Here are some things I liked in 2019 that didn’t make my favorite albums of 2019. Some of them because they aren’t albums.
Amyl and the Sniffers, Pen15, Bad Religion’s Age of Unreason, Jojo Rabbit, My Chemical Romance reuniting, Succession Season 2, Parasite, Mr. Robot Season 4, I Think You Should Leave, Spirit Adrift’s Divided By Darkness, The Damned Things’ High Crimes
And these are my favorite 20 albums of 2019.
Top 20 of 2019
20. WAAX: Big Grief
WAAX are a phenomenal young band from Australia. Their artwork drew me in. Luckily, these poppy songs have a real emotional edge. The charged-up music is enough to make this great. But it’s when singer Maz DeVita tones it down, especially on "Last Week," that this record truly shines.
19. Little Simz: GREY Area
The twenty-five-year-old British rapper has a way with words and doesn’t hold back a thing. The songs are catchy but not poppy. They’re easy to get into but contain so much more when unpacked. Little Simz is a master storyteller and GREY Area is proof.
18. The Hold Steady: Thrashing Thru the Passion
When The Hold Steady announced five previously released tracks would make up half of their new album, I was bummed and not particularly excited. But I was wrong. Very wrong. Thrashing Thru the Passion is an album of A-sides with Craig Finn’s great storytelling and the triumphant and definitely noticeable return of Franz Nicolay! Two of my favorite Craig-isms: "Wherever he goes he always orders the usual. He likes to see what they'll bring him." "I got caught in a mosh with this dude who said he used to play with Peter Tosh. But he never brought it up again once I said, man, I don't believe you."
What do you want me to say? I really liked this. The first couple times I thought it was overproduced and too slow. (It is.) But most of these songs stayed stuck in my head. I still sing this in my car. A lot. No apologies. Hot take: Keep Skiba in blink. They don’t need Tom.
Honestly, I’m surprised how much I liked this record. I like Turnstile fine. I’ve never heard Trapped Under Ice. But the "hardcore kids make poppy rock music" label made me curious. It feels tongue in cheeky and super earnest the whole time. Pretty Buff is such a fun record and, it gives you feel good vibes.
With last year’s Transangelic Exodus, Ezra Furman wrote one of the strangest, most personal concept albums in recent memory. With Twelve Nudes, Furman ditches all that, making a frantic punk album which is just as great. There is a true comfort in the freneticism of all this.
A new Danny Brown album is an exciting promise of new adventure. There aren’t many rappers willing to dive into "strange" as much as Danny Brown. His tales are wild, and his delivery is uniquely his own. He’s an amazing rapper but also chooses difficult beats to work over. Then he rides them to no end. The more aggressive, the more cacophonous, the better
The first half of Legacy! Legacy! is filled with some of the most interesting, silky smooth delivery I’ve ever heard. While I was familiar with her before this album, Woods steps up every aspect of her art here. Legacy! Legacy! lends itself to repeat listens which is why I can’t stop.
Itekoma Hits is the most aggressive album on my list. Admittedly my knowledge of Japanese punk rock is limited, but Otoboke Beaver are a welcome burst of energy. It’s an exhausting twenty-six minutes because there is no time to come up for a breath. But it’s rewarding to get carried away in all the craziness.
I know Cage the Elephant has some die-hard fans. I have never been one of them. Cage is modern rock made for modern rock radio. Yet, Social Cues hooked me. Almost every song on here should or could have been their "Feel It Still" and I guess I’m sort of surprised they’re not bigger than they are. Or maybe they are and I have no idea? Either way, Social Cues is a great, worthwhile listen.
Bon Iver made an album that encompassed all three of their previous albums. And I loved all three of those albums. I don’t know what Justin Vernon is singing about most the time, but it sounds so pretty. As does the music, made up by a giant team of musicians who played on i,i.
I wish there were more bands that sounded like Plague Vendor. They reek of confidence and swagger. Brandon Blaire has an energy about him that draws you in while the rest of the band keep you there with their hypnotizing yet aggressive sound.
This is just a great record by a great band. However many years into their existence, Lagwagon continue to make music that feels urgent but also redefines what you can create as a punk lifer. Well done, gentlemen.
The first couple spins of this, I missed Matt Berninger’s presence. But upon repeat listens it’s clear, while he may vocally take a backseat to some amazingly talented women, his voice is felt. In fact, that’s the best part of I Am Easy To Find. There is a back and forth that has always existed musically with the two pairs of brothers. Here, it’s exists vocally as well, the stories shifting perspectives, giving them more weight.
6. Big Thief: U.F.O.F./Two Hands
Big Thief may be the best band out there right now. Two great albums within a year? Let alone two albums of considerably different material with completely different agendas recorded in completely different places? Adrianne Lenker is a powerhouse that will continually be mentioned years down the line as one of the most gifted songwriters of this generation. There is a such a beauty to her songwriting that the rest of the band - Buck Meek, Max Oleartchik, and James Krivchenia - are able to tap into and expose even more. For proof of all of this check out "Not" which spirals into one of the year’s best guitar solos.
Another band I was familiar with that absolutely blew me away. "Drunk II" is one of the best songs of the year and to follow it up with the significantly more aggressive "Cream" was a master stroke. Their longest album by far – at 26 minutes – uses their time to take you through ups and downs and all over the places.
PUP make great punk music. It’s personal and adventurous. They try new things but keep a familiar sound. Morbid Stuff takes on mental illness, addresses it, but doesn’t necessarily celebrate it. It’s a real album with all too relatable specifics that personally resonates with their die-hard fan base, this writer included.
3. Sharon Van Etten: Remind Me Tomorrow
"Seventeen" is easily my song of the year. I knew it when it came out in February with the rest of this incredible album. Her 2014 release Are We There was near perfect. And while it took five years for a proper follow up, she figured out a way to fine tune her sound even more. Remind Me Tomorrow is quietly heartbreaking from the opening "I Told You Everything" to the emotional weight of motherhood in "Stay."
I hope Julia Jacklin never has to write another album as good as this. Crushing may be the most relatable, honest recording of a breakup ever. The ten songs take on an arc that few have ever executed. Little moments paint the bigger picture. The title "When the Family Flies In" itself is a clear indicator of the mental state Jacklin was in when writing this album. It’s a beautiful record up made from a terrible thing and hopefully it helped Jacklin expunge this weight. Even after multiple listens a song like "Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You" gets me choked up.
The album’s titular "Young Enough" lands this album at number one. The five-plus minute number goes through many motions and accurately and stunningly provides the umbrella under which all of these other songs fit neatly under. Another album made from tragedy, this one bucking against it. Eva Hendricks and co. turn pain into catchy, poppy numbers bursting with meaning and purpose. Charly Bliss are incredible, fun and talented. And they made my favorite album of 2019.