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Best Indie and Alternative Albums 2019

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Best Indie and Alternative Albums 2019

Posted on 13 December 2019 by Joe

Our best albums 2019 list features the 15 albums that we can’t stop listening to.

What a year! It’s been beset with political turmoil. But in terms of music its been another fantastic 12 months.

This time around 15 albums have impressed us for our annual round up. This ranges from a return to form for one of our favourite US acts to an intriguing funk concept album about Trump.

Lots of our other top acts over the last few years have also marked 2019 in style with stellar releases. There’s plenty of interesting new acts as well that impressed during the year.

But enough from us. Here’s the 15 best albums of 2019 that we urge you to seek out and investigate yourselves.

15.The Mountain Goats – In League with Dragons

The Mountain Goats - In League with Dragons

John Darnielle and co once again excel with  a collection taking in themes of celebrity and this time the mythical heroes of their youth. Here the production is even more sumptious than it has been in recent years, with one of our favourite artists Owen Pallet on production desk duties. Read our full review here.

14. John Howard – Cut the Wire

1 Cover

The singer songwriter’s fierce sense of independence rises to the fore on this collection that has a far greater focus on his 1960s and 1970s musical influences, sitting somewhere between The Beach Boys and whimsical English pop. Read the full review here.

13. Jenny Lewis – On The Line

Jenny Lewis On the Line

We may miss the sparkling pop of Rilo Kiley but Jenny Lewis is still delivering great songs as a solo artist. Continuing on from where 2014’s The Voyager left off she cements her role as one of the best country-pop balladeers around.

12. Stealing Sheep – Big Wows

Stealing Sheep

The evolution of Stealing Sheep continues and any of the more folksy pastoral elements of their first two albums  have been cast aside in favour of a greater pure-pop approach. The good news is that it suits them perfectly, and anyone who has seen them live this year can attest to what a great glittery performance that is. Additionally, ‘Jokin’ Me’ has to be the best song released this year and deserves to be a chart smash (if that even exists as a thing anymore?).

11. The National – I Am Easy To Find

TheNational_IAmEasyToFind

The “stadium band it’s ok to like” continue to deliver the goods on their eight album. An array of guest female vocalists add some difference to the sound this time around and compliment Matt Berninger’s smooth croon perfectly.

10. The New Pornographers – In The Morse Code of Break Lights

New Pornographers

The second Dan Bejar free New Pornographers album in a row may miss his contributions but the rest of the band do their best to make up for that. Simi Stone joins the band, adding a third female vocalist, and AC Newman delivers some pitch-perfect tunes. ‘You’ll Need A Backseat Driver’ is worth the admission fee alone.

9. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountain

Purple Mountains

Purple Mountains is notable as David Berman’s first post-Silver Jews album, and his first recorded work in over a decade. It is also notable as one of the most consistent records of his fascinating career. Sadly it stands as his final work, tragically he committed suicide in August this year.

8. Guided By Voices – Warp and Woof

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This is just one of the three albums the prolific band released this year. Originally coming out as a set of EPs the songs are short, urgent and focused. It is a purple patch for the lo-fi legends but this stands out (just) as the best of the bunch.

7. Pip Blom – Boat

Pip Blom

The Dutch indie popsters have a very identifiable sound, and a very appealing one. Their debut album continues on from their excellent early singles and is one of the most enjoyable, and freshest, releases of the year.

6. Twilight Sad – It Won/t Be Like This All the Time

Twilight Sad

Album number five for the Scottish act is full of epic melodies and meloncholy lyrics as they cement their place as one of the most innovate indie rock and alternative bands in the UK. James Alexander Graham’s downright beautiful vocals elevate them even further. VTr and The Arbor are among our favourite tracks here.

5. Penelope Isles – Until the Tide Creeps In

Penelope Isles

Brighton base dPenelope Isles play a melodic dream pop, their debut album has a scope and sophistication that reveals their music school background. In lazy journo style I hereby dub them “the British Deerhunter”.

4. School of Language – 45

School of Language live in Bristol in 2014 (Pic by Joe Lepper)

School of Language live in Bristol in 2014 (Pic by Joe Lepper)

David Brewis from Field Music turns his attention to Donald Trump and the US far right on this cheeky, funky and in places angry collection. The lyrics left us nodding in agreement and chuckling, while David’s inventive take on his influences of Prince and Talking Heads continues to impress us. Read the full review here.

3. Corridor – Junior

Junior - Corridor

Sub-Pop’s Corridor are a French Canadian band that deliver a pulsing guitar pop that evokes post-punk and the pulsing rhythms of Stereolab in equal measure. It is epic and rhythmic and melodic and one of our favourite discoveries of the year.

2. Fontaines DC – Dogrel

Fontaines DC at Glastonbury 2019, photo by Joe Lepper

Fontaines DC at Glastonbury 2019, photo by Joe Lepper

This  Dublin band’s stunning debut sounds like a blend of Joy Division, The Smiths and the Buzzcocks. While lyrically they are cemented in their Dublin background, especially with Grian Chatten’s powerful vocals. They impressed us so much at Glastonbury 2019 that we rushed out to buy this debut – there’s not many live acts that have the power and talent to do that.

1. Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?

deerhunter-why-hasnt-everything-already-disappeared-review-1547764133-640x640

Their best album since 2010’s melody packed release Halcyon Digest? We certainly think so. In fact its filled with even more melody and inventive ways to present a song, veering from classic pop  to alternative rock at will on this all killer, no filler collection.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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School of Language – 45

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School of Language – 45

Posted on 30 May 2019 by Joe

Trump’s words, given a tongue in cheek twist and set to funk music. It’s an intriguing conceit for the latest album by School of Language, aka Field Music’s David Brewis.

School of Language live in Bristol in 2014 (Pic by Joe Lepper)

School of Language live in Bristol in 2014 (Pic by Joe Lepper)

As with previous albums, Sea from Shore (2008) and Old Fears (2014), School of Language allows David Brewis more space to explore his funk influences. So here there’s still hints of Field Music influences like Medications, but far more Prince and Talking Heads. Prince’s influence in particular is key to tracks such as the marvellous opener I’ve Got the Numbers.

Meanwhile, A Beautiful Wall is great satire on Trump and Nobody Knows has some fine squelchy synths.

David Brewis is not the first to poke fun at the US right, with Southern Tenant Folk Union’s The Chuck Norris Project (2015) particularly good. But this collection is just as effective, offering some great music and keeping the notion of the protest song alive and well too.

9/10

By Joe Lepper

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School of Language, The Exchange, Bristol (April 23, 2014)

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School of Language, The Exchange, Bristol (April 23, 2014)

Posted on 23 April 2014 by Joe

Full of smiles, School of Language kicked off their Spring tour in Bristol, with an amiable and fun gig at the Exchange. Although a solo pop/funk project of Field Music’s David Brewis, this tour has a full band feel with his brother and Field Music co-creator Peter on drums, along with Hazey Jane’s Andrew Mitchell on guitar, Andrew Lowther on bass and The Futureheads’s David Craig on synth.

School of Language

School of Language

Even before they started playing the audience were aware this is a band with a sense of fun, as they made light of having to be their own roadies by taking to the stage to set up in ‘Field Music Productions’ branded caps and boiler suits, smirking throughout.

A quick change into shirts and in David’s case a rather smart grey suit jacket and they take to the stage, with smirks turning to smiles as one member of the audience shouts out “where’s Devo” in reference to their earlier attire.

David is on the road to promote Old Fears his second School of Language album. Although unmistakably Field Music with its angular chops and changes, it is a far more funkier/pop affair, with Prince’s Dirty Mind as an influence.

Live the guitars are much more to the fore, giving the album a far more Field Music feel, which in particular for tracks such as set finale So Much Time, give David and the band a chance to really show off their intricate playing.

School of Language

School of Language

Highlights were key Old Fears tracks such as Between the Suburbs as well as highlights from his first school of Language album Sea From Shore, especially Rockist (Part 1) which was greeted with rapturous applause.

During each song David is exemplary in his focus, concentrating on hitting just the right notes and just the right intricate guitar lick as he interweaves superbly with Mitchell.  Peter too on drums is full of focus playing the drums like he’s operating some kind of giant computer from the 1950s. All throughout they give each other knowing smiles. This is a bunch that clearly enjoys the whole process of performing and making music, something that the audience really picks up on and revels in.

Thankfully David and the band didn’t slip into any Field Music songs, even to fulfill a an audience members’ encore request for “covers.” In the end the encore was turned down “not because I’m being coy, we just don’t have anymore songs,” explained an apologetic David at the end.

Barbarossa

Barbarossa

Support was provided by London’s Barbarossa, a synth, drums and beards duo who are also on Field Music and School of Language’s label Memphis Industries. Their sound quality wasn’t as clear and crisp as School of Language’s with one particular bass buzz driving a few to the toilets, but there was enough tonight to know this is a fine act, with vocalist James Mathé superb singing, which is reminiscent of Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis, shining brightly among their electronica. Mathé tells us that a new album is in the offing and is one I’ll be looking out for based on this performance.

By Joe Lepper

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School of Language – Old Fears

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School of Language – Old Fears

Posted on 08 April 2014 by Joe

Every few years Field Music’s brothers David and Peter Brewis venture into solo waters; Peter in 2008 with The Week That Was and David in the same year and this year with School of Language.

At times its hard to distinguish these different acts, all are unmistakably Field Music and David’s second School of Language album Old Fears is no exception, with his brother as well as other Field Music regulars also contributing.

school_of_language_old_fears_album-500x500

But there are some small, notable differences. Field Music’s more recent releases have a greater focus on guitar interplay and a 70s production, whereas The Week That Was and School of Language have more of a 80s feel to them, with the latter venturing into pop funk at times.

On this latest School of Language release David Brewis is even channelling his inner Justin Timberlake, particularly on the slick track Dress Up (see the track’s excellent Talking Heads style video here). He admitted to The Quietus recently that rather prog and inventive rock by the likes of XTC and King Crimson, it is the pop of Shalamar and Prince that are his key influences on this album.

There is indeed some great pop on display, with Between the Suburbs and Dress Up in particular standing out. But the album still lacks the knockout killer pop blow that was Sea From Shore’s Rockist Part 1. That track’s beatboxing vowel intro proved a highlight of that debut but thankfully there’s still some similarly inventive vocal work on this latest release, most notably on the track Suits Us Better.

Despite the pop feel to Old Fears, the Field Music progressive rock sound is not far away and there’s still plenty of the King Crimson and XTC-esque guitar trickery that has typified Field Music’s most recent releases,  especially on tracks such as Distance Between, Small Words and A Smile Cracks. The production though is far cleaner, dazzling with a Top of the Pops 1983 shine rather than chin stroking with a Top of the Pops 1975 straggly-haired prog rock vibe.

The main point to get across when reviewing this album is that, yes, it is a solo off shoot project from a much loved band, but no, it is no diversion. It has the same core Field Music sound that has garnered a growing fan base and a Mercury nomination (for 2012’s astonishing album Plumb), albeit with a slower, relaxed, chart friendly groove.

8.5/10

by Joe Lepper

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