2019: Album by Album (December)

Here it is. The final month of my 12-month head-first dive into actively trying to discover more music. If you have followed my journey since beginning all the way back in January 2019, then thank you. I plan on doing a round-up blog post in the next week or so highlighting my favourites from each month and talking a bit more about what I discovered.

For now, here’s everything I listened to in December (that I hadn’t already listened to before, hence the absence of any Christmas songs that have occupied the last couple of weeks – when you have a 7 year old child, that does happen). As you will see it is mostly made up of 2019 releases, as there was a bunch of stuff (not to mention the 300+ 2019 albums I wanted to check out but didn’t get around to) I wanted to listen to before the year was out. I was 3 albums short from being able to compile a top 100 list, having checked out 97 albums from 2019, and so I made a top 90 list instead. Check it out here, and leave your own 2019 lists in the comments (disclaimer: if I was to make the list today it would look quite different, records by Big Thief, Kim Gordon, Jimmy Eat World, and Pedro the Lion would be higher, etc. I am actually listening to ‘Two Hands’ by Big Thief again as I write this).

Hey. Do you like Spotify playlists that are 327 all-awesome songs in length? Then this playlist, which contains a song from every album I listened to in the last twelve months (that I liked), and every individual song I heard that I hadn’t encountered previously, is for you. Ideal for playing on shuffle.

Albums and EPs

Neil Young with Crazy Horse, ‘Colorado’ – Crazy Horse is back and this album is definitely up there with some of Young’s best work. It swings from ballsy and raw to tender and sweet, as you’d expect from a Crazy Horse album, and it’s not shy of those epic crunchy riffs and jams. Highlight: ‘Help Me Lose My Mind’.

Alcest, ‘Spiritual Instinct’ – Alcest combine metal with elements of shoegaze and post rock to create something that does sound quite spiritual. I had heard a lot of hype around this record. Ultimately, it wasn’t really for me. Having said that it did have its moments. Highlight: ‘Projection’.

Great Grandpa, ‘Four of Arrows’ – A mash of indie rock and pop punk, with slight radio-friendly country pop tinges here and there. It brushes too close to Taylor Swift territory too often me. Highlight: ‘Digger’.

SPACESHIPS, ‘Tiny Fires’ – Fusing elements of shoegaze, post rock, and dream metal to create four tracks which are in turn epic, dramatic, and heartfelt. Highlight: ‘Magnetic’.

The Glow, ‘Am I’ – Mike Caridi of LVL UP returns bringing the fuzzy indie rock that made LVL UP so comforting to the table again, but this time with added pop and psych influences. Highlight: ‘Weight Of Sun’.

Fever Ray, ‘Fever Ray’ – I remember being completely compelled by the sound of this album and the eerie mood it sets. Karin Dreijer, also known for her work with The Knife, delivers 10 tracks of a brooding, moody, haunting deposition fusing electronic, ambient, alternative, and art pop. Highlight: ‘Seven’.

Big Thief, ‘Two Hands’ – This second album from Big Thief this year isn’t as immediate as the first (which I listened to last month), but is still an album of stunning indie-folk worth talking about. Highlight: ‘Not’.

Tool, ‘Fear Inoculum’ – I was aware Tool had a new album out this year but hadn’t really considered giving it a listen until a friend brought it up. My knowledge of Tool is limited to seeing 30 seconds of their video for Schism on Kerrang! back in the day which didn’t do anything for me. I thought I’d give this a go though, as tastes often change. If I’m honest, it wasn’t for me, which for an album that clocks in at 1hr 26mins, is quite a big commitment. However, during that time, I did find the odd riff or rhythm that pricked my ears up. Highlight: ‘Chocolate Chip Trip’.

Tyler, The Creator, ‘IGOR’ – I tried listening to this earlier in the year, but after a couple of tracks I had to stop as I found it grating. I thought it I would give it another go, this time committing to the full album. There are some cool moments here and there, but overall I found it a bit annoying. Highlight: ‘WHAT’S GOOD’.

Kim Gordon, ‘No Home Record’ – A blistering art rock record which is charismatic and playful as much as it is relentless and important. Kim Gordon’s signature husky and evocative vocal is ever-present, and so it instantly appeals to the Sonic Youth fan in me. The chorus of ‘Air BnB’ could easily be from a Dirty-era Sonic Youth song. Similarities aside though, there’s a lot of new sounds and moods explored, as well as cut-up experimental-ism and noise for this debut solo album to stand on its own two feet. Highlight: ‘Murdered Out’.

MONO, ‘Nowhere Now Here’ – Grandiose, climatic post-rock which shifts between quiet and loud, graceful and heavy. There’s not a lot I can say about this record that hasn’t been said about other post-rock albums of this nature, but it’s a solid album nonetheless. Highlight: ‘Meet Us Where the Night Ends’.

Bat For Lashes, ‘Lost Girls’ – An atmospheric mix of art pop, electronic, and synth-pop, with elements of new wave. The songs swing between brooding and melancholic to euphoric and hypnotising, with a mysterious smokiness underlying throughout. Highlight: ‘Jasmine’. Bonus highlight (because it’s one of the best instrumentals I’ve heard this year): ‘Vampires’.

Tripper, ‘Taut Orchestras’ – A blistering EP which brings punk, post hardcore, indie rock and pyschadelic rock to a boil and then spits it in your face with a sly wink and a cheeky grin. Highlight: ‘All the Heartache’.

Cassels, ‘The Perfect Ending’ – An idiosyncratic mix of indie rock, rock and roll, and punk, going from big, ballsy riffs to clean, tender chords, and underscored by half spoken, half sung vocals that lean on social commentary and politics. Highlight: ‘A Snowflake in Winter’.

Thurston Moore, ‘Spirit Counsel’ – Clocking in at 2hrs 28mins, Spirit Counsel consists of just three tracks that bridge the gap between noise rock and post rock. I have to say, although this was by no means un-enjoyable, I’m not sure these tracks justified being so epic in length. On the rare occasion that these mainly-guitar-based pieces changed their motif it was a much welcomed breath of fresh air. I am almost certain though that it was Thurston’s intention to take the listener right to the brink before giving them any relief. Highlight: ‘Alice Moki Jayne’.

Horse Jumper of Love, ‘So Divine’ – A hypnotic mix of slowcore and indie rock, with the occasional grunge undertone, lyrically capturing memories and making them into bigger things. Highlight: ‘Volcano’.

    Individual tracks I hadn’t heard before

SPACESHIPS, ‘Babel’ – Spotify put on this track after I had listened to their ‘Tiny Fires’ EP, and I will be checking out the rest of this album in due course, for sure. SPACESHIPS definitely have ‘their’ sound down.

Try, Try, Try, ‘Give It Up’ – A saccharine slice of electronic-enthused indie pop from the same man that otherwise goes by the name Luke Leighfield.

Poolside, ‘Harvest Moon’ – A chilled electronic cover of Neil Young’s classic. Stunning.

Outer Spaces, ‘Children Love To Run’ – The b-side to ‘Teapot #1’ which was put out earlier in the year as part of Saddle Creek’s Document series is a slightly more jangly, upbeat affair.

Tripper + Watt, ‘Pilot Error’ – Shortly after listening to their EP ‘Taut Orchestras’, they dropped this exploding bomb of unrelenting, angular, and immediate punk rock, again with that trademark edge of post hardcore, indie and psychadelic rock. This first-released song from the upcoming Tripper and Mike Watt collab album promises exciting things to come.

Neil Young, ‘One of These Days’ – Mellow and tender Harvest-Moon-era-Young. Can’t go wrong.

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