Every year it’s the same: No matter how many albums I manage to hear and review, hundreds more slip through the cracks. Thankfully, the holidays give me time to go back and nab some gems before they’re too far gone. And there were plenty: It didn’t take me long to find more than 100 worthy titles that I missed in 2019. I’ll try to share them all here over the next few days. Here’s the first batch (in alphabetical order, more or less). I’ve included Bandcamp links wherever possible so you can buy straight from the source. Better late than never, right?
MY TWO CENTS: It’s hard to know what to call San Francisco clarinetist and composer Aaron Novik — his sound blurs the lines between free jazz, contemporary classical, avant-garde and more. One thing you can’t call him is lazy: No Signal was his sixth release of the year. I originally was going to write up an earlier album — until I went to his page and discovered I was already two discs behind. I’ll try not to make that mistake again.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Another early New York experiment, this was written while reading Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band and really tries to channel the 80s downtown noise rock and experimental jazz scenes that were happening at the time. The instrumentation of two clarinets a half step apart (b flat and A clarinet) and two guitars tuned a half step apart, relying heavily on overtones creates a unique sonic dissonance that channels bands like Sonic Youth and Swans, but with an improvisational freedom more akin to noise jazz pioneers like John Zorn and Elliot Sharp.”
MY TWO CENTS: No wonder you’re wrong: Listening to Ags Connolly’s authentic blend of honky-tonk and Tex-Mex, you would quite naturally assume the bearded, burly troubadour hails from somewhere in or around the Lone Star State. But apparently that’s just a state of mind — he’s from England. If that’s wrong, who wants to be right?
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Ags Connolly is a traditional country artist from Oxfordshire, England, widely considered to be among the best country singer-songwriters ever to emerge from the U.K. His third album, Wrong Again, was released in November 2019. As with his previous two albums, Wrong Again was named Album of the Month by Country Music People magazine while being described by songwriting legend Tom Russell as “killer.”
Hello, I’m Doing My Best
MY TWO CENTS: From the country that brought you Courtney Barnett, Gena Rose Bruce, Alex Lahey, Stella Donnelly, Julia Jacklin and plenty more, here comes Ali Barter — the latest scrappy Australian singer-songwriter making waves on these shores. Of course, she’s the only one that has a tune titled Ur A Piece Of Shit. That should get your attention. The rest of the gorgeously ragged disc should keep it.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Two years on from her blistering debut A Suitable Girl, Ali Barter makes her triumphant return with follow-up Hello, I’m Doing My Best. This revealing collection of songs explores her most formative relationships with her body, her instincts, her sobriety and her connections to the people she loves most. Hello, I’m Doing My Best is a sentiment almost anyone can relate to, and that universality is the undeniable pull of Ali Barter’s work. Barter spins sobering honesty through sugary pop songs with a one-two punch of staunch self-assurance and touching vulnerability that is uniquely her own.”
All The Saints
Look Like You’re Going Somewhere
MY TWO CENTS: No, not the British-Canadian girl-pop outfit. That was All Saints. All The Saints are an indie-rock outfit out of Alabammy. And on this disc, they make a mighty fine racket with their dentist-drill guitar squalls, pummelling drum circles and subterranean basslines. The overall effect is nothing short of hypnotically heavy, leaving you transfixed like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming semi. Looks like you’re not going anywhere.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “The path of All The Saints is one of a band that has almost deliberately hid in plain view. The story is simple: Three Alabama kids raised on a diet of Crimson Tide football and loud “college rock” move to the big city of Atlanta in the early aughts. The next decade showed a band not just improving what they do, but instead almost expanding their performances to cinematic war zones. For a three piece, you’d close your eyes and think a battalion of marauders were just around the bend. For those who relished their gigs, their live performances became infrequent occurrences. In parts sounding like Spacemen 3, The Jesus Lizard, Sonic Youth and Sleep all rolled into one, Look Like You’re Going Somewhere is the record that ATS was destined to make. And now you, dear listener, get to soak in the closest simulacrum to the band’s unstoppable live performances. Sit down. Pay attention. Soak it up.”
Alogte Oho & His Sounds of Joy
Mam Yinne Wa
MY TWO CENTS: Sounds of Joy sounds like the name of a gospel outfit. Which is exactly what this African ensemble purports to be. But this is like no gospel music you’ve heard before — unless your church’s band includes a spaced-out keyboard player, a woozy horn section and a drummer who grooves and swings like Tony Allen. Either way, get ready to have the holy spirit move you.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Alogte Oho is the number one Frafra gospel artist from within the explosive music scene of Bolgatanga in Northern Ghana. He is accompanied by his powerful female choir, the Sounds of Joy, comprised of Lizzy Amaliyenga, Patricia Adongo and Florence Adooni — all fantastic gospel performers in their own rights.”
MY TWO CENTS: This London duo were reportedly on the verge of calling it quits while making this album. Good thing they stuck it out. 45, the fruits of their labours, offer a dozen cuts that stylishly and confidently bridge the gap between pop and rock with their menacingly beautiful collision of bruising guitars, majestic keyboards and angelic female vocals.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Anavae’s debut album 45 is an assured foot forward from the London-based duo, who have spent some time honing their craft, resulting in a genreless collection of innovative yet supremely catchy tracks that meld searing riffs and electronic nuance with arena-sized hooks.”
MY TWO CENTS: There’s no shortage of Saharan desert bluesmen on the scene these days. Singer-songwriter Aziza Brahim brings a female voice and to the scene — while retaining the snakefinger guitar lines and percussive grooves that are signatures of the genre.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “On the front cover of Aziza Brahim’s new album, Sahari, a young girl poses in ballet shoes and a glistening white tutu. It’s a common childhood scene, but it’s tipped upside down. She’s not privileged and the backdrop isn’t a comfortable suburban home. She’s an exile, living nowhere near her homeland, and behind her stand the tents and buildings of a refugee camp. The music Brahim makes reflects both the sorrow and the hope of these people. She grew up in one of those camps in the Algerian desert, along with thousands of other Saharwai who were removed from their homes in the Western Sahara. The refugee camp was the place that formed her. It lives in her every heartbeat.Her grandmother was a famous Saharwai poet, her mother well-known as a vocalist, and they passed their strength and fearlessness to her. Now, as one of North African most lauded singers, Brahim uses her position to make the plight of her people known – and of the refugees across the world who have no choice but to exist in the camps. Sahari is for them as much as it’s for her own family.”
MY TWO CENTS: Another African offering — sort of. Although most of Bantou Mentale’s members hail from the DRC, they now call Paris home. Coupled with the various players’ tenures with the likes of Konono No. 1, Tony Allen, Damon Albarn and more, it’s no wonder their expansive self-titled album delivers a mind-bending, hip-swivelling dose of freaky Afro-futurism, courtesy of its skittering electro-funk grooves, freewheeling sonic experimentation and contemporary urban sensibilities.
THE PRESS RELEASE: You’re in a club in Paris. Not just anywhere in Paris, but in that raucous, feverish little African village they call Chateau Rouge. You could be back in Matongé, downtown Kinshasa, or in the Grand Marché, centre ville. The music’s pumping loud and dirty: hip hop, electro, soukous, ndombolo, funk, rock, grime, whatever. Welcome to Bantou Mentale, a brand-new chapter in a very long story. The band was born in Chateau Rouge and born out of Matongé. Two worlds, one universe. Drummer, song-writer and all-round concept guy Cubain Kabeya – originally from the DRC, now resident in Paris – has been in or around every big thrill to come out of Kinshasa over the past decade: Staff Benda Bilili, Konono No.1, Jupiter & Okwess, Mbongwana Star, you name it. Guitarist Chicco Katembo was part of the Staff Benda Bilili story in the early days, before moving to Paris to live with his French mother. He and Cubain worked with Damon Albarn when he came to Kinshasa in 2010 to record his DRC Music: Kinshasa One Two album. Singer Apocalypse is an ace face on the Parisian Congo scene, an alumnus of the orchestra of Koffi Olomide, emperor of contemporary Congolese soukous. Liam Farrell, aka Doctor L, born Irish, raised Parisian, is a musician, composer and producer with an impressive score sheet that includes Assassin, FFF, Psycho on Da Bus, Tony Allen, Mbongwana Star, Babani Koné, Nneka, Les Amazones d’Afrique.”
Beat City Tubeworks
I Just Cannot Believe It’s The Incredible
MY TWO CENTS: You love that old-time rock ’n’ roll? Sure you do. Just not quite as much as Swedish meaballs Beat City Tubeworks. Look no further than their latest full-length, which flawlessly and faithfully channels the celebratory guitar-rock anthems of everyone from Chuck Berry and KISS to Turbonegro. Rock ’n’ roll all night, party every day, motherfuckers.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “A rock n roll-band from Jönköping, Sweden. Prepare yourselves, this is really gonna hurt!”
Streets of the Lost
MY TWO CENTS: Nothing fancy: Just some solid indie-rock and power-pop from a female-fronted foursome out of Brooklyn/Seattle (and you thought your commute sucked). Chunky riffs, big hooks, strong vocals and plenty of swagger. What more do you need? Or want, for that matter?
THE PRESS RELEASE: “It’s 2019 and the words ‘rock’ and ‘female-led’ have rejoined the conversation with Big Eyes’ new album Streets of the Lost. Featuring classic power pop songwriting with hard rock dual leads and a punk edge, Big Eyes succeed in delivering more than just the traditional two-minute angry blast of sound. As a band with ten years of experience, Big Eyes have explored nearly all corners of guitar-based music. Landing on a signature fusion of hard rock and punk, they pair the immensity of their instrumentals with introspective lyricism pertaining to shifting residences between New York and the Pacific Northwest. Unafraid to offer their own interpretation of current events and ideologies, any nuance of sound or word is a direct reflection of the authenticity of Paul Ridenour (guitar/back-up vocals), Jeff Ridenour (bass), Scott McPherson (drums), and Kait Eldridge (vocals, guitar).”
MY TWO CENTS: Looking for a potent hit of stoner-rock? You could do way worse than Edmonton power trio Black Mastiff, whose Loser Delusions album supplies all the slow-burning grooves and blunted songcraft you expect — while leavening the mix with doses of musical and lyrical irreverence (just in case their Axl-tweaking title didn’t already make that clear enough for you). To put it another way: These big dogs can hunt, but they’re still playful pups.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Edmonton’s Black Mastiff (Bob Yiannakoulias, Clay Shea, Allan Harding) is a band built around lifelong friendship and having fun, a vibe they’ve extended to both their porous, heavy, and vigorous live performance, and their recordings. With Loser Delusions, one still hears Black Mastiff’s signature groove: sly, moody, leaning into a blizzard of distortion. Again, the comradely instrumentation contrasts nicely with Yiannakoulias’s singular, yearning, existential vocals that speak to his listener in clouded lonely confessions, through half-glimpsed, elemental psychic-scapes of uncertain sky, rising rivers and darkness “looking for something that does not exist yet.” But the musical and lyrical theme of artistic searching for new experience is heightened on Loser Delusion, the tone more awake, the touch more urgent: we all need a rest, getting through this mess Yiannakoulias sings on the first track Down By a Sound.”
Brody Buster’s One Man Band
Damn! I Spilled the Blues
MY TWO CENTS: Yeah, Kansas City’s Brody Buster is one of those guys who do everything live — he sings, plays guitar, blows a harmonica and works the drums with his feet. I presume he cut this album the same way. Which is cool and all — but honestly, you wouldn’t really know that if he didn’t tell you. What actually caught my ear: His engaging songs, raspy vocals, gritty guitar work and warm vibe. Those are the real stars of this show. That’s enough of a novelty, IMHO.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Damn! I Spilled the Blues showcases the many talents of Kansas City-based Brody Buster, a former celebrated child prodigy harmonica player who grew up, expanded his musical horizons, and became a totally rocking multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter. Brody’s songs have elements of blues, country, and rock ‘n’ roll, with lyrics from poignant to outrageous, and a band sound with such a deep groove that you would never guess that you are listening to one musician playing all the instruments at once. Obviously a virtuoso harmonica player, Brody’s one-man band finds him singing, playing guitar, drums and harmonica with total authority.”