Back in August I started graduate school, which made this year feel like it was split in two completely different halves, mentally and emotionally. This might sound silly to you, but the overwhelming wave of absolute relief I felt when I found out I was accepted into a Masters program after a few particularly frustrating years was a feeling I’ll never forget – it felt as if I could finally breathe normally after having my neck stepped on for so long, as if I was suddenly granted a sparkling new sense of self-worth. I’ve always felt most comfortable in an academic setting, admittedly, so it was wonderful to return to what felt like my normal state and be immersed in such a supportive environment for the past six months, surrounded by other passionate and hard-working writers, all trying to make something of themselves. At the moment I’m in a better place than I have been in quite some time, which I am so thankful to be able to say.
My demanding courses and my TA job made making time for kid with a vinyl a little challenging, but I still wanted to make it an absolute priority because this blog still means the absolute world to me. I can’t even explain how happy I am that I started this project back in 2014, and in fact, it’s been my longest running one – January 1st will mark six years exactly. I say this not because running kid with a vinyl helped my writing skills and help me get my foot in the door for other opportunities, but because it has, first and foremost, allowed me to find some absolutely incredible music and communicate with the incredibly talented artists and musicians that created it. Whenever I write anything, academic or otherwise, my ultimate goal is to better understand whatever it is I am writing about, so that was always the best part of running this blog – connecting with artists and learning more about their creative process, their inspirations, their lives. If you were one of the artists that we have featured this year, please know how honored I am to have communicated with you in some form, and how thankful I am that you wanted to be a part of this little project in the first place. I know we posted a little less this year than in the past, but I am still completely in love with everything we’ve featured over the past twelve months, and I hope that you, dear reader and listener, are as well.
This year I’m only posting one “best of list,” sharing my 7 favorite albums (and 2 EPs) of 2019. Admittedly, I have a rather personal attachment and bias to this list, considering that every single one of the albums listed below were also, like me, suspended somewhere along the journey to self-forgiveness, acceptance, and potential rebirth after a long period of internal strife, of mental and emotional exhaustion and frustration. They float along this path brilliantly – not by ignoring the past, but by embracing it wholeheartedly, taking the swaths of residual pain in stride, somehow still soft and inviting though they are weathered by constant introspection and rumination, previously broken but cobbled back together with gold like kintsugi, perpetually gritting their teeth for anything the future brings. They are incredibly honest and unapologetically vulnerable.
Not only have every single one of these albums inspired me this year, but they also have been something to lean on during times of frustration and hardship, a source of comfort and reassurance in my own personal journey towards some sort of mental and emotional revival, towards a potentially tighter grasp on my own sense of self-worth that I have managed, somehow, to recover. All deserve higher praise than I could ever give, as does absolutely everything I have featured – and will continue to feature – on kid with a vinyl.
I’ll stop rambling now. Without further ado, these are our favorite releases of 2019. Some of these I have written full-length reviews for, and they will be marked with an asterisk. They have no ranking – please view them in any order that you please.
Angelo De Augustine, Tomb
Angelo De Augustine’s hauntingly gorgeous LP Tomb was his first full length album recorded in a studio, marking a new beginning in the Los Angeles artist’s career. This choice thankfully brought his absolutely gorgeous vocals to the forefront; in the past, Augustine’s vocals have more or less stayed homogeneous with his instrumentals – hazy and gauzy, just blissfully out of reach, but his voice throughout Tomb is crystal clear, a touch louder than everything else, but intimate, echoed, reverberating freely above delicate melodies that feel as fragile as gossamer thread. True to the album’s title, the potency of its melodies makes you feel as if you’re completely ensconced, suspended within a blissful fever dream, caught inside a cave as rain makes a curtain at the entrance.
All I could think about during my birthday this year was how desperately I didn’t want to be twenty-four. I felt old, unaccomplished, and painfully boring. I went to the record store downtown, had dinner with friends, and then went home and watched music videos until morning, pensive and despondent and ironically, a little immature in staying up all night, because I didn’t want the day to be over. I tried, using sheer willpower, to make time move backwards. Ironically, the live version of Angelo De Augustine’s “Time” performed with Sufjan Stevens, chosen at the tender hour of 3 am, was one of the only things that soothed my hypersensitive brain that night; he sang about how time moves on, but how we can potentially move faster, how we can move on from our pain so gorgeously and gracefully it was as if we never lost that time at all. Angelo De Augustine’s guitar and voice is the equivalent of someone delicately cradling a baby bird, laundry still warm from the dryer, a seaside at dusk – god, I could give you hundreds of synonyms for how unbelievably safe his music makes you feel. Perhaps it isn’t just due to the warm, sepia-tinged tone his vocals perpetually emit, but due to the poetry he relays – how above all, he strives to be honest:
“[Tomb] is a motion towards positivity, addressing lost love, the worthwhile cost of honesty, and the ramifications, of regret. In the end…it isn’t about burying or hiding something away, it’s about opening the seal and letting something new emerge. It’s about telling people how you feel when you feel it, instead of burying everything over the span of years.”
There is nothing wrong with admitting how you feel and admitting it often, as long as the feelings are genuine. Tomb is a lovely reminder to do just that, to forgive yourself when you need to.
Required listening: “You Needed Time, I Needed You,” “Wanderer,” “Tide”
photo courtesy of artist
Petite League, Rattler*
No matter the season in which you listen to Petite League’s discography, it’s always as if you can feel the warmth of summer on your skin. Lorenzo Gillis Cook’s previous albums embraced this feeling, nestled between periods of finding and exploring identity, of making mistakes and memories while young. But, eventually, both youth (and summer) must come to an end; his fourth full-length album Rattler had the expat switch out his signature baseball bat with a cowboy hat, summarizing a stunning transitory phase. Explaining that he was “under the dominion of a quarter life crisis,” for the first time Gillis Cook embraced being “unhinged,” simultaneously understanding that “the music would come when it felt right” instead of constantly willing it to happen. What resulted was an incredibly thoughtful album with the same irresistible lo-fi charm as years past, but with a newfound sense of worth within its songs – clearly because ample time was taken to ruminate over them.
Despite the occasional heartsick lyric every now and again, Petite League’s music will always be one of the immediate gateways into the pure, wholesome feeling of summer and youth, and I’ll forever be grateful for it.
Required listening: “Blood Gardens,” “Yung Bubblegum,” “Rattler”
photo courtesy of artist
SPARKLING, I Want to See Everything*
Despite the jagged textures and raw, unrelenting energy, German post-punk trio SPARKLING’s absolutely fantastic debut album I Want to See Everything translated seamlessly to the comforting idea of empathy, radiating brilliantly within the album through its narratives as well as the fantastic album cover – literally wanting to view another person as they are, to understand them fully by looking them square in the eye. With lyrics sung in English, German, and French throughout, there is a universality they push to achieve that also relates directly back to this idea– the title track switches from language to language, but repeats one single desire: I want to see everything, I want to see the world.
Although there are thrashing guitars and heavy percussion, there was a moment within each of these songs that rips through the catharsis and instead expresses vulnerability through an unexpected 80’s/90’s synth wave or electronica melody, a softer instrumental tone, a subtle shimmer running under Levin Krasel’s explosive vocals, acting like soap slivers cutting through oil, bright light breaking through smoke. In dealing with such a heavy genre, little effects and flourishes like this make the songs not only stunning and memorable, but able to be played again and again without gumming up the stereo.
SPARKLING’s debut speaks to the latent human desire to understand the world we live in, to not take everything directly as it comes. It reminds us that perhaps we should strive not to open that proverbial third eye, but to simply open our given eyes just a little bit wider.
Required listening: “We Don’t Want It,” “The Same Again,” “Something Like You”
photo courtesy of écoute chérie
Brahny, moon EP
Brahny’s recent EP moon houses all the stunning elements of dream-pop, but on a stunningly elevated level – on his debut, he’s mastered absolutely irresistible, sensual synth beats, saturated, ethereal vocals that seem to float weightlessly over the melodies like delicate, yet lingering, potent strains of perfume. The Toronto- based musician subtly inserts influence from his Chinese heritage within his artwork and instrumentation alike, resulting in an effortlessly luxurious and beautifully unique take on the genre, achieving a warm and genuine tone for reasons apart from his obvious technical skill.
“I want[ed] moon to capture and reflect a feeling of suspension, of movement not with purpose but out of necessity. It comes at a time where I find myself spending more energy than ever deciding how I want to grow as a person and who I want to become. Frustrated at trying to navigate a newfound adulthood blinded by opportunity and purpose. Feeling separated from the world and trying to get back into its orbit.”
I absolutely adored moon because of these exact intentions, ones that directly mirrored my own over the past year. You can hear the resilience and glorious determination within these six tracks, so potent and meticulous and chock full of texture and color it’s as if it’s beyond a full LP. It’s thoughtful and precise, made with skill and, most of all, clear and unrelenting passion.
Required listening: “Prosperity + Rain,” “Paradise,” “Sunburn, AZ”
photo courtesy of artist
Lab Partner, Century Neet*
The path to acceptance has the potential to look like an abstract painting: emotions that come complimentary with trying and emotionally painful life experiences take the form of paint forcibly dragged against the tough grain of the canvas, poured in puddles so heavy that they eventually drip onto the floor, splattered violently from corner to corner. And while they may look out of place at the moment they are added or conceived, valueless to the current image, when taken in stride, these paint marks, these components of melancholy and introspection and attempts at understanding, soon ironically begin to form an image of resilience.
This is what I wrote at the end of our review for Jiles Beaver’s stunning sophomore album back in January, and I’d like to stick by it, for it is still what comes to mind not only upon, of course, viewing the album cover of Century Neet, but, most importantly, upon truly taking the time to listen to the songs that linger within the canvas over the past year. The narratives of these fifteen tracks, through Beaver’s skilled story-telling, explore anecdotes, abstractions, imagined scenarios, and all evoke those aforementioned brush strokes, adding to an abstract painting that, by the end, draws your eyes to the thoughtful and inquisitive heart that beats in the center.
While these narratives are worthy of study in their own right, I’ve since realized that Beaver’s music is brought to life exclusively through his unique, unabashedly earnest, and arresting vocal delivery, and the absolute potency of his vocals is what ultimately makes Lab Partner such a memorable and incredibly genuine musical project. There’s a scintillating confessional aura both enchanting and haunting, as if suspended by his own emotions – which does not feel far off, considering Beaver wrote, recorded, and produced everything you hear in both of his albums.
Also nestled within the lines of the album’s poetic bio is the slight admittance of allowing art to offer sanctuary for too long, a crutch to lean on. There’s a guilt that comes with relying too much on art and music to help us feel normal, to forcibly will ourselves to succumb, time and time again, to addictiveness of melancholy; I know this, because I too am guilty of it. The beauty of Century Neet is that it indulges in this theory, but every diaristic track, every admittance of guilt, every confession of weakness that exists in these narratives work together to push us towards the close, where Beaver tells us that “something’s sparked since” the events that transpired these past thirty some odd tracks, that he now stares at his once avoided reflection with hope. At times, Century Neet feels as if you’re intruding on someone’s own catharsis, but thankfully, Beaver never shuts us out.
Required listening: “Jitter,” “Truths to Better Times,” “The Old Red Carpet is Out”
photo courtesy of artist
Foxes in Fiction, Trillium Killer
Warren Hildebrand explained that while their last album Ontario Gothic was meant to reflect healing and regrowth, Trillium Killer was a reflection of the moments where we instead succumb to our pain and see ourselves stumbling backwards, allowing emotion and vulnerability to course freely through our bodies rather than attempt to block it out. However, this obviously comes with its own setbacks – Hildebrand mentioned in a statement:
“The initial idea for this record came after a period in my life where…it felt like there were two parts of me fighting against each other; one that was plotting the steps towards getting better, seeking help and staying alive, and another that was bent on violence and annihilation.”
In this vein, we are able to view Trillium Killer as referring to the act of self-sabotage, especially when considering the three-petaled Trillium flower, which quite literally represents recovery. The album was delicate in this brilliantly insidious manner, its crystalline, diaphanous synth and porcelain-like vocals effortlessly braiding into each other and ironically constructing this impenetrable fabric of intense self-awareness. The thoughtfully written lyrical narratives touched on all the various facets of mental health, as well as the immense, torturous guilt – the thought that perhaps you are creating and relishing in your pain in order to punish the people around you – that unfortunately seems to come complimentary. Hildebrand both works with and against this notion throughout their poetic verses, with beautifully haunting lines that often pierce through to the subconscious – the un-immediate, but the real.
Throughout Trillium Killer, throughout the soft synth that swells with graceful abandon, Hildebrand ultimately evokes a strange thankfulness and appreciation for our various coping mechanisms, self-propelled or otherwise; ultimately thankful for, as in the absolutely beautiful “Rush to Spark,” the “lie” that keeps them “hopeful for a second life.” It isn’t an immediately satisfying hope, sure, but it’s a hope nonetheless – it’s a heart that continues to beat despite all that is repeatedly hurled at it.
Required listening: “Rush to Spark,” “A Softer World,” “Second Chances/Vantablack”
photo courtesy of artist
Girlpool, What Chaos is Imaginary*
Girlpool undoubtedly had a hand in shaping the diy scene back when they were still teenagers – the unique energy within the raw, stripped-down guitar and explosive vocals in 2015’s Before the World Was Big, the industrial nature of Powerplant after they brought in a drummer two years later. But there have been ongoing changes since their first two albums, graduating from high school, and fully entering “the real world,” including the ever-growing battle with mental health and, perhaps most immediately discernible in the gorgeous What Chaos is Imaginary, Tucker’s transition and hormone replacement therapy, which has brought their voice down an octave. The search for identity and individuality after the dizzying haze of youth resulted in tracks varying in sound, freely placing shoegaze next to pop punk, synth heavy goth rock next to sweeping orchestral ballads. The lyrics, though esoteric at times, are visceral, jagged, but still strangely beautiful and incredibly heavy in emotion, they calmly rage, unashamed; the title track is the most beautiful representation of the latter.
What Chaos is Imaginary is reliable, perhaps initially painful but then soon reveals itself to be something akin to a medicinal salve – pain and vulnerability in the background, self-healing and forgiveness at the forefront. And while it might sound cliche, it also beautifully speaks to how powerful a friendship can be – having that one person to support you and love you, no matter what life brings, that perpetual and everlasting source of reliability in a world filled with, well, chaos.
Required listening: “Pretty,” “Hire,” “What Chaos is Imaginary”
photo by Gina Canavan
A Beacon School, Cola
I’m cheating a little bit here for this one, for although technically Cola was released in 2018, it was pressed to vinyl for the first time this year, along with three previously unreleased bonus tracks: “Glue,” “Fade in Nylon,” and “Cut Thru.” Along with my (not so secret) penchant for vinyl, Cola itself was also one of my go-to albums to listen to while studying this semester, with “Fade in Nylon” one of my go-to tracks, so I had to include it.
Cola was exciting because it seemed to be indifferent to conventional genre, moving from dream pop to post-punk seamlessly. “Glue” added to NY based multi-instrumentalist Patrick J Smith’s skill in flawlessly evoking texture and substance to simple synth, and presented a series of highly specific images alongside more industrial sounding effects and flourishes – the most apparent lies after the last verse, where synth rushes and bolts from left to right like bright white flashing lights, a pendulum perpetually oscillating. Throughout the album, and especially in “Fade in Nylon,” Smith’s crystal clear vocals, somehow both subtly hidden and jutting out from the cryptic, experimental, complex instrumentals, flow and expand akin to water poured on glass, the residual fragments of those same vocal flourishes circling around like a cool breeze. There’s something about it that feels restless in every sense of the word – improvisational, even – but in an incredibly exhilarating manner; catharsis is one of the most incredible things to evoke within music, and Cola takes you along for every step.
Required listening: “Fade in Nylon,” “Algernon,” “Glue”
photo courtesy of artist
John Myrtle, Here’s John Myrtle EP
The phrase “lost in time” is thrown around quite a lot when describing music, but London based artist John Myrtle is one musician in particular that truly deserves the sentiment, especially with the stunning debut EP released back in July. With the exception of mixing, Myrtle wrote and recorded everything on his own in his bedroom, which has resulted in a near tangible sense of tranquility despite the flawless immediacy of his instrumentals and narratives, sounding brilliantly soft, grainy, and far away, a willing daydream. His thoughtfully sung narratives are sincere, free of any trace or shred of irony; though he instructs us to steer clear of love by the album’s gorgeous close, there’s something perpetually lodged within his music that is fueled on the feelings of playful adoration and sweet melancholy, something that hearkens back to a time where everything seemed to be based a little less on pretensions, and more on possibilities.
Required listening: “Beware of Love,” “There Must Be Something More to You and Him,” “Foggy”
photo by Niralee Modha
Thank you so much for an incredible year. See you in 2020!