'Tis the season to make lists. Everyone's making a list, so we made one too. OUTSIDELEFT'S Top 20 LPs from 2019... Here's another part of the list... 10 - 6...
10. 5 - Sault
The most exciting new band of 2019 have, so far, remained anonymous, we have not been treated to sneaky Instagram pics or meaningful memes. All we have is what's important: two albums of relentless funktronica, soul, genuine strangeness, shuddering bass riffs and sleek vocals.
Whilst the second album (7), takes their sound into some enticingly dark territories, the debut (5) is a total joy.
From the blend of African drumming and prominent bass and indecipherable vocals of opener 'Up All Night' - this album never lets go. The heartfelt vocals of 'Let Me Go' could easily have been lifted from a northern soul floor filler and the smooth R'n'B of the tender 'Why, Why, Why, Why, Why' even sneaks in a subtle reference to 'I Can't Go For That' by Hall & Oates. Effortlessly eclectic, Sault are a marvelous mystery.
9. Ugh, Those Feels Again - Snoh Aalegra
Very few albums have such a touching narrative arc as Snoh Aalegra's second album. Sure there are plenty of falling in love and falling out of love records but 'Urgh,Those Feels Again' is one of those rare creatures. that watches the optimism of newly found romance swiftly disintegrate. As odd as the comparison may be, you have to go back as far as Bruce Springsteen's 'Tunnel of Love' to hear an album where the rug is so swiftly pulled from underneath the authors feet.
Aalegra describes her music as 'cinematic soul', and somehow she has made an album that unfolds like a film. 'Find Someone Like You' is passionately idealistic, her Amy-like croon is a tingling, sensuous thing. The gospel coda points the song towards the heavens. Elsewhere, 'Whoa' is a luscious ode to the initial pangs of desire.
The shadows become apparent on the second side of the album. The caution of 'Be Careful' gives way to the lonely pain of 'Charlville 9200 Part 2' where she reflects on once being one half of 'two kids in the night'. but realizes that that 'yeah...it was a lie'.
The Portishead indebted scratches and strings of 'Peace' concludes the album on a desolate note. 'Life ain't really what it used to be' she reflects as she dissects her sour times. And then her voice fades away swiftly, leaving only silence. A dramatic conclusion to a frankly heart breaking and cinematic album.
8. Old New - Tomeka Reid Quartet
If you tend to associate the cello with the sorrowful strains of classical music, you’ll have all your expectations turned inside out by the ecstatic fervour achieved here by Tomeka Reid.
As the title suggests, ‘Old New’ sparkles with audacious ideas but somehow never seems to lose its love for traditional styles. Take the opening track as an example, the patter of Tomas Fujiwara’s drumming takes you to New Orleans, then Tomeka’s cello gently sweeps in, then suddenly she’s duelling with the experimental meanderings of Mary Halvorson’s guitar. Throughout it all Fujiwara and bassist Jason Roebke keep the rhythm intact.
That homage to traditional jazz forms is best explored on the delightful start of ‘Wabash Blues.’ Then Reid’s cello makes a sound like a plane crashing down out of the sky. As her instrument screeches and dives into curious new territories, it’s Halvorson’s guitar that initially recalls the blues before creating a breath-taking improvisational solo. It’s then down to Fujiwara’s drums to guide the journey back to someplace recognizable.
The scintillating synergy between these four musicians is a constant joy. Even when the record takes a nightmarish turn on freaked out jamming on the penultimate tune ‘Peripatetic’. Fortunately, the soothing closer ‘RN’ provides a harmonious conclusion. Each musician shining in equal splendour. Rest assured, once you enter the eclectic world of the Tomeka Reid Quartet their music will resonate, fascinate and delight you for a very long time.
7. The Imperial - The Delines
The photograph on the front sleeve of The Delines suggests that the album could be named after a hotel where the only residents are scarred, defeated and broken by love and life itself.
Those residents have been vividly given life by the sympathetic songwriting of author and musician Willy Vlautin, the tender vocals of Amy Boone and the laid back country style of the band.
'Come on Charley' sets the scene as Boone offers her advice to a heartbroken friend '.... you know your wife, she ain't ever coming back/...it breaks my heart to see you laid so flat.'. A mournful slide guitar soundtracks the hurt as Boone tries to get the wounded man back on his feet again.
The acute detail of the characters throughout this album is startling. Never overly descriptive, leaving space to draw your own version. The most telling moment comes with 'Holly the Hustle', the child of a broken home, the alcoholic father, the disabled husband who gets killed. In other hands this would reek of cliché, but the sensitive writing and delivery transforms it into a tangible and heartbreaking tale.
There's a Springsteen like deftness to the way Vlautin has created his cast of players on 'The Imperial'. It is a genuinely heartbreaking hotel.
6. Shlagenheim - black midi
At the awards ceremony for this year's Mercury Prize, black midi chose to confront the assembled music industry reps at the Hammersmith Apollo with the disorientating 'bmbmbm'.
The piece consists of five minutes of stream of consciousness rambling from vocalist George Greep. Over and over again he intones 'she moves with a purpose' rising from inaudible mumbling to Lydon-esque sneers and demonised caterwauling.
Explosions of white noise burst in uninvited, stentson wearing guitarist Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin added piercing shrieks of noise, bassist Cameron Picton throws off his instrument down in order to dive across the stage. Drummer Morgan Simpson manages to hold the ensuing chaos together.
The audience were left aghast by the spectacle. Unsurprisingly, they didn't win and I tore up my betting slip. Again.
That performance encapsulated all that is so scintillating about one of Britain's most revered new band. The album 'Shlagenheim' is an exhilarating ride. The cacophonous guitars and dead pan vocals of opener sets the scene. Then the hypnothic funk of 'Speedway' slows the pace as the narrator takes a stroll through 'dog shit park' and other suburban delights. The album climaxes with the terrifying noise of the six and a half minute single 'Ductor' A dramatic finale to a frequently fascinating album.
Jay Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jay's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.
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