2019 wrapped an amazing decade of music from rising stars and established vets. These ten indie albums found ways to creep into my headspace and endure throughout the year:
beabadoobee, Space Cadet (EP) – File this name under “Artists to Watch in 2020.” Filipino-British songwriter Beatrice Kristi Laus is magnificent. The garage rocker, aka beadbadoobees, sings with a longing that packs an emotional punch. Anchored by the dreamy titular song and “I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus,” beadbadoobee’s EP Space Cadet is a strong indicator of things to come.
Favorite Song: “I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus”
Tyler Ramsey, For The Morning – For The Morning is the first record from Tyler Ramsay since his departure from Band of Horses in 2019. The songwriter’s solo debut is filled with lush, contemplative pieces similar to Beck’s outstanding Morning Phase.
Favorite Song: “A Dream Of Home”
Another Sky, Life Was Coming Through The Blinds (EP) – The art rock band lays a beautiful bed of music to accentuate incredible singing from Catrin Vincent. The UK singer has a unique voice that sounds like little else. Their song “I Don’t Hate You” is a somber piece that takes your breath away. “Apple Tree” is a more upbeat song that serves as a terrific introduction to Another Sky’s unique sound.
Favorite Song: “Apple Tree”
Ian Noe, Between The Country – The songwriter’s descriptive tales bring to mind Jim Croce and James Taylor, albeit with a mid-western twang. Ian Noe vividly describes characters in Middle America. Between The Country is a musical Yoknapatawpha County. The decaying setting has meth heads, hard-partying mavens, and even a murder. The subject matter may not be pleasant, but the poetry in his lyrics makes these characters come alive with every listen.
Favorite Song: “Letter to Madeline”
Steve Gunn, The Unseen In Between – While the lyrics and arrangements enable the escapism in Gunn’s music, it is his ability as a guitarist that make time stand still. This is especially true midway through the record, where he shreds on the tracks “New Familiar” and “Lightning Field.” Both are capped with potent solos that are perfect complements to his mellow arrangements.
Favorite Song: “New Familiar”
Brittany Howard, Jaime – I am not the biggest Alabama Shakes fan, but Brittany Howard showed how she can be a creative force in her solo debut. Jaime pushes her prior sonic boundaries by blending hip-hop, pop, and funk. The experimentalism is best displayed in “13th Century Metal,” a swirling maelstrom of funk, chaos, and attitude that destroys any typecasting of her artistry.
Favorite Song: “Tomorrow”
The Black Keys, Let’s Rock – I enjoyed dissecting this record for my first-ever track-by-track analysis this summer. At the time it was a risky choice. Recent Black Keys albums followed a regular formula of pop and blues rock. Their first record in five years turned out to be an excellent choice. Granted, it is still twelve garage rock songs from the same two guys, but there is depth in this LP that features the best growth in their sound since Attack & Release.
Favorite Song: “Shine A Little Light”
Strand of Oaks, Eraserland – Philadelphia was a music hotbed in the 2010s. The City of Brotherly Love’s Strand of Oaks closed out 2019 with the masterpiece Eraserland. Timothy Showalter sings with tremendous clarity and conviction on this must-hear album. Americana star Jason Isbell was among the support personnel on this LP.
Favorite Song: “Moon Landing”
Michael Kiwanuka, Kiwanuka – Even when he sings with anguish or skepticism, there is a soothing quality to Michael Kiwanuka’s voice that turns his songs into instant classics. That evergreen quality seeps into the lyrics of his third album. “You Ain’t The Problem” repeats the phrase “Don’t hesitate. Time heals the pain.” In “I’ve Been Dazed” he sings “The Lord said to me – time is a healer. Love is the answer”
Kiwanuka is a timeless record that is relevant in 2019, but sounds like it could have dropped at any point over the last fifty years. His amazing blend of folk and soul music is intellectual and heartfelt. The songwriter’s third album is a transcendent experience on every listen.
Favorite Song: “I’ve Been Dazed”