Sunday 8 December 2019

2019 albums of the year

Digging into back catalogues and rediscovering a lot of music from my teenage years is what predominantly took up most of my 2019 in music. If you scan through my 70+ blogs from 2019 there is only a handful of album reviews.

I don't know why this is. I read reviews, friends have raved about albums by Nick Cave, Lana del Rey and Big Thief, but I haven't had the urge to buy a copy or even stream them.

On reflection, it has been quite refreshing not chasing down newly released music. I've got loads of bands I love, loads of records to play (and CD's!) and a lot of the journalists, DJ's or artists I admire turn me on to music, largely from years gone by - Pete Paphides, Andrew Divine, Greg Wilson, Duglas T Stewart and Gerry Love for example.

Discovering an outstanding piece of music will always thrill me - whether it is newly released or whether it was released 50-years ago. 

I've dug deeply into Motown and the incredible (and seemingly endless) collection of out-takes and rarities this incredible record label has to offer. Song #3 by Marvin Gaye is astonishing and this is one artist in particular who has a real treasure trove of archive material online. Song#3 is one song I would love to own on vinyl! Here is my blog on that particular Marvin gem.

This blog is titled 2019 albums of the year though.  So here is a piece on each of my top 5 favourite albums of 2019.

As I always like to point out in my end of year albums blog, there are countless albums that have been released this year that I haven't bought or checked out and will only discover down the line.

Feel free to comment with your own top 5 or tweet @murrayeaston

1. Kiwanuka - Michael Kiwanuka

This is an artist that a few friends have been telling me to check out for a while. I have kicked myself for waiting until his third album to do so. I read a review that described Kiwanuka as kind of like a modern day What's Going On? meets Screamadelica. I immediately checked it out. 

What an album! Beautifully written, performed and produced. There is ambition, there is soul, emotion and it all sounds so unbelievably natural! I'm still finding so much in this astonishing collection of songs from the driving opener You Ain't The Problem to the gloriously emotional closer Light. The writing, performance, playing, arrangements and production (by Danger Mouse) are top class.

I had to lose to understand
Strung out from all this

I look forward to catching Kiwanuka live at the Barrowland in March 2020. It is a complete sell-out and I am sure he will be back in Glasgow at some point in 2020.

2. Purple Mountains - Purple Mountains

I was only introduced to this album in late November with the following recommendation - Genius and tragic. Like one big long suicide note. An upbeat suicide note.

Purple Mountains is David Berman, formerly of the Silver Jews and the album was released in July, shortly before Berman's death, ruled as suicide, in August, just days before a scheduled tour to promote the album.

Purple Mountains is a ragged, heartfelt, soul baring, direct album - straight from the heart, straight from the thoughts of the writer. It was largely recorded live, with two members of the band Woods helping to form a band to accompany Berman, they also produced. Many of the vocals were first take.

From what I've read, Berman finished Silver Jews and pretty much switched off from music and society in 2009 to read books and be alone. In an interview to promote the album Berman says I saw no-one and did nothing, also highlighting how depressed he was and that there were over 100 nights he didn't think he would make it to dawn.

Berman's mother died in 2014 and within a week he had picked up a guitar and wrote I Loved Being My Mother's Son. Berman also split from his wife of twenty years, the cause highlighted in She's Making Friends, I'm Turning Stranger - Berman was essentially a depressed hermit.

It's reflective and soul searching stuff, essentially a suicide note on vinyl. Somehow Berman can sing all my happiness is gone and make it sound quite uplifting. The dead know what they're doing when they leave this world behind is another lyric from the beautiful Night's That Won't Happen.

If I had discovered this album a little earlier it might be my album of the year. There is so much depth to it, so much reality, so much gut wrenching soul and reflection.

The closing Maybe I'm The Only One For Me has the lyric if no-ones fond of f**king me, maybe no-ones f**king fond of me. Berman finding humour and a clever line despite his feelings.

A quite astonishing album.

3. Pii 3 - Stephen Solo

Picture by Brian Sweeney

Recorded largely on an iPhone, Stephen Solo's Pii 3 can't help leave you wondering what this guy could do with a studio budget. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes bonkers, always interesting. Pii 3 is full of melodies and creativity from a unique artist. Suddenly Heaven and Reasons To Run are real favourites.

This is the 3rd in a trilogy. Clear an evening in your diary, dig out your headphones and work your way through the 3 Pii albums. There might be a tear in your eye by the time you reach the The Digital Dead which closes the trilogy. An exceptional artist.

Solo's songs discuss and confront love, birth, parenthood, aspiration, reality - often grim, the use of humour to get by, getting older, relationships, escapism ... the way Solo portrays his thoughts, dreams, fears and the dark reaches of his mind is unique.

I will always, always run to you
For the same old reasons

4. Varshons 2 - The Lemonheads

Evan Dando's taste for beautiful, clever and sometimes funny songwriting shines through on this second collection of covers he has released with whoever he has playing with him in The Lemonheads at the time. This gets better with every listen.

The record is like a lovely warm blanket, Dando's voice is one I appreciate more with every year. Things by Paul Westerberg is a little stunner, his duet with Marciana Jones on The Jayhawks Settled Down Like Rain is sublime and his transformation of Round Here is unbelievable. Check a live clip with Marciana HERE

Jesse's getting ready, I'm gassing up the Chevy
I'm gonna pick her up at 6, I hope she's gonna wear
The jeans with the tear that her Mama never fixed

I've listened back to Evan and The Lemonheads a lot this year and hope he releases some new music in the near future.

5. Lux Prima - Karen O and Danger Mouse

That man Danger Mouse again, turning in some beautiful music and bringing out a side of Karen O that I would love to hear more of. The 9-minute opener (and title track) sets the tone. There is no rush, a beautiful long intro, strings, and Karen O's vocals are stunning over sparse funky beats. But when the lush orchestration comes in - oooft.

Then you have Reveries with minimal instrumentation and Karen O singing in a gorgeous hushed voice that really draws you in.

As I slip down underneath
Please don't tempt me with your ecstasy
So when I go, I go quietly
Out of your arms
Through space I fell

Karen O says: "After making music for the past twenty years and embarking on making this record with Danger Mouse I knew a couple of things: one was that the spirit of collaboration between us was going to be a pure one, and two was that the more I live the less is clear to me. When you create from a blurry place you can go places further than you've been. I think we both were excited to go far out." 

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