Rose Tint: El Cuervo’s Discoveries of 2019

Following my last couple of year-end lists, it should now not come as a shock that I spent more time fleshing out my historical knowledge of music than my contemporary knowledge. In honor of my abject failure in keeping my eye on the present, I have received approval to document my ever-deeper plundering of previous decades in an article detailing my favorite older records which I first heard in 2019. I shouldn’t think that these releases will blow the mind of actual olde people (here’s looking at Steel Druhm and Huck N’ Roll who are borderline senile) but I hope to demonstrate that there are years of amazing and diverse music behind us if you’re ever feeling burnout with what’s releasing now.

While some of my exploration manifests simply as older versions of styles I already enjoy, digging deeper into artier end of 80s pop was a fruitful endeavor. Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Welcome to the Pleasuredome was a highlight with its all-time pop bangers (“Relax,” “The Power of Love”), little oddities (“War… and Hide,” “San Jose (The Way)”) but equally its grander, experimental title track. Likewise, The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby and the Range satisfied all my desires for piano-oriented pop, mandolin rain and the sound of music on the lake. Bridging the not-quite-pop and not-quite-rock, my ambivalent response to the new Bent Knee encouraged me to work backwards to Say So, a quirky yet catchy art rock release from 2016. Its surprising depth and off-center approach ensnared me towards the end of the year.

Having visited Canada for the first time this year, Mr. Huck N’ Roll turned me on to King Crimson’s Discipline which is just as knotty and expansive as their early 70s releases but with an 80s twist. Despite this, the prime Crimson choice I heard (and consequently referred to Huck) was Lizard, an artfully arranged, playfully executed and criminally underrated gem in their discography with a distinct medieval flavor. Other progressive highlights included the folksy and effervescent A Song for All Seasons by Renaissance (a wonderful Åkerfeldt recommendation) and my return to Sounds that Can’t Be Made. Marillion’s 2 releases of the decade demonstrate the way in which Hogarth’s vocals, Rothery’s guitar and Kelly’s keyboard gel into some of the most orgasmically-beautiful compositions this side of Yes and Pink Floyd.

Years after hearing “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, I finally got around to contextualizing that song in its native album. Moving Waves is a marvelous release, very much of its era in 1971, featuring the aeons-old approach to prog where the Side A is a number of shorter track and Side B is a gargantuan epic. Despite being from The Netherlands, not particularly renowned for its progressive rock scene, “Eruption” stands up to the best of the English stalwarts. Finally, Sentynel’s recommendation on The Race for Space by Public Service Broadcasting finally sat with me. Using broadcasting material as ‘vocals,’ and wrapped into a diverse and grand musical approach, it’s one of the more unique endeavors I heard this year.

To remind you, reader, that metal was my first love, 2019 also saw the thrash genre finally opening up a little more to me. Exploration through some of its stronger releases off the beaten track yielded the progressive and angsty Screams and Whispers by Anacrusis, the technical and melodic By Inheritance by Artillery and the sheer, bloody, battering ram that is Demolition Hammer’s Epidemic of Violence. All come with the El Cuervo Seal ov Approval. Also noteworthy was my first experience with Slayer’s debut record, Show No Mercy. Closer to speed metal than the fully-fledged thrash powerhouse they would become, it still boasts the razor-sharp song-writing and concision for which they are well known. Lastly, the announcement of Sortilège for 70000 Tons of Metal encouraged me to dig out Métamorphose. It’s a NWoBHM-influenced release and I have no doubt they’ll make a fun addition to the cruise on account of their guitar theatrics and trve status from the early 80s.

A final, special mention must also go to Jar of Flies by Alice in Chains. I’m no grunge fanatic but this acoustic masterpiece is catchy, soothing, funereal and one of the greatest EPs ever written all at once. I truly rate it that highly. Only the dead and men much cooler than me don’t tear up on hearing “Nutshell.”

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