Across the Margin continues its rollout of the Best Albums of 2019 with albums 40 – 31…
Catch up with the countdown, Albums 50 — 41
40. King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard — Fishing For Fishies and Infest The Rats’ Nest
The prolific Australian rock outfit King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard’s output is so copious that we find ourselves in the rare position of simultaneously heralding two of their captivating 2019 releases. So be it. Not only are KGATLW unrelenting in their releases, but those products are often so different in character, that it seems difficult to comprehend they are born of the same source. In April of 2019, KGATLW released Fishing For Fishies, a rock album coursing with blues and a vibrant, boogie down spirit. Flipping the switch dramatically, just a few months later, August found KGATLW releasing Infest The Rats’ Nest, a true to form thrash metal album that hits hard as hell. What’s fascinating, and wholly admirable, is that both albums lyrically touch on relevant concerns regarding the environment and humankind’s treatment of the planet. Yup, you got that right, one of the world’s most exciting rock acts gives a fuck, and plainly speaking — both of the King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard’s albums released in 2019 emphatically deserve your attention.
39. Fruit Bats — Gold Past Life
Fruit Bats, Eric D. Johnson’s indie folk-rock outfit, released its eighth studio album this year, Gold Past Life, and it’s an absolute musical gem. Johnson has been crafting his art for some time now, and twenty years into his career seems an appropriate time to take stock of the journey. On the album’s opening track, “The Bottom of It” — whose groove is hey-day Bee Gees-esque (as is the subsequent “Gold Past Life”) — Johnson commences the album singing “Now that you’ve gotten to the autumn of / Your years and you feel your best yet / And you found a turkey feather and you hung it like an amulet.” From the onset, it’s clear we are in retrospective territory, and nostalgia is the name of the game on Gold Past Life. With superb production by famed producer Thom Monahan, track after track on the latest Fruit Bats album harkens back to a sound of yore. The familiarity across the albums eleven tracks is pleasant and comforting, spirited yet not time worn. Beyond the nostalgia, Gold Past Life is diverse as well, featuring ballads like “Barely Living Room,” synthy enchanters such as “Two Babies in Michagen,” and hypnotic dazzlers like “Cazadera,” which reminds us poignantly that “Sometimes a cloud…is just a cloud.”
38. Rapsody — Eve
Hands down, the most compelling and meaningful concept album we’ve come upon all year is North Carolina rapper Rapsody’s Eve. A ridiculously talented and dexterous MC, Rapsody utilizes her monstrous skill-set to craft what she describes as a “love letter to all black women.” The album’s title, Eve, is a reference to the Bible’s Book of Genesis, and it is employed here as a means of unifying all black womanhood. On Eve, each of the track’s is named after inspiring black women: artists, musicians, activists, athletes, models, and businesswomen. Celebrating black goddesses such as Nina Simone, Oprah Winfrey, Afeni Shakur, Serena Williams, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Michelle Obama (just to name a few), Eve is a mastersterstroke of black feminism, while at the same time another overt example of just how incredibly talented Rapsody is.
37. Lana Del Rey — Normal Fucking Rockwell
Trapped in a different time, yet painstakingly current, Lana Del Ray has always existed as something of a vibe. Or, more aptly reasoned, absolutely lost in one. Del Ray’s music has persistently sounded like fantastical escapism as she lives and sings in a sort of dream world. On her latest effort, Norman Fucking Rockwell, it appears that Del Ray’s inspiration is drawn from within, and from the current state of her mind. Throughout the album’s fourteen lush tracks, Del Ray deeply analyzes herself and her partners complicated, yet human, interactions with love and life. The credit for her deep introspection may be in part due to her co-writer for the entire album, musician Jack Antonoff1. A standout track on Norman Fucking Rockwell is “Love Song,” a song that makes you believe that true love still exists. The lyrics and effortless delivery paint a familiar picture of a love story with simple imagery and ideas that transport the mind to a place of vulnerable honesty: “Oh, be my once in a lifetime / Lyin’ on your chest in my party dress / I’m a fuckin’ mess, but I / Oh, thanks for the high life / Baby, it’s the best, passed the test and yes / Now I’m here with you, and I / Would like to think that you would stick around / You know that I’d just die to make you proud / The taste, the touch, the way we love / It all comes down to make the sound of our love song.” Del Ray presents hope simply on Norman Fucking Rockwell. She has moved slightly out of an impulsive state into one of wisdom and analysis. Norman Fucking Rockwell is her most compelling work to date, and a clear sign of growth for the phenomenally talented young musician.2
36. Sam Cohen — The Future’s Still Ringing in My Ears
New York based producer, singer and songwriter extraordinaire Sam Cowen can currently be found on tour both opening for, and playing with, renowned singer-songwriter Kevin Morby, whose stellar album (entitled Oh My God) Cohen produced. Remarkably, while crafting Morby’s album, Cowen — formerly of the indie rock bands Apollo Sunshine and Yellowbirds — gave birth to his own album entitled The Future’s Still Ringing in My Ears (co-produced by Danger Mouse). The album paints an unforgiving, and unfortunately convincing, picture of present day America, particularly in the magnificent song “Something’s Got a Hold On Me.” Throughout this psych rock, 60’s era-song, Cohen describes an America where the population is “too fat to riot” and the “future has been a terrific disappointment.” There is an all-together relatable exasperation that permeates the track, particularly when Cohen laments that “something’s got a hold on me, and it will not let go.” Listeners vexed and drained by the ongoing corruption and ineptitude that currently persists in America will feel a deep measure of pacification from the camaraderie and the soothing soundscapes of the song, and the greater album.
35. Aldous Harding — Designer
On her third studio record, a follow up to 2017’s wonderful Party, New Zealand singer-songwriter Aldous Harding crafts a work of art that is disarmingly pretty and entirely engrossing. Although much of the sonic aesthetic of the album is shaped via muted percussion and gentle guitar, Designer’s offerings are diverse and prone to moments of eruption and moxie. Undividedly, Harding is sort of an enigma, a talented wonder whose eccentricities incite curiosity, and we are still trying to figure her and her lyrical stylings out. Take for example a series of the lyrics from her infectious hit “The Barrel”: “It’s already dead / I know you have the dove / I’m not getting wet / Looks like a date is set / Show the ferret to the egg / I’m not getting led along”. Unsurprisingly fans, us included, discuss at length the odd and obscure lyrics and themes present in her work, and while that is part of the fun of Harding’s music, make no mistake about it — the music she crafts is deeply affecting, gorgeous, and her musical abilities persistently provoke awe.
34. Sunwatchers — Illegal Moves
The Brooklyn-based psych-rock band Sunwatchers crafted one of our favorite releases of 2019 with the album Illegal Moves. In their own words, “Illegal Moves is the band’s most potent blend yet; a heady potion of free-jazz, psychedelia, punk & noise rock that is both tender and ferocious; the perfect soundtrack to smash capitalism and fix our broken system through sonic catharsis and revolution.” The psychedelic adventure that is “Beautiful Crystals” acts as an ideal introduction to the band, featuring a driving and dynamic skronk-grooving number that emphatically highlights the power and talents of this exciting band.
33. Andrew Bird — My Finest Work Yet
Seasoned songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird’s presumptuously (and aptly!) titled latest album, My Finest Work Yet, is brimming with reactionary lyrics to the worriments of our modern times. By far his most political album to date, Bird — like so many artists in the Trump/Climate Crisis era — felt compelled to transform his frustrations into art, and the first single released from My Finest Work Yet, “Bloodless” embodies the triumphant result of this desire. “Bloodless” recounts what he sees as a bloodless civil war, where those in power are profiting from our worry and devisiveness, and where “the best have lost their convictions, while the worst keep sharpening their claws.” While My Finest Work Yet, and the weighty track that is “Bloodless” delve into despair, there is still so much hope and optimism abounding throughout the album, or as Bird explains, “we can turn this ship around, but need to step back and be honest with ourselves about what’s happening while it’s still relatively bloodless.”
32. Lambchop — This (is what I wanted to tell you)
Lambchop, Kurt Wagner’s illustrious alt-country (and increasing electronic) band, followed up 2016’s stunner of an album Flotus with another deeply personal and alluring album, This (is what I wanted to tell you). While Lambchop also encompasses famed bassist Matt Swanson and pianist Tony Crow, Lambchop’s albums persist as deep dives into the psyche and mind’s eye of Wagner. This (is what I wanted to tell you) pairs Wagner’s understated, sharp lyrical prowess with lush, dreamy soundscapes. “Everything For You” is a soothing jaunt where auto-tuned, pacifying vocals intermingle warmly with brisk, snappy percussion and delightful keyboards riffs, and it is just one of the delightful tracks found throughout another captivating and impressive Lambchop release.
31. Anderson .Paak — Ventura
Anderson .Paak excels when he is at his most soulful, and that is exactly the state of mind we find .Paak in on his latest album, Ventura. .Paak appears to draw inspiration from, and live in a similar pocket, as Yes Lawd!, the debut studio album by the neo soul duo NxWorries, which consisted of .Paak and producer Knxwledge. One stand out track on Ventura, that exemplifies this soulful mindset, is the Sonyae-assisted “Chosen One.” The song is as classic a love and lust song as you will find and it combines .Paak’s classic funky rhythms with an effortless transition into a string assisted rapped bridge section that is funky and dance-inducing. Like with “Chosen One,” .Paak perfectly picks featured collaborations throughout Ventura, tying its ideas and themes together perfectly. These include contributions from Smokey Robinson, Brandy, Andre 3000, and Lalah Hathaway on the stunning “Reachin’ 2 Much,” a track which benefits from a seamless soulful transition that is reminiscent of Motown-era bops. Hathaway’s tone layered with .Paak on the chorus is really just butter. The inherent funk of .Paak’s voice dramatically shines through in the context of a sound that is kept consistent throughout the entire project. ((Written by Miki Hellerbach.))
Up next, #’s 30 — 21!