Live Ledge #406: Best Albums of 2019
1. Mikal Cronin, Seeker. Every year there is a record or two that deserves to find an audience outside of its typical subgenre. This year it’s the latest by Mikal Cronin, a stunning record that retains the psych-rock template of his past yet showcases a giant leap in songwriting. This record should be all over mainstream rock radio.
2. Bob Mould, Sunshine Rock. After a handful of records featuring dark, ferocious rock closer to his Husker Du days than his more poppy records with Sugar, Mould’s latest finds him possibly as close to happy as we’ve ever seen him. Ok, maybe happy is too strong of a word. Whatever it is the attitude is different, although still accompanied by his trademark buzzsaw guitars.
3. Pernice Brothers, Spread the Feeling. The most welcome comeback of the year. Every band featuring Joe Pernice seemed to acknowledge one major influence missing from most Americana bands and that’s his love of ‘80’s college rock. Just imagine a country-tinged power pop band that clearly loves Echo & The Bunnymen, The Smiths, and Lloyd Cole.
4. The Muffs, No Holiday. Such a tragedy. Two years ago, Muffs leader Kim Shattuck suddenly found herself unable to grip a guitar. It turned out to be ALS. Determined to finish one last album she gave all she could even as she quickly deteriorated from the disease. Eventually she was leading recording sessions while connected to a breathing tube. Sadly, she died less than two weeks before the release of one of the band’s best albums.
5. Purple Mountains, Purple Mountains. Purple Mountains was David Berman’s first project since the demise of Silver Jews in 2019, and it was a stunning display of his quirky songwriting skills. Unfortunately, the personal demons that had always been present in his art turned his big comeback into a tragedy, as he took his life just weeks after the record was released to glowing reviews.
6. The Resonars, No Exit. In a year that saw power pop rediscover its balls, The Resonars proved they always had their share of testicular fortitude. And it’s all the work of one man, Matt Rendon, who has over the last two decades created six albums of this sort of catchy but raucous power pop.
7. Kiwi Jr., Football Money. Power pop’s closest relative just has to be jangle pop, and both genres are at its best when the songwriting is as catchy as a late ‘70’s Nick Lowe single. There’s hooks galore on this Toronto band’s debut release.
8. Wand, Laughing Matter. There’s always been a bit of a fine line between psych and prog, and those lines have definitely narrowed in today’s crop of prog-rockers. One proof is the return of the double album, which every psych band seemed to release in 2019. The strongest record of that sort may have to be Wand’s fifth record, which succeeds by actually stripping back their sound a bit.
9. Wreckless Eric, Transience. It’s been a real treat to see the resurgence of Eric Goulden in the last few years, as album after album have ranked as his best ever. The latest sort of comes closest to his solo performances, as he lays tracks and tracks of both clean and enhanced acoustic and electric guitars over backing tracks laid down by Amy Rigby, Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson, jazz horn player Artie Barbato, and The Rumour’s Steve Goulding.
10. Tim Presley’s White Fence, I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk. Presley reportedly spent four years recording what may be the masterpiece of his career. How to describe the finished product is not easy, though, as various influences and sounds flow in and out of each and every track, yet there is an intimacy here that makes it feel like Presley just whipped up this musical cocktail in one long, intense evening.
11. The Cowboys, The Bottom Of A Rotten Flower. Good old punk-influenced straight up rock and roll. Nothing more, nothing less. And when it’s as good and as catchy as this it doesn’t need to be anything else.
12. Twin Peaks, Lookout Low. Five years ago, this Chicago-based band’s fabulous record Wild Onion was described by one of the band members as heavily influenced by Exile On Main Street. This record’s classic rock influence appears to be the first two records by The Band. That’s not to say they sound anything like either the Stones or The Band. No, in this case there is a laid back feel to their guitar-based indie rock that feels as if it’s straight out of a Woodstock basement.
13. The Dates, Ask Again Later. Garrett Goddard has been a member of a number of bands over the years, including King Tuff, Personal and the Pizzas, and The Cuts. His first record heading The Dates may have just topped anything else he’s ever worked on in the past. The melodies and hooks just melt in your ears, and the musical accompaniment throws The Byrds, Big Star, Shoes, Smithereens and seemingly a dozen other bands into the greatest blender ever invented.
14. Wilco, Ode To Joy. After Tweedy’s pair of solo acoustic records, I think I was ready for a full blown rock and roll Wilco album. It has been a while, right? Unfortunately, Ode To Joy comes off as a full band version of those solo records. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good. It’s very good. It just wasn’t what I needed from a 2019 Wilco album.
15. Guided By Voices, Zeppelin Over China. Another year, another trio of Guided By Voices records. Their second wind as a band has been nothing but stunning, as evidenced by this double album of almost nothing but anthems.
16. Tijuana Panthers, Carpet Denim. Every year there seems to be a new band that showcases elements of surf rock in their punk-influenced lo-fi garage sounds. What a shocker to find out that this is their sixth album! What sets them apart from others like them, besides the strength of their songwriting, is the ocassional elements of doo wop harmonies. Who knew that The Buzzcocks and Dion could co-exist in the same song?
17. Peter Perrett, Humanworld. After no new tunes for over 25 years, we now have two records in three years by the former leader of The Only Ones! Like 2017’s How The West Was One this record succeeds simply because Perrett isn’t trying to recreate the glory days, nor is he attempting to jump on current trends. Instead he accomplishes what real artists do, which is to create a sound that fits the song.
18. Frankie and the Witch Fingers, ZAM. Another great psych rock double album that incorporates and combines all sorts of atypical influences, including kraut, prog, and even a little funk.
19. Sweet Things, In Borrowed Shoes, On Borrowed Time. It may be hard to find a more varied rock and roll album than this debut record, as it jumps around from blues to soul to country to glam rock. There’s cameos by Alejandro Escovedo and members of The Uptown Horns. It’s the most ambitious trashy garage rock record I’ve heard in quite some time.
20. Cherry Pickles, Will Harden Your Nipples. As their bandcamp states, “one guitar, two drums, the basement band you always wanted to start”. This trio proudly combines all sorts of “outsider art” into a minimalistic sound that would certainly impress the namesake of the record’s best song “I Still Miss Lux”.
21. Ty Segall, First Taste. The prolific singer/guitarist was a bit quiet this year, actually. Well, for Segall a quiet year is one that only features a studio album, a live album, and a box set of outtakes. What makes his only new record of the year stand out is that there reportedly is not a guitar to be found on it! No, it’s not a synth-pop record. In fact, it ultimately isn’t that much different than what we’re used to hearing.
22. Pale Lips, After Dark. Gotta love snotty, hook-driven garage-punk that’s clearly inspired by major doses of The Muffs and The Ramones mixed with spoonfuls of surf and Spector-era girl groups.
23. The Darts, I Like You But Not Like That. This record was not what I expected. At all. Who would have predicted that Alternative Tentacles would put out such a sexy collection of horror-punk?
24. CTMF, Last Punk Standing. Nobody has so proudly hosted the flag of ‘60’s garage-punk as Wild Billy Childish. Well, “proud” is probably not the correct word to use, as Childish is as cantankerous as The Fall’s Mark E. Smith. Yet he consistently puts out records full of simple yet catchy guitar anthems, and this one is no exception.
25. Jordan Jones, Jordan Jones. What happens when you take the pop/rock highlights of ‘70’s AM radio and ramp it up a bit with power pop energy? You get this wonderful debut record.
26. The Mystery Lights, Too Much Tension! A melting pot of different styles rarely mesh well, but this New York band’s second album somehow manages to roll in and out of genres. A synth track leads into a homage to the Stooges which is then followed by a ‘60’ dance party. How do they get away with it?
27. Juliana Hatfield, Weird. It’s only fitting that an album dominated by a theme of being a lonely introvert would be created by one artist playing almost every instrument. That’s the case of the latest Hatfield collection of originals, and it’s one of the best of her career.
28. Kevin Morby, Oh My God. Rolling Stone recently described the Kansas City native as a “secular guy with a spiritual side”, and that’s never been more evident than on his fifth album. RS goes on to compare this record to Dylan’s gospel years but it’s actually more similar to a record like New Morning, where Biblical imagery is referenced but not necessarily the main topic.
29. Drahla, Useless Coordinates. Post-punk also made a comeback this year, and one of the best purveyors of that sound is this trio of Wire fanatics. And like Wire there’s a bit of a ferocity in this record that’s missing in much of their post-punk cohorts.
30. Gino and the Goons, Do The Get Around. Take Chuck Berry, The Sonics, Motorhead, The Ramones, The Stooges and a few other “rawk’ legends and toss them into a blender and you get the dirty sound that Gino and the Goons have mastered over the course of five records. You know what you’re getting from these guys, but they always deliver.
31. Young Guv, Guv I & II. The side project of Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook could be described as a lo-fi tribute to bands such as Big Star and Teenage Fanclub. But then out of the blue comes a synth tune that’s almost danceable. It’s just part of the charm of this double record.
32. Ravi Shavi, Blackout Deluxe. Some records are sleepers. They don’t work the first time you hear them. They may not even work on the fourth or fifth airing. Then suddenly you can’t stop listening. That’s the case with this new wave-influenced, Prince-obsessed, garage rock group.
33. ATOM, In Every Dream Home. Just like the previous record, ATOM didn’t work for me at first. Then suddenly I had to race to the stereo to crank up the volume. What changed? Well,it helps when the musicians are Australian indie rock heavy weights led by Crime and the City Solution’s Harry Howard.
34. Geoff Palmer, Pulling Out All The Stops/Brad Marino, Extra Credit. (Tie) I can’t possibly vote for one of these records to be higher than the other. The pair both were members of the The Connection and The New Trocaderos. Both of them are veteran power pop performers who have written more than their share of catchy tunes. And both may have put out the records of their careers.
36. Honey Radar, Ruby Puff Of Dust.. A lot of reviews of this Philly band compare them to Guided By Voices, but I honestly don’t understand why. Yet it’s what made me check them out, and I do appreciate their fuzzy psych-rock sound.
37. Titus Andronicus, An Obelisk. Produced by Bob Mould and recorded at Steve Albini’s Chicago studio, Titus’ sixth album is their most straight ahead to date, although as always leader Patrick Stickles’ lyrics are open to interpretation.
38. The Dream Syndicate, These Times. While most band reunions never result in worthwhile albums (or any new music at all), there are instances where the second run rivals the first. That’s the case with these leaders of the mid-’80’s “Paisley Underground”, and it’s mainly because they refuse to just rest on their laurels.
39. Jesse Malin, Sunset Kids. The teaming of Malin with Lucinda Williams may seem like a head scratcher, but it actually works! Not only does Williams produce the album, she duets with him on a handful of the album’s tracks. The end results may be quieter than a typical Malin album but the tunes are also as strong as a typical Malin album.
40. More Kicks, More Kicks. Haven’t I said that this was a year for great power pop? Here’s another one. This time it’s a UK group, and like the others I’ve highlighted there’s nothing wimpy here. It’s pop music that absolutely rocks.
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Note: Tracks from the albums listed above were presented in reverse "Casey Kasem countdown" order. In two instances (Darts/Pale Lips and The Muffs/Purple Mountains), songs were erroneously flipped in error. I apologize for this mistake.
1. More Kicks, I'm on the Brink
2. Jesse Malin, Room 13
3. The Dream Syndicate, Bullet Holes
4. Titus Andronicus, Troubleman Unlimited
5. Honey Radar, Cornflake ESP
6. Brad Marino, Broken Record Baby
7. Geoff Palmer, All The Hits
8. ATOM, No Future
9. Ravi Shavi, Riding High
10. Young Guv, She's A Fantasy
11. Gino And The Goons, Pills In MY Pocket
12. Drahla, Gilded Cloud
13. Kevin Morby, OMG Rock n Roll
14. Juliana Hatfield, Staying In
15. The Mystery Lights, I'm So Tired (of Living In The City)
16. Jordan Jones, Rumors Girls
17. CTMF, You're the One I Idolise
18. Pale Lips, Some Sort Of Rock n' Roll
19. The Darts, Don't Hold My Hand
20. Ty Segall, Taste
21. Cherry Pickles, I Still Miss Lux
22. The Sweet Things, Dead or Worse
23. Frankie and the Witch Fingers, Purple Velvet
24. Peter Perrett, Love Comes On Silent Feet
25. Tijuana Panthers, Path of Totality
26. Guided by Voices, Your Lights Are Out
27. Wilco, Everyone Hides
28. The Dates, pictures with rene
29. Twin Peaks, Laid In Gold
30. The Cowboys, Female Behavior Book
31. White Fence, I Love You
32. Wreckless Eric, Strange Locomotion
33. Wand, Walkie Talkie
34. Kiwi jr., Murder in the Cathedral
35. The Resonars, The Man Who Does Nothing
36. The Muffs, No Holiday
37. Purple Mountains, That's Just the Way That I Feel
38. Pernice Brothers, Mint Condition
39. Bob Mould, Sunshine Rock
40. Mikal Cronin, I've Got Reason