Friday, July 5, 2019

The Best Albums of 2019 (so far)


Dear Dedicated Life on this Planet Followers, although there hasn't been any new content since the Best Albums of 2018 post, there was no possible way that we wouldn't compile a mid-year list for you (and ourselves - it's fun!) Life has been extremely busy - I'm getting ready to release a new Audra album, just got back from an amazing performance in Germany and also contributed to the new Unto Ashes record. Time flies and now here we are in the first week of July 2019. As usual, Sarah and I asked a bunch of our friends to share their lists with us. It's an eclectic batch, for which you will surely find some new gems to discover! Don't miss the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page. Thanks for stopping by. - Bret



Bret Helm
Life on this Planet | Audra

10. Ioanna Gika - Thalassa
09. Operators - Radiant Dawn
08. The Cranberries - In the End
07. The Ocean Blue - Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves
06. Adrian Borland - Lovefield
05. Tamaryn - Dreaming the Dark
04. Unto Ashes - Pretty haunted things
03. Strand of Oaks - Eraserland
02. Desperate Journalist - In Search of the Miraculous
01. Sólveig Matthildur - Constantly in Love

About My #1Constantly in Love is the sophomore album from Sólveig Matthildur (the keyboardist from the Icelandic trio Kaelan Mikla). I just performed at the same festival (Wave-Gotik Treffen) as her band, but unfortunately I wasn't able to make it to the venue in time to catch them. I've since made up for it in repeated listens of this haunting, sonic collection. My favorite track - Tómas - starts the playlist at the bottom of this post. It's a scroll & a click away and will suspend you in an aura somewhere within the realm of The Knife, if they were siphoned through a season of Twin Peaks. Please give it a spin and support all of the artists on my list.


Sarah Quarrie Helm
Life on this Planet

10. Cold Showers - Motionless
09. Richard Hawley - Further
08. Weyes Blood - Titanic Rising
07. Sólveig Matthildur - Constantly in Love
06. The Twilight Sad - It Won/t Be Like This All the Time
05. Desperate Journalist - In Search of the Miraculous
04. Strand of Oaks - Eraserland
03. Hatchie - Keepsake
02. Tamaryn - Dreaming the Dark
01. Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow

About My #1: If you refer back to my Best of 2014 lists Sharon Van Etten's Are We There was at the top. Five years later with Remind Me Tomorrow, she earns that spot yet again. This woman can tell a story. Her trademark layers of evocative harmonies are at the forefront as expected, atmospheric yet raw. While the songwriting and melodies stay true to her previous works, this 5th studio album has evolved in composition. Her customary folk-rock ballad repertoire has expanded into anthem territory particularly with "Seventeen" which has added rock value from Brian Reitzell who played drums for Redd Kross & Air as well as supervised super cool Sofia Coppola movie soundtracks like Marie Antoinette and scored the cancelled-way-too-soon tv series Hannibal. The instrumentation broadened to include electronic components like synths, drum machine, droning, loops and theremin, such as on my favorite track "Jupiter 4" (included in the playlist) where Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu lends his hand with some goosebump-worthy vibes. She's racked up some eclectic influences these past few years going on tour with Nick Cave and acting in The OA as well as an episode of the new Twin Peaks. If you're normally not the singer-songwriter type, you will be pleasantly surprised by this album as it really blurs the genre lines into dark americana electronic folk indie alternative heartland rock. The album is best not listened to passively and with white wine over ice.


Jaymz Todd
Phoenix, Arizona

10. Operators - Radiant Dawn
09. Hatchie - Keepsake
08. Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow
07. Schemes - s/t
06. Hayden Thorpe - Diviner
05. Anderson .Paak - Ventura
04. Helado Negro - This is How You Smile
03. Bill Baird - Daily Ever Dawning
02. Horse Jumper of Love - "So Divine"
01. Ellis - The Fuzz

About My #1In the first part of Nov. 2018, the lady and I found out we would be having our first child. Excited, we started coming up with names. Having both sets of our parents giving birth to girls before boys, we pictured ourselves following in this same tradition and having a girl. The name at the top of the list was Ellis, picked from the middle name of Tracee Ellis Ross of Girlfriends/Blackish fame - I also liked the name Casio, Cassie for short, but the lady was really gunning for Ellis and I started to grow fond of it myself. 

While googling the name Ellis I came across a band from Toronto, Canada and a week later Fat Possum records officially released their album. That same week we found out the gender of our baby...a boy. We weren’t expecting a boy but this was still great news and either gender is hella worth it. And now knowing the gender of our child we found that our excitement grew.

On a whim, I stopped by one of our local record stores, found the album and purchased. At home, I mentioned to the lady that though we weren’t going to have a baby girl named Ellis — at least not yet — we could still relish in this album with a female singer named Linnea Siggelkow (L.S.), in a band appropriately titled Ellis. 

Linnea’s voice has a soft sing whisper that at times can draw comparisons to that of Alison Shaw from the Cranes. Sonically, the album is drenched in pure fuzz and dreamy distortion. The songs, though all a little short, serve a brilliant purpose, never getting old, and encouraging multiple listens in one sitting. Check it! 



Jesse Deitermann | DJ Dreampop Jesse
Phoenix, Arizona

10. Stella Donnelly - Beware of the Dogs
09. Wyldest - Dream Chaos
08. Ancient Pools - Cosine
07. The Twilight Sad - It Won/t Be Like This All the Time
06. Sleeper - The Modern Age
05. Soft Blue Shimmer - Nothing Happens Here
04. Be Forest - Knocturne
03. The Proper Ornaments - 6 Lenins
02. Hatchie - Keepsake
01. The Ocean Blue - Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves

About My #1: Going back to the early 90s we had KTCL in Colorado which was the radio station  that played everything I wanted to hear at that point: The Smiths, Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Sand Rubies and The Ocean Blue. Moving forward to 1996 I finally got my chance to see The Ocean Blue with labelmates (Owls). I was hooked on their clean sound which kept me coming back for more until they disappeared for a bit. Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves for me sounds like an album that was recorded over years. The opener "Kings and Queens" definitely is from later in their recording sessions and a favorite of mine. "It Takes So Long" sounds like an early song and completely wonderful along with "Paraguay, My Love" and "Therein Lies the Problem with My Life." I really love this album. It doesn't sound like an album that was thrown together, it had taken time to work on it. This will definitely be on my favorite albums of the year list.


Keith Creighton
Seattle, Washington | Popdose

10. Piroshka - Brickbat
09. Robert Forster (ex Go-Betweens) - Inferno
08. The Chorades - What We Breathe In
07. Madonna - Madame X
06. Holden Laurence - Rewire
05. Mark Ronson - Late Night Feelings
04. Stray Cats - 40
03. Prince - Originals
02. Haley Reinhart - Lo-Fi Soul
01. The Ocean Blue - Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves

About My #1This list may be almost instantly obsolete, as the coming months will see new releases by The Black Keys, Angela Perley, Taylor Swift, A Flock of Seagulls, K.Flay, Kaiser Chiefs, The Futureheads, Sleater-Kinney, Charli XCX, Violent Femmes and more (my head spins just thinking about it).

My list so far excludes a few dozen other worthy titles (including The Raconteurs, Ladytron, UNKLE, Lux Prima), but both my Top 10 and Top 50 so far follow the same theme: artists I’ve loved for years that are still on top of their game, and some rising stars. Piroshka (a supergroup featuring members of Lush and Elastica) is the sole 90’s throwback, while most acts on my list took root in the 80s. Holden Laurence (who also plays guitar in The Modern Electric) could have easily been a Sire Records new wave act in the 80s, alongside The Ocean Blue, The Smiths, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Wild Swans and Madonna. Haley Reinhart has been mining more than 100 years of sounds on her adventurous albums and side-hustles (including songs with Jeff Goldblum and members of The Doors). The Chorades is a somewhat new group from the East Coast that reminds me of vintage Split Enz and Crowded House filtered through late 90’s Brit Pop. Finally, there’s been enough ink to fill a digital ocean about how awesome the Prince record is – if only the estate would release two such albums per year. Sad I won’t likely live to hear much of the gold in Prince’s vault. 

The Ocean Blue comes out on top because their shimmering dream pop sound is perfection as always – few bands can claim a near spotless catalog the way they do. David Schelzel’s lyrics speak to where I am in life while younger listeners will take away something completely different from it. David and I discussed this at length in a recent interview. As we get older, in this youth obsessed culture and job market where Generation X has been all but discarded, it’s nice to see our generation can still pack a punch when it comes to music. And nowhere in my Top 50 albums so far will you ever hear someone scream “DJ Khaled!!!!” while someone else is trying to sing.


Sean Benham
Chicago, Illinois

10. Christopher Willits - Sunset
09. Earthen Sea - Grass and Trees
08. Fennesz - Agora
07. The Mattson 2 - Paradise
06. Memorex Memories - In Motion EP
05. Mac DeMarco - Here Comes the Cowboy
04. Deep Cut - Different Planet
03. Sasami - s/t
02. Com Truise - Persuasion System
01. Bibio - Ribbons

About My #1There’s been a lot of great electronic albums this year, and they overwhelmingly made my top ten for best albums in 2019 so far. Ribbons, Bibio’s tenth release, is no exception to this. Stephen James Wilkinson once again creates another intense and thought-provoking album. His sound is a mix of folk and electronic -- a dreamy acoustic throwback to the pastoral songwriters of the 1970s with a synthesized flavor of Wendy Carlos on tracks like "Pretty Ribbons" and "Lovely Flowers." The album starts out with "Beret Girl," an acoustic ballad that makes you feel like you’re daydreaming on the top of a hill, listening to the river water flow and birds sing. From then on you are hooked on another journey through the colorful mind of Bibio.


John Magness
Uttoxeter, England

10. SOAK - Grim Town
09. Edwyn Collins - Badbea
08. Unto Ashes - Pretty haunted things
07. Childcare - Wabi-Sabi
06. Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul - Summer of Sorcery
05. The Goat Roper Rodeo Band - Tall Grass
04. Julia Jacklin - Crushing
03. Beirut - Gallipoli
02. Richard Hawley - Further
01. Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars

About My #1My list is culled from 17 albums. I wished I'd kept a running total but I didn't so maybe I've missed something that I considered essential at the time. Whilst I love vinyl I'm not a luddite and I use AppleMusic ALOT! So I listen to a lot of albums that I might not buy physically. I have most of the above though. Number 1 was pretty easy. It nearly didn't make it by virtue of the fact it was released on 14th June. The first album of new music from Bruce Springsteen since 2014. To be honest I wasn't excited about its release.....I thought with his last 4 albums since Magic (2007) while none of them were bad albums they didn't seem to capture a certain something. I've loved Western Stars since first listen and it's the first album I've felt that way about since 2002s The Rising and prior to that Tunnel of Love in 1987. I've listened to it numerous times already. So what is it like? There is an assumption that it is a country album, but it isn't really. It's clearly influenced by wide open spaces, desert and long driving (what Bruce album isn't fundamentally). It's about being alone in a big place, but not lonely, and the sense of sun and desert is palpable. The big surpise to me was the musical references. I picked up Glen Campbell (much missed). He had the ability to sound "big" with his guitar playing and Bruce captures that "twang" a number of times. There isn't a bad song on it. This year I've listened to a lot of music I haven't heard before which is the beauty of a platform like AppleMusic (other streamers are available!!!). If I read about it I follow the curiosity.


Rob Clark
Rockford, Illinois

(in order of release date)
10. Steve Mason - About the Light
09. Mercury Rev - Bobbie Gentry's The Delta Sweete Revisited
08. Andrew Bird - My Finest Work Yet
07. Gang of Four - Happy Now
06. Jade Bird - s/t
05. Aldous Harding - Designer
04. Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride
03. Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes - End of Suffering
02. The Waterboys - Where the Action Is
01. Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars

About My #1I’m not sure that one of these has risen to my #1 spot yet. I’ve probably spent the most time listening to the Mercury Rev, Vampire Weekend, and Waterboys albums so far this year. The newest albums on my radar are the Steve Mason and Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes albums. Honestly, though, I feel like everything here carries fairly equal weight for me right now. Hence my inability to rank them as yet.


Tim Brown
London, England

10. The National - I Am Easy to Find
09. Loyle Carner - Not Waving, But Drowning
08. Jack Savoretti - Singing to Strangers
07. Dido - Still On My Mind
06. Solange - When I Get Home
05. Maggie Rogers - Heard It in a Past Life
04. Billie Eilish - When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
03. Ezra Collective - You Can't Steal My Joy
02. Tallest Man on Earth - I Love You. It's a Fever Dream
01. Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars

About My #1A new Bruce album is always cause for celebration and this one definitely doesn’t disappoint. To be honest nothing much he does ever feels like a let down to me and this most certainly doesn’t. From the gorgeous artwork through to the last melancholic chord, it’s a work of pure beauty. I’ve listened to pretty much nothing else since I got it, enjoying soaking in those gravelly tones, beautiful lyrics and wistful melodies. I’ve never been to the States but this album certainly transported me there in my mind. Just gorgeous.


Mike Keddy
Western Massachusetts

10. Be Forest - Knocturne
09. Black Flower - Future Flora
08. The National - I Am Easy to Find
07. Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride
06. Swervedriver - Future Ruins
05. Fontaines D.C. - Dogrel
04. Thom Yorke - ANIMA
03. Mdou Moctar - Ilana (The Creator)
02. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Fishing for Fishies
01. The Comet is Coming - Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery

About My #1Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery, by the wonderfully talented group The Comet Is Coming, has been battling it out amongst some of my all time favorites to grab the number one position on my best of 2019 so far list. Led by saxophone player Shabaka Hutchings, The Comet Is Coming have a sound all their own. Their style could be described as cosmic space jazz with funk and electronic elements in the mix as well. Released on the great Impulse! label, Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery is an incredibly inventive album that will surely stand amongst some of Impulse’s best. Even if you aren’t into jazz you should do yourself a favor and check this one out...you just might get sucked in.



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