Music Feature: Best Non-Jazz Albums of 2019 – A Semi-Chronological Constellation

By Milo Miles

Milo Miles tests a long-held theory: that critic comments on why entries made it onto lists have little or nothing to do with whether readers track down and listen to the selected music.

Reissues of 2019

This is the conventional section of the constellation. Titles in alphabetical order. Somewhat-standard explanations of selections.

Prince, 1999 Super Deluxe Edition (Warner Bros.)

Here’s the basic information about contents and formats.

I would argue that the CD version is less cumbersome, but either way the remastered sound works wonders. Young Prince Rogers Nelson has more mercurial flow than I can ever remember hearing. The new songs are on par with the released material. The only drawback is that the Houston concert DVD is technically only so-so. Must be added that, in this Rolling Stone interview, the astute Adam Weiner of Low Cut Connie gave the perfect answer to “the artist who had the best decade was …”

Various, The Daisy Age (Ace)

Once again, the fundamental scoop.

This collection does the two noble deeds: it introduces, in a superb sequence of tracks, a quite forgotten but hugely influential and eclectic mode of music; and it includes a selection of foreign performers who were never well known in the states. Back to the ’90s!

Mary Lou Williams, S/T (Smithsonian Folkways)

Simply put, I would point to this 1964 LP as the most lucid and immaculate presentation of the relations between gospel, blues, jazz, and show tunes – all in the hands of a performer savvy enough to write “The Devil,” and witty enough to also grow “A Fungus Amungis.”

Now the Unconventional Section Begins

First-Quarter 2019 Selections

  1. Leyla McCalla, “Capitalist Blues”
  2. Mekons, “Lawrence of California”
  3. Hayes Carll, “”None’ya”
  4. Grupo Fantasma, “The Wall”
  5. Rodrigo y Gabriela, “FRAM”
  6. Rhythm & Sound, “See Mi Yah”
  7. Rocky Dawuni, “Beats of Zion”
  8. Midou Moctar, “Ilana”
  9. Salif Keita, “Mansa Fo La”
  10. Aka Pygmies, “Banga Banga”
  11. Ligeti, “Etude No. 16, Pour Irana”

This is going to test a long-held theory of mine: that critic comments on why entries made it onto lists have little or nothing to do with whether readers track down and listen to the selected music. Taking this step seems aptly loony for the times.

  1. Small Feet, “Running Away”
  2. The Coathangers, “Memories”
  3. Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom, “Glitter Wolf”
  4. Karen O/Danger Mouse, “Turn the Light”
  5.  Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow, “Saints Alive!”
  6. David Torn/Tim Berne/Ches Smith, “Soften the Blow”
  7. Claudia Villela, “Cumeno com Cuentro”
  8. Chris Forsyth, “New Paranoid Cat”
  9. Jeanne Lee/Ran Blake, “A Hard Day’s Night”

Not even very release-chronological. More like a history of how I heard the year. Which seems right when tunes and whole albums come out whatever and whenever.

Second-Quarter Favorites Vol. 1

1. Altun Gun, “Yolcu”
2. The Chemical Brothers, “Free Yourself”
3. White Denim, “Hallelujah Strike Gold”
4. Billie Eilish, “You Should See Me in a Crown”
5. Yugen Blakrok, “Gorgon Madonna”
6. Little Simz, “Wounds”
7. The Blood Moon Howlers, “Lose Myself (Bar 9)”
8. Prince, “Sex Shooters”
9. Vampire Weekend, “Harmony Hall”
10. Balmorhea, “Bowspirit”
11. The Comet Is Coming, “Because the End Is Really the Beginning”

And the good thing is that you can include loads and loads of stuff, even when you don’t have an organized justification beyond gut joy.

  1. Mikaela Davis, “Take 54”*
  2. Fruit Bats, “Gold Past Life”
  3. Nilufer Yanya, “Paralysed”
  4. Lizzo, “Juice”
  5. Tanika Charles, “Love Overdue”
  6. Imperial Teen, “We Do What We Do Best”
  7. Anderson.Paak, “Reachin’ 2 Much”
  8. Big Thief, “Contact”
  9. Warren Dunes, “Running For Cover”**
  10. Jason Hawk Harris, “Cussing At the Light”
  11. Malibu Ken, “Corn Maze”***
  12. Ariana Grande, “R.E.M.”
  13. Khalid, “My Bad”
  14. Kayhan Kalhor, “Long Story Short”

*Yes, the Harry Nilsson number. Unfortunately, the finest track on the “Vol. 2” collection of covers devoted to him.

**Outstanding vocals by Julia Massey

*** Aesop Rock & Tobacco are Malibu Ken

Album picks from the second half of 2019

(Alphabetical order)

  1. Bat for Lashes, Lost Girls
  2. Kath Bloom, Finally (these are tracks from the ’90s, but you have to check out this performer – this collects her finest sides)
  3. Big Thief, Two Hands
  4. Benjamin Boone/Philip Levine, The Poetry of Jazz, Volume Two (both volumes are remarkable triumphs of a form I usually hate)
  5. Burna Boy, African Giant (Afro-linguistic inventor-master No. 1)
  6. Reina Del Cid, Morse Code (includes the most brilliant put-down of a mansplainer I’ve ever heard; also candidate for most-overlooked album of the year)
  7. Eghass Malan, Les Filles de Illighadad (female performers take over deserty Tuareg style)
  8. Fontaines D.C. Dogrel (hey, Tracy Thorns and Mojo both liked it and you will, too)
  9. The Hu, Gerec (look these guys up online – too complex and unlikely to explain here, but the most triumphant new sound of the year along with Billie Eilish)
  10. Kim Gordon, No Home Record (noisy enough and about time)
  11. Michael Kiwanuka, Kiwanuka
  12. Chris Knight, Almost Daylight (many glorious tracks, but the title number and “The Damn Truth” are masterpieces – mood of the times in sound)
  13. Lakou Mizik, HaitiaNola (New Orleans album of the year)
  14. L’Epee, Diabolique
  15. The Halloween Trilogy: Mica Levi, Monos (soundtrack); Johann Johannson, Mandy (soundtrack); Deathprod, Occulting Disk (play these in a row and there is no guarantee something won’t come out of the air or up from the ground)
  16. Ibibo Sound Machine, Doko Mien
  17. Moken, Missing Chapters (Afro-linguistic inventor-master No. 2)
  18. Youssou N’Dour, History
  19. The New Pornographers, In the Morse Code of Brake Lights (what’s with the Morse Code theme?)
  20. Shakira, El Dorado
  21. Soundwalk Collective with Patti Smith, The Peyote Dance (and you thought Patti Smith wouldn’t be able to come up with a new sort of record)
  22. Rachid Taha, Je Suis African (get everything by this guy; a knockout farewell album and the title track is an immortal shout of triumph)
  23. Sharon Van Etten, Remind Me Tomorrow
  24. Various Boston Performers, Beast (by an enormous margin the best free CD I ever picked up out of a box on the street)
  25. We Banjo 3, Roots to Rise Live
  26. The Barrence Whitfield Soul Savage Arkestra, Songs From the Sun Ra Cosmos (“Nuclear War”? sure, as ever … but “I’m Gonna Unmask the Batman”? Brilliant)

Milo Miles has reviewed world-music and American-roots music for “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” since 1989. He is a former music editor of The Boston Phoenix. Milo is a contributing writer for Rolling Stone magazine, and he also written about music for The Village Voice and The New York Times. His blog about pop culture and more is Miles To Go.

Posted in ,

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts