Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Top Films and Music of 2019

Top Films of 2019

1. Avengers: Endgame
2. JoJo Rabbit
3. Knives Out
4. Rocketman
5. Last Black Man in San Francisco
6. Dark Waters
7. Parasite
8. Honey Boy
9. Joker
10. Uncut Gems

Top Albums of 2019 - Playlist available here

1. Bedouin SoundclashMass

The hype for this album began building for me with the release of the excellent “Salt-Water” in 2018. It sounded like nothing the Canadian duo had released before, and nothing like anything else out there. With each subsequent single released, I grew more exciting for what was sounding like an amazing comeback for the band, who hadn’t released a full album in eight years. And then suddenly…all the songs disappeared. It wasn’t until some months later the group announced they had signed to a new label and the album would now be released in October of 2019. This was in February 2019 – the waiting would kill me! But it didn’t – and the album lived up to all my hopes. On top of the incredible tracks previously released, every new song previously unheard took interesting risks and musical gambles that paid off in spades. From the jazzy moment of “Full Bloom” to the feel-good afropop of “Better Days”, the group accomplished the herculean task of exceeding expectations. Welcome back Bedouin Soundclash.

2. Sam FenderHypersonic Missiles

The debut full-length album from this young British rocker was aptly titled, as Fender seemed to shoot out of nowhere and lighting speed and left an explosive mark on everyone who heard his music. After building buzz playing events like SXSW, and gaining fans in his home country (including Elton John), Fender played the Troubadour in LA and showed he could translate his incredible songs to a live venue with ease. The album itself brings notes of Jeff Buckley and The Killers, while lyrically Fender showed himself unafraid to tackle serious subject matter (see the searing “White Privilege” and devastating “Dead Boys”), but also had no trouble kicking up a heartfelt romantic ruckus (“Will We Talk?”). This is one of those albums that make you excited to see what comes next from them. If Billie Eilish is the current queen of the new alternative movement, Fender should be in deep consideration to be its king.

3. The Glorious SonsA War on Everything

The second group of Canadians on this list, but bringing to the table a much more traditional brand of rock ‘n roll. But they REALLY brought it. Infusing healthy doses of southern rock and punk rock into their sound, the band capitalized on the stateside success of their single “S.O.S.” by delivering an album packed full of barn-burning rockers (the glorious “The Ongoing Speculation Into the Death of Rock and Roll”), foot stompers (“Panic Attack”) and even some fine-tuned balladry (“Pink Motel”). Every song on the album came packed with hooks aplenty, as well as lyrics that laid bare a surprising amount of vulnerability under the muscular riffs. I would speculate that rock is far from dead as long as these guys stick around.

4. The MenzingersHello Exile

Philadelphia’s The Menzingers have always excelled at spikey melodic hooks behind meaningful messaging, but on this year’s Hello Exile, their songwriting advanced to the next level, with songs drawing from the deeply personal to the literary, all packed into incredibly memorable punk rock melodies. Tracks like “Anna” and “Strangers Forever” hit an equally powerful emotional nerve and showed off a maturity in outlook and maturity. It’s pop punk for adults who grew up with the band’s music.

5. Dave HauseKick

Similar to The Menzingers, Hause also comes from the punk scene, though has taken his solo work further towards a singer-songwriter/Americana direction. Following his great album Bury Me in Philly, Hause came back with a collection of songs even more fine-tuned and anthemic songs for Kick. “The Ditch” bled with a delicate balance of desperation and acceptance, and “Saboteurs” should be co-opted as a modern rally cry. And some songs were just plain catchy as hell, like the fast-paced “Weathervane” or “Eye Aye I”. Hause has classed himself in with the rising group of solo rock songwriters like Brian Fallon and Craig Finn, who merge the songwriting of classic rock with a rebellious punk spirit, with timeless results.

6. Alex LaheyThe Best of Luck Club

Thank god for Australia’s Alex Lahey, if only for keeping the saxophone alive and well in modern rock. And for playing the blistering sax solo on lead single “Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself” herself! Lahey is a multi-talent, continuing to gain fans in the states. This year, she was included in one of Taylor Swift’s personalized playlists, and made headlines with her spot-on cover of My Chemical Romance‘s “Welcome to the Black Parade”. And all of this praise is duly deserved. Her second album’s songs are consistent earworms, from the outcast anthem “I Don’t Get Invited to Parties Anymore” to the friendship ode “Isabella”. She’s a force to be reckoned with.

7. blink-182Nine

I will be the first to say that these pop-punk legends’ last album, California, underwhelmed me. The lyrics felt basic, and they seemed to still be figuring out how best to utilize Matt Skiba, as his voice didn’t provide the same dynamics against Mark Hoppus’ as departed member Tom Delonge’s. Nine has completely renewed my faith in them. First single “Blame it on My Youth” still felt a bit pandering to younger audiences, but it still continued to get caught in my head. The kinetic “Darkside” also grew and grew on me, helped by its mesmerizing video. When the full album finally hit, songs like “Heaven”, “No Heart to Speak Of” and “Hungover You” affected me like few other blink songs have in the past. These were certainly darker songs, but felt like an organic growth from the band’s previous work. With an EP containing some interesting collaborations due next year, my enthusiasm for the band has been reborn, and I await future work with high anticipation.

8. The RaconteursHelp Us Stranger

Not only was it a surprise to hear Jack White and Brendan Benson’s The Raconteurs were returning this year, but it turned out to be one of the most welcome surprises, as Help Us Stranger is hands down their best album. The tracks flow with a loose spirit that remains lively throughout. If someone had told me this album was released in the seventies, I would believe them. All the best trappings of classic rock are there (album stand-out “Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying)” sounds like a lost Lynyrd Skynyrd track as it opens), and White and Benson sound like they’re having a great time on every song. From the propulsive “Born and Razed” to the moseying “Now That You’re Gone”, the band sounds like they were ready to come back and make us appreciate them more than ever. Mission accomplished.

9. Reese McHenryNo Dados

The first moment I heard Reese McHenry‘s song “Detroit”, I was an instant fan. Sounding like Janis Joplin fronting The Stooges, the song was pure rock ‘n roll soul and hit like a freight train. Then I learned Reese’s story – the stroke and illness that had her on bed rest for two years and almost took her life, and her fight to recover and return to making music. That someone who nearly died came back with an album as strong as this made the music all the more powerful. And No Dados is powerful. The songs here are packed with mean riffs, haymaker drumming and McHenry singing like a blues siren. Dare I say, it’s life affirming.

10. Strand of OaksEraserland

Timothy Showalter’s Strand of Oaks excels at taking alt. country and Americana formulas the dosing them with psychedelic influences and classic rock power to create sweeping and swirling songs that grow more infectious the more they seep into your being. On the excellent Eraserland, Showalter takes his sound even further with beautiful results. Opening single “Weird Ways” opens as an elegant, longing elegy and expands into a soaring anthem. “Hyperspace Blues” has hints of mod and classic punk in its propulsive beat, while the vocal melodies twist from powerfully emotive to spacey and distorted. “Moon Landing” struts with an 80’s Clash pomp, and “Ruby” is simply a perfect love song. Eraserland is adventurous, gorgeous and fantastically weird. Can’t wait to see what he does next.

Honorable Mentions:

11. Los CoastSamsara

Great blend of rock, soul and psychedelia out of Austin, TX. “Battles” is a rager, and “The Morning Weight” is a classic soul gem that Sam Cooke would have been envious of.

12. Karen O & Danger MouseLux Prima

Moody, haunting tunes from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ punk siren and the famed DJ/Producer.

13. Anderson .PaakVentura

Funk-infused rap that pushes boundaries while not leaving the party behind.

14. Vampire WeekendFather of the Bride

Indie rock heroes make a trippy R&B Grateful Dead album and it works for the majority of this double-LP. “Harmony Hall” is the song of the year.

15. The NationalI Am Easy to Find

Joined by an array of female co-vocalists, the normally brooding band finds some gorgeous lighter touches on their best album in years.

16. Catfish and the BottlemenThe Balance

British indie rockers write songs that open up and leave their mark the more you listen to them.

17. G FlipAbout Us

Australian drummer’s debut album is filled of simple, sad confessional bedroom pop songs that will take anyone back to their most vulnerable days in life.

18. Maggie RogersHeard it in a Past Life

Pharrell Williams-annoited viral star’s debut album shows off the excellent songwriting that impressed the rap/R&B tastemaker. “Light On” is the AAA answer to Robyn‘s “Dancing On My Own” and a hit in any decade.

19. Kishi BashiOmoiyari

Stunningly orchestrated, lush classical pop.

20. Better Oblivion Community CenterBetter Oblivion Community Center

Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers team up and write a whole slew of super-smart, clever folk rock songs that was tailor made to soundtrack hipster parties for years to come.


DarlingsideLook Up & Fly Away

Runner Up: Scott RuthTelephone

Top Songs of 2019: - Playlist available here

1. Vampire Weekend – Harmony Hall

The first track released from the indie rock stars’ double album Father of the Bride, and man was it harmonious perfection. Mellow acoustic guitars and saloon piano, perfect production and some of the most memorable lyrics of the band’s career (“Anger wants a voice, voices want to sing. Singers harmonize, until you can’t hear anything”). When the chorus comes in, with the gospelish harmonies and swirling melodies, you know you’re listening to something special. It’s a song that makes you feel good about the world on first listen. It sounded like nothing else Vampire Weekend had done before, but continues to make me excited for what they will do next.

2. Alex Lahey – Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

There’s so much to love about this song. The track’s narrative, a plea to a friend who overburdens themselves to be take it easy, was one I had never heard in a song before, and was clearly personal, but also hit a universal note any workaholic could relate to. Next, the track was incredibly catchy, with a bouncy hook that is pure sing-along goodness. And then there’s that SAX SOLO. It blares and buzzes and booms and makes a great song into one of the best songs of the year.

3. Dave Hause – The Ditch

The synthesis of heartland rock and punk isn’t something new, but it’s something Dave Hause has been mastering with each new album, and on Kick‘s “The Ditch”, he shows he’s perfected it. Singing a tale of trying to overcome struggle, or simply learning to live with it, it’s the perfect anthem for the underdog, and in a year when most Americans probably feel like an underdog, it’s the song we all need right now.

4. Ryan Bingham – Wolves

“Wolves” is a coming-of-age story given life through moving Americana. Bingham’s dusty, sorrowful vocals spin a tale of learning to stand up to the bullies in our lives, creating a musical paean for finding inner-strength. The acoustic guitars ring out crystal clear thanks to pristine production, creating an indelible atmosphere the brings the song to visual life in your mind. It’s a credit to Bingham’s songwriting that he can evoke such strong imagery through his craft, and leave an emotional mark that doesn’t fade.

5. Reese McHenry – Detroit

The term “barn-burner” was coined for songs like this. McHenry’s rails against a lover trying to get away from her in Detroit, and upon one listen you know she’s serious. An old-school garage rocker that bulldozes anything trying to get in it’s way, the track explodes with soul, with the band laying down a tight rhythm that helps propel McHenry’s wailing into the stratosphere.

6. Bad Religion – My Sanity

Despite being nearly forty years into their existence as a band, Bad Religion are still making punk rock that sounds as urgent and necessary as ever, and with “My Sanity”, they proved they can still churn out hard-hitting yet radio friendly rock ‘n roll as well as ever. It’s not hard to see where the song is coming from in these crazy times, but “My Sanity” is as much an ode to the music that keeps Bad Religion going as it is a commentary on the current state of our world.

7. Darlingside – Rodeo

There’s an otherworldly quality to Darlingside‘s music, with it’s exquisite, ethereal harmonizing. “Rodeo” uses these harmonizing moments to bring a nostalgic warmth to this movie folk ballad. The power of this song is its ability to reach in and pull out memories from the far corners of your brain as the lyrics roll out the kind of details that we leave behind in our youth. The track’s sadness is countered by a breathtaking hopefulness as our protagonist “pushes out the door to the front gate”, preparing to leave move forward in life.

8. The Rembrandts – How Far Would You Go

The band best known for the Friends theme song have not lost their ability to write power pop that brims with hooks and harmonies. “How Far Would You Go” is the kind of shamelessly romantic nugget that should be playing at the end of every romcom, as the hero races to make-up for whatever stupid mistake they made and try to win back their lover. It’s all heart, and if you don’t smile while listening to it, then you may not have one.

9. Strand of Oaks – Weird Ways

“Weird Ways” goes in so many strange directions that it’s hard to fully grasp it all on first listen. At times delicate and pining, at others a spacious and sprawling rocker, what grounds it is Timothy Showalter’s virtuoso ability to turn subtle melodic changes into gripping moments of thoughtful drama. As he sings “It’s a weird way to say goodbye” over and over in the chorus, he rings out heartbreak and longing from every note, while never turning the song saccharine. The psychedelic guitar solos also let the track revel in its weirdness.

10. The Glorious Sons – The Ongoing Speculation Into the Death of Rock and Roll

There is of course some irony in a band writing a kick-ass rock and roll song about…the death of rock and roll. And while I’m sure The Glorious Sons are aware of the irony, they simply sound like they are having a blast with this rollicking jam. A stadium-ready ode to the genre they love, and how it’s been commoditized to the point of being “a poster now, and nothing more”. At the end, we are all responsible for it’s death, but bands like The Glorious Sons are some of our best hopes for bringing it back to life.

11. The Killers – Land of the Free

The Vegas rockers release their most political and uplifting track to date.

12. Yungblud – 11 Minutes (feat. Halsey and Travis Barker)

A cinematic, melancholy slice of punk-styled musical drama.

13. Sam Fender – Hypersonic Missiles

A kinetic blast of high energy, with a chorus that explodes

14. J. Cole – Middle Child

The best rap song of the year. Cole’s thoughtful lyrics and sick flow show why he’s one of the greatest out there.

15. AJR – 100 Bad Days

AJR have proven themselves masters of the smart pop song with depth, and this one comes with a thoughtful outlook to boot.

16. Thoughts – No Heart

Part pop rock, part classic R&B, and all together a great piece of music.

17. The Comet is Coming – Summon the Fire

I dare anyone to listen to this jam and not dance uncontrollably.

18. The Raconteurs – Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying)

Starting off like a lost Lynyrd Skynyrd track, the song evolves into a head-banging ode to life that we all can use.

19. Kaiser Chiefs – People Know hot To Love One Another

The UK rockers find their inner Jackie Wilson with this anthemic paean to loving your fellow man.

20. The Menzingers – Strangers Forever

Inspired by Anna Karina, a poignant pop punk song for anyone left heartbroken and searching for a way to move forward.

21. Fang Fang – Hey Church

Catchy pub rock from this up-and-coming Philly band.

22. Spanish Love Songs – Losers

SLS have gotten the formula for sardonic, self-flagellating punk rock down perfectly.

23. The Strumbellas – Salvation

An instant, feel-good anthem from the Canadian folk rock troupe.

24. Bedouin Soundclash – Better Days

A song we should all be singing to ourselves to get through these dark times.

25. Lana Del Rey – Looking for America

Even after releasing her critically acclaimed album this year, Lana still found time to record this one-off, anti-gun single with Jack Antoff. And it’s a stunner.

26. Kishi Bashi – Summer of ’42

Epic orchestral pop from this accomplished violinist.

27. Avril Lavigne – Souvenir

Love her or hate her, there’s no denying Lavigne’s ability to write an Uber-catchy pop rock gem.

28. Steve Gunn – Vagabond

Gunn’s fantastic guitar playing elevates this drifting folk rock track into elegant stratospheres.

29. Mike Posner – Wide Open

Moving, open-hearted ballad with electronic touches.

30. Fitness – Yellowjackets

Clever indie rock that will have you singing out loud “I’ve been young since the day I was born”.

31. Blink-182 – Heaven

The pop-punk kings take a heavier turn in this tribute to the victims of the Thousand Oaks shooting.

32. Machine Gun Kelly – I Think I’m OKAY (feat. Yungblud and Travis Barker)

Yungblud proved himself a master collaborator this year, joining rapper Machine Gun Kelly for this bouncy pop-punk anthem.

33. DJ Shadow – Rocket Fuel (feat. De La Soul)

Shadow creates the best old-school rap jam in ages with help from some of the best in the game.

34. Bob Mould – Sunshine Rock

It’s all in the title – a shining blast of energetic guitars and soaring vocals.

35. Los Coast – The Morning Weight

Brooding and moving soul rock from this talented Austin band.

36. Matthew Ryan – On Our Death Day

Ryan’s lyrics are at another level here on this beautiful, spacious folk song.

37. Angels & Airwaves – Rebel Girl

Tom Delonge brought back his AvA band this year with one of the catchiest tracks he’s written in years.

38. Sara Bareilles – Fire

A song that blazes and burns with heartache and passion.

39. Broken Bells – Shelter

Quirky alt. pop that floats along like an elegiac dream.

40. Third Eye Blind – The Kids Are Coming (To Take You Down)

A power-house, pile driving rocker dedicated to Greta Thunberg and all the kids like her doing what it takes to save our world.

41. Rob Thomas – One Less Day (Dying Young)

Thomas manages to age gracefully and write a great song about appreciating growing old.

42. Tim Barry – Big Ships

This track is an emotional gut-punch through and through.

43. The Growlers – Who Loves the Scum?

Apocalyptic lyrics set to a cheery sing along

44. Illenium – Good Things Fall Apart (feat. Jon Bellion)

Captures the experience of an ending relationship with a delicate balance of acoustic guitars and dance beats.

45. Anderson .Paak – King James

A soul funk banger, straight up.

46. Jackie – New at Drugs

A cautionary tale of what happens when youth are sheltered too much, without the caution.

47. Davila 666 – Huesos Viejos

Puerto Rican punk that has the edge of Iggy and the verve of the Ramones.

48. Dessa – Grade School Games

Dessa’s songwriting is always on-point, melding rap and pop melodies to create perfect songs.

49. John Mayer – I Guess I Just Feel Like

Mayer gets thoughtful on this easy-going acoustic track.

50. Landfill Crew – Worldwide Warfare

If dance-hall punk wasn’t a thing before, this track from Tim Armstrong’s animated band makes it one.