Across the Margin carries on with its rollout of The Top 50 Albums of 2019 with albums 30 — 21…
30. Thom Yorke – Anima
Famed Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke’s latest solo effort Anima is a dystopian, emotional masterpiece. This is Yorke’s third solo release (following Eraser and Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes) and was produced by perpetual Radiohead collaborator Nigel Godrich. A companion 15-minute film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson was released by Netflix to coincide with Anima’s released and is well worth the watch. No stranger to melancholy or weighty, gut-wrenching themes, Yorke once again leans into his solo material in a personal manner, layering Anima with despondent ruminations on friendship, love, and loss. The album’s centerpiece, the jaw-droppingly beautiful, “Dawn Chorus,” speaks to regret and uncertainty, finding Yorke singing: ”If you could do it all again / Yeah, without a second thought / I don’t like leaving / The door shut / I think I missed something / But I’m not sure what.” What’s incredibly hard for us to get our head around is how an album can be so devastating and yet danceable at the same time, but therein lies the genius of Yorke and his seemingly endless capacity to both wow and inspire.
29. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds — Ghosteen
Ghosteen, the seventeenth (!!) full length release from the legendary Australian rockers Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds is as weighty as it is a thought-provoking album. Inspired and shaped in part by the accidental death of Nick Cave’s 15-year old son in 2015, Ghosteen is considered the third, and final, offering from a trilogy of albums that includes 2013’s Push the Sky Away and 2016’s Skeleton Tree. Further attempting to make sense of Cave’s tragic loss, the album finds the singer profoundly vulnerable and struggling with how to continue after so much hurt. However, unlike the Skeleton Key before it, where Cave fully confronts death, Ghosteen finds itself sprinkled with moments of hope and a vision of a time where he has reached a level of acceptance with his sons death. Music is powerful in many ways, and one of those is in its ability to provide healing and a means to accept that which is causing you hurt. This cathartic capability is well exemplified in Ghosteen, offering up a genuinely human piece of work all too relatable to anyone who is working their way through the pain of losing someone they deeply loved.
28. Bon Iver — i, i
The fourth full-length release for the Justin Vernon led band Bon Iver is a triumphant patchwork of layered textures and captivating soundscapes. Brimming with symbolism ((Song titles are cryptic sequences of letters and punctuation marks where the meaning is known only to Vernon and his band.)) and cryptic lyricism, i,i is somehow both spacious and flush with dazzling electronic flourishes. A complex and engaging piece of art, i,i features contributions from artists including James, Blake, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, BJ Burton, S. Carey, Aaron & Bryce Dessner, Phil Cook, Moses Sumney, Bruce Hornsby, and Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner. Vernon views Bon Iver’s four albums as if they were the four seasons, with For Emma, Forever Ago representing Winter, Bon Iver, Bon Iver expressing Spring, 22, A Million channeling Summer, and i,i leading us into Autumn. It is here, on this album, where Bon Iver labors successfully to modify and push forward their novel and uplifting soundscapes, and in doing so redefine the boundaries that confine indie rock and soulful art-pop.
27. Black Pumas — Black Pumas
The Black Pumas are a funk and soul duo based in Austin, Texas, consisting of singer Eric Burton and guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada. This year they not only released their terrific self-titled debut album, Black Pumas, but they also found themselves named Best New Band at the 2019 Austin Music Awards and nominated for a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. We are happy to report that the growing Black Pumas hype is real, and fully realized on Black Pumas. It’s a brilliantly produced album, rife with lush and funky soul soundscapes, and as fun to listen to as it is socially conscious and inspiring. While the sound of the album harkens back to the heyday of soul, Black Pumas is electric and alive with a fresh energy and a unique Latin influence that only serves to heighten the spirit and vibe of its songs ((Adrian Quesada played guitar in Grupo Fantasma, who won a Grammy for Best Latin Rock Album in 2011.)). Black Pumas is the sort of album where you can put on and just let the whole thing ride — there’s not an uninspiring track to be found — and its something we do here at Across The Margin time and time again.
26. Hiss Golden Messenger — Terms of Surrender
Hiss Golden Messenger, a folk rock band originating from Durham, North Carolina and led by the gifted musician M.C. Taylor, released their eleventh studio album this year entitled Terms of Surrender. Co-produced by Brad Cook (he’s produced and collaborated with Bon Iver and Kevin Morby and was formerly of the band Megafaun), and featuring assists from the talented Jenny Lewis and Aaron Dressner of The National, Terms of Surrender is running over with enticing roots-rock melodies and deeply affecting songs. Take the sprightly opening track “I Need A Teacher” for instance, a song inspired by teacher protests against cuts to education funding in North Carolina. Or indulge in “Happy Birthday, Baby,” a loving ode to Taylor’s five year old daughter that serves as an apology for “all those miles that I roam.” Or the albums concluding heartbreaker of a title track, “Terms of Surrender,” a song that cuts you right to the core with its honesty while concluding the album brilliantly. All of Taylor and Co.’s unique and remarkable musical stylings are on display in Terms of Surrender, and we can’t help but wonder at this point if Hiss Golden Messenger just keep getting better, or if this is just another impressive release from one of the most consistent acts in all of folk/ rock n’ roll.
25. Billie Eilish — When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Billie Eilish, the 17-year-old Los Angeles based pop singer-songwriter, took the music world by storm in 2019. Eilish’s potential has been evident for some time now, particularly in the form of 2017’s superbly crafted EP Don’t Smile At Me, but with the release of her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, that potential appears to be fully realized. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is a tremendously playful album, and there are youthful themes and a budding spirit throughout its dozen sings, but Eilish’s lyrical prowess and the varying soundscapes found on it are nothing short of expert and dazzling. Get used to hearing the name Billie Eilish, as this young phenom is as gifted as they come, possessing a skill set so adept that it ultimately proves you don’t need to know who Van Halen is to make a truly outstanding album.
24. Thee Oh Sees — Face Stabber
We here at Across The Margin remain in awe of the Los Angeles, California based rock outfit Thee Oh Sees. The Josh Dwyer led band isn’t only one of our favorite live acts, but their prolific album releases continue to amaze us. On their twenty-second studio album, 2019’s aptly entitled Face Stabber, there is a song we would like to point you towards as it serves to perfectly encapsulate Thee Oh Sees immense talents and their intense, driving and unrestrained sound. That song, the 21-minute “Henchlock” is an all-encompassing sonic journey exhibiting Dwyer’s remarkable guitar prowess and the greater bands evolution from their former garage rock sound. For years now, Thee Oh Sees have increasingly been upgrading their hypnotizing thrash rock with elements of psych rock and jazz. This sublime genre blending has finally reached a fevered pitch with Face Stabber, and has birthed unto us an album that plainly, and powerfully, exhibits the raw, authentic power of the mighty Thee Oh Sees.
23. Weyes Blood — Titanic Rising
The soaring, dreamlike soundscapes crafted on Weyes Blood’s (aka Natalie Merings) latest album Titanic Rising, the bands fourth studio release, are some of the most mesmerizing music we’ve come upon in 2019. Weyes has described the sound of the album as “The Kinks meet WWII or Bob Seger meets Enya,” which will give you an idea of just the sort of sonicaly unique beast we are dealing with here. Co-produced by Jonathan Rado (of Foxygen), the pairing employed Brian Eno’s “oblique strategies” to craft an album of lush aural environments that are as much inspired by the Beatles as they are modern bands such as Radiohead or LCD Soundsystem. The title of the album Titanic Rising is a nod to the sinking of the Titanic, drawing a parallel between that tragedy and the current concerns facing humankind with Climate Change and in the rise of the Technological Age. This comparison helps to illustrate the depth of the themes and lyrical content present on the album, yet Titanic Rising doesn’t come off as overly dark. Instead it wraps itself in an alluring, contextualized, and profoundly heartfelt sonic cloak.
22. DIIV — Deceiver
The latest release from Brooklyn based shoegaze aficionados DIIV is an edgy, blissful, and engrossing journey of an album. Heavier than DIIV’s prior two releases, and displaying a newfound musical bravado, Deceiver is inspired by lead singer Zachary Cole Smith’s recovery from drug addiction. Reinvigorated, and with a well-rounded zest for music and life, Smith unabashedly pours his heart and soul into Deceiver. Working with renowned producer Sonny Diperri (Nine Inch Nails, My Bloody Valentine, Protomartyr) to dial the albums sound in just right, DIIV have crafted a classic shoegaze album effortlessly blending elements of dream pop, post puk, and surf rock with the band’s signature sound. With a revised lineup ((Bassist Devin Ruben Perez was fired from the band for posted sexist, anti-Semitic, racist, and homophobic remarks online.)), the band sounds better than ever, and it is clear that Smith’s struggles, and newfound victory, has fashioned both he and the band as more impassioned than ever before.
21. Kevin Abstract — Arizona Baby
Kevin Abstract’s — founding member of the California-based rap collective Brockhampton (“the greatest boy band in the motherfucking world”) — latest album is entitled Arizona Baby, and it certainly has earned our attention. No track on the Jack Antonoff-produced album exhibits Abstract’s exuberance for love, his unapologetic homosexuality, and his boundless spirit quite like “Baby Boy” (featuring Ryan Beatty), a lo-fi ballad that is as beautiful as it is telling of the artist’s talents. Abstract is an excellent emcee, yet “Baby Boy” doesn’t find him rapping but rather crooning over a psychedelic soundscape that is both uplifting and overwhelmingly delightful to behold. The remaining offerings on Arizona Baby are assuredly diverse, and exhibit the range of musical talents that Abstract possess. The album seamlessly glides back and forth from smooth R & B to hard hitting rap and all the while Abstract presents himself as vulnerable, honest, and entirely forthcoming in a deeply personal way.
Up next, #’s 20 — 11!