Year in review:
The hidden gems of 2019
~ Part One ~
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.
Part 2 can be found here // A full Spotify playlist is here
Thank you for being here.
. . .
(Double Double Whammy)
Emily Sprague’s third album under her Florist title is her most beautiful yet; a delicate meditation on solitude that quietly takes the breath away.
Next To The Sun
A sumptuous, soulful pop record which more than holds its own against the choice contemporaries heralded everywhere else, Next To The Sun is a captivating capturing of Kaina’s unique artistry.
The Chicago-based singer, songwriter and poet remains something of an enigma in the UK but her latest record deserves to span the globe. A powerful snapshot delivered with breathtaking soul.
“I was only dreaming of something I left behind,” Ana Roxanne sings on ‘Immortality’, speaking softly over a warm bed of ambient fog that barely shifts. Taking that sentiment as its mantra, her untitled six-song collection is a truly spellbinding concoction of voice and sound.
Night of The Worm Moon
Usually found fronting surf rockers La Luz, Cleveland’s solo effort is a beguiling blend of vintage folky instrumentation and beautifully warm vocals that cast the most captivating spell.
Flickering between both folk and R&B, Hannah Cohen’s Welcome Home is both radiant and reflective, the kind of record that will have you pining for summer from tender first glimpse to its dazzling departure.
(Athens of the North)
Composed on the East coast of Scotland, you can practically feel the North Sea fog dripping off each corner of Andrew Wasylyk’s very special third album. A modern-classical masterpiece that weaves a most tender tale.
Set in the “woods, hospitals, and churches of Northeast Philadelphia” Nina Keith’s debut is a mesmerising ambient record based around field recordings and exquisite piano.
Perri’s latest collection features songs he’s been “playing around with for the better part of the last decade” – and it might well be his magnum opus. Beginning with a 16min composition, this is a hazy and brilliantly-detailed electropop masterpiece.
A beautifully autumnal treat, Ashley Rhodus’ latest record is as wistful and wandering as we’ve come to expect, each song like a small burst of sunshine appearing through trees (we couldn’t tell the size of).
(Domino Recording Co.)
A multi-instrumentalist who’s worked with Vagabon, Hand Habits, Wild Nothing and so much more, SASAMI’s solo debut is decidedly restrained, the laid-back compositions masking a darkness that crushingly reveals itself over time.
Four Of Arrows
(Double Double Whammy / Big Scary Monsters)
Leaping into introspection, Great Grandpa come-of-age on latest record Four Of Arrows, which allows as much space for soaring pop ballads as it does the emotionally intense rock’n’roll that remains their resounding forte. Right up there with the very best of them.
Days Like Pearls
(Dear Life Records)
One of those strange and quiet snapshots of American life that resonates with a deepness that can’t be logically explained, Days Like Pearls might well be 2019’s most elegant and engrossing secret.
The Big Freeze
Her fifth album in more than a decade of music-making, The Big Freeze wears its ageing as a badge of honour, tackling the big issues of life with Stevenson’s intensely passionate eye-for-detail.
Heather Woods Broderick
Heather’s most ambitious and fully-realised work to-date, Invitation was written in isolation on the Pacific Northwest coast and you can feel every gust of wind, every ounce of rain, in its earthy and invigorating compositions.
Never Not Never Not Never Not
(New Professor Music / Specialist Subject)
Balancing her wry words with a deep sense of warmth, Tucker’s woozy record is heartfelt and hefty, the sense of catharsis that underpins it pushing the feeling that it could fall apart at any given second.
Capturing the frenetic energy of their magnificent live shows was always going to be tough but What Life succeeds thanks to the quality of the songwriting that underpins their math-y, delightfully noisy guitar jams.
While My Father Sleeps
(Park The Van)
An Ode to Olivia Rose’s mother, who passed away in 2017, While My Father Sleeps is an emphatic and powerful capturing of emotions, equal parts gnarly and haunting; a spider’s web of emotional rock.
There are some voices that exist to be heard and absorbed, that resonate long after the last note is played. Such is the voice of Erin Durant who, on her debut album, sings with a lilt to charm the soul and warm the heart.
While his March-released collaboration with producer Kenny Segal won the plaudits, Woods’ icy and bleak later record is equally mesmerising, that gruff voice occasionally illuminated by inspired guest spots and production tics.
(Spirit House Records)
Taking its tile from the process of shedding old skin, Ecdysis is a suitably perilous journey, full of ghostly compositions that find a balance between ambient stillness and electronic pop explorations.
One might think there’s only so much mileage you can get from the instrumental-folk compositions of one man, but William Tyler continues to defy the odds, his latest record both moving and meticulous in equal measure.
(Ba Da Bing Records)
The follow-up to one of our favourite records of 2016, Emily Cross’ latest adventure is submerged in atmospheric layers, a swirl of white-noise pop within which whole new worlds can be discovered.
Though it consists of just 5 songs, Bofale’s Swim Team makes for a dazzling 25-minutes of music, the pick of which is ‘U Ouchea’ – a seven-minute wonder of exotic soundscapes and gorgeous vocals.
Mary Lattimore & Mac McCaughan
New Rain Duets
(Three Lobed Recordings)
Four chapters, forty-minutes of music, and every bit as hypnotic as we’ve come to expect, Lattimore’s collaboration with Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan was a fog-soaked collection of ambient improvisations to get truly lost in.
Part Two to follow…
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