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*
  7. Billie Eilish: WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
  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)
  16. Dave: PSYCHODRAMA
  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

My Favorite Rekkids of 2016, 75% of the Way Through Their (not really totally) Loathsome Year (BECAUSE of these rekkids, in part)

These are the recent records (most minted in this calendar year, some not quite) that I most whole-heartedly recommend to the musical adventurer. I’m starting to hate lists, but it’s a habit, and when one is dealing with annual ones, one must stay on top of them. If you peer back at my last list-post, you’ll probably see little change, so as a bonus, I am throwing in some additional offerings that I don’t quite so strongly recommend, but that may delight you and eventually grow on me. As for purchasing them, I assume you know how to use the Internet, but in a few case where the source (sometimes the artist himself) needs a boost, I may direct you. As much as it’s possible for me to deduce it, they are in order of, um, power.

  1. Beyoncé: Lemonade
  2. Saul Williams: Martyr Loser King
  3. Tyler Keith and The Apostles: Do It for Johnny
  4. The Paranoid Style: Rolling Disclosure
  5. Anderson Paak: Malibu
  6. J. D. Allen: Americana
  7. Anna Hogberg: Anna Hogberg Attack
  8. Meet Your Death: Meet Your Death
  9. Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial
  10. Blood Orange: Freetown Sound
  11. Rihanna: Anti
  12. Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book
  13. Elizabeth Cook: Exodus of Venus
  14. Joe McPhee and Paal Nilssen-Love: Candy
  15. Various Artists: Music of Morocco–Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959
  16. Bombino: Azel
  17. Pylon: Live
  18. The Drive-By Truckers: American Band
  19. Nots: Cosmetic
  20. M. I. A: Aim
  21. Wussy: Forever Sounds
  22. Parquet Courts: Human Performance
  23. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down: A Man Alive
  24. Pedrito Martinez: Habana Dreams
  25. Jemeel Moondoc and Hilliard Greene: Cosmic Nickolodeon
  26. Various Artists: Desconstrucao–A Portrait of Sao Paulo’s Music Scene
  27. Kel Assouf: Tikonen
  28. Yoni & Geti: Testarossa
  29. Aesop Rock: The Impossible Kid
  30. Mexrissey: No Manchester

THE BEST OF THE REST

[If the record’s bolded, it almost made or was previously in the Top 25; if it’s preceded by an asterisk (*), it barely made this list.]

Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman: Lice 2 (EP)

Angry Angles

*Bajakian, Aram: Music Inspired by the Film The Color of Pomegranates

Beatles: Live at the Hollywood Bowl

Booker, James: Bayou Maharajah (DVD)

Bowie, David: Blackstar

*Bradley, Charles: Changes

*Braxton, Anthony: 3 Compositions [EEMHM] 2011

Cavanaugh: Time and Materials (EP)

Childbirth: Women’s Rights

Dalek: Asphalt for Eden

De La Soul: …and the anonymous nobody

DeJohnette, Jack: In Movement

Del McCoury Band: Del and Woody

Dylan, Bob: Fallen Angels

Fulks, Robbie: Upland Stories

*Garbage: Strange Little Birds

Konono N1 Meets Batida

Kool and Kass: Barter 7

Iyer, Vijay, and Wadada Leo Smith: A Cosmic Rhythm in Each Stroke

Lamar, Kendrick: Untitled Unmastered

Lewis, Linda Gail: Heartache Highway

Lynn, Loretta: Full Circle

*Natural Child: Okey-Dokey

Neville, Aaron: Apache

Open Mike Eagle: Hella Personal Film Festival

Perfecto: You Can’t Run from the Rhythm

*Professor Longhair: Live in Chicago

Pusha T: Darkness Before Dawn

Reed, Blind Alfred: Appalachian Visionary

Rollins, Sonny: Holding Down the Stage–Road Shows, Volume Four

Smith, Dr. Lonnie: Evolution

*Stetson, Colin: Sorrow–A Reimagining of Gorecki’s Third Symphony

Threadgill, Henry (conductor): Old Locks and Irregular Verbs

Toussaint, Allen: American Tunes

Various Artists: Soul Sok Sega–Sega Sounds from Mauritius

Veloso, Caetano, and Gilberto Gil: Dois Amigos, Um Seculo de Musica–Multishow Live

White Lung: Paradise

Wills, Bob, and The Texas Playboys: Let’s Play, Boys–Rediscovered Songs from Bob Wills’ Personal Transcriptions

*Young Philadelphians (with Marc Ribot): Live in Tokyo

*Young Thug: Jeffrey

Ze, Tom: Vira Lata na Via Lactea

Good to My Earhole, May 12-19: “OK Men Now Let’s Get in Formation”

Highlights of my last week’s worth of listening (and I WAS listening), scored on a 10-point scale, with 7-and-(rounded) up qualifying for my huntin’ and peckin’:

Beyonce/LEMONADE (DVD) – 9.7 – Never much a fan–she seemed too bland outside of Destiny’s Child, and that ad she made while writhing in bills (as well as other shilling) kept plenty white capitalists laughing all the way to the bank–I had my ass royally kicked by “Formation” and moved it right into my class’ curriculum. Regardless of academic parsing to the contrary, though, the video’s THE thing. Besides imagery and scenarios and words that should rightly scare the shit out of men of all stripes who grip the methods of the past with white knuckles–and empower the heck out of women of all stripes–there’s more music in the visual version, too, as well as side talk, back talk, and clipped talk, which I should remind you is also music. Her canny spoken and hoarse patches signify, too, and make up for the (very minimal) sappy stuff.  Bonus: a Second Amendment-touting, cherchez l’homme country song with funky baritone blats!

Aretha Franklin/LADY SOUL – 9.5 – I feel moved to comment on this seeming no-brainer, as I imagine many of our passionate youth may be settling for comps and single downloads. The Queen’s first three on Atlantic are boss, and having re-attended to them while reading David Ritz’s scintillating bio RESPECT, this has become my favorite, end-to-end. Of course, there’s Ree’s voice and piano. But check the guitarists, too: Jimmy Johnson, Joe South, Eric Clapton, and a dude named Bobby Womack.

Jace Clayton/THE JULIUS EASTMAN MEMORY DEPOT – 9.0 – Jace may be known to you as djRupture; Julius Eastman may well be unknown to you, but I’d argue he was one of the greats of the Morton Feldman school of classical composition. I’m sure his lack of recognition has nothing to do with his being black and gay, but forget about that and enjoy two of his greatest compositions (“Crazy Nigger” and “Gay Guerilla”), played by virtuoso pianists, fed through Clayton’s computer, and lovingly and intriguingly effed with. Beauty in repetition–in this case, artfully disrupted by digital genius.

Peter Maxwell Davies (composer)/MISS DONNITHORNE’S MAGGOT b/w EIGHT SONGS FOR A MAD KING – 10.0 – I have to admit: I’m obsessed with Julius Eastman. How did I not read/hear about him ’til a quarter-century after he passed? Here, in the role of the deteriorating George III, he delivers a groundbreaking vocal performance that conveys the reality of mental illness while remaining, well, ART. That is not an easy trick. If you’re tired of clearing the room of unwelcome guests with Captain Beefheart or Peter Brotzmann records, check into this, friends. It holds up absorbed in tranquility, as well.

Tacocat/LOST TIME – 8.8 – These wisecrackers from Seattle realize the potential of lost garage rockers The Pleasure Seekers’ “What a Way to Die” (see also Suzi Quatro, Pinky Tuscadero), and, somewhat less impressively, bottle up the last 35 years of Lady Rock, shake it up, and let it fizz! Recommended to Beyonce in about two months: “Men Explain Things to Me.”

Jack DeJohnette/IN MOVEMENT – 8.8 – The auteur convenes the Coltrane Quartet Legacy–Ravi Coltrane on saxes, Matthew Garrison on bass and electronics–and lays down some tracks that tactfully and punctually rip through the gauze of Manfred Eicher’s trademark ECM production. They take on Ravi’s dad’s seemingly sacrosanct “Alabama” and survive by loosening it up. They crick your double-taking neck on Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “Serpentine Fire,” where Ravi conjures Dave Liebman (remember him?) and Matthew conjures Michael Henderson (remember him?). They go out on a “Soulful Ballad” that really is.

Various Artists/LETRA & MUSICA–A TRIBUTE TO BOB DYLAN – 6.95 – Tribute albums do usually suck, and this one outta Brazil usually does. The vocalists slavishly follow Dylan’s original melodies and intonations, and whoever told the artists that guitars are only to be acoustically strummed needs to find a new profession. BUT–it’s worth a mention for two songs that belong to the sub-canon of classic Dylan covers, as a result of the interpreters taking risks. Caetano Veloso, who knows from tear gas, water cannons, Molotov cocktails and rocks, turns “Jokerman” into an incantation, almost falling into ritual ululations at several points; Renato Russo switches up the pronouns and turns “If You See H[im], Say Hello” into a landmark of broken gay love.