This list of mid year notable albums was supposed to done a month ago, but things move slowly when you’re slow. Here are a bunch of records I like from the fist half of this year in no particular order. Not a definitive list but more of a sign post so I can look back and see where I was in the middle of 2019.
Daisies – Daisies (Perennial Death)
When you think Olympia, Washington you think the Capitol of Washington state, or K records and DIY indie rock. I would wager that St. Etienne and Shortwave Set don’t immediately come to mind. Thanks to the CCFX-CC DUST-TransFX folks this left field beauty that melds psychedelia and dancy synths into something unexpected.
Jeanines- Jeanines (Slumberland)
Some folks would call this a quintessential and classic Slumberland record. Some would scratch their heads and wonder what that even means. Translation, autumnal jangle pop that is as economical as Guided By Voices and hauntingly bittersweet as the Mama’s and the Papas.
Holiday Ghosts – West Bay Playroom (PNK SLM)
Album number two from these Modern Lovers meets Pastels beatniks sees them still flying under the radar. Not sure how accurate internet radar is for this sort of thing these days, but I love rollicking ramshackle rock and roll like this.
Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society – Mandatory Reality (Eremite)
This is considered jazz or experimental tonal jazz or some other mumbo jumbo. This is hypnotic, trance inducing music that you shouldn’t listen to while operating heavy machinery. There should be a warning sticker on the cover about the dangers of listening to it and ending up somewhere and not knowing how you got there. Better than drugs.
Patio – Essentials (Fire Talk)
Every time a song from Essentials pops up on shuffle play I think it’s a 90’s indie rock like Helium or Scrawl. This Brooklyn trio nods to the 90’s with their angular hooks and minimal pop but adds an airy sophistication to the update that sound for the new millennium.
Zebra Hunt – Trade Desire (Tenorio Cotobade)
Seattle’s Zebra Hunt keep going as the world swirls around them, releasing a solid LP ever few years. The fact that their label is in Spain and they’ve toured that country more extensively than their own speaks volumes about the discerning tastes of the record buying public on the Iberian peninsula and how too many hometown folks don’t appreciate what’s in their own back yard.
Vanishing Twin – The Age of Immunology (Fire)
Fire records, Vanishing Twin’s record label has got a lock on Broadcast inspired bands with this, Death & Vanilla and Jane Weaver. This mines similar territory to my favorite Broadcast album The Noise Made By People. Yes, points off for not being original, but they add enough nuance to it to make it easy to ignore where it came from and just appreciate where it is.
J. McFarlane’s Reality Guest – Ta Da (Hobbies Galore)
Unbeknownst to me, the Twerps were a band with an amorous couple at its core and that couple decided to call it quits thus dissolving one of my favorite Australian bands of the past five years. Martin Frawley and Julia McFarlane have both released albums this year, but McFarlane’s is the one that wormed its quirky head into my list of favorites. Minimalist and quirky, this not what you would probably expect from one half of the Twerps, but welcome nonetheless.
The BV’s – Cartography (Kleine Untergrund Schallplatten)
This English-German duo excell at moody, atmospheric pop that may remind more than a few folks of one or two bands on Sarah records or even the Durutti Column. Some might call it dreampop, but these guys are too darn moody for a tag like that. Cartography has couple immediate songs and some that meander and others that will take a few listens to really appreciate. This one grows on you and peels away its layers on repeated listening. Worth it!
The Intelligence – Un-Psychedelic In Peavey City (Vapid Moonlighting)
I have no idea what the title to the Intelligence’s latest album alludes to. This former Seattle relocated to the fake surfing environs of So-Cal a few years back to continue their warped Ventures inspired glue sniffing weirdness. Hive minded Lars Finberg appears to be on the wagon, but there is no discernible drop off in quality here. Perhaps this is really what he’s like? I hope so.
Sacred Paws – Run Around the Sun (Merge)
Golden Grrls offshoot/continuation second album is brighter and richer sounding to my ears than their debut. Rachel Aggs’ (also of Shopping & Trash Kit) guitar playing is a perfect mix of indie jangle and afro-pop rhythm. The vocal interplay between her and Eilidh Rodgers is life-affirming. Add in some horn parts and you’ve got this really exiting record.
Phillipi & Rodrigo – Paciencia (DeeWee)
If you recall and appreciate the excellent Bungalow Record label that was based out of Berlin in late 90’s and early 2000’s and their penchant for quirky electronic based pop like Czerkisky, Le Hammond Inferno and Ladytron, then DeeWee is a label you should follow. Phillipi & Rodrigo are a Brazillian duo that would have fit in perfectly on Bungalow with their soundtrack inspired dance music.
French Vanilla – How Am I Not Myself? (Danger Collective)
Funny how 80’s inspired music and movies have not gone out of style. I wonder if it registers with the young ones when movies like Spiderman loosely ape John Hughes’ teen movies like Ferris Bueller and Pretty In Pink in theme and soundtrack? Weird Science was a super hero movie after all, wasn’t it? Instead of Oingo Boing or Romeo Void, movie soundtrack folks might consider Los Angeles’s French Vanilla to fill out the soundtrack for the next teen inspired comedy super hero film. Danny Elfman, if you’re listening…
Olden Yolk – Living Theatre (Trouble In Mind)
Living Theatre is album number two from the former Quilt guy Shane Butler. and continues to mine the rich pastoral inspired folky motorik vein of the their debut. It’s a sweet spot that is often better described as psychedelic folk music. This album is like an herbal soothing of the Free Design and Stereolab blended with the swirling pastoral vibes of a band like the Essex Green. Lovely stuff.
Cate Le Bon – Reward (Mexican Summer)
Cate Le Bon’s DRINKS collaboration with Tim Presley has the minimal with a disregard for pop hooks. She seems to have taken that DRINKS minimal and inserted the missing pop hooks for fifth album. Reward rewards with minimalist pop perfection.
Winona Forever – Feelgood (Kingfisher Bluez)
Feelgood is the second album by these Canadian coastal transfers (Vancouver to Montreal) with a soft spot for ill-considered tatoos and yacht rock. The warbly, jazz-influenced guitars remind me a little of Mac Demarco, Crystal Skulls and Mild High Club, but they have smooth pop intuition that smooths over any quirky edges.
Cowgirl In Sweden – S/T (Courtesan Music)
A Mysterious record that seems like it just wasn’t made for these times. It’s title is a wink and nod to the great Lee Hazlewood. With an eye to the past and the obscure, these misty eyed songs that are steeped in nostalgia right down to the limited pressing of 300 and no digital version to be had.
The Neutrals – Kebab Disco (Emotional Response)
2017’s Motorcycle Cop put this San Francisco band on my radar. Their debut keeps them firmly planted in my sights. like Art Brute and This Many Boyfriends, Scotish transplant Allan McNaughton has an infectious fandom for indie rock and music culture and a sense of humor to go along with it.
Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising (Sub Pop)
The United States is so far removed from the hyperinflation, gasoline lines and presidential impeachment of the 1970’s that it is surprising that an album like this could be so popular. I think that previous sentence contained a little too much irony, sorry. Titanic Rising is a fantastical record that is parts Elton John, Carpenters and Joni Mitchel. Natalie Mering has conjured up quite a record with her melodramatic vocals that crescendo on nearly ever song. Dramatic stuff that feels like a child of the 70’s looking for her divorced parents.
Rozi Plain – What a Boost (Memphis Industries)
Spare and spatiatous songs swirl and intertwin themselves into you consious, like a minimalist Juana Molina. Rozi Plain blends folk with electronic sounds that sounds like Sea and Cake deconstruced bossa nova post rock. What a Boost is her second album and the perfect soundtrack for a gray and overcast day.
Piroshka – Brickbat (4AD)
Piroshka seemed to garner a lot of attention for being a band that counted as members folks formerly of Lush, Moose, Modern English and Elastica. Sure Berenyi’s voice is hard not to associate with Lush, and you may recognize a Moose guitar flourish here and there but right from the album’s start you realize this group aren’t looking toward the past.
The Concerns – County Blue (War Hen)
Eternal Summers drummer Daniel Cundiff strikes out on his own for an album with some helpf from the Young Sinclairs’ Sam Lunsford and John Thompson. It’s steeped in 80’s alternative like REM, the Railway Children and a touch of Prefab Sprout. Cundiff doesn’t have a domineering voice, but he can deliver a hushed hook and with the jangly guitars, flourishes of synthesizers, and a few well placed horns makes County Blue an understaded winner.
Edwyn Collins – Badbea (AED)
This is his best record since he had the stroke. Opener It’s All About You has the energy and spite of Georgeous George opener the Campaign for Real Rock. Hell, the entire album has that driving northern soul element that most of Collins best records always had. The guy sounds like he’s rejuvinated and ready to keep making more beauties like this.
Robert Forster – Inferno (Tapete)
Robert Forster albums aren’t quite as rare as the return of the Locusts, and I look forward to them more than a swarm of insects. Inferno follows 2015’s Songs to Play which is only fours years and a short spell. Inferno teams him with producer Victor Von Vugt who also produced his first solo album Danger In the Past 29 years ago. The former Go-Between still has a knack for putting a song together. No Fame is pure Go-Betweens brilliance and Life Has Turned a Page ranks up there with Darlinghurst Nights as one of his better nostalgia tinged semi-autobigraphical ramblers.
Kiwi Jr – Football Money (Mint)
More great Canadian pop in the mid-year list. Toronto’s Kiwi Jr fit somewhere between Sloan, Pavement, Beuhlah and Parquet Courts and seem cool with being uncool. By uncool, I mean cool in certain circles that are uncool from the outside looking in. They march to their own beat, sing odes to Burt Bacharach and Brian Jones and are more fun than 90% of the records in my house.
Durand Jones and the Indications – American Love Call (Colemine)
No retro soul album could ever be considered groundbreaking, but then when did the last groundbreaking record come out. American Love Call one thing and it does it very well. The retro soul on album number two is a little more toned down and smoother sounding than the debut. It’s Heavy on the strings and romancing and sounds as smooth as silk.
Le Superhommard – Meadow Lane Park (Elefant)
This year has seen no shortage of records influenced by Stereolab and Broadcast which is fine by me. Le Superhommard lean more towards the Stereolab side of the teeter-totter with their ping-pong synths and bouncy melodies. Meadow Lane Park is not just one or two good songs and rest filler, it’s packed full of beauties.
Marble Arch – Children of the Slump (Géographie)
The second album from this Parisian band is more of a full band affair but keeps some of its predecessor’s bedroom pop ideas, just fleshes them out with a fuller sound. Children of the Slump with its driving bass, flourishes of synthesizers and gangling guitars is dreamy, atmospheric and aching. Old folks will think Low-Life era New Order, younger ones might think Craft Spells or Wild Nothing.
Dumb Things – S/T (Bobo Integral)
This record was digitally released in 2018, but got a vinyl release early this year so slips in on the technicality that I missed it the first time around. Hailing from Brisbane, the hometown of the Go-Betweens and possibly named after a Paul Kelly song gets my attention. Kindred spirits of the Twerps, Feelies and Zebra Hunt their self-titled debut is a worthy and good company of all of the above.
The Specials – Encore (Island)
The name the Specials carries a lot of weight in certain circles and it’s a questionable call naming this a Specials album (They could have gone with Fun Boy Three), but this is probably as close to a real Specials reunion album we’re ever going to get and I’ll take it. With Terry Hall in the fold it would be hard to go wrong, add in some quality Lynval Golding songs and you’ve got pretty good record.
Here are a few more notables, that didn’t quite make the first cut, but worth checking into.
Rose Elinor Dougall – A New Illusion (Vermilion)
Sleaford Mods – Eton Alive (Extreme Eating)
The Stroppies – Whoosh (Tough Love)
Uranium Club – The Cosmo Cleaners(Static Shock/Fashionable Idiots)
The Home Current – Civilian Leather (Castles In Space)
Steve Gunn – The Unseen In Between (Matador)
Possible Humans – Everybody Split (Hobbies Galore)
Patience – Dizzy Spells (Winona)
Tacocat – This Mess Is a Place (Sub Pop)
Flying Fish Cove – At Moonset (Help Yourself)
Pip Blom – Boat (Heavenly)