Friday, July 24, 2020

McQ's Best Of 2019 Vol 8 - All Things Lyrical!

We end our 2019 mix collection on top, because in 2019, the singer-songwriter genre was where it was at.  

By far the deepest, strongest performing genre of the year, many of the songs and albums included here rate among 2019's top-25 offerings, making this mix, along with Vol 4 - All Things Offputting, the best of our 2019 genre-themed mixes. 

Here's the Spotify link.  Enjoy. 


1. Body - Julia Jacklin: We open this year's singer-songwriter mix with one of my top ten songs of 2019, a dread-drenched, Wicked Game-flavored, masterful piece of storytelling fueled by a threat to women entirely new to this generation: revenge porn. Full disclosure, Nancy and our daughter were active campaign workers for Santa Clarita congresswoman Katie Hill, so this song may speak to me on a more heightened level than most, but irregardless, it's an other excellent example of the compelling, intense dramas that play out time and again on Australian Julia Jacklin's Crushing. (Strong Recommend), one of the very best albums of 2019. 

2. Hitch Hikin' - Bruce Springsteen: Springsteen's always had a great sense of how to sequence his album's opening tracks, not just to pull you in, but also to clearly establish whatever new twists will drive the overall effort, and that trend continues with opener Hitch Hikin' from   Western Stars (Strong Recommend), where the Boss cleanly and evocatively lays down the riding-off-into-the-sunset pre-50s western feel that defines much of the album.  

3. Mariners Apartment Complex - Lana Del Rey: My favorite song from Lana Del Rey's best album to date, Norman Fucking Rockwell (Strong Recommend), finds the chanteuse reflecting on a late night walk with a beau where she realized her lover, by transposing his own emotional baggage onto her, was seriously off in his too-negative interpretation of her general psychological state.

4. All My Happiness Is Gone - Purple Mountains: His recent separation from his bandmate and wife of two decades Cassie hangs heavy over every note of David Berman's final will and testament Purple Mountains (Highest Recommend), but never more so than on the album's second track All My Happiness Is Gone. Set to a stirring Woods-provided string arrangement, Berman lays out his heartache with a trademark frankness impossible to ignore (To be honest, I don't know if I've heard an lyric in 2019 as emotionally potent as this song's opening observation "Friends are richer than gold when your old/but keeping them is harder than you might suppose).

5. Designer - Aldous Harding: Having already profiled oddball New Zealand singer-songwriter Aldous Harding's delightfully inscrutable The Barrel on Vo1 1 - Nancy Favorites, we touch base here with two more of third release Designer's (Strong Recommend) quirkiest pleasures, starting with the record's beguiling title track. 

6. Lark - Angel Olsen: One of the year's most critically celebrated albums, landing in the top ten of virtually every year end album poll, Chicago-based lo-fi singer/songwriter Angel Olsen flipped the script on her sound in 2019, embracing dense, reverb-drenched, orchestral arrangements for her 2019 release All Mirrors (Solid Recommend). I didn't respond to it quite as enthusiastically as others, find tons to appreciate about the album but much preferring the super clean, airy production of her stunning previous release My Woman, but her songwriting remains as sharp as that of any of today's younger artists, well on evidence in our selection here, epic album opener Lark

7. Blankets - Craig Finn: Having already heard best song Something To Hope For on Vol 1 - Nancy's Favorites, we're gonna listen to two more third person middle-class midlife crisis vignettes from Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn's fourth solo release I Need A New War (Solid Recommend), starting with the albums restrained opener blankets.

8. Century - Big Thief: Though I didn't personally enjoy it quite as much as the Julia Jacklin's more dramatic Crushing or Aldous Harding's more beguilingly wacky Designer, in many way, Big Thief's U.F.O.F. (Strong Recommend) is the best singer-songwriter-styled effort of the year. Though tough to pick up on a surface level because the band is so preternaturally quiet, deep listens will reveal U.F.O.F to be among the most musically original and sophisticated albums of 2019.  Think Radiohead backing whisper-hush female-fronted ballads, and that's pretty much what this album is.  After having profiled Open Desert on Vol 2 - Best Album's Left, gonna check out another personal favorite with Century. A must for headphone geeks and studio wonks. 

9. In Your Head - Nilufer Yanya:  Easily one of my favorite higher energy singer-songwriter singles of 2019 with a guitar tone to die for, In Your Head comes from this young Londoner of Turkish/Irish descent's promising, if a bit overlong, debut Miss Universe (Mild Recommend).

10. Not In Kansas - The National: Though not quite up to par with the amazing quintet of top tier studio releases The National strung together prior, 2019's I Am Easy To Find (Solid Recommend) is one of their most interesting stylistic diversions, with almost every one of its nineteen tracks incorporating significant contributions from female collaborators, and while I'm sure there's no real connection, its hard not to view this album as a table setter for the National's significant collaboration with Taylor Swift on her pair of excellent 2020 releases Folklore and Evermore. Going with my personal fav, the Wizard Of Oz referencing choral Not In Kansas over several other decent options as representative track.

11. Room Temperature - Faye Webster: Another song that's a bit of a thematic cheat, as no one is going to put Room Temperature high on their list of 2019's lyrical efforts, but tonally/stylistically this light number from the Atlanta folk-singer Faye Webster's Atlanta Millionaire's Club fit well with the rest of the material on this mix. 

12. Something To Believe - Weyes Blood: Another album already highlighted on Vol 2 - Best Albums Left, were hitting a second song from the much heralded Titanic Rising (Strong Recommend) with the Pennsylvania-based singer/songwriter's very Mitchell-esque Something To Believe.

13. Circles - Bill Callahan: As the album's title implies, Bill Callahan's Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest is heavily invested in the theory of life's contradictions as the natural order of things. Here Callahan reflects on his mother's passing emphasizing not grief or pain, but the natural, shared beauty of the moment. 

14. Water Me Down - Vagabon: My favorite song from Cameron-American dual-citizen/singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Laetitia Tamko's soothing second full-length effort under her performing-moniker Vagabon

15. Didn't Know What I Was In For - Better Oblivion Community Center: Love this song from the eponymous album-long collaboration between Bright Eyes mastermind Connor Oberst and rising singer-songwriter superstar/Stevie Nicks heir-apparent Phoebe Bridgers Better Oblivion Community Center.

16. Younger - The Mountain Goats: Another year, another thematic album from one of the indie world's most consistent and prolific singer-songwriters. After having turned his eye towards his love for professional wrestling (Beat The Champ) and goths (Goths) in recent years, Mountain Goat's mainstay John Darnielle dove headfirst into narratives anchored around the world of Dungeons and Dragon for 2019's In League With Dragons (Solid Recommend), an album which strayed further from his typical stylistic palette than other recent efforts in often exciting ways, as the harder rocking than normal Younger conveys.


17. Stay - Sharon Van EttenRemind Me Tomorrow (Strong Recommend) saw Jersey girl and indie singer-songwriter Van Etten exploring the possibilities of electronic music for the first time, leading to some truly unusual numbers, like the album's bizarre but quietly mesmerizing closer Stay featured here. 

18. End Is Nigh - Alex Cameron: We already touched upon Alex Cameron's biting but warm exploration of lives lived on the fringe when we profiled his 2019 release Miami Memory and the song Bad For The Boys on Vol 2 -Best Albums Left. On this mix, we tune into two more of these explorations, starting with this portrait of an alcoholic struggling to adhere to his twelve step program. 

19. Dizzy - Bedouine: Following Nancy's inclusion of One More Time on her 2019 Favorites mix, this our second selection from Syrian-American songstress Azniv Korkejian's sophomore full-length, the lovely, airy, but ultimately somewhat slight Bird Songs Of A Killjoy (Mild Recommend). And while Dizzy may not be the album's standout track lyrically or melodically, with its fantastic chill coda, on such a restrained album, it is without question Killjoy's instrumental highlight. 

20. Turn To Hate - Orville Peck: My favorite tune from fringe-wearing anonymous Canadian country-rocker "Orville Peck's" engaging, 2019 debut Pony (Solid Recommend). Armed with a stellar, Roy Orbison-esque croon, if this song catches your ear, you're going to want to check out the album in full, especially other standout tracks like Dead Of NightTake You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call), Roses Are Falling, and Hope To Die.

21. Nice Folks - Adia Victoria: Solid effort here from the intriguing South Carolina blues-goth singer/songwriter Aida Victoria, and her equally solid 2019 full-length release Silences.

22. Her With The Blues - Craig Finn: One last song from I Need A New War, this time the album's slowest, quietest song, the midnight-tinged Her With The Blues.

23. Love Without Possession - Mount Eerie & Julie Doiron: A lot happened to Mount Eerie's Phil Elverum in the time since his first album to address his late wife Genevie Castree's passing (2017's A Crow Looked At Me), not the least of which was marrying, and within a year divorcing, actress Michele Williams. On 2091 effort Lost Wisdom Pt 2, Elevrum returns to exploring that still foundational grief, but wanted to take a less specific, more universal approach this time, and to help broaden that sense, enlisted the help of frequent collaborator Julie Doiron.

24. You're Me and I'm You - Black Belt Eagle Scout: Gorgeous, ruminative song here from Portland-based Swinomish/Inupiaq singer-songwriter Katherine Paul (aka Black Belt Eagle Scout) and her sophomore full-length At The Party With My Brown Friends, which engagingly combines a deep steeping in Northwest indie rock traditions with subtly applied musical elements of her Native American heritage.

25. Margaritas At The Mall - Purple Mountains: Here, on our second of three selections on this mix from best album of 2019 Purple Mountains, David Berman examines one of the external causes of his depressive malaise in this scathing commentary of the empty, godless consumer culture in which we are all to some degree forced to dwell.

26. Far From Born Again - Alex Cameron: Possibly Miami Memory's most inflammatory song, Far From Born Again takes a matter-of-fact, unjudgmental look at the life of a female sex worker, and weaves vocal contributions from actual sex workers into the mix.

27. Weight Of The Planets - Aldous Harding: One more super appealing, indecipherable number New Zealand quirktress Harding's excellent Designer

28. You Were Right - Julia Jacklin: It's not all epi-tragic slow burners like Body or Don't Know How To Keep Loving You on Julia Jacklin's Crushing. There are also several uptempo country-tinged rockers like Pressure To Party, Head Alone, and my favorite, the clever breakup number You Were Right standing in for the album's livelier side here.

29. Lonesome Valley - Bill Callahan: Compared to most of the deeply thoughtful songs on Shepherd In A Sheepskin Coat,  Lonesome Valley seems a lyrical throwaway. But on an album so instrumentally threadbare, its richer arrangement make it one of the album's essential tracks. 


30. I Told You Everything - Sharon Van Etten: While the newfound electronic elements dominated much of the critical discussion of Sharon Van Etten's highly original fifth release Remind Me Tomorrow, it was singer/songwriter's old-school ability to generate palpable levels of emotional intensity that defined the album's most powerful song I Told You Everything, a song I might have championed even more aggressively if it hadn't born such stylistic similarities to Julia Jacklin's even more potent Bodies that opened this mix.  

31. The Wayfarer - Bruce Springsteen: Continuing our praise on Springsteen's sequencing chops, where first track Hitch Hikin' establishes Western Stars rustic feel, here Springsteen establishes what a lush, cinematic exercise in Roy Orbison-styled rock the album will be with the sweepingly orchestral The Wayfarer.

32. Old LP - that dog.: Absolutely love this almost "Eleanor Rigby-ish (but way more upbeat) title track from reunited LA-based punker's that dog's first official release in 22 years Old LP

33. Weird Ways - Strand Of Oaks: Epic, anthemic ballad time now with this viscerally moving song from earnest Indiana-born heartland rocker Timothy Showalter's (aka Strand Of Oaks) 2019 full-length Eraserland

34. Hope Is A Dangerous Thing For A Woman Like Me To Have...But I Have It - Lana Del Rey: Considered one of the usually reclusive and guarded Del Rey's most uncharacteristically confessional songs to date, the elegiac Norman Fucking Rockwell closer finds Lana mediating on family, failed relationships, her battle with sobriety, and deep aversion to fame as she takes stock of where she finds herself emotionally at this moment in time.

35. Oh My God - Kevin Morby: Infused with some eternally hip Walk On The Wild-vibes, the opening four-song salvo of Kevin Morby's fifth-full length and spiritual mediation Oh My God (Solid Recommend) is as good as any other twelve minute stretch of music released in 2019 save for just a few exceptions, and kicking that stretch off is the marvelous title track spotlighted here.

36. Storyline Fever - Purple Mountains: To close our final 2019 mix, we go with the penultimate song from Purple Mountains, in which David Berman, soon to take his own life, offers a "do as I say, not as I did" parting word of wisdom for his listeners - ease up on the future life expectations and ideological cages you create for yourself.  It's quite possible they will be your undoing in the end.

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