Best Albums of 2019

10. DaBaby “Baby on Baby”

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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”

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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”

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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”

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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”

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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”

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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”

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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”

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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”

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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.

  1. Lana Del Rey “Norman Fucking Rockwell”

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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”

Top 10 Albums of 2015

Penultimate list of the year! Movies will be coming soon…

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10. Carly Rae Jepsen Emotion

A lot of people were really surprised by this record, but I never really was. I championed (and still do) “Call Me Maybe” as a perfect pop song and placed it as my number one song of 2012. Emotion is a strong pop album that never made much leeway on the radio despite its catchy 80s influenced style. Jepsen is our best pop star, you all just don’t know it.

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9. Titus Andronicus The Most Lamentable Tragedy

A 90-minute plus punk rock opera that filters the band’s punk influences through Bruce Springsteen’s everyman representation with an added experimental edge. It certainly doesn’t have the highs of The Monitor, but it is pretty consistent from beginning to end. Patrick Stickles brain will always come up with raging rock songs, intricate and complex enough to inspire a plethora of think pieces and this is everything I love rolled into one giant album.

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8. Julien Baker Sprained Ankle

Quite the opposite of The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Baker’s debut album is quiet and sparse. There are only nine songs here, most of which only feature Baker singing and playing guitar , but boy are these tracks affecting. She has claimed these songs represent her coming out of a place of depression and abuse and one can certainly see the inner-monologue taking place. It’s an internal struggle, with Baker battling over her own soul and just when you think the darkness will overcome, grace shines through.

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7. Future Beast Mode

A lot has been written about Future being the saddest rapper to brag about drugs, partying, and sexual affairs and this has certainly been the case across his two mixtapes (Beast Mode, 56 Nights), his full length (DS2), and collaboration with Drake (What a Time to Be Alive). There’s a weariness to the way he raps, an autotuned slur, that makes you wonder if he’s really enjoying any of it. DS2 was the most critically acclaimed of the bunch, What a Time had the most hype surrounding it, but my favorite was Beast Mode which I think shows Future at his most sincere.

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6. Grimes Art Angels

On Art Angels, Grimes takes pop music and puts it through the most eccentric filter it could probably go through while continuing to be pop. It’s pure bubblegum pop, but is also very weird. Grimes takes a page out of K-Pop–electronic pop songs that are given the spirit and enthusiasm of a high school cheer team. It works surprisingly wonderful and is so much fun to listen to.

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5. Vince Staples Summertime ’06

Staples’ studio full length debut is a biographical double album about one of the most important summers he ever had. It tells the tale of Staples growing up, learning who he was, and the outside factors imposing in on his life. There are stories of adolescent love, of depression, and of extreme violence. It’s one of the most complex coming-of-age stories I’ve ever experienced. Staples is one of the best young voices making music out there and he may have just come up with a masterpiece here.

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4. Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit

It’s hard to say what the best thing is that Barnett does, is it her ability to come up with rollicking rock songs? Her clever wordplay? The fact that she came up with the introvert anthem (sorry Alessia Cara)? All of these things point to why Sometimes I Sit is an amazing album. It’s funny, it’s thoughtful, it can be blasted on any road trip. Women are crushing it in indie rock and Barnett is there at the top.

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3. Tame Impala Currents

Currents shows Tame Impala at their most accessible, like Grimes their sound perfectly mixes their more experimental tendencies with mainstream pop’s aesthetic. Currents is a blend of EDM with a singer-songwriter’s vision. Kevin Parker has created dance music for indie rock kids, blending in disco and R&B influences to make an album that grew with every listen.

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2. Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly

This was probably the album of the year, with Kendrick building on all the goodwill of good kid, mad city to make one of the most ambitious, sprawling, and important albums maybe ever? It’s funky, jazzy, and altogether not what you’d expect from the most hyped person in rap music. But that makes it even better, showing Kendrick as a true artist, one that pushes the genre forward. To Pimp a Butterfly was a necessary album in a year filled with racial strife and police brutality at the forefront of our national conversations. It’s celebratory of black culture, comforts all the pain, and is also deeply critical of inner-city violence. Kendrick is never what anybody wants him to be and I think that’s what makes him all the more important.

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1.Sufjan Stevens Carrie  & Lowell

While Kendrick spent time analyzing the affairs of a nation, Sufjan spends his time processing his inner-self, responding to the loss of his mother. It’s painstakingly personal, littered with references to the loss and the deep depression he went through as a result. Most of Sufjan’s work features beautiful, stripped down folk songs but these are usually places between quirky chamber pop tracks. Here we essentially get sad, contemplative Sufjan for 43 straight minutes, and as much as I love the baroque Sufjan, slowed down it is so beautiful.

Honorable mentions: Young Fathers White Men Are Black Men Too; Hop Along Painted Shut; Sports All of Something; Panda Bear Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper; Drake & Future What a Time to Be Alive

Top 100 Songs of 2015 (Part I: 100-79)

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Part 1 of 4

100. Jill Scott “Closure”

For Jill Scott, closure means one last fling, but don’t let that fool you, she’ll go no further than that. With a humorous outro, Scott lists all the food her ex-lover will no longer be able to consume because she doesn’t care enough about him to give him breakfast.

99. Drake “10 Bands”

98. Pusha T “Untouchable”

Pusha kills it here, rapping  about “Netflix Narcos” over a sick beat and Biggie sample.

97. Major Lazer, MO, DJ Snake “Lean On”

96. Speedy Ortiz “My Dead Girl”

95. Future “No Basic”

94. Lady Lamb “Milk Duds”

93. Beach House “Sparks”

92. Sia “Alive”

In the ranking of wannabe Adele songs, this one places 2nd (ahead of Adele’s “Hello” and behind a song to come). It’s an emotional ballad that was actually written for Adele, but Sia, being the queen of taking songs meant for other folks and making them her own came through with quite the emotionally packed song here.

91. Lady Lamb “Violet Clementine”

I didn’t think Lady Lamb’s (formerly Lady Lamb the Beekeeper)  latest lived up to her debut album, but here we hear everything that makes her great: the passionate vocal delivery, the oddly poetic lyrics, and the long musical interludes.

90. Titus Andronicus “Dimed Out”

This is Titus Andronicus at their most punk, a 3-minute rager that both stands alone and fits into their 90-minute rock opera.

89. Vince Staples “Norf Norf”

88. Julien Baker “Good News”

87. Sufjan Stevens “Fourth of July”

86. Titus Andronicus “No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant”

85. Kanye West w/Theophilus London “All Day”

84. Miguel “coffee”

Miguel fits perfectly into sensual R&B, which at times can near disgusting in his overtly explicit expressions. However with “coffee”, he becomes almost sweet in his declaration that he will make “coffee in the morning” for his amour. It’s the opposite of the aforementioned “Closure”.

83. Natalie Prass “It is You”

Prass straddles several unique lines with her music: modern folk artist, 50s darling, and Disney princess. It’s a strange combo, but is so unexpected that it totally works. As a fan of all three of those lines, Prass totally works for me. Here she sounds like something out of a musical and boy is it great.

82. Disclosure “Jaded”

81. Drake “Star67”

80. Florence + the Machine “Ship to Wreck”

79. Colleen Green “Deeper Than Love”

Green is interesting because she at times gives out a Best Coast minimalist folk/punk vibe, but then something like “Deeper Than Love” will come out which is a 6-minute lonesome and slightly creepy almost new wave-ish track showing just how talented and unique she can be. It’s a subtly gripping track that will eat at you for days.

 

Check out the rest of the best of the year stuff here

Pop Culture This Week: 7/27

What’s happening this week in popular culture! Read last week’s here.

MUSIC:

Titus Andronicus “The Most Lamentable Tragedy”

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The punk group comes out with their fourth album this week, again taking a genre known for its simplistic chord progressions and rapid paced songs and evolving it to its most literary and sprawling. For those who thought their third record “Local Business” was too short at 49 minutes, “Tragedy” comes in at over 90 across its 29 tracks–a full blown rock opera. Sure to be filled with hooks, liturgical-like rhythms, and plenty of musical interludes, it’s worth checking out for those who enjoy punk rockers inspired by Shakespeare.

Migos “Yung Rich Nation”

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The rap group’s first official album (though at this point can we just accept mixtapes as albums? I mean c’mon) promises to feature more of their weird brand of auto-tune heavy hip-hop.

Lianne La Havas “Blood”

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The sophomore album from the British singer-songwriter–this one looks to be a departure from the confines of the acoustic guitar–with her experimenting in other genres. The couple songs I have heard are pretty chill, with funky jazz musical influences ripe for any coffee shop, without ever devolving into cliche.

Others: CFCF “Radiance and Submissions”

MOVIES:

The End of the Tour

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Based on a true story, Jesse Eisenberg plays a reporter sent to interview and spend time with author David Foster Wallace. Early reviews are good, but there has been a little bit of backlash as to how this movie and the wider culture views Wallace’s legacy (he committed suicide at the age of 46). Jason Segel stars as Wallace and hopefully the movie will have interesting things to say and isn’t a sappy tribute, either way Wallace is a GOAT writer so at the very least it should get people checking out his great work. (GQ–lovely cultural curator that they are–has some pretty accessible suggestions of what to read before you see the film here)

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

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I’m beginning to develop a theory about these action movie sequels that have been appearing to great reviews lately. As a culture we have become more accepting of the fun parts of action films; when movies meet these tropes–adding great action set pieces along the way–we now see them as great pieces of filmmaking even if they aren’t necessarily breaking ground artistically. The latter Fast & Furious movies are prime examples with almost every film climbing up in Rotten Tomatoes percentage. Similarly, almost every Mission: Impossible film has grown in this percentage (in chronological order: 61 to 57 to 70 to 93 to Rogue Nation at 96% during this writing) and though it could be that both of these franchises have gotten better over time, it could also be that the originals were underrated because they were seen as low-brow entertainment. Die Hard is now a straight-up classic and it’s no longer critical career suicide to declare action films as some of the best of the year. It’s clear now that the combination of charismatic leads with wild set pieces is a formula that not only works well to get people to see your film, but that it actually makes good movies.

Best of Enemies

A documentary showcasing debates that took place in the late 60s on ABC between representatives of the political right and left. It’s the first time this sort of debate took place on a national level and the movie will no doubt present this as the foreground of the way we currently squabble over politics today in our very partisan and segregated camps.

Vacation

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Your favorite traveling family is rebooted and they are headed back to Wally World! There’s very little chance a Vacation reboot will work, but I suppose there is a chance…

That Sugar Film

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Super Size Me but with sugar because our dietary fears change every ten years or so apparently.

Listen to Me Marlon; A Lego Brickumentary; I Am Chris Farley

A trio of documentaries about very specific subjects (Marlon Brando, Legos, and Chris Farley) that will likely please fans of each.

Others: Five Star; The Kindergarten Teacher

TELEVISION

7/30

Review (Comedy Central)

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One of last year’s funniest (and craziest) shows returns to Comedy Central, starring Andy Daly as Forrest MacNeil. It’s a show that is willing to take its characters as far as it needs to in order to get you to laugh. Forrest stars as a TV host for a program where viewers give him suggestions of things to review. The things that Forrest ends up reviewing aren’t run-of-the-mill, leading him to doing things like heroine, be a racist, and try to seduce Ashley Tisdale. The show refuses to separate Forrest’s home life from the his actions on the show and subsequently each of his reviews have in-life consequences, taking the show to very dark and unexpected places. If this sounds like your brand of comedy, check it out.

7/31

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (Netflix)

I previously wrote about this show two weeks ago, mistakenly. If you didn’t see that or need a reminder, here it is again: For the uninformed, back in 2001 Michael Showalter, David Wain and a bunch of their friends released a parody of a summer camp movie that was a complete flop. However, over the last decade, as its stars have gone on to be in just about every comedic thing out there, the film has taken off and has been recognized as a really great comedy. I just watched it a couple weeks ago for the second time and it is really funny. If that doesn’t convince you to see it and then watch this, then perhaps its original cast will: Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Janeane Garofolo, Molly Shannon, David Hyde Pierce, Ken Marino, Joe lo Truglio, Judah Friedlander, etc… On top of this, the eight episode prequel will feature guest spots from: Jon Hamm, Jason Schwartzman, Kristen Wiig, Chris Pine, Randall Park, Paul Scheer, Lake Bell, Josh Charles, Rob Huebel, Weird Al, Michael Cera, etc… Don’t miss out.

Descendants (Disney)

This may be a strange pick, but it’s one that peaks my interest. It’s a Disney Channel original movie sparked by our obsession of seeing all our favorite characters collaborate together (really though, look at this list at how often this is happening now: Avengers–and the whole Marvel universe–, Suicide Squad, Batman vs. Superman, The Lego Movie, Wreck-it Ralph, Pixels and the two properties that likely very specifically inspired this: Once Upon a Time and children’s book series The Kingdom Keepers). This musical follows the son of Beast and Belle as he allows the children of Disney villains (such as Maleficent, Cruella de Vil, Jafar, and the Evil Queen) to come off the island they are imprisoned on and attend school with the rest of the heroes. The movie seems to follow the villains as the protagonists and will likely feature a lot of tension between their new freedom and the parental expectation of being villainous. The tone feels like teen Disney kitsch, but Kenny Ortega of High School Musical fame directs and apparently he was the one who made the decision to turn it into a musical, and hey why not?

OOPS I MISSED THIS LAST WEEK:

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Well I didn’t really miss it, but Wilco surprised us all with an album, it’s called Star Wars

Future “Dirty Sprite 2”

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It was a little confusing as to when this actually was coming out, but Future released an “official” album this week (as compared to the two other mixtapes he’s already released this year). I haven’t listened to it yet, but the mixtapes are really good and this record has gotten great reviews.

CURRENT JAM

Kurt Vile “Pretty Pimpin'”

This new track from his upcoming album is soooooo chill man.