Categories
Vinyl

Vinyl love: Julien Baker “Little oblivions”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Julien Baker
Album Title: Little oblivions
Year released: 2021
Details: Limited edition, Indies only, embossed cover, yellow, lyrics book

The skinny: Much like Goat Girl’s “On all fours”, Julien Baker’s “Little oblivions” was purchased for my vinyl collection very early on in 2021. However, where that record was sourced from a shop outside of the country, this one was found at one of my local record shops: Ottawa’s The Record Center, to be exact. The Record Center was one of many ‘analog’ brick and mortar shops whose hand was forced to go ‘digital’ and create a larger online presence with the COVID-19 pandemic. Their online webshop is not all encompassing but I’ve landed a few great finds while doing a virtual dig on their site and my 7th favourite album of 2021 was one of them. Baker’s third studio album finds the singer/songwriter embracing a full band sound, adding more strength and structure to the talented lyricist and vocalist’s pallette. It’s beautiful stuff and along with the excellent package and lyrics booklet (complete with scribblings and doodles)*, my copy is of the ‘indies only’ yellow variant ilk.

Standout track: “Hardline”

*I wish more artists invested as much time and effort in their inserted booklets as Julien Baker has done here. Fun to explore and examine while spinning the record.

Categories
Albums

Best albums of 2021: Part one (#10 to #6)

So here we are, just a couple of days before Christmas, and I’m just getting started on my end of year festivities now.

Normally, I do this huge production that starts mid-November and lasts six weeks, all this in counting down my ten favourite albums of the year. I typically start with an introductory post of albums ten through six and then give each of my top five their own post, wrapping everything up just in time for the new year. However, I didn’t have the energy and drive this year. I had even briefly thought about skipping the whole idea but in the end, opted for a more stripped back affair: a two-part-er, splitting the list of ten between the two posts.

Now before I get down to it, I thought I’d point out a trend I noticed while compiling this list. As opposed to last year, where many of the albums I chose as favourites were those by old reliables of this curmudgeonly blogger and in many cases, the albums were the first by said artists in many years, reunion and comeback albums of sorts, this year’s list, instead, is literally full of surprises. To an album, each on the list for 2021 is by an artist that I either never expected to appear somewhere in one of my top albums lists or of whom I had either never heard or even heard tell. This is not to say that none of my old favourites released new material this year. Indeed, many did and many came close to appearing here and will likely get their due when I pass along some of my honourable mentions in part two of this series. It just so happened that there was so much exciting, creative, and inspiring new music being conceived in these wild times and I was drawn to the freshness of the releases below.

But I’ll stop my blathering there and start into the first five of my ten favourites for 2021. As always, I welcome hearing your thoughts on my picks, as well as your own favourites from the year, and would love if you could leave them the comments section below.

Here we go…


#10 Middle Kids “Today we’re the greatest”

“Lost friends”, the debut album by Sydney, Australia’s Middle Kids, was my fifth favourite album back in 2018, drawing me in with its twelve delicious, hook-laden alt-rockers. In the three years since its release, the trio of Hannah Joy, Tim Fitz, and Harry Day toured like crazy, right up to the point when they couldn’t anymore, what with COVID-19 putting a stop to touring, travel, and live shows. They are now quite popular and successful in their home country and this year, their sophomore record, “Today we’re the greatest”, has won the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Award) for best rock album over both AC/DC and Midnight Oil, much to the surprise and delight of the band. Although I didn’t hesitate to pre-order the record for my collection, I fully expected to be disappointed given how much I loved the debut. And yet… I wasn’t… not at all. It didn’t necessarily rock as hard but the hooks were still there and so was the honesty and the beauty. If Middle Kids continue in this way and at this pace, they are very soon going to be just as huge world-wide as they are in Australia.

Gateway tune: Stacking chairs


#9 Iceage “Seek shelter”

Iceage is one of the aforementioned bands that I had never listened to before this year, though, “Seek shelter” is not their debut. Instead, it’s the Danish quintet’s fifth album. They first burst forth on to the scene a decade ago, considered by most who heard them to be fully formed and brilliant, yet another saviour of punk and post-punk. Each one of their albums has been lauded by critics, even the notoriously picky Pitchfork writers, and much has been written about their continual ability to redefine what it is to be a punk band. I don’t know how I missed the bus on the group thus far but I heard the opening track (see below) on one of my Spotify release radar playlists and immediately hunted down this brilliant nine-track album. There are elements of psych, classic rock, acid house, and all of this with that sneering edge. Pete ‘Sonic Boom’ Kember’s production touch is definitely felt and with the gospel choir additions, you might actually think it was the other principal songwriter from Spaceman 3 that might’ve been involved. I have no idea if Iceage’s previous four albums would be within my wheelhouse at all but with this album, as good as it is, how can I not check them out.

Gateway tune: Shelter song


#8 Du Blonde “Homecoming”

I’ve been keeping tabs on Beth Jeans Houghton since she released her debut album, “Yours truly, cellophane nose”, back in 2012. Three years later, she rebranded herself as Du Blonde and has since put together three albums as this persona. She has always tried do things her own unique way and the results have been a bit mixed for my tastes, though there’s always been one or two tracks per album that I really loved. For “Homecoming”, she wrote and produced it, did all her own artwork, and released it on her own label, Daemon TV. I don’t know if she’s hit on something special here, or if I’ve just finally caught up to her but I love all ten tracks. The album features contributions by likeminded singer/songwriter Ezra Furman (see below), Garbage’s Shirley Manson, Ride’s Andy Bell, and feminist punk band, The Farting Suffragettes. It is a mere 25 minutes and each song oozes seedy and raunchy sex. Roaring guitars and hammering drums, retro glam rock laser lights glinting off disco balls, snide and snarling duets and fist-pumping anthemic choruses, the album has got so much fun.

Gateway tune: I’m glad that we broke up (feat. Ezra Furman)


#7 Julien Baker “Little oblivions”

Yet another surprise appearance on this list comes care of the young American singer/songwriter Julien Baker. I saw her perform as part of a show headlined by The National back in 2018 and was impressed by her physical and spiritual voice and the way she and her electric guitar commanded the stage, accompanied only sporadically by a violinist. I became a fan and afterwards revisited her two albums. Then, a mere two months later, she, along with Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers, released an eponymously named EP under the moniker Boygenius, garnering the three of them new audiences all around. “Little oblivions” is Baker’s third album and first since her foray with Boygenius and instead of mining the sparse and frail territory of her earlier work, opted for a full band sound. The results are astounding. The subject matter is no less heartbreaking and personal and her voice always at the forefront, confessing to us all how we are all feeling and absolving us of our sins. The full band sound, though, amplifies it all, pouring more salt in the wounds and wringing out even more sweat and tears. So much beauty here in the hurt.

Gateway tune: Faith healer


#6 Linn Koch-Emmery “Being the girl”

“Being the girl” is the debut album by Swedish singer/songwriter Linn Koch-Emmery. Apparently, she knew she was going to have a career in music from a very young age and was in a band with her twin sister and a handful of friends when they were still in high school. When that ended, her sister started another band and moved to England but Linn stayed in Sweden and decided to go it alone. She’s been releasing singles and EPs since 2016 but this album is the first I’ve heard of her. I remember liking it a lot when I first heard the album back in the spring but was still quite surprised when it landed among my top picks with my usually foolproof method of narrowing down my music lists. Then, listening to it over and over again this month just confirmed it for me. “Being the girl” is an album that doles out ear worms like they’re candy. Far from being dreamy and gentle, Koch-Emmery’s tunes are spiky indie rockers rife with synths and hooks, reminiscent of “Fantasies”-era Metric and early work by Lykke Li (another Swedish indie singer/songwriter). As debuts that sound like they could be third or fourth records go, this a great one and at just shy of 30 minutes in length, begs for multiple listens in one sitting.

Gateway tune: Linn RIP


Part two of this list will follow immediately after the Christmas holidays. Hope yours are full of joy and good cheer!

Categories
Playlists

Playlist: New tunes from 2021, part one

Happy Thursday everyone!

A treat for you, given that we’ve already made to the halfway mark of April. That’s right, it’s time for the first instalment in my annual four part playlist sharing new tunes released throughout the year.

Last year when I did my first playlist post, we were just one month into this pandemic thing and none of us had any idea what we were really in for. The music on that first list was all recorded and mostly released pre-pandemic when everything was still ‘normal’. I remember wondering what the impacts would be to musicians and recorded music and from what we’ve seen, despite the restrictions on live performances and travelling, tours and festivals are really the only thing we’ve lost. Sure, there’s been hiccups in the supply chain, causing delays in vinyl releases and the cost of records to steadily increase, but we’ve seen no shortage of good music released. In fact, it feels like creativity is at an all time high when it comes to new music.

I’d say that the majority of these here twenty five tunes were recorded under the shadow of COVID-19. In some cases, the artists were able to work together in person and in some, the process was virtual, working like many of us are having to do, in new and inventive ways. And new music being released is something for which I am super thankful. It’s something to which to look forward, something new and different, and as always, it feeds my soul. Now if only we all can get vaccinated and we can get back to enjoying live performances together. Something else to look forward to, I guess…

In the meantime, here are twenty five new tunes that have helped keep me going over the first three months of 2021. Highlights include:

      • From an album of covers by American singer/songwriter Pete Yorn, this take on The Stone Roses’ “Ten storey love song” is way more enjoyable than I ever would have thought possible
      • Margaret Sohn, aka Miss Grit, lays a haunting and shimmering bomb called “Blonde”, the centrepiece of her latest EP
      • “Michelangelo”, the opening track on Cassandra Jenkins‘ sophomore album calls to mind Jenny Lewis’s work on her 2008 album, “Acid tongue”
      • “I woke up with an open heart”, a hip lounge dreamscape built by Simon Raymonde’s latest project, Lost Horizons, with the help of reggae band, The Hempolics
      • For some reason, I never had the urge to check out POSTDATA up to now, but “Kissing” and the rest of the third album by the side project of Wintersleep’s Paul Murphy has me reaching for their back catalogue
      • Similarly, I had never listened to Scottish indie rock duo Arab Strap before but gave their first new album in 16 years a try and was drawn into the dark depths of opening track, “The turn of our bones”
      • And it all wraps up with “I don’t recognize you” by NewDad, a dream pop gem by a young new Irish band that feels like lazing in the park on a sunny day

For those who don’t use Spotify or if the embedded playlist below doesn’t work for you, here is the entire playlist as I’ve created it:

1. “Alphabet” shame (from the album Drunk tank pink)

2. “Ten storey love song” Pete Yorn (from the album Pete Yorn sings the classics)

3. “Good girls (don’t get used)” Beach Bunny (from the EP Good girls (don’t get used))

4. “The last exit” Still Corners (from the album The last exit)

5. “Undecided voters” Kiwi Jr. (from the album Cooler returns)

6. “Welcome to the endgame” Typhoon (from the album Sympathetic magic)

7. “Sad cowboy” Goat Girl (from the album On all fours)

8. “Our heads, our hearts on fire again” The Besnard Lakes (from the album The Besnard Lakes are the last of the great thunderstorm warnings)

9. “Blonde” Miss Grit (from the EP Impostor)

10. “Hesitating nation” Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (from the album New fragility)

11. “Michelangelo” Cassandra Jenkins (from the album An overview on phenomenal nature)

12. “The wind was like a train” Wild Pink (from the album A billion little lights)

13. “Lanyards” The Hold Steady (from the album Open door policy)

14. “Goodtimes” Flyying Colours (from the album Fantasy country)

15. “I woke up with an open heart (feat. The Hempolics)” Lost Horizons (from the album In quiet moments)

16. “Faith healer” Julien Baker (from the album Little oblivions)

17. “Kissing” POSTDATA (from the album Twin flames)

18. “The balcony” Fruit Bats (from the album The pet parade)

19. “The turning of our bones” Arab Strap (from the album As days get dark)

20. “I like the way you die” Black Honey (from the album Written and directed)

21. “Brighter then” Real Numbers (from the EP Brighter then)

22. “R U 4 me?” Middle Kids (from the album Today we’re the greatest)

23. “In the middle of the way home” Tuns (from the album Duly noted)

24. “Party lines” Anna Fox Rochinski (from the album Cherry)

25. “I don’t recognize you” NewDad (from the EP Waves)

Wherever you are in the world, I hope you are safe, continue to be well, and well, enjoy the tunes.

If you’re interested in checking out any of the other playlists I’ve created and shared on these pages, you can peruse them here.