The 100 Best Albums of 2019, #40-21

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#40: Billie Eilish – When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

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Teen pop phenoms are almost always obnoxious – Donny Osmond and Justin Beiber were both awful in their own special ways. 2019’s teen pop phenom, Billie Eilish, manages to avoid this through the virtue of being really ridiculously good. Someone online – I forget who – called her ASMR pop and there’s a lot to that, really. Her style is like she took the mic into her closet and whispered her darkest secrets into it; these Whisper confessions were then laced over solid arrangements that both embrace and subvert pop conventions. An insane debut for a 17 year old, and a harbinger of big things to come.

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The 100 Best Albums of 2019, #60-41

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#60: Hot Chip – A Bath Full Of Ecstasy

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Hot Chip have put out their fair share of mediocre songs, but they’ve somehow avoided putting out a bad album. A Bath Full Of Ecstasy follows in that tradition; it presents a series of solid dance floor grooves that have the usual dark concerns laced under it – abandonment, the absurdity of existence, uncertainty of faith. Like the Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode before them, Hot Chip have always known that there is more to the club than escapist bliss.

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Consumer Guide March 8th/2019

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Sigrid – Sucker Punch

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(March 8th on Island Records)

Europe has always had pop figured out cold, Northern Europe doubly so. Norwegian singer Sigrid’s debut follows in this tradition, trading in solid pop sensibilities that don’t chase any particular trend or try to reinvent the wheel. It plays it safe, but that safety is also so well done it feels like it might be something more. It’s also distressingly wholesome, but the message – good things come to those who love themselves – needs to be heard more.

Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost, Part 1

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(March 8th on Warner Bros. Records)

Literally the Imagine Dragons of indie rock, if you can stomach such a thing. I never have been able to, but there are stronger constitutions out there than mine, I’m sure.

Sasami – Sasami

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(March 8th on Domino Recording Company)

An interesting debut from the one-time Cherry Glazerr member, this one is quiet and intimate while managing to to call forth some real heavy power when it needs to.

Amanda Palmer – There Will Be No Intermission

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(March 8th on Cooking Vinyl Records)

The stark nudity of the record cover is a metaphor, for the ultra-confessional proceedings offered here by the Dresden Dolls singer. Imagine if Mark Kozelek had something useful to say, and it might sound something like this.

Sundara Karma – Ulfila’s Alphabet

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(March 8th on RCA Records)

Combining Wolf Parade with Eighties Bowie is interesting, and…that’s pretty much where it ends.

Meat Puppets – Dusty Notes

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(March 8th on Megaforce Records)

Their version of country-punk was innovative thirty plus years ago but in this day and age when country is grudgingly allowing again for dissonant voices it rings a little hollow.

William Basinski – On Time Out Of Time

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(March 8th on Temporary Residence Records)

It sounds like two supermassive black holes colliding 1.3 billion years ago.

Literally.

Because that’s what it is.

Literal, inescapable doom.

Townes Van Zandt – Sky Blue

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(March 7th on Fat Possum Records)

A collection of demos from the 22-year-dead balladeer of the dusty forgotten highways and the decaying dive bars, barely more than shacks themselves. Sparse, desperate, doomed American music.

Dido – Still On My Mind

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(March 8th on BMG Records)

Pretty, too polished, but pretty. I actually like it more than her big hit album from 2000 or whenever, the one everyone knows because of “Stan”.

Stella Donnelly – Beware Of The Dogs

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(March 8th on Secretly Canadian Records)

Frank, blunt, and sexual, like Lily Allen emerging sharper than ever from the #MeToo era. It will make some people uncomfortable. Be extremely wary of the people it makes uncomfortable. Four stars only because it kind of meanders after the highwater mark of “Boys Will Be Boys” before coming in strong again at the end.

Maren Morris – Girl

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(March 8th on SME Records)

Excuse me, wasn’t this supposed to be a country album?

Helado Negro – This Is How You Smile

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(March 8th on RVNG International)

Weirdly exuberant for such an insular, spacey record. This is how you know they found that good stuff.

Nick Waterhouse – Nick Waterhouse

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(March 8th on Innovative Leisure Records)

Devoted to a certain time and place – America, 1963 – but maybe a little too on the nose for much of it’s run.

 

 

Consumer Guide, March 1st/2019

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Royal Trux – White Stuff

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(March 1st on Fat Possum Records)

When a band comes back after twenty years to release a new album I expect them to play it safe but there’s such a thing as taking it too far. White Stuff is fine, especially if you were into the band Back In The Day, but it sounds like a rewrite of older, better stuff with no attempt at trying to move forward at all.

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Consumer Guide, February 22/2019

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Teeth Of The Sea – Wraith

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(February 22nd on Rocket Recordings)

Like a soundtrack for apocalyptic times, Wraith veers between pounding industrial, jazzy, introspective diversions, and moodier alt-psych excursions. Like the zee, it changes when you don’t look at it for too long.

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Consumer Guide, February 15/2019

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Woman’s Hour – Ephyra

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They broke up after their acclaimed 2014 debut but managed to stick together long enough to put together this enchanting, disturbing synth-pop confection. Nineties Bjork and Oughts-era The Knife with a gauzy layer that crinkles uncomfortably like human skin when you press it slightly.

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Consumer Guide: January 25/2018

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TOY – Happy In The Hollow

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(January 25th Tough Love Records)

Low-tempo Krautrock with a seriously languid groove. If Faust was secretly a bunch of goddamn hippies they would sound like this.

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Consumer Guide: January 18/2019

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Lorelle Meets The Obsolete – De Facto

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(January 11th on Sonic Cathedral Records)

Psychedelic noise-rock that walks the thin line between being artistically and willfully difficult. Avoids becoming lost in a gauzy haze by virtue of an excellent rhythm section that knows instinctively how to ride a groove.

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Consumer Guide, January 11/2019

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You Tell Me – You Tell Me

(January 11th, 2019 on Memphis Industries)

Field Music and Admiral Fallow, together at last, or something. Like chocolate and peanut butter for people who think Eighties post-Genesis pop was fuckin’ keen.

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Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book

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Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book

Released May 13th, 2016

During the wild, chaotic run-up to the release of The Life Of Pablo, Kanye West announced that it would be a “gospel album”, inspired by the African-American tradition of blending worship in church with soaring choral music that God himself might hear.  Despite the label, the only gospel moments on the album were the admittedly brilliant opener “Ultralight Beam” and “Lowlight”, an intro to the more traditional (and Young Thug guesting) “Highlight”.

Fellow Chicago musician Chance The Rapper was on the former, and it’s Chance The Rapper that is now bringing out what ‘Ye promised:  a full-on gospel hip hop record, embracing the worldliness of life in often-violent Chicago, and simultaneously the glory and life guide of his religion.  Rather than the lysergic uncertainty of his breakthrough Acid RapColoring Book finds a man confident in his faith and in sorrow for his city and his people.  “Blessings (Reprise)” has him saying “They never seen a rapper practice modesty, I never practice, I only perform”, and this serves as a good overarching theme for the record as a whole.  It’s an album that stands in direct contrast to the nihilistic, violent drill scene that Chicago is known for; rather than a finger-waving sermon, though, tracks like “Summer Friends” seem to offer a prayer for those caught up in the summertime violence that is endemic to the drug and gang-ridden city streets.  The problem with overtly “Christian” artists is that the music often seems to take a backseat to the message; they’re so concerned with connecting with “the kids” that they don’t take the time to actually figure out what makes the secular music so appealing in the first place.  Chance succeeds exactly where “Christian rap” or “Christian rock” fails:  he lets his faith infuse his music, rather than supersede it.  He’s intensely relatable, even when you’re outside of the continuum of his experience.

Even better in this day and age, Chance is staunchly independent.  He doesn’t need a label, and he doesn’t need to sell his album just to fulfill label quotas.  Coloring Book is free, and as such it’s technically classified as a mixtape.  It’s a subject he addresses on “No Problem” with Lil’ Wayne (no stranger to label problems himself) and “Mixtape” (with ultra-prolific fellow mixtaper Young Thug), but it’s also a subject he brought up originally on “Ultralight Beam”:  “He said let’s do a good ass job with Chance 3 / I hear you gotta sell it to snatch the Grammy / Let’s make it so free and the bars so hard / That there ain’t one gosh darn part you can’t tweet”.  Mixtapes are ineligible for Grammys, and if there’s an album that deserves a Grammy it’s Coloring Book – a fact that perhaps led Chance to release it on DatPiff and then shortly after make it a short-term iTunes exclusive.  Nonwithstanding whether having it on a paid streaming service makes it “for sale”, Chance’s Twitter fans ended up tweeting all of the lyrics to Coloring Book.  They’re a loyal group and Chance is the sort of artist to reward them for their loyalty with both quality and (between his own work, his guest spots, and his gig fronting Chicago experimental pop group The Social Experiment) quantity.

Chance deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the other giants of modern hip hop – your Weezys, Drizzys, Yeezys, K. Dots, et al.  He’s got a killer flow, has a Kendrick-like appreciation for intricate wordplay, and has the ability to ride a vibe for all it’s worth better than pretty much anyone else.  In a genre dominated by a careful balance between artistry and crass mercenary sales grubbing, Chance takes the left hand path and is all the better for it.

AND THE REST…

A$AP Ferg

Always Strive And Prosper

04/22/2016 on Polo Grounds Music

The perennial also-ran to A$AP Rocky comes into his own with a solid album of hard-hitting verses backed with a staggering amount of high-profile guest spots.

Wire

Nocturnal Koreans

04/22/2016 on Pink Flag Records

Eight songs from 2015’s Wire record were redone for this mini-LP.  As it turns out, the pioneers of jittery indie rock fall apart when they try to hold themselves still even for a moment.

Greys

Outer Heaven

04/22/2016 on Carpark Records

Toronto has a reputation for noisy rock ‘n’ roll – emphasis on the noise part.  In the grand tradition of METZ, Fucked Up, et al. comes Greys, who pile noisy parts on top of each other until they approximate songs.  While their sound has expanded somewhat from their debut, it’s still fairly limited in terms of it’s overall impact.  Still, for something to crank up to ten and annoy the neighbours with, you could do worse.

Plants And Animals

Waltzed In From The Rumbling

04/29/2016 on Secret City Records

A pleasant surprise from a band that’s been very hit and miss since their stellar debut, Parc Avenue.  Strives less for radio play than it does for campfire grit.

The Jayhawks

Paging Mr. Proust

The veteran alt-country band has lost quite a bit of oomph over the years, and their ninth album can’t hold a candle to their earlier career.  Decent enough stuff, but unexceptional.

White Lung

Paradise

The standard-bearers for the modern Riot Grrl movement get a little slicker and a bit more commercial on their third album.  It works, but I miss the fireworks and slashing of old.  At least the punk rock feminist righteousness is still intact.