I'm relatively terrible at keeping lists of what I've been listening to, which makes these kind of year-end lists more of a chore. Integrating last.fm scrobbles with my Spotify account automates some of the tracking, so looking back isn't as difficult. It's also nice to quantify just how much I was listening to certain songs and albums. Here's a short list of some of the things I liked the most (all albums released in 2019 unless otherwise noted):
Bon Iver - i,i
Bon Iver's self-titled remains one of my favorite albums. While I really liked some of the stylistic turns that 22, A Million took, it didn't have quite the same replay value. Individual tracks never stuck in my head the same way, and I felt like it was a record where I was going to listen to all of it or none of it.
i,i took some of the best elements from 22, A Million and melded those with the sounds of Bon Iver. Overall, I thought the back half of the album had some of the best songwriting Justin Vernon has done in years. Judging by the album credits, it was also a highly collaborative effort that illustrates the musical family he's helped foster over the years.
Against All Logic - 2012-2017 (2018)
This whole album was on loop for me for a while. All of the pacing is phenomenal, with grooves that rise and fall and just suck you in. It's hard to keep from nodding your head along to every track. Narrowing this down to a handful of highlight tracks was hard.
- "This Old House Is All I Have"
- "Know You"
Brittany Howard - Jaime
I've never listened to much from The Alabama Shakes, casually enjoying them when exposed but never feeling the urge to dive into their music. This initial solo effort from their leader, Brittany Howard, was different. After seeing that a few musicians I really admire, Nate Smith and Robert Glasper, were involved in the album, it was on my radar to check out. In a departure from the bluesy rock that defines The Alabama Shakes' sound, Jaime is a highly varied album with simple but effective songwriting and bunch of really catchy grooves. I liked the front half of the album more, but the whole thing is worth a listen.
- "History Repeats"
- "He Loves Me"
- "Short and Sweet"
Tortoise - TNT (1998)
Guitarist Jeff Parker released one of my favorite records a few years ago with The New Breed. Wanting to dive into some more of his music, I was familiar with Tortoise as a group he's been involved with for a while. While they've had quite a few releases over 30 years now, TNT seems to be regarded as their classic album. It took a couple listens, but I found repeated exposure to this album really rewarding. It's a unique type of post-rock, flavored with more jazz stylings that seemed to come from Parker's entry into the band (this was his first album with them), as well as the electronic influence heard in their earlier efforts.
- "The Equator"
SUN SPEAK - Moon Preach
Sun Speak is a Chicago duo that I've had the pleasure of catching multiple times in person. The smallness of the group is really emphasized by seeing just a guitar and drums on stage. Rather than shy away from that, Matt Gold and Nate Friedman really embrace maximum results from minimal components, creating sounds that are quietly intimate but still managing to have songs that feel larger. Many of the songs are given more heft with a foundation of loops and other synthesized sounds provided in a third voice by collaborator Dan Pierson.
- "Jagged Midnight"
- "Low Light"
Resavoir - Resavoir
I found this one late in the year, but really enjoyed it. It serves as a collective of sorts that includes a bunch of younger Chicago musicians I really like. Will Miller, the leader of the project, plays trumpet and keyboards in the band Whitney. The warm harmonies of that group's songs are reflected here, but with much more of a jazz/R&B slant.