Posted in Listed

Favourite Albums of 2019

5.  Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains:  The music world lost a lot of great musicians in 2019 including David Berman of Purple Mountains.  This was my first introduction to the man’s music and was touched by many of the lyrics contained here.  Knowing what happened to Berman soon after release makes some of the songs hard to listen to but this is part of his legacy that he passed on to us. Purple Mountains touches on many of the emotions we all feel from time to time and let’s us know we are not alone. This album will live on for a very long time.

4.  Robert Forster – Inferno:  Another long running musician that I was really hearing for the first time in 2019.  Ex of the much-loved Go-Betweens, Forster doesn’t sound dissimilar to Leonard Cohen and at times on tracks like “The Morning” and “Life Has Turned A Page” he offers much wisdom.  Like Cohen, Forster’s music is mature and on the cover he looks dapper as hell.  We can still aspire to be this cool.

3.  Vampire Weekend – Father Of The Bride:  This came out in May and was ready made for the summer. More complex musically than past releases and adding in a few cameos, most notably from Danielle Haim, this continues to increase the range of Vampire Weekend releases.  Many gems to be found here including “Sunflower”, “How Long”, and especially our song of the year – “Harmony Hall”.  Like most albums at 18 tracks long, there are a few that can be skipped but those are relatively few on an album that can be played on repeat for several hours.

2.  Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!:  This album is getting lots of love even from people who don’t normally show it to Del Rey. Admittedly, the last few albums can be a bit hit and miss at times but this one never lags and distills the best of her sound onto 12 songs. “Venice Bitch” was a favourite from last year and “Mariners Apartment Complex” sounds like a movie in four minutes. “California” and “The Greatest” are timeless tracks that could have been released at any time in the last 40 years.  This is Lana Del Rey’s best album.

1.  Fontaines D.C. – Dogrel:  It’s not very often a straight up rock record gets us this excited but Dublin’s Fontaines D.C. delivered blow after blow on their debut.  It’s amazing that this literary band released poem collections before forming a band, as they seem ready made for the big stages in the UK. “Hurricane Laughter”, “Chequeless Reckless”, and “Boys In The Better Land” are a roar heard across the world as people keep falling for the band’s charms.  This is the best rock album we’ve heard in years.

Posted in Listed

Favourite Distant (Re)Discoveries 2019

5. Ken Burns – Country Music (Documentary): Several years ago, I loved the Prohibition documentary that Ken Burns produced for PBS so was excited when the country music one was announced some time ago.  It did not disappoint. Covering the inception of country music through 1996, Burns hits the major highlights of the genre and successfully ties it into the larger music scene and American society in general. All eras are fascinating. A review of the two-disc soundtrack will be posted soon.

4. The 1975 – TooTimeTooTimeTooTime (Song):  The 1975 album A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships had several bangers but this lighthearted romp was the one that really caught our ear and who’s video was played almost nightly for a few months. Sounding like an updated version of a Sugar Ray track, it’s hard not to sing along to the chorus of this infectious single from 2018.

3. Otha – I’m On Top (Song):  Otha’s “One Of The Girls” was our 2018 track of the year and in early 2019, we heard this one that was released towards the end of last year. If we had heard it last year, Otha may have had our top two favourite tracks of 2018. Never changing her bored, deadpan vocals to sing the lyric, “right now, it is time to have fun” adds a layer of detached cool to this terrific dance pop song.  Otha’s 2019 single, “Tired and Sick” narrowly missed our top 10 this year.

2. The Rolling Stones – Hot Rocks 1964-1971 (Album):  We finally put our money down for a compilation from The Rolling Stones and picked this tried and true classic. We discovered some new favourites such as “Mother’s Little Helper” and were reacquainted with the greatness of tracks such as “Paint It, Black”.  The run of tracks from “Get Off My Cloud” to “Street Fighting Man” is breathtaking.  This isn’t just some of the best rock n roll ever made, this IS the best rock n roll ever made.

1. The Kinks – Are The Village Green Preservation Society (50th Anniversary) (Album) – We picked up the two disc anniversary version of The Kinks classic even though we already had a version from a few years ago that covers mostly the same tracks.  For some reason, the first time around I liked it but didn’t really love the album. Upon, hearing it again I was completely knocked out by it and listened steadily for several weeks.

The title track, “Village Green”, “Starstruck”, and “People Take Pictures of Each Other” are all standouts on an album that covers rock, psychedelia, whimsey, nostalgia, and British music hall. Looking back, I followed a micro version of what happened to the album upon release.  Mostly unloved when new, The Village Green grew in stature over the years and is now considered a classic and an album to truly cherish.

Posted in Listed

10 Favourite Songs of 2019

10. Lala Lala & WHY? – Siren 042:  A few Lala Lala tracks caught our ear in 2018 but not like this one with WHY?.  The atmosphere on “Siren 042” is a bit sad as Lala Lala apologizes and explains herself in the lyrics but at the same time loses her personality as she makes changes.  This got played a lot in the early mornings.

9. Loma – Half Silences:  The sound is haunting when members from Shearwater and Cross Records get together to record.  The only thing that would make this track better is extending the first instrumental passage for a few more minutes before the vocals appear. This is also our favourite video of 2019.

8. Bleached – Shitty Ballet:  After the release of their debut in 2013, we lost track of Bleached until this first track from their latest album was released in April. The band has a knack of getting songs lodged in the head and this one was no different as we sang, “don’t want to pretend it’s OK when it’s not” throughout the year.

7. Lizzo (Feat. Missy Elliott) – Tempo:  Easily one of the coolest tracks of the year. The steady groove never gets too hyped but always keeps the head nodding along. Lizzo has received all kinds of attention in 2019 and when you can get the queen Missy Elliott on your track, you know you’re doing something right.

6. Sharon Van Etten – Seventeen:  When Van Etten released her newest album, this is the track that everyone latched onto.  It sounds like a female Bruce Springsteen looking back on her younger self while screaming that “I know what you’re going to be”.  In this case, that’s a great place to be.

5.  Billie Eilish & Justin Bieber – bad guy:  Always liked this track but our ears really perked up on the Interrupters version which made us go back and listen to the original even more.  Eilish’s vocals are hushed like she’s hiding in a closet while the simple beat gives Bieber room to really roll with a great vocal performance.

4. Fontaines D.C. – Boys In The Better Land:  Hearing the slower “Roy’s Tune” did not prepare us for this energetic anthem that blared out of our car speakers all summer. Name checking James Joyce, this one also had us Googling what “only smokes Carrolls” means.  This one makes us believe that the (rock) kids are alright.

3. Haim – Summer Girl:  An early morning drive to work and hearing this on CBC Radio 2 had us hooked immediately. Missed this one for the summer but it made our autumn a lot brighter with the mesmerizing saxophone hook.  Almost makes us want to book a trip to LA and have this on repeat.

2. Lil Nas X (Feat. Billy Ray Cyrus) – Old Town Road:  One late evening on stereogum.com we read about the country chart controversy with “Old Town Road” then watched about 20 TikTok videos afterwards. Being purists, we liked the original better but the Billy Ray Cyrus version is fine too.  The “can’t nobody tell me nothing” is the lyric of the year and the fact that the track gets in and out as fast as possible gives the listener whiplash as they hit the repeat button 5x.

1. Vampire Weekend – Harmony Hall:  This was instantly one of our favourite songs of 2019 from the first time we heard it. Listening to the feature on Song Exploder recently, we got the original meaning of the song slightly wrong the first time around but found the actual meaning of beautiful plantation houses being used for weddings fascinating. The sound recalls early VW tracks but is musically far more complex and nuanced.  It may not be the lyric of the year, see above, but “I don’t want to live like this, but I don’t want to die” is certainly right up there.

Posted in Album Reviews

Pet Shop Boys – Behaviour/Further Listening 1990-1991 (2018)

Pet Shop Boys fourth album Behaviour was released in October 1990 but I did not pick up the original release until the mid-90s.  By then BritPop was in full swing and it was all “lager lager lager”.  The mature electronic songs of betrayal that Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe presented here seemed out of step with other pop music when I bought it the first time around.  Co-Produced by Harold Faltermeyer, this was the release I was most interested in for the Further Listening series to see what I missed the first time around.

The first disc presents the remastered version of the original album with most of the songs touching on love but from different angles.  “To Face The Truth” is an excellent album track with genuinely moving lyrics.  “You know it hurts me when you lie, sometimes it even makes me cry, cause I’m so in love with you”. “When we fall in love there’s confusion” is the excellent chorus in “This Must be the Place I waited Years to Leave”.  “The End of the World” downplays romantic quarrels over a crisp drum beat.

The songs that pulled from here for the Discography Complete Singles Collection released in 1991 are the best tracks and a step up from the Introspective album singles that precedes them.  “So Hard” is one of Pet Shop Boys hardest driving songs as two lovers fight over whether one has started smoking again. Mostly just percussion during the verses, the synths get expansive for a few seconds when Tennant sings “tell me why, don’t we try?”   “Jealousy” was one of the first tracks the duo wrote back in 1982 and features a devastating chorus as one person sits and waits up for his/her partner to come back home again.  The true centerpiece of the album is first song, “Being Boring”.  Barely scraping into the UK top 20 at the time, it has been a firm fan favourite ever since including for this writer who used in a poetry assignment in grade 11. Updating the nostalgia of The Beatles’ “In My Life” for the HIV epidemic era, the lyrics of “all the people that I was kissing, some are here and some are missing” are particularly heartbreaking.

As with other releases in the Further Listening re-releases the second disc is devoted to different mixes of the hits and corresponding B-sides.  For Behaviour, the second disc often outshines the original album by extending “Being Boring” to nearly 11 minutes and adding a new middle section to “So Hard”.  Sweeping strings and a Beatlesque trumpet announce the beginning of “Jealousy” before it goes into the more familiar track. Also included is the 1991 cover of U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You)” that amps up the tension by extending the beginning of the track. 

The Morrissey baiting “Miserablism” was to be put on the original album but wrongly held off as it would have been one of the better album tracks and act as a perfect foil after “So Hard”. “Bet She’s Not Your Girlfriend” could have been a single and would have been a floor filler at clubs in the early 90s. Two versions of “DJ Culture” appear at the end as does the 12” version of “Was It Worth It” both of which made their debut on Discography. The latter fairs better but two versions of “DJ Culture” is not needed.  Better is the throbbing bassline in the Chris Lowe sung/talked “We All Feel Better In the Dark (Extended Mix)”.

Going back and reevaluating Behaviour to discover some very good album tracks is the great thing about these types of re-releases.  The Further Listening disc is the best one released thus far in the series and is at times a more engaging listen than the actual album.  The B-sides are superb and the extended versions mostly improve but never takeaway from the originals.  This was another fine release for Tennant/Lowe.

Behaviour – 8.5/10

Further Listening – 9/10

Posted in Paper Chase

Q4 Read It 2019

I’ve been listening to The Watch podcast since it’s inception way back when on the old Grantland website.  Over the past year co-host Andy Greenwald has taken time away from the pod to be the show runner for his adaptation of Ross Thomas’ 1984 murder mystery, Briarpatch.  Upon hearing of his sister’s murder, Benjamin Dill returns to his small hometown to settle her affairs and look into what happened. Turns out she had a $250K life insurance policy, many questions about a possible double life she was leading and several suspects.

Before his death in 1995, Thomas had published 25 books and won an Edgar award for Briarpatch.  This is not life changing stuff but a solid read with several funny bits, interesting characters, a story that keeps things moving along swiftly.

7.5/10

I’m fairly certain Ryan Holiday came onto my radar through the Tim Ferriss podcast a few years ago and have been subscribing to his newsletter for about as long.  Every month Holiday sends out his reading list with lots of great suggestions.  Like James Clear, since we’ve consumed so much of his content, we wanted to support Holiday with his latest book entitled Stillness Is The Key. 

The book is laid out in three sections on mind, soul, and body with several short chapters devoted to each. Stories through the centuries come from Marcus Aurelius, John F Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Anne Frank, Tiger Woods, etc.  This book is a great jumping off point to dive further into teachings and philosophies that have been preached throughout the world.  It is a book that I will certainly return to throughout the years.

10/10

George Saunders’ first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, won several awards including the Man Book prize in 2017.  The book tells the story of Abraham Lincoln’s son, William, who passes away and who for a time is caught between heaven and earth.  The writing switches from written historical accounts of the events surrounding his death and fantasy of what happened after he had passed on. Several times when reading I found myself stopping and thinking about what was written. Certainly not an easy read, I’m sure I missed a few things but feel like this is one that I would re-read again someday.

9/10

Tayari Jones’ fourth novel, An American Marriage, was selected as an Opera’s book club and has won a couple of awards including the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2019.  The book takes place in Georgia with African American Roy marrying Celestial.  A year into the marriage, Roy is accused of raping a woman in her hotel room and is sent to jail for several years.  Much of the book takes place in letters written between Roy and the outside world.

When picked for my fiancé’s book club, this was not a fan favourite so even though I knew it has been well received, I was not expecting to like it as much as I did. The characters are flawed but likeable in their own ways.  Everyone is just trying to get through life the best they can which added to the realness of the story.  As an added bonus, the southern expressions and teachings were nice additions for this Northern reader.

8.5/10