So, last year, I did something possibly very dumb, and joined a group dedicated to emo music on facebook. I say “possibly very dumb” because the group has metastasized wildly, with spin-off groups proliferating like spider plants. But joining this group did have an unintended side effect: for the first time in years, I felt compelled to keep up with new music releases. And it was fun! It’s still fun! It even lead to me making a list of my favorites from 2018 (though somehow in writing the list I super forgot to even mention Cursive’s Vitriola, which I loved very much, and, of course, the fact that I only heard about some great 2018 releases after the turn of the year).
I’ve kept it up, to an extent, this year, which brings us to this post. I’ve heard some really good new albums this year, and while obviously my tastes are a little pedestrian, there’s some stuff I’m really excited about. The album links go to Spotify, because that’s what I use, but most of them are available in a variety of places.
Honestly, I was always going to like this. I’m a huge sucker for alt country/Americana, which has lead me into some ridiculous corners (like constantly yelling at people about how great Chamberlain is), and besides, I was a sad teen in the early aughts. I have some feelings about Conor Oberst’s oeuvre, especially as Bright Eyes. Phoebe Bridgers, unfortunately for me, had not quite made it onto my radar, though, and this collaborative effort is a real delight: 37 minutes of songs about contentment, resignation, and quotidian moments of discomfort and pleasure, expressed by two people who are both powerful lyricists and musicians. Is it ground-breaking? No. Is it phenomenally well-executed and full of unexpected earworms? Yes. It also has the weird benefit of being palatable to my parents and people their age, which is kinda nice. I probably don’t need to convince anyone to listen to this album, given the amount of coverage it’s already gotten, but I couldn’t leave it off the list, given that it rarely left my daily rotation for about three months after it dropped.
Fortunately, I’m friends with Erik, the voice of the Crooked Man and several others in Perdition’s Teeth, and he recommended this amazing debut solo album to me (further research revealed that Gika has contributed to a number of different projects). The album is striking in its coherence of vision, and its strange timelessness: when he and I were discussing it a few days later, we both agreed that Thalassa feels like it’s always existed, or at least been around for a lot longer than a few months. “Swan” alone feels like a strong candidate for a weird goth anthem, not out of place with, say, Cocteau Twins at their height. It’s equally rewarding as ambient background music and in full-immersion headphones mode, and very much in keeping with the aesthetic I’ve come to love from Sargent House.
No matter how much I love pretty vocals and stuff that can be characterized as darkwave, though, sometimes it’s really about high-energy songs with titles almost longer than the track itself. At 13 tracks and 18 minutes, Songs for the Firing Squad scratches that itch perfectly. Though really, it might be more accurate to say the album violently claws at it: with a clear affection for acts like the Blood Brothers, seeyouspacecowboy deliver an intense experience in songs that are all less than two minutes long and don’t waste a second of it. This is probably the album I am most likely to go to right now for when I want to break shit but instead have to get things done, and if you, too, frequently wish to break shit but instead have to get things done, I would recommend it.
Of course, there have been several other albums released this year, to mixed results. After being extremely excited for it, I am still not sure how I feel about Twilight Sad’s IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME, their first album of all new material in five years; it may prove to be a grower, but so far, I have returned to prior albums of theirs more frequently than this one. And then, of course, La Dispute, a band I have loved for years, brought out Panorama. I loved the pre-release material, including some tabletop roleplaying game materials, and the album does not disappoint, ably synthesizing ideas the band has experimented with in more recent albums with some of the fabulistic elements that made their earlier work so dear to me. But on repeat listens, it almost seems that they’ve done too well — by which I mean I can barely listen to it because I have very little time to sit with my emotions. Inter Arma’s latest, Sulphur English, is also one I’m going to need to sit with for a while; I’ve enjoyed preliminary listens, but we’ll see how it stress tests. I suspect it’s a real beast, in a good way.
There are, of course, a bunch more albums I’m looking forward to, so we’ll see how 2019 shakes out. I also take recommendations.