When David Berman returned suddenly after a self-imposed, decade-long exile, it was cause for celebration. Seeing the world through Berman’s – by turns – caustic, witty, scholarly, devastating, absurd, and wry lens was sorely missed and missing from independent music at large. His suicide merely weeks after his re-emergence only exacerbated the bleakness of the stark poetry in Purple Mountains’ astonishing debut. His songwriting had reached a new level of hook-laden laconicism and resignation, but the heartache and hopelessness that bubbled at the surface turned out to be far too real. Berman tosses off references that may send you to the research room one moment while uncovering a previously unnoticed universal truth the next. He was the poet of a generation of over-educated misanthropes, and he will be missed. This final album will long stand the test of time and fits alongside the best of his Silver Jews canon.
I feel like I had more
albums than ever in my running yearlong playlist this year, but I didn’t get to
spend nearly the time with all of them that I would have liked to. Here’s my
list of the albums that rose above the noise in 2019. (Minus metal records.
Those might get their own list later.) And a handy playlist too!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Is Patrick Wall the only one here who gives a shit about the rules?
KNEE MEETS JERK: A Tragicomedy in Three ActsOr, In Which a Mostly Retired Music Critic and Journalist Offers Brief, Non-Critical and Non-Sequitur Thoughts Only Tangentially Related to His Favorite Music of 2019. Because, Hey, Music Is Personal and Subjective, Right? Listed in alphabetical order. Results subject to change.
I’m not sure I know where to begin.
So maybe this is a place as good as any: In mid-December, when year-in-review lists started propagating, my friend Reid asked on Twitter how folks can keep up with the never-ending stream of just so much god damned stuff, let alone listen to it and hopefully connect to some of it.
My short answer is simple and practical: I keep a list. In years past, it’s been in a spiral-bound notebook or a Microsoft Word file; this year, it was in a Google Keep sticky note. If I listen to a record and it strikes me on some fundamental level, I make an entry on my list: the release date, the artist, the record, and the label that released it. Come the end of the year, compiling a favorites list is easy: I go back to my list. Some years, there’s a little chaff to be trimmed. Some years there isn’t. But the list helps keep the year-end panic at bay.
The long answer is complicated.
Having shrunk to a duo within the last year, NYC experimentalists Battles have just released “Titanium 2 Step,” the lead single for the forthcoming long-player Juice B Crypts due out in October via Warp. It’s a frenetic space jam of chaotic funk with Liquid Liquid’s Sal Principato lending sporadic vocal yelps. The band is currently on tour in Europe, hitting the US in early December.
Harkening back to the mid-90s, Sony/Legacy is reissuing the first batch of albums released just after Prince had changed his name to the Love Symbol (O(+>) for the first time ever on vinyl. These albums have been out of print for decades and come with exorbitant prices on the collector’s market.
The Versace Experience (Prelude 2 Gold) was originally handed out as a cassette mix-tape for Paris Fashion Week back in 1995 and served as a preview of The Gold Experience. It was reissued on cassette earlier this year as a Record Store Day exclusive. Hopefully, the sound issues on that cassette reissue have been addressed for this vinyl edition.
Alt-rock singer/songwriter Juliana Hatfield returns with her second record of 2019 with a tribute to the Police, covering a smattering of the trio’s classics and deeper cuts. This stands as Hatfield’s second covers record, having paid tribute to Olivia Newton-John back in 2018, and it’s a tradition she hopes to continue. She released the insular and reflective Weird, her 17th solo album, back in January of this year. Hatfield’s teaser for the upcoming covers record is her version of “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da,” which suits her style amazingly well. I hadn’t previously heard a Police influence in her solo work, but I can’t un-hear it now.
Juliana Hatfield Sings The Police is out in November on American Laundromat Records. You can pre-order it here.
Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come was such a visceral, unimpeachable, career-defining classic that it was almost a relief that the band broke up a few months after it came out so as not to risk tainting its lasting legacy. Refused’s dissolution in the face of imminent success was also consistent with its anti-capitalistic ethos. So, when rumors started to circulate in 2010/11 that something was brewing for Refused, the band’s perfectly encapsulated legacy was on the verge of compromise.
Inevitably, a reunion tour was announced in 2012 followed by the dreaded “new” album in 2015. Even though Freedom wasn’t a terrible comeback record, it didn’t hold a candle to The Shape of Punk to Come. And four years on the band has announced a follow-up: War Music is out in October. The first single, “Blood Red,” serves up a healthy dose frenetic agitation and a hint of metal, replete with a memorable chorus.