By Chris Haise
Another year in the books, somewhere between normalcy and the uncharted. The new releases and the live shows that accompany them are still in flux, but we began to see a return to business as usual. Many of the albums seem to exist in some parallel dimension, free of pandemic references. We also saw the release of many of the projects that predate COVID, but were delayed by it.
Artists are back on the road, festivals are being scheduled and booked, and the incomparable atmosphere that accompanies a great live show is on the rebound. I myself had a busy summer playing locally (maybe you saw me at Tosa Tonight in July?), and it was amazing to be back to live music in a face-to-face setting. I hope mine aren’t the only fingers crossed in hopes the recovery continues.
Without further ado, here is a handful of albums that stuck with me this year. As always, please consult parental advisories where applicable.
The Killers - Pressure Machine
The Killers are such an impressive modern band. Having heard The Killers in every possible setting from my high schools dances to a wedding reception last Friday, I can’t help but marvel at their longevity and development. The maturity at every level of this record stands out immediately. This is one of those undeniable albums where you believe, and hang on every word. One of the most noticeable things for anyone who has followed The Killers will be the production as Pressure Machine takes a step back from the loud, full, to-the-wall, compressed sound with which the band first emerged. Dynamics and thoughtful artistry are the calling cards on this album.
Seamless transitions in and out of startling vignettes, Pressure Machine has many of the electric moments you expect from the band while proving more reflective at the same time. The poetry of “Quiet Town” showcases singer Brandon Flowers’ unique and captivating delivery. On “Cody” the band sings, “We keep on waiting for the miracle to come,” and the guitar solo nearly delivers. The title track “Pressure Machine” is gorgeously produced, soaring next to Flowers’ falsetto. Eleven very strong songs, one of the band’s best efforts to date, and my personal album of the year.
Esther Rose - How Many Times
I love finding favorite artists out of the blue. The last record on my weekly run through a streaming service’s hot new albums, I was blown away by Esther Rose’s songwriting and voice. I feel like she is performing standards, but instead it’s a brilliant collection of original songs backed by a brilliant band somewhere between Nashville and New Orleans. I also get a sense of striking personal confidence from Esther, something in the honesty of her lyrics and the way she delivers them.
“Coyote Creek” twists and turns into an infectious classic pop chorus a la Roy Orbison. “When You Go” has the trappings of a timeless ballad while still feeling modern.
I like the humor and perspective in this record, something that might be missing from the relentless self-seriousness of modern music, best displayed on “My Bad Moods.”
On “Song Remains” Rose sings “I’m glad it was you who broke my heart,” which seems to have a wry smile behind the lyric.
A throwback of an album that you’ll definitely hang on to.
For Those I Love - For Those I Love
It is worth saying that I do not know what your musical preferences are. Most times I am somewhat uncertain of my own. So when I came across this absolute gem that lies well outside of my typical palate, I felt obliged to share as part of my music roundup. I was once again browsing the new music section when this House record grabbed me and did not let go. I typically don’t seek out progressive dance music, but from the first song I was enthralled.
David Balfe is an Irish producer, and this project is an homage to a dear friend he lost to suicide. The best description I can provide is a collection of sad and wistful and beautiful stories over infectious dance beats. Balfe’s delivery is somewhere between spoken word and hip hop, and his writing is nothing short of poetic. His lilting accent wraps around immaculate production and sterling samples as he grieves and reminisces about friendship. Deep themes of class, youth, love and purpose certainly speak to me as a
proto-millennial, and I really enjoy the theme and motif structure Balfe utilizes and calls back upon throughout the record.
The pure catharsis of this emotional artistic outpouring is especially remarkable in an age where we are rethinking the specter of mental health. Not just a powerful story, the sample and orchestrations on a song like “To Have You” show the musical strength of this project beyond the glowing lyricism. This time, rambunctious drums and swirling synths acting as the back drop for another snapshot of loss.
One of my favorite tracks is “You Live/No One Like You”, a passionate assertion that his late friend’s memory lives on all around him. The rambling storytelling of “You Stayed / To Live” drives and builds around Balfe’s visceral imagery. “I have a love and it never fades” is the refrain, and from first track to last, this record is indelible.
Olivia Rodrigo - Sour
This one caught me off guard. I typically take it with a grain of salt when I am told that an artist is the next big thing in pop music. I heard the single “driver’s license”, which had a record setting release, and really enjoyed the strong writing and unexpected nuance in such a young vocalist. I didn’t think it would end up part as a really good breakup record.
Rodrigo doesn’t have to scream and shout about being in tune with youth, rather the feeling just seeps through every aspect of the project. The subtle tenderness of “traitor” is captivating, and the song is a great example of this record’s ability to find the profundity in things that are often considered banal, like young
love. “traitor” segues straight into “driver’s license”, which is close to a perfect pop song in my view. “You said forever now I drive alone past your street,” laments Rodrigo, juxtaposing her loss with growing up. On the tender ballad “enough for you” she croons “I’d say you broke my heart, but you broke much more than that.”
This great debut seems to indicate a bright future for the Rodrigo.
Courtney Barnett - Things Take Time, Take Time
Another appearance for the Australian artist on the prestigious TC music roundup. Barnett continues to display her prodigious ability to find the profound in everyday living. Like Samuel Beckett with a six string. This record seems to show Barnett’s evolution as a songwriter as well, moving away from her rambling stream of consciousness style towards tighter, more polished songs. She keeps the iconic drawl, somewhere between Lou Reed and Bob Dylan. I felt the arrangements were a little thinner and sparser compared to her previous records, but it is definitely in service of the songs, providing some breathing space for Barnett’s witticisms. It also helps to push the record forward as she rips through 10 songs in 34 minutes.
I think this is a cover to cover record, being a strong collection of songs with a good track order and flow. As for highlights, I love droning guitar and driving drums of “Before You Gotta Go”, which flows right into “Turning Green”. This quirky song has my favorite lyric on the record when Barnett sings: “Lethargy is kinda forcing you to see flowers in the weeds,” a spot on description of the quarantine blues. Another favorite is “If I Don’t Hear From You Tonight”.
Adele - 30
Consider this one a prediction. This record is not out as we go to press. But the single “Easy on Me” hints that we may have another classic album from the British songstress. Adele is well on her way to being
this generation’s defi ning artist in my opinion. A fourth
consecutive masterpiece might just cement it. This
record is reported to tackle her recent divorce, and
I feel that theme could produce some great songs. I
am writing this in expectation of a pending classic,
and hopefully you have consumed the record, set to
release November 19th, and can confi rm my