It’s been a couple of years since I’ve put one of these together. While this failure has been partly due to a decrease in overall writing, it has in large part been the result of a decrease in listening to new music. 2019 saw something of a renewed zest for music. Here’s what resulted.
1) Crazy Doberman – — / Haunted, Non / Haunted (Torn Light Records)
A dreamy drift from psychedelia into free jazz. Noise and industrial burble and bleed through. Crazy Doberman has never sounded more expansive or more engrossing.
2) Purple Mountains – s/t (Drag City)
Silver Jews was a band I listened to a good deal of in high school – with Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea serving as the soundtrack to the summer before I went away to college. Finding out Berman had released new music, under a new name, was an exciting development this summer, one that quickly turned bittersweet after his passing just days after I first gave it a spin. While Purple Mountains shows Berman’s songwriting chops were strong as ever, tracks like “I Loved Being My Mother’s Son” and “All My Happiness Is Gone” are tough listens on the order of Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked At Me.
3) Tredici Bacci – La Fine del Futuro (NNA Tapes)
“Emmanuelle” was probably the most startling, unexpected piece of music I heard in 2019 and perfectly demonstrates Tredici Bacci’s ability to continually surprise, to create an ultra-niche world that still feels unpredictable and endlessly expansive.
4) Townes Van Zandt – Sky Blue (Fat Possum Records)
A previously unreleased session that features TVZ tracks at their eeriest and most ghostly. The versions of “Rex’s Blues” and “Pancho & Lefty” are the best he ever recorded.
5) Sun Kil Moon – I Also Want To Die In New Orleans (Caldo Verde Records)
Benji might be the best album of the 2010s and while I Also Want To Die In New Orleans doesn’t reach its heights – or those of his subsequent masterpiece Common As Light And Love Are Red Valleys Of Blood – it demonstrates Kozelek’s anti-folk (or, at this point, anti-music) near its peak. The writing is discursive, fetishistically obsessive with some of Koz’s favorite themes (mass shootings, aging, mortality, Ohio, etc.), and an intricately composed form of stream-of-consciousness that feels spontaneous while belying its craft.
6) No One Knows What The Dead Think – s/t (Willowtip)
Members of Discordance Axis create an album worthy of following up The Inalienable Dreamless.
7) Crazy Doberman – s/t (Mastermind Records)
Psycho jazz on a journey into the jungle. Slowly building. The most Crazy Doberman has reminded me of Stare Case.
8) Physique – The Evolution Of Combat (Distort Reality)
Shredding d-beat noise punk with guitars screeching like a white noise machine in a blender. Plenty of bands have revived and popularized this sound over the last decade – and Boston’s had some of the best – but this stands head and shoulders above the current crop. All the right English and Japanese beats are hit and they never fail to punish.
9) 100 Gecs – 1000 Gecs (Dog Show Records)
100 Gecs just might be the end of music. The album is a breakneck tour of nearly every idea in electronic music of the last 15-20 years with flashes of death metal and gorenoise thrown in for good measure. After a listen to this whole album, all other music sounds newly strange and the world around you must be reacclimated to.
10) Dreadeye – The World Has Left Us Behind (Iron Lung Records)
Much like 100 Gecs, eclecticism defines Dreadeye’s LP, although here it is spasmodic and schizophrenic. The World Has Left Us Behind is grindcore that is constantly changing and constantly fresh. “Making Clowns Laugh” detours into sludge, “Standing Still” throws in gorenoise vocals, and title track offers a melding of Venetian Blinds-esque breakcore and hip hop.
1) Protocol – Bloodspot (Dynastic Yellow Star Label)
Blood Pressure with the production of Nazi Dust and some blasts of powerviolence thrown in. Nasty and unrelenting this was the best slab of hardcore in 2019 – and possibly the year’s best record.
2) Siamese Twins – Listless b/w Second Skin (self-released?)
A further refinement of Siamese Twins goth-y dream pop and a filling out of their sound with the move from three-piece to five-piece.
3) Screaming Fist – Templanza (Iron Lung Records)
Angry, punchy hardcore with a melodic bite that, at times, reminds me of This Is My Fist.
4) Physique – The Rhythm Of Brutality (Distort Reality)
The second best Physique release of 2019.
5) Body Parts – Count The Dead (Primitive Propaganda)
Power electronics and powerviolence from members of Wound Man.
Pedro The Lion – “Yellow Bike”
For most of my life I’ve struggled with bouts of insomnia. Throughout adolescence music often helped. As a result, I listened to a handful of albums dozens – if not hundreds – of times over a handful of years. Cat Power – The Greatest, Billy Joel – Glass Houses, Belle & Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress. One such album was Pedro The Lion’s Control. Fifteen years later, Pedro The Lion is not a band I often think about or listen to, but “Yellow Bike” is a song with the power to remind me why, at one point in my life, this was a band I loved. Like Purple Mountain and Sun Kil Moon, this is the product of a middle aged singer-songwriter thinking about loneliness, the passage of time, and growing older but Bazan’s melancholy achieves a sense of saudade – its nostalgia enriching the present moment. As much as things change, there will always be items with the power to, imperfectly, resurrect worlds for us. “Just remember what it was like / astride that yellow bike / first freedom, second life / all the places I could ride.”