Mystic Stuff: The Two Best Albums of 2019

“I hope you’re doing fine on your own,” sings Stefan Babcock on “See You At Your Funeral,” the shockingly catchy centerpiece of Morbid Stuff, the third LP from Canadian punk rockers PUP. If that seems like a pleasant sentiment, know that, characteristically, it’s not. “‘Cause after everything we’ve been through,” he continues, “you better hope you’ll find someone. And you’ll try. But you won’t.”

Darker and more aggressive than any of their already fairly aggro prior releases, Morbid Stuff expands PUP’s brand of slyly technical thrash rock and aggressive, hook-driven self-flagellation to its logical extreme. For all that, “See You At Your Funeral” and “Kids” are a bona fide singles while tracks like “Scorpion Hill” and “City” explore the band’s ability to fit fascinating storytelling and song structure into their all-gang-vocals-all-the-time aesthetic. PUP have earned their status as contemporary punk legends and Morbid Stuff is their most impressive outing yet.

PUP

For all my love of Morbid Stuff, it’s not the best record of 2019. I can’t remember where or when I first heard of Bad Suns. Most likely, I read about them on the internet but since I can’t recall which website or Twitter feed or critic recommended them, I’m left with no reliable hints as to how they and their 2019 album Mystic Truth ended up on the running list of bands/albums/songs titled “Listen To” that I keep on my phone. But there they were, all the same.

So one day I turned on my stereo and fired up Mystic Truth, an album that I knew nothing about save that at some point I had had some reason to set it aside for future listening, an album by a band that I had never heard of before, an album that, without warning or expectation, pummeled me with amazing tracks like “Away We Go” and “One Magic Moment” and “A Miracle, A Mile Away” and “The World and I” and “Love by Mistake” and “Darkness Arrives (and Departs)” and “Hold Your Fire” and “Howling at the Sun” and “Separate Seas” and “Starjumper” and now I’ve listed every track on the entire album but goddamn if every song on this album doesn’t merit mentioning.

bad suns

I have long been fascinated by the unpopular pop album, the phenomenon of brilliantly crafted songwriting, perfectly distilled melody and superb production in the vein of what can only be called pop—short for popular, of course—that somehow results in almost no commercial success at all. Jellyfish’s Bellybutton, Acceptance’s Phantoms and The Format’s Dog Problems spring to mind as easy examples and Mystic Truth, which is almost unbelievably catchy and yet featured no hits and boasts a Wikipedia page containing a scant four sentences, certainly fits the criteria. And that unpopularity is a shame. Mystic Truth is incredible, inarguably my favorite album of the year and one of the best of the decade. But to be an unpopular pop album is to bear a limiting curse: More people would love Mystic Truth than will ever have the good fortune of hearing it.

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