December 25, 2019

Best of 2019



My artist of the year is easily Middle Kids. I discovered them in Spring 2018, and their LP Lost Friends was my #6 album of last year. But then this year they released an EP which was even better, and I bought all three of their releases (also their 2017 debut EP) on vinyl. Their live shows (at least the videos I have seen until I can personally catch them in concert) are fun and rambunctious, which is what makes their "Home Sessions" YouTube series even more impressive and beautiful. Lead-singer songwriter Hannah Joy and husband/multi-instrumentalist Tim Fitz are due to have their first child soon, so you owe it to yourself to look up some amazing videos of their rock shows with a very pregnant Hannah. I usually list LPs first and then EPs, but started with the EPs this year because I listened to Middle Kids far more than any other artist in 2019.

If you skip to the end of this post you'll find a 20-song playlist. Otherwise follow the links for each album to stream or buy on Bandcamp.

And before we get into the meat of this year-end list, a rant about Blogger: My blogging has continued to diminish, from a high of 62 posts in 2014 to what will be a record-low total posts in 2019; 30 or so has been my average since launching in 2003. As others have pointed out, my Instagram account has replaced this, so I am probably commenting on and sharing music about the same amount as an average year, with the exception that essays from me are becoming rare.

Well, while working on this post (off an on since early November), I lost everything on Dec. 19 when I hit control-Z (edit-undo) consecutively. Despite auto-saving, Blogger--unlike all other superior Google products--has no ability to revert or restore older versions. I searched for help on the issue, and there is none; you can find countless examples online of bloggers losing their work using the control-Z shortcut.

Thankfully I had some of my work saved in other formats, but I did have to re-do far too much. Moving forward I'll just do everything in Google docs and then copy and paste for formatting. But all that to say is that this blog may be nearing its end as it seems as if Blogger/Google is not improving the product. Even hard-returns are challenging. My last post--my top 50 albums of the decade--I just embedded a Google sheet and an Instagram post--so that may be the way to go.

Top 5 EPs of 2019:

1. Middle Kids- New Songs For Old Problems
Hometown: Sydney, Australia
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp

I love it, my wife loves it, my kids love it. Catchy with profound lyrics. Would have called it a summer jam but then just listened to it on a late night road trip in December and was perfect.

2. Mineral- One Day When We Are Young: Mineral at 25
Hometown: Austin, Texas
Format purchased: Vinyl and Book (see on my Instagram)
Buy/listen on Bandcamp


It's only a two-song EP, but they span 15 minutes and are two of my favorite songs of the last 12 months. "Aurora" debuted in November of 2018, and I called it my song of the year. Then the second song "Your Body is the World" and the full package of vinyl and massive book were shipped a couple months later.


3. Caracara- Better
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
Buy/listen on Bandcamp

Had never heard of Caracara until a few months ago, and ordered the 7" on vinyl after hearing the title track once.
4. Thrice- Deeper Wells
Hometown: Irvine, California
Format purchased: Vinyl 
(see on my Instagram)
Buy/listen on Bandcamp

One of my only blog posts this year was a long essay about my conflicting Record Store Day experience; read it here. Thrice continues to be my favorite post-2000 band and these four songs are better than much of their 2018 LP.
5. Death Cab for Cutie- The Blue EP
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Format purchased: Vinyl 
(see on my Instagram)
Buy/listen on Bandcamp

Ditto to my Thrice comment in that Death Cab also released a follow-up EP that contains stronger songs than much of their prior LP.





As usual, I used Rob Mitchum's impressive Google sheet to discover new music and look at the data from dozens of best-of lists from major music publications. The "# of lists" as seen below indicates how many of these publications ranked the album.

Top 20 LPs of 2019: 
1. Great Grandpa- Four of Arrows
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Format purchased: Vinyl 
(see on my Instagram)
# of lists: 1
Buy/listen on Bandcamp
See on my Instagram

I had never heard of Great Grandpa until August. But when they released the first single "Mono No Aware" and my daughters began singing along instantly, I knew I had found something special. "Bloom" is equally as catchy, but the album overall is dynamic and diverse.


2. The Appleseed Cast- The Fleeting Light of Impermanence Hometown: Lawrence, Kansas
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
# of lists: 0
Buy/listen on Bandcamp

Heard this album for the first time while camping. Released digitally and streamed on my headphones sitting next to the campfire while the rest of my family was asleep. Was the perfect setting to the listen and I thought at the time it would end up being my album of the year. Might be my second-favorite all-time Appleseed Cast project behind Low Level Owl.

3. Better Oblivion Community Center- Better Oblivion Community Center Hometown: Los Angeles, California Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram) # of lists: 5
Buy/listen on Bandcamp

Phoebe Bridgers is on my favorite singers of the last few years, and thankfully she has been prolific as a solo artist, with her project boygenius, and then this year with her collaboration with Conor Oberst- Better Oblivion Community Center. Phoebe's next solo album has been recorded and should drop early in 2020.

4. Charly Bliss- Young Enough Hometown: Brooklyn, New York Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram) # of lists: 4 Buy/listen on Bandcamp

No band this year progressed
and improved more than Charly Bliss.
Their debut Guppy was a fun pop-punk release,
but Young Enough is on a completely different level.
5. Jimmy Eat World- Surviving Hometown: Mesa, Arizona Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram) # of lists: 0

Now we've reached the legends section of the list,
with #'s 5-7 here all active in in the 90's and now,
over 20 years later. This is Jimmy Eat World's most aggressive
album in over a dozen years.
6. Pedro The Lion- Phoenix Hometown: Seattle, Washington Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram) # of lists: 0
Buy/listen on Bandcamp

Being a Bazan fan now for almost 25 years, in hindsight there is not much differentiation for me between his band and solo work. But the most exciting thing for me about Bazan reclaiming the Pedro the Lion moniker is his return to guitar. I appreciated his last couple of electronic solo albums, but he is at his best in the rock band setting.
7. Starflyer 59- Young In My Head Hometown: Riverside, California Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram) # of lists: 0

One of the most prolific bands I listen to,
this is amazingly Starflyer's 15th studio album
in 26 years; and that doesn't include countless EPs
and other releases. This album is in the top half of Jason Martin's work; and easily the best Starflyer album in over a decade.
8. Hatchie- Keepsake Hometown: Brisbane, Australia Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
# of lists: 2
Buy/listen on Bandcamp

There is so much great music coming out of Australia right now, and Harriett Pilbeam's Hatchie is near the top. I loved her debut EP from 2018, and also her previous work as a member of Babaganouj.
9. The Cranberries- In the End Hometown: Limerick, Ireland Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram) # of lists: 1 The release of this album was completely off my radar, and even if I had been paying more attention, I am not sure it would have made much difference. I lost interest in the Cranberries 15 years ago, and found all of theirs and Dolores O'Riordan's solo work post-2000 pretty bland.

I was shocked and saddened by O'Riordan's death in January 2018. When I learned the band members were going to finish an album they had started while she was still alive, I didn't think much of it as their 2012 and 2017 albums were rather blah. But amazingly, this album is fantastic! The demo vocals tracks O'Riordan recorded before her death sound great, and the other band members did an incredible job of finishing the album under impossible circumstances. I would rank it as the Cranberries #3 album behind their 1993 and 1994 releases, and it actually sounds as if it could have been the the follow-up to those; hard to believe there is 25 years in between.

10. Nichole Nordeman- Fragile Hometown: Tulsa, Oklahoma Format purchased: Digital (Kickstarter) # of lists: 0
I have always had a lot of respect for Nichole Nordeman, as it was clear she was incredibly talented and that her music seemed to be watered-down by the CCM machine. I never bought any of her albums, but enjoyed the songs I heard. I lost track of her completely but began following her on Twitter a few years ago as I enjoyed her thoughts and perspectives on faith and art. Then this fall she announced a Kickstarter for a new Christmas album and I backed it immediately. I of course love Christmas music, I wanted to support her, but I didn't have expectations for the music itself. It is AMAZING. Despite my love for Christmas music, I am very picky, and there is a delicate balance of being original and showing respect for traditional songs. Nichole strikes that balance perfectly and with
unique and surprising instrumentation. The production is minimalistic and puts the focus on her voice, and she sings both new songs she wrote and interesting arrangements of classics.
11. Taylor Swift- Lover
Hometown: Reading, Pennsylvania Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram) # of lists: 4 Unlike the last two Taylor albums, which I adored immediately, Lover took awhile to grow on me. It's too long--three or four songs
should have been cut--which is strange considering with 1989 two of the best songs from those sessions only appeared as
bonus tracks.

12. The New Pornographers- In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights
Hometown: Vancouver, British Columbia Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram) # of lists: 0

Had this been the first album from Carl Newman's New Pornographers I had ever heard, I would have been blown away. However, considering the quality and quantity of the band's work as a whole, this album is pretty underwhelming.
13. Brutus- Nest Hometown: Leuven, Belgium Format purchased: Vinyl # of lists: 2
Buy/listen on Bandcamp

One of three bands in my top 20 I hadn't heard until 2019. As much fun as this album is, it is apparently Brutus was meant to be heard live. With that in mind, here is a bizarre and awesome live video they released this year:



14. Lana Del Rey- NFR! Hometown: New York, New York Format purchased: CD # of lists: 16

This is the consensus #1 album of the year throughout major music publications, appearing on 16 lists. It is phenomenal and
deserving and only this far down my list because of pervasive profanity. It is the best album Lana Del Rey has ever released in every way.
15. Tegan and Sara- Hey, I'm Just Like You Hometown: Calgary, Alberta
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram) # of lists: 0

I, like many fans, were begging Tegan and Sara to bring
the guitars back after thier last album was all-synths. And they did that in a risky and unique way, by using twenty-year-old demos
they wrote and recorded on cassette tape while in high school. They reinvented those songs and it is tons of fun.
16. Bleached- Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough? Hometown: Los Angeles, California Format purchased: Digital # of lists: 0
Buy/listen on Bandcamp




17. Joseph- Good Luck, Kid Hometown: Portland, Oregon Format purchased: Digital # of lists: 0
Buy/listen on Bandcamp
18. that dog.- Old LP Hometown: Los Angeles, California Format purchased: Digital # of lists: 0
Buy/listen on Bandcamp
19. Patty Griffin- Patty Griffin Hometown: Old Town, Maine Format purchased: Digital # of lists: 0
20. Over the Rhine- Love and Revelation
Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
Format purchased: Vinyl (see on my Instagram)
\# of lists: 0




Top 9 Vinyl Reissues of 2019:

1. Focused- At Eternity's Gate
Original release: 1993 (demo cassette)
Hometown: Long Beach, California
Buy/listen on Bandcamp

I've got this at #1 not because it is the best musically, but because had Steadfast Records not reissued it (1) we would have never heard these versions of these songs and (2) there almost certainly would have never been any Focused on vinyl. The artwork is terrific and 1993 hardcore has never sounded better.
2. Poor Old Lu- Mindsize (Deluxe Remaster)
Original release: 1993 (CD and cassette)
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Buy/listen on Bandcamp
(see on my Instagram)

Made possible by Kickstarter, Mindsize has seen vinyl for the first time, and with remastering of the original analog tapes. Featuring never before-heard demos and live tracks from the era, and with extensive liner notes, packaging, etc. Curated by lead singer Scott Hunter; highly detailed in every regard. Thankfully this is the first of many Poor Old Lu reissues, the Sin Kickstarter was also successful a couple months ago and will be released in 2020.
3. Soulfood 76- Original Soundtrack
Original release: 1996 (CD and cassette)
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
(see on my Instagram)
While not on my list of albums I wished were reissued, I am thankful it has been as I am rediscovering it almost as if I am hearing it for the first time. For one, my CD copy was lost before I was able to import the MP3s, so I hadn't heard it in 10-15 years. Secondly, it sounds terrific on vinyl.
4. Rose Blossom Punch- Sorry To Disappoint You
Original release: 1999 (MP3s and MP3.com CD)
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Buy/listen on Bandcamp
(see on my Instagram)

Some may not even consider this a reissue, because it was barely released after being recorded in 1999. The short-lived MP3.com put it out on CD with limited artwork (only the cover) and it sounded pretty terrible. So it is exciting to hear these songs as they were meant to be heard now two decades later. Hoping for more Rose Blossom Punch and Aaron Sprinkle solo reissues.

5. Stavesacre- Speakeasy
Original release: 1999
Hometown: Huntington Beach, California
(see on my Instagram)


6. Starflyer 59- Gold
Original release: 1995
Hometown: Riverside, California
(see on my Instagram)

7. Beloved- Failure On
Original release: 2003
Hometown: Kernersville, North Carolina

8. Thrice- Red Sky EP
Original release: 2006
Hometown: Irvine, California 

9. Mindy Smith- One Moment More
Original release: 2004
Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee
(see on my Instagram)





Best album initially released in 2014 but formally and widely released in 2019:

Luxury- Trophies
Original release: 2014 (My #1 album of 2014) Hometown: Toccoa, Georgia
Format purchased: Vinyl through Kickstarter (see on my Instagram)
Buy/listen on Bandcamp
(see on my Instagram)



Top 20 songs of the year (that are available on Bandcamp)

(The only way to create Bandcamp playlists right now is through Playmoss--
which works great in the web broswer-- but avoid the app.)