Top 5 Albums of December
No matter how diligently you plan, you never really know what will happen on New Year’s Eve. I, for one, found myself in rural Manchester, Vermont playing cover songs for unenthused baby boomers. Rather unceremoniously, my bandmates and I rang in the new year passing around a water bottle brimming with cheap tequila. The next morning, the first day of 2019, we stopped at a small diner called Mrs. Murphy’s Donuts for a cheap breakfast. I noticed a particular quote on a laminated page of cutesy phrases pinned to the wall above the microwaves: “Great ideas are never remembered and dumb statements are never forgotten.” It was a good way to leave 2018 behind.
The music biz in December is virtually non-existent, and many artists shy away from releasing much of anything. Major music publications take the month off of pushing new music to focus on their final year end lists as consumers spend time buying vinyl reissues for holiday presents. It’s generally not a great idea to put out anything particularly groundbreaking in December—it will probably get left behind into the new year.
With that in mind, our top albums this month are survivors of the holiday tides from artists courageous enough to brave the elements in search of willing ears. What I found in each album is the simple, satiating consistency of straightforward, meat & potatoes songwriting, the type that asks in earnest, “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?” With a fresh perspective and 2019 at our feet, cap off the weirdest year to date with our top 5 albums of December.
- Vulfpeck – Hill Climber
For fans of: Lettuce, The Meters, The Dip
Fans of the ever-affable funk collective Vulfpeck will be pleased with the familiar faces scattered on their newest studio album Hill Climber. Theo Katzman fronts a good chunk of the album’s front half with an assist from Antwaun Stanley on album highlight “Darwin Derby”. There’s also a heaping load of Joe Dart bass riffs everywhere you turn. But buyer beware: Hill Climber isn’t anything particularly fresh in regard to the Vulfpeck canon, but interesting collaborations with Louis Cole and prolific producer Mike Viola keep the album peppy and vibrant. In the long run, don’t think too hard on Hill Climber—its existence is to simply keep our spirits light and locked in a groove.
- Twist – Distancing
For fans of: TOPS, Caroline Rose, Weaves
Though unflinching in its indie-pop spirit, there’s a lot of ground covered on Twist’s sophomore release Distancing—”Distancing” emanates the existential cool of Mission of Burma, “Waves” pulses with the spirit of Arthur Russell’s underground disco, “Venus” could pass as vintage Beach House—yet the various twists that chief songwriter Laura Hermiston constructed lead to a revolving sense of reflection. Within big hooks and jangle-pop informalities, Hermiston assesses and ponders the myriad of issues many twenty-somethings face head on with a gregarious charm. Bonus for you Collective Arts patrons: Twist are a local Toronto band.
- Scott Hirsch – Lost Time Behind the Moon
For fans of: Hiss Golden Messenger, Cass McCombs, Father John Misty
Much of Scott Hirsch’s career has been spent traveling the rural mass of the U.S making music with gritty folk outfit Hiss Golden Messenger, and his experience as an urban cowboy reveals itself in his music. Lost Time Behind the Moon is a slow burn drawl with soft touches of pedal steel guitars and romantic coos that waft the sweet sounds of southern Americana. At a first glance, Hirsch attempts to fill the shoes of alt-country luminaries like Jason Molina and Jeff Tweedy—as it turns out, he’s perfectly comfortable in the boots he’s wearing, owning every step with a casual, confident stride.
- Charlotte Gainsbourg – Take 2
For fans of: Goldfrapp, Air, St. Vincent
French Actress/musician Charlotte Gainsbourg gifted the world with Rest in 2017, a dramatic autobiographical album fed through the lense of crunchy french electronica. Gainsbourg returned on her 2018 follow up EP with Rest producer SebastiAn to conjure some of of the most evocative and dynamic electronic music of the year. Take 2 is a lesson in arena-sized arty-electro in the spirit of Daft Punk’s Discovery, employing the use of emotion on the dance floor as a weapon. Make no mistake, Take 2’s short run time does not reflect it’s demeanor; Gainsbourg’s cavernous creations make her seem mighty within them.
- Foxwarren – Foxwarren
For fans of: Andy Shauf, Elliott Smith, Big Thief
When you find yourself caught in a dream, there’s a warm chamber in your imagination that wraps you in a soft embrace—it happens to be the same place Foxwarren was conceived. Canadian singer/songwriter Andy Shauf, along with childhood friends Dallas Bryson and brothers Darryl and Avery Kissick, captured the obscure fuzz of hazy dreams on the group’s debut album in robustly concentrated songs. The warm drones of synths mashed with Shauf’s faint Canadian articulation make Foxwarren incredibly comfortable while maintaining an air of intensity and mystery—it begs to be listened to and yearns to be understood, and answering its call is an absolute delight.