Getting through 2019 at times felt like a miracle in itself. At the start of this year, I was staring out over a blank slate in a way that I haven’t been in years. I took on new challenges, I overcame demoralizing lows, I celebrated historic achievements, and I found myself having one of the most unexpected years in my short 32 total thus far. Nothing was really planned this year and I can’t say that I’m coming away with any great insight other than to keep on keeping on.
Since I started writing reviews for Punknews, I’ve excessively tracked my music listening habits making a note of every album I listened to released each year to help compile this list This year, my music consumption fell off somewhat. Mostly, this was because I was busier than I’ve ever been in my professional life, but that’s not to say I didn’t put up decent numbers. In total as of finishing this list on December 1st, I listened to 152 albums, attended 43 concerts, wrote 25 reviews, and conducted two interviews give or take in 2019. As usual, this list constitutes my favorite records of the year as determined by me for varying reasons. I personally think you should check out all of them, many of them you can find my reviews of on this site! They were the ones that provided the soundtrack to my 2019. Runners which were at some point on various versions of this included Better Community Oblivion Center, Field Medic, Fury, Lizzo, and Gatekeeper.
As we enter 2020, the only advice I can give is the same pieces of it I offered last year. Up the punx forever and hope the upcoming year brings you much in the way of P.M.A. I also hope you enjoy these albums as much as I did and the list inspires you to check out a few you hadn’t.
Top 20 Albums of 2019
20. Vagabon: Vagabon
Vagabon’s self-titled record is a departure from the indie rock on her first album. Starting a trend to come in this Top 20, Vagabon incorporated electronic elements to her sound centering them on this release more so than her indie rock beginnings. "Water Me Down" lightly throbs with trance qualities. "Flood" is overcome with hazy atmospherics and pulsating rhythms. If at times it sounds like the songs on Vagabon
were composed in the solitary confinement of an individual with a laptop looking out over the abyss, that wouldn’t be too far from the truth. Vagabon talked about the necessities of scaling back her sound to express the full range of emotion she does on the release.
When Masked Intruder first caught my attention some 8 years ago, I don’t think I would’ve guessed a sugary pop-punk band with a shtick for being masked criminals singing about love and doing cool crimes would be something that would be more enjoyable than the gimmick would suggest, let alone something that could be sustained over multiple albums. On III
, Masked Intruder continue to prove that was a wrong assumption. From the 80s guitar solos, to the 50s doo-wop, to the cheesy life of crime inspired lyrics, Masked Intruder’s III
continues to prove that taking life so seriously all the time sucks. For anyone who thought the gimmick would get old, I submit to you any number of songs off this album.
This is one of those releases that came out of nowhere for me. I’ve never been a huge fan of Jimmy Eat World and wasn’t anticipating this release in any shape or form. However, from the opening chords of "Surviving," I was hooked. Surviving
, like the album title would suggest, isn’t breaking any new ground, but it is a band that has made some exceptional alternative pop songs and are doing just that here. This album is catchy as fuck with so many pop hooks in one ear and out the other. Nothing pretentious, just a good time. There’s even a saxophone solo. The first of two mentions of saxophone solos on this Top 20!
Mannequin Pussy’s Patience
was a critic’s favorite right from the start. Upon its release early in 2019, it received rave reviews noting the overhaul of the band’s sound in favor of an accessible emo and punk laden rock album. No song underscores that transition, and the strengths of this album, more than "Drunk II." The 5-minute banger takes the listener through the lows of looking for lost love on a barstool ending explosively as a classic rock guitar solo spirals over guitarist/singer Marisa Dabice’s longing wails. That album doesn’t abandon all of the heaviness of Mannequin Pussy’s past. "F.U.C.A.W." hits with commanding riffage but it’s the more expansive moments, see "Who You Are," that are truly the toplines here.
is a hellscape of metal, grindcore, and industrial. Full Of Hell don’t let up for a single fucking second in the 24-minute playtime. To give you a sense of how pulverizing this release can be, "Aria of Jeweled Tears" opens up with the sound of a machine gun popping off before effortlessly landing in the blast beats comprising the opening of the actual song. On the other end of the track, the machine gun commences again at the closing notes making it hard to discern if the machine gun actually ever stopped during the track or just faded in the background of chaos that is the music. Embracing industrial elements and samples, as Full Of Hell do on "Angels Gather Here," keep this eerie and heavy in different ways making for an engaging listen.
I wrote a review for Punknews for Glitterer’s Looking Through The Shades
that somehow fell through the cracks and never got published. In that review, I delivered a two and a half-star verdict encouraging some sort of reunion with the rest of Title Fight. Whether it stemmed from my desire for another Title Fight record, or my dogged determination to understand whether Glitterer was any good itself after a surprising bad live performance, I found myself returning to this record surprisingly often for that low of an original rating and thus earning a spot on my Top 20. Put simply, this is bedroom pop made by a hardcore kid and I dig it, but would still encourage that Title Fight reunion.
14. Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Come for the Sublime cover, stay for the sprawling mess of emotion and Sinatra-like millennial confessional that is Norman Fucking Rockwell!
. At least that's how I found myself here. Previous to this record, I had put some Lana Del Ray on a few party playlists, but never delved too hard into her albums. Norman Fucking Rockwell
changed that. When Lana Del Rey sang "fresh out of fucks forever" on "Venice Bitch," I felt that deeply. This album’s sardonic lyrics and understated musicianship flexes every bit of its hour-plus runtime. It’s easy to get lost in the spacey vibes emanating from this album as it never feels a minute unwelcome.
13. Sneaks: Highway Hypnosis
is one of the first records that caught my ears’ attention in 2019. Landing at the very top of the year in January, the post-punk and electronic vibes found on the album connected with the bleak winter grey at the time. It was easy to throw this album in the headphones on the walk to the train to work in the morning and just drift off into existential nothingness. A track like "Money Don’t Grow On Trees" demonstrates the groove-oriented atmospherics layered throughout this album. Impossible not to get lost in each synth staccato and glittery flourish found within Highway Hypnosis
12. MakeWar: Get It Together
True story. I once found myself buying MakeWar’s last record Developing A Theory Of Integrity
solely on an incredibly friendly conversation Edwin Santacruz struck up with me as I was standing next to their merch table suffering from a just happened, but not yet realized broken rib trying to assess the damage. Santacruz was incredibly nice as I winced through the pain and 10 minutes later I was hobbling away with a new LP to add to the collection. While enjoyable, the album didn’t stick with me. MakeWar’s 2019 effort and Fat Wreck debut Get It Together
was totally different, making it the second Fat release on this list. Songs like "My Bones," "Squeeze," and "Sails" made this an instant hit and one of the more enjoyable straight up punk rock releases this year.
11. Clowns: Nature / Nurture
Clowns are a band that came out of nowhere for me in 2019. Nature / Nurture
was not on my radar until I saw the Fat Wreck connection with the release and decided to give it a shot solely on that. Immediately I was drawn in by Offspring inspired rock mixed in with blistering punk anthems. Songs like "Soul for Sale" shows the band has an ear for big hooky choruses while "I Wanna Feel Again" demonstrates the band is no stranger to exploring a spectrum of dynamics oscillating between alternative and punk rock. Nature / Nurture
is a face-melter of an album and again shows that Fat Wreck still have a finger on the pulse of the punk community across the globe.
One of the biggest complaints I’ve had in recent years about the state of Blink-182 is the overplaying by Travis Barker and overproduction found on their last two full lengths, be it with Matt Skiba or Tom DeLonge. Oddly enough, Nine
excels by expanding on both of those characteristics. This time, Barker’s overplaying is tempered by some of that overplaying being relegated to programmed and electronic drumming which adds new layers to the heavy-handed production on Nine
. This album finally felt like the trio settled in with Skiba as well and are more interested in creating new music than retaining fans. Nine
is one of the biggest rock sounding records of the year and finds the band in a rejuvenated position.
9. Kim Gordon: No Home Record
Similar to that of the much discussed Sleater-Kinney album, Kim Gordon returned with a new and polarizing sound bringing in electronic elements to her alternative rock foundation. While Sleater-Kinney turned to melodic chamber pop, Gordon’s No Home Record
went with the abrasive. "Air Bnb" shows that her post-hardcore underpinnings are still there with its Fugazi-esque riffage, but it’s when she brings in that funky bass akin to something found on Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty
on "Murdered Out" that it really starts deliver. This an album meant to unpack over repeated listens and its departure from expectations makes it one of the best of 2019.
SRA Records The N---- In Me Is Me
is one of the most progressive and abrasive sounding records in heavy music released this year. Mixing elements of hardcore, trap, and noise rap with the spastic energy of grindcore, it stands out amongst a spattering of hardcore adjacent releases that have brought in new elements to the sound the past few years. Songs like "32" blast through with chunky mosh riffs and distorted hip hop over half shouted, half rapped lyrics detailing the black experience. It would be just as easy to name drop The Dillinger Escape Plan as it would Death Grips in a comparison. If you sat on The N---- In Me Is Me
this year, and you’re a fan of extreme music, you have no excuse to continue doing so.
The hazily strummed chords of operner "No Fair" immediately let fans know that Angel Du$t’s Pretty Buff
was going to be a departure from the sunny hardcore the band was known for. Pretty Buff
hit at the perfect time for me capturing an incoming springtime feeling that the dark days of winter were gone upon its release. It rolled perfectly into the summer providing a danceable 90s radio rock soundtrack to the long humid days. It also contained the best damn saxophone solo in 2019 punk rock. Pretty Buff
showed the versatility of the band and likely underscores a future of shape shifting sounds similar to Ceremony, who join Angel Du$t on this Top 20.
Punk rock doesn’t create a lot of career sustaining jobs. I’ve heard older artists who hit their late 30s and early 40s talk about the dredges of balancing a passion that has created a somewhat stable, but sometimes fleeting revenue stream amidst middle adulthood. With Morbid Stuff
, it seems Pup have propelled themselves into the realm of real punk rock success. Pup deserves it as well. It’s a trip to think about watching them open for The Lawrence Arms at The Grog Shop to them headlining a packed Franklin Music Hall in the span of a decade. Morbid Stuff
is a clever alternative pop record that has some of the best finger pointing parts of any album this year sure to get the kid singing along.
I don’t think I ever would’ve guessed that a Tyler, The Creator record would end up on this list at the beginning of the year, let alone making my top five. Igor
is an album I kept coming back to in 2019 though. Tyler introduced this album as an artistic endeavor in full and he was right to do so. From the love triangle narrative to the 90s funk, jazz interludes, and maximalist bass rattling production, I was absorbed into every sound on i>Igor. Whether it’s the urgent electronic found on "New Magic Wand" or RnB on "Earfquake," this album, and it is to the truest extent a full listen, creates incredible drifting textures of music.
In The Spirit World Now
is the latest, and somewhat surprise, offering from shape-shifting hardcore band Ceremony. Never to miss an album from these individuals, they’ve played power-violence, punk, indie rock, and goth all with spectacular results. In The Spirit World Now
leans more towards The L-Shaped
in nature but is delivered with enough Prozac to merit a new wave dance party. What really sold me on this album was seeing them live on its headlining tour and watching Ceremony turn Philadelphia’s Union Transfer into an intimate rock show. The band postured through a career spanning set that would’ve excelled in an all ages hardcore show but also managed to seamlessly sneak in a keytar and killer 80s light show.
The Menzingers are my favorite band. I can, and often do, end up wearing a Menzos t-shirt every day of the week and my friends literally alert me to news about the band if they see it because they associate them with me. If they are releasing an album, you can bet it’s going to be one of the best of the year. Hello Exile
is no different. The album contains some of the best songs they’ve ever written -- "I Can’t Stop Drinking" and "Portland" being examples. I can’t see this album displacing my current top three favorite Menzinger albums, but a good number of songs in here will definitely rank up there. They’re just a little too on the nose for a 32-year old dude living in South Philadelphia.
Mom Pop Music
Sleater-Kinney is a storied band that will surely go down in the annals of rock history as trailblazers, innovators, and an inspiration to many. However, they were one of those bands that escaped me despite repeated avenues to onboard as a fan. That changed with The Center Won’t Hold
. So many great reviews and think pieces on fandom rose in the aftermath of this release and what was clear was how polarizing the album was. I mean, longtime drummer Janet Weiss left in the wake of it. Damn. The Center Won’t Hold
is a ride that plays on the edge of its most extreme components. It redefined the band bringing along at least this new fan with them.
red scare industries
I wrote in my original review of Deals, Deals, Deals!
that good pop-punk can lift your spirit and break your heart simultaneously. That ideal still expresses what Ramona’s Red Scare debut is all about. Deals, Deals, Deals!
contains perfect by-the-numbers pop-punk, see the back to back "Hard Sulks" and "This Is Emo," but there is also a sonic aggression to this album that fully comes to life when the band shows what they’re capable of. Closing tracks "Getting There" and "Mambo " end the album demanding a rewind for more. And for me, more so than any other album this year.