'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... 5 - 3...
5. All Mirrors - Angel Olsen
A lot appears to have changed in the three years between Olsen's last release and All Mirrors. In 2016 'Shut Up, Kiss Me' (from 'My Woman'), was an irresistible tune wrapped around a frustrating tale of trying to breathe life into a dying relationship. Such is the stuff that great pop songs are made.
In 2019, Olsen is in a very different place. Take a look at the monochrome Garbo-esque photo on the front sleeve. She's staring directly at the viewer, there has been hurt and she simply isn't going to take any more of this nonsense.
The strings underline the rueful sadness of the title track. A painful realisation of '...losing beauty, at least at times it knew me.' she is finding strength and moving on. Her voice is breaking with anguish as the song reaches its dramatic conclusion.
Hope appears occasionally, most notably on the synth led 'New Love Cassette', her voice more tender than ever before, but the swell of cinematic violins hint at a darker doubt.
The realisation that something isn't as good as it may have seemed is raked over on 'Spring' which, midway through veers into a warped instrumental section, reminiscent of a fairground in a horror film. A moment that idealism collapses. She's blunter on 'What it is' when she directly announces 'You just wanted to forget/that your heart was full of shit'
'The revelations of 'All Mirrors' are occasionally uncomfortable because they are so unflinchingly true. In exorcising her emotions Olsen has made her boldest album to date.
4. Chalk Hill Blue - Will Burns & Hannah Peel.
The combination of spoken word and music is one that rarely seems to work, the first foray in this field I'm aware of was Sir John Betjeman's intriguing 'Late- Flowering Love' album with musical arrangements by Jim Parker. The major problem with the record was that it felt overstuffed, with every moment of it clamouring for your attention.
One of the delights of 'Chalk Hill Blue' is it's sense of space. Not the 'Outer Space' that Hannah Peel created so wonderfully on her last album, but the emptiness, the hollows and the gaps, the quiet places, away from all the noise.
It is amongst these spaces that we find poet Will Burns and composer, musician, singer-songwriter and analogue synth enthusiast Hannah Peel. Here, we can ruminate on Burns words, and then, with Peel's subtle and understanding arrangements be pierced by their rueful sadness.
Named after a species of common butterfly, 'Chalk Hill Blue' takes inspiration from nature, landscapes and our changing relationship with the environment. In 'Out of Doors' the narrator discovers the field recordings of bird songs he made a long time ago with someone now in their 'last and lighted room' of a nursing home. The attempts to connect with the dying man through playing the tapes to him is tender and heartbreaking. Peel, who explored the subject of her own grandmother's dementia on the 'Awake But Always Dreaming' album, provides the gentle accompaniment.
The foreboding buzz of synthesizers on the album's longest piece 'Change' leads to the narrator finding the corpse of a dead bird ('nothing more sinister than unseasonal cold weather') and then to the hint of the their own sense of (unspecified) shame . The chorus of voices that then follows hints at hope, then the playful instrumental title track seems to herald the spring.
In addition to the sparse beauty of the album, celebrated director Kieran Evans has added impressionistic interpretations in the videos for 'Change' and 'The Night Life.'
These films are so striking and utterly in-tune with the words and music that we have declared them our videos of the year.
3. 2020 - Richard Dawson
In the early 1990's a bunch of fresh faced indie darlings decided to name their second album 'Modern Life Is Rubbish'
I can, just about, remember the time and, yes, they were rather underwhelming.
If Richard Dawson were to give a subtitle to his '2020' album, it may read along the lines of 'Modern Life Is Beyond Rubbish, it's the Most Utterly Abysmal That It Has Ever Been.'
Welcome to 2020 (the album and the year), as reported on by Newcastle singer - songwriter Richard Dawson. Here is a society of burnt out civil servants, flooded pubs, anxiety sufferers, racist butchers, those finding out about their partner's infidelity through seeing a heart emoji on their mobile phone and, most harrowing of all, the overworked and bullied employees of a well known online warehouse (the ten minute 'Fulfilment Centre').
Having set his previous album 'Peasant' at circa the 6th Century and played on the most basic of instruments, '2020 addresses the new decade with accessible tunes that may finally get him played on national radio.
There is both horror and humour in these first person narratives. For all of the anguish and regret experienced by the Civil Servant of the opening number, it's hard not to laugh at his dreams of responding to an opinionated colleague by '...bashing his skull into a brainy pulp with a Sellotape dispenser.'
It is this humour, and Dawson's rich vocals that allow 2020 to be such an enthralling album. As a folk singer Dawson role is to describe the society that he sees and not to succumb to it. Modern life may be more rubbish that it has ever been, but we need more voices like Richard Dawson's to help us navigate our way through.
Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.