Stop me if you’ve heard this one already: No matter how many albums I manage to hear and review, 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?
MY TWO CENTS: I have no idea why these powerhouse Swedish blues-rockers named themselves after a volcanic Russian peninsula. Though I have to admit the volcanic part kinda works, given the flowing grooves and fiery guitars that characterize their vintage sonic antics. Worth the trip.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Sonically it’s a grittier Kamchatka we hear this time and it’s evident that there’s a new level of energy shining through Hoodoo Lightning, a more confident take-no-prisoners kind of attitude and closer to the uncompromising experience of seeing the band live. Also introducing the shared lead vocals from Thomas & Per on many of the tracks gives the power trio format an extra punch and a wider dynamic range.”
Ok, I Feel Better Now
MY TWO CENTS: There’s a time to be introspective. And a time to kick up your heels. Nashville singer-songwriter Kelly Hoppenjans does both simultaneously on her debut disc, infusing her punchy power-pop and indie-rock with introspective, revealing lyrics. It’s the best of both worlds. No wonder she feels better.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Kelly Hoppenjans creates empowering rock — combining the spirit of riot grrrl tinged with folky introspection — that yells this sentiment from the rooftops. Despite being her debut full-length album, music has long been the crux of Hoppenjans’ existence, and OK, I Feel Better Now encapsulates a lifetime of physical and emotional healing, breaking vicious cycles, and the power of femininity. OK, I Feel Better Now encapsulates the emotional and physical duality of healing — whether that be recovering from a physical ailment, or emotionally unloading a burden — through breaking toxic cycles, cultivating and embracing your identity and claiming your space in the world. By shedding the expectation of quiet introspection, Hoppenjans’ debut full-length record relinquishes dauntless cognition.”
MY TWO CENTS: Tradition is good. But evolution is important too. Retro-minded California singer-songwriter Kim Lenz strikes a fine balance between the two on her fifth album Slowly Speeding, expanding her classic rockabilly sound with country, blues, gospel, Western swing and more. Think of her as a Wanda Jackson for the new millennium.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Lenz is a songwriter, performer, bandleader, engineer and producer who pores over every nuance of her music to ensure maximum potency. The ten songs on Slowly Speeding brim with growling vocals, clever turns of phrase and heightened musicianship that services both the songs and the emotional intent behind them. For Slowly Speeding, Lenz pulled the most essential elements of the past forward into the present and gave her own voice to it. Lenz’s sonic vision for the project was to combine her favorite tones from her most-treasured records, regardless of genre or era, and co-producer DH Phillips was the perfect partner in crime. They looked to early blues, classic country, and old-time gospel harmonies. ”The idea was to try to use all the ingredients that made up rock & roll, but shift around the time frames,” she offers. “I started out in the ’90s making traditional rockabilly music. But in my journey to understand how rockabilly and rock & roll came into being, I found blues, rhythm & blues, gospel, Western swing, and country music.”
The King’s Pistol
Evil Spirits | Vice
MY TWO CENTS: Happiness is a warm gun. And British roots-psyche rebels The King’s Pistol were on fire in 2019, hitting the mark with their latest album Evil Spirits and following it up with the more visceral EP Vice. Imagine the Ian Astbury-fronted Doors — if they had grown up in Britain on a musical diet of country and psychobilly — writing the soundtrack to a Quentin Tarantino western.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “A four to the floor, dirt-drenched, gritty slice of R&B that oozes sleaze, soul and rock n’ roll! The King’s Pistol is back with their new sound that will blow you away! Debauchery and sleaze all the way! All hail the Pistols!”
Kongo Dia Ntotila
MY TWO CENTS: Integration is the word that springs to mind when you’re talking about Kongo Dia Ntotila — both because of the London sextet’s multi-cultural lineup, and the jazzy flourishes that expand and elevate the African grooves that drive these 10 songs. Join the circle.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “360° is the second record from Kongo-Jazz outfit, Kongo Dia Ntotila. The 10-track album pays homage to some of Africa’s finest dance music styles – revived, urbanised, and seamlessly fused with a heavy injection of jazz. Get ready to dance your way through an intense, immersive and a seriously fun musical journey. With something for everyone, from dance floor divas to masterful musicians, 360° will be appreciated for its catchy tunes as much as its technical artistry and sheer innovation.”
La Santa Cecilia
La Santa Cecilia
MY TWO CENTS: Why build a wall when you can build a bridge? Grammy-winning female-fronted Los Angeles La Santa Cecilia continue to mix, match and meld musical cultures on their self-titled seventh full-length, blending Latin rhythms and styles with commercial pop melodies and sensibilities to form a unique sonic hybrid. Meet them halfway.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “La Santa Cecilia started their career by serenading passersby on Los Angeles’ historic Olvera Street. La Santa Cecilia is a musical phenomenon who defies musical and cultural boundaries. With a captivating voice that sings about love, loss, and everyday struggles, the band has become the voice of a new bicultural generation in the United States, fully immersed in modern music but still close to their Latin American influences and Mexican heritage. They have won a Grammy; toured coast to coast, collaborated with legends including Elvis Costello, Bunbury, Fito Paez; appeared on Conan; and most recently shared the stage with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones and Pepe Aguilar.”
Saturday Night Massacre
MY TWO CENTS: Most folks missed Live Skull the first time around. Here’s your chance to make up for that. The legendary New York noise-rock band — they were contemporaries of Sonic Youth and Swans — are back with their first album in 30 years. And it’s a suitably nostalgic affair, enlisting former members Thalia Zadek (one of my personal faves) and Marnie Greenholz for this batch of darkly churning, gritty indie-rock and post-punk. A welcome return.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “The New York no-wave psychos are back! The reanimated crypt of Live Skull spawns a new brood of cheerful tunes sure to make your blood boil! The latest in Live Skull’s continuing saga of depravity and redemption: Saturday Night Massacre! Live Skull formed during the Reagan administration, who’s right wing, anti-progressive agenda ushered in what Mark E. Smith dubbed “the new dark ages.” It’s only fitting that we reunite 30 years later in the midst of a new era of burgeoning anti-enlightenment forces; motivated more than ever to amplify our concerns for the preservation of social and artistic freedoms. Current members, Rich Hutchins, Mark C, and Kent Heine joined forces with former members, Thalia Zadek and Marnie Greenholz to record Saturday Night Massacre.“
MY TWO CENTS: How many great bands have come from Manchester? While you’re adding them up, don’t forget to put another one on the list: The experimental collective Locean. The female-fronted psyche-rockers outfit’s sprawling, trance-inducing sound might remind you of Spacemen 3, Birthday Party or Teenage Jesus. But ultimately, they sound like no one but themselves.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “The deep, dark and incredible Locean! The four track album (recorded at Manchester’s Club Lit in 2017) features founding members Lauren Bolger and Jefferson Temple, alongside David McLean, Neil Francis and Jon Perry of Gnod.”
London Afrobeat Collective
MY TWO CENTS: London Afrobeat Collective’s name tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the band and their sound. All I can really add is that the nine-member outfit’s latest album is another irresistible, invigorating groovathon from start to finish. Be prepared to dance.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “From Europe to Africa, Glastonbury to Nigeria’s annual Felabration festival, London Afrobeat Collective deliver party music born of their truly global DNA. The nine-strong collective from England, Congo, Italy, France, Argentina and New Zealand combine diverse influences such as Fela, Parliament Funkadelic and Frank Zappa to create an eclectic sound drawing on funk, jazz, rock, and dub to create something addictive and unique. LAC are now globally recognised for what they really are: not a tribute, but an ever evolving, international band of expert musicians, continuously inspiring each other as they create distinct, sincere and powerful music. Humans is an accomplished work with international flair and cultural relevance from London to Lagos.”
High Water II
MY TWO CENTS: The Black Crowes’ impending reunion tour can’t help but overshadow the sophomore set from Magpie Salute, guitarist Rich Robinson’s band with fellow Crowes Marc Ford and Sven Pipien. But it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying this solid, dozen-song collection of southern-fried jam-band rock and blues that follows in the Georgia rockers’ footsteps. A high-water mark to be sure.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “When High Water I was released in August 2018 it was the sound of old friends coming together in a union of rock ‘n’ roll, psychedelic blues, rasping Americana and late-night storytelling. The band was pulled together by guitarist Rich Robinson, it continued a storyline he began in the Black Crowes with guitarist Marc Ford and bassist Sven Pipien. Meanwhile, vocalist John Hogg shared Hookah Brown with Robinson as keyboardist Matt Slocum and drummer Joe Magistro both joined him for solo records and tours over the years. High Water II picks up where the band’s studio debut left off, much of the album was written during those early recordings at Dark Horse Studios in Nashville, which is why the album feels like a perfect continuation of its predecessor.”
The Mighty Mocambos
MY TWO CENTS: The cool electronics of Kraftwerk. The motorik drive of Krautrock. The hurricane-rock metal of Scorpions. The flame-throwing antics of Rammstein. These are the sounds I think of when I think of German music. The Mighty Mocambos are here to let me know to add retro-soul and funk to the mix — though their latest album 2066 mines old-school grooves and classic sounds with enough authenticity and joy to make you forget where they’re from.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “In a world awash with negativity and fear, you are invited to climb aboard the Mocambo mothership where all colours and creeds are celebrated. The Mighty Mocambos have returned – stronger, tighter and hungrier than ever. Carrying blistering funk lines in their fingers and worldly influences in their hearts, the unique and distinctive Mocambo sound is not one to be confused with retro bands trying to recapture an era. Eschewing traditional recording methods, this DIY crew are committed to driving forwards, and 2066 sees them at the height of their powers, broadcasting a call for unity. A summation of their journey so far and a celebration in anticipation of what’s to come, the album is set to take its place in a legacy of open minded, organically recorded music, showering listeners with the crew’s maze of tantalising sounds pulled from funk, afro, hip hop with cinematic composition and storytelling.”
Miss Velvet &
The Blue Wolf
Feed the Wolf
MY TWO CENTS: These New York funk-rockers have spent the past couple of years touring with legendary P-Funk guru George Clinton, so it’s not surprise that their sophomore album knows how to get down on the one and ride a groove hard. But on their sophomore set Feed the Wolf, frontwoman Velvet’s rock-goddess wail, bluesy delivery and unstoppable energy put them in a class by themselves. Free your mind.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Miss Velvet & The Blue Wolf is a dynamic 8-piece New York-based band that brings a vital and original dimension to the contemporary Indie Rock/Funk scene. Fronted by the genre defying powerhouse lead vocalist Miss Velvet and featuring a rhythm and brass section comprised of some of America’s leading studio musicians, the band has been garnering rave reviews for their highly accomplished musicianship and on-stage flair. Their “in your face, badass” sound has been described as “if the 70s band Chicago and Led Zeppelin had a baby with Janis Joplin, you would get Miss Velvet and The Blue Wolf.”
Let Me Be Your God
MY TWO CENTS: Hippie-goth Devo. That’s definitely a phrase I’ve never typed (or even thought) before. But it’s really the only description that fits the music of Moonrite, two French brothers whose keyboard-based fare sits smack-dab in the the middle of a Venn diagram featuring ’60s psychedelia, ’70s new wave and ’80s goth-rock. Let them be your entertainment.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Heavily attracted by the mix of genres “gothic/pop/psychedelic”, the two brothers from Grenoble, France (including Yann Cracker from Towerbrown and The Gentlemen’s Agreements) play dark and groovy music, that sounds like a gloomy hippie trip interpreted with an original organ/drum line up. After their fantastic debut album, the duo further developed their sound and now serves us their second LP Let Me Be Your God. Their sound has become even darker and, just like the artwork its covered in, more occult while adding synthesizer and slightly descending musically from the ’60s towards the ’70s and ’80s.”
Movin In Stereo
MY TWO CENTS: Nope, not a Cars tribute band. Movin in Stereo are a Swedish heartland-punk quintet, and their rousing sophomore EP features all the ringing guitars, earnest emotions and anthemic choruses you expect. Let the good times roll.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Gothenburg, Sweden’s punk/rock quintet Movin In Stereo released My Dear Effigy in 2018, their debut EP which received much positive feedback, and in early 2019 the band released Authority Blues as a stand-alone single. The release of their sophomore EP, New Blood, will be followed by extensive shows throughout Europe.”
MY TWO CENTS: Some bands have a clear musical pedigree. Fittingly enough, Chicago trio Mutts’ sound is a hairy musical mongrel. Funk and hip-hop, soul and blues, glam-rock and gospel-blues, punk and pop — they all sit shoulder-to-shoulder in the aptly titled Stuck Together. Vocals that vary from a falsetto croon to a throaty Tom Waitsian gargle complete this shaggy dog story. Give them a forever home.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Stuck Together is the culmination of five years of cross-country songwriting. In one very real sense, the record was written across the whole of the U.S. Over the last decade, Mutts have played over 1,000 shows and released ten records. Together, Mike Maimone (keys, vocals), Bob Buckstaff (guitar, bass), and Ian Tsan (drums) remind us that a gritty determination to chase your dreams, damn the odds, is as American as it gets.”