Posts Tagged ‘Best Albums Of 2019’

Calexico and Iron & Wine - Years to Burn

Calexico and Iron & Wine first made an artistic connection with In the Reins, the 2005 EP that brought Sam Beam, Joey Burns and John Convertino together. The acclaimed collaboration introduced both acts to wider audiences and broadened Beam’s artistic horizons, but it was the shared experience of touring together in the tradition of Bob Dylan’s “Rolling Thunder Revue” that cemented their bond. Their metaphorical roads diverged in the years that followed, but they kept in touch and cross-pollinated where they could. But although they often talked about rekindling their collaboration in the studio and on the stage, it wasn’t until last year that their schedules aligned.

Years to Burn can’t help but be different from In the Reins. Back then, Calexico entered the studio with a long list of previous collaborations (first in Giant Sand, then backing the likes of Victoria Williams and Richard Buckner) and the knowledge that they loved Sam’s voice and his songs, but wondering if his material was so complete and self-contained that it lacked a way in, so hushed and delicate that it might be overwhelmed. For his part, Beam had been intimidated by their virtuosic playing and their deep comfort in an encyclopedic array of styles. “In my mind, I was a guy who knew three chords and recorded in a closet,” Sam says. “They were playing big stages and were superb musicians.”

Those fears were dispelled quickly. Calexico was bowled over by Beam’s many talents: “The arranging, the writing, his sense of rhythm, the quality of his vocals—and then there’s the experimental side of Sam,” Joey says. “They were the perfect band at the perfect time for me,” Sam adds. “I loved all their different sounds. They’re musical anthropologists, not regurgitating but absorbing what they discover.” Nearly 15 years on, “coming back to the project has to do with acknowledging how much impact the first record had for me in my life.”

Calexico and Iron & Wine

Released via Sub Pop (World) and City Slang (Europe)

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Singer/songwriter Sharon Van Etten experienced a lot of change after the release of her last album, 2014’s Are We There, and they’re the kind of life-altering shifts newfound romantic partnership, motherhood, career advancements—that are all but destined to reveal themselves in one’s art. And here, on her fifth studio effort Remind Me Tomorrow, those evolutions are apparent in a powerful sonic swerve, and in Van Etten’s desire to explore both nostalgia and rebirth, and maybe even how they intertwine.

Remind Me Tomorrow was the first great rock album of the year, and it would behoove any and all of Van Etten’s fans, even those who staunchly prefer her folk-leaning material, and rock ‘n’ roll aficionados of all stripes to open their ears (and their hearts) to this beautifully executed pivot. And for all its bold sonic upheavals—the addition of drum machines and electric shred and cavernous synth Remind Me Tomorrow maintains Van Etten’s gothic sensibilities.

Sharon Van Etten was truly one of the great lyricists of the ’10s, but with this breathtaking project, she’s proved an artistic pliancy her contemporaries may not possess. She hit her stride with Are We There, but here she’s not even on the ground.

Wand’s music lets the soul wander their fifth full-length “Laughing Matter” is another worthy side-by-side . Laughing Matter follows the Los Angeles rock outfit’s sky-high 2017 LP Plum and shapeshifting 2018 EP Perfume. While early releases from these Drag City Records mainstays were characterized by sludgy neo-garage and fuzzy stoner psych, their latest offerings conjure far too much slippery wonder to warrant concise categorization. Wand take risks and thrive on contradiction—their heady guitar embellishments keep you on your toes, and their surreal imagery simultaneously makes you feel insignificant and a pivotal part of the cosmos.

Laughing Matter is a intoxicating listen for a number of reasons. Their often opaque lyrics are a strangely touching and immersive experience, and lead vocalist Cory Hanson delivers them with a benevolence that will allow you to trust fall into his snug, fluttering coo. Wand’s affection for nature is evident, and there’s both a foreboding sense that something is slipping from grasp and a blissful acceptance of its fleeting or cyclical existence. “Rio Grande” captures a grand trek with breathtaking vistas (“Rivers twist like spider’s silk around the stolen land”) and their evocative descriptions are filtered through Hanson’s warm vocal eccentricities. “Lucky’s Sight” is an abstract, sensory collage with one of the record’s most exhilarating outros and most dramatically vivid lines (“a bag of pollinated daydreams smeared across an empty street”).

Amidst reverberating guitars and raining cymbals, “Scarecrow” expresses in the most tragically sublime terms, the plight of a straw-filled scarecrow standing guard in a field of grain as the scarecrow falls victim to the very crows it’s meant to spook. “Walkie Talkie” sees Wand at their sunniest peak as Hanson sings about the blurring of senses, “I’m kissed by the sight and I’m struck by the sound / My heart blinks like a light as I hitch into town.”

The outro is another highlight with booming, coiled drums and Hanson’s enchanting backing vocals that weave in and out of the foreground. “High Planes Drifter” recalls the compassionate acoustics of Hanson’s solo effort The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo, if you swapped heavenly strings for intergalactic synths, and the instrumental “Hare” gently bubbles below the surface with pirouetting keys and eerie violin screeches. “Wonder” may be the record’s finest offering with its juxtaposition of ballsy, overdriven guitars and sweet, blissful vocal melodies.

Wand: <i>Laughing Matter</i> Review

The first disc of this double album release is more immediately gratifying, in part because of the track lengths on the second. You might find songs like “Evening Star,” “Airplane” and “Lucky’s Sight” a bit lengthy or decadent after a few listens, but the more you return to these longer cuts, the more melodic Easter eggs you’ll uncover.

Side two opens with the sound of instruments aimlessly plucking as if they’ve just plugged in and tuned up following the album’s implied intermission, and the eventual meandering piano lines and propulsive guitars create a paradoxical tornado of immense sonic weight. Tracks like “xoxo” and “Airplane” exhibit how quickly and smoothly Wand can transition from chill soundscapes to blustery musical tangents. Their extended, contorted guitar jams range from prog to kraut to psych, their keyboards are both familiar yet elusive and their percussion swings from machine-like to completely off-the-cuff. Keyboardist Sofia Arreguin’s occasional lead and backing vocals are straightforward yet consolatory, and drummer Evan Burrows’ candid, Lou Reed-indebted vocals on “Jennifer’s Gone” enhance the frank, depressing quality of the track’s mourning lines.

Throughout Laughing Matter, Hanson and Burrows’ lyrics take everything known about defined forms and senses and turn them on their head—sounds can be swallowed, the future’s neck can be cut and life can eat into life—and the album’s improvisational jams, winding outros and emotionally crushing melodies result in perhaps Wand’s most realized release yet.

Oh My God

Kevin Morby has been thinking about God. If you’re a fan of the Kansas City-raised songwriter, you’re probably already aware of this. On his first four solo LPs, Morby has riddled his lyrics with allusions and questions, never quite discovering what sort of universal presence he’s engaging with. On his latest album, “Oh My God”, Morby presents the logical conclusion of this investigation. Not only it is his deepest dive into a metaphysical pulse, but it’s also his most stunning and brilliant record. With Oh My God , Morby swings for the fences with abandon and excitement.

The album begins with the title track, and after a brief word of encouragement from co-producer Sam Cohen, Morby begins. We get ragtime piano, heavy chords, and church choir backing vocals. Immediately, this is something new. Morby’s always been a fantastic songwriter, but this is something big, something different. When we ask the guitarist about these heightened goals, his answer is simple: “We wanted this one to feature music that could fit inside of a cathedral.”Even though Morby isn’t religious, he’s fascinated by the way it shapes our lives.

As a young Midwesterner, he witnessed it all around him. Whether he’s a believer or not is far from the point. This is the world he’s grown up with and it constantly invades his vernacular. Whether intentionally or not, Morby conflates politics with religion and, as such, this record is interested in the world we live in. But, Oh My God is more ambitious than its era.

It’s an album for all-time, not just 2019. When Morby turns this world inward, Oh My God is at its best. Kevin Morby is a growing spirit, a disciple for the Godless. And yet, there’s something here for everyone. Morby is confident without becoming preachy, questioning without being faithless. It’s a tightrope and Morby’s learned how to cross it blindfolded. I wonder what his next trick will be.

This is Kevin Morby’s defining album to date, that sounds as celestially enlightened as the themes it tackles, balancing sonic depth with a masterful lightness of touch and a painterly vision of the complete picture. “this one feels full circle, my most realised record yet,” he says. “it’s a cohesive piece; all the songs fit under the umbrella of this weird religious theme.” this is Kevin’s opus – a double concept album on spirituality and religion, for fans of Steve Gunn, Conor Oberst, Waxahatchee, Woods, and Kurt Vile .

Kevin Morby “Nothing Sacred / All Things Wild” from “Oh My God” out April 26th on Dead Oceans Records.

Just when it seems the shadow of The Beatles can’t get any longer and everything in rock has been done before, along come Sean Lennon and Les Claypool, asking the musical question: What if, instead of ducking The Beatles, you embraced the band’s tricks the galumphing marches, the sun-dazed harmonies and then made them a little weird?

South of Reality is the second album by the duo, who perform as The Claypool Lennon Delirium. As the bassist and chief prankster of Primus, Claypool has always been a bit of a mad scientist, pushing his gawky, tottering funk-metal creations to the brink of absurdity. But he’s also a secret pop fan, who says he’s spent 30 years trying, with mixed results, to write catchy hooks. In Sean Lennon (famous son of John), Claypool has a collaborator with an instantly recognizable voice, for whom this kind of candy comes naturally.

The two began working together in 2015, after Lennon’s band, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, toured as an opening act for Primus. They released their debut in 2016, and began work on this follow-up with a week of open-ended jamming they recorded on their phones. Then, each went off and wrote songs built on those riffs.

As with The Beatles, it’s clear who the primary composer is on each tune. But Claypool says both multi-instrumentalists felt comfortable offering tweaks and suggestions during the recording. Many of the songs explore a surreal intersection — where the fitful upheavals of progressive rock collide with soaring, blissed-out refrains.

From The Claypool Lennon Delirium’s new album “South of Reality” Released February 22nd, 2019.

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Today, Joe Jackson reveals the second song from his upcoming studio album “Fool”. Undoubtedly musical, touchingly beautiful and lyrically powerful, “Strange Land” explores a sense of place in today’s world.

“I never have an overall theme in mind when I start trying to write songs for an album, but sometimes one will develop. In this case it’s Comedy and Tragedy, and the way they’re intertwined in all our lives. The songs are about fear and anger and alienation and loss, but also about the things that still make life worth living: friendship, laughter, and music, or art, itself. I couldn’t have done this in 1979. I just hadn’t lived enough.
The title track Fool is about my favorite super-hero: the one whose special power is to make us laugh. He is immortal and invulnerable – you can’t kill humor. And like Shakespeare’s Fools, he is really no fool at all. I think it’s the title track because in this battle of Comedy and Tragedy, he’s the good guy, the one I’m rooting for.”
Joe Jackson

“Long live the jester!” Joe Jackson crows in “Fool,” the title track for his 20th album. Written as Jackson heads into his fourth decade as a career musician, his tongue is as acidic as it ever was, and it’s hard to tell where the comedy ends and the tragedy begins. “Fool” cribs, appropriately, from Twelfth Night’s “The Wind and The Rain,” but adds a sitar and a punk rock snarl, partially howled through a megaphone like a tea-sipping Tom Waits. It’s a telling homage to snarkier catalogue entries like I’m the Man and Look Sharp, but it’s also the most energetic song on the album. It shouldn’t work—is that a tango I hear?—but Jackson has the marvelous ability to fuse genres without ever resorting to the cliched.

Similarly, “Fabulously Absolute” has the same discordant punk posturing, more John Lydon than the “Steppin’ Out” songwriter we may recall, but the chorus brings that lovely piano back to the forefront, at least for a moment. The clever rage that put him alongside contemporaries like Elvis Costello and Graham Parker has not mellowed with age, but has sharpened to a dagger-like point, a single bullet directly aimed.

It’s easy to fall instantly in love with Jackson’s earlier work, like Night & Day or Body & Soul but Fool is a bit of a commitment. You have to make a dedicated effort to give it a couple of listens; no song immediately jumps out. But like a delicious meal, it’s worth chewing over slowly, savoring what each song brings to the palate, and each listen brings out something new.

“Fool”, the 20th studio album celebrating the artist’s 40th anniversary, is going to be released (incl. 2 previously unreleased songs) on January 18th, 2019 on earMUSIC. The album was co-produced by Jackson and producer Pat Dillett (David Byrne, Sufjan Stevens, Glen Hansard, etc.) The band in question was the same group that Jackson has played live with ever since the release of “Fast Forward”: Teddy Kumpel on guitar, Doug Yowell on drums, and long-time collaborator Graham Maby on bass (Maby was on that first recording session 40 years ago as well). Starting February 2019, Jackson and the band will embark on a new world tour, playing shows throughout the US and Europe and performing material drawn off five albums (“Look Sharp (1979)”, “Night And Day (1982)”, “Laughter And Lust (1991)”, “Rain (2008)” and “Fool (2019)”) as well as a couple of songs from other albums and some new covers.

April 18th / O2 Birmingham Institute / Birmingham, UK

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