Phosphorescent – C’est La Vie

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“If you’d have seen me last year I’d have said, ‘I can’t even see you there from here'”. Matthew Houck may have become a parent and started writing songs about his young son. But fear not, the essence of the old Phosphorescent still shone as brightly as ever.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Sparkle Hard

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“This is a verse about a man who dared, To fall head over heels for a woman who shared, Similar interests, similar looks, Similar taste in similar books”. A typically eclectic mix from the (grand)father of indie rock. Includes the best song about a bike lane that you’ll hear all year.

The Rock*A*Teens – Sixth Sense

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‘Take a deep breath and blow the cobwebs away”. The Rock*A*Teens returned with a new beginning, proving that teens still know how to rock, even once-upon-a-time ones.

Shakey Graves – Can’t Wake Up

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“Tonight!, I’ve got nothing on my mind but you, Somewhere, somehow, You’ll feel it too”. Alejandro Rose-Garcia really doesn’t like Abba. The song ‘Aibohphobia’ confirmed that.

Mount Eerie – Now Only

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In a category of its own. Do not send these songs to your friends or play them at parties! They are some of the most emotional pieces of music of the year though.

 

Cat Power – The Wanderer

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“Doctor said I was not my past, He said I was finally free”. The return of Chan Marshall after a six-year absence was one of the year’s greatest moments. And there were a few of those.

Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

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“I was just coastin’, never really goin’ anywhere, Caught up in a web, I was gettin’ kinda used to stayin’ there, And out of the blue, I fell for you”. Kacey Musgraves made the big time in 2018, but also managed to subvert it slightly when she was there. That’s a great trick.

Soccer Mommy – Clean

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“And I knew when I met him, That he’s the one I want to be with, ‘Cause I can see him, Blossom in the future that I’m dreamin'”. Good old-fashioned indie guitar music from Soccer Mommy. And yet not a throwback sound. Good.

Snail Mail – Lush

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“It took so long to know someone like you, And age in the dying sun, With only the vivid greens and blues”. Good old-fashioned indie guitar music from Snail Mail. And yet not a throwback sound. Good.

Jess Williamson – Cosmic Wink

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“I could stay on the crest of the wave, In the sea of your love all my days”. The transformation of Jess Williamson’s music over the course of three albums has been revelatory. Cosmic folk, Texas-style.

Songs: Ohia – Love & Work: The Lioness Sessions

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“Whether you save me, Whether you savage me, Want my last look to be the moon in your eyes”. If The Lioness is your favourite Jason Molina album. Possibly. And you want more songs that sound like The Lioness. Definitely. Then this Deluxe version is for you. Phew.

Bob Dylan – More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series Vol. 14

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“I came in from the wilderness, A creature void of form, ‘Come in’, she said, ‘I’ll give ya, Shelter from the storm'”. If 3,513 versions of ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’ is what you are craving. Hmm, not totally sure. Then this Deluxe version of Blood On The Tracks is for you. Oh, OK.

Neil Young – ROXY: Tonight’s The Night Live

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“Walk on, talk on, baby tell no lies, Don’t you be caught with a tear in your eye”. If you like Neil Young to be providing somewhat approximate renditions of what are undoubtedly some of his best tunes. Yes, yes. Then this live version of Tonight’s The Night is for you. Oh Good.

The Beatles – White Album

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“The sun is up, the sky is blue, It’s beautiful and so are you”. If you have ever been to Esher and wondered what it must have been like for The Beatles to demo The White Album songs there, then this Super Deluxe Version is for you. Where’s Esher again?

Kate Bush – Remastered I-IV

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“His left hand is under my head, And his right hand, Does embrace me, This is the song of Solomon”. Classic Kate Bush. Remastered. Move on. Nothing more to add. Oh OK. Right.

 

Alpha Hall – Omens

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Alpha Hall are from the same Hidden Shoal stable as Kramies and Summon The Birds. They’ve been described as a cross between The National and The Dirty Three. It’s not a bad description. There’s a certain understated Matt Berninger manner to the vocals, particularly on songs like ‘Salt‘ and ‘Trees’, while the manic violin playing is reminiscent of Warren Ellis in madcap mode, which, in fairness, is most of the time. But Alpha Hall deserve their own reference point not an amalgam of other people’s. Because Omens is a really impressive debut. The riffs can sometimes be big and the melodies are always mellifluous. And all the time there’s the background scraping of the violin to keep the sound slightly but nicely off-kilter. The result is that they sound like Alpha Hall and no-one else. And that’s the highest compliment of all. Check out Omens. It’s a good one.

Kramies – Of All The Places Been & Everything The End

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Follow the light and feel alive again. Kramies’ new EP explores the idea that breaking with routine creates new opportunities. The unnamed man mourns the loss of his wife. To cope, he maintains the same schedule. Year after year. He’s tired. But one day he chooses to veer off the path, following a light into the forest. The result is an epiphany of sorts. He lets go of the past and finds himself home. A new home. As Kramies explained in a recent interview, it’s a story whose roots are very personal. But the beauty lies in the timelessness and universality of the narrative. And that’s not the only source of beauty. The music sounds fine too. It’s more layered, more dense, more intense than previous Kramies outings. The result is a strong sense of interiority that captures both the mind of the man and the tangle of the trees. For sure, there’s a sense that the title of the EP is in need of some punctuation. Everything. The End? But this is the most minor of quibbles. Instead, revel in the break at 5.14 in ‘Ireland’. The echo at 2.09 in ‘Of All The Places Been’. And the beautiful last minute of ‘Everything The End’. Follow the light, listen to this EP, and feel alive again.

 

Goshen Electric Co. – The Gray Tower

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Goshen Electric Co. are Timothy Showalter of Strand of Oaks plus one incarnation of Jason Molina’s backing band during the Magnolia Electric Co. era. They’ve just recorded a three-track EP and ‘The Gray Tower’ is the first track. They’ve also embarked on a short European tour. They were at the Tivoli Theatre in Dublin on Tuesday. Outside, it was a glorious evening. Beautiful. Clear. Inside, it was glorious too. Unofficial MC for the evening was guitarist Jason Groth. There were readings by Erin Osman from her biography of Molina. There was a guest appearance from the great Adrian Crowley. And the set list was more a wish list of Molina songs, beginning with ‘Farewell Transmission’, and ending with ‘Lioness’.

‘The Gray Tower’ is a Jason Molina song. There’s a demo version on the deluxe edition of Didn’t It Rain and a 7″ version that can now be found on the Journey On singles collection. Showalter and Co. have beefed the song up, giving it the Trials and Errors treatment. They’ve taken away some of the vulnerability of the original version, but they’ve also turned it into another one of the best songs that Neil Young never wrote. So, that’s absolutely fine.

In the video, Showalter is in full-on HEAL or Hard Love mode, tattoos everywhere, biceps bulging. On stage the other night, though, he was completely covered up, wearing a velvet smoking jacket and fedora. He was also very respectful, being careful to make sure that this was not a show about him, but Molina. Showalter himself is a big Molina fan. On HEAL, which was released not long after Molina died, he recorded a song called ‘JM’. The band played it on Tuesday and it was very moving. “Now it’s hard to hear you sing, the crow has lost his wings, But I still got your sweet tunes to play”.

Showalter isn’t the only artist to have covered Molina. Glen Hansard has too. In fact, Erin Osman mentioned him in dispatches on the night. In 2015 he released five Molina songs under the title It Was Triumph We Once Proposed. It includes a glorious version of ‘Farewell Transmission’ as well as a lovely cover of ‘Being in Love’. The last words should go to Jason Molina himself. “We are proof that the heart is a risky fuel to burn, What’s left after that’s all gone I hope to never learn, But if you stick with me you can help me, I’m sure we’ll find new things to burn, Cause we are proof that the heart is a risky fuel to burn”.

Big Red Machine

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Where can you get a decent Bon Iver album these days? The answer is Big Red Machine. The most recent Justin Vernon album, 22, A Million, was the musical equivalent of a work by Jackson Pollock. Notes, electronic twiddles, autotuned vocals, and strange fonts were all thrown against the studio wall in the hope that the listener would see the pattern the artist was trying to make. Sometimes that’s genius. Sometimes it’s just plain messy. Maybe 22, A Million was trying to push back the very boundaries of music. If so, then for fans of Emma, Blood Bank, and S/T at least, it didn’t so much push them back as run them over in a monster truck. Which is why Big Red Machine is so welcome. BRM is a partnership between Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner of The National. They first teamed up in 2009 for the song of the same name on the Dark Was The Night charity record. Now, they’ve fleshed out their contributions to album length. The two complement each other very well. There’s a sense that Dessner can just about keep in check Vernon’s new-found instinct to digitally burble and he does so to good effect. And then there are some truly sublime moments. The highlight is ‘People Lullaby’, which is built on a simply melody that is more than worthy of The National. But on top Vernon sings beautifully, “Has me all borderline – re-erased”. In a way, a certain Bon Iver is no more. But there’s always Big Red Machine. And that’s fine for now.