Best of 2019 - Churchill Downs' Picks (Cover Artwork)

Best of 2019

Churchill Downs' Picks (2019)

Staff Picks

Another year in the books. Another year older. Another year busier. Another year at a job that "will do," but is not the dream. Another year with family, chosen or otherwise. Another year of putting things off, accepting less, letting fine be the enemy of good, eating poorly, exercising infrequently, dying slowly. Or quickly. You get one life and it’s not an accumulation of choices as much as it is a choice, each moment, each day. New decade coming up. Let’s get it.

Props to the following records, which are all very good but do not factor into the going-on here: Chroal Reef’s "Gotta Get to Work," Insignificant Others’ "Insignificant Others," Potential Gospel’s "Too Small," Caracara’s "Better EP," Neutrals’ "Kebab Disco," Torche’s "Admission," Wear Your Wounds’ "Rust on the Gates of Heaven," and "Surrender’s "A Lifetime Away." And now, list.

The Records of 2019, In Order of Quality

20. Megan Thee Stallion: Fever

300 Entertainment

If you want to be a fuckface, you could settle on Megan Thee Stallion as "aughts Lil Kim" and keep it moving, as if that particular brand of sex-forward shit talking is ever unwelcome. More accurately, Megan Thee Stallion is the new Pimp C, a foul-mouthed rap lord making the South sound like the center of the rap universe, making giving Megan money sound like a good idea, and making the kind of gangster rap that will resonate to anyone who craves the 90s.

19. Baroness: Gold & Grey

Abraxan hymns

There's a chance that Gold & Grey will go down as Baroness's St. Anger, at least as far as production goes. The metal heroes continue to push at the boundaries of what "metal" can sound like, what pieces can be assembled and still create a familiar product. Plus, tunes like "Throw Me an Anchor" are riff pornography.

18. Daniel Tanghal: Nothing Ever Changes


Tanghal keeps it short and honest throughout Nothing Ever Changes, and the effect is that listening to the record sounds like catching up with a very clever friend who is going through an up-and-down time. All bedroom music should be this pithy; all bedroom music should strive to be this cleverly plain stated.

17. Future: Future Hndrxx Presents: The Wizrd

Freebandz / Epic

It's going to be interesting looking back on Wizrd in 10 years, as it'll either be the end of an era or the point at which Future ran out of ideas. Either way, tunes like "Promise You That" and "Talk Shit Like a Preacher" act as punchy summaries of what Future Hendrix excels at. Namely: stealing your girlfriend and hitting you in the mouth.

16. Health: VOL 4: SLAVES OF FEAR

Loma Vista

More rock music should be made by people who aspire to be robots on downers, in my opinion. SLAVES OF FEAR plays as a more industrial Nine Inch Nails, or a less human Static X. Either way, it's one of the more pleasant ways 2019 offered to be crushed via gears.

15. Malibu Ken: Malibu Ken


Some shit makes so much sense you can't believe it hasn't been done before. Aesop Rock - he of wordy recluse raps - and TOBACCO - he of electronic music that sounds like Super Nintendo - are two great tastes that taste great together. You know that saying about the Velvet Underground? Malibu Ken is that, but for kids who start backpack rap labels.

14. Cheekface: Therapy Island

New Professor Music

The short answer here is that Therapy Island sounds like Cake making a Parque Courts record. The slightly less short answer is that Cheekface's debut record offers some of the wittiest, most sneakily affecting commentary on modern youth culture since Content Nausea by, uh, Parque Courts.

13. La Dispute: Panorama

Epitaph Records

La Dispute is the closest thing that post-hardcore has to literature, and Panorma is the closest thing La Dispute has come to creating something like an autobiography. That the end result is a record that sometimes struggles to manufacture tension doesn't make the prose, or the riffs, any less poignant in the macro.

12. Better Oblivion Community Center: Better Oblibion Community Center

Dead Oceans

Phoebe Bridgers continues to make music that conveys the sounds of people’s lives falling apart in slow motion. The paring with Conor Oberst – the patron saint of dramatic and crushing indie Americana – makes all the sense in the world. That a song as textually bleak and sonically cheerful as "Dylan Thomas" can result from the pairing is icing on the beautiful, depressing cake.

11. Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride

Sony Music

Just like you, Vampire Weekend is becoming lamer with age. The difference is that they’re embracing their inner Dave Matthews Band while grappling with a society on the edge of collapse, and you’re reading You didn’t even make "Sympathy," which is the best Rusted Root song since that one from the Shrek soundtrack. Embarrassing for you, in my opinion.

10. The Hold Steady: Thrashing Thru the Passion

Frenchkiss Records

After a few records out in the cold, The Hold Steady have found a way to age gracefully. The characters are a little older and sadder, and their debauchery is more "two bottles of wine" and less "trucker speed" now, but the classic rock swagger is completely back. Tracks like "Epaulets" and "Confusion in the Marketplace" stand proudly with the band’s best work, and the band has seemingly found a way to mix its three-guitar attack with Franz Nicolay’s theatricality.

9. PUP: Morbid Stuff

Rise Records

Credit to Pup for demystifying the idea that sadness itself is a personally. Credit to Pup for normalizing the idea that we’re all a little sad and fucking it up more than we’d like to admit. Credit for Pup continuing to infuse their punk with the energy of a hair metal band on the most excellent cocaine. Credit to Pup for "Just because you’re sad again / it doesn’t make you special at all." Credit to Pup for recognizing that knife cutting both ways. Credit to Pup for each album feeling like their last. Frankly, they deserve more credit.

8. Booji Boys: Tube Reducer

Drunken Sailor

Tube Reducer has the best four-song run of any record released this year. By the time you hit "New Replacement," you’ll be convinced that you can do a kickflip and that Booji Boys could continue to blast out these 90-second pop-punk gems until the heat death of the universe. That’s before "Honeyboy," which could have been a classic rock staple had the Boys not decided to fuck with all of us and slap a speedblast ending on the thing. They should give this thing to 5th grades in the Midwest so they know how to raise themselves.

7. Bars of Gold: Shelters

Equal Vision Records

Bars of Gold have always brought a feral edge to their post-punk, and Shelters captures the band bending the genre to its wild will. You can listen to something like "Sometimes" and hear the conventional genre, but then there’s "Atlantic City," which lands somewhere closer to "U2 covering At the Drive In," or "Madonna," which sounds like James Brown reinvented as a howling hermit fronting a jazz band of chaos. Even after repeat listens it’s hard to tell where the record will go moment to moment. That lack of navigation can feel tedious in the wrong hands. Bars of Gold are adventure.

6. The National: I Am Easy To Find

4AD Records

It could seem like a gimmick – extremely dudely indie-rock band adds female singers to each of its songs – but that dynamic serves to better color the small-time dad tragedies that The National highlight on I Am Easy to Find. Every National album has one or two songs that make me want to start crying and never stop; props to "Rylan," this album’s entry into that rarified (and very embarrassing) canon.

5. Yeesh: Saw You Up There


Sometimes you just lose the fire. Yeesh felt themselves burning out and used those embers to create a spiritual successor to 1000 Hurts for the indie rock set. It’s punishing ("Shagohad"), it’s dynamic ("The Crossing"), it’s graceful ("Just Shy") and in its waning moments, it’s insightful and satisfied ("Victory Lap"). If you’re going to go out, go out at your peak. I’ll miss you, Yeesh.

4. Titus Andronicus: An Obelisk

Merge Records

In a certain light, An Obelisk is the most depressing Titus Andronicus record. It feels, in many ways, the closest to the bone, the most straightforward about the trap of capitalism and the original sin that comes part and parcel of simply living in America. On the other hand, there’s "Tumult Around the World," a song with a dubious message of hope delivered with the ferocity of peak-era Ted Leo, and there’s "Troubleman," whose message is the real takeaway; it’s a losing fight, so punch like hell.

3. 100 Gecs: 1000 Gecs

Dog Show

I can’t tell if 1000 gecs is the end of all music or the true beginning of what the next generation of artists will sound like, so by that metric alone it’s worth talking about. Ultimately, it sounds like what Girl Talk was striving for with all his mashup releases back at the turn of the century – the collision of all popular music into one amorphous genre. What that means in practice is, if you can’t take the weird, glitched-out EDM of, say, "xXXi_wud_nvrstøp_ÜXXx," just wait until it turns into an emo song. Or wait until the trash ska of "Stupid Horse" turns into a crunk song. If this all sounds terrible to you, I get it. The future always scares the present.

2. glass beach: the first glass beach album


the first glass beach album is the sound of over-caffeinated kids trying to put their hands around all of; "it" here meaning musical theater, jazz, third-wave emo, romantic friendship, platonic friendship, depression, elation, isolation, support, space, a collapsing culture, a collapsing world, and, and, and. It’s dramatic, confusing, thrilling, sloppy, and swinging for the fucking fences. If more bands had half the ambition that glass beach shows on tracks like "glass beach" or "neon glow," the face of modern emo would look a lot different.

1. Operators: Radiant Dawn

Last Gang

If you’re the sort predisposed to feeling doomed, it’s not hard to talk yourself into the idea that the future is a scorched, blasted, irritated one. Radiant Dawn takes that fatalism and reflects it through a disco ball. Operators have created a modern new wave classic that doesn’t forget that event the doomed will dance. The perspective on tracks like "Low Life" and "Faithless" are ones of a person who trudges on, beaten and broken, because the trudge is all the nobility life allows. Here at the bottom, on the cusp of the end, we find a way to move our bodies in a way that is owned by no one. It’s an album of freedom anthems for people who will never see the sunlight. Let’s dance.