5. Stereolab, Mars Audiac Quintet (Duophonic)
4. Stereolab, Emperor Tomato Ketchup (Duophonic)
2019 was a glorious time to revisit, rediscover, or be introduced to one of the most important musical acts of the 1990s, as experimental legends Stereolab released lavish reissues of 1993’s Transient Random Noise-Bursts With Announcements, 1994’s Mars Audiac Quintet, 1996’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup, 1997’s Dots and Loops, and 1999’s Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night. Formed by visionaries Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier, the band artfully melded krautrock, 1960s kitsch, funk, jazz, electronic, drone, Surrealism, and even Marxism into a sound that remains strikingly original today. That mid-‘90s period, specifically, saw Stereolab hit astonishing heights: the extremely promising Mars Audiac Quintet set the stage for the masterful funk/pop of Emperor Tomato Ketchup. The playful experimentation of Mars Audiac Quintet was my introduction to the band in 1994, and I was immediately captivated by their modal, krautrock-derived sound without knowing what the heck krautrock was in the first place. Emperor Tomato Ketchup, on the other hand, remains Stereolab’s defining work, where they took that Can influence and used it as a springboard to some truly jaw-dropping innovation (“Metronomic Underground” is the greatest Can song Can never recorded). In retrospect that period more than 20 years ago was a welcome change from the drudgery of grunge, when eclecticism increasingly ruled the airwaves and captured the collective imaginations of Gen-Xers who watched Alternative Nation, enticing them to embrace musical diversity and crave cool new sounds. Consequently, Stereolab’s music still feels fresh and original a quarter century later.
3. Robyn, Body Talk (Konichiwa)
The culmination of a highly ambitious three-part project in 2010, Body Talk was a triumph for the queen of Swedish pop, proof that a female pop singer could put out music that appeals to millions and be a true auteur in the process. Which, as you know, is a rarity in this business. But Robyn did it all on her own terms, and Body Talk’s stature has grown so much over the past decade that it stands head and shoulders above any other pop/dance/electronic record from the same time period. In April 2019, the classic album was released for the very first time on vinyl for Record Store Day, so naturally it was the hottest item. Thanks to a good pal I was able to get a copy, and it remains a joy to listen to. Whether it’s “Call Your Girlfriend” (as oddly thoughtful a depiction of adultery that’s ever been pulled off in a pop song), the tender “Hang With Me”, the futuristic “Fembot”, or the timeless “Dancing on My Own” – the greatest single of the 2010s – Body Talk is a treasure trove of flawless pop music.
2. Bob Dylan, The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings (Columbia/Legacy)
17 years after Volume 5 of the Bootleg Series compiled selected live performances from Bob Dylan’s legendary 1975 tour of New England and Eastern Canada, fans now have an even more thorough document of the period, at least as far as official recordings go. Released in conjunction with Martin Scorsese’s riotous and enormously fun film Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story, this wonderful 14-disc set features five complete concerts by Dylan and his astounding band (which included Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Mick Ronson, Scarlett Rivera, Bob Neuwirth, Rob Stoner, T-Bone Burnett, and many more) as well as a bevy of rehearsal recordings and other rarities. Taking place between the release of the landmark Blood on the Tracks and the adventurous Desire, this tour yielded some of the fiercest, energetic, and flat-out fun recordings of Dylan’s career. Bob and the gigantic ensemble – expertly corralled by bassist and musical director Rob Stoner – completely rework Dylan’s ‘60s classics as well as showcase such scorching new material as “Isis” and “Hurricane”. There are so many different periods of Dylan’s career to explore, but the Rolling Thunder Revue was one of the very best, and this collection captures it all in its ramshackle glory.
1. Various Artists, Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood Original Soundtrack (Columbia)
My favourite movie of 2019 boasted the best soundtrack album I have heard in many years. Quentin Tarantino has, from day one, displayed a real talent for creating a specific filmic universe via the music he chooses, and just as every one of his movies has a certain visual feel, so does the musical aspect. The man digs deep into his record collection and comes up with some truly killer mixes, and the soundtrack to his depiction of the tumultuous summer of 1969 in Los Angeles is his best work, bar none. It was released on a lavish double album, but trust me when I say it works better on CD. You plunk the disc in the player, and GO for 79 raucous minutes, careening through ace driving songs (the Bob Seger/Deep Purple/Village Callers trifecta is sensational), obscure ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll, and starting with Neil Diamond (the “hot August night” intro on “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” marks that change in mood) shifting gears toward something ominous. Interspersed with authentic radio recordings from LA that year, including DJ chatter and commercial jingles, this soundtrack makes an indelible mark. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, this album works beautifully as a time capsule from the era.