Year in review:

Essential Listening

The hidden gems of 2019

Part Two ~

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words by tom johnson

We’ve never quite known how to approach the end-of-year cycle. As a site that has actively avoided larger releases in favour of seeking out the hidden gems of an alternative music realm, the ranking and competitive nature of this time of year has never cleanly fitted in with what we do. Now that we’re no longer a fully-functioning blog – we print these beautiful physical journals instead – it feels like less of a necessity than ever before.

We did, however, want to do something to ribbon-bow 2019, a year that saw us evolve fully into a magazine, finding new ways to document the artists, writers, and labels we love, and even scooping ‘Launch of the Year’ at last month’s Scottish Magazine Awards.

So here are some hidden gems for you. We figured you already know that Big Thief continue to be the best band in the world, and that the Lana album is, actually, really good indeed! So there’s no ranking, and no criteria; just a bunch of records we felt slipped under the radar somewhat. As always, we hope you find something new to cherish.

You can find Part One of our selections here.

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Joanna Sternberg
Then I Try Some More
(Team Love Records)

Weird and wired, curious and comfortable, Sternberg’s remarkable collection feels like a complex web of emotions laid out straightforwardly; the kind of incongruous leap into someone’s else’s world that lingers for long after. 

William Doyle
Your Wilderness Revisited
(Self-released)

Moving away from his East India Youth persona, William Doyle’s latest work is a resplendent folk-pop record that details the English suburbs he grew up in. Edged by several experimental flourishes, it might well be his most intriguing work yet.

Tiny Ruins
Olympic Girls
(Milk! Records / Marathon Artists / Ba Da Bing Records / Ursa Minor)

Hollie Fulbrook’s third full-length is her most confident display yet, holding a powerful love-spell in the magical songs found within. Equal parts light and shade, it finds the songwriter at the top of her game, endlessly evocative and fascinating. 

ings
Lullaby Rock
(Self-released)

Taking its title from her self-anointed genre, Lullaby Rock is a suitably subtle pop record full of self-examination, healing, growth – and, most importantly, some really lovely songs.

Living Hour
Softer Faces
(Kanine Records)

Part dream-pop opus, part dust-covered Winnipeg melodrama, Living Hour’s scintillating new record is their most fully-realised body of work; a shimmering and radiant next-step that finds the band exploring whole new worlds. 

motherbear
The Ghosts That Follow You
(Self-released)

Sarah Wahoff’s 2018 LP remains one of Bandcamp’s most precious DIY finds, and its follow-up is no-less alluring: like if Grouper found herself in a field of flowers rather than a river of fog. Very special, once again.

Black Belt Eagle Scout
At The Party With My Brown Friends
(Saddle Creek)

The second BBES album in twelve months, Party is both profoundly understated and remarkably atmospheric. Drawing strength from love and friendship, it trades the squalling guitars of KP’s previous for a new-found vulnerably that redefines her sound.

String Machine
Death of the Neon
(Earthwalk Collective)

Ah, where to start? Vivid, energetic, unhinged, powerful, beautiful, full of warmth, full of life… If you’ve ever been moved by American indie-rock then just go and listen immediately. 

Carla Del Forno
Look Up Sharp
(Kallista Records)

Breathy, exquisite electronic pop, Look Up Sharp is made even more fascinating by the undercurrent of darkness that gently fills the space around each of these ten enchanting songs. 

Thelma
The Only Thing
(Tiny Engines)

Overcoming severe health issues which saw her losing vital funding, Natasha Jacobs found a way to write, record, produce, and release this album on her own terms. The result is a uniquely skewed pop record that, in its most special moments, will simply take your breath away.

Claire Cronin
Big Dread Moon
(Orindal Records)

A trembling ode to Jason Molina’s meandering, dark-of-the-night ballads, Cronin’s latest work presents a sparse landscape that you’ll find yourself immediately lost in. Black, beautiful magic. 

Jessica Pratt
Quiet Signs
(Mexican Summer)

Perhaps lost in that early-year chapter that seemingly disappears in the blink of an eye, Quiet Signs is Pratt’s best work to-date; her vision clarified, her voice as breathtaking as ever before. 

Vagabon
Vagabon
(Nonesuch Records)

Swapping crunchy guitars for gleaming pop structures brought out the very best in Laetitia Tamko, and her self-titled album is a beautiful pop record full of complexity and mysterious longevity.

Hovvdy
Heavy Lifter
(Double Double Whammy)

There’s always been an undercurrent of poignant nostalgia running through Hovvdy’s music, and their dusty, lo-fi third full-length collection – shaped by their love of Sparklehorse – is another wonderfully affecting effort.

SHHE
SHHE
(One Little Indian)

A collaborator on various film, dance, and visual art performances, Su Shaw’s debut recording under her SHHE alias often takes on a soundtrack feel, perhaps to the dimly lit Scottish landscapes that surround her. Either way, this dark and brooding album is an absorbing discovery. 

Water From Your Eyes
Somebody Else’s Song
(Exploding In Sound)

Nate Amos and Rachel Brown have had their hands in numerous musical projects, but this might well be their greatest work thus far. It opens with a gentle acoustic strum followed by a sprawling nine-minute psych-pop beauty – and never once looks back. 

community college
comco
(Disposable America)

One of those rusty ‘n’ dusty snapshots of lo-fi American life that manages to paint a distince picture of its own without ever leaving the four faded walls it was created in. File alongside Duster, Hovvdy, et al.

Molly Sarlé
Karaoke Angel
(Partisan Records)

Karaoke Angel’s title-track is so resoundingly warm you could be forgiven for drifting off somewhere else entirely – and the Mountain Man singer’s debut solo effort remains one of 2019’s most illusory experience. Truly exquisite. 

Friendship
Dreamin’
(Orindal Records)

Another year, another collection of exquisitely sad country-rock songs from the mind of Dan Wriggins to split your day right down the middle. A band and a songwriter to truly treasure. 

Field Guides
This Is Just A Place
(Whatever’s Clever)

Taking a reconnection with nature as its narrative arc, Field Guides’ debut sits as one of the year’s most rewarding discoveries; a wholesome and beautiful indie rock record that will light you up and then swallow you whole. 

ahem
Try Again
(Forged Artifacts)

Because everyone needs a scuzzy, fuzzy, injection of reckless energy from time to time – and few did as well as ahem managed on their messy-as-heck debut. 10 songs, 26-minutes, absolutely infectious.

Bonniesongs
Energetic Mind
(Small Pond / Art As Catharsis)

The debut album from Bonnie Stewart has a beautifully patient feel to it, more than happy to take all the time it needs to wonder through the quietude; which only makes the occasional ripples of vitality even more alluring.

Shunkan
Cumberland Falls
(Self-released)

Previously releasing on the Art Is Hard label here in the UK, Marina Sakimoto’s second full-length effort is a bold piece of guitar pop which flips between the light and dark with effortless will.

German Error Message
Mend
(Self-released)

There’s always been a dream-like element to GEM’s music, and Mend is no different; a muddled world that falls away at the edges, never quite making sense, but also one that lingers long after. Muddy, subdued, and crushingly beautiful.

Field Mouse
Meaning
(Topshelf Records)

Meaning is a record that makes peace with our former selves and allows us to grow despite the entropy that surrounds us. It doesn’t provide answers for the chaos, instead offering eleven ruminations that look for an answer at a time when most of us feel lost. (Sammy Maine)

Common Holly
When I say to you Black Lightning
(Barsuk / Dalliance Recordings)

We were big champions of CH’s previous album, Playing House, and its follow-up is every bit as strange and beautiful, shifting its focus outwards to explore the many facets of human emotion through skittish and spirited guitar-pop.

Strange Ranger
Remembering The Rockets
(Tiny Engines)

Trading their scruffy punk edge for big sloppy pop hooks, Strange Ranger continued their somewhat flawless run of form on this endearingly hazy and colourful ode to 90s indie-pop. Quickly turning into one of the most vital guitar bands around. 

Old Amica
Taiga
(Whitelabelrecs)

The Swedish duo’s sixth album is also their second fully-instrumental offering. It began as a short-film soundtrack and you can certainly sense those roots in the cinematic beauty of this gentle, incredibly moving piece of magic.

Stolen Jars
A Reminder
(Self-released)

The Brooklyn quartet’s third LP treads a similar path to their previous two indie-rock records, layering melody upon melody and underpinning the whole thing with playful instrumentation that gives them a wholly distinctive character.

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