Artist: Darlingside Album: Extralife Year: 2018 Grade: B
In Brief: I’m pretty fascinated by Darlingside’s ability to bring together old-timey vocal harmonies, modest folk instrumentation, a willingness to experiment with instruments and effects uncommon to the genre, and a touch of sci-fi and speculative fiction that helps to set their lyrics apart from the norm. At times it’s like hearing what people from decades past might have anticipated folk music would sound like in in a future existence parallel to our own.
Alright, so it’s 2020, and it’s time to look back on the best music from the decade that is now behind us. Most of us will simply refer to that decade as “The Twenty Tens”, “The New Tens”, “The Teens”, etc. I’ve decided to label them “The Tenny Tweens”, mostly for the delight of how that silly phrase rolls off the tongue and because I wanted a unique nickname for it after coming up with “The Ought Nots” for the 2000s, but also because it felt very much like a decade of between-ness and transition, where I ended up in a different place both personally and in terms of my musical tastes than where I started.
Anyway, before I get to the proper list of what I’d consider my favorite album releases of the 2010s, I wanted to give honorable mentions to a hodgepodge of releases that don’t really fit into the conventional album format – generally because they’re too long, too short, and/or are mostly comprised of previously released material. Plenty of songs from these releases perked up my ears and lifted my spirits over the last several years, and it didn’t feel right glossing over ’em entirely simply because the artist didn’t choose a conventional LP as their method of releasing ’em.
It’s inevitable most years that some of the best music I listen to either isn’t going to fit strictly into the album format and thus won’t be eligible for my Favorite Albums list, or else it’ll have been released the previous year, and thus get added to that year’s list retroactively. In 2019 in particular, there were enough cases of this that I’m basically willing to consider this rundown of EPs, live albums, re-releases, and/or seasonal albums as my “Honorable Mentions” list for the year. 2018 also proved to be the gift that kept on giving, as I got turned on to several strong releases that I hadn’t known about yet when I wrote up last year’s countdown.
2019 was a weird year for me, in terms of the music I enjoyed most. A lot of artists put out genuinely great singles, only to follow them up with lackluster albums, EPs as stopgaps between albums, or really nothing at all. It’s a good thing I was following all of my favorite artists on Spotify, as well as some newer ones I was curious to hear more from, or else I might have not heard a good quarter of this list until 2019, if ever. Usually the vast majority of my Top 100 songs for the year comes from my favorite albums released that year, with some spillover from the year before. While that’s still true in 2019, it’s worth noting that nearly a tenth of my list this time comes from EPs or compilations rather than albums, and close to another tenth of the list is made up of non-album singles, that have yet to be attached to a larger collection of songs (assuming that will ever happen at all). While this speaks to the ability of many of my favorite artists to strike while the iron is hot in terms of getting new music out, it also worries me slightly where the longevity of the album format is concerned. But that’s an issue to discuss when I get to my list of Favorite Albums for the year. My Favorite Songs list, while eclectic and probably whiplash-inducing at certain points, definitely required some tough decision-making because there were so many great songs that spoke to me this year. At the end of the day, whether a song is part of a larger narrative or not, that’s really all that matters – whether the song stands out to me as unique in some way, and makes me want to keep coming back to listen to it over and over again. And everything on this list passed that test with flying colors!
As I do each year, I’ll give some insight into my reasons for picking the Top 30, and you can assume after that point that the ordering is somewhat arbitrary. Many of these songs (limit one per artist) are collected in my 2019 in a Nutshell playlist over on Spotify.
As we round the corner into the home stretch of 2019, I’m trying to cram in a lot of the odds and ends that have released over the past month (and even a few that I missed out on last year) while simultaneously trying to gear up for my year-end (and decade-end!) list-making extravaganza. So I’m a bit scatterbrained and perhaps haven’t given some of this stuff as focused of a listen as I normally might. Worst case scenario, I’ll come back to some of it in 2020, after the dust settles and my slate is clear from all of the heavy nostalgia that has taken up most of my listening time recently.
Oh yeah, and there are a few Christmas albums/EPs that have come out recently, which I’ve made the decision to ignore until the beginning of December. I’ll do this column a little earlier next month so that I can actually cover those before Christmas arrives. For now, I’m focusing on the non-seasonal stuff.
Here are my first impressions of the latest from Sawyer, Merriment, Lord Huron, Hollow Coves, The Last Bison, Grace Potter, Andrew Osenga, R.E.M., Charlie Peacock, Darlingside, Global Genius, Coldplay, and Medical Morning.