Welcome to my world: No matter how many albums I manage to hear and review every year, hundreds more slip through the cracks. Luckily, the holidays give me time to go back and nab some gems before they’re too far gone. There were plenty this year: 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 another 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?
Hannah Williams & The Affirmations
50 Foot Woman
MY TWO CENTS: You might have heard Hannah Williams singing with Jay-Z (see below). But you’ve never heard her like this. The British soul powerhouse proves she’s head and shoulders above the competition with this set of hard-hitting R&B, funk, soul and more. Outasight.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Hannah Williams, the British soul hurricane who sensationally became part of Jay-Z’s chart-topping 4:44 album, is primed and ready for her own national and international breakthrough. Hannah and her exemplary, Bristol-based band The Affirmations deliver a definitive career statement with the drop-dead soulful new album 50 Foot Woman. The album captures all of the visceral power of the band’s increasingly legendary live performances. Shades of classic Soul and Psychedelic Funk blend uniquely with modern-day flavours on a record destined to set the soul agenda for 2019 and far beyond.”
MY TWO CENTS: For those who think legendary British space-rockers Hawkwind don’t make enough albums, the long-running splinter group Hawklords are back once again to fill the infinite void with another soaring, supersonic concept album straight from the astral planes of the ’70s. Five up the retro-rockets and get ready to blast off.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Following their 2017 album Six and the 2018 hit album Brave New World, Hawklords release the third part of this trilogy of critically acclaimed albums, Heaven’s Gate. The first two albums in this sequence of releases deal with the themes of War and Peace, with Heaven’s Gate closing the trilogy on the theme of Love. The album draws together many musical strands that have influenced the band members over the course of five decades including, folk, blues, poetry, rock and roll, pop and electronica, and is described by the group as “Powerful, thought-provoking meditations on, perhaps, the most endearing of human qualities: Love, itself.”
All Aboard The Skylark
MY TWO CENTS: Speaking of Hawkwind: Either you dig them or you don’t. I have all their albums in one form or another, so you can guess which group I’m in. If you’re still not sure where you belong, reach for the stars with their umpteenth set of turbo-powered space-rock, high-flying jams, alien experiments and hippie-dippie folk-rock. It’s worth the trip.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “All Aboard The Skylark is the band’s 32nd studio album and a storming return to their space-rock roots. 2019 marks the beginning of the band’s 50th Anniversary year and All Aboard The Skylark picks up effortlessly from their conceptual Top 40 charting albums The Machine Stops (2016) and Into The Woods (2017). Musically the solid quartet of Dave Brock (guitar, vocals, keyboards), Richard Chadwick (drums), Niall Hone (bass, keyboards) and Magnus Martin (guitar, vocals) have created a tight, psychedelic groove that runs through the spine of the album, but embraces each musician’s individual talents along the way. This is an exciting and unmissable addition to the Hawkwind canon.”
MY TWO CENTS: Their name sounds like a country band. But make no mistake: These reunited Swedish heavyweights are all about the rock and the roll — and in no uncertain terms. Their comeback album The Sacrifice cuts no corners, pulls no punches and gives no quarter, smacking you square in the face with 10 slabs of bare-knuckle power and furious intensity fashioned from steamrolling grooves, distortion-pedal riffs and lungbusting vocals. Think of them as the needle — and the damage done.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “The Sacrifice — new album by Swedish Power Noise Rock Trio Haystack. Ten new songs. No Bullshit, No trends, Honesty, In Your Face, Forever Underdogs, Anarchy and Hope! Haystack formed 1994 by Ulf Cederlund (Entombed, Disfear, Murder Squad, Alpha Safari, Swarm of Souls). 2017: Cederlund and Jonas Lundberg decided that they were going to start up the band again. The result is The Sacrifice, nine new songs and one Dead Can Dance cover, recorded and mixed in four days.”
MY TWO CENTS: Give Hugh Dillon credit. For a guy who’s spent just as much (if not more) time acting on the tube than rocking out over the past decade, he continues to crank out albums with his recently reunited (and rejuvenated) Headstones. More crucially: He continues to deliver the goods — in the form of wiry punk firecrackers and gritty indie-rock nuggets. If you haven’t caught his act in a while, now’s the time to tune in again.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “In the band’s own words, “Peopleskills is an obsessive dissection of lyric and melody. It’s an intensely honest record that showcases our evolution as songwriters, musicians and friends.” PeopleSkills stays true to the Headstones DIY and punk rock attitude, and is set to be the band’s biggest record yet. Headstones are Hugh Dillon, Tim White, Trent Carr, Steve Carr, Rickferd Van Dyk and Jesse Labovitz.”
MY TWO CENTS: Another short, sharp shot of Swedish rock ’n’ roll — this time conjuring the awesome riffage and screechy vocals of vintage AC/DC, spiked with the high-velocity grooves of primo MC5. Kick out the jams and let there be rock, motherfuckers.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “That fresh minty taste won’t keep this Hot Breath away. With a pounding heart for that raw 60´s Detroit energy and the dirty streets of late 70’s London, Hot Breath is rushing with adrenaline and pure teenage lust. This hard beating four-piece from Gothenburg (Sweden) will run face-first through your bedroom door. Wake up punk! It’s time to shine!”
Year of the Witch
MY TWO CENTS: You can’t accuse HXXS of false advertising. The Kansas City electro-duo’s latest full-length Year of the Witch handily lives up to its handle — thanks to a slate of noisy, clattering and generally unsettling sonic creations that are simultaneously claustrophobic and creepy and weird and yes, witchy. They’ll put a spell on you.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Year Of The Witch was born in transit. In the interest of self-sufficiency, HXXS – aka Jeannie Colleene and Gavin Neves – initially recorded their debut album during a six month tour spent living out of their van. When inspiration struck (and it did so often), they’d record in parking lots, hotel rooms, laundromats — anywhere they happened to pull over. What emerged from these pit stops, strangely enough, was an album about moving forward. As with much of the art created in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, Year Of The Witch sizzles with the fresh sting of political anguish. Instead of firing off platitudes about a nation divided, however, Neves and Colleene choose to look inward at how this divide affects familial relationships.”
A Beautiful Thing | Idles Live at Le Bataclan
MY TWO CENTS: The Bristol post-punks’ blistering sophomore album Joy As An Act of Resistance was one of the standout releases of 2018. This mighty live set recorded in Paris makes it clear they’re even more fearsomely intense on stage. Bonus points to frontman Joe Talbot for preaching love instead of violence to the obviously crazed crowd — and for including their cover of Solomon Burke’s Cry to Me in the set.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Our show at Bataclan was the end of a very long journey for us. On that tour we learnt so much about ourselves, each other and the audiences we have grown with over the past 10 years. That show was nothing short of catharsis and nothing more than love. We love what we do and the people who have carried us here, there was no hiding that at Bataclan and we are so very grateful that the moment was captured in all its glory, love and fatigue. Long live the open minded and long live the moment.”
Iguana Death Cult
MY TWO CENTS: All the drugs in the Netherlands might help explain some of the trippier fare that comes out of the country. But it doesn’t prepare you for the angular brand of garage-punk twang ’n’ twitch uncorked by Rotterdam’s Iguana Death Cult on their wiry, weirdly titled sophomore album Nude Casino. The only drug you really need is a quadruple espresso, straight off the spout.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Rotterdam’s Iguana Death Cult hasn’t exactly been shy about causing havoc on whatever stage they set foot. That’s likely been the one constant since establishing their giddy brand of protopunk and garage rock on debut LP The First Stirrings Of Insect Life. Iguana’s follow-up Nude Casino marks a swift and sobering departure from the miasma of psychedelics they purvey so fervently. But no less intense: this band has been sharpening their tools, reemerging from their concrete cavern with a ragged and convulsive post-punk attack akin to Devo, The Gun Club, and Richard Hell.”
Is This Forever?
MY TWO CENTS: The Scandinavian invasion continues — this time led by these Norwegian riff-rock behemoths and their propulsively potent tracks. Forever is a long time, but you can blast your way through this EP in under 20 minutes.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Jackbow are five young guys from the heart of the wild west, Nordfjordeid in Norway. Their punk/rock music represents the dark side of the youth trough desperation, aggression and shows a lots of energy. They delivers a high octane live performance with an explosive youthful energy and is definetely worth checking out.”
The Jazz Defenders
MY TWO CENTS: I got no kick against modern jazz. But sometimes the old ways are best — and this horn-topped Bristol bop quintet have them down cold (or at least cool) on their nimbly swinging, nostalgically satisfying debut disc. Extra marks for the Miles Davis-inspired title and the old-school illustration on the cover.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “The Jazz Defenders are a group borne out of a deep love for Blue Note Records – specifically the hard bop recordings of Horace Silver, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan and Art Blakey. Those records were highly regarded for a reason – catchy horn lines and incredible musicianship combined with Rudy Van Gelder’s engineering skills mean they will forever be regarded as classics of the genre. The Jazz Defenders are a group that would ‘defend’ the legacy of those recordings whilst creating its own original identity and distinctive flair. The music they produce together is a modern soul jazz slant on this classic Hard Bop, effortlessly channelling the spirit of the golden Blue Note era of Jazz.”
Time Out For Tomorrow
MY TWO CENTS: Greatness doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. Rootsy singer-songwriter Jerry Leger has put in his 10,000 hours and then some, releasing a slew of albums over the years while he honed his craft. It all comes to fruition on the stunning and scintillating Time Out For Tomorrow, a country-rock masterwork that can hold its own in a playlist next to The Band, Blue Rodeo, Bob Dylan and Cowboy Junkies. His time has come.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Jerry Leger has a thing for ghosts. The Toronto singer/songwriter confirmed it a couple of years ago when he went on a personal journey to explore many of Ontario’s largely unknown ghost towns, having been inspired by the writings of historian Ron Brown. Leger has immortalized one of those towns, Burchell Lake, on his new album Time Out For Tomorrow, containing 10 portraits of the impermanence of life, love, or simply catching a glimpse of a shooting star. Yet, other ghosts reside much deeper in Leger’s songs. Whether they’re the voices of Roy Orbison, Lou Reed, Gene Clark, Rick Danko or Ronnie Lane, they naturally complement the universal truths at the core of Jerry Leger’s music, along with his undying faith in rock ‘n roll as a way for all people to find common ground.”
Jessie Mae Hemphill
Run Get My Shotgun
MY TWO CENTS: “I’m gonna blow my baby away!” proclaims singer-guitarist Jessie Mae Hemphill on the title cut of this refurbished set of vintage Delta blues tracks. You don’t doubt her for a second. Thing is, she’ll do the same to you with her hypnotically primal guitar lines and defiantly unvarnished vocals.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Collection of field recordings originally recorded on New Years Eve 1989 by Ko De Korte and Tom Haarsama. Additional overdubs produced by Bruce Watson at Delta Sonic Sound, Memphis, TN 2018. Real and raw from one of North Mississippi Hill Country Blues’ best – Jessie Mae Hemphill.”
Airships Are Organisms
MY TWO CENTS: Sweeping ambient excursions. Hypnotic avant-garde creations. Contemporary classical grandeur. Intricately polyrhythmic percussion. Stylish modern-jazz solos. Cinematically epic arrangements. And that’s just the first track from this absurdly talented Belgian instrumental sextet. The rest of this striking release adds electro-jazz, prog, post-rock and plenty more to the list. Up, up and away.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “John Ghost is ingenious and exploratory, often described as a symbiosis between the sounds of Steve Reich, John Hollenbeck, Nils Frahm and Jaga Jazzist. Created around the Ghent guitarist and composer Jo De Geest, the Belgian sextet draw on influences from jazz, rock and post-classical music, where minimalism, electronics and a cinematic atmosphere characterize their instrumental music. When it came to recording Airships Are Organisms, John Ghost searched for a balance between the venturous, accessible and playful character of jazz music, in which John Ghost has its origins, and a carefully thought out selection process with the production, with a sharp eye and ear for detail. Seemingly simple earwigs are underpinned by driving undertones that inspire harmonic twists and a rhythmic and melodic stratification, that often results in a very danceable soundtrack.”