Playlist

Favorite Songs of 2019 – 2/2

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As I said in my favorite albums list, this year had many, many albums that almost did the trick for me but just missed, so having this playlist is a nice way of giving these releases their deserved acknowledgement. This is VERY long so please skim and rule songs out to your liking. In order to keep it semi-reasonable, I’ve limited each artist to one song.

Like the previous 2019 playlist, I’ve ordered these songs to flow and blend in a way that makes sense (for example, I gather the slow and atmospheric songs away from the upbeat poppy stuff, and note that I begin with the most chaotic song by far so it won’t be too shocking later).

Track list

  1. Blanck Mass – House Vs. House
  2. Dorian Electra – Flamboyant
  3. Sudan Archives – Confessions
  4. Rapsody – Nina
  5. Purple Pilgrims – Sensing Me
  6. Sequoyah Murray – Penalties Of Love
  7. Jenny Hval – High Alice
  8. Bat For Lashes – Jasmine
  9. Golden Gardens – Desert Rose
  10. Hello Seahorse! – Domino
  11. Vagabon – Water Me Down
  12. Natasha Kmeto – Count To 5
  13. Yuna – Blank Marquee
  14. Harry Styles – Golden
  15. Shura – Religion (U Lay Your Hands On Me)
  16. Chromatics – You’re No Good
  17. Tinashe – Save Room For Us Ft. MAKJ
  18. Mark Ronson ft. King Princess – Pieces of Us
  19. Normani – Motivation
  20. Liz – DIamond In The Dark
  21. Charli XCX – Silver Cross
  22. Roisin Murphy – Narcissus
  23. Ana Frango Eletrico – Torturadores
  24. Flying Lotus – Tea Leaf Dancers (Maida Vale Session)
  25. Salami Rose Joe Louis – Sitting With Thoughts
  26. Tamaryn – Terrified (Robin Guthrie Remix)
  27. Drab Majesty – Oxytocin
  28. Yeule – Poison Arrow
  29. Barker – Paradise Engineering
  30. Steve Hauschildt – Subtractive Skies
  31. Chelsea Wolfe – Be All Things
  32. Angel Olsen – Summer
  33. Natalie Rose Lebrecht – Lost
  34. La Feline – Tant que tu respires
  35. Caroline Polachek – Go As A Dream
  36. Soda Lite – Vale & Stone
  37. CFCF – Impossible Condo
  38. Sulli – Dorothy
  39. Estelle – True Kinda Love
  40. Tei Shi – We
  41. Maria Usbeck – Retirement Home
  42. Teebs – Studie ft. Panda Bear
Mix

Thinking Of Christmas Past

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Are you up to set the Christmas mood but wanting something a bit different? Here I’ve gathered songs that remind me most of Christmas season without necessarily being about the holiday: icy, magical sounds with plenty of twinkling and moods ranging from jovial and nostalgic to mysterious. As a theoretical ‘stocking’ I include two Christmas covers and three themed originals.

Track listing

camera lucida – robin guthrie / dreamers tied to chairs – ashrae fax / dazzle + il est ne le divin enfant – siouxsie and the banshees / modigliani (lost in your eyes) – book of love / cut down the tree – ice choir / world 5: snow land [kirby’s epic yarn OST] – tomoya tomita / march of the dawn – the mummers / love to stay – altered images / winter wonderland – cocteau twins / nightingales – prefab sprout / espresso – rajie / latitudes – ollano / limpidite – robert viger / la petite fille de la mer – vangelis / red wrapping paper – the creatures / christmas reindeer – the knife / virgin blue-eyed – lovesliescrushing

Photo credit: Christmas With Southern Living, 1984 https://palmandlaser.tumblr.com/post/189715654560/palmandlaser-from-christmas-with-southern-living

2019 favorites · List · Year-end

My Top 10 Albums of 2019 (+ EPs)

2019 #1

Pleased to say I had trouble fitting this into a top ten.

Many repetitive trends haven’t changed in this time, or in the last 3 years for that matter. We need to get off this 808 addiction for one thing. So, while I hope for some big changes in the 20’s, I felt this was a great year for overall quality and I’m excited to find more! In the meantime, here’s my favorites so far. Note… Final order is rough.

I list my top 5 EPs and honorable mentions below my #1 as well. SO many albums sat in a ‘close but not quite’ spot for me this time, but the amount is impressive for sure.

Two write-ups are from my ‘Top 5 Albums of 2019’ halfway series hence copied in italic.

10/9. Jenny Hval – The Practice of Love

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art pop / electronic / synth pop

RIYL – Opus III, Grimes, Yeule, Pastel Ghost

What a nice surprise. Jenny’s lowered the last album’s edgequeen poetry and made way for more yknow, singing, not to mention doused her voice in hypnotic water-crystals (synths). A fairy-ish falsetto like hers over such a shiny electro sound gives this an Opus III charm that should interest trance fans. Two tracks fall back into the spoken word, but the rest makes a quality EP. Good music for any aspiring mermaid.

10/9. Caroline Polacheck – PANG

2 10

art pop / folktronica / glitch pop / electropop

RIYL – Chairlift, Ramona Lisa, PC Music, Imogen Heap

Caroline sings like a fairy-tale lead lost in the woods. Her voice has an almost narrow quality, but her delivery is strong and elastic. It’s not every day you hear vocal sky-dives like hers on the same album as A.G. Cook, a yacht rock update and folksy ballads… Which is why Pang is good.

For all her great theatrics, I love the calmer sound on “Go As A Dream”. It’s become my new favorite Caroline vocal. Far from showy as in “Door”, but incredibly soothing: I can sense the birds and deer watching her in a Disney forest. The way she added that adorable new agey harp confirms this for my ‘garden refuge’ mix. -wink wink- To top it off, this song will do wonders if your mom was into Imogen Heap.

Pang is a testament to how technology allows us to fuse our inspirations. She’s created an effective self-portrait from each of her (known) trademarks here whether they had much in common or not.

8. Teebs – Anicca

3

downtempo / folktronica / indie electronic / wonky

RIYL – Bibio, Tycho, gardens, birds

While I worry his palette is getting plainer (not enough bells! too much guitar!) there’s just nobody in e-music like Teebs. Listening to him feels like napping in a painter’s garden. It’s interesting to hear him branch out while sticking to his own path as he does here. Full review here.

7. Sudan Archives – Athena

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chamber pop / art pop / folktronica / neo soul

RIYL – Kelsey Lu, violins, wooden sounds

Not every day you hear violin (let alone one inspired by Sudanese fiddling) in electronic context, but Sudan fuses them like it’s nothing. Such woodsy, keening riffs like these are a refreshing change from the tropes I’ve come to expect with trendy alt-pop. They’re a great anchor and counterpart to the electronic backbone. When it comes to singing, Sudan sounds like a goddess tending to an ancient garden. She has insight to share and she’s focused all the way on her work, but her presence is a calming one in the end.

Athena is a slow burner, but certain tracks (“Down On Me”) are quick to hit you with a graceful melody. It works like a garden too: you have to water it to hear the true potential. As with another creative new string player, Kelsey Lu, I hope Sudan can keep blossoming as an artist. We need more string players to step into electronic music!

6. Karen O & Danger Mouse – Lux Prima

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indie pop / art rock / neo-psychedelia

RIYL – Karen O’s “YO! My Saint”, Arctic Monkeys’ “One Point Perspective” + “American Sports”, U.S. Girls’ In A Poem Unlimited, space

Imagine my shock when Karen O drops a nine-minute suite with Danger Mouse in November. Despite a new producer, “Lux Prima” felt like a sci-fi evolution from last year’s ghostly torch song and a personal ’18 fave, “YO! My Saint”. The idea of a full album piqued my curiosity. The style was hard to predict, but that added to the excitement!

Beyond Karen’s expected indie elements, Lux Prima centers on warm, groovy surrealism in similar fashion to Italian 70’s scores. For example: the filtered strings propelling Karen’s underwater balladry in “Reveries” or the smooth bass lines and uneasy melodies in “Nox Lumina”. Like those soundtracks, Lux Prima doesn’t stick to 2-3 common recipes, so we have misty dream-folk in “Ministry” and twangy disco in “Turn The Light”. Yeah, that last one’s… weird.

As a result, Karen sings like she’s trying on new hats. With a voice like hers, which could rile a punk party and woo you to sleep in the same ten minutes, most songs give her space to shine. Her wordless wailing on “Lux Prima” and her wistful hum in “Ministry” come to mind. However, some of DM’s stylings (while impressive) aren’t the best fit for Karen, dulling her spark. Other times, melodies aren’t as interesting as the lavish backing.

The Lux Prima/Nox Lumina suite has me wishing they engaged more with their space themes, but what’s there is compelling. Lux Prima sounds like a proper solo debut and a step forward for KO. I miss Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but I’m glad to know she’s open to experiment in her solo career.

5. Nonlocal Forecast (aka Angel Marcloid)

6

new age / electronic / jazz fusion

RIYL – 90s Weather Channel music, Eyeliner,  “Aquatic Ambience” from Donkey Kong Country, “Dire Dire Docks” from Super Mario 64, digital synths

One in countless Angel Marcloid creations, Bubble Universe! shows her gift for oceanic digital synths. Song-wise she flips between glittery 80’s new age and upbeat jazz fusion in tribute to the Weather Channel. The latter approaches chaos, but she unites it all through the giddy sheen of the digitized 90’s. If you thought this era was fun at all for synths or video game music, BU! is tons of fun and a great mood booster. Imagine such a soundtrack with a subtle prog-jazz influence and you have the idea. My favorite VGM is water-themed, so I applaud Angel for exploring this vibe.

I managed to chat with Angel a few days ago. She mentions another NF album is on the way despite juggling this, her Fire-Toolz album and many mixing jobs this year. How does she do it???

4. Angel OlsenAll Mirrors

7

chamber pop / singer songwriter

RIYL – Scott Walker, Susanne Sundfor, Anna Von Hausswolf, strings

For once, a hyped late-10s album where I GET the hype. The usual barrier between me and ‘chamber pop’ is the slowness and twee indie-rawker vocals, but Angel steps closer to a smoky folk songwriter. Her presence is mysterious enough to compliment the velvet carpet that is her new string section. Picture a woman you’ve never met with a Foggy Past visiting your Victorian fireplace to escape the storm and you have the right idea.

With many beautiful moments at both soft and loud volume, this album excels in slow burns. Every other time it began to ramble, I’d get a cinematic flourish or crescendo. “Chance” is the best example, having the same huge, frosty catharsis as a good movie climax.

All Mirrors is a delicious cross between chamber pop and folk’s ghostly edges. (See “Summer” for the latter, which makes me want to ride a horse in the mountains!) Glad this is getting the praise it deserves.

2/3. Ioanna Gika Thalassa

8

art pop / darkwave / ethereal wave / synth pop / dream pop

RIYL – This Mortal Coil, early Cocteau Twins, Bat For Lashes’ Two Suns, IO Echo, Anna Von Hausswolf, filling the void Grimes left when she made Art Angels

Somehow Ioanna Gika knows 70% of what I want from gothic music right now. She can siren-sing like a lost Mortal Coil guest. Synth layers, string flourishes and fierce rhythms make her soar in all directions. She fuses modern sounds with folk references like Bat For Lashes’ best work. In a way, she represents the next step in an all-too-small group of modern artists revitalizing ethereal wave. (These include early Grimes and Pat Moon; I hope we keep getting new artists in this vein.) She’s an expert with building tension, to the point many songs would fit right into movies. “Roseate” for one, which compares her losses to walls breaking with the urgent beats and howls to match. With guitar, piano, sound design that follows her like an amorphous vortex and a surprise krautrock break, her style is flexible enough to bring her ambitions to life. It floors me to know that a 23-year-old, solo musician is behind every sound here.

 As heavy as it gets, her voice is sweet and humane enough to keep the void from swallowing everything. The way this contrasts the darkness surrounding her leads to the most punch-to-the-gut beauty I’ve heard from a 2019 release since Kelsey Lu. A gentler song like “Weathervane” has her shivering like a bird in a desolate tundra. It’s a portrait of how she felt then, and it feels very real. I get a feeling Thalassa‘s world is a pristine, homely one since warped by her grief. It’s clear she’s grown a lot since her time with IO Echo. As addicted as I got to their album, Thalassa’s lyrics here are far more touching and evocative. No odd ‘ponyboy’ / ‘wonderboy’ references here.

Thalassa is both a striking emotional release and culmination of Ioanna’s great taste. A must-hear if you want something more individual than the usual post-punk rehash. I’m convinced she can liven up the goth scene. Touring with Chelsea Wolfe suggests she’ll get her due with time.

2/3. La FelineVie Future

9

french pop / art pop / electronic / neo-psychedelia / dream pop / space age

RIYL – Mylene Farmer, French accents, surrealism, Broadcast, Ghost Box, Stereolab

Vie Future is a rabbit-hole trip with bits of magic (like so much music I love), but the lyrics concern Earth and humans. As a response to giving birth, losing a parent and fear for the climate, Agnes fills Vie Future with weighty questions. She has the right emotional range to give life to these complex feelings whether she channels dolls or cyborgs. She ponders death to upbeat rhythms (“Où est passée”) and hums to herself in a river (“Voyage”) with the same conviction.

Much to her credit, Future expands far beyond La Feline’s minimal wave roots while avoiding many 10’s cliches. I love how hard it is to label. You have piano, flutes, various moody synths, guitars, mallets, vocoder effects and strings. With the update on space-age themes, I’d call Ghost Box and Stereolab the closest things. And yet, that only says so much with their variety, and I haven’t heard a singer like Agnes in this context before.

Vie Future thrives in subtlety. Like a great mystery story, it unravels new tricks with time to keep me hooked inside.

1. Kelsey Lu Blood

1

chamber pop / art pop / singer songwriter / chamber folk / folktronica

RIYL – cellos, Sudan Archives, non-forced eclecticism, Goldfrapp’s Tales of Us, Kate Havnevik’s “Unlike Me”, Weyes Blood, Angel Olsen

As you could guess from a cellist, keyboardist, guitarist and singer who’s worked with Solange and Blood Orange, Kelsey Lu’s solo debut isn’t easy to box. She defies more cliches than any new album I’ve heard this past year, resulting in unfiltered creativity. The minimal cello-with-vocal sound on her Church EP has evolved to a bolder statement with a stronger personality and wider palette, the electronics among the most promising. In Lu’s case, Blood sounds like the natural gathering of her inspirations. She isn’t going eclectic for the sake of it, which is often the best way to do so. Even when she goes from twangy folk (“Too Much”) to a 7-minute electro 10cc cover, she unites each sound through the sweet hums and shivers of her voice, the warm wooden tremble of her cello and clear-cut production.

Blood opens with a pair of striking cello-tinged folk songs, the sinister warning of “Rebel” and the uneasy sleepwalk of “Pushin’ Against The Wind”. In the first big shift, she dives into a cathartic pop ballad with “Due West”, setting her vocal decadence to a blanket of synth chords and a harp so fragile someone could’ve sewn it together. When I think it’s over, a cello pluck enters and cross-fades into what sounds like Grouper making ethereal wave in a church (“Kindred”). Unlike the rest of Blood, Lu sounds truly weightless as she sings like an opera singer’s ghost, possessed yet appeased. Not long after, she kicks into 70s disco with “Poor Fake”, where the album’s biggest beat threatens to kick off a party. And we’re only halfway in by then.

Blood is the most a new artist has impressed me in months if not a few years. Her awe-inspiring musical scope combined with such clear passion and creativity to match means Blood has enough to process for some time, but I’m clamoring to know what sound she’ll pursue next. Will she do more pop, guitar folk, classical cello, will it follow this album’s steps or will she do a 180? Blood tells me any of these and more could work.

EPs:

Honorable mentions

There’s more. I could add Lana, Lil Simz, Weyes Blood, Charli, Lizzo and other cult hits, but this is long enough kept to my darkhorse faves. Stay tuned for my 2019 playlist for their proper acknowledgement.

 

Favorite new wave-inspired albums

Errors – New Relics (2012) & Lease of Life (2015)

 

More like this – Laurel Halo, GAMES, Washed Out’s Within And Without

Bored of all the interchangeable synthwave? I’d suggest listening to Errors.  As former ‘post-rockers’, I figure the little hype around these albums is a lack of the right crowd. It’s a shame they didn’t find one, since I know it’s not every day I hear synth-pop this expansive. Their songs deviate from verse-chorus structures, building as they go with relentless, hypnotizing progressions. Even shorter songs like “Putman Caraibe” turn a semi-normal verse into a mini-symphony. Meanwhile, “Pegasus” evolves from 4AD dream pop to Tangerine Dream in six minutes. They have me wishing ‘progressive synth-pop’ was a genre.

Both Relics and Lease use many trademarks like Linndrums and FM bells, but it’s all about how they arrange them. They center on weirder, extra-kitschy tones over the obvious Com Truise gloss. Without reducing their color, Errors find the danger in these sounds and take them to a metaphysical space. Songs like “Relics” and “Ammaboa” wield bubbly arpeggios like a plant’s thorns.

 

The way they process vocals enhance this effect. Most songs fill them with reverb, fading them in until the lyrics only come in shards. “Slow Rotor” and “Dull Care” show this best with guest singer Bek Oliva repeating cryptic, sometimes tragic omens like ‘if nothing I can think about is real’ and ‘I’ll never get to sleep again’. The meanings aren’t clear, but they know how to stick around and keep me guessing. Their singing along with voxes and bells adds a cyborg-like contrast of feeling v.s. unfeeling.

Errors mutated synth-pop into a sinister, strangely beautiful vortex with these albums. They’re another group that show how emotive this music can be no matter how virtual it sounds. I’m hoping they can return soon given how long it’s been since Lease of Life.

First impressions

Teebs – Anicca (2019)

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downtempo / indie electronic / folktronica / wonky

If you missed my first Teebs post, know I became a huge fan last year. Think back to FlyLo’s gentlest moments but more earthy. You’re dozing in a surrealist painter’s garden, filled with chimes and bird houses, where the difference between his world and the real world is fading. Sound good? Read on and recap yourself with my Teebs playlist while you’re at it.

Imagine my thrill when I hear he’s back from a five-year silence. How much changed since then? I’ll say a ‘moderate’ amount. Anicca settles between warm acoustic sounds, chill-out music and toned-down wonky elements. The calmer sound will let ‘glitch hop’ fans down, but it’s a natural change given his eyes for painting. As usual with Teebs, looking for Banging Beats misses the point.

I welcome this evolution, but Anicca tends to give guitar too much focus, ending in a paler sound. Beyond a few straight-up flashbacks, I want more of those chimes and synths; more variety. His sound is distinct and beautiful like before, but it’s lost some vital color. I began to miss the signature fuzz and grain as well thanks to the clearer production.

Anicca has many great highlights that show his ideas are still varied. “Studie” lets his cloudy synth chords shine, ending in the audio equal to an afternoon nap. “Universe” is similar, using DayDream Masi’s front-and-center guest vocal like a harmonious beam of sunlight. He graces “Marcel” with gorgeous bells and flute that would fit right into his last album. In a welcome surprise, “Mirror Memory” gets me thinking about FlyLo with it’s spaced-out violin; it sounds like old Teebs meeting new Teebs. He gives the Sudan Archives feature “Black Dove” a similar vibe. Given their unique styles and mutual skills for fusing spiritual and organic sounds, I’d love to hear a full EP by these two.

The crucial thing is how Anicca is still that breezy flower-field music at heart. Teebs continues to soothe like few others in e-music and I applaud his will to stick to his own path. I worry for his palette but I can savor Anicca for what it is and it’s great to have him back.

♥︎ – “Studie”, “Black Dove”, “Prayers i”, “Mirror Memory”, “Threads”, “Universe”, “Daughter Callin”, “Marcel”