Trust in the Lifeforce: Best New Records from the First Third of 2019 (Updated 5/1 with Two Significant Add-Ons and Two Bye-Byes)

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I think I’m back to thinking this is a bit of a weak year. Or maybe I’m just saying that to see 2019 hit me back. It worked last time. Some recent observations:

*I’ve been following the huzzahs and hisses directed at Ms. Knowles’ live album. Not having always been vulnerable to her wiles, I understand both sides of the argument (as well as those on middle ground). But I know what I’m hearing, and I find very little not to love: the brass/marching band support (the arrangements make it all sound so easy, but it couldn’t have been), the tougher vocals (something I’ve always wanted from her and knew she could offer), the song selection (I’ve now been converted to tunes I’d tuned out on), the showcases (especially for Freedia! she was owed!), and, honestly, the educational content. It’s a tour de force, and it stands up without visuals, as outstanding as those must have been–I’ve yet to see anything but clips.

*I’d like to thank my friend Dan Weiss for forcefully suggesting I listen to Control Top’s furious Covert Contracts. I have many compadres who ask me, “Well, what about punk rock NOW?” That album’s an answer.

*Billie Eilish may tempt some who know me to wonder if I am bending over backwards to stay hip with the kid-crowd, but I’d argue her material isn’t exactly kid stuff. If you hung around humans her age as much as I do (I have no choice: I teach them), you might hear her record differently. The booga-booga cover pose is not entirely a joke–her generation is indeed dealing with stressors the hoarier among us might well have sidestepped, and it ain’t about how tough we are and they ain’t. And I hear that twining through the songs–along with some charming and funny backtalk and a mordant sense of humor that probably helps Eilish on more than just her music. One way I know she must be doing something right is that she defeats my resistance to “little baby voices” with sheer weirdness, chutzpah, and attitude.

*I recently raided Sublime Frequencies’ Bandcamp site after reading an article on the label in The New Yorker. Several of their more recent offerings are budget-priced, so I indulged myself, expecting really just to be educated about some international music I’d never heard before. Indonesia’s Senyawa’s 2018 album Sujud, however, did that and more, extended traditions of their country’s music into the realm of the self-consciously experimental. If that doesn’t sound like a strong bet, maybe it wasn’t–but they won it. I haven’t heard a more mesmerizing, unique album this year (by the way, I’m counting Sujud as a 2019 offering since, thanks to the above article, that’s when its impact is likely to be more substantial.

*Don’t you love it when a band that’s never done anything for you does something for you? I can’t put my finger on it–I think it’s the songwriting and dynamics–but Shovel & Ropes’ By Blood has me rockin’, and rooting for it.

*It’s too easy, very absurd, and not a little lazy to call Mdou Moctar “The Hendrix of the Sahara.” However, there is a reason he has two records in my Top 70 (!) so far.

And there’s also a reason why, last time, he was compared to Prince.

*LATE-BREAKING ADD-ON: I finally broke down after playing it more times than any other record this year and claimed A Day in the Life–Impressions of Pepper as a 2019 record; it was a 2018 RSD release, but saw an issue to the rest of humanity in December. The jazzer take on The Beatles’ inescapable album might sound like a must-to-avoid (I initially streamed it with some trepidation myself), but it’s quirkily catchy and inventive–plus the jazzers in question include Mary Halvorson, Makaya McCraven, and Shabaka Hutchings, not exactly the paint-by-numbers type and the latter two in the midst of a pretty substantial moment. But don’t trust me; sample it yourself. Also, I wrinkled my nose at LPX being compared to Robyn (and could she not name herself something less mechanical?), then I played her Junk of the Heart EP and felt quite a bit of joy. In fact, a lot of joy.

2019 New Release Honor Roll

  1. Little Simz: Grey Area
  2. Various Artists: A Day in the Life–Impressions of Pepper*
  3. Beyoncé: Homecoming
  4. Royal Trux: White Stuff
  5. Control Top: Covert Contracts
  6. Senyawa: Sujud*
  8. 2 Chainz: Rap or Go to the League
  9. Yugen Blakrok: Anima Mysterium
  10. James Brandon Lewis: An Unruly Manifesto
  11. Kel Assouf: Black Tenere
  12. The Comet is Coming: Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery
  13. Aesop Rock & TOBACCO: Malibu Ken
  14. Heroes are Gang Leaders: The Amiri Baraka Sessions
  15. Mdou Moctar: Ilana (The Creator)
  17. Quelle Chris: Guns
  18. Ben Lamar Gay: Confetti in the Sky Like Fireworks
  19. Tanya Tagaq: Toothsayer EP
  20. Various Artists: Weaponize Your Sound
  21. Lizzo: Cuz I Love You
  22. DKV and Joe McPhee: The Fire Each Time
  23. The New Orleans Dance Hall Quartet: Tricentennial Hall Dance 17. October
  24. Joachim Kuhn: Melodic Ornette Coleman—Piano Works XIII
  25. The Coathangers: The Devil You Know
  26. Angel-Ho: Death Becomes Her
  27. Usted Saami: God is Not a Terrorist
  28. Zeal & Ardor: Live in London
  29. LPX: Junk of the Heart (EP)
  30. Various Artists: Travailler, C’est Trop Dur–The Lyrical Legacy of Caesar Vincent
  31. Fennesz: Agora
  32. Salif Keita: Un autre blanc
  33. Robert Forster: Inferno
  34. Harriet Tubman: The Terror End of Beauty
  35. The Art Ensemble of Chicago: We Are On the Edge
  36. Ibibio Sound Machine: Doko Mien
  37. Solange: When I Get Home
  38. Joe McPhee / John Butcher: At the Hill of James Magee
  39. Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul
  40. Helado Negro: This is How You Smile
  41. Ahmed Ag Kaedy: Akaline Kidal
  42. Lost Bayou Ramblers: Rodents of Unusual Size (Soundtrack to the Motion Picture)
  43. Silkroad Assassins: State of Ruin
  44. Mekons: Deserted
  45. Que Vola: Que Vola
  46. Miguel: Te Lo Dije EP
  47. Kelsey Lu: Blood
  48. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Miri
  49. Hama: Houmeissa
  50. Steve Earle: Guy
  51. Mdou Moctar: Blue Stage Session
  52. Beth Gibbons with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Krzysztof Penderecki): Henryk Gorecki—Symphony #3 (Symphony of Sorrow Songs)
  53. Ill Considered: 5
  54. Leyla McCalla: Capitalist Blues
  55. Girls on Grass: Dirty Power
  56. Stella Donnelly: Beware of the Dogs
  57. Matthew Shipp Trio: Signature
  58. Weyes Blood: Titanic Rising
  59. Shovels & Rope: By Blood
  60. Angel Bat Dawid: The Oracle
  61. Better Oblivion Community Center: Better Oblivion Community Center
  62. Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez: Duologue
  63. Bad Bunny: X 100PRE
  64. The Clifford Thornton Memorial Quartet (featuring Joe McPhee): Sweet Oranges
  65. Our Native Daughters: Songs of Our Native Daughters
  66. Rosie Flores: A Simple Case of The Blues
  67. Wynton Marsalis: Bolden (Soundtrack to the Motion Picture)
  68. People Under the Stairs: Sincerely, The P
  69. CZARFACE & Ghostface Killah: Czarface Meets Ghostface
  70. Jenny Lewis: On the Line

*Technically, these are 2018 releases, but for now, I’m claiming their impact is being felt more strongly this year.

New Releases of Older Material

  1. Eric Dolphy: Musical Prophet
  2. Burnt Sugar: 20th Anniversary Mixtapes—Groiddest Schizznits, Vols. 1-3
  3. Various Artists: All the Young Droogs–60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks
  4. Various Artists: Rhapsody in Bronze
  5. Sir Shina Peters and His Internation Stars: Sewele
  6. Belton Richard: The Essential Cajun Music Collection, Volume 2

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