A very Joel list of records enjoyed by Joel this year
10. (Three-way tie) Chris Staples: Holy Moly; Angelo De Augustine, Tomb; Chuck Cleaver, Send Aid
I know, shoehorning a trio of albums into one entry is totally cheating. But hey, Alive has two total staffers and the owners killed off print and there's no heat in the building today, so whatever. But also I do believe these three singer-songwriters have something in common: They’re all perennially overlooked and underrated. Looking for a chill morning-coffee album that also packs an emotional wallop? Check out Holy Moly and Tomb. Impatient for the next Wussy record? Cleaver’s Send Aid will do more than hold you over.
9. Laura Stevenson: The Big Freeze
I came to this one late, after talking to Stevenson in advance of her fantastic Big Room Bar show earlier this month. The Big Freeze is an intimate, solitary collection of songs that gets better with each listen, and Stevenson’s voice — pushed way up in the mix — has never sounded so beautiful and powerful.
8. Oso Oso: Basking in the Glow
People seem to care less and less about the 15th iteration of the “return of emo,” which is good, because an album like this stands on its own without any of that genre baggage. You don’t have to like any certain wave of emo to dig this record. It’s undeniably hooky rock music no matter how you slice it.
7. Mike Adams at his Honest Weight: There is No Feeling Better
Speaking of hooky rock bands… Bloomington’s Mike Adams is carrying the torch for Brian Wilson, writing happy/sad jangle-pop gems with delicious harmonies and tasteful string arrangements.
6. Joan Shelley: Like the River Loves the Sea
I’m going to be that guy and say I’ve been a die hard Joan Shelley fan for years now, and I’m glad this year she seems to finally be getting her due as one of the leading voices and songwriters in modern folk.
5. Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride
I still contend this album is too long; I’d cut the Steve Lacy tracks and maybe a couple of others. But the remaining songs are so strong that the album as a whole is still in my top tier this year (the same can't be said for Chance the Rapper's Big Day). “Harmony Hall” is perfect, and it’s also the one song my kids sing for days after hearing it.
4. (Sandy) Alex G: House of Sugar
The first 25 seconds of this album are so jarringly dissonant and annoying that I didn’t think I’d dig this record, but after spinning this delightfully off-kilter collection of pop tunes countless times in 2019, I don’t even mind the intro anymore. Nobody sounds like Alex G.
3. Big Thief: U.F.O.F. and Two Hands
Every year Big Thief has released an album, the band has ended up in my top 10, and in 2019 we got not one but two Big Thief records, each with its own distinct personality and strengths. U.F.O.F. is a textured, layered studio record, while Two Hands was recorded using full-band, live-in-studio takes. But the constant is Adrianne Lenker’s open-hearted songwriting and a voice that can go from brittle to searing without notice.
2. Fennesz: Agora
This ambient noise record started out as background music for writing, when songs with words proved too distracting. But I became addicted to these oceanic waves of drone-y fuzz that can be comforting or foreboding, depending on the way your own mindset imprints upon the music that day.
1. Bon Iver: i,i