13 min read

Best Music of 2019

Black Belt Eagle Scout, Foam, 2019
Black Belt Eagle Scout, Foam, St. Louis, MO (2019)

UPDATE songs from this post are now a Spotify playlist, listen while you read!

Another year almost in the books, and music continues to be a huge part of my psyche. This year I hit more concerts than I had since I moved from Austin, so that was a significant factor in getting through the year. In fact, I saw a total of 15 of the bands that you see listed on this page, which is not bad for an old guy! Again, when I’m hanging with kids that are about my kid’s ages at shows I like to pretend I’m some cool record label exec who likes to tip more than the average bear, and is just there to make sure everyone is enjoying the band. As always besides discovering and listening to music, I love sharing, and talking about what I like with others, which just fuels more discovery and passion. This yearly list is another signpost in that journey. Also, I made a decent attempt to link to most of the music I picked, so follow the links you’re interested and let me know what you like. Special mentions to Spotify and Bandcamp that not only helped me discover and share new music, but allowed me to connect more directly to bands and buy things directly from them! Bandcamp is just incredible for this, it’s like buying their music at a show, but even better since you can ‘pay what you want’ and let them know how important their music is to you.

The top 12

I dislike ranking my favorite music of they year since there are so many different aspects that appeal to me, it just doesn’t seem fair. Regardless I have to have a ‘tops’ list, and here it is for 2019, listed alphabetically to be fair to everyone!

Black Belt Eagle Scout    Nick Cave    Craig Finn

  • Black Belt Eagle Scout “At the Party with My Brown Friends” - Spotify was a huge help in discovering new artists and bands this year, and Black Belt Eagle Scout was an early find. Her reissued debut was fantastic, and I saw her open for Julia Jacklin in Kansas City, and was amazed at her presence, dedication and guitar playing. Later in the year she released this one, and I saw her as she headlined late in the year, and her and her band were just more polished and strong. Love the new songs, love her singing, guitar, songwriting, just a great artist with a lot to say.
  • Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds “Ghosteen” - Speaking of an artist with a lot to say, Nick Cave released this double album of mainly quieter songs all dealing with loss, sorrow and hope for the future. While this is a heavy Warren Ellis ambient sounding album, you only need look at what Cave and Ellis have been doing for motion picture soundtracks, and even a large part of the last album “Skeleton Tree”. While some reviews bemoan this lack of banging, it reminds me of Thurston Moore talking about a review with a kid complaining their recent release was lame because “They didn’t bust out once”. I feel as an artist, Nick Cave can create whatever he pleases, and we should be fortunate to bear witness to his art. Yes, this album won’t get confused with any Birthday Party or even early Bad Seeds, this is heavy, great stuff from a master. I expect this to grow on me even more than “Tree” or “Push The Sky Away”.
  • Craig Finn “I Need a New War” - Craig Finn is the lead singer of The Hold Steady, but as a prolific songwriter, he’s long needed to step out and release his own material. “I Need A New War” is the 3rd in his trilogy that began in 2015 with “Faith In The Future”, followed by 2017’s “We All Want The Same Things”. Craig is a master storyteller, the characters in his songs are more fully formed than you realize, and often reappear across albums. His songs are about real people (even if they’re not), with real issues that everyone can relate to. His soft-spoken delivery doesn’t always resemble singing, but the emotion, and detail of his characters lives always comes through loud and clear. While I liked the other 2 albums, I really love this one, and was lucky enough to talk to him after a set this year. As you’d expect he’s a laid back, appreciative person, and didn’t seem to want to stop talking about his work.

Julia Jacklin    Pile    PUP

  • Julia Jacklin “Crushing” - I don’t remember when I first heard Julia Jacklin, but I remember when her album “Crushing” really hit. I was on an overnight bus trip to Orlando, and her soothing vocals just went perfectly with the blurry background speeding by. Julia is a singer-songwriter from Australia, and “Crushing” is her 2nd effort, but she seems far more seasoned than that. For a long time this Spring and Summer this was my most listened to album, and I really love it.
  • Pile “Green and Gray” - Pile is a heavier band, originally from Boston, they now reside in Nashville, which gives me hope for more shows in my area. When I first read about them they were described as your favorite band’s favorite band. I can see that, and a Spotify playlist of their best work guided me along the first 6 albums, until I was ready for “Green And Gray” this year. With vocals and stories that often seem to broach the ‘emo’ tag, there’s no mistaking that Pile really doesn’t sound like any other band I can think of. Their use of melodics and the odd time signatures make me think of old math-rock bands like aMinture, but with a clearly rawer vibe. This is a band I’ve never seen live, but are high on the list of ones I need to see in 2020. To me, these are songs to change your life to, they’re powerful and speak to me.
  • PUP “Morbid Stuff” - I first heard PUP years ago, and still think “The Dream Is Over” is one of the best introductory albums to a band I can think of, but this year’s effort “Morbid Stuff” really shows the polish and a nice continuation of their craft. They clearly love what they’re doing and haven’t taken the easy road, but you can tell they appreciate the adoration of their fans. Seeing them live this year was a highlight, as the crowd goes bananas, screaming along to the lyrics as if they were at a Guided by Voices, or Hold Steady show. Really, it’s that kind of connection… of course throw in some pop-punkier elements and you have plenty of time to spread out and build your own mosh pit while you’re there, an energetic blast of fun!

Purple Mountains    Refused    Justin Townes Earle

  • Purple Mountains “Purple Mountains” - this is a tough one, what I can I say about David Berman that hasn’t been said this year? I was always a side-fan of his earlier band, Silver Jews, instead tying them more into the Pavement realm than I should have; just because some members were in both bands didn’t mean much else. Regardless, I always loved ‘Random Rules’ off of “American Water” and just left it at that. When Purple Mountains was released, after he spent 10 years away from music, I checked it out and was immediately taken aback. Not since Townes Van Zant have I heard songs that felt so fully crafted, as if they were whittled away from a larger chunk of art for years until it was perfect, with no other changes needed. His direct, honest delivery says so much here, as if he’s talking to a good friend, a therapist, or just you, the listener. I had a ticket to see him live in August, but about a week before, he took his life. While his art stands on it’s own as maybe my favorite thing I’ve heard this year, I still can’t decide if this was a goodbye record (he was very straight-forward with his struggles and thoughts), or a return, as it seemed like a new beginning. We’ll likely never know, and as always it’s just so sad to me when people get that sad. As always, if you’re ever considering suicide or harming yourself, please call the 24 Hour Suicide Hotline in the U.S. “National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)”, or find one in your country and get help.
  • Refused “War Music” - I discovered Refused in 1997, when they released their classic “The Shape Of Punk To Come” and then broke up during the ensuing tour. While it kind of reminds me of another band I feel for in 1987, just as they were breaking up (The Smiths), this one has a happier ending. Refused reformed after years of Dennis and crew rocking in other outfits and started putting out new records. While their earlier reformation efforts were strong, this year’s “War Music” really picks up with new guitarist Mattias Bärjed (formerly of The Soundtrack of Our Lives, and the mighty Swedish garage rockers The Hellacopters) adding new guitar textures that are all his. Meanwhile Dennis carries the straight-edge punk rock torch he always has with lyrics supporting the cause. I was lucky enough to finally see them live this year, in Chicago, and the next night in St. Louis as they opened for The Hives, and it was worth the wait. Two of the best ‘mosh pits’ this old guy has been in for ages. Bruises are good kids, keep those arms up!
  • Justin Townes Earle “The Saint of Lost Causes” - I’m a somewhat old school Steve Earle fan, but not as much as my old Oklahoma buddy who liked him back in the 80s! Seriously I wasn’t into any country (this was before alt-country) until Uncle Tupelo started showing me the way, the affordmentioned Townes Van Zant and some Austin singer-songwriters started showing me the way. Regardless, Steve’s son Justin Townes Earle (yes Steve gave him the middle name Townes on purpose) has been on my radar for years, but hasn’t clicked until this year. “The Saint of Lost Causes” is a mature look at his surroundings with an almost folk and blues rock background, which seems to work better than some of his early delivery. I was also lucky to see him twice this year since his Off Broadway appearance just shocked me into appreciating his unique brand of genius and obstinate, opinionated ways. The crowd in Columbia, MO seemed confused with him speaking about how drug laws primarily punish people of color more than others, but it hit home for me, and hopefully a couple of others.

Tycho    The Hold Steady    Georgia

  • Tycho “Weather” - I don’t have nearly enough indie-electro style stuff, sure I love anything by Four Tet, The Field, or likewise, but “Weather” hit me early in the Summer and then kind of hibernated while I went on with my fervent music discoveries of the year. Then a week before they were to play here, a friend asked if I wanted to go since he had an extra ticket, so I jumped at the chance. (NOTE: I never turn down a ticket to a concert, ever… just like I never complain about free beer) The band (and it was a band with a drummer, bass) caught fire live, with vocals on many of the new tracks from Saint Sinner, and were just fantastic. After that this release made far more sense to me, and ‘Pink and Blue’ became a top 5 single for me this year. Just a great record.
  • The Hold Steady “Thrashing Thru the Passion” - The Hold Steady should need no introduction, they’ve been around for a long time and I’ve been lucky to see them a few times. With crowds approaching Guided by Voices fever, it’s rare to feel so in tune with a live band! Regardless, they’ve held off on putting out a full length for a few years, instead getting together every few months to put out a new single, and b-side. Then this year they compiled those singles and made their best release in years! Who knew that would work? Again, with Craig’s characters and incredible songwriting, it should come as no surprise. This is like reading a new book by a favorite author at the peak of his powers, and of course the return of keyboardist Franz Nicolay didn’t hurt either, as he filled out the sound that was desperately missing from “Teeth Dreams”. While I had high hopes for this one, it just blew me away, and ended up a top 5 for me this year… now if I could only see them live again!
  • Georgia Maq “Pleaser” - this Fall I discovered the band Camp Cope, a female indie-pop-punk(y?) band from Melbourne, and I listened to their music a ton. I really loved the straight ahead words from songwriter and guitarist Georgia “Georgia Maq” McDonald. Then in December, seemingly unannounced, Georgia Maq releases “Pleaser” which does away with almost all of the guitars, instead focusing on simple synthesizers and sequencers that let her branch out and play a completely different type of music. Apparently she had vocal lessons before the recording too, and it shows; there’s a much strong focus on her strong voice. While at first I felt the music was flatter, this grew on me and her voice with the simpler backing seems like just the thing to push her that much farther out front. I listed to this one a lot the past few weeks, and saw her performing some of this live in a record store in Melbourne with only a Macbook as backing, and she seemed to be having a ball. An unexpected, really enjoyable release from this year, I look forward to hearing more from her.

Justin Townes Earle, Rose Theater, Columbia, MO, 2019
Justin Townes Earle, Rose Theater, Columbia, MO (2019)

Favorites of the year

The following are favorites of mine from the year, I spent a good deal of time with most of these and consider them ones that could be in the Tops list, if there were ones missing in the current Tops list if that makes sense. Bah, this is all make believe, who cares if it makes sense. Again, checkout the links or anything you might dig, plenty to enjoy here

  • Better Oblivion Community Center “Better Oblivion Community Center”
  • Big Bite “Trinity”
  • Big Thief “Two Hands”
  • Bleached “Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough?”
  • Charly Bliss “Young Enough”
  • The Coathangers “The Devil You Know”
  • Frail Body “A Brief Memoriam”
  • Kim Gordon “No Home Record”
  • Lightning Bolt “Sonic Citadel”
  • Mannequin Pussy “Patience”
  • Sebadoh “Act Surprised”
  • Sharon Van Etten “Remind Me Tomorrow”
  • Sunn O))) “Life Metal”
  • Tacocat “This Mess Is a Place”

Hot Snakes, Oriental Theater, Denver, CO, 2019
Hot Snakes, Oriental Theater, Denver, CO (2019)

Noteables

These are a mixed bag, with some being things I liked for a bit and then saw them fade, but others being long time favorites of mine I didn’t know were coming out, or haven’t had time to fully checkout. As always these could move up the ladder here.. or not, who knows, regardless, more to discover, even from this wild, full year of music!

  • Big Thief “UFOF”
  • Deerhunter “Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?”
  • DJ Shadow’s “Our Pathetic Age”
  • Guided By Voices “Warp and Woof”
  • Jay Som “Anak Ko”
  • Martha “Love Keeps Kicking”
  • Mudhoney “Morning in America”
  • Bob Mould “Sunshine Rock”
  • Kevin Morby “Oh My God”
  • The National “I Am Easy to Find”
  • Karen O & Danger Mouse “Lux Prima”
  • Angel Olsen “All Mirrors”
  • Peaer “A Healthy Earth”
  • Sleaford Mods “Eton Alive”
  • Sleater-Kinney “The Center Won’t Hold”
  • Tindersticks “No Treasure But Hope”
  • Amon Tobin “Fear in a Handful of Dust”
  • Thom Yorke “Anima”

Mudhoney at Off Broadway, 2019
Mudhoney at Off Broadway (2019)