MIYNT – ‘Stay On Your Mind’ (B3SCI Records)
I think if you’re a music fan, you always, out in the hazy spaces in your brain you’re only vaguely acquainted with, have a daydream of wandering into a cosy little record store and finding the perfect hidden gem of an album. An odd little record that your curiosity draws you into, before it blindsides you with how good it is and becomes one of your favourites. My hunch is that if someone comes across MIYNT‘s Stay On Your Mind in a record store in a few years, they’ll be able to tick that box. In an era when a lot of music is stripped down to parts, left only as the bare blocks needed to function, Stay On Your Mind is a record (technically it’s an EP, but it’s nine songs long, so whatever) that shows the value of obsessively and lovingly filling in and detailing every little touch. It’s a record where every drum tap and finger on guitar string is important in painting in the detail in the bigger picture. And that bigger picture is luxurious psychedelic rock, swaggering, shimmying and strutting across everything from show-stopping choruses on songs like The Idiot and Peaches to the lo-fi, simple, Strokes-At-Their-Most-I’ll-Try-Anything-Once-ism of Trial.
Like any good writer, her characters hold a little back, never quite stepping out of the shadows (and leaving us peering into the songs to learn more about them), but shining real and vivid in the glimpses we get of them. You can just take a line like “we’ve been walking side by side for a while” on Lucy In Disguise. If you can spin a story in a couple of words like that, nine words that convey a thousand, you’ve made a song that’ll resonate with people. And if you don’t have time to listen to the whole record, a least make sure you don’t sleep on the title track – Stay On Your Mind is a song that could make the stars hold their breath. And Stay On Your Mind is a record your 2019 would be poorer without. (Austin Maloney)
The Night Café – ‘0151’ (AWAL Recordings)
In the middle of my thirties I suddenly found myself saying such infamous quotes like ‘they don’t make music like this anymore’ and trust me – it scares me quite a bit. But on the bright side of things that can also work as a compliment, right? There’s something about the sound of Liverpool-based combo The Night Café that instantly clicked with me and I simply forgot to recommend it here due to a brief summer break. For me personally there’s a sense of old-fashioned beauty and nostalgia in their melody-driven indie-rock, something that reminds me of the heydays of the early 00s, I must say. From old Britpop heroes like Elbow and Doves, to the more melodic side of bands like Bloc Party and Maximo Park – 0151, the debut album of The Night Café is packed with plenty of reminiscences and ingredients of Britain’s long-lasting legacy of melody-driven guitar pop
Songs like Turn and Finders Keepers are carried by a warm honesty and this really rare talent for melody and composition. In-between the album the Brits experiment with electronic and slightly more psychedelic elements as well but are eager to keep the focus on the songs. You can literally sense how they enjoy playing together; how they love to compose new songs, even if that results in a slightly overloaded album (it contains 18 tracks although lots of them are interludes). Maybe that’s what I love most about this little indie music gem called 0151 – it represents the youthful hunger for adventure, one that isn’t as saturated and worldly-wise as I might sometimes appear. It’s a reminder of music’s energy and power and I really hope it reaches out to the young at heart out there as well. (Norman Fleischer)
Cat Clyde – ‘Hunter’s Trance’ (Cinematic Music Group)
Like the warm forest breeze it feels like, this album blew right past us. Cat Clyde’s sophomore record is building on the solid foundation of folky ballads and bluesy riffs but goes beyond the simplicity. The southern gothic vibe of ‘Bird Bone’ sets the tone for an emotional and soulful ride that Hunters Trance is. Over all, the singer’s achingly beautiful vocals form a silver lining. She croons and howls like an old soul diva, with the kind of richness in her voice that usually only comes with maturity. And she knows how to cherish the special ring with stripped back instrumentation.
Hunters Trance is digging at the core, pushing all the unnecessary musical gravel aside to get to the deeply rooted rawness that is inherent to the swinging of vocal chords and steely guitar strings. Equally earthy are the lyrical poems Cat Clyde sings. From bird bones, to rocks and stones, to the ever-flowing river, the LP feels like a stroll through a forest. ‘All the Black’ and ‘Not Like You’ are melancholic ballads, situated somewhere between soul and folk that tug right at the heartstrings. The noir-style soul is dripping of emotion embedded in the slow dragging guitar melody as Cat Clyde mourns ‘this may be killing us but at least it kills the pain’. (Liv Toerkell)
Fejká – ‘Reunion’ (Ki Records)
Right from the moment the fittingly titled Dawn opens this record you immediately sense that Brian Zajak’s alter ego Fejká is a protegé of Christian Löffler and its Ki Records label (which turned ten this year). You’ll sense familiar elements and a similar understanding of combining the worlds of ambient and techno but that doesn’t make Fejká‘s music a pure copycat of the famous Löffler formula. Instead, Reunion offers a more profound and more emotional approach to this musical understanding. Reunion became a quite reflective album, almost quite sad which is something you usually don’t connect with a dance record, right? There are great vocal moments on it thanks to Marie Angerer and Iceland’s Rökurró but Zajak also manages to transport this feeling of lonesome introspection during the instrumental majority of the record. Often the beats are slowed down and even when they are a bit more uptempo like on Olsen and Untold it still leans more towards a lonesome walk on the beach than an excessive club night in the big city.
It takes a few spins to understand that musical greatness because softer electronic music got this tendency to get overhead when you don’t pay attention. If you listen more carefully to Fejká‘s debut album you suddenly notice all the playful little elements, the musicality and gentle melodies that shine through every now and then. The young producer lets musical warm and emotional fragility lead the whole thing and that makes it so profound in the end. I think it might be even more fascinating to leave the techno foundation on future releases and see him fully drift into more abstract territory but that’s something to talk about in the future. For now, Reunion is a hidden treasure for all lovers of subtle and profound electronic music that clearly deserves a place in the spotlight. (Norman Fleischer)
Vivian Girls – ‘Memory’ (Polyvinyl Records)
This record came as a total surprise, but then again, it’s exactly how Cassie Ramone, Katy Goodman and Ali Koehler of Vivian Girls operate. They released three outstanding records between 2008 and 2011 full of dense and noisy lo-fi pop punk with melancholic and relatable lyrics, played some final shows in 2014 and then went their separate ways. But a lot has happened since then: The three women kept making music (alone and in different bands), two of them became mothers and all of them moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.
Memory, secretly recorded in 2018, captures the band looking back, but not on peaceful and happy times: In the late 00’s, the internet was not just useful to build a fanbase around the world, it also enabled people to write sexist and hateful comments anonymously, and Vivian Girls became their target. Memory seems to be inspired by these experiences, filled up with heartbreak and loneliness. Together with a rather unchanged sound, the record nevertheless radiates strength and hope: It’s like a triumphal ‘fuck you’ to those who underappreciated this band, or ‘everything that came before is just an empty shell’. (Jessi Schmitte)
Purple Mountains – ‘Purple Mountains’ (Drag City)
David Berman, the former head of Silver Jews, spent his entire 40s rarely leaving the house, barely doing more than reading and sleeping. If it’d been any other artist, I would’ve been suspicious towards those kind of press infos. Not with Berman. For everyone not familiar with his work yet: Silver Jews were the epitome of brilliant, literate, freak americana solitude – a legend for the outsider music scene in America. In 2009, Berman decided to end all that. He quit music alltogether and celebrated his retreat as relentlessly as he created his music before. The reason for him to pick up the guitar again was the death of his mother. And it culminated in one of the essential tracks of this comeback record as Purple Mountains: I Loved Being My Mother’s Son. A sparse but still pars-pro-toto-track for Purple Mountains. Backed by indie rock band Woods, Berman crafted some of his best songs ever on this record and imprinted them with a new-found wisdom of the finite.
David Berman died by suicide only a month after Purple Mountains was released and it’s actually pretty devastating, that he had to remember us first how much he and his music will be missed. But then again, it feels appropriate for the way Berman approached his artistic life with. His songs have always been stubborn, sardonic observations of his own complicated depression and the havoc it wreaked regarding his relationships. Purple Mountains develops that. At the heart of it: I Loved Being My Mother’s Son: A crushing statement of helplessness in light of death. Apart from all the witty, tattoable one-liners (if no one’s fond of fucking me, maybe no one’s fucking fond of me – a line that mirrors the dialectics of 2008s My Pillow is The Threshold: first life takes time than time takes life), Purple Mountains is Berman at his most vulnerable and can’t be unread as a final statement now that he’s dead. „When the dying’s finally done and the suffering subsides/All the suffering gets done by the ones we leave behind“. But, and that’s the last lines David Berman gifted us: „I’ll put my dreams high on a shelf/I’ll have to learn to like myself/Maybe I’m the only one for me/on holidays“. It is that time of the year to reflect on that. Putting on Purple Mountains once in a while might help learning. (Henning Grabow)
MIRÉLE – ‘Renaissance’ (Self-Released)
Even if the idea was always there to pay tribute to a Mirèle album on this list, she didn’t make it easy for us by dropping another one just last week with КОКОН. Adding in Люболь, released at the tail end of 2018, that brings her up to three albums (and an EP) in just over a year. That in itself gives you an idea of the creative speed-running and operational freedom of the Russian independent scene she comes from, releasing music whenever feels right and with YouTube, VK and Instagram as the dominant distribution channels, rather than Spotify’s Imperial Dullness. But it was Renaissance, released this spring, that we spoke to her about earlier this year, and that’s the album we focus on here.
Renaissance is a bedroom pop album in a way, made up of computer-recorded, pretty simply-written songs that you could probably do a pretty good job of performing live with just a keyboard if you had to. But that’s by no means a negative, because she knows how to make that set-up work. Instead of drifting into sameness, the songs on the album span a wide stylistic range, kicking off with the dark and heavy Во Сне, spinning through the more frantic, restless pop of Если бы Любовь and wrapping up with the stargazing, dreamy сказка. Instead of that simple, bedroom pop sound being a sign of her finding a formula that works and repeating it to death, she instead uses it as a launch point to reach out and explore the different shapes that sound can take. And at the end of the day, a pop album lives and dies by the strength of its songs, and Renaissance is full of them, sharp, strong songs that hit where it matters. (Austin Maloney)
Money For Rope – ‘Picture Us’ (Haldern Pop Recordings)
I cannot believe that this record did not make it into our five recommendations. The psych-tinged garage rock by Money For Rope is right up my alley – and not only because the opening track of Picture Us sounds like the younger sibling of The Doors’ epic ‘The End’. ‘Hold’ might not be the song I would have chosen to open the LP because it feels more like a noisily melancholic show-closing track, however the ‘Actually’ seems the perfect single to set the tone for the following journey. ‘Have you ever slept this close to a killer?’ lead singer Jules McKenzie snarls with a mean grin before the untamed guitars crash down. It conveys the band’s signature wild and careless attitude towards songwriting (and their listener’s eardrums). ‘Earl Grey’ is built on the mellower side of the river, while ‘Stretched my Neck’ beats down with more heavy guitar riffs.‘Trashtown’s ironically light mood and groovy riff reminds like something born by the Californian Coast line mid-sixties.
The fuzzy haze that draws itself through Picture Us should come as no surprise considering the band’s base in seaside town, Melbourne. While the instrumentation is beautifully noisy and untamed, the vocals form the epicenter of the compositions. Punchy lyrics and punky snarls remind of The Talking Head’s David Bryne and we all know they go just too well with groovy instrumentation. The closing track might come as a surprise to many. Only voice and guitar it almost sounds like an intimate campfire setting with friends. Somewhere strolling along the beach that connects the present with the past are where Money For Rope’s winds blow from. (Liv Toerkell)
Martha – ‘Love Keeps Kicking’ (Dirtnap Records)
In 2016, County Durham’s Martha found themselves on several end-of-year lists and even mainstream radio airtime thanks to their second album Blisters in the Pit of My Heart. Not bad going for a DIY pop-punk band from a tiny village (Pity Me) in the North-East of England. They had previously shown their ability to write a ridiculously catchy hook on their debut Courting Strong (2014), proving that the quartet appeared to go from strength to strength. However, critical and popular opinion seemed to cool on Martha for their third album Love Keeps Kicking despite being arguably their strongest set of songs to date. Perhaps it was the album’s delayed release after producer Matthew ‘MJ’ Johnson of Hookworms allegations offered a tough decision or possibly that Martha‘s heart on sleeve earnestness can only offer so much to music critics for so long but the album has somewhat disappeared from much end of year fanfare.
Regardless, Love Keeps Kicking is a brilliant reflection on the break-up album, offered from four distinct voices. As there is no designated front person, the foursome of J.C. Cairns (guitar/vocals), Daniel Ellis (guitar/vocals), Naomi Griffin (bass/vocals), and Nathan Stephens-Griffin (drums/vocals) have displayed once again what talented songwriters and effective songwriters they are. Tracks such as Into This or the devastating Orange Juice are daggers to the heart while The Void is a brilliant slice of constantly moving post-punk. Its straightforward punk rock music, but when its this brilliantly conceived, its impossible to ignore. (Adam Turner-Heffer)
HTRK – ‘Venus in Leo’ (Ghostly International)
Within each of their records, the Australian duo creates a universe of its own. It has always been hard to pinpoint a word that describes the sound of Jonnine Standish and Nigel Yang without losing their mysterious charm. Their fourth album Venus in Leo was inspired by the Melbourne indie scene and shows the duo in a better state of mind than 2014’s Psychic 9-5 Club, which was heavily marked by the suicide of original band member Sean Stewart. On Venus in Leo, HTRK approach the topics of our digitalized society. The lyrics focus on longing, intimacy and failed love within the age of social media. Similar to its predecessor, the interplay between Standish’s unique vocals and Yang’s guitar play is unlike any other electronic/ indie duo.
There’s a certain level of intimacy and warmth delivered in both lyrics and melody, that will draw the listener into the world of this album immediately. The duo discovers its underground rock past on the nine tracks of the album, delicately mixing electronic productions with post-punk references. Even though you can sense a certain degree of romantic denial and shattered hopes, there’s a bit of hope peeping out of the overall melancholic atmosphere that lies within the tracks. In a wonderful and decelerated manner, Venus In Leo explores the abysses of desire, obsession and intimacy. (Louisa Zimmer)
Antil Lilly & Phonics – ‘That’s The World’ (Don’t Sleep Records)
The first time I came across this infamous duo was in 2014 when they released Stories from the Brass Section. Five years later, That’s The World is the second album (after It’s Nice Outside in 2017) which came out on Don’t Sleep Records and one can hear the artist’s growth clearly. Anti Lilly’s laidback rhymes delivering life’s truths combined with Phonics’ jazzy beats and production skills became something I keep going back to, whatever mood I am in. The songs on That’s The World are an ocean that washes over you with reflection, reconsideration, optimism and healing each time listening to it. On the key track The Fall, the Texan rapper contemplates on the concept of pride, its benefits, disadvantages and consequences with a rhythm section making the whole body sway. The main reason why Anti Lilly is one to look out for, is because his lyrics manage to weave his personal experience of being black, being an artist, being a lover into a greater narrative we are all part of while sounding equally relatable and aloof. The album carries an element of pretence for acceptance’s sake – pretending to stand above the challenge to deal with its reality and eventually to be able to move on – which to me is something achingly human. “That’s the world” became a better way of saying “it is what it is” and this album teaches when it is best to fight and when it is best to embrace the circumstances determining our experiences. (Anna-Katharina Stich)
Wet Dream – ‘Future Nostalgic’ (Self-Released)
Sometimes a title says it all; like Wet Dream’s Future Nostalgic. That is literally what the Portland-based trio’s debut LP sounds like. With one foot ahead, using contemporary and futuristic sounding electronic elements and the other one behind, lingering in sonic nostalgia for early electronic music, the record unites these two elements. The lush opener See Foam Run is followed by the danceable electronic beat of Fey. The partly whispered vocals, a smooth blend of the male and the female voice, create a dreamy new wave pop dynamic and contrast the experimental synth lines underneath like stark red on a blurry background. Suspended on the other hand comes with somewhat of a bendy krautrock attitude and pulsating synths. Between euphoric pop and intimate electronica, Wet Dream show off a wide palate of emotions. Fusing the future with the past in the present has never sounded this effortless. Exploring ethereal terrain with the vocals on the title track, the punchy beat and the shimmering synth form a fitting opposite dimension. They work with so many elements we have heard before yet, Wet Dream still manage to create something of their own. Future Nostalgic sounds like their very own fantasy; at times a glitchy dream, at times a crystal clear memory of the past, at times a vision of what the future might sound like. (Liv Toerkell)