December 26, 2019
It’s been another incredible year in music. As the ability for artists to distribute musical projects gets increasingly easier, it’s getting progressively harder to discover new releases with all of the clutter of the internet and social media. Fortunately, our music writers relentlessly scour sites and playlists for new tunes for your listening pleasure.
Behold, our best albums of 2019:
Cameron Lee, Founder and Editor-in-Chief
10.) James Blake – Assume Form
Producer, composer and singer-songwriter, James Blake quietly released his fourth studio album, Assume From, in January. Blake, who has an impressive and growing list of producer credits ranging from Beyonce and Jay-Z to Frank Ocean and Vince Staples, managed to deliver a more uptempo and amiable album while maintaining his uniquely eerie thematic. Featuring the elusive Andre 3000 on the alternative hip-hop track “Where’s The Catch?” and Travis Scott on the track “Mile High,” Assume From is a more approachable composition compared to his more downtempo 2016 release, The Colour In Anything.
Favorite tracks: “Where’s The Catch?,” “Mile High,” and “Tell Them”
9.) Vagabon – Vagabon
Cameroonian-American multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Vagabon’s dreamy 2019 self-titled album plays like the soundtrack to your favorite coming-of-age film. Delicate but playful, Vagabon utilizes synths to meld into her whimsical guitar notes and beautifully hollowing voice. She experiments with dancier electronic grooves with tracks like “Water Me Down” while she serenades an ambient backdrop in tracks like “Secret Medicine.” Written and produced mostly by her, Vagabon is a truly uniquely gifted independent artist.
Favorite tracks: “Water Me Down,” “Secret Medicine,” and “Full Moon In Gemini”
8.) Little Simz – GREY area
UK rapper Simbiatu Ajikawo, also known as Little Simz, is the most exciting new artist to come out of England since Sampha. Nominated for a Mercury Prize for her 2019 release Grey Area, Simz addresses modern emotional conflicts with a poetic flow and gritty beats by London-based producer, Inflo. A break from the Grime-heavy UK music scene, Simz allows her bars speak for herself, delivering introspective lyrics on songs like “Therapy,” allowing her voice to outshine the simple but vigorous rhythm. On the bouncy “101 FM,” she showcases her pop sensibility riding a Asian-themed beat that complements the track seamlessly. There’s no doubt Little Simz will continue to rise as one of the best in the game, as she continues to hit festival stages and large audiences across the world.
Favorite tracks: “101 FM,” “Selfish,” and “Therapy”
7.) Sturgill Simpson – SOUND & FURY
When it comes to country music, Sturgill Simpson is about as genre-bending as you can get. Starting his career with early bluegrass influences with his first band, Sunday Valley, Simpson’s guitar instrumentation and songwriting style span a wide-range of sounds that can be described as Americana, southern rock and, what he is most often known for, outlaw country. With Sound & Fury, Simpson manages to blend swelling psychedelic guitar intros with distorted contemporary rock riffs while incorporating a rockabilly rhythm. He displays a masterful sense of melding together a collage of alluring guitar sounds while layering his distinct country twang for this ten-song album, much like his brass-heavy 2016 Grammy award-winning album, A Sailor’s Guide To Earth.
Favorite tracks: “Make Art Not Friends,” “Mercury In Retrograde,” and “Remember To Breathe”
6.) Rapsody – Eve
Snow Hill, North Carolina’s own Rapsody, was nominated for Best Rap Album at the Grammys in 2018 for her 2017 major label debut, Laila’s Wisdom (Roc Nation/Jamla). While the album showcased her standout lyrical artistry with some heavy-weight features, 2019’s Eve is hands down one of the best rap albums of the year. Paying tribute to several iconic black women with song titles like “Michelle,” “Oprah,” “Serena,” and “Aailiyah,” the sleek 16-track album touches on everything from sexism, racism, and self-worth, packaged in an instrumentally tight collage of rap and spoken word. Featuring GZA, Queen Latifah, J.I.D., J. Cole, Leikeli47, and many more talented artists, the masterful production by 9th Wonder, Khrysis, and Eric G, sharply utilizes familiar samples like Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” on “Cleo,” and GZA’s “Liquid Swords” on “Ibtihaj,” while flexing a more modern hip-hop styling.
Favorite tracks: “Cleo,” “Oprah,” and “Hatshepsut”
5.) Snoh Aalegra – Ugh, Those Feels Again
Swedish-Iranian R&B singer-songwriter Snoh Aalegra’s musical journey and success this year has been a long time coming. Signing a deal with Sony at the age of 13 in 2001, it wasn’t until a name change and album in 2014, that she caught the attention of the music industry in the U.S. Highly touted for her wistful and velvety voice and nostalgic style of ‘90s R&B/hip-hop, Aalegra effortlessly pieces together a collection of euphonious tracks that warm the soul.
Favorite tracks: “Love Like That,” “Whoa,” and “Find Someone Like You”
4.) Anderson .Paak – Ventura
Not many artists have produced as much critically acclaimed music as Anderson .Paak in the last five years. Collaborating with myriad talented artists since his signing to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Records in January 2016, .Paak’s follow-up to his 2018 album Oxnard, Ventura is a more soulful collection of songs that maintain his hip-hop spirit. Featuring the legendary Smokey Robinson on delightfully melancholy song “Make It Better” and a tongue-twisting lyrical appearance by Andre 3000 on the theatrical track “Come Home,” the album could be .Paak’s best work to date. Which is saying a lot.
Favorite tracks: “Come Home,” “Twilight,” and “Make It Better”
3.) Ari Lennox – Shea Butter Baby
Dreamville’s first lady, Ari Lennox put out the year’s most impressive neo-soul album. Smoky, seductive and vulnerable, Lennox takes you on an emotional musical journey on the 12-track full-length that features J.Cole on the sweltering summertime banger “Shea Butter Baby” and J.I.D on the jangling track “Broke.” The album is a timeless collection of R&B and soul sounds that span multiple generations.
Favorite tracks: “Whipped Cream,” “BMO,” and “Shea Butter Baby”
2.) Brittany Howard – Jaime
Alabama Shakes’ lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard is covertly one of the hardest working artists in music today. Howard, who also fronts the band Thunderbitch, also sings in the group, Bermuda Triangle. With four Grammy wins already in her short career, Howard’s dynamic voice is capable of belting out opera-like power and carrying out soulful and sultry low notes. Naming the album after her late sister who passed away in 1998, the deeply sentimental album is exclusively produced by Howard, which is a rarity in today’s music landscape.
Favorite tracks: “Stay High,” “Georgia,” and “History Repeats”
1.) Nilüfer Yanya – Miss Universe
English musical phenom, Nilufer Yanya released her debut full-length album Miss Universe in March on ATO Records, fully demonstrating her rare blend of art rock, soul and jazz. Heavily influenced by her father’s Turkish background, her unique style of guitar give her songs a robust worldly, international feel. Yanya’s ethereal voice hits notes both high and low in an unpredictable but melodic style. Writing all of her own songs, Yanya is the rare musical triple threat that defies genre classification that often limits musicians. She is a true artist, and someone to watch and listen to intently in the coming years.
Favorite tracks: “Heavyweight Champion of The Year,” “Paradise,” and “Tears”
Sean Titone, Music Writer
10.) Young Guv – Guv I & II
Brooklyn-based Ben Cook, guitarist from Toronto hardcore act Fucked Up, has created a double album opus under the name Young Guv that couldn’t be further from the music of those Canadian larger-than-life punk rockers. As Young Guv, Cook explores all facets of jangly pop music on Guv I & II. It’s a hook-filled collection overflowing with catchy, endearing, melodic songs from beginning to end. A low-fi charm permeates this project and its shaggy aesthetic belies the sharp songwriting that Cook seems to master with ease. Highly recommended for fans of Teenage Fanclub, Matthew Sweet, Big Star, Elliott Smith and Guided By Voices.
Favorite Tracks: “Patterns Prevail,” “Every Flower I See,” and “Try Not To Hang On So Hard”
9.) Mike Krol – Power Chords
Mike Krol delivers his tightest and best collection of songs on Power Chords, his fourth studio album and second for indie stalwart Merge Records. Krol turns heartbreak, resentment and frustration into an album’s worth of fist-pumping, kick-out-the-jams garage rock anthems. The vocal distortion (Krol loves to filter his voice through an array of pedals and effects to ratchet up the mayhem) and fuzzed-out guitar pyrotechnics from Krol’s previous work are still present, but they’ve been sharpened and honed to a fine point on Power Chords. I don’t think I listened to another album more than this one all year.
Favorite Tracks: “What’s the Rhythm,” “An Ambulance,” and “Little Drama”
8.) Pup – Morbid Stuff
Toronto-based band Pup greatly expanded on the promise of their previous album, The Dream is Over, with their third LP Morbid Stuff, a fun ride that perfectly encapsulates the band’s affinity for infectious pop-punk sing-a-longs that just happen to be about depression, isolation, and existential angst. On top of this album being a raucous triumph, their live show was one of the best I saw in 2019.
Favorite Tracks: “Kids,” “Free At Last,” and “Sibling Rivalry”
7.) Andrew Bird – My Finest Work Yet
Continuing with 2019’s trend of albums that have a very literal name describing the contents contained within (see Power Chords and Morbid Stuff), I truly believe this album is Andrew Bird’s finest work yet, even if it may have been a tongue-in-cheek statement from Bird. Like many artists who have looked at the disturbing state of the world and division in our country, and channeled their thoughts and feelings into their music, Bird wrote a collection of songs that are probably as close to being “political” as he will ever get. The songs were recorded live in the studio with minimal overdubs and the outcome is a visceral experience that showcases Bird’s masterful songwriting chops, his talented band, and, of course, his superhuman whistling skills.
Favorite Tracks: “Sisyphus,” “Olympians,” and “Manifest”
6.) Brittany Howard – Jaime
Brittany Howard built a reputation as a vocal powerhouse and formidable songwriter with her time fronting Alabama Shakes and has now gone out on her own with her debut solo album, Jaime. Howard continues to push the envelope of soul, blues, rock and funk, and the songs on Jaime are some of her most autobiographical and powerful yet. The song “Short and Sweet” will make the hairs on the back of your neck and arms stand up with every listen, and “Stay High” and “History Repeats” are instant classics.
Favorite Tracks: “Short and Sweet,” “Stay High,” and “History Repeats”
5.) Beck – Hyperspace
Beck, never one to get comfortable with one sound, partnered with super-producer Pharrell Williams on the synth-fueled, futuristic Hyperspace. Written after a breakup, Beck is clearly dealing with some rough stuff, and this album was tailor-made for late-night drives and moments of reflection. Standout track “Saw Lightning” is the perfect synthesis of Beck’s disparate sounds and influences and, in an impressive feat, takes musical cues from his previous albums Odelay, Sea Change, and Midnite Vultures all in one song.
Favorite Tracks: “Saw Lightning,” “Uneventful Days,” and “Dark Places”
4.) Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center
Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst are a match made in melancholy indie rock heaven on their debut as Better Oblivion Community Center. Bridgers can seemingly do no wrong after a string of successes that include her supergroup boygenius with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker, her recent Christmas single with Fiona Apple and Matt Berninger from The National, and her devastatingly beautiful contribution to a Tom Waits tribute album. Her pairing with indie vet Oberst illustrates a mutual appreciation between two like-minded artists and, when they sing together in unison throughout the majority of the album, the results are cathartic and moving.
Favorite Tracks: “Dylan Thomas,” “Sleepwalkin’,” and “Exception to the Rule”
3.) Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow
On Remind Me Tomorrow, Sharon Van Etten embraces ambition and reaches for the stars while taking stock of her past, present and future, and, in the process, makes a grand statement about nostalgia and how to emotionally navigate memories, both good and bad. She incorporates the best traits of influential elders like Springsteen and Patti Smith and elevates her sound with an army of synths, driving rock and roll, strong percussion, and songs that sound arena-ready and BIG.
Favorite Tracks: “Seventeen,” “Comeback Kid,” and “You Shadow”
2.) Big Thief – Two Hands
Big Thief released two incredible albums in 2019, U.F.O.F. and Two Hands, but for me, Two Hands gets the edge. The tipping point was that the music here is more uptempo, and the track “Not” is my favorite song of the year. These songs sound lived in, a document of the band’s closeness and innate understanding of each other’s loose style of playing, due to the countless hours they’ve spent touring and recording over the past few years. Vocalist and chief songwriter, Adrienne Lenker, remains a force to be reckoned with, and her lyrics can both devastate and dazzle, depending on the track.
Favorite Tracks: “Not,” “Forgotton Eyes,” and “Shoulders”
1.) Wilco – Ode to Joy
For over 25 years, Wilco have remained steadfast in their pursuit of sonic experimentation and lyrical beauty. On their 11th studio album, Ode to Joy, they use hushed, weird folk songs, many containing stark, militaristic drumbeats courtesy of Glenn Kotche, as a form of protest. How does one find joy or maintain hope and positivity when the cards are stacked against them? This is one of the many questions Jeff Tweedy contemplates over OTJ’s eleven stunningly beautiful tracks.
Favorite Tracks: “One and a Half Stars,” “Everyone Hides,” and “Hold Me Anyway”
Mitchell Franklin, Music Writer
10.) Kishi Bashi – Omoiyari
Over the past few years, violinist and songwriter Kishi Bashi has made some difficult assessments on exactly what America stands for and how it might be compared to our culture during World War II. He has been working on a film titled Omoiyari that features him visiting various internment camps where Japenese-American citizens were held in the 1940s. The similarities are striking and horrifying, and Kishi Bashi is using Omoiyari to try to help emphasize the importance of compassion and empathy for all people, regardless of where they come from. The album, which is comprised of songs written for the upcoming film, finds him relying less on violin loops, keyboards, and synthesizers than his previous work, as he utilized more bare violin and acoustic guitars to let his songwriting hold the spotlight.
Favorite tracks: “Marigolds,” “Summer of ‘42,” and “Annie, Heart Thief of the Sea”
9.) Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center
When it was announced that Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers has started a band together, the obvious assumption was that the two balladeers would write a collection of lovely duets to sing together. In hopes to subvert expectations, they wanted to put the emphasis on the fact that this was a band, not a duo. Singing mostly in unison and above an energetic rock band, this truly sounds more like a legitimate project than many “supergroups.” “Exception to the Rule” opens with a gritty, pulsating synth that drives the track, as the group proves that they can accomplish more experimental sounds. The album has a strong lyrical focus, as the two poets work together to create beautiful pieces that examine life carefully and critically.
Favorite tracks: “Dylan Thomas,” “Service Road,” and “Forest Lawn”
8.) Angelo De Augustine – Tomb
Angelo De Augustine is often compared to Elliott Smith and Sufjan Stevens. Both are fitting observations, as he shares a tendency toward singing softly over delicate acoustic guitars, and he is a sort of protégé to Stevens. Tomb, released on Stevens’ Asthmatic Kitty Records, finds him expanding his musical palette from songs recorded in his bathtub with only guitar and vocals to recording with producer Thomas Bartlett and incorporating much more piano and keyboard. The album was conceived in the wake of a tough breakup, and finds De Augustine writing many songs around the difficulties around relationships and moving on in the wake of one’s dissolution.
Favorite tracks: “You Needed Love, I Needed You,” “Kaitlin,” and “Somewhere Far Away from Home”
7.) Great Grandpa – Four of Arrows
“I get anxious on the weekends when I feel I’m wasting time,” are the opening lyrics to “Bloom,” one of the most relatable tracks for those of us with a constant worry about not utilizing each moment to the fullest. Great Grandpa made drastic shifts from 2017’s Plastic Cough, a record full of raw grunge-indebted sounds. Four of Arrows sounds more akin to Hop Along’s fantastic 2018 album Bark Your Head Off, Dog, with its gentle folk-rock that keeps the audience on their toes. Banjos, violins, synths, and vocoder weave in and out of the typical rock instrumentation, so each song sounds fresh and distinct. Instrumental track “Endling” is a beautiful piano interlude, separating the two halves of the album. Great Grandpa has found that by turning down the distortion and focusing on brilliant songwriting they are able to create more powerful music than ever before.
Favorite tracks: “Mono no Aware,” “Bloom,” and “Treat Jar”
6.) Tyler, The Creator – Igor
No musical artist has had quite the trajectory throughout the last decade as Tyler, The Creator. A decade ago he was just starting out, releasing music with his now-defunct collective Odd Future (that also included Frank Ocean and Earl Sweatshirt) and getting in trouble for the violence and homophobia present in the lyrics of many of his songs. The artist we see now on Igor is almost unrecognizable. The shock value that propelled him into stardom is now completely gone, replaced with love songs seemingly written to same-sex partners, gorgeous pallets of synthesizers and strings, and lush guest vocals. Tyler barely operates as a rapper anymore, instead opting to fill the shoes of a songwriter and arranger as he employs many other musicians to sing the parts that his voice can’t quite pull off. His evolution has been extraordinary and it should be interesting to continue to watch him grow as a human and artist.
Favorite tracks: “Earfquake,” “New Magic Wand,” and “What’s Good”
5.) Wicca Phase Springs Eternal – Suffer On
In a bizarre career move in 2013, Adam McIlwee left beloved emo group Tigers Jaw to pursue his other project, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal. This solo endeavor finds McIlwee leaning toward the aesthetics of trap music, goth culture, and cloud rap. He found a like-minded community of artists in his collective GothBoiClique, which most notably featured the late Lil Peep. On Suffer On, his second album as Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, he has found his voice as an artist by blending emo songwriting with familiar internet rap production. McIlwee provides the foundation of the songs, usually featuring acoustic guitars or dark synths, while collaborator døves adds the trap beats that drive the songs forward. The atmosphere is dark and brooding, with lyrical content focused on the typical introspection and self-pity found throughout many pop-punk and emo bands. It’s a crossover of genres that is risky and could easily turn out corny and unlistenable, but Suffer On strikes a balance that provides a fascinating listen.
Favorite tracks: “Together,” “Rest,” and “I Wake Up In Pain”
4.) Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Lana Del Rey’s music has always felt lost in time and drenched in nostalgia, but none of her albums have felt so entrenched in the past as Norman Fucking Rockwell! Lana is still crooning about California and forbidden romance, but this time it’s over a bed of psychedelic folk-inspired plucked guitars, light percussion, and strings that gives the music a floating, breezy vibe. The songs are slow and meticulous, with most being at least four minutes long. The album is full of contradictions and vulgarity but it sounds so sweet and timeless.
Favorite tracks: “Norman Fucking Rockwell,” “Venice Bitch,” and “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – but I Have It”
3.) The National – I Am Easy To Find
The National has had an astounding decade and seem to be one of the last remaining indie-rock bands able to catapult into the mainstream and sell out arenas on tour. I Am Easy to Find finds the Grammy-winning band working with director Mike Mills on a unique collaboration that resulted in both an album of new songs as well as a National-scored short film, also titled I Am Easy to Find. Frontman Matt Berninger’s voice functions as the focal point of most of the band’s songs, but this album finds him surrounded by a cast of guest vocalists, including Sharon Van Etten, Lisa Hannigan, and Gail Ann Dorsey. The electronic experimentation that permeated 2017’s Sleep Well Beast is still present, but these songs feel a little more organic with more focus on orchestral flourishes to flesh out the arrangements.
Favorite tracks: “I Am Easy to Find,” “Not in Kansas,” and “Rylan”
2.) PUP – Morbid Stuff
Canadian pop-punkers PUP spend much of Morbid Stuff yelling about their inclination toward masochism, self-depreciation, and a general unease with the state of the world. But with the thundering guitars and drums and catchy melodies, it is easy to forget the malaise that plagues the lyrics and to get swept up in the fun of the music. The album is full of meta moments where frontman Stefan Babcock confronts the absurdity of his career, such as in “Full Blown Meltdown” when he admits: “Make no mistake, I know exactly what I’m doing. I’m just surprised the world isn’t sick of grown men whining like children.” Even though the subject matter suggests a darkness enveloping the lives of the PUP members, the tracks are delivered with a wink and enough humor to show that things aren’t as bleak as they might seem.
Favorite tracks: “Free at Last,” “Scorpion Hill,” and “Bloody Mary, Kate and Ashley”
1.) Laura Stevenson – The Big Freeze
“I am honest,” Laura Stevenson emphatically repeats on “Big Deep,” a somber track toward the end of her powerful 2019 album The Big Freeze. It didn’t need to be said for the audience’s benefit, as the preceding seven tracks (along with the remainder of the album) find the singer-songwriter digging into the ugliest parts of her life and laying them bare. From singing about issues with self-harm (“Value Inn,” “Dermatillomania”) to the difficulties presented by distance and travel in a relationship (“Living Room, NY”), she used this album as an opportunity to be more forthright in her lyrics than some of her more oblique previous work. The album is quiet, featuring mostly acoustic guitar and strings, with Stevenson’s voice front and center, providing a warm, intimate atmosphere to take in these difficult topics.
Favorite tracks: “Living Room, NY,” “Dermatillomania,” and “Rattle At Will”
Grant Golden, Music Writer
10.) Billy Strings – Home
It takes a lot to revamp a genre as tried and true as bluegrass, but Billy Strings is doing his damndest. Bluegrass is heavily driven by structure, regularly featuring a verse-chorus-verse layout and call-and-response solos from each instrument, but Home shows that there’s much more to explore while staying true to your roots. Strings balances simplicity and extravagance, and the album remains rooted with ballads like “Must Be Seven” and “Enough To Leave,” but pushes toward the outer reach of the genre with tracks like “Highway Hypnosis” and “Guitar Peace.” Just when Home feels like it’s careening off the rails of roots music, you’re pulled back in with a traditional tune like “Freedom.” Strings is acutely aware of his place in the genre and plays with the listener’s expectations with every note, making for one hell of a listening experience.
Favorite tracks: “Freedom,” “Taking Water,” and “Home”
9.) Combo Chimbita – Ahomale
The music of Combo Chimbita sits in a world of its own, reminiscent of traditional elements of cumbia while blended with punk rock and psychedelia, all hinged together by Carolina Oliveros’ earth-shattering vocals. Ahomale serves as a tribute to Oliveros’ ancestors but is washed in futuristic aural exploration. Synth lines scream out against captivating afro-latin rhythms as hypnotic harmonies creep into the mix to lull the listener into a trance-like state. Ahomale stares into the past with kaleidoscopic eyes, respecting the foundation Combo Chimbita’s music is built on while ignoring its structure and pushing forward with bold innovation.
Favorite tracks: “Esto Es Real,” “Brillo Más Que El Oro [La Bala Apuntándome],” and “Ahomale”
8.) Mdou Moctar – Ilana (The Creator)
Mdou Moctar has been slowly breaking into the western world of music throughout the past decade, blending the scorching psych-rock sounds of the ’70s with his own unique take on West African blues. Ilana (The Creator) is Moctar’s first album recorded with a full band and it’s an invigorating breath of fresh air for guitar music. Moctar’s guitar lines are entrancing, swirling atop bouncing rhythm sections and dripping with emotion. One needn’t understand Tuareg to feel compelled by these songs; Moctar’s riffs can serve as their own melodic motifs and stick with you long after the music is over.
Favorite tracks: “Anna,” “Kamane Tarhanin,” and “Tarhatazed”
7.) Tyler Childers – Country Squire
Prior to Country Squire, Tyler Childers has been something of a rambunctious red-headed stepson in the country music world. Country Squire doesn’t eschew Childers’ previous efforts, but rather runs it through a more nuanced and refined filter. Boasting vibrant organs, slick pedal steel and undeniably catchy hooks, Childer’s major label debut is as polished as it is raw. Country Squire is a great peek into the ethos of Childers and serves as a jumping-off point for this young country artist, he’s staying true to his Kentucky roots while continuing to flesh out an already defined sound.
Favorite tracks: “All Your’n,” “Country Squire,” and “House Fire”
6.) Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
Father of the Bride is a defining album for Vampire Weekend. It’s their first effort without founding member Rostam Batmanglij, who was responsible for a lot of grandiose and cinematic production on previous releases, but Ezra Koenig and company prove that they’re more than capable of moving forward. Drawing inspiration from sonically sprawling acts like Grateful Dead, the group maintains more of an American/roots focus than in previous efforts, but still peppers in international inspiration through syncopated rhythms and swiftly shifting, angular guitar lines. Father of the Bride sounds a lot different from Vampire Weekend’s previous efforts in terms of instrumentation, but their lyrical efforts are still intensely focused on novelistic existentialism and longing for more. Father of the Bride is a compelling pivot in a new direction for one of the decade’s standout artists, but still stands alone as a brilliant musical excursion.
Favorite tracks: “2021,” “Bambina,” and “Sunflower”
5.) Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated
How does one follow up one of the best pop albums of the decade? Carly Rae’s EMOTION took the Canadian pop star from a potential one hit wonder to a bonafide icon, and her 2019 release proves that she’s here to stay. Dedicated feels timeless, a harkening back to the glitz and glam of acts like ABBA with dance-floor ready tracks like “Julien,” “Party for One” and “Now That I Found You.” But Dedicated also shows that Carly is capable of exercising restraint and dynamism, pulling back the energy level for self-reflective tracks like “Too Much.” Whether you’re ready for a night on the town or looking to shake your ass a bit while cleaning the house, Dedicated serves as the perfect soundtrack for letting loose and loving every moment.
Favorite tracks: “Party for One,” “Too Much,” and “Now That I Found You”
4.) Sturgill Simpson – Sound & Fury
Ever defying expectations, Sound & Fury shows Sturgill yet again pushing the boundaries of what one would expect from a “country” artist. Sound & Fury follows up Sturgill’s ambitious Grammy-winning album A Sailor’s Guide to Earth and rips out the foundation in favor of something completely new and inspired. Sound & Fury effortlessly blends psych-rock, blues and country in a way that feels completely natural. Sturgill’s song structure remains the same– gnarling guitar lines pepper traditional country chord structures– but they’re glazed over with distortion, delay and dystopian lyricism. Couple all of that inventiveness with Sound & Fury’s Netflix exclusive anime film and you’ve got one hell of an artistic statement.
Favorite tracks: “Sing Along,” “Remember to Breathe,” and “Make Art Not Friends”
3.) Ari Lennox – Shea Butter Baby
Few artists have opened with a more defining artistic statement than Ari Lennox with Shea Butter Baby. Shea Butter Baby is simultaneously personal and relatable, insular and open all at once. While the album is full of anthemic ear-worms like “Shea Butter Baby,” “Whipped Cream,” and “BMO,” there’s tracks like “New Apartment” and “Static” that forego the sultry lyricism for self-exploration. Lennox is capable of digging deep into self-doubt and self-love all at once and Shea Butter Baby is a proclamation that Ari Lennox is here and doing things her own way. It’s an exciting glimpse into this promising artist’s future.
Favorite tracks: “Shea Butter Baby,” “Whipped Cream,” and “BMO”
2.) Tyler, The Creator – IGOR.
IGOR. is easily Tyler’s most cohesive work to date; throughout the record we see brief vocal interludes knit together a story of lost love and ever-present longing. Seamlessly bobbing and weaving between neo-soul and hip-hop, Tyler’s radio-ready hooks glide atop warm analog bass lines and flittering keyboards. The opening growl of “Igor’s Theme” brilliantly sets the tone for the record, devolving into an emotive, synth-driven cacophony and eventually fading into the massive lead single “Earfquake.” As Tyler heartbreakingly wails “Don’t leave, it’s my fault,” you’re immediately sucked into an emotional rollercoaster of an album, enjoying every twist and turn along the way.
Favorite tracks: “Earfquake,” “A Boy Is A Gun,” and “What’s Good”
1.) Bon Iver – i,i
“But on a bright fall morning, I’m with it. I stood a little while within it,” Vernon emotes early on in his standout 2019 album, and it’s a line that perfectly encapsulates this album’s entire ethos. Since his groundbreaking debut For Emma…, Vernon’s sound has evolved steadily with each release and it comes to an awe-inspiring crescendo with i, i. I, i’s production is a collage of Vernon’s inspiration, Grateful Dead-esque roots blended with the maximalist pomp and fanfare of Kanye West.
Favorite tracks: “iMi,” “Hey Ma,” and “Salem”
Follow our Best Songs of 2019 playlist on Spotify:
In this article
- album of the year
- Anderson Paak
- andrew bird
- Angelo De Augustine
- ari lennox
- Assume Form
- best albums of 2019
- best albums of the year
- Better Oblivion Community Center
- Big Thief
- brittany howard
- Cameron Lee
- Four of Arrows
- Great Grandpa
- GREY area
- Guv I & II
- hip hop
- I Am Easy To Find
- James Blake
- Kishi Bashi
- lana del rey
- Laura Stevenson
- Little Simz
- merge records
- Mike Krol
- Miss Universe
- mitchell franklin
- Morbid Stuff
- My Finest Work Yet
- neo soul
- Nilüfer Yanya
- Norman Fucking Rockwell!
- Ode to Joy
- Power Chords
- Remind Me Tomorrow
- sean titone
- Sharon Van Etten
- Shea Butter Baby
- Snoh Aalegra
- SOUND & FURY
- sturgill simpson
- Suffer On
- The Big Freeze
- The Creator
- The National
- Those Feels Again
- Two Hands
- Wicca Phase Springs Eternal
- Young Guv