Back in 2016, we put Michael Kiwanuka’s second album, Love & Hate in our top five albums of the year. As is typical with our listening, we caught onto an artist just as a lot of other people did as well. Soon, Kiwanuka’s track “Cold Little Heart” was used as the theme for HBO’s Big Little Lies and his star continued to grow. Released In November of 2019, the Kiwanuka album placed very high on many year-end charts.
This is the second Kiwanuka album produced by Danger Mouse with Inflo. First single and track, “You Ain’t The Problem” sets the tone with its cool, retro 70s soul sound. “Living In Denial” starts with a fuzzy guitar and horn sound while “Rolling” does a similar trick with an added funky chorus and catchy drum sound. “Final Days” is another killer percussion track that sees Kiwanuka use his falsetto to great affect in the chorus.
With minimal backing, Kiwanuka sings “When it gets hard, I will roll those sleeves” on “Solid Ground” before the spiritual strings of “Light” appears. If we had been able to listen to this album in December, odds are it would have been in our top 5 for 2019. It’s a beautiful and often powerful record that easily hangs tough with many of the classic soul albums of the 70s. Timeless stuff.
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.
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.