disc called something like ‘Autumn Tour Edition’ or somesuch. These days, it’s two separate albums launched into the streaming hellscape. They’ve always struck me as a band to do on vinyl, personally, even if 2017’s ‘Capacity’ was a pretty horrific pressing. Thankfully, the good folk at 4AD have much higher standards. The enmeshing swirl of acoustic guitar on the title track offers a gorgeous wash of sound, while ‘Century’ has a chorus that seems to sneak out of nowhere, naggingly repetitive and unshakeably melodic. Occasionally they erupt, but this is beautiful indie folk – the simplicity of ‘Orange’ is utterly satisfying. Be sure to check out both and, as appears to be something of a motto for this list, spend some time with them so as to let them breathe a little.

  1. Yola – Walk Through Fire [LISTEN]

Those of you who follow me on Twitter – and why wouldn’t you? – may recall me banging on about this album quite early in 2019. I heard a track whilst flitting through some new releases and was suddenly stopped in my tracks. Because, good people, what we have here is one hell of a voice. Yolanda Quartey has sung for The Chemical Brothers and Massive Attack in the past, as well as being a member of Bristol band Phantom Limb, but only embarked upon this iteration of her music career in 2016. ‘Walk Through Fire’ was recorded and produced by Dan Auerbach and his sonic signature is there but rather more subtle than it can be as this is an artist who’s had enough of doing what anybody else wants. A little more of the back story is here.

The sheer force behind some of these songs is wondrous, especially ‘Lonely The Night’ which I honestly believe is one of the very best songs of the entire decade. This is modern soul with a fondness for the greats, incorporating a little country and folk along the way. The songs contemplate splitting with an ex and splitting with a past that Yola is glad to leave behind. But when the chorus comes in on that track, the clichéd hairs on the back of the neck leap up, physical tingles descend and I can’t help but twitch an emphatic arm. It is so, so good. ‘Faraway Look’, ‘Shady Grove’, ‘Ride Out In The Country’ and ‘Love Is Light’ are also great and I can’t quite fathom why this album hasn’t had more attention. Anyway, you know what to do – ‘Lonely The Night’. Then the rest of the album.

  1. Elbow – Giants Of All Sizes [LISTEN]

I got a bit tired of the Elbow formula at one point. I truly loved them in those early years and fondly remember a former reviews editor of mine taking the time to say how right I’d been about them back when I used to wang on about ‘Leaders Of The Free World’ after they’d seen sense following the breakthrough with ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’. ‘Build A Rocket Boys!’ wasn’t quite the majestic follow up I’d hoped for but ‘The Take Off And Landing Of Everything’ had some deliciously delicate moments. ‘Little Fictions’ I rather liked on release but it has faded from my affections. This, though, feels much more like that band I obsessed over back in 2005. The angular onslaught of ‘Dexter & Sinister’ sets the tone, while ‘Empires’ allows Guy Garvey’s voice to soar and twirl in non-saccharine fashion and serves as a reminder of what a wonderful instrument it truly is. ‘The Delayed 3:15’ even sounds like a track from ‘Leaders Of The Free World’, from the charming but ultimately bleak title onwards. The woozy ‘Doldrums’ is a great example of the fine art of the notably different double-tracked vocal. ‘My Trouble’ is wistful and melancholic and the album closer is a lyrically-brief, musically enormous tribute to Garvey’s late father which weaves together the arrival of a newborn and the loss of a parent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I adore it. If the ‘man of the people sunset at Glastonbury’ schtick wore you down, it’s safe to return.

  1. Leonard Cohen – Thanks For The Dance [LISTEN] 

This shouldn’t be so good. It’s a posthumous collection clocking in at under thirty minutes, with some of the musical accompaniment finished off by Cohen’s son, Adam, who assembled sympathetic musical accompaniment. ‘Happens To The Heart’ sets a high opening standard. It will be largely familiar to those who bought the poetry collection ‘The Flame’ as it’s a variation on its breathtaking opening piece, featuring the lines “I was always working steady, but I never called it art.” Delivery is very similar to that of 2016’s ‘You Want It Darker’ but barely any less accomplished, despite the circumstances around its creation. Indeed, to suddenly hear some of the written words from that special collection suddenly delivered by that voice is all rather moving. I’m not sure what I was anticipating prior to dropping the stylus into the groove for the first time, but it was an overwhelming listen. There were tears, smiles and a pillowy calm. To be this good at making records when you’re dead is quite the skill. ‘Listen To The Hummingbird’ is a brief, beautiful conclusion, repurposing a not overly high fidelity reading of a poem into a perfect final address. Stunning.

  1. Richard Dawson – 2020 [LISTEN]

Here’s an interesting one. I had tried Richard Dawson’s solo work previously and not really connected. It had been highly praised and I arrived at ‘Nothing Important’ with high hopes. I didn’t dislike it but it didn’t click. What did was the Hen Ogledd album, ‘Mogic’, which I tardily purchased at the very end of 2018, having heard a track played by Marc Riley on 6 Music. Although Dawson is just one of this group, something about the musical construction of that record ensured I made a mental note to try again. When ‘2020’ arrived with reviews proclaiming it as an astounding social commentary and highlighting its empathetic honesty – all of which is true – it had to be done. A stop off at Spillers back in early November and some ensuing rowdy enthusing in the shop resulted in a purchase and I’ve not looked back. Opener ‘Civil Servant’ builds in a gnarly, increasingly unflinching fashion, immediately highlighting the continuation of his unique vocals of old and a slightly more conventional approach to structure. This is far clearer on ‘The Queen’s Head’ with a vintage folk feel, even if the lyrics could only be from now. ‘Two Halves’ has, perhaps unsurprisingly, two different modes, one more nimble than the other. ‘Fulfilment Centre’ is seasonally appropriate and offers as erudite a contemporary commentary as one might hope for. Closer ‘Dead Dog In An Alleyway’ has a jarringly jovial chorus melody, highlighting the capacity of ‘2020’ to cover so much in relatively little time. The first time I played it in full I genuinely uttered “wow” and applauded as the stylus hit the runout groove. I don’t know what that makes me but this album is a pretty remarkable release and one that captures our fractured times superbly.

BEST OF 2019: Part 1 – 30 – 16

It’s with a mix of disbelief and nostalgia that I reflect upon how I managed to roll out ’40 From The Noughties’ the last time a decade concluded. Going back over all of that music was a joy and writing (most of) those pieces similarly enjoyable. I even put up an end of year list to go with it. Fast forward to 2019 and I’m a parent in a job that is almost unrecognisable from its 2009 incarnation with a lot less time and a little less inclination. However, I still love lists. Bloody love lists, me! So, in an even more condensed format than last year’s copout, allow me to present my favourite albums from the past twelve months for your mild diversion and occasional delight. Part One is below, covering 30-16, with 15-1 to follow any day now. I hope.

I’m going to be brief, but listening links are available for each should you need to acquaint yourself with any of these corkers.

  1. Clairo – Immunity [LISTEN]

An early morning scroll through new releases on a streaming platform fortuitously guided me to the alternative electro-pop of Clairo. It’s hard to pin down its sound and there are influences going back at least thirty years. The swing of ‘Softly’ feels gloriously 1994 to me.

  1. Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars [LISTEN]

No, me neither. But, somehow, after the brickwalled chaos of more recent efforts, Springsteen has offered up his best collection of songs since ‘The Rising’, at the very least, and ‘There Goes My Miracle’ is an especially beautiful piece of music. It does sound like studio trickery has been massaging his vocals, shall we say, but the recently released ‘soundtrack’ to a live performance of the album presents him in a favourable light. It might actually be better than the studio version.

  1. Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated [LISTEN]

It was always going to be tricky to follow up ‘E*M*O*T*I*O*N’, but ‘Dedicated’ is no slouch. ‘Julien’ sets the panoramic pop course and those wanting another album like ‘1989’ from Taylor Swift should find plenty to enjoy here. The piano swagger of ‘Everything He Needs’ is pretty joyous and the shameless explosion of the ‘Real Love’ chorus always delights. A better winter pick me up than the left over box of mince pies on the side in the kitchen.

  1. Carwyn Ellis & Rio 18 – Joia! [LISTEN]

The Welsh indie Tropicalia scene is not a big one. Perhaps it should be. The ever-brilliant Carwyn Ellis – you need to listen to Colorama if you’ve never previously done so – teamed up with Brazillian producer Alexandre Kassin in Rio De Janeiro and crafted ‘Joia!’ It more than lives up to its title and shimmies around deftly, offering an unlikely but very plausible home for the Welsh language. Best enjoyed on August evenings, but always great.

  1. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell [LISTEN]

I’ve never previously been convinced by Lana Del Rey. It hasn’t helped that some of her vinyl releases have been notoriously shoddy, but the songs never quite stuck. However, when so many people whose opinions you trust and whose tastes so often align with yours are raving about something, you need to give it a go. And I’m glad I did. This is an album full of wonderful songwriting. It’s lyrically sharp, musically luscious and utterly enthralling. Try ‘How To Disappear’ if you’re still a non-believer.

  1. Richard Hawley – Further [LISTEN]

It felt like Hawley had arrived at something of a creative impasse at the conclusion of his previous contract with Parlophone. ‘Hollow Meadows’ is largely lovely but it seemed at the time that the world had stopped listening a little. Refreshed, renewed and relocated – now housed with the variable folk of BMG – he delivered a pithy but stirring set which feels like a reassertion of what made us all love him in the first place. There’s plenty of the shuffling acoustic guitar, haunting melodies and soaring choruses of old along with a few more snarling moments, with even a Lanegan hint here and there.

  1. Kevin Morby – Oh My God [LISTEN]

Just listen to the piano on the first and title track. Seriously. That’s got you hooked, right? There was a lot of fuss around its release as it was one of the early indie-exclusive Dinked titles, but it’s the music that matters here. ‘No Halo’ should seal the deal, with its frantic claps subsiding into a languid but forceful second movement. You’re making your own jokes now. Anyway, great sleeve, great songs. Who cares what colour vinyl it’s on?

  1. Angie McMahon – Salt [LISTEN]

A good friend with whom I exchange music tips across hemispheres pointed me in the direction of Angie McMahon before the UK release of ‘Salt’. I was won over by a song called ‘Pasta’ but the album is a much more complex listen, showcasing her remarkably emotive and gnarly vocals. Electric folk is probably the label to use, but there’s some variety here with ‘Keeping Time’ offering a scuzzy strut and the more jagged end of Mazzy Star being evoked at times. Good stuff.

  1. Bill Callahan – Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest [LISTEN]

I’m not sure I’m built for lengthy Callahan records. There’s plenty here to enjoy and the vinyl side by vinyl side reveal of the record via streaming platforms was a nice touch, but the whole thing hasn’t truly cohered in the way his previous albums so often have done. ‘747’ and ‘Call Me Anything’ are particularly  great, the latter with more than a little bit of Tim Buckley mixed in there. It’ll probably click at some point and I feel like I’ve not spent long enough with it, to be honest.

  1. Jenny Lewis – On The Line [LISTEN]

She’s rarely less than great, but it took her wondrous support slot on the recent tour by The National to remind me how much I’d enjoyed this album when it first came out. The thunderous chorus of ‘Heads Gonna Roll’ was hypnotic in the not especially salubrious surrounds of Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena, highlighting the inimitable power in her voice. It’s that power which she so dextrously manoeuvres across these songs, building slowly through centre piece and highlight  ‘Dogwood’. This hangs together really well as an actual album, rather than a selection of songs destined for the abstracted dystopia of endless playlists.

  1. Julia Jacklin – Crushing [LISTEN] 

This is a slow-burning delight. Jacklin’s voice is pretty immediately special, but these are songs which take time to embed themselves in your consciousness. Sure, the Jen Cloher, Liz Phair and Courtney Barnett  comparisons make sense, but I’d also like to throw in the Noughties era of Graham Coxon’s solo career too. Ragged melody is an especially enjoyable soundscape and ‘Pressure To Party’ and ‘You Were Right’ belong to that world completely. That said, opener ‘Body’ is a beautifully nuanced piece, full of oppressive layers, and closer ‘Comfort’ has more than a hint of Jessica Pratt’s stark style.

  1. Damon Locks / Black Monument Ensemble – Where Future Unfolds [LISTEN]

International Anthem is a label seemingly incapable of releasing a bad record. Seriously, spend an hour or two at their Bandcamp page and see how quickly you fall in love. ‘Where Future Unfolds’ is a must-have from its foil-printed sleeve onwards. Coming on like some sort of sampled-laden collage of vintage recordings that would make shimmering dicks dust off phrases like ‘crate-digging’, it’s actually a recording of a live performance from 2018 with fifteen artists capturing something genuinely unique. Gospel and hip-hop offer some sort of markers on the continuum, but let’s not get hung up on genre here. No one track can do it justice and I’m pretty certain you can spare the 45 minutes required to immerse yourself in its world. Thank me later.

  1. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow [LISTEN]

At the turn of the year, the talk was of a new sound for one of the great artists of the decade. Following ‘Tramp’ and ‘Are We There’ takes some doing and a more textured, heavier sonic palette offered a beguiling evolution of Sharon Van Etten’s already exceptional work. The strident synth-pop of ‘Comeback Kid’ – fairly – drew comparisons with St Vincent, while ‘No One’s Easy To Love’ is built on a fabulously precarious beat. ‘Jupiter 4’ has some corking reverb while ‘Seventeen’ is the one to bung on a compilation. A very fine record. Still not convinced by the sleeve, mind.

  1. Taylor Swift – Lover [LISTEN]

Well, whatever the fuck ‘Reputation’ was, this is not cut from the same cloth. But it’s also not really an obvious evolution of ‘1989’ either, pleasant as that might have been. Who knows what the structure of the campaign was all about and why she opted for those lead tracks, but we are where we are. Opener ‘I Forgot That You Existed’ is a fine pop track with a frustratingly nonsensical lyrical conceit, while ‘The Man’ is pretty much Christine And The Queens. Which is to say it’s bloody great, but the stealing is shameless. The title track is Mazzy Star’s ‘Fade Into You’ sped up a little and with a solid gold stadium chorus pasted over the top. I adore it. Swift’s writing has gone up a notch for much of ‘Lover’, even if ‘London Boy’ made it on. And ‘ME!’

  1. Beck – Hyperspace [LISTEN]

I wasn’t hugely fond of Beck’s last album, ‘Colors’, despite having loved much of his output for the best part of twenty-five years. It felt too calculated, too polished and too desperate. I could see how people enjoyed it, but I always picked other records of his when browsing my shelves. There are those who see ‘Hyperspace’ as more of the same, and it’s definitely from the ‘pop’ side of his act rather than swinging back to folk, but I think it’s much more successful. It seems similarly superficial at first, but after repeated plays it connected with me. ‘Chemical’ is a great example of the hook-laden, electronically enhanced pop at play here, still driven by acoustic guitar and featuring one of his best vocal performances in some time. ‘See Through’ is much more skittering and low key but similarly great. It might just be me, sorry ME!, but this one’s a keeper.