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.
Comeback kid indeed. Sharon Van Etten is back with her first full length album since 2014’s Are We There. In talking with Uncut magazine, Van Etten noted that influences for this release include Portishead, Nick Cave, and Suicide. This shows through in tracks such as “Memorial Day” and “Hands”. Introspective lyrics with rough, dark and moody electronics. The former being more atmospheric and the latter being more distorted.
While the electronics add texture to a few of the tracks, it’s the more conventional songs that are the most memorable. First single “Comeback Kid” is propulsive and a standout song from 2018. “Seventeen” is a celebration of NYC and how its changes over the years. “Stay” closes out the album with tender lyrics about Van Etten’s one-year old son. While the electronics can at times sound too stark and rob Van Etten’s voice of some it’s warmth, her personality continues to shine throughout.
A few months ago when the Winnipeg Folk Fest line-up was announced, keen music fans immediately jumped for joy at seeing the name Sharon Van Etten listed to play the Big Blue @ Night stage. Since releasing her debut in 2009, the New Jersey born, Brooklyn based musician has been busy touring and putting out an album once every two years. 2012 proved to be a breakout year for the confessional singer songwriter as the Tramp album received wide spread acclaim.
Self-produced album, Are We There, continues Van Etten’s style of very emotional and raw lyrics over spare instrumentation. If you cynically rearrange the song titles of the last three songs, you discover a theme that runs through the album – “I Know” “Every Time The Sun Comes Up” “Nothing Will Change”. The lyrics can be bleak and this hits a fever pitch on the six minute “Your Love Is Killing Me”. “Break my legs so I won’t run to you, cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you, burn my skin so I can’t feel you…” When reading the lyrics, it can feel like listening to your actress friend dramatically telling you about a recent break-up… that you can’t relate to at all.
But if you sit and only half listen to that friend and start to hear the rain hitting the window pane, the cat scratching the door, distant laughter from down the hallway, and start thinking about your own life, suddenly the world starts to open up. The strings on album opener “Afraid of Nothing” are a bit more dramatic the fifth time around and “Taking Chances” is a classy take on 80s adult R&B. “I Know” contains the best vocal on the album, as Van Etten’s voice swoops and cracks along to just a piano. Somewhere Carole King is nodding approval. Are We There closes with “Every Time The Sun Comes Up” which lets in a little smile with the lines – “people say I’m a one hit wonder, but what happens when I have two? I washed your dishes but I shit your bathroom”.
Somehow it wasn’t until reading the lyrics then discarding them that the album came alive. Snippets started to shine through. “A couple years later when I saw you making western moves… you always believed in me and I always believed in you”. Van Etten lays everything bare on Are We There; even while showing much vulnerability, it’s her power and strength that you will remember.