Friday, July 24, 2020

McQ's Best Of 2019 Vol 3 - All Things Indie!

There's no point in downplaying things. 2019 was a poor year for indie rock, failing to produce a single  album I'd confidently rate a Strong or Highest Recommend (though Father Of The Bride, Ulfilas' Alphabet and This Is How You Smile and one or two others did get fairly close). 

But even in a down year, the genre is just so wide ranging in terms of the styles, sounds, and textures that fall under its umbrella, it still produced one of our most compelling themed mixes of 2019.

So settle back, and enjoy the lighter rock vibes of the fading in significance but still intriquing indie movement. Here's the Spotify link


1. Please Won't Please - Helado Negro:  We start with the opening cut  from Ecuadorian-American, latinx artist Roberto Carlos Lange's magical sixth and best album This Is How You Smile (enthusiastic Solid Recommend), a Best Of The Best worthy album whose songs just seemed to play better here.  As much electronic as indie, this so relaxed in feeling (though not message) album follows a pair of brothers as they go on a weekend stroll, with the older brother passing on all manner of little life instructions along the way. The conceit becomes a brilliant framework for thoughtfully exploring all manner of political, class, and identity issues, most anchored from a brown perspective, without ever becoming confrontational.  One of 2019's essential listens, we'll hit another track from This Is How You Smile later in this mix. 

2. Harmony Hall - Vampire Weekend:  I think Nancy liked what was arguably the best indie album of 2019, Vampire Weekend's Father Of The Bride (Solid Recommend) even more than I did, grabbing both This Life and the Danielle Haim collar Married In A Gold Rush for her Vol 1 - Nancy's Favorites mix.  Luckily though, we had different favorite tracks from this album, and the bouncy, multi-passaged Harmony Hall, with its stellar gospel-tinged chorus was unquestionably mine. 

3. Little Smart Houses - Sundara Karma: Though rarely top-tier great, Redding, England's Sundara Karma's second studio effort Ulfila's Alphabet (Solid Recommend) is so consistently solid., energetic and fun with it's glammed up, Bowie-esque mix of art rock, dance floor and new wave tropes that it emerged as one of my favorite 80s flavored records of 2019.  After highlighting the album on Vol 2 - Best Albums Left with Symbols Of Joy & Eternity, here we unearth three more excellent tunes, starting with the so-Talking Headish Little Smart Houses.
4. If You Want It - Jay Som: Having already touched upon Walnut Creek-born Jay Som's 2019 indie hit Superbike on Vol 1 - Nancy's Favorites, we now check out the edgily laid-back opener from the Filipino-American's singer-songwriter's well-received third full-length Anak Ko (Solid Recommend).

5. Gallipoli - Beirut:  If like me, you were a fan of Beirut, one of the freshest and most appealing twee-indie acts of the mid-aughts, then there surprisingly solid 2019 release Gallipoli is going to feel like reconnecting with a great old friend after a long time apart. There's nothing particular new here, just that classic Balkanized, brass-heavy Beirut song, applied to a super sturdy set of tunes. We're highlighting two numbers from this winning effort, starting with the title track.

6. Sunday - Strange Ranger: Originally hailing from Montana as the band Souix Falls, now based out of Philadelphia, Stranger Ranger was hard at work in 2019 keeping the spirit of old school indie-rock and jangle pop vibrantly alive on second release as Strange Ranger  Remembering The Rockets. Here we profile the album's strongest ballad Sunday

7. Magician's Success - Vanishing Twin: Just a lovely little dream-pop number here from London's Vanishing Twin, the intermittently active psychedelic side project of Fanfarlo guitarist Cathy Lucas, taken from the band's critically-praised 2019 full-length release The Age Of Immunology

8. Lately - Metronomy: Time constraints prevented me from checking out likable English electro-pop act Metronomy's sixth full-length Metronomy Forever this yearbut a year-end perusal of the 2019's highest ranked songs in the consensus critics polls revealed a few definite new-wave-flavored winners of which Lately was my definite favorite.

9. Right Side Of May Neck - Faye Webster: Just 21 and already three albums into her career, breezy Georgia-based folk-pop melange-ist Faye Webster's 2019 release Atlanta Millionaires Club (Solid Recommend) was her most promising effort yet, exhibiting an ever improving, compelling command of feel. We're featuring two cuts from the album in this collection, Right Side Of My Neck here, and album opener Room Temperature on Vol 8 - All Things Lyrical.

10. Daddi - Cherry Glazerr: Over it's relatively brief existence, Clemantine Crevy-fronted rock trio Cherry Glazerr has already undergone significant stylistic transitions, progressing from the lo-fi garage rock of their debut Haxel Princess to the almost dreamy polished pop of latest release Stuffed & Ready as exemplified by the almost shoegaze-y Daddi featured here.

11. Death In Midsummer - Deerhunter: With their eighth album Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?(Mild Recommend), the Branford Cox-led Georgia collective returns to the subdued, meticulous pop of 2010's near classic Halcyon Digest, but this time out the band focuses their deceptively warm psych-pop sonics and nostalgic lyricism outward instead of inward, mediating time and again on man's historical inhumanity to man. And that look back at human cruelty throughout the ages is perfectly established through the album's opening, harpsichord driven track Death In Midsummer.

12. Fashionista - CHAI: We've already spotlighted high-energy J-Pop act Chai's sugar rush of positivity Punk (enthusiastic Solid Recommend) in Vol 2 - Best Albums Left. Here we take a listened to the album's most popular track, Fashionista.

13. Hire - Girlpool: Fans of earlier Girlpool efforts will be in for a bit of a shock listening to the band's latest What Chaos Is Imaginary (Mild Recommend), the band's first since guitarist Cleo Tucker came out as transgender and began sexual reassignment therapy, which has significantly altered her/his voice. But the deepening vocal shift has allowed the band to pursue a much punkier/grungier direction to intermittently excellent effect, as on Hire profiled here.

14. Good Enough - Indoor Pets: Find yourself craving some lively, old fashioned, squeaky voiced power-pop in the vein of The Weakerthans, Weezer, or (in their rockingist moments, Death Cab For Cutie), then Kent, England's Indoor Pets' full-length debut Be Content (Mild Recommend) may be just what you are seeking. 

15. hand solo - Marika Hackman: Frank discussions of sexual pleasure dominate Brit folk-rocker Marika Hackman's engaging third full-length effort Any Human Friend (Solid Recommend), as will be lyrically obvious on this feminist masturbation ode.


16. Simpatico People - W. H. Lung: We start our second set with the killer ten-minute opening track from Manchester trio W. H. Lung's promising debut Incidental Music (Solid Recommend). A compelling, flowing brew of psychedelic, krautrock, post-punk and synth-pop influences, if you like Simpatico People you'll like most of the record.  Other highlights include Nothing Is and Want.

17. Used To Be Lonely - Whitney: With their second release,  Forever Turned Around, popular Chicago-based 70s-styled soft-rockers Whitney softened things up even further, but whatever their music may lack in visceral oomph, it more than compensates for with  subtle, likable melodies and a serious degree of arrangement/production finesse, traits well presented by album single Used To Be Lonely included here.

18. Feel For You - Bat For Lashes: There's always been a palpable whiff of 80's new wave to Brit Natasha Khan's (aka Bat For Lashes) moody musical explorations, but on 2019's Lost Girls (Solid Recommend), cheekily inspired by the soundtrack to the 1987 teen vampire camp classic Lost Boys, she tackles retro synth-pop head on, leading to what will be for many the most accessible album of her career to date.

19. Tricks - Stella Donnelly: Went for the breezier Tricks over more heralded tracks Old Man or Boys Will Be Boys from rising Welsh-Australian indie-chanteuse and Courtney Barnett super-fan Stella Donnelly's major-label debut Beware Of The Dogs, but regardless of which song you bond with, the lyrical message of her music is a constant - guys are jerks. 

20. Mexican Dress - Blood Red Shoes: Harder rocking fare here from Brighton-based alt-rock duo Blood Red Shoes' fifth full-length  Get Tragic (Mild Recommend). If Mexican Dress floats your boat, I also recommend checking out the album's sludgy opener Eye To Eye, if not the album in full.

21. Fear/+/Desire - Mannequin Pussy: Drunk II (See Vol 2 - Best Albums Left) from Philly punk-rockers third outing Patience (Solid Recommend), was one of my favorite songs of 2019 Following in the same kinder, gentler, shoegazing musical footsteps as Drunk II, Fear/+/Desire, also from Patience, is almost as good. 

22. dead girl in the pool. - girl in red: Just another promising single from another promising talent in this dramatic wave of openly gay singer-songwriters that have swarmed through band camp and Spotify the last half decade, this time courtesy of rising twenty-one-year-old Norwegian bedroom popper Marie Ulven Ringheim (aka girl in red) from her 2019 Chapter 2 EP. 

23. Might Be Right - White Reaper: Nifty lead power-pop single here from Louisville-based garage rockers White Reaper's third full-length release You Deserve Love.

24. All Right - Boy Scouts: Having already tapped one song from indie singer/songwriter Taylor Vick's (aka Boy Scouts Free Company on Vol 1 - Nancy's Favorites, we profile the up-and-coming talent's work one more time here with the airy All Right. 

25. Sympathy - Vampire Weekend: Our second inclusion on this mix from Father Of The Bride is a bit of an outlier for the band, far edgier and clanky than what one typically associates with Vampire Weekend, but the shift made a mark with the critics, as it ended up the top rated song from the album on many year end polls, most notably Pitchfork's best songs of 2019. 

26. Cow - Alex G: I've never been a huge fan of Philly-based, Elliot Smith-like lo-fi pop artists (Sandy) Alex G despite his near constant presence on year-end polls over the last half decade, but I have to admit, House Of Sugar (Solid Recommend) is my favorite album of his to date, powered by delightfully relaxed tunes such as the live SugarHouse, Southern SkyGretel, and my personal fav Cow presented here.  

27. A Song For My Future Self - Sundara Karma: For inclusion number two of three on this mix from Sundara Karm's Ulfila's Alphabet, we hit the album's slow building, folksy opener.

28. Futurism - Deerhunter: One more from Deerhunter's eighth Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?, this time its liveliest psych-pop rumination Futurism

29. Varieties Of Exile - Beirut: One more fantastic number from one of the most surprising late career albums of 2019, Beirut's Gallipoli

30. You Seemed So Happy - From The Japanese House: Super appealing number from Brit and ex-Marika Hackman girlfriend Amber Mary Bain (aka The Japanese House) from her latest release Good At Falling

31: Leona - Strange Ranger: One more track from Philly-based indie-rockers Strange Ranger's Remembering The Rockets, this time the album's best song, Leona.

32. Like Before You Were Born - DIIV: Like DIIV's preceding record Is The Is Are, the Brooklyn shoe gaze outfit's third album Deceiver explores the difficulties and stumbles of drug and alcohol addiction recovery, a subject informed by band leader Zachary Cole Smith's personal struggles in the arena. But where Is The Is Are by Smith's own admission may have painted too rosy and facile a picture of the recovery process, Deceiver is far grittier and open-ended, recognizing that recovery from addiction is a never-ending battle. Despite the heaviness of theme, however, it never impacts the music which surges and flows in the spirit of My Bloody Valentine's best work, as clearly encapsulated by Like Before You Were Born here.

33. Arabesque - Coldplay: Coldplay's Everyday Life (Solid Recommend), was a bit of a late career surprise, showing the band to be much more interested in experimenting and broadening their musical attack as opposed to just unleashing another batch of guaranteed crowdpleasers this time out, and most interesting in this new set of songs was this long, Middle-Eastern accented, brass-driven groover.


34. Imagining What To Do - Helado Negro: Tough call narrowing down to a second song from This Is How You Smile. Also considered the album's biggest hit Running and the fabulous Two Lucky (both on Vol 9 - The Next 100), but ultimately settled for Imagining What To Do here.

35. My Trouble - Elbow: While hardly best release of their career, inventive Brit alt-rock act Elbow's eight release Giants Of All Sizes (Solid Recommend) is still a sturdy effort with more than it's fair share of highly compelling tunes, from the multi-faceted prog-workout Dexter & Sinister (featured on Vol 2 - Best Albums Left), to the surging Empires, to the Fleet Foxes-reverent On Deronda Road, to the lovely orchestral ballad My Trouble included here. 

36. Young Republicans - Lower Dens: Pure Eurythmics-styled androgynous new wave bliss in this standout track, albeit nastily politically one-sided, from Baltimore indie-rockers Lower Dens' four full-length The Competition.

37. One Last Night On This Earth - Sundara Karma: For our final inclusion from Sundara Karma's Ulfila's Alphabet, we tap the album's hardest-charging song, which at times feels like it could have been ripped right off of Bowie's Young Americans

38. Young Enough - Charly Bliss: Brooklyn-based alt-rock sugar pop quartet Charly Bliss's sophomore full-length Young Enough (Solid Recommend) is about on par with their exciting debut Guppy, but the Eva and Sam Hendricks outfit, which also features Incredible Dash Parr (actually grown-up child actor Spencer Fox) on backing vocals and guitar, has never come up with a song as great as the title track before. Almost Best Of The Best material here. Just a phenomenal teen angst rocker with shades of some of The Replacements more earnest efforts.

39. Sunday - Foals: Long a staple of these mix collections since the release of jittery debut Antidotes in 2008, Foals released a pair of companion albums in 2019, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt 1 and Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt 2 (both Mild Recommends), and while neither album quite matched the excitement of their earlier, turn-of-last-decade albums, each still possessed several sturdy anthemic songs like Sunday that I'm sure, as is almost always the case for this band, kicked royal ass live.  

40. On The Wall - Chromatics: After seven long years, moody Portland, Oregon indie-electro act The Chromatics finally released a follow up to their exceptional 2012 album Kill For Love, though it was not the long awaited Tommy from which several singles have been teased in the ensuing years, but an album of entirely new material Closer To Grey (Solid Recommend). And while not the front-to-back stunner that was Kill For Love, Grey, sporting the act's trademark blend of Cure-ish and Julie Cruise textures, is sure to whet the whistle of just about any fan. Given the band's dead center posture between the indie and electronic music worlds, we're splitting representative tracks across several mixes, going with band's stirring cover of The Jesus And Mary Chain's On The Wall to close things out here. 

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