More than in past years, I found myself spending time with films that artists and bands created to accompany their music. This idea isn’t new — let’s certainly take a moment to acknowledge the greatness and importance of Lemonade in this area — but this year’s crop of albums with companion visuals struck me as especially noteworthy. Not sure if this’ll stay a category going further, but let’s celebrate what 2019 had in store for our eyes and ears.
Beyoncé — Homecoming: The Live Album
Just astonishing in its scope, importance, and execution. So many goosebumps. Beyoncé is no stranger to producing touchpoints, but I expect Homecoming will stand tall for generations as an achievement in communicating and celebrating culture, in much the same way Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace album has. Goodness radiates from the screen as you watch her many collaborators sing, dance, and play. The sheer volume of excellence put on display is jaw-dropping, as are the many moments in which sound and choreography combine to create crystalline moments of performance perfection.
Aretha Franklin — Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings
Speaking of Aretha…
Full disclosure, I haven’t heard the new Complete Recordings version of the album, though I did spend time with the long-awaited film of the album’s recording process. More goosebumps. Every grainy moment is awe inspiring, knowing that what she’s making will go on to become the best selling gospel album of all time. I only wish I’d been able to catch a theater showing. Franklin’s talent looms so large — the bigger the screen, the better.
The Lumineers — III
The Lumineers didn’t just release a new album this year. They crafted a whole narrative world — one that’s packed with pain and purpose relating to the legacy of addiction. The link between the audio and visual elements of III are built right into the packaging, as the actors who brought the album to life peek through the outer jacket from the inner sleeve. Here’s a link to the group’s YouTube channel. Regardless of what you think of the Lumineers’ success, or the omnipresence of “Ho Hey,” I recommend giving III a fresh look/listen.
Kevin Morby — Oh My God
I love the space this album occupies. Its connection to the subject of spirituality is sincere, but it never takes itself too seriously. It’s funny, but it never drifts off into parody. And the higher-than-usual degree of lyrical repetition signals rumination — like an idea you turn over in your mind a bunch of times without ever attempting to reach a conclusion or file it away. Quick story: I nominated an album of Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou’s tunes for the Off Your Radar newsletter, and in my blurb, I almost mentioned how I hear her influence here and there throughout Oh My God. Then I saw Kevin Morby’s “Oh My God” short film, which flashes the Éthiopiques 21 album art at the 8:30 mark. So cool.
The National – I Am Easy to Find
Given the way my appreciation of National hit suddenly while checking out their last album, Sleep Well Beast, I wasn’t sure if it’d end up being a one time thing, or if maybe something about that album was what I needed on that particular day. I Am Easy to Find has settled the matter convincingly, as I’ve been turning to it repeatedly when I’ve found myself on the emotional wavelength I was on when I connected with Sleep Well Beast. I got my copy during BK Music’s closing sale. Sigh. I miss BK. Speaking of sighing, if you haven’t checked out the short film developed alongside the album, remedy that below. It’s really powerful.
Sturgill Simpson — Sound & Fury
Hot damn. Sturgill Simpson is fearless. By taking a stylistic left turn and partnering with veteran anime creators, Simpson asserted his artistic independence in spectacular fashion. Sound & Fury the film is a whirlwind of violence and creativity, and the album itself is a scuzzy thrill ride that upends expectations while continuing to speak frankly. I’ve embedded the kickass John Prine cowrite “A Good Look” below, but I recommend listening from start to finish. Better yet, if you haven’t heard the album, watch the film first. That’s what I did, and I loved getting to know the music that way.
Thom Yorke — ANIMA
The Paul Thomas Anderson-directed short associated with ANIMA (find it on Netflix) showcases Yorke’s acting chops, including some really amazing choreography. Once I’d seen it, the ANIMA songs it features suddenly felt more significant and accessible. That said, “Dawn Chorus” would have felt significant with or without video accompaniment. It’s some of Yorke’s finest work yet — a testament to how less can be more in the right hands, whether you’re working with melody or any other musical variable.
More 2019 in Review: