New records I actually bought on vinyl this year or *really* came close to buying:
There is no record, no concept, for which I am more evangelistic in 2019 than Aldous Harding’s Designer. A chance meeting with the surreal video for “The Barrel” sent me into a tailspin of devotion for her clipped sensuality, the quiet flood of her rippling songcraft. The deadened humor in her inscrutable lyrics grabbed me like no actual sensible words did in this mad year. I want to shout “Look at all the peaches! How do you celebrate!?” to the world. Well? How do you?
Like many, I upped my meds this year and yet I feel I am still leaning into the barrage of rubber bullets from those equipped with riot shields. Thank godlessness for David Christian and whatever immediate best friends he has recruited for Comet Gain 2019. A cult band among cult band aficionados, Comet Gain has trundled along with the urgency of the Fall, the lyrical bounce of Belle & Sebastian, the protected inner world of Felt, the bark of Art Brut and the keys of ? and the Mysterians for two decades in fits and spurts. This almost feels like a last album, the way every kiss should feel like a last kiss.
The Comet is Coming
Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery/The Afterlife
Jazz continues to persist in its quiet corners with hardly an outside glance except for the radicalized romantics in The Comet is Coming. Two gorgeous records - Lifeforce speaking to, well, our life force and the Afterlife addressing that which we find beyond are a psychedelic journey, a Coletranian (Alice and John) space probe sent from Sun Ra’s homebase on Saturn under the guise of dope beats, thick as the paint on the wall, dense as the smoke in your brain. Jazz!
Down to Earth Vol.4
I almost think this record is stupid, yet I keep coming back to it. It is my go-to workout record. The Martin Denny-grade exoticism of the intro cleverly named “INTRO” is a spiritual injection that would get me disqualified from pro competition. His love language is trip-hop reconfigured into a thread that connects the mind, body and machine. Like Groot, seemingly the only thing he can say is “All Ras” - like “all rise!” but really, do we need speeches from our heroes? All rise for the beat and put ten more pounds on the next rep.
Blessed sweet boy, Zach Condon. Of course, you got sick of those Balkan horns that gave your first two albums their magic and wanted to do a techno pop record in 2015 that spoke frankly the real you. We all did! But, I’m so glad you dusted off that euphonium and ran it through the gizmos of your self-exploration and created a beautiful thing in Gallipoli.
Oh My God
Kevin Morby floored me last year with City Music but I was unprepared for this ode to losing it - a loved one, your songs, your grip - that is Oh My God. It is writ-through with disbelief that this is the world we are in now, but done with clinical precision affirming that reality. There are no Bon Iver glitch aurorae to distract us. We are zooming in on wounds. We are counting off moments.Stars flicker out before us. We are gasping for air. Oh My God, it is good.
Bird Songs of a Killjoy
I know nothing about the woman at the core of Bedouine except she calls to me like an Ipanema siren to drown in her warm, clear sea and I am going. She has a Gillian Welch slip-gear hang to her singing which intoxicates and a Nelson Riddle sense of orchestration which builds each cloudbank song into a shimmering cathedral.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
And then there are drugs and fucking. While indie rock plumbs the mystery of the cosmos nobody asked to be plumbed, hip hop still fucks. At least, Freddie Gibbs does on this banger with a blunted out production by Madlib. “Half Manne Half Cocaine” is an Impala door rattla of sub-existant decadence, where “Crime Pays” is the dream jam of the blasted mind.
The masked gay indie rock cowboy is perhaps best summed up as he was in a recent Bon Appetit test kitchen video - Marty Robbins, Morrissey and Elvis are on a bus ploughing right into you. His voice is croontastic and the tasseled mask that is his character is pretty tight and whether it is actually country is a moot point. Most country records tell you such in direct terms, so instead let me read the glitter on his mechanical bull saddle to see where this torchy wonder lands.
A Heart of Gold is Hard to Find
So he has 11030 - the hobo zip code - tattooed mirror-backwards on his neck and werqs it with weird enunciation from some meth-ravaged holler. Herpes simplex guitar lines made majestic in his tales of apology, desperation and hope. Singer-songwriters are a dime a dozen, and be careful where you show off your dimes, but if you like a baggagey-seeming dude with a heart of golden song, hitch this train.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
The world mourned along with Nick Cave when his son died, just as the Bad Seeds were entering a new phase of unprecedented beauty, and then many mourned the old monster Nick the Stripper, heroin poster boy, as this elegant man emerged. Ghosteen is eerily current in its synthy whine, its minimal of adornment. Were it not for the grown ups talking, it could be a Frank Ocean record at times. He found a bit of singing voice he eschewed for much of Skeleton Tree, and in it this record glows and glowers, mourns and moans, bellows and belies the truths to which we cling. Sure, I’d like him to get on that dark song horse (not "the horse", mind you) again just for a quick ride through hell, but it’s his stable. He can do what he wants.
Jesus is King
Getting Out Our Dreams/Def Jam
I've been willing to give Kanye West the benefit of being interesting even when he wasn't that good - I dug the therapy session/creepo note aspect of Ye - but his first public spectacle after releasing this so-so tax dodge of a record happened a mile from my office in Baton Rouge, LA and I couldn't be arsed to even drive by. I still think this is a shrewd move whether he is crazy or not, but not worth my arsing.
Legacy acts persisting with dignity:
Jeff Lynne’s ELO
From Out of Nowhere
See You on the Other Side
I don’t know that I’d insist you get any of these records, but if you are OK with your OK Boomerism, Jeff Lynne’s ELO (whose else could it be?), The Who and, fuck me, Ozzy Osbourne all released unnecessarily good records this year. Not classics in their respective catalogs, but ones that will make you make that “not bad” face.
Get it together:
The Center Won't Hold
Let it go:
Beneath the Eyrie
Pixies Recording Inc.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com