Album Notes: 2019 in Review

Album Notes: 2019 in Review

December 29, 2019

The last few Decembers I found it incredibly difficult to whittle down my favorite albums of the year to only ten. This year the opposite proved true. When I think about 2019 in music, my first thought continues to be along the lines of "very little truly blew me away." As always there are things well-worth repeated listenings, but overall I was largely underwhelmed. 

Like any other year, I know I'll inevitably discover some quality stuff I missed out on the first go 'round. That said, a handful of albums stood out, but for me none more than Stolen Jars' A Reminder. Hearing the songs for the first time, I never imagined they would land as my choice for 2019. But it's true, and there's something that keeps drawing me back to the Brooklynites' third LP. Its richness is both calming and alluring, a record that reveals itself and entices the listener more with every listen. In a year of "good," Stolen Jars' finest is A Reminder that there will always be something great (see full review below).

Meanwhile, it's that time again. As the calendar nears its end, for the fourth year in a row I've assembled some of my favorite tunes that happened to land on albums I didn’t review. But before we get there, here’s my full list of favorite 2019 albums in alphabetical (by artist) order:

Rayland Baxter - Good Mmornin’ (EP)
James Blake - Assume Form
Bronze Radio Return - Entertain You
Grand Island - Young Hawk & I 
Kokoko! - Fongola
Lake Jons - The Coast
LCD Soundsystem - Electric Lady Sessions
Stolen Jars - A Reminder 
Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride
Whitney - Forever Turned Around

Now, on to those otherwise forgotten about 2019 tunes. (And note- yes, a few of these were singles that came out in 2018 but the album which they're on didn't hit until 2019.) I've broken them down into three mixes: This, That, and The Other. As usual, the first two lists will be the upbeat collection and its more laid-back partner. Finally there's The Other, tracks I dig -- but just seemed out of place in either of the other two mixes.

2019 This

1 Chaka Khan - "Like Sugar" - Hello Happiness
2 White Denim - "Small Talk (Feeling Control)" - Side Effects
3 Crocodiles - "Exit My Head" - Love Is Here
4 Foxygen - "The Thing Is" - Seeing Other People
5 The Delta Riggs - "Bright as the Sun" - Modern Pressure
6 Balthazar - "Entertainment" - Fever
7 Issac Delusion - "Disorder" - uplifters
8 Sly Johnson - "New Day" - Silvére
9 Cayucas - "Jessica WJ" - Real Life
10 Kanye West - "Follow God" - Jesus Is King
11 Beck - "Saw Lightning" - Hyperspace
12 Metronomy - "Insecurity" - Metronomy Forever
13 Hollerado - "A Little Touch of Madness" - Retaliation Vacation
14 Weezer - "Can't Knock the Hustle" - Weezer (Black Album)

2019 That 

1 Fruit Bats - "The Bottom of It" - Gold Past Life
2 Wintersleep - "Surrender" - In the Land Of
3 Big Thief - "Two Hands" - Two Hands
4 Brittany Howard - "Stay High" - Jamie
5 Anderson.Paak - "Make It Better" - Ventura
6 Kevin Morby - "No Halo" - Oh My God
7 Maverick Sabre - "Into Nirvana" - When I Wake Up
8 Bakar - "Hell N Back" - Will You Be My Yellow? (EP)
9 The Flaming Lips - All for the Life of the City" - King's Mouth
10 Son Little - "about her. again." - invisible 
11 Brother Ali - Father Figures" - Secrets & Escapes
12 The Mountain Goats - "Clemency for the Wizard King" - In League With Dragons 
13 Hollerado - "Straight to Hell" - Retaliation Vacation
14 Wilco - "Love Is Everywhere (Beware)" - Ode To Joy
15 Citizen Cope - "Justice" - Heroin and Helicopters
16 Kishi Bashi - "Annie, Heart Thief of the Sea" - Omoiyari

2019 The Other

1 Thom Yorke - "Traffic" - ANIMA
2 Stephen Malkmus - "Belziger Faceplant" - Groove Denied
3 Fujiya and Miyagi - "Subliminal" - Flashback
4 Spoon - "No Bullets Spent" - Everything Hits at Once: The Best of Spoon
5 Brittany Howard - "History Repeats" - Jamie
6 Magic City Hippies - "Indiana" - Modern Animal
7 Magic City Hippies - "Franny" - Modern Animal
8 LITE - "One Last Mile" - Multiple
9 Isaac Delusion - "Fancy" - uplifters
10 Fat White Family - "Kim's Sunsets" - Serfs Up!
11 Sikane - "Ya Sudan" - Dépaysé
12 Bruce Hornsby - "Fractals" - Absolute Zero

Stolen Jars - A Reminder

There’s an inherent intrigue in anticipation of new music from a band you enjoy. That excitement rises a notch when your first exposure to the unheard comes via concert. It’s almost as if you get to hear the tunes twice for the first time: once live and again when it's officially released. With that in mind, Stolen Jars rolled into Milwaukee mid-September, less than a month before the arrival of their third album, A Reminder.

What brought me to Between Two Galleries that Friday night was Kept, Stolen Jars' second and most recent LP. Considering their limited output, I expected to hear much of the Brooklynites' sophomore gem along with a handful of new tunes sprinkled in. Instead the opposite transpired as the band treated the few in attendance to nearly the entire soon-to-be released third album. That I walked out of the concert as satisfied as if they had played Kept straight through speaks to the quality of the 14 new tracks. Listening the following day to the blue vinyl copy of A Reminder the group was selling post-show confirmed what I had believed the night before: this is a band achieving a musical breakthrough years in the making. 

The labor of multi-instrumentalist/songwriter/producer Cody Fitzgerald's love has undergone a noticeable progression from one album to the next. The enjoyable 2011 self-titled debut provided a glimpse of what was to come. Building on that foundation, better songs and better production drove Kept and its brightly colored collection of tunes even higher. But if Kept was the band staying inside the lines using the 32 color Crayola box, A Reminder is Cody and co. opening up the full 120 pack and ignoring all lines completely. 

While nothing grabs you as instantly as his opening riffs on Kept's “Folded Out,” or “Wreathes Rakes,” the songs are still largely built around Fitzgerald’s unique guitar style. Sounding frenetic as always, like watching a flame dance on a fire, here his six string is woven into a richer mix that's simultaneously busy but breathing, dense yet uncluttered. The production is more varied, more experimental, adding up to a musical triumph greater than the sum of its parts. A Reminder's beauty is evasive if merely a backdrop. Given your full attention however, it's clear this is a statement from a band still ascending yet fully in command. It's also the best thing I heard this year.