A few months ago Sirius XMU played a song by an English band called Black Midi. I was driving when I heard it and completely dumbfounded: It was noisy, anti-melodic, primal and tight- not the type of stuff you hear on the radio in 2019- even on the “indie” radio stations. Several friends have sent me messages in the last few days asking if I’d heard this band yet. Barely. But now I’ve watched the band’s performance filmed at a hostel in Iceland that was aired live on KEXP back in November of last year. In an age when electronic music drives the trends, it’s almost jarring to see a new band this young channeling no-wave, math rock, English post-punk, and Don Caballero-esque compositional chaos. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it yet, but I know I’m intrigued.
An excellent, well-researched delve into the mysterious evening when John Lennon and Paul McCartney entered a studio together for the first and only time five years after The Beatles had come to an acrimonious end.
It had been nearly five years since Lennon and McCartney appeared in a recording studio together. The last time around, they were at Abbey Road Studios in London with Harrison and Starr, working on the Abbey Road track “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Given all that had transpired since then, those five years might have felt like 25.
Mr. Costello returned last fall from his brief cancer scare with his finest record in 15 years. Look Now! is a tour de force journey through the man’s kaleidoscopic musical songbook. The Burt Bacharach-isms mesh effortlessly with the storied yet always acerbic lyrics. As one of the finest backing bands in the business, The Imposters (who are the Attractions minus Bruce Thomas) are incredibly gifted musicians and confidently take risks amidst often complex arrangements. “Mr. & Mrs. Hush” is a standout on a stellar long-player. The band is on tour this summer with Blondie before embarking on a larger tour this fall.
A definitive version of Silkworm’s 1994 classic In The West is forthcoming from Comedy Minus One records. It has been remixed from the original two-inch tape by Steve Albini, who also served as the engineer on the initial recording sessions. The physical release will be on double vinyl with re-imagined artwork and limited to 1500 copies. A bonus CD completes the package featuring 7″ b-sides and a live version of “Halloween.” This streaming version of album highlight “Dremate” is limited to the download accompaniment to the bundle.
Despite being released in the midst of college radio’s halcyon days, this record has never before been released on vinyl. Mindblowingly, Silkworm also released Libterine later that same year.
1. Run The Jewels, Run the Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal, Sony Red)
2. Hurray For The Riff Raff, Small Town Heroes (ATO)
3. Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (Loose Music)
4. Sharon Van Etten, Are We There (Jagjaguwar)
5. FKA twigs, LP1 (Young Turks)
6. Iceage, Plowing Into the Field of Love (Matador)
7. Cory Branan, The No-Hit Wonder (Bloodshot)
8. Cloud Nothings, Here and Nowhere Else (Carpark)
9. Alvvays, s/t (Polyvinyl)
10. Ryan Adams, 1984 (Pax AM)
This year I can’t in good conscience list ten albums in order. It always feels like splitting invisible hairs to decide between one and two or five and six, and when the albums I loved this year are such a diverse bunch it just seems silly. (I would say it is like comparing apples to oranges, but one can compare apples to oranges easily. Oranges are much better. Clearly. Ask anyone.) There is a unifying theme in my list, though it embarrasses me a bit to notice it. Almost all of these albums have a throwback quality to them. They often involve attempts to recapture something pure from earlier incarnations of the genres. The best albums of the year represent pure forms of rap/hip-hop, country/rock and punk. Among the others you can hear echoes of Madonna, Magnetic Fields, Silver Jews, and (um, of course) the Talking Heads. St. Vincent is probably the exception. As an aside, it somehow seems to me that many of the newest sounds these days come from women–witness Cate LeBon, PJ Harvey, and Bjork. And Radiohead. I guess Radiohead is the exception that proves the rule is not really a rule after all. In any case, here’s my shot at this year’s list.
Cloud Nothings, Here and Nowhere Else (Subpop)
These Cleveland darlings just keep getting better with every release. There are shades of Nirvana, The Descendants, and about a dozen other punky lovelies. I probably listened to this one more than any album this year.
Run the Jewels, RTJ2 (Mass Appeal)
In this year of racial fucknuttery, with white cops reviving scenes of Selma and dumbasses taking it out perfectly innocent police, it was a perfect year for RTJ2 to bring us intelligent, hard hitting rap. El-P and Killer Mike have had the year of their lives and the excitement is infectious as hell. Just hearing Killer Mike start the thing out makes me start punching the air. Lie, Cheat, Steal might be the track of the year.
Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire for No Witness (Jagjaguwar)
It’s not really fair to have a voice this strong while still kicking ass as a songwriter. How can someone like this not make those boneheads in Nashville change the way they think about making and marketing music? If you liked Sharon von Etten’s Tramp, and you did if you are even moderately reasonable, this album should be on your shelf. Like von Etten, Olsen spills her guts with style, but perhaps with a greater diversity of styles. She morphs from Patsy Cline to Leonard Cohen in a heartbeat.
Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (High Top Mountain Records)
My friend Eric turned me onto this saying “This guy is legit as shit,” and this album plus that comment is a good reminder of why we love our friends. I haven’t been as excited about country since Richard Buckner’s early albums. Unapologetically excellent. (Might be paired well with Luke B. Goebel’s “14 Stories and None of them are Yours.” Those two guys might be the same damn person.)
Death from Above 1979, The Physical World (Last Gang/Warner Bros.)
Another album from a duo who packs the energy of an entire decade of rock. I doubt these two spend afterparties riding alligators around a hotel room bonfire, but they sound like it. I’ll eagerly wait another ten years for these guys to record another album if I have to. This stuff is timeless.
St. Vincent, St. Vincent (Loma Vista)
We Dallasites like to think of Annie Clark as our own, and those of us who have done time in that monochromatic suburb of Garland want to feel somewhat redeemed by the association. But the truth is she is probably from outer space and has some Kryptonian story of how she got here. For my money she belongs with PJ Harvey and Bjork as one of the most interesting and innovative artists out there. She can hack the guitar into pieces and hit all manner of notes while stoically packaging herself for television consumption. Every St. Vincent album is worth having, and this might be her best yet , but I wouldn’t be surprised if she just continues to get better for about sixty years.
Alvvays, Alvvays (Polyvinyl/Transgressive)
If I can’t include Chad VanGaalen’s album on my year end list, and honestly I can’t, I’m happy at least to include an album he produced. Toronto based Alvvays’ self-titled album is the sort of fresh lo-fi pop that is easy to try but damned difficult to pull off. While they remind me a lot of Camera Obscura, they’re willing to let a little more fray show at the edges, and their sound is a little too rough to be twee. Just try not to like Archie, Marry Me. If you do try, you’re just being a jerk.
Christians have been awaiting the second coming of Jesus Christ for more than two millennia, now. Comparatively, we had to wait just under 15 years for Black Messiah.
Notoriously reclusive R&B superstar D’Angelo quickly and quietly released Black Messiah, the long-awaited follow-up to 2000’s Voodoo, to iTunes and Spotify last night, after teasing the album over the weekend by dropping a 15-second album trailer on Friday and first single “Sugah Daddy” on Saturday.
Fifteen years is a long time to wait for a follow-up, and the track record for albums with such long waits, uh, isn’t good. (See: Chinese Democracy; SMiLE.) But damn if Black Messiah, on first listen, is well worth the delay. Black Messiah is a superlative funk record in the vein of Prince circa Prince, Sly circa There’s a Riot Going On and P-Funk circa “Maggot Brain,” thanks in large part to D’Angelo’s fierce and fluid backing band The Vanguard. “Sugah Daddy,” teased earlier in the weekend, is vintage D’Angelo, sexy and sprightly and playful. And the vicious, quasi-industrial “1000 Deaths” is already making me regret submitting my Village Voice Pazz + Jop ballot early.