Best Albums of 2019
10. DaBaby “Baby on Baby”
One of 2019’s breakouts, DaBaby blasts out of this album like a stick of dynamite and doesn’t stop until the album reaches its end 30 minutes later. Streaming services incentivize artists to create double albums to increase their streaming numbers so DaBaby’s nonstop (and non pop) flow is a refreshing and infectious ride.
9. Sacred Paws “Run Around the Sun”
Sacred Paws is a two-piece guitar rock band that utilizes every ounce of talent from both of its members. Their bouncy guitar licks are met by overlapping vocals with the occasional 90s ska brass section that give this album a perfect summer vibe. Lay back in your flowery shirt, sip your icy drink of choice, and give “Run Around the Sun” a whirl. You won’t regret it.
8. Caroline Polachek “Pang”
The former Chairlift front woman’s first proper solo album picks up where her Apple commercial approved indie pop band left off, while continuing to take her sound to places of new depth. The layers of production give her bubblegum pop a melancholic undertone. You’ll want to sing along, empathizing with every word, while dancing away the pains of loves lost.
7. Jay Som “Anak Ko”
Jay Som’s second album is dreamy, lulling you back into the 90s with high soaring melodies over distorted guitars. After its airiness has melted your brain into clouds, guitar riffs jolt you awake, reminding you of other genres of the same era. Each bit overlaps with precision, a feat considering its bedroom rock production stylings.
6. Future “Save Me”
This is probably and technically an EP, which would disqualify it, but 7 tracks seems long enough to constitute an album in 2019, so I’ll accept it here. “Save Me” feels like the apex of sad Future. It’s like Future went out to a cabin in the woods, became Bon Iver for a few weeks and released this album, regret leaking from every distorted note. Future’s tales of debauchery always feel regretful, but here he feels most out of sync with that life. He’s come down from his high and is wallowing in the midst of whatever his life is now. Most of this is mumbled through a Bon Iver-like voice distorter, making it even harder to understand what he’s saying and amplifying the melancholy in every song.
5. Tree & Vic Spencer “Nothing is Something”
Self-proclaimed “soul-trap” artist Tree is joined by fellow Chicago-native Vic Spencer to create one of the best rap albums of the year. The “soul-trap” title is apt and the album is full of Kanye-like soul samples, with an experimental edge. Tree’s voice is pure gravel with a world weariness that is a joy to listen to. Spencer is more technical, using rhymes and wordplay to play against Tree, combining to create a unique listen.
4. American Football “LP3”
American Football’s eponymous third album might be their best work yet. The legendary emo band continues their emotionally driven post-rock sound to create beautiful and technically crafted songs of sorrow. The band has never been in a hurry to go anywhere fast, they waited years to release a follow up to their highly influential debut and each song lulls in the moment before expressing itself fully. But perhaps more than ever American Football has let pop influence their sound, LP3 features several guests who add another layer to what is now American Football’s classic sound. Land of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell, Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, and Paramore’s Hayley Williams all accompany Mike Kinsella and bring new life to an already great band.
3. Bon Iver “i, i”
Bon Iver could have had an okay career as that hip indie folk artist who sang “Skinny Love”. He could have joined the likes of others like him who came out of that era: Of Monsters and Men, the Lumineers, Mumford and Sons. That twee group of Urban Outfitters produced folk. Yet amazingly and consistently Bon Iver has evolved in ways that leave me surprised and nourished. “i,i” fits somewhere in between the soaring melody of “Bon Iver” and the beautiful chaos of “22, A Million”, showcasing all of what Vernon and collaborators are able to accomplish. Vernon is too good for any of this to feel stale and he’s once again created an album that pushes his folktronica (???) sound forward.
2. Theon Cross “Fyah”
The London jazz scene is one of my favorite places to look for new music. It’s filled with blends of jazz, hip hop, electronic, and world sounds that are coming together to make fun and progressive jazz sounds. Theon Cross was my first real foray into that scene this year. Cross, a member of other modern jazz stalwarts like Sons of Kemet and a player for Makaya McCraven, is a tuba player, something I had never heard as the lead instrument in jazz before. Cross uses the tuba like a bass guitar, developing rhythms for his guest players to riff around. The result is an absolute blast and “Fyah” is filled with jams you’ll have in your head all day long.
- Lana Del Rey “Norman Fucking Rockwell”
I don’t know how Lana did it, but she managed to create an album of sad songs without a single vocal inflection. I suppose that’s her thing, but here she perfects it, riffing on the American ideal in a way that is so post-everything she doesn’t even need to change her voice. This is the record for the post-irony age and in all sincerity, Del Rey has created a masterpiece full of despair. This is pop in 2019, a sorrowful, post-everything, classic-yet-hollow Hollywood of an album that is so beautifully made you can’t bear it. Each song creeps into your being, full of lament at the ways our longings have exposed themselves as farce. It’s beautiful.
Honorable mentions (ranked!): 11. IDK “Is He Real?”; 12. Pom Pom Squad “Ow”; 13. Sleater-Kinney “The Center Won’t Hold”; 14. Denzel Curry “ZUU”; 15. Carly Rae Jepsen “Dedicated”; 16. Nilufer Yanya “Miss Universe”; 17. Rico Nasty & Kenny Beat$ “Anger Management”; 18. FKA Twigs “MAGDALENE”; 19. Vampire Weekend “Father of the Bride”; 20. The Comet is Coming “Trust in the Lifeforce”; 21. The National “I Am Easy to Find”; 22. Maxo Kream “Brandon Banks”; 23. Drinking Boys and Girls Choir “Keep Drinking”; 24. Big Thief “UFOF”; 25. Thom Yorke “Anima”