I can’t recall a better year for music since around 2004. This year there were some new bands, some old bands and there were no notable new U2 releases to cloud my judgement. Some long-time favorite acts released some stinkers, though. See the top 10, the middle of the pack and the stinkers below. Oh, and the Replacements showed up again. Never a bad thing.
THE TOP 10 of 2019
Strand of Oaks – Eraserland
The end of March 2019 was a really bad time for me. My day job was a grind full of unsavory characters both east and west and worst of all, my extensive music collection had me bored. But then around the 24th of March, I discovered Strand of Oaks. I actually began the journey with Hard Love but the album that sealed the deal was Eraserland. The album sounded how I felt. Like grasping at straws on a wintertime beach to find that lost inspiration that you knew you once had and desperately wanted again. This album saved most of 2019 and all of my record collection.
Sergio Pizzorno – The S.L.P.
A NH family road trip staple. Kasabian’s Sergio Pizzorno has crafted a bizarre, fun and utterly captivating album that’s all over the map. “Favourites” has my vote for song of the year. “Trance” is somewhere in the top 10 as well. For fans of Kasabian or music lovers that don’t mind checking their expectations at the door.
Elbow – Giants Of All Sizes
In recent years, Manchester’s Elbow had gotten to be a little middle of the road. The albums were still really good but the edge was missing from the earlier releases. Then came Giants of All Sizes. This album is sharp, angry and isn’t afraid to tell you about it. It’s about death and disillusionment and how Guy Garvey still manages to find painful beauty in all the despair. It’s top notch Elbow.
Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost: Part 1
Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost: Part 2
Had it not been for Part 2, these albums may not have been in my top ten. But the release of Foal’s second installment weeks ago made me revisit the first volume from earlier this year. It works well as a set and both albums compliment each other. Neither album boasts singles that reach as high as anything on Holy Fire or What Went Down. But the sum of all that is here is still every bit as engaging and shows a band that hasn’t forgotten how to move forward.
Iggy Pop – Free
There are several album on this list that the whole family enjoys. Free is not one of them. With the exception of “James Bond”, there’s very little on this that I can play while my wife or kids are in the room. It’s either too weird from them or too much filthy Iggyness. I, on the other hand, absolutely love it. It’s vintage, weird Pop and if it all ended here, it would remind us of what a treasure he is. Free, indeed.
Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
The duets on this could be dropped and I probably wouldn’t miss them. Heck, they could have just put “Sympathy” out as an album and it’d still be in my top 10. Lots of people don’t like this album but none of them live in the NH household. Smug, more mature and endlessly hummable. Vampire Weekend become young-dad-age and no doubt, some kids are rolling their eyes. It’s still rock ‘n roll to me.
Beck – Hyperspace
The key to approaching this album is keeping Pharrell Williams out of your peripheral vision. I’ve got nothing against him but I think listening for his influence is really a red herring – especially if you’re like me and the only song you know is “Happy”. So, with that out of the way, I really see this as a Colors-era continuation. If you weren’t into that, you probably won’t be too into this. But if you were, the album is a solid continuation in that vein – albeit with a slightly slower groove. Most interestingly to me, the album sounds like a guy getting away from something and being really glad to have it in the rear view. A surprisingly fulfilling late night listen.
Steve Mason – About The Light
When this came out, it was the first new release I listened through, top to bottom, on my living room stereo in a long time. I just sat there and it sounded great. While repeat plays have not been quite as compelling, it’s still a great (2nd place, maybe?) addition to the Steve Mason solo canon. Not as vulnerable as For the Humans but still wildly accessible and, if there was justice in the universe, a staple on the radio.
Operators – Radiant Dawn
I saw Dan Boeckner’s latest band at the MeetFactory in Prague on the eve of my 46th birthday and it was by far one of the top 5 shows of my life and most epic birthdays in a long time. The album versions of the songs are a little more stiff but still really enjoyable. I continue to be amazed and the speed and quality of Boeckner’s material. Radiant Dawn is no exception.
Thom Yorke – Anima
Probably the Radiohead front-man’s best album since The Eraser. It clicked with me during a late night vinyl listening session. It’s got some hooks in it and a little more vitriol than paranoia and that’s welcome in a Thom Yorke record. Anyone looking for “Fake Plastic Trees” is barking up the wrong one but combine it with the right amount of darkness, solitude and spirits, it’s an enjoyable journey. (Holy crap, I’d been looking for that Gerry Rafferty album. Totally didn’t expect to find it while posting my first blog post in years, though.)
The Middle of the Pack
Here are some others that didn’t make the top 10 but get a couple of lines anyway.
The Hold Steady – Thrashing Thru The Passion
A capable, workman like album. No real stand-outs but nothing offensive. Kind of strange to see this band grow old.
Craig Finn – I Need A New War
Another Finn release full of great characters and broken dreams.
Andrew Bird – My Finest Work Yet
No proof in advertising on this one. Not bad but nothing connects like in past efforts.
LCD Soundsystem – Electric Lady Sessions
This band sounds tired for the first time ever. And the cover doesn’t help.
Bob Mould – Sunshine Rock
Bob moved to Berlin? I hoped for more. Unfortunately a forgettable entry in the Mould discography.
The National – I Am Easy To Find
The National puts a #metoo moment to record. Ho, hum. How about another El Vy record?
Wilco – Ode To Joy
Almost as disappointing and limp as the show I saw in Amsterdam this year. Their best days are way behind them. But Tweedy’s solo Warm is good so not sure what’s going on.
Sturgill Simpson – Sound and Fury
I think I’m too old for what’s going on here. Because the fact is, I don’t know what’s going on here.
Gaz Coombes – Live in Paris EP
If I would not have been in a funk and 2018 would have been a better year for music, Gaz Coombes’ World’s Strongest Man would have been the best album of that dismal year. This EP takes some of those songs and stretches the out and roughs them up in a live setting. They retain every bit of the impact they have on record.
The Replacements – Dead Man’s Pop
A different, more organic version of Don’t Tell A Soul was rescued from Slim Dunlap’s basement and released with demos and a concert from the same era. The same era in which my brother and I saw them on Omaha. You can’t say this band doesn’t know its target market.