Covers 2019 Playlist

It’s a snowy day here in St. John’s. I’m in a taxi on my way to Burin to celebrate Christmas with the Lundrigan clan. It’s driven by a friendly fella named Tom.

Turns out this is also Santa’s sleigh. The front is stacked full presents and we’re driving all over town dropping them off. Row after row of jelly bean houses, Tom honks the horn and hands out colourful gifts. Along the way the van fills up with people too. It’s a merry ride. Saint Nick might just be a Newfoundlander.

Nevertheless our ride has given me some time so I’ve devised the best covers of 2019. The reimagined “Crown of Love” is a real standout. And Chromatics can always be counted on for a great cover. The same goes for Brass Against. Happy listening friends

And here’s the originals playlist companion just for fun.

Magic Marker – Best of 2019 Playlist

I still roll around with a magic marker 

Some nights it just feels good to write your name 

— Craig Finn 

Let me explain. The moment I heard this song, inspiration hit me: it would make a great short story. The imagery is ripe for interpretation, lines like pretty girls burning holes in the cushions of the couch. Or a bouncer with a fish hook in his mouth. It’s a character driven song, one I had hoped to flesh out. I must have listened to “Magic Marker” a hundred times. Each time a new idea would spring to life. Is it a heist story? A commentary on addiction and loneliness? I settled on the idea of it being told from the perspective of a daughter searching for her estranged father, finding clues of his life in scribbled black ink. It’s still a work in progress. 

That’s the power this song held over me. As I reflect on it now, if your brain snaps into action like mine did, then you have something truly special. But, it’s a very personal experience. You can’t ignore that kind of visceral response, which is why it’s the song of the year for me. 

As 2019 rolled on, I started experiencing what I can only define as music consumption fatigue. I’ve been writing this blog for two years and consuming so much music (often 10-15 releases a month) that I lost emotional connection to the songs. That’s no way to listen. Your heart has to be in it. So, I took a break, then life happened.  

I switched jobs for the first time in five years. The new gig has literally consumed my life, I often refer myself as having my head stuck in the sand. While it may not be the perfect metaphor, let’s just say my energy has been focused in a single direction. I’m pulling my head out now though for a few hours. 

Due to the aforementioned fatigue and the new job, it’s been a challenge to be connected to the music in the same way this year. It’s been hard identifying the real winners on this list, so I went with my gut. Usually I agonize over curating and perhaps overthink it a little. It’s been refreshing reliving these songs and building the flow of the playlist. Happy listening friends. 

Top 5 Records of the Year: 

  • American Love Call – Durand Jones & The Indications 
  • The Saint Of Lost Causes – Justin Townes Earle 
  • I Need a New War – Craig Finn 
  • In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights – The New Pornographers 
  • Oh My God – Kevin Morby 

Concert of the year: Justin Townes Earle in NYC 

Biggest Disappointment: Real Life – Cayucas 

Where-the-hell-did-that-come-from?/most interesting record of the year: SOUND & FURY – Sturgill Simpson 

Maybe in 5 years I will love it: Father of the Bride – Vampire Weekend 

June 2019 Playlist

I’ve never seen a venue clear out that quickly. From the final applause to the bar staff counting their tills must have been about 10 minutes. I guess all those New Yorkers had some place better to go on a warm Tuesday night in Manhattan.

As I waited for her to return from the bathroom downstairs it was just me and the merch guy. That’s when it struck me. Now is the perfect time to meet Justin Townes Earle. Merch Guy instructed me to find his manager downstairs and “see what happens.” When I cornered him, I explained that we traveled from the Canada for the show and we simply wanted to shake Justin’s hand and tell him a story. He half-smirked and said to wait upstairs for ten minutes.

Six years ago, when I was courting my partner on Plenty of Fish I sent her link to JTE’s video for “Midnight at the Movies.” I told her that she seemed like the kind of person who would appreciate his music, and this song in particular. I told her that songs with characters whose humanity reveals itself with such truth and powerful imagery is important to me. It worked. His music helped bring us together all those years ago and has soundtracked our life together since. He is part of our shared history.

We tried to see him live many times but to no avail—either we were out of the country or the show was sold out. But this time, for my birthday, I was surprised with a trip to New York City to see Justin Townes Earle. I was determined to tell him that story.

We were very nervous. This is not something we do, but here we were, waiting. When he finally lumbered up the stairs I just started clapping. I didn’t know what else to do. Justin (I feel like I can call him by his first name now) is a lanky, tall fella and he was looking haggard. He lays himself bare to his fans onstage. His performance had exacted its pound of flesh. My partner acknowledged this, thanked him and she disappeared into his wingspan when they embraced.

Then it was my turn. I told him our story and told him that he was a part of our shared history. He shot her a look, the kind that asked is this guy for real? She nodded, smiled. He kind of melted for a second, clearly impacted by the story, and just bear-hugged me. It’s rare to be able to thank someone in this way and for them to be receptive. We knew it was a lucky moment. We floated home in the Manhattan night on a high that was equal parts utter shock and pure elation.

I have similar associations with Iron & Wine/Calexico. Their first collaboration, In the Reins, really connected with me and after this experience I asked myself what would I say if I had the chance to meet Sam Beam? But it’s best not to seek a lightning strike twice. Their newest record, Years to Burn, is a harmonious blend of Beam’s hushed singing style with Calexico’s jangly Spanish country sound. “Midnight Sun” and the three-part epic “The Bitter Suite” are songs where both groups seamlessly come together and really shine.

If vertigo was a sound Black Mountain would be its conductor. That dizzy, staggered feeling emanates all throughout Destroyer to the point where you might need to hold onto something just right yourself. “License to Drive” is sludgy and psychedelic, but it weaves through so many strange twists and turns that after giving your head a shake you just want to hear it again.

Black Pumas highlighted my best of 2018 playlist and now they’re poised to do it again with their self- titled debut. It’s six-string soul: Stax-era Motown mixed with some serious guitar wizardry. Vocalist Eric Burton has an incredible voice, best heard on the song of the summer, “Colours.” It’s hard to shake the retro label, but this not a band paying homage, rather Black Pumas are doing it their way and we’re just along for the ride.

Mattiel is my favourite artist that I’ve discovered this year. Her sound is sweaty, bratty and unapologetic. She just doesn’t give a fuck. While comparisons to White Stripes and Jefferson Airplane are hard to ignore, her songwriting is confident and arresting. “Keep The Change” is irresistible, it’s bold and catchy as hell.

Never forget that Justin Townes Earle is proud, self-proclaimed white trash. The show was in a trendy winery–more restaurant than grubby venue–and he remarked that you can’t drink fine wine or enjoy a 16oz steak at the Bowery Ballroom. Things have changed for him but also stayed the same. His final words to us out the door that night solidified this: “See ya later, ya bougie motherfuckers!”

May 2019 Playlist

It’s impossible for me to analyze new music in a vacuum. I can’t mute my own expectations. Neither can I ignore a band’s discography. Nor can I stop making comparisons. But I’ve tried. In order to drop the weight of wanting to like something because I’m a fan comes down to the most personal of observations: how does it make me feel? If the songs evoke an emotional response then I think the band has done its job, and, I’ve done mine.  

I tried to pretend that listening to Father of the Bride was the first time I heard Vampire Weekend. Not an easy to task—ignoring an outstanding bunch of records that I’m inherently attached to—it was like trying to nail French Onion soup to the wall. I autopiloted to comparisons (can they top “Unbelievers?” Will there ever be another “M79?” Can they match the frenzy of “Cousins?”) I just couldn’t let go of their shared history with me.  

Eventually, after many listening, I found myself singing along to almost every song. I discovered that this record really makes me happy, it’s like distilled summer. It’s about feeling after all; songs like “This Life” and “Unbearably White” are pure pop bliss, and they still pay off after many, many listens. But it’s the deeper cuts that are the real earworms. There are a collection of 90-second-ish songs scattered throughout (“2021, “Big Blue” and “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin”) that highlight short, confident songwriting. These songs glue FOTB together, like little excursions off the larger trip. It’s an expansive listen, and yes there are a few terrible songs, but the real test of an album like this is how I will feel about it years later. Only time will tell.  

Adrianne Lenker’s hushed vocal delivery has an imperfect quality that’s equally disarming and deeply personal. Every time I listen to U.F.O.F I’m transported to a place where I feel like I’m right there with her, as if we were passing a flashlight to one another, telling ghost stories, like kids at a campfire. It’s an otherworldly, transformative experience. The album is a masterpiece, it swells with tension and its emotional core is hypnotic. The one-two punch of “UFOF” and “Cattails” might be the best I’ve heard all year. “Jenni” will haunt you, it’s a song that smolders like embers from a dying campfire. 

It sounds ridiculous when I type it and re-read it, but ALASKALASKA have found a way to blend electro-pop with jazz. And it works. Throughout the songs on The Dots there are instrumental moments that are just astounding. Walls of synths and beats pulse so high and loud, then suddenly wash away into screaming saxophone scales. “Moon,” “Monster” and “Meateater” are excellent tracks off a very surprising record. 

A great opening song should be like an amuse bouche. It should burst with the first bite and hint at what’s to come. “You Had Your Soul With You” achieves just that; when Gail Ann Dorsey’s voice comes out of nowhere supplanting Matt Berninger’s baritone, it announces that I Am East to Find is a different kind of National album. Each track feature’s a woman’s voice and it’s a welcome change because this would have been a really boring record otherwise. I applaud the riskiness and the song-craft, songs like “Oblivions” and “Not In Kansas” are a seamless harmony of two very different singing styles. The real standout is “Where Is Her Head,” a propulsive number where Berninger plays seconds fiddle to Phoebe Bridgers’ powerhouse vocals. It’s demonstrative of a band that seems re-energized.  

If Springsteen played an 808 instead of a guitar I think he’d sound like Operators. Montreal’s Daniel Boeckner is a savant. He’s been in so many innovative bands over the years, from Wolf Parade to Divine Fits to Handsome Furs, that you forget he can also be the star of the show. Radiant Dawn is peak Boeckner, “Faithless” might be the best song he’s ever written.  

IGOR is a super weird record. It’s unclassifiable. I think Tyler, The Creator wants to annoy and challenge you. Just when you are head-nodding to a beat, it breaks, changes and morphs into completely different. It’s manic and clearly intentional, he wants to take you on a couple long, strange trips, the best of which are “I THINK” and “RUNNING OUT OF TIME.” 

I have a bottle of Icelandic aquavit called Brennivin that I’ve never opened. You’re supposed to shoot it with a bite of pickled herring. I would like to drink this spirit with Justin Townes Earl because The Saint Of Lost Causes is moonshine blues. It’s wood smoke, lonely nights, regret and redemption. Whether he’s weaving a murder ballad (“Appalachian Nightmare”), a country barn-burner (“Flint City Shake It”) or sad, sad blues (“Over Alameda”) his pedal steel swoons and sings. If you’ve never given Justin Townes Earle a good listen, this is a good place to start. 

April 2019 Playlist


I feel like I’m an old man yelling at a cloud here, but it’s all Vampire Weekend’s fault. Or maybe it was Justin Vernon first. Both of these artists started using studio trickery like autotune many years ago (see Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” and VW’s “California English”) and as a result opened the floodgates for everyone else to exploit, copy, rearrange and eventually change the course of indie rock. 

Sanitization is in full swing. A clean, bright white sheen has painted over the rough spots. It’s been happening so gradually that not until you reach the end can you actually witness it. I can draw a straight line from Bon Iver to Broken Social Scene’s abuse of autotune on their new EP Let’s Try The After (Vol. 2). The same line can be drawn from Vampire Weekend to Local Natives’ over-produced abomination Violet Street. And now it’s happened on Cayucas’s latest Real Life. All three records have virtually no guitar, instead it’s all shiny strings, keyboards and drum machines.  

The guitar’s slow death in popular music has left us with a sound that feels canned, clinical and often times heartless. But I need to step off this soapbox because I know I sound like Grandpa here. Music changes. Bands change. I get it. Indulge me and listen to the aforementioned new releases and ask yourself, does it have to sound so perfect? I think there’s still room for a little grime, or the smallest pop of colour on an otherwise pale, sandy landscape. 

Ignore the hideous cover, this is a fantastic record from one of the most prolific songwriters of the past five years. Kevin Morby has also set his guitar aside, instead he sat down at the piano to craft a warm, lush rumination on religion, loneliness and gun control. He’s not a God-fearing man, but he’s praying for change like a snake-charmer in a dusty tent. Oh My God radiates on the gospel choir-tinged “No Halo” and the standout “Congratulations.” 

People Under The Stairs have mysteriously returned and have brought back some old school hip hop with them. Full of tricky rhyme schemes, record scratching and head-nodding beats, Sincerely, the P is the antithesis of modern hip hop. That classic jazzy, 90s era vibe returns on tracks like “Reach Out” and “The Effects of Climate Change on Densely Populated Areas.” 

Sweden’s The Tallest Man On Earth has one of those voices that’s so emotive and vulnerable. He’s once again laid himself bare on I Love you. It’s a Fever Dream. It’s a quiet album, and occasionally suffers from  sad-guy-with-a-piano/guitar-syndrome, however the tone and tempo ramps up on the excellent “I’m A  Stranger Now.” 

If you’ve ever been to the Dakota Tavern, Toronto’s temple to the Nashville sound, then you’ll know what I mean when I say that every time I walk by it, I instantly feel hungover. Shovels & Rope feels like a band that’s made for the Dakota and its consequently foggy morning/afternoon after. By Blood bursts with such fist-pumping, bourbon-swilling anthemic power on tracks like “Mississippi Nuthin’” and “C’mon Utah,” that I think I need a need some hair of the dog. 

Josh Ritter has teamed up with Jason Isbell and his band The 400 Unit on Fever Breaks. It’s a plugged-in, turbulent record. At times Crazy Horse (“Losing Battles”) and other times Paul Simon (“Old Black Magic”), but this is a perfect synergy between two outstanding musicians. 

I know very little about Craig Finn. His album I Need a New War was recommended to me by a friend with great music taste. I’ve resisted researching who this guy is because sometimes context doesn’t matter when something comes out of the blue and sounds this good. “Magic Marker” might be my favourite find this month; I won’t spoil it for you, just give it a spin and enjoy.  


March 2019 Playlist


Nicotine is a hell of a drug. Cigarettes have been my safety valve, my stress relief. A constant companion. My secret exit strategy. My reward. If I want to be honest with myself though, tobacco has also been my jailor, locking me in a yellow-stained, foul-smelling cell for far too many years. 

But friends, smoking is awesome. It’s three or four minutes of total peace. I’ve somehow trained my brain to problem solve at a high level and to be ultra-creative with a smoke in hand. I wrote that lead, and first paragraph whilst puffing away. I’ve devised some of my best recipes during those 120 seconds. I’ve solved conflicts and strategized.  

Lately, this warm cocoon I’ve created for myself to justify my addiction is letting me down. I’ve slowly switched to vaping with some degree of success (or at least commitment) and come to shatter a few of my preconceptions. Namely, I can be creative without tobacco. My brain still churns the same way with a vape in hand. I’m acutely aware that I’m merely trading habits for the moment, however I’m starting to see what life can be like without cigarettes. It’s a start at the very least. 

There are so many associations to be broken. Cigarettes and coffee. After a meal, or with a beer. After sex, during sex—wait, scratch that last part. I associate tobacco and music in a very romanticized and, frankly, cliché fashion. The artist slumped over a piano, a full ashtray seeping blue smoke. A guitarist, shoulders low, cigarette dangling from his/her mouth—I instinctively think of Slash every time. 

Nick Waterhouse’s music could easily soundtrack a Mad Men episode, complete with martinis, chauvinism, beehives and plumes of cigarette smoke. It’s proudly 1950s rockabilly and rhythm & blues. I can’t escape that cliché when I listen to tracks like “Song For Winners” and “I Feel an Urge Coming On.” Side A is the clear winner; the songwriting, and tempo, drops substantially as the record comes to a close. 

Should an artist try to recapture lightning in a bottle? I have a lot of respect for artists who are confident enough to try something different on their second record. Durand Jones & The Indications have expanded their sound on American Love Call. Whereas their debut had a garage soul sound, high tempo and pulse-pushing, this record detours to orchestral soul. Violins and falsetto harmonies have replaced the punchy horns, creating an AM radio sound. His voice has taken a quantum leap forward too. 

If you’re a fan of Alvvays, you might like Moving Panoramas. I dismissed In Two for most of the month, however, every time it came on, I liked it more and more.  

Helado Negro’s This Is How You Smile produces a current that forces you to slow down. It’s gentle and lovely. Tracks like “Imagining What to Do,” “Sebana de luz” and “Please Won’t Please” will have you floating along in a blissful haze in no time.  

“Woman,” the standout anthem from Lux Prima, Karen O’s collaboration with Danger Mouse is the front-runner for song of the year. It begs to be played very loud. Along with “Redeemer” and the Pink Floyd-inspired title track, I was nearly convinced that the album would be something truly special, but unfortunately it falls flat. Most other tracks are anemic and devoid of anything resembling catchiness.  

Nilufer Yanya could be this year’s Courtney Barnett.  

I was really hopeful that I was shedding my predilection for mopey singer-songwriters, and then Strand of Oaks releases Eraserland. It’s a stormy, turbulent listen, best typified on “Moon Landing” and “Weird Ways.”  

February 2019 Playlist

The stage was a clear cultural divide. To the left, African American dancers hopped and skipped, leapt and spun. To the right, their Irish counterparts kicked out a fury of flailing legs, steps heavy and arms tight. It was a dance-off: African Juba vs. Irish stepdance. Their movements were the storytelling vessel; telling the audience that while different, these people were indeed the same, united by different sides of the same hardship and grief.

Set in Civil War-era Manhattan, Paradise Square is based on a true story of a place where whites and blacks co-existed (mostly) happily together during a time when that seemed impossible. We traveled to Berkeley, California, to see it and it’s also a play that my brother stars in. I hadn’t seen him on stage in a very long time, and witnessing his performance live was an incredibly proud moment for me. It’s a powerful play, one that lingers long after the curtain falls.


Great art should spark an emotional response. It should piss you off, or inspire you. It should bring joy and challenge you. A few days later in Oakland over dinner, the conversation subject matter was still firmly rooted around racism and how, sadly, the work is nowhere near complete. It veered to our own country as we discussed our Great Shame: residential schools and Canada’s horrible treatment of Indigenous culture. We certainly didn’t solve anything, but we were inspired to examine these issues with gusto.

It must be gratifying to know that the art you produce gets people talking. I know my brother is proud, but how does that feel? To know you’ve provoked that kind of depth of conversation. Paradise Square made me question some of my own choices. My musical tastes have veered away from hip hop for some time and I feel the need to ask myself why and what does that mean? In response I’ve tried to seek out some new hip hop and came across Third Root’s Thrill Pedagogy: Winter Flex. The sound is 90s hip hop, shades of The Roots, but the message is very 2019, criticizing MAGA America. It makes me wonder if hip hop is the true platform for today’s protest songs.

I love it when a song ends and you instantly wish it was longer. Adia Victoria’s “Nice Folks” is carried by the drumbeat and right before it ends, the drums explode, horns sweep in and her vocals take a back seat to this perfect unsettling mess. When it’s over, you’re begging for more. Silences of full of confident songwriting in tracks like “Dope Queen Blues” and “The Needle’s Eye.”

Perhaps as a way of making up for no Field Trip this summer, Broken Social Scene released Let’s Try The After (Vol. 1). It’s a nice little EP. “Remember Me Young” and “1972” crackle and swoon, galloping towards hands-in-air crescendos reminding you that very few bands can capture that sense of elation better than BSS.

Blending elements of post-punk and 90s shoegaze, FEELS’ Post Earth pulses with feedback and reverb.  Their sound is muddy and dark but the call-and-response chorus of “Find a Way” and the clean harmonies on “W.F.L” infuses their songs with energy and lightness at the right times.

Singles of the month: “Song for Winners” by Nick Waterhouse, “Cherry Bloom” by Club Kuru, “Lighthouse” by Doc Robinson, “Time Rider” by Chromatics, “Sisyphus” by Andrew Bird and “Fools” by Drugdealer.

Thanks for reading and happy listening.