Decks

When I started to compile this list and reflect on the releases and events that shaped my 2019 the year was coming to an end and I for one couldn’t have been happier about that. In full disclosure in the early stages of working on this piece I put a playlist together and named it 2019 – Go Fuck Yourself. A bit low brow but a title that accurately surmises my sentiment for those 365 days that occupied 2019. In addition to some personal challenges I was faced with last year the world continued to deliver heartbreaking blows with the deaths of two of my all time favorite artists, David Berman and Daniel Johnston, respectively. But, as I was often reminded in 2019 there is power and catharsis in music and sometimes a great song can change your day and perspective in under 3 minutes, or less in some cases. 2019 was an exceptionally strong year for music and brought both new releases from long standing favorites, indie legends and exciting new acts that captured my attention and provided the soundtrack to a year that is gladly in the rearview. This list could have easily been expanded to 40 albums if not more, however these 20 records are the ones that I turned to the most, connected with, played loudly in the car, on long runs in the woods, and forced upon my friends and loved ones. Let’s try to see past the fact that It’s already February, better late than never I suppose.

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20. Gruff RhysPang! (Rough Trade)
Former Super Furry Animals leader, Gruff Rhys follows 2018’s Bablesberg with a magnificent album of pastoral chamber pop about the decaying state of the world sung entirely in Welsh with production assistance from South African electronic artist Muzi.

Bandcamp | Stream | Rough Trade Records

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19 . The Black WatchMagic Johnson (Atom Records)
The long running Los Angeles dream pop concern, The Black Watch issued yet another gem in a string of engaging, literate and infectious LP’s with Magic Johnson. Not even my east coast pro Celtics bias could deny the strength of this album and shimmering pop sounds within.

Bandcamp|Stream |Atom Records

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18. SneezeFin (Midnight Warewolf / Tor Johnson Records)
Boston grunge punks, Sneeze first popped onto my radar in 2011 and I’ve followed along closely over the past 9 years as they’ve released a remarkably consistent string of releases. Fin follows 2016’s excellent Rot EP and finds the trio delivering there most varied and anthemic album to date.

Bandcamp | Stream | Tor Johnson Records | Midnight Warewolf Records

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17. Peyton Pinkerton Ex Tomorrow (Darla)
The former New Radiant Storm King, Pernice Brother, and Silver Jew, Peyton Pinkerton returned this year with what has turned out to be my favorite of his solo offerings. Ex-Tomorrow is filled with intelligent and exquisite guitar driven pop songs. What more could you possibly need?

Bandcamp | Stream | Darla

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16. FCKR JR I’m Sorry Mom and Dad (Born Yesterday Records)
Late last summer Ben Grigg (Geronimo!, Whelpwisher, Future Biff) unveiled the full length debut from his latest project, the fantastically named FCKR JR. A staggering blend of shoegaze, ethereal guitar lines, and considerable pop hooks. Slippercore is real!

Bandcamp | Stream | Born Yesterday Records

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15. Versus – Ex Voto (Ernest Jennings)
A very welcome return from a band I’ve admired since the early 90’s. Versus deliver this new set with finesse and refinement of a band that’s been at it for 3 decades but one that’s not satisfied to rely on their past accomplishments. Ex Voto is an infections and arresting LP that finds it’s creators sounding recharged and as vital as ever.

Bandcamp | Stream | Ernest Jenning Record Co.

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14. Horse Jumper of LoveSo Divine (Run For Cover)
Boston’s slowcore concern HJOL made the move to Run For Cover Records for their 2nd LP and found the band pushing their sound into exciting new directions with a blissful marriage of beauty, sadness, and noise.

Bandcamp | Stream | Run For Cover

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13. DiivDeceiver (Captured Tracks)
On Deciever Zachary Cole Smith leads Diiv through their most accomplished song cycle to date, while adding a new density and a fresh coat of grime to the shoegazers sonic pallet, providing new vibrant texture to dark tales of addiction and recovery.

Bandcamp | Stream | Captured Tracks

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12. Christian FitnessYou Are The Ambulance (Self-Released) Cardiff’s Andrew “Falco” Falkous delivered his sixth LP, under the moniker of Christian Fitness with You Are The Ambulance and further solidified himself as formidable songwriter and grade A noisemaker. Flippant post-punk anthems filled with razor sharp wit from the Mclusky/Future Of The Left fronter.

Bandcamp

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11. The Astounds Ancient Flying Ghosts (1262936 Records DK) A new record from Dean Wells (Capstan Shafts) is cause for celebration especially when said album is as good as Ancient Flying Ghosts. 10 songs in under 20 minutes for an euphoric lo-fi blast and oh so many hooks!

Bandcamp | Stream

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10. Possible HumansEverybody Split (Trouble In Mind)
It took Melbourne’s Possible Humans 7 years to release their debut full length, Everybody Split. After self -releasing the album in Australia Everybody Split saw wider release this summer courtesy of Trouble In Mind Records. Recalling the blissful jangle of early REM, The Clean, and The Feelies while distilling those influences into a unique and engaging debut LP.

Bandcamp | Stream | Trouble In Mind Records

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9. J. RobbinsUn-Becoming (Dischord)
30 years deep into a remarkable career with bands like Jawbox, Goverment Issue, and Burning Airlines J. Robbins issued his first solo LP ripe with thoughtful and honest post-hardcore anthems.

Bandcamp | Stream | Dischord

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8. Brat Curse Brat Curse (Anyway Records)
Columbus OH’ Brat Curse specialize in fuzzed drenched power pop and on their 2nd LP they deliver 12 infectious ear worms that seem to stick with me for days. This superb collection of concise and exhilarating mid-fi indie rock unveils a new favorite each and every visit.

Bandcamp | Stream |Anyway Records | Just Because Records

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7. Smug BrothersServe A Thirsty Moon(Self Released)
Smug Brothers’ creative force, Kyle Melton set up a home studio earlier this year and proceeded to record three new albums. Attic Harvest arrived in February then All Blur Spark was delivered in July, both of which are absolute gems and worthy of your attention. However, the material on Serve A Thirsty Moon seems like a step forward. A bit more anthemic, focused and affecting. This album has been in constant rotations since it’s November release.

Bandcamp | Stream

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6. Honey RadarRuby Puff of Dust (What’s Your Rapture?)
Philadelphia’s Jason Henn and friends delivered yet another satisfying and timeless album of hook heavy lo-fi pop with Ruby Puff of Dust. The latest offering sounds like it could’ve been easily released at any point in the last 30 years but as luck would have it came to us this year with quantum sized hooks and sweet melodies under a thick layer of tape hiss and buzzing guitars.

Bandcamp | What’s Your Rapture?

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5. Pernice BrothersSpread The Feeling (Ashmont Records)
September brought the 1st new album from Pernice Brothers in nearly a decade with the 11-track, Spread The Feeling. The album features appearances from past Pernice Brothers alum as well as a stunning collaboration with Neko Case, but what keep me reaching for this album over and over is an exceptional song cycle from Joe Pernice, chock full of beautiful lyricism and striking melodies.

Bandcamp | Ashmont Records

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4. PileGreen and Gray (Exploding In Sound)
For the past 12 years Boston’s Pile have delivered 7 LP’s of arresting post-punk while somehow upping the anti with each release. Green and Gray follows 2017 excellent A Hairshirt of Purpose and takes yet another step forward in the evolution of the band’s sonic capabilities. Rick Maguire delivers a stunning song cycle throughout Green and Grey while leading Pile through a well-balanced album filled with jagged noise and striking melodies.

Bandcamp | Stream Exploding In Sound

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3. Hallelujah The HillsI Am You (Self-Released)
The three years it took for Hallelujah The Hills to follow up 2016’s A Band Is Something To Figure Out was in fact well worth the wait. Who knew while Ryan Walsh was promoting his exemplary first novel, Astral Weeks: A Secret History Of 1968 he was also hard at work along with his band mates crafting Hallelujah The Hill’s flawless new LP. I Am You contains quantum sized hooks, accomplished and varied instrumentation, as well as Walsh’s greatest lyrical contributions to date. A masterful LP from start to finish.

Bandcamp | Stream

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2. Guided By VoicesZeppelin Over China / Warp and Woof / Sweating The Plague (GBV Inc.)
2019 was the year a perennial favorite delivered 3 exquisite LP’s in a 12 month span and provided the arduous task of picking a favorite. Zeppelin Over China is a 32 song monster and arguably the crowing achievement from Robert Pollard’s most recent and technically proficient line up Guided By Voices. May I refer you to Your Lights Are Out? A personal favorite from an album choc full of life affirming rock songs.


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Guided By VoicesWarp and Woof (GBV Inc.)
Compiling tracks released on 4 EP released between 2018-2019, Acid Rock, Umlaut Over The Ozone, 100 Doug’s, and Wine Cork Stonhenge. If you think it’s just another in the long line of Robert Pollard releases or an odds and sods collection you’d be dead wrong. Warp and Woof is a superb LP and one of Guided By Voices most varied and infectious albums in recent memory.


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Guided By Voices Sweating The Plague (GBV Inc.)
As I mentioned in a recent review Sweating The Plague contains some instant ear worms, but the tracks that really satisfy are the songs that reveal their greatness and subtle complexities over repeated listens. All three of the albums Guided By Voices released this year offered an overabundance of riches and each further proves Bob and this exemplary line up of musicians continue their hot streak but on Sweating The Plague, GBV goes all in on a menacing and gargantuan rock record that gets better with every visit.

Bandcamp |GBV.Inc ~ Rockathon Records |Stream

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1. Purple MountainsPurple Mountains (Drag City)
The fist time I heard this album it struck me to my core. Delivered in mid-July, Purple Mountains marked the return of David Berman after walking away from Silver Jews and music entirely in 2011. After David’s tragic suicide in August it took me a lot of time to return to this devastating and beautiful record. These 10 songs are his final artistic statement and in the aftermath of his death they hold even more weight and insight into David’s struggles. It’s remarkable that he was able to pull this off while in the grasps of such debilitating demons. Purple Mountains is outright masterpiece and I don’t throw that M word carelessly or often. In this case it’s completely warranted, but I like many others would give it back in second to change the course of his tragic end. DCB Forever and ever.

Bandcamp |Drag City Records |Stream

Honorable Mention: Pavlov’s Puss – Comfort Food | Halfsour – Sticky | Titus Andronicus – An Obelisk | The Gotobeds – Debt Begins at 30 | Kal Marks – Let The Shit House Burn Down Starflyer 59 – Young In My Head |Pedro The Lion – Phoenix | Mike Krol – Power Chords | Lud – Yellow House Trigger Cut – Buster | David Kilgour & The Heavy Eights – Bobbie’s a Girl | Uranium Club – The Cosmo Cleaners

FJRChicago’s slacker pop concern, FCKR JR. will issue their full length debut, I’m Sorry Mom and Dad on August 2nd. The quartet formed in 2017 and as last year came to a close they issued an impressive debut single Fog b/w Nine Inch Cakes. Helmed by Ben Grigg (Geronimo!, Future BiffWhelpwisher) FCKR JR. specialize in razor sharp melodies, substantial pop hooks, and liberal doses of guitar fuzz with intricate and engaging rhythms. Which are all on full display on I’m Sorry Mom and Dad’s opening track Frogs which we have the privileged of sharing today. In addition we recently caught up with Ben Grigg to discuss FCKR JR.’s forthcoming LP, his ongoing solo project, Whelpwisher and we even got him to share some of his favorite records of the year, so far.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: When writing how do you decide which songs will be released under the Whelpwisher moniker vs. FCKR JR.?

Ben Grigg: Well, I don’t really decide at that stage. I just like to write and record at home, those decisions don’t come into play until later. If a song turns out well and I’m feeling like doing a Whelpwisher release, then it’s a Whelpwisher song. However, I see anything Whelpwisher as fair game for FCKR JR. About half of FCKR JR’s songs started as something recorded under Whelpwisher. Since there really isn’t a live version of Whelpwisher, getting adopted by FCKR JR is the only way for a Whelpwisher song to be played Live.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Speaking of FCKR JR. can you tell me a little bit about the new album you’re planning on releasing next month? 

Ben Grigg: This FCKR JR record is our first formal release, besides a 2 song EP we recorded in my basement. The songs are really the bulk of what we’ve been playing live for the past year and a half. A lot of them are as old as the band, and we have them pretty polished at this point. Some of them are brand new though. It was exciting to see how the new tracks sounded, fully realized. The tape was recorded at a small studio in Chicago called Burn the Furniture. I’ve not always had great experiences in formal studio environments, but we had a wonderful time at Burn the Furniture. It was really an ideal experience. We’re also super stoked for the record to come out on Born Yesterday Records (Glued, Landowner)! They’re great people and we love the other bands affiliated with the label. 

The AGP: Can you tell me about the plans to support the new album on the road?

Ben: We’re planning a short tour to the East Coast in August. About half the band has never toured before, so it’ll be a fun experience for them. Tour dates should be announced shortly.

The AGP: Last week you released a new Whelpwisher EP, Good Fortune. What was the creative process behind those sessions ?

Ben: I’ve been lucky enough to live at a place with a basement for the past 4 years or so. I’ve set up sort of a makeshift studio down there and had lots of time to learn about recording. Whelpwisher basically started at the end of Geronimo! as a way for me to write and record music on my own. I’ve learned quite a bit in those years. However, I’m moving to a new place at the end of July. I’ll also have a basement space there, so nothing will really change. However, I felt like I needed to record a few more songs here (at Boozy Grin) before moving. Good Fortune is basically a goodbye to Boozy Grin. My process for Good Fortune was the same as my process for almost anything Whelpwisher. More or less, I come home from work, eat something, then go downstairs and don’t come back up until I have a complete song recorded. I start with drums. I’ll just hit record, and play drums until I have something worked out that I think I can write a song over, thinking about where verses, choruses, and bridges should go. Then, I’ll either do bass or guitar next. Very little is thought through beforehand, with the exception of the occasional riff. I might just have a vibe I want to convey, and that’s it. For me, if I have to take longer than an evening on a song, I find that it just doesn’t go together right and it’s best to move on. Either the bones of it are going to work, or they aren’t. Occasionally I find that vocal melodies or lyrics should be revised after some time to reflect, but generally everything else can be done all in a night. For Good Fortune, I followed this routine for a few nights in a row and bingo! Here’s an EP! The only track that was done earlier was Enough. I had recorded that back in March, but didn’t know what to do with it at the time, or whether I even liked it. 

The AGP: My introduction to your music was through the now defunct Geronimo! The band ended in 2015, but you’ve continued to work with your former band mates Kelly Johnson and Matt Schwerin on a few occasions. Do you expect to collaborate on future projects with them?

Ben: Yeah, I’ve certainly been lucky to be able to play music with both Kelly and Matt Schwerin. After Geronimo!, I think we all wanted to branch out and find different people to play with. It wasn’t out of any bad blood post-Geronimo, just out of curiosity I think. We’d been playing together for 8 years or so and maybe just forgot what it was like to play with other people. Kelly went off to start Milked with some friends of ours, and I tried to start up something that later became Future Biff. After a while though, I think we both realized that it was just much better to keep playing together. It was just more fun that way. Plus, we were so used to anticipating each other musically and knew how to work off each other. Everything was easier together. Milked ended up being the same lineup as Geronimo!, as did Future Biff, plus the addition of Ryan Wizniak(Meat Wave). Kelly even came to some FCKR JR practices early on, but his move to Eugene, Oregon was already looming, so he bowed out. I still play with Matt Schwerin in Deathsnack. I’d certainly love to play with Kelly again some day if geography allows, but for now, that’s not really a possibility.

The AGP: At the mid-year point it seems that everyone is sharing there favorite albums of 2019. Would you like to share some of your favorites of the year, so far ?

Ben: Yeah of course! I don’t digest music with the speed I’d like to, so I tend to listen to something over and over once I get it and not branch out too much. It makes it hard to really dive in to a lot or records, but these are the 2019 records I’ve been listening to so far (in no particular order):

Shady BugLemon Lime
GluedCool Evil
LomeldaM for Empathy
PileGreen and Gray

The AGP: Can you tell me a little bit about Frogs and the transformation it took from being a Whelpwisher to a full fledged FCKR JR. composition?
 
Ben: Frogs was a song I wrote in the fall of 2017. I just liked the simplicity of the chords and progression. It had a Dinosaur Jr./Ovlov vibe to it. The lyrics are about dealing with mental health issues. I don’t feel that I have been dealt a particularly bad hand in that regard, but I do get pretty down sometimes, to the point where I don’t want to feel better and begin to associate these feelings with “the real me”, which is of course total bullshit. I used frogs living inside my head as a way to separate these negative thoughts and depression from me, e.g. these thoughts aren’t me, it’s just those frogs again. 
 
Another fun story is that I had everything but the solo done on the Whelpwisher version and my friend Kelly Johnson (Geronimo!, Milked) came over. We were on our way to a party or a friends house or something and had about 15 minutes before we had to leave. I asked him, “hey, do you want to rip a guitar solo real quick?” He very kindly agreed and come down to the basement to record the solo on Frogs. It took all of 5 minutes, I really love how that turned out.
 
Frogs was the first song FCKR JR learned and started playing live. I think it was my favorite Whelpwisher song I had at the time, and seemed like an easy one to show everybody. It’s been fun seeing it evolve from my Whelpwisher demo to now. It’s picked up in tempo and Liz Bustamante is a far more creative and competent drummer than me. She’s added a lot of great details. Emily Wrong also added some really cool guitar dives throughout the song that I love, and Emily Bean rewrote the bass part. It’s sweet. I tried not to rip Kelly off too much in the solo, but I probably did, ha ha. I’m no Kelly Johnson. It’s also the first song we ever performed live. We played it at a kooky public access TV show, it was the first thing we ever did live as a band. We had to call ourselves “Effer Jr” for the show though, since it was on TV.
 
 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8w8KufY3XA Linked: Fckr Jr.| Whelpwisher| Future Biff