Looking to finish out 2019 with some extraordinary music?

Here are some highlights from what I’ve been listening to during the last couple of weeks, mostly in the car during my long, crowded 45-minute commute to and from teaching at Seattle Pacific University. (I drive in at about 9:30 AM, and I drive home at about 10 PM. Yeah… long days.)

Three Heavy Hitters: Elbow, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Wilco

On my list of bands that make me drop everything and tune in to new music every time, you’ll find the names Elbow, Wilco, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

All three have released new albums in recent weeks.

Elbow’s Giants of All Sizes may not be the landmark for me that The Takeoff and Landing of Everything was, but it’s an outstanding rock and roll record that satisfies in a way that reminds me of the days when new U2 records shook the earth. Here are three tracks: “Dexter and Sinister,” “Empires,” and “My Trouble.”

Here’s a track from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Their new album Ghosteen finds Cave bearing up under an incomprehensible burden of grief in the years following the tragic death of his 15-year-old son. He’d already responded to that loss with the harrowing record The Skeleton Tree, but Ghosteen quickly rises to stand among his finest records over many years of a bold and visceral music.

Here’s the full album. Caution: This is both visionary and heartbreaking. It’s not background music.

Wilco‘s new record Ode to Joy did not really capture my attention at first listen — but that’s because I played it while I was grading papers. Today, playing it in the car at high volume, I discovered layers of sound I hadn’t noticed before, and the experience was full of surprises. I’m going to spend a lot more time with this one now that I now how complicated it is.

Here’s a track from Ode to Joy:

Scary stuff from Lucy Dacus

A few days before Halloween, Lucy Dacus — whose 2017 album Historian is impressing me more and more over time — delivered the latest in her series of holiday-focused cover songs. And I was both surprised by her choice and enthusiastic. I’ve been blasting this in the car repeatedly.

Mission accomplished… again!

In other news, The Innocence Mission already have another album for us! Last year’s Sun on the Square was so good that I invested in the green vinyl edition, so I can’t wait to hear See You Tomorrow, which is set for release in 2020.

Here’s the first song they’ve released.

Monstrous remix!

Scott Litt has remixed the entirey of R.E.M.’s 2004 album Monster, and you’ll get that and a remastered version of the original mix… and hours and hours of bonus material… on the new 25th anniversary Deluxe Edition release.

I listened to the new mix of the album this morning, and began tweeting like a crazy person.


I always liked R.E.M.’s MONSTER better than most fans of the band that I knew. But this new remix included on the deluxe 25th anniversary edition is out of this world. Streamlined “Kenneth” uncrowds the sound = an improvement. New “Crush with Eyeliner” is brilliant. Etc.


…I’m not sure what in the world they’ve done with “King of Comedy,” but I think my headphones are on fire. The drums are all over the place. I hear crazy backup vocals I’ve never noticed before. This is like getting a whole new album from a band I’ve been missing since REVEAL.

And then:

… In “Star 69,” “Strange Currencies,” and “Tongue,” Stipe emerges from what was a muddy original mix and sounds like a lead singer in a spotlight, his lyrics clear at last. And these alternate lead vocal tracks are full of surprises. …

Instrumental highlights

As my time these days is overwhelmed by the number of essays and assignments I’m grading, I’m listening to a lot of instrumental music. Fortunately for me, there have been a lot of excellent new releases that seem custom-made to inspire both energy and peace.

I’m particularly enjoying two new releases —

Nils Frahm’s All Encores, which features this zippy number called “All Armed”:

… and Bruce Cockburn’s outstanding new album of guitar instrumentals called Crowing Ignites, which features “Bells of Gethsemane”: