THE BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2019: THE EDITOR'S PICKS

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THE BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2019: THE EDITOR'S PICKS

Yes, it is that time again when contentious lists are posted about the Best Albums of The Year. And we can only reiterate what we always say,: the “best” albums are those which you enjoyed the most.

End of that discussion?

The more obscure an album does not – in Elsewhere's world anyway – mean it is any better than a blockbuster by, say, Taylor Swift.

However, here we go with my top 30 picks (across many genres) of what I think are albums I will be listening to in the years to come.

Now . . . these are only drawn from the albums reviewed at Elsewhere and so obviously Aldous Harding's Designer should be included along with a number of others I didn't get to. (Purple Pilgrims has been a favourite too).

So ,this column only refers to albums written about Elsewhere, hence the links to the full review.

And next week at Elsewhere I will have a column about The Year in Reissues (because the past just keeps coming back to haunt and please us, no?)

And the doors are now open for you to send me three picks of your own -- preferably none of the following – with a sentence or two telling our readers why that album (released THIS year) – worked for you.

As to what new albums and artists hit the spot at Elsewhere this year?

As Casey Kasem used to say, “And now, on with the countdown . . .” In no particular order.


Billie Eilish: When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

__86This year 17-year old Billie Eilish became the youngest ever Grammy nominated artist in four major categories, one of them for this excellent, ambitious, broody and subtle debut produced by brother Finneas. It weaves its way into your ear rather than deliver dancefloor bangers as many might expect.

Suspend judgment and have a listen. It is style and substance.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Tiny Ruins: Olympic Girls

We might now almost refer to Hollie Fullbrook as a former-folk artist although much of that remains on this excellent third album. But it is a different kind of folk now and as we said,this mature outing broadens her musical and lyrical palette while feeling as intimate as ever but also now more mysterious.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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75 Dollar Bill: I Was Real

This New York duo of Che Chen (guitar) and percussionist Rick Brown (plus a few friends) brought together an intoxicating tapestry of mesmerising sub-Saharan desert blues, hip minimalism, Fifties rural blues, Velvet Underground drone and psychedelic rock. Intoxicating.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

And Che Chen is interviewed here

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Tinariwen; Amajdar

Eight albums in and this group out of the sub-Saharan region never fail to impress, and here bring in guests (violinist Warren Ellis of Dirty Three/Bad Seeds, guitarists Stephen O'Malley of Sun O))), experimentalist Cass McCombs and jazzman Rodolphe Burger) who mostly subsume their personalities in favour of the bigger Tinariwen picture. The standout is guitarist Jeiche Ould Chighaly on the apocalyptic psychedelic sound of Zawal.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

There is more on Tinariwen at Elsewhere starting here

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Kim Gordon: No Home Record

Those who thought former Sonic Youth bassist/singer Gordon would deliver something like her old band obviously hadn't been paying attention: she was always an experimental artist. We will quote ourselves here: “This is a car skidding on its burning rims down a gravel side road through the long night and heading to a place where experimentalism and No Wave pop collide head on”. Yes, that good and that demanding.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Bruce Springsteen: Western Stars

These elegiac, orchestrated stories of characters on the margins – the “West” was the land of cowboys and outlaws – pack drama and melodrama alongside insight and outsiders. Against the odds at 69, Springsteen remains close to his themes but reinvents them in these panoramic arrangements

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

There is more about Bruce Springsteen at Elsewhere starting here

.


Troy Kingi and the Upper Class: Holy Colony Burning Acres

vinyl_record_on_a_turn_tableReggae used to be a militant music in the Seventies and early Eighties (think Marley's Get Up Stand Up, the Herbs' debut Whats' Be Happen) but has been supplanted by good-vibe barbecue sounds for summer. Here Troy Kingi takes us right back to those more heady and demanding days with this consciousness-raising reggae for our time with themes of land, displacement, resistance and positivity. So much things to say.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Leonard Cohen: Thanks for the Dance

Posthumous albums often don't serve the artists well, unless – as in this case – they were working on the material at the time of their passing. This elegant, poised postscript to the farewell letters of his final album You Want It Darker is by turns moving, wry, cynical, sharp and sad. You will miss him even more after hearing this.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

There is more about Leonard Cohen at Elsewhere starting here.

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The Comet is Coming: Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery/The Afterlife

DVD_discLet's cheat a little here because this UK jazz outfit (which hauls in grime, hip-hop, psychedelics and much more) released Lifeforce early in the year and Afterlife as a kind of out-there coda six months later. They see them as two parts of a whole and they do sound that way. Challenging jazz from a deep and rich seam in Britain.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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YBN Cordae: The Lost Boy

His backstory is interesting and he mostly tells it on this remarkably mature and consistent debut by this 21-year old US rapper. He has guests but this is his show and story, and he permits plenty of space for strings and quiet passages, and lets in old blues and gospel. Not banging rap but something more considered as he reflects on his success, family and fears for the future.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Ghosteen

Inevitably after the death of his son, Cave reflects on life and death and grief, the meaning of it (if there be one), the sublime and the mundane in these quiet, poetic meditations. A beautiful arc here too, the double album is bookended by the hope that “peace will come”. Intimate and beautiful.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

There is more about Nick Cave at Elsewhere starting here

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Yola: Walk Through Fire

In a musical landscape where artists align themselves with social movements, virtue signal, claim their victim status or have deep and heavy messages, it is refreshing to come upon this Black-British singer who recorded this mature debut in Nashville with Dan (Black Keys) Auerbach and delivers songs which sound like classic Dusty in Memphis, Dolly Parton, deep gospel and country-soul. Thoroughly enjoyable and intelligent album which doesn't demand much analysis. And is the better for it.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Brittany Howard: Jaime

pete_records_2Now this is demanding as the front-woman of Alabama Shakes takes her remarkable voice to matters of growing up black and marginalised, having a crush on another girl and much more. The songs are difficult sometimes but this gets well over the line for its honesty and the palette of funk, gospel, street and soul. With Robert Glasper too.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Charli XCX: Charli

On paper there's plenty for older listeners to be cynical about: the massive roll call of writers and producers and guests for a start. But this is clever and snappy contemporary pop (yes, with AutoTune) with its feet on the dancefloor. But all those producers have actually done a fine job, it sounds great.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Dead Little Penny: Urge Surfing

This Auckland trio have a mainline into widescreen shoegaze guitars, melodic power pop, Goth gloom, synth-pop, Sixties girl-group melodrama and dream-pop. This is frequently thrilling and dense, and singer Hayley Smith has a powerful presence across it all.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Mermaidens: Look Me in the Eye

This third album by this accomplished New Zealand band doing well internationally bridges classic and contemporary pop, shapeshifting indie-rock and clever arrangements. And right at the end they hint at something else in their armory.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Ekiti Sound: Abeg No Vex

vinyl3_2Nigerian producer/singer Leke's scratchy debut delivers difficult, lo-fi council estate sonics outta London which are driven through filtered through Congotronics-like hip-hop and bargain basement electronics. Not an easy listen but the rhythmic shifts from funk to drum'n'bass and elsewhere are increasingly addictive on repeat plays.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Kingfish: Kingfish

An extraordinarily accomplished debut by this 20-year old blues singer/guitarist from Mississippi. He hooks back to dark imagery and history of the Delta but wraps it up in fist-tight songs and with searing guitar playing which attests to his admiration of Buddy Guy. If you only buy one blues album this year . . .

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

.


Liam Gallagher: Why Me? Why Not

Yes, brother Noel was the songwriter in Oasis and Liam just the mouthy mouthpiece, but Liam was always smarter than he appeared. Although his solo career got off to a faltering start with Beady Eye now on his second fine solo album under his own name he again teams up with actual writers and pop craftsmen who don't take him too far from the Oasis template but allow a more personal and even emotional voice to come through. Having more modest ambitions than Noel (Liam just wants a huge audience in a stadium) is starting to serve him well.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Jan Hellriegel: Sportsman of the Year

__86It has been what, 10 years? since Auckland singer-songwriter Hellriegel's last album so this return was overdue. But how she did is noteworthy, with an autobiographical book/CD collection which were two different halves, each supporting the other. Her book has an easy, almost chatty tone as she tells of her life and some hard-won wisdom, the songs which tie into the narrative are sometimes more hard-edged and tightly coiled. Available separately but you need both.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Mousey: Lemon Law

The name – taken from Bowie's Life on Mars – is unpromising perhaps but this debut by Serena Close from Christchurch ticks many fine boxes from folksy indie-pop to guitar jangle and breezy summer sounds. Career starters don't always come this confident.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Julia Jacklin: Crushing

Elsewhere has interviewed literally hundreds and hundreds of musicians over the decades but few made the immediate impression of this Melbourne singer-songwriter whose insightful second album dealt with her encounters with the male-dominated world she found herself in after the success of her debut. She sings of personal loss, a relationship breakdown, nasty exploitation and how to keep the love and interest alive in a long relationship. A remarkably mature and mostly understated album.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

There is an interview with Julia Jacklin at Elsewhere here

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Angie McMahon: Salt

Another strong debut by a young Australian who possesses a powerful voice which she never overplays but rather lets a fragility and sensuality sometimes carry these emotionally revealing songs. As we noted, serious music for adults who don't demand easy hooks or bangers.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Lankum: The Livelong Day

fototapety_zmywalne_gramofon_z_plyty_winylowejSome have said they find this album hard to listen to in a sitting, and that is true. Of course, you don't have to.

And in fact is that this Irish folk band exploring drones and eerily timeless moods is perhaps more easily accommodated by those who enjoy the Velvet Underground more than finger-in-the-ear traditional folk.

This is traditional in many ways (they perform Wild Rover, but I unlike any other version you'll have heard) but the strange and mystic past is brought into the present. Yes, it is tough to be undertaken in a sitting but a troubling and engrossing album to return to.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Sarathy Korwar: More Arriving

Another out of the melting pot of London's improvised music scene. US-born, India-raised Korwar here creates a simmering and sometimes white-heat montage of sounds, poetry, jazz, samples and much more on an album impossible to pigeonhole but which is important in not just how it says it but what it says about race, history, politics and the turbulent present.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Tom Ludvigson and Trevor Reekie: Roto

These Auckland multi-instrumentalists here deliver sometimes helium-inflated instrumentals which are utterly seductive, gently assertive, cosmic or ambient. Mostly improvised in the studio, these pieces must shame those who spend weeks trying to create something this enchanting and engaging.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Thom Yorke: Suspiria

You don't need to have seen the original horror-thriller Italian film of the late Seventies (or the soundtrack to it by Goblin) or the remake for which this is the soundtrack. You can simply immerse yourself in these deep, dark orchestrated and unsettling waters. Atmospheric and sometimes as beautiful as it is uneasy.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Lee “Scratch” Perry: Rainford

best_cheap_turntables_record_players_under_100It isn't the great reggae producer's best album but even a slightly lesser outing like this is still challenging, fun, divisive, declamatory, apocalyptic and upsetting. Genius which cannot be contained.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Nerija: Blume

Although Kamasi Washington gets most attention, this has been the year of jazz out of London where grime, hip-hop, hard bop, Afro-futurism, brass and more get thrown into the blender. The Comet is Coming we have already mentioned but this (mostly) all-women collective here put a stake in the ground with this exciting debut where saxophonist Nubya Garcia and the exceptional guitarist Shirley Tetteh claim MVP accolades.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

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Al Fraser, Sam Leamy, Neil Johnstone: Panthalassa

We save the quietest for last. This subtle soundscape of taonga puoro, guitar and synths is full of mystery as the performers explore the ocean which surrounded the co-joined continents millions of years ago. Sounds difficult but these are sounds to submerge yourself in and let the waters flow around you.

To read Elsewhere's full review see here

And now it is your turn . . . 




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