Top Ten Discoveries of 2019

Sometimes the music you listen to the most isn’t new, per se, but new to you. One person’s old news is another’s pot of gold, and these acts deserve a Top Ten list for their heavy rotation in my playlists this year. Whether digging into influences, branching out into parallels, Shazaming at a bar, or turning up the radio with a “ooooh who is this??,” these are some of the acts I’m thankful I stumbled upon in 2019.

Cymande
I think I have a Shuggie Otis radio playlist on Spotify to thank for this bringing this funky, soulful British ensemble from the ‘70s into my life. Tambourines, piano, and hand claps punctuate the jazzy Afrobeat in a classic I had been missing in my life. Favorites include “Bra” from the self-titled album and “Willy’s Headache” from Second Time Round.

The GOASTT (The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger)
I have really enjoyed The Claypool Lennon Delirium for finally drawing some new sounds out of Les Claypool. I also really enjoyed their opening act, Uni, when they last came through town. Turns out Lennon’s girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl founded Uni and plays guitar. Turns out she and Sean Lennon play together in The GOASTT, which sounds like so much of what I love about Delirium. Though they haven’t released an album since 2014’s Midnight Sun, their dreamy and harmonic power pop is fresh in the context of the current psych scene.

White Fence
I had the good fortune of catching Ty Segall this year at the inaugural Melted festival in Columbus. I am a relative latecomer to Ty fandom, and I was unfamiliar with his occasional partner in crime, Tim Presley. The performance was a package deal, Segall and Presley revisiting their collaboration for 2012’s Hair with a new project, 2018’s Joy. As the “onion” to Segall’s “lemon,” Presley brings wistful, melancholy Brit Pop sound to the table as the perfect, precious counterpart. I’ve been binging on his solo material just as much, if not more, than their shared work.

CAN
Fundamental to so many contemporary bands I listen to, CAN is another classic I can’t believe I was living without. I first picked up the thread when the first season of The Get Down on Netflix featured “Vitamin C” in the soundtrack, but I hit it hard this year with finds like “I’m So Green” and “Turtles Have Short Legs.” It’s groovy and jazzy, hypnotic and progressive, quirky and weird, which makes it still feel shiny and new as ever. You can follow the lineage from Captain Beefheart to Stereolab to Kikagaku Moyo. It’s all there.

ESG
“Six Pack” is the first song that appeared on my radar, and I recently heard Pond’s Nick Allbrook throw the chorus into a live version of “Don’t Look At The Sun (Or You’ll Go Blind).” Their sound is so simple yet so addictive, absolutely demanding you boogie. Give “Dance” or “My Love For You” a spin and just try sitting still. Impossible.

Roy Ayers
Yet another one that I think everyone in the world knew about but me. Following an afrofuturism trail, I dug into some greatest hits compilations and realized I was already familiar with a lot of Ayers’ material. It seems all the superstars of beloved ’90s hip hop (Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu) nod to Ayers. He’s a jazz legend, composer, producer, and vibraphone player inspiring avant-garde minds with a beautiful afrocentric utopian vision. I’m looking forward to all I’ve got to school myself on here.

Grace Jones
One video of Grace Jones sashaying down the runway to “Pull Up to the Bumper” during Paris Fashion Week this year sent me down a rabbit hole of her slinky, sexy minimalism. She’s commanding yet vulnerable, steely cool and smoking hot, all at the same time, epitomizing all that was wonderful of ’80s gender bending. I’m thankful for digital forms of music so I didn’t have to rewind a cassette as many times as I’ve listened to “Warm Leatherette.”

Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds
I’ve seen Kid Congo a few times but always as an opening act, so I never thought of him as the main draw. I realize now that is a result of my age and naiveté. Kid Congo has been in a million different projects but is most often noted for his work with The Cramps. A dark, sweaty late-night tent show at a music festival really framed him in a different light for me, followed by an electric performance opening for Slim Cessna’s Auto Club that really opened my eyes to the charisma and imagination he’s been bringing to the scene for decades. Dracula Boots is a relentless rocker I can’t stop once it starts.

GUM
Speaking of Pond, Jay Watson is a driving force behind their sound as well as that of Tame Impala. Watching an Amoeba Records “What’s in my bag?” video, I was stunned at the quirky spaces where our musical tastes overlap. Cocteau Twins AND William Oneyeabor? Turns out the Watson influence is that thread drawing me into some of my favorite tracks by my favorite Aussie bands. The Underdog came out last year, but I didn’t really dig in until this year. Along with Flash in the Pan, GUM speaks to my spacey synth-loving heart.

Khruangbin
This is one of those bands that Spotify keeps serving up to me and I’m glad each time. Like GUM, the album I’ve been digging–Con Todo El Mundo–came out last year, but I’m a little late to the party. They are another inheritor of CAN’s genius, “Maria También” adding some Southwestern flair and leaning hard on the percussion, also showing signs of Cymande influence. You can almost see “Evan Finds the Third Room” dressed in a Nehru jacket and platforms. Mostly instrumental and super chill, it’s another great branch in the current, vibrant psychedelic scene. | Courtney Dowdall

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