Hey! I’m still here! I’ve just been busy with life and stuff, and am working on new things to write about. In the meantime, enjoy Cannon’s “Talk Talk”:
Hey! I’m still here! I’ve just been busy with life and stuff, and am working on new things to write about. In the meantime, enjoy Cannon’s “Talk Talk”:
Wow… so you’re probably wondering why it took me until almost April to get out an article that I normally do in December, or, at worst, the first week of January.
To be perfectly honest, it’s because 2018 was such a ridiculously strong year for music that it didn’t really stop until late 2019 for me. The top 4 albums from 2018 – Pastel Ghost’s Ethereality , The Perfect Kiss’ Filter, Therapie TAXI’s ass-kicking debut Hit Sale, and You Drive’s eponymous debut – yeah, I just kept on listening to them non-stop until last November. As of Thanksgiving, there was only one 2019 album in my Top 20 “most listened to” stats. It took until the past couple of weeks that I found ten 2019 albums to make a list!
As always, below are my ten favorite albums of 2019. The list comes directly from my Last.fm stats; I have, however, tinkered with the order a bit, perhaps even a bit more than usual. After the list are a few honorable mentions, followed by the raw data from Last.fm.
10) Wy – Softie – This Swedish band’s second album is a “solid, if a bit samey” experience. They’re more of a straightforward pop band than the lovely dream pop of Postiljonen and similar Swedish bands I’ve cottoned to in the past. But that’s OK – I love them anyway! It’s a good album to listen to on a sunny day at the beach with an ice cold beer:
9) Clairo – Immunity – 21 year-old Claire Cottrill shows lots of promise with this debut album… if she can resist the temptation to let producers have their way with her music. I agree with Pitchfork that there are many songs on this disc that have been tweaked within an inch of their lives, and that any more edits would ruin them. Still, “Bags” is a great tune, and I’ll be sure to stick around for her next album!
8) Graveyard Club – Goodnight Paradise – They make cool music in Minneapolis? Who knew? Just kidding, folks. Graveyard Club is a strange mix of 80s-style pop and Perry Como style crooning, as evidenced by the album’s lead-off single, “Witchcraft”. But that’s actually one of my least favorite tracks on the album: “Red Roses” and “William”, for example, are much better songs that the slightly gimmicky “Witchcraft”. But it’s an entertaining album, one of those where you kind of get lost and suddenly realize you’re on track 12.
7) Carla dal Forno – Look Up Sharp – This Australian lady is a singer, composer and music experimentalist, not unlike Julianna Barwick or Julia Holter. And this isn’t my first go-round with her, either: 2016’s You Know What It’s Like just barely missed the cut for an honorable mention in that year’s “best of”. Look Up Sharp is more of her swirly, dreamy, hazy music she’s known for. She doesn’t make “bangers”, but then she doesn’t flirt with ambient music as much as, say Barwick, either. So maybe something you won’t throw on during a rager, but something excellent for reading a book on a rainy day!
6) Electric Youth – Memory Emotion – Toronto-based Electric Youth are yet another in the seemingly endless supply of synthpop duos. They’re not the best, or the most original, or most memorable… but they’re nice. This is a really good album, even if it doesn’t break any new ground or won’t set the world on fire. Bronwyn Griffin and Austin Garrick have created a tight, yet dreamy sound that’s certainly a winner!
5) Clio – Déjà Venise – Clio is a French singer-songwriter, originally from Besançon, now living in Paris. Her music is infectious, each song a pretty little gem just waiting to be discovered. It’s also one of those albums where your “favorite song” keeps changing. First it was the hit “T’as vu” (below). Then it was “Amoureuse”, a classic French-style pop song. Then it was the title track. No matter which you settle on, they’re all good!
4) Minuit Machine – Infrarouge – Last year I discovered the French darkwave band Minuit Machine via their banger “Everlasting” from their 2015 album Violent Rains. 2019’s Infrarouge doesn’t really cover any new ground… but then, it doesn’t really need to. The opening track, “Chaos” gently draws you in to their beautiful, yet arctic world. And yeah, sure, lines like “The more I try, the less I exist” seem a bit sophomoric to my almost 50 year-old ears. It sounds like something “deep” I woulda scribbled in my journal as a teen. But the music – and the vibe – is still fun. There’s something about this band – not just the lyrics – that screams 80s angst, and in a good way. If you listen to just one of their tunes, make it “Everlasting” or the remastered version of their 2013 tune “I am a Boy” on this album.
3) Tempers – Private Life – This is a band I know very little about. They’re based in New York City and have two members: Jasmine Golestaneh and Eddie Cooper. Golestaneh was allegedly born in Florida and grew up in London (allegedly, because all the information I can find on her seems highly exaggerated). Whatever the case, Tempers’ newest album is one of those that snuck up on me. I didn’t notice it until much later, but I added a couple of their tunes to my “Discovered” playlist in Spotify. I guess because of that, the song “Leonard Cohen Afterworld” showed up in a Discover Weekly playlist. And from there I was hooked. And that’s weird.
2) Cannons – Shadows – Cannons are a band from the worst place on Earth: Los Angeles. But don’t it against them: they make really good music! It’s kind of a slightly funky synthpop affair with lead singer Michelle Joy’s waify vocals on top. Their cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is all the introduction you need, but I think it’s unfair to judge them on a cover song. I love almost every song I’ve heard from them, from 2017’s Night Drive to 2018’s In a Heartbeat EP to 2019’s Shadows. Shadows kicks off with “Baby”, a good preview of what’s to come. But then there’s “Fire for You”, an infectious low-key banger that’s guaranteed to get stuck in your head. Then ya got “Talk Talk” (below), and next thing ya know the album’s over and you’re like “awwww, man! Is that IT? There should be MORE!” Seriously – check it out!
1) Chromatics – Closer to Grey – So see, here’s the thing: this album came out on October 1, and I liked it. Well, I don’t like the “The Sound of Silence” cover that opens the album, but that’s because I hate Simon & Garfunkel (having said that, Chromatics cover of “I’m on Fire” made me like a BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN song, so that could change). Anyway, the point is: I was looking through my Last.fm stats in December and was like “well crap… Closer to Grey is the only 2019 album in my Top 20 listened to albums”. So I kind of figured this one would win Album of the Year by default. And that bugged me. In 2018, my Top 4 albums duked it out in a fight to the death. You Drive ended up as album of the year, and deserved it. So as much as I like Chromatics, would they win album of the year just by showing up?
Well, yeah. A big part of it was seeing Chromatics (and Desire, and In Mirrors) live in Atlanta last May. That was absolutely an all-time Top 10 concert, maybe even a Top 5 show. I’ve got a framed picture of Megan Louise I took at the show on my wall. 2019 was, in so many ways, “The Year of Chromatics”. And, truth be told, no other album was really better than Closer to Grey last year.
It’s stunning at how often Johnny Jewel hits it out of the park. Between Chromatics, Desire, Glass Candy and all the other bands he works with, and all the soundtracks and solo projects… and the remixes he does, you wonder how he finds time to sleep!
I genuinely recommend heading over to Jewel’s record label site – Italians Do It Better – and picking up a copy of Closer to Grey, and all of the other fantastic tunes they have there. As far as I know, digital versions of all releases are available in WAV or MP3 format for $1, and they even accept Amazon Pay if you don’t want to give your credit card number to an unknown website. They even have the massive, 47-track “Deluxe Edition” of Closer to Grey for ONE MEASLY DOLLAR! ONE DOLLAR! That’s 2.12¢ PER SONG! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? DO IT NOW!
With the usual stipulation that “EPs and singles aren’t albums”:
Bon Entendeur – Aller-retour
Trevor Something – Bots Don’t Cry
Delphine Dupont – French Pop Attitude
L’Impératrice – Matahari
whenyoung – Reasons To Dream
Anteros – When We Land
Mexico City Blondes – Blush
Methyl Ethel – Triage
Pure Bathing Culture – Night Pass
BandsInTown is a service that tracks bands on tour. You download the app for iOS or Android, sign up, then enter a list of bands you want to track (or give the site permission to scan your Spotify or Apple Music\iTunes libraries). That’s it! You’ll get notifications (and emails, if you choose) any time a band you like is playing a venue near you!
There’s one problem with the service, though, and that’s that you can only choose one “home city”. The concert scene in Charlotte has come a long way in the past 20 years, but if your music tastes could be described as “cutting edge” or “up and coming”, you may find yourself driving to Atlanta or Chapel Hill more often than you’d care to admit. So you can switch your BandsInTown home city to Atlanta… but then you miss out on local shows. What to do if you’re in a situation like this?
While BandsInTown only allows you to have one home city, the app will allow you to expand your search radius to 150 miles. So in my case, I chose Greenville, SC as my home city and expanded the search radius to the max 150 miles. This way it covers Charlotte, Atlanta, Athens and Asheville:
Hope this helps!
Let’s take a second to remember what a smoke show early 90s Sarah Cracknell was:
So… back in June Spotify released a new version of their Android software. At first glace, it didn’t look so bad – mostly a huge PODCASTS tab added to the “My Library” page. Which makes sense: Spotify is pushing podcasts hard because they don’t have to pay royalties when you listen to them like they do with music.
Come to find out, it was way worse than that.
A quick refresher: in Spotify when you “save” an album to your library, you’re basically just saving a link to the music files on Spotify’s servers, like a browser bookmark. And Spotify’s Android app used to have a “My Library” page which had tabs for “Artists”, “Albums” and “Songs”. So if you saved 10,000 Maniacs’ In My Tribe album to your library, “10,000 Maniacs” would then appear under “Artists”, In My Tribe would appear under “Albums”, and the songs from that album would appear under “Songs”. If you deleted the album, those entries went away. Simple, yes?
Spotify also has a “follow artist” feature. When I first joined the service in 2015, following an artist was how you got notifications that they had released new music. But Spotify’s notification system never worked that well, so they removed most of it. But they kept the “follow artist” feature, which folks in the Spotify Community said was for “shaping” the music in Spotify’s playlists. If the artists in your Discover Weekly or Release Radar playlists weren’t to your liking, follow a bunch of your favorite artists, they said, and your playlists would get better. And that seemed to be true.
So – here’s what Spotify’s June update changed:
– The “Artists” tab now only shows artists you follow. So if you add 10,000 Maniacs’ In My Tribe to your library now, 10,000 Maniacs no longer appears under “Artists” unless you specifically tapped the “Follow” (or “Heart” icon), too. It’s effectively as if your iTunes install from 2008 suddenly lost the ability to sort music by artist, as if artist information was completely gone. There are lots of people who had been with Spotify since the service rolled out here in 2008 who never used the “follow” feature… and they were pissed that Spotify, without telling anyone or giving any advance notice, emptied their “Artists” lists. These poor folks had to recreate their “Artists” lists by hand. It took some people days.
– The “Albums” tab still works as expected, but for reasons only God and Spotify’s developers know, they removed the alphabetical scroll bar. It used to be, if you wanted to listen to U2’s Zooropa, you’d tap “My Library”, “Albums” and “Z” to get pretty close. Now you have to scroll all the way down manually, like a medieval French peasant!
– It also used to be possible to save only some tracks from an album. So if you liked the sound of The Cars’ remastered Candy-O album but didn’t want all the demos and outtakes that come on that version, you could save just the album tracks but not the outtakes. No more – it’s all or nothing now.
– The “Songs” tab went away entirely, replaced by a “Liked Songs” playlist with all the songs from your old “Songs” tab, but now in totally random order! And since the songs are now in random order there’s no use for an alphabetical scroll bar, so they got rid of that, too. So instead of tapping “W” to get to Roxy Music’s “While My Heart is Still Beating” I now have to scroll through 3,719 songs listed in random order until I find it. Terrific!
– They also moved the “Recently Played” list from the My Library page to the Home page, and they removed all actions from it aside from “open”. It used to be that you could tap on an album or playlist in Recently Played and several options would appear: “Remove from this list” was great for hiding any trace of your secret Def Leppard obsession, “Queue” or whatever. By moving and neutering it, Spotify effectively got rid of a feature that tons of people used.
* * *
Needless to say, many users were pissed about all this. I was pissed enough to give Apple Music a try.
So… signing up for Apple Music seemed simple enough. But then I installed and opened the latest version of iTunes on my laptop… and now what? Spotify is a stand-alone app. You open it, and there’s Spotify. Apple Music is… buried somewhere in iTunes? Even though I was signed in to iTunes with the correct account there were no “Hey, we see you signed up for Apple Music! Here’s how it works in iTunes for Windows” prompt. Nothing. It took a few clicks, but I found it. And when I did, the selection was as expected. I looked through several of my more “problematic” artists, and Apple Music seemed to have the same library holes Spotify does: early Saint Etienne and Dramarama albums were missing from Apple Music, too.
Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, GA
Few shows have set off my “teenage concert hype meter” more than this. It’s the first time any of these bands have ever played my home city of Atlanta, which means it’ll be at least five years before they’ll even consider coming to my adopted home city of Charlotte. I asked the missus if she wanted to go. She said no. I decided I wasn’t missing the chance, so a solo trip it was.
Johnny Jewel is the heart and soul of almost all the bands on his label, Italians Do It Better. He’s a full-time member of Chromatics, Desire, Glass Candy and Symmetry. He produces and contributes to most of the rest. He does soundtracks to films. If you’re old enough to remember when Ivo Watts-Russell ran 4AD Records back in the 80s… yeah, it’s kinda like that.
So: In Mirrors kind of sounds like Washed Out, if Washed Out were kinda going for the Twin Peakysy, “Stranger Things soundtrack” vibe most Italians Do It Better bands have.
This is a good tune. Sadly, lead singer Jesse Taylor just looks… awkward on stage. The music sounded fine, but he barely spoke above a whisper between songs, and just looked uncomfortable overall. Just RELAX. Take a deep breath, dude. You’ve got this!
“If I Can’t Hold You” followed, which was a bit of a surprise (I was thinking it’d be “Tears from Heaven”). After that, the biggest surprise of all: they launched into a cover of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” “just for this tour”:
[Sorry, the video was yanked from YouTube!]
The sound in the video doesn’t do it justice. I hope they release some version – live or studio – because it was fantastic!
And speaking of, you know how you go to tons of shows and it’s all cool and everything… but once in a while, for some unknown reason, you hear a song live and you’re like “HOLY SHIT I’VE HEARD THIS SONG A MILLION TIMES AND IT NEVER SOUNDED LIKE THIS BEFORE ‘COS THIS IS AMAZING!”… that kind of thing?
Well, Desire closed out with their one hit, “Under Your Spell”, made slightly famous by appearing in some commercials and the 2011 Ryan Gosling film Drive.
The song was absolutely fucking amazing live. It’s like, they somehow tweaked it for the live show and somehow made the song even better? All I know is, the crowd behind me went nuts, and I looked back at one point and it looked like the entire venue was jumping up and down. Honestly, it was the highlight of the show for me.
Note the blonde Aja, of the IDIB band Heaven, in the lower left in the above pic. She played keyboards with Jewel for Desire. She didn’t get to sing any of her own songs, unfortunately:
Chromatics played a much different set than I thought they would. Which, looking back on it, was good. Basically, it wasn’t the playlist I woulda picked, but Jewel picked a much better one – more balanced, more theatrical, a much better “this is Chromatics” playlist than I woulda come up with:
Tick of the Clock
Back From the Grave
I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around
These Streets Will Never Look the Same
I Want Your Love
Into the Black
I’m On Fire
Running Up That Hill
The band sounded fantastic, and the guys put on a really good show. I just wish we coulda heard more stuff from the (alleged) new album Dear Tommy. If you’re out of the loop on this one, Dear Tommy was supposed to come out in 2014. But Jewel destroyed all physical copies of it after a near-death experience in Hawaii. He decided it “wasn’t nearly good enough”, so he started all over again. 4 years ago. I don’t know what you’d call Chromatics – indie pop? electropop? Whatever it is, Dear Tommy has become the Chinese Democracy of its genre. As you can see from the playlist, the show ended with several covers, and it’s amazing that Ruth Radelet single-handedly got me to like a Bruce Springsteen song, for God’s sake.
Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough. It was a very good show, and I’m glad I went. The venue was nice – I go to shows there every 4-6 years and, oddly, it somehow gets nicer every time. The staff were friendly and polite. I was one of the first x people through the merch line, so my t-shirt purchase ($25) was placed in a complimentary tote bag (normally $10) with two 12″ singles\EPs and an album inside, along with 5 folded posters. Nice! Too bad the “XXL” tour shirt is more like a Taiwanese L.
Here’s the Spotify playlist:
“Desire” by Ruby Haunt, from the album Hurt:
40 years ago today… the Sex Pistols’ infamous “bassist” Sid Vicious died from a heroin overdose.
Rest in peace, Sid.
Wow! For the past couple of years, I’ve started my “albums of the year” post lamenting that it had been a “down year”, and that I had trouble even finding 10 albums to put on this list. Not so this year – 2018 was an embarrassment of riches!
Part of that is due to the rise of French pop music. For decades, French pop was an easy target of ridicule for English speakers. And for good reason: French acts were often fronted by dudes who looked more like a Little Caesar’s manager than a pop star, wearing a leather Member’s Only jacket, chain-smoking and singing English lyrics phonetically. But bands like Air and Daft Punk changed all that. Thereafter, French music could be as cool as the coolest bands from London or NYC. And it shows in this list.
It was also kind of fun that this year’s top three albums had a fight to the death for the #1 spot. The past couple of years have been fun and all, but there was always a clear front-runner for the top spot.
Below are my ten favorite albums of 2018. The list comes directly from my Last.fm stats; I have, however, tinkered with the order a bit. After the list are a few honorable mentions, followed by the raw data from Last.fm.
My Top Albums of 2018
10) CHVRCHES – Love is Dead– How the mighty have fallen… in a way. 2015’s Every Open Eye was my #2 album that year, barely missing the top spot to Purity Ring’s insanely great Another Eternity. So the hype machine was in full gear when “CHV3” was announced in January. But the album came out… and it was “just OK”. All the elements of what makes CHVRCHES great are still there – everything just feels slightly “off”. I saw them live in October, and the set list was heavy on Love is Dead tracks. It was a good show… I just don’t have the connection to this album I had with their first two.
9) Public Memory – Demolition – Robert Toher – performing as Public Memory – is a Brooklyn-based musician who creates music that’s… kind of a beautiful, yet gloomy, mix of early Clan of Xymox atmosphere with the tribal beats Dead Can Dance sometimes played with. The 2016 debut album, Wuthering Drum, was fantastic, if dark. This album follows up on that nicely. OK, so it probably isn’t the kind of thing you’d put on at a party. But it’s a solid – beautiful – effort.
8) NONONO — Undertones – Like a lot of people, I discovered Swedish band NONONO thanks to their 2013 hit “Pumpin’ Blood”. I kept my eye on them as they put out a good single from time to time – enjoyable, but nothing to write home about. Imagine my surprise when Undertones came out earlier this year and it was a solid all-around album. Don’t get me wrong – it won’t change your life… but it’s absolutely worth checking out on Spotify!
7) Grand Blanc – Image Au Mur – Grand Blanc arrived in my life in a big way earlier this year when I discovered “L’amour fou” from their 2016 album Mémoires Vives. Then, out of nowhere, Image Au Mur showed up! This album may lack a banger like “L’amour fou”, but I think it’s a better album as a whole, more coherent and cohesive than Vives. And the songs that should be hits – like “Los Angeles” are pretty tight. But my favorite track from the album is this tune that almost reminds me of something The Raveonettes would have done a few years ago:
6) Metric – Act of Doubt – Metric is one of those bands where I like a song of theirs every few years, but never seem to like their entire albums. They’ve tinkered with their sound over the years, but they seem to be in a good (confident!) place with Art of Doubt. It’s new, yet familiar, and for some reason, the whole thing clicks with me in a way that their previous albums – even the ever-popular Synthetica and Fantasies – simply did not.
5) Sexores – East / West – It’s kind of a strange cultural imperialism that I’ve never really thought much about South American music. I guess I assumed that South Americans all listened to some form of tejano, samba or pan flute music, depending on their proximity to Mexico, Brazil and Peru respectively. And I even thought this knowing that Morrissey is strangely popular in Mexico. That’s what makes it so surprising (to me) that a band like Sexores should come from Quito, Ecuador… yet largely sound like so many other European bands I love. Check this out – they could be any hip band from Brooklyn, London or Stockholm. The rest of the album is equally great, too:
4) Pastel Ghost – Ethereality – Vivian Moon, founder and sole full-time member of Pastel Ghost, makes lush, ethereal, sumptuous, diaphanous, otherworldly, gossamer electropop. The music kind of reminds me of an “angelic Ladytron”, a kind of breathless electronic heaven that should be more popular with the people who chose the music for TV, movies and commercials. One track in particular, “3NDL3SS”, sounds like something that, had it been used in an iPod commercial in 2008, would have caused hundreds of thousands to google “synthy song in iPod commercial”. My only complaint is that, while the album as a whole is tight, it does tend to get a bit “samey” in the middle. It’s still fantastic though!
3) The Perfect Kiss – Filter – And now… the Battle Royale for the album that will reign supreme in 2018! Have you ever wondered what a synthpop album would sound like if it were made with modern recording styles and production techniques, but on vintage equipment? Well, wonder no more: British writer and producer Joe Moore teamed with vocalist Holly Vanags to create one of the best albums of the year, all on circa 1985 equipment. It sounds both modern and retro at the same time somehow, and influences seem to come from all sides. Listen carefully and you can hear CHVRCHES, OMD, Visage, Yazoo and Human League. It’s terrific, and nothing shows it off more than the lead track, “Glitches”, which is my second favorite song of the year!
2) Therapie TAXI – Hit Sale – Every so often an album comes along and seems to perfectly capture the time in which it was made. I call these “zeitgeist albums”, and the difficult thing about making one is that they’re almost impossible to make on purpose. If you tried to make an album about 2018 you’d have songs about Brett Kavanaugh and #MeToo, and that album would sound as dated as a Capitol Steps album five years from now. All this is a wordy way to say that Therapie TAXI’s debut album – Hit Sale, a bi-lingual pun, since it means “dirty hit” in French and “selling out” in English – perfectly captures 2018 in 46 minutes. It’s songs about Tinder and Uber and drinking too much and ex-boyfriends – and some songs are so profane they make even me blush. But here’s the thing: to call this album “catchy” is a gross understatement. THIS ALBUM HAS MORE HOOKS THAN A BASS PRO SHOP. I don’t speak French. I look up the lyrics (in French) and translate them into English. I still can’t really sing along, even though I’ve heard some of the songs a hundred times. But I just. can’t. stop. listening. It’s THAT GOOD, folks!
1) You Drive – You Drive – Ya ever have an album pop-up out of nowhere and just GRAB YOU and refuse to let go? Welcome to 2018’s album of the year! You Drive is two people. One is Matthew Steven Pusti, who records under the name Makeup and Vanity Set, and who did the soundtrack for the excellent Atlanta Child Murders podcast, Atlanta Monster. The other is Jasmin Kaset, daughter of noted country\Christian songwriter Angela Kaset. They do electronic music together. It’s awesome. End of story. I love every song on this album – it’s only been out since August, and it’s already #2 on my all-time albums list! But nothing quite captures their song like the opening track, “New”:
With the caveat that “EPs and singles aren’t albums”:
Clara Luciani – Saint Victoire
Computer Magic – Danz
Den-Mate – Loceke
Farao – Pure-O
Fickle Friends – You Are Someone Else
Future Synths – Now
Korine – New Arrangements
Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
Train to Spain – A Journey
Julia Holter – Aviary
Geowulf – Great Big Blue
Still Corners – Slow Air
Lykke Li – So Sad So Sexy
Peine Perdue – Tokyo En Morceaux
Cœur de pirate – En cas de tempête, ce jardin sera fermé
Lastly… it’s a single, not an album.. but I’m SO HAPPY that Postiljonen has a new single out, with a new album to come in 2019! I love you guys SOOO MUCH! Bring on the new year!