These are a few of my favorite things in 2019
2019 may not have some of the stellar releases of the last decade but there was lots of good stuff (as always thanks to the best record store in the world, Piccadilly Records in Manchester, for keeping my ears and mind open).
Bubbling under my top 10 were albums that my daughter Esme got me into (say hello Billie Eilish, girlinred and Clairo), great debuts (Stella Donnelly, Steve Lacy, Sofia Bolt), fantastic returns (Fujiya and Miyagi, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Lana del Ray, Bill Callahan), brilliant, simple rock records (Summer Cannibals, Steve Mason) and some fantastic bits of sonic experimentation (BABii, Pye Corner Audio). But I guess you have to make choices so here’s my top 10 based on the ones I keep coming back to the most:
10. Spellling, Mazy Fly
Great music often lies in tension, in this case between unsettling, sparse soundscapes and the most beautiful, soulful voice.
9. Moon Duo, Stars Are The Light
Their most consistent album so far with a sound that collides 70s disco with Krautrock.
8. Murray A. Lightburn, Hear Me Out
Always been a huge fan of Murray’s band The Dears but I think this album is his best set of songs yet. Stunning songs with beautiful, rich arrangements.
7. Black Marble, Bigger Than Life
The sound of warm machines and the best bits of 80s synthpop.
6. Orville Peck, Pony
It’s lazy but he’s Roy Orbison for a new generation. Fantastic set of songs and that voice…
5. Little Simz, GREY Area
I’m not a big rap fan but fell in love with this album, its storytelling and its production.
4. Wand, Laughing Matter
As their promotional album put it, “a record about love in a time of terror”. One of the best and most surprising discoveries I made this year.
3. Fontaines D.C., Dogrel
The best debut album in a long time. Not one bad track, you can smell the confidence from the first line (“Dublin in the rain is mine”) and somehow they are even better live.
2. Purple Mountains, Purple Mountains
This isn’t here because of the tragic suicide of David Berman months after the album’s release. It’s here because it’s the best record he’s ever made. Not one wasted line and somehow makes the juxtaposition of lyrical sadness with musical sunshine work. The best storytelling of the year. Wish we got the chance to see it live, to see what came next and for DCB to see how much people loved what he made.
1. Angel Olsen, All Mirrors
Ambitious, bold and beautiful. The songs are brilliant but what took this to the top for me was the impact of Ben Babbitt and Jherek Bischoff on the arrangements and the amazing production work of John Congleton.
There’s a playlist below of these albums followed by the others I liked this year in chronological order— it’s long as I’ve included full albums. Also in the playlist are a couple of other things between the top ten and the rest:
Song of The Year
Clairo’s ‘Bags’ is about as perfect as a pop song gets.
My Ears in 2019, a playlist by Gareth Kay on Spotify
There have been some great shows this year but three stand out fro the rest:
Fontaines D.C. opening for IDLES and realizing not only were they were better live than on record but they had a lead singer that combines the presence of Ian Curtis and Liam Gallagher.
The brilliant Conversations with Nick Cave where we were treated to solo piano versions of some of his classics but more revealingly saw what a remarkable, empathetic and funny human being he is.
Finally, Spiritualized at the Masonic was just jawdropping. Modern day symphonies.
I’ve found myself listening to them more and more. Regularly listening to Pivot with Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway, the Guardian Football Weekly, the NYT Daily and Rick Webb’s The Webb Chatham Report. Really enjoyed some one off series this year including The Dropout (about Theranos), Bag Man, Dolly Parton’s America and How Did This Get Made?
I’ve always been reticent to publish the year’s favorites until the end of the year despite a tendency for the best of lists to start dropping after Thanksgiving. This year if you had done that you would have missed three of the best films of the year that came out in the last week of the year. Here’s what I liked the most this year:
One of the funniest, most honest films about growing up you’ll ever see. Fantastic screenplay and direction that should have got a lot more attention.
9. Knives Out
A stellar cast give a new spin on the classic whodunnit formula.
8. Uncut Gems
Never felt so stressed watching a movie. It’s really polarized people and I think this is because none of the characters are really likable. The best thing the Safdies have made yet and Adam Sandler is fantastic.
7. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Tarantino back to his early movie best. Cracking dialog and brilliant performances.
6. Gay Chorus Deep South
I may well be biased (the director is a friend) but this is just the most lovely story of how SF Gay Men’s Chorus tried to build bridges in the South following the 2016 election and some of the battles individual members faced. It’s a film full of hope.
5. Marriage Story
A lesson in the danger of the use of lawyers. Brilliant performances by Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver and Laura Dern.
4. JoJo Rabbit
A very funny satire about nationalism greatly needed for today’s times.
One of the most immersive films I’ve ever seen. The direction, photography and acting are outstanding as is the story about the futility and mundanity of war and the bravery of those willing to fight for their beliefs. It may well be one of the best adverts for peace ever made.
2. Little Women
What a brilliant retelling of Little Women that combines the story with the story behind the story. It’s a great cast giving great performances (Meryl Streep and Timothee Chalamet are stupendous) but the real magic comes from Greta Gerwig’s screenplay and direction. It is jaw dropping this has not got more pickup from the award shows so far or is it sadly a case of life imitating art?
Thriller meets fairy tale meets pitch black comedy. Totally unique, wonderfully thought provoking and an absolute joy to watch.
I’m not going to do a list for TV as I have yet to finish Watchmen or Succession which I feel will be somewhere near the top of the list. But really enjoyed Fleabag, Killing Eve, Chernobyl, Line Of Duty, Years and Years, Russian Doll, Euphoria, Googlebox and Jeremy Deller’s brilliant Everybody in the Place: An Incomplete History of Britain
I was aiming to read a book a week this year and fell a dozen short. Here are the top 10 highlights:
Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Wonderfully written and very funny but its power hits 2/3 of the way in as the rug is pulled and the story confronts unconscious bias and whether we really have empathy for others, even the ones we love.
Supper Club by Lara Williams
Her first novel and its a smart, funny and provocative take on social norms.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
The complexities of friendship.
Nothing To See Here by Kevin Wilson
A story about relationships built around two twins that spontaneously combust when agitated.
The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
The class of ’97 and the seeds are sown for the conditions that allow the new right to flourish.
Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
A novel in verse about identity and the power of drag.
Record Play Pause: Confessions of a Post-Punk Percussionist (Vol. 1: The Joy Division Years) by Stephen Morris
Not only the best of any of the autobiographies from the members of New Order but one of the best books on falling into music or growing up in the North. Goes as far as the end of Joy Division and cannot wait for volume 2.
The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells
If it were speculative fiction this book would be frightening. Given its fact it’s horrifying. An absolute must read to understand the sheer scale of the climate emergency we face.
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino
Fantastic collection of essays that read like the collision of Black Mirror and Joan Didion.
Good Economics For Hard Times: Better Answers To Our Biggest Problems by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo
The human side of economics from the Nobel prize winners suggests a new direction for policy based on compassion and respect to solve the looming challenges we face today and tomorrow. It’s an attempt to really answer the problems that nationalism is feeding on.
Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe
The Troubles as personal, not cultural, history.
ONE MORE THING…those end of the decade lists
There’s been more of these than ever in circulation this year and most unsurprisingly cover good ground. But I feel I need to address some glaring omissions…
On the music top 100s, where on earth are:
And why is Kill For Love by The Chromatics not residing near the top?
On the books list, most seem to have missed one of the great oral histories: Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me In The Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001–2011
It’s been a weird year but there are good things ^^^.
Let’s make 2020 better.
Remember it’s chaos. Be kind.