2019 delivered albums early on that will undoubtedly make end of year lists. By mid-January, we already had Sharon Van Etten’s Remind Me Tomorrow — one of her most dynamic releases to date.
Both local artists and genre-leaders made this list. The first six months of this year have us recognizing fifth LPs and second LPs all the same. From ballads to alt-rock to tracks you can only listen to with the window rolled down, it was easy to pick our favorites. Many of these albums will not only likely make reappearances on EOY lists, but also on our own playlists for years to come.
Sharon Van Etten / Remind Me Tomorrow (Jan. 18)
On her fifth album, Remind Me Tomorrow, Sharon Van Etten explores her most soothing, yet agonizing, songwriting to date. The world might have been led to believe Etten was done with music for a time, but as her latest and long-awaited release exhibits, an unyielding creative process is only conquered through the most wild forms of enlightenment. Remind Me Tomorrow is filled with cataclysmic euphoria — faithfully drifting through synth rhythms and reimagined themes of chaos and bliss. Emotionally piercing tracks, like “Seventeen,” remind us all how far growth can take an individual: “I see you so uncomfortably alone / I wish I could show you how much you've grown.” Etten has gifted fans with exhilarated storytelling, crafted with a variety of textured sounds, making Remind Me Tomorrow one of the most visionary and mesmerizingly soulful albums to come out at the start of 2019. — Katie Lipsiner
King of Summer (EP) / How Cool (April 12)
Armed with a devout love for pop music, Atlanta’s King of Summer explores the genre’s feel-good expanse with their 2019 EP, How Cool. The pop-punk hometown heroes have found solace in music, while feeling alone, and had fun while doing it. “I think in the three years that we’ve been doing this band, we’ve unintentionally done a really good job of organically setting the tone where we can be really silly,” explains lead vocalist and guitarist Tim Sterritt. “We got to be a little goofier with this EP than the ones before it, while still pushing forward with what we think are great, serious songs.” How Cool explores the relationship between pop anthems and sonic reverence, producing emotional songs without being weighed down by earnestness. — KL
Kevin Morby / Oh My God (April 26)
Kevin Morby is impressively prolific. He releases an album almost every two years, and they never feel thrown together; each is its own developed piece. His music is always quintessentially him. You can tell that it’s Kevin Morby the second he opens his mouth to sing in the sloping, assertive way that he does, or when the dark strums of his minor-key folk begin. It takes just seconds. His latest release, Oh My God is no different in that way. It does, however, have a structure unlike most of his last releases. This album revolves around motifs; many of the hooks or lyrics recur throughout the album. “Oh My God” is not just an album name, or a title track, but rather an entire feeling that Morby has molded himself around. This LPpresents the seasoned musician in a solemn light, as he laments and muses on the modern world and where it’s headed. He repeats the phrases “Oh My God, Oh My Lord” and “Carry Me Home” across multiple tracks, and you can feel a sense of simultaneous exhaustion and urgency in his voice. — Erin Patrick
Big Thief / UFOF (May 3)
The third full-length album from Big Thief is both iron-fisted and delicate. Frontperson Adrienne Lenker’s unmistakable vocal timbre proves itself yet again on UFOF, as she effortlessly controls the lowest and highest ends of her range. Much of UFOF sounds nearer to the solo albums of Lenker and bandmate Buck Meek, than it does to Capacity or Masterpiece. Songs like “Cattails” and “Orange” sway toward folk, and further away from the indie rock that we’ve come to know the group for. Folk has always been in Big Thief’s roots, but their third LP shows that they thrive in the genre; it perfectly accommodates their frequent musings on nature and the passing of time. The folk sound that they produce is far from typical, though. This album especially is more unconventional than those before it — every track has layers, emotionally and in regards to production. The Brooklyn-based quartet creates an entire world within each album they release, and it’s safe to say that UFOF’s world is one of mystical, hopeful sadness. — EP
Faye Webster / Atlanta Millionaires Club (May 24)
A master of yo-yo tricks, Atlanta Braves stats and, most importantly, honeyed ballads, Faye Webster’s latest LP, Atlanta Millionaires Club, is an ode to The A. With each album Webster releases, her songwriting becomes increasingly mature and complex. Pedal steel wanders in and out of each track, eliding one song to the next, and bridging the gap between Georgia and the tropics. Webster’s vocals are simultaneously meticulous and carefree, paralleling the speak-singing intimacy of fellow pop-soul artist Natalie Prass. Songs like “Pigeon” and “Jonny” expertly stack harmonies and add brass instrumentation to the mix. Atlanta Millionaires Club is Faye Webster’s personal invitation to her hometown, and listeners would be remiss to decline the adept singer-songwriter’s offer. — Kristy Guilbault
The Glow / Am I (May 24)
Mike Caridi. You may think this name is unfamiliar, but don’t kid yourself. If you’ve ever listened to LVL UP, or any band on Double Double Whammy’s roster, then you’ve listened to Caridi in some capacity. After the dissolvement of LVL UP, in 2018, Caridi set out to make his solo debut, under the moniker The Glow. Hazy guitar and amorphous vocals linger from LVL UP’s sound, and the album’s lo-fi production aligns with DDW’s family, but Am I contains an aural terrain all its own. The Glow’s debut full-length is more dewy-eyed and nostalgic, and far more polished, than his previous project’s releases. And while similar sonic ground is mined throughout Am I, the album’s final track, “Memories,” turns away from alt-rock, to glossy electronic. With less than a year separating his pivot from LVL UP to The Glow, it will be interesting to see where Caridi takes listeners next. — KG
If you look only at the title of the most recent album by Brooklyn outfit Bellows, you might expect to hear some of frontperson Oliver Kalb’s more stripped down, primitive tracks. On the contrary, The Rose Gardener is Kalb’s most dynamic work thus far, and it’s the fullest the five-piece has ever sounded.
Sitting in EAV bar and venue, 529, amongst residual cigarette smoke and the sounds of opening band Another Michael, I talked to Oliver about his new album, his path to Bellows’ more complex sound, and the process of coming to terms with bouts of misanthropy and the changing New York DIY scene.
Sad Girl Co.: Looking back at your first LP, does it feel like the same band to you? How do you feel like you’ve evolved?
Oliver Kalb: I was thinking about that album recently — I made it when I was 18 and had never self-recorded before. It was something I learned how to do over the last few years or so. I still respect the challenge that I put myself through for that album, which was to make an album without any electronics or synthesizers and see how full I could make it. It’s definitely not where I’m at sonically anymore or how I’d make it now, but it’s fun to look back at it and see what mistakes I made that led me to where I am now.
SGC: When I listen to that album versus The Rose Gardener it’s two different moods for sure. You mentioned that you never typically record in a studio, was that the same for this album?
OK: None of the Bellows albums have been recorded in a studio. It’s kind of my way of controlling things sonically. Our second record took a really long time because there were certain sonic ideas that I wasn’t entirely sure how to orchestrate. I didn’t necessarily have the means to accomplish these ideas; it felt like there were sort of insurmountable obstacles that I couldn’t get over, so I was constantly troubleshooting. Now, those are things that would be more or less easy for me, so it’s interesting to hear the difference.
SGC: How did you decide that you’d solely self-record your music?
OK: It’s pretty boring, but I got a MacBook that had Garage Band on it, and I started screwing around on it, got a USB microphone, and literally recorded on a USB microphone and it would sound — at least at a time — incredibly crisp. Hearing my own recorded music really led me to want to do more with it.
SGC: The Rose Gardener to me seems to have a more diverse sound than your previous releases. How did you make those sonic choices?
OK: Yeah, I think that when we made Fist & Palm, there were certain ideas that I was trying to accomplish that I was a beginner at. I’m really proud of the songs on that album, but when I listen back to the recordings I think, “I could’ve done this better.” I feel like with The Rose Gardener I kind of wanted to vindicate certain ideas that I couldn’t get across on Fist & Palm. I think of The Rose Gardener as a more developed cousin of Fist & Palm.
SGC: Thematically, the album seems to express both anger and resilience. What were you thinking when you made the album?
OK: I made this album during a paranoid and angry period of my life. I felt bitterly disconnected from the New York music scene that seemed to have been overrun with power grabs and petty people. It felt kind of gross and I felt lonely and misanthropic. I didn’t feel like I could trust anyone in my community. I think I worked through that in writing the album, but at the time it felt like an emergency. I felt like I was done with the world that I’d just poured 6 years of my life into. I turned to the album to express the things I didn’t feel like I could say out loud.
SGC: What’s your personal favorite track on The Rose Gardener?
OK: I think my favorite song on the album is “Count ‘Em Down.” I felt like that was one where I compositionally pushed me to a place I’d never gone before. But I think my favorite song to play live is “What Can I Tell You About The World?” I think that’s one of our most un-fussy songs, and that song in particular feels like it can channel a mood that’s a bit higher than some of the other songs on the album that fall into an angsty genre.
SGC: As far as your album art goes, do you create it yourself?
OK: I create all of our album art. This one is definitely the one I’m most proud of. I initially wanted to draw a full folding rose bush with plants curving around little scenes from the album, but I’m not an illustrator and my album covers are usually done in the most naive way. I found I wasn’t great at drawing plants.
I think I was on Tumblr or Pinterest or something, and found a weird medieval screed that was a prophecy of the antichrist, and it was extremely creepy and had roman numerals in these little boxes. There was something about it that was so obsessive and demonic. I wanted to synthesize the prophetic, demonic quality of it into something more pertinent to the album. I envisioned it as a grid with different pieces of the album throughout. I used a lot of sort of disparate imagery that together formed a feeling of unease or chaos that I think underlies the album.
One of 2019’s most sonically diverse releases, The Rose Gardener swings from bedroom pop to folk to synth-pop, and shows Kalb’s developing mastery of DIY production.
Just as it was for Kalb himself, the album is a powerful tool for resolving one’s own anger and resentment, and acknowledging that it’s OK to feel those emotions. The modern world often lends itself to misanthropy and, like Kalb, we can all fall into pits of bitterness from time to time. This LP is the what you should press play on when you’re ready to face those feelings head-on.
The Rose Gardener is out everywhere to stream and purchase, and Bellows is currently on tour with Chicago-based band Another Michael.