Here it is, my recap of 50 of my favorite records from 2019. This was a strange year for me music-wise. It seemed like a ton of people were calling this the best year for music this decade, or close to that, but I didn’t feel that way at all. Maybe I’ve just been burnt out from constantly listening to new music on my own, or perhaps from working on my decade list for nearly the entire year. I felt like I was just drifting between release days, always being pulled away from an album I like to listen to something new. Obviously that’s my fault – I think I listened to nearly 600 different albums this year.
Did I have fun listening to music in 2019? Sure, but maybe not as much fun as other years. I’m so happy to hear that plenty of records deeply connected with people this year though. For me, it just felt like going through the motions. Oh well. Don’t want to get too down in the dumps here. Below are 50 of my favorite records of 2019. I ranked it, but it doesn’t really mean anything in the end. Just a handy categorization. You should listen to and buy every record on this list without bias. AND the honorable mentions. I’ve included (mostly) Bandcamp links next to each list item and linked each album artwork below as well. You have no excuse, you rat bastard!
- BARKER – Utility [Ostgut Ton] (stream / buy)
- BIG BRAVE – A Gaze Among Them [Southern Lord] (stream / buy)
- COMMON HOLLY – When I say to you Black Lightning [Barsuk / Solitaire] (stream / buy)
- ELSA HEWITT – Citrus Paradisi [Self-Released] (stream / buy)
- MARIA SOMERVILLE – All My People [Self-Released] (stream / buy)
- MOUNT EERIE & JULIE DOIRON – Lost Wisdom Pt. 2 [P.W. Elverum & Sun] (stream / buy)
- RESAVOIR – Resavoir [International Anthem] (stream / buy)
- SANDRO PERRI – Soft Landing [Constellation] (stream / buy)
- SESSA – Grandeza [Boiled Records] (stream / buy)
- VARG²™ – Evanescence (A Love Letter) [Posh Isolation] (stream / buy)
50. LIGHTNING BUG – October Song [Marbled Arm] (stream / buy)
49. GIRL RAY – Girl [Moshi Moshi] (stream / buy)
48. SALAMI ROSE JOE LOUIS – Zdenka 2080 [Brainfeeder] (stream / buy)
47. YVES JARVIS – The Same But By Different Means [Anti-] (stream / buy)
46. KAYTRANADA – BUBBA [RCA] (stream / buy)
45. ANAMANAGUCHI – [USA] [Polyvinyl] (stream / buy)
44. AMI DANG – Parted Plains [Leaving Records] (stream / buy)
43. KIT SEBASTIAN – Mantra Moderne [Mr. Bongo] (stream / buy)
42. ANGEL OLSEN – All Mirrors [Jagjaguwar] (stream / buy)
41. MANNEQUIN PUSSY – Patience [Epitaph] (stream / buy)
40. FREDDIE GIBBS & MADLIB – Bandana [RCA] (stream / buy)
39. NIVHEK – After its own death… [Yellow Electric] (stream / buy)
38. MDOU MOCTAR – Ilana (The Creator) [Sahel Sounds] (stream / buy)
37. DANNY BROWN – uknowhatimsayin¿ [Warp] (stream / buy)
36. SAULT – 5 [Forever Living Originals] (stream / buy)
35. BODY MEAT – Truck Music [Self-Released] (stream / buy)
34. MEGAN THEE STALLION – Fever  (stream / buy)
33. MEN I TRUST – Oncle Jazz [Self-Released] (stream / buy)
32. DENZEL CURRY – ZUU [Loma Vista] (stream / buy)
31. BENNY SINGS – City Pop [Stones Throw] (stream / buy)
30. 100 GECS – 1000 gecs [Dog Show] (stream / buy)
29. ANA ROXANNE – ~~~ [Leaving Records] (stream / buy)
28. BOY HARSHER – Careful [Nude Club] (stream / buy)
27. GREAT GRANDPA – Four of Arrows [Double Double Whammy] (stream / buy)
26. FRIENDLY FIRES – Inflorescent [Polydor] (stream / buy)
25. VANISHING TWIN – The Age of Immunology [Fire Records] (stream / buy)
24. Y LA BAMBA – Mujeres [Tender Loving Empire] (stream / buy)
23. OLI XL – Rogue Intruder, Soul Enhancer [BLOOM] (stream / buy)
22. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS – Ghosteen [Ghosteen Ltd.] (stream / buy)
21. JAMILA WOODS – LEGACY! LEGACY! [Jagjaguwar] (stream / buy)
20. KONRADSEN – Saints and Sebastian Stories [Cascine]
The rosy heat radiating from cheeks after sitting next to a fireplace all night.
I honestly feel like my “Warm Vision” description sums this record up quite succinctly. It feels like a low-lit, fireplace-warmed, wined-up evening with friends and family telling stories and playing games. It feels like community, it feels lovely, and it feels organic. There’s mostly one singer, but there are multiple times where a group of voices come together in choruses or on certain verses. There’s clattering of silverware, there’s laughter, there’s a brass instrument thrown in for good measure, plus a few more unique elements making each song flow into the next. It feels like it’s a mash of the works of Ragnar Kjartansson and Frank Ocean’s Blonde. If you know you Ragnar is, shout out to you. Very much a Scandinavian hygge thing. But it comes all back around to family and community in the end. I’m writing this in peak holiday party season so maybe that’s informing my decisions a bit, but if you’re wanting to feel cozy and festive without the baggage of holiday karma attached, listen to this record.
19. BLACK MIDI – Schlagenheim [Rough Trade]
Falling into a sewer and being thrown through a gauntlet of harrowing, skin-peeling trials of strength and tenacity by a secret mutated subterranean community.
I don’t really listen to aggro stuff as of late, but whenever I find myself coming back to this record I say “hoo-wee”. It’s a great feeling being wrapped up in the early hype of this band late last year / early this year and then getting this fantastic debut album to follow it up. These guys are doing some pretty wicked stuff. Total masters of ripping a song apart and then gluing it back together as some macabre marionette, piloted by a guy with a good sense of humor. Post punk of the 2020s. Also big shout out to the drummer, because wow.
18. FKA TWIGS – MAGDALENE [Young Turks]
A large chrysalis crash lands from space onto a barren area of earth and ferociously sprouts dense vegetal growth; an all-encompassing forest of vines and flowers.
Futuristic, dramatic R&B / pop that doesn’t quite meet the expectations I had going into this record (I mean, what on earth could match the sublime “cellophane”?) but nevertheless does some great things. The choruses especially hit the hardest on this record, with some awesome emotional peaks and interesting sonic choices.
17. ESTHER ROSE – You Made It This Far [Father/Daughter]
A tipsy, moonlit walk home with thoughts that wobble between abandoning companionship for good and holding your partner tight for the rest of your life.
Man this record charmed the hell outta me. Lovely Americana/Country (I still haven’t, nor do I have the motivation to discern the two, so I’ll call it a hybrid) album from a relative newcomer. Rose’s voice sounds amazing, it’s romantic with a touch of sadness and nostalgia. I’m a big fan of songs like the opener “Always Changing”, “Three”, “Handyman” and “Sex and Magic”. It reminds me of summer, just lazily thinking of love and simple things on a stroll after being out late. I hope the attention brought to her from this record grants her a bigger budget for the next. I can only expect great things at this point.
16. BADGE ÉPOQUE ENSEMBLE – Badge Époque Ensemble [Telephone Explosion]
An international spy has to figure out who on their plane to Monaco has a bomb planted in a prime minister’s coffee cup before it’s too late.
If you’re a fan of U.S. Girls’ live shows, or a loose approximation of the instrumentation used on their last album, you’ll love this. Most of this band is also part of U.S. Girls’ live band, so there we go. What’s in store for you here is some white hot instrumental funk that makes me feel like a 70s spy. Tons of flute action, great basslines, killer hand percussion, lava lamp mellotron, and the one vocal feature (from James Baley) is incredible. Put it on and have a walk around town. It’ll blow your mind.
15. RICO NASTY & KENNY BEATS – Anger Management [Sugar Trap]
Releasing all your vicious anger in one seismic blast that levels mountains, then flying into space to cool down.
If you wanna have FUN with any record this year, let it be this one. Kenny Beats and Rico Nasty work TOO well together. With Rico’s high-energy rapping and Kenny’s blown-out, bass-heavy production, they’ve made something with near-perfect replayability and has both songs that slap and songs that groove. You can tell that everyone in the studio had a great time making this and it translates on record beautifully.
14. LINGUA IGNOTA – CALIGULA [Profound Lore]
The blood of a sacrifice coagulates into an amorphous creature possessed by revenge.
This record will throw you down a set of stairs, start screaming at you, rip out your heart and throw you in a ditch. It will make you feel terrible about all the bad things you’ve done in your life. It’s a den of snakes that ensnares you for eternity. It’s the Dark Souls of 2019. Never in my life have I heard such a seamless fusion of intense industrial and classical. There can be blood curdling screams and blown out metal scraping happening in one minute, then it transitions of a tender piano section and it still makes sense. This also wins the award for best song names. You’re gonna have to look those up on your own.
13. FLOATING POINTS – Crush [Ninja Tune]
Completing complex equations on a giant chalk board opens a gate to a secret dimension.
Absolutely delicious experimental electronic music, perhaps my favorite thing Floating Points has done yet. Incredibly lush with inventive synthetic sounds interwoven between some organic ones, particularly strings and winds. Containing songs that fly all over the spectrum from “accessible” to “brain-busting”, everything feels naturally connected. Anxious, ticking rhythms juxtaposed with mellow, lightweight synths. “Anasickmodular”, which you can stream below, is far and away my highlight. Cinematic, propulsive and gorgeous.
12. BIG THIEF – Two Hands [4AD]
Doing karate in the woods by yourself and a courier brings you a fruit basket.
Undoubtedly 2019’s biggest indie rock band. This is the second of the two LPs they released this year and you know it has to be good if (spoiler alert) I have both on this list. In the past when artists release two albums in one year, I usually get burnt out and end up getting sick of the band twice as fast as I would have if they’d just put out one record. This one is definitely more rock-driven and straightforward in a way. The string of “Those Girls”, “Shoulders” and “Not” may be the best three-song sequence this year. Speaking of “Not” – I mean, come on. When that came out we knew we were in store for another special record. Two Hands continues to show what the band is best at: ratcheting up the anxiety in the calmer tracks and then allowing for a cathartic release in the louder ones. See: guitar solo in “Not”. For the time being though, I’m a bit burnt out on Big Thief now so as much as I love these guys, please no album for another year or two. Thanks.
11. LITTLE SIMZ – GREY Area [AGE 101]
An in-depth profile of a local clique boss that’s beloved in their community, showing off their harsh edges but also their tender sides hidden behind closed doors.
This is the best hip hop album of 2019! No question in my mind. Little Simz brings it all on GREY Area. Every song feels intentional: there are no other places for these to exist except on this album. The album is balanced: the more aggressive songs are offset by pensive, slower tracks, and those are offset by bouncing, fun ones. The instrumentals are on point and Simz traverses them with ease. The guest features blend in seamlessly. Sure it’s not gonna be a wall-to-wall banger quest like most of modern hip hop, but this cohesively covers such a broad emotional spectrum while still being fun on every track. I’m never bored on this record. It feels like a triumph in every sense.
10. CHARLI XCX – Charli [Asylum]
Going so fast in a car that realities begin to separate, splitting your consciousness between an ultra-futuristic, utopic society and one built out of your neuroses and paranoia.
All hail the queen! Although this album has some pretty outrageous lows for me and it’s a bit front-loaded, the highs GREATLY outweigh them and maintain Charli as the patron saint of future pop going into the 20s. So many bangers present here: “Gone”, “Silver Cross”, “Cross You Out”, “Click”, “White Mercedes”… I could go on. It sure is exciting to hear a record as strange as this one come out on a major label and to hear other similar big pop records steadily dip into this experimental electronic sound Charli has spearheaded for herself. Let’s hope that this record was successful enough to help Charli stay on this trend going into the new decade.
9. JESSICA PRATT – Quiet Signs [Mexican Summer]
Sitting in a corner booth of a 24-hour diner watching waitresses and clientele mingle at 2am, steam rising out of the kitchen window, woman smoking on the curb outside.
In my eyes, Jessica Pratt is the ultimate cool down supplier. If you’re feeling like the world is a bit too big, a bit too wild for you; just put this on and watch your problems shrink, beckoning both level-headed introspection and active, impartial observation of your surroundings. You know that feeling after you watch a movie where all your actions are amplified, like every sound and action has significance? This album is kind of like that, adding importance to your own thought process, or better yet placing you inside of a movie: on a misty evening stroll in the city, a late night diner, hearing waves wash ashore from your window, an early-morning sunrise from a homey bed & breakfast. So lovely and atmospheric. Although “Crossing” breaks the illusion a bit, but we all need a bit of conflict in our lives. Just relax for now though.
8. (SANDY) ALEX G – House of Sugar [Domino]
You return to the secluded wooded spot that you retreated to as a child to play with imaginary friends to find that it’s been clear-cut for a new suburb.
Sandy’s back with maybe his weirdest record, maybe also his best, definitely also his darkest. It has some all-time discography classics like “Gretel”, “In My Arms” and “Southern Sky” (can’t get enough of that violin tone!), and also some love-it-or-hate-it songs in “Project 2”, “Bad Man” and “Near”. The whole album carries a feeling of overwhelming dread, with tracks like “Sugar” booming menacingly (I picture some evil silhouetted oil baron or something) and the lyrics of “Hope” dealing with overdoses of friends and the opioid epidemic. With all this though, House of Sugar shows that not only is Sandy continuing to grow as an artist, incorporating new sounds and tricks in his repertoire, he still has a very signature voice. There is absolutely no mistaking who made this record. Can’t wait how he keeps growing from here. I feel like I say that after every G LP. It’s the truth!
7. CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH – Ancestral Recall [Ropeadope Records]
Ancient alchemy brings to life a humanoid figure made of diamonds and jewels for an astral dance ceremony that happens once every 1000 years.
This is the newest record to me in this list. I liked it so much that it rocketed up into the Top 10 like nothing. This will make you re-think what you feel about the trumpet. Maybe how you think about jazz? About spoken word? I don’t know, I found it pretty revolutionary. Maybe I’ve just been in the dark this whole time – I still need to listen to Scott aTunde Adjuah’s previous records, so he’s probably been putting out stuff like this for a while, but the way he plays the trumpet is just so otherworldly you’d think it was being beamed in from another dimension. I have truly heard nothing like it. In the past I’ve been pretty “eh” about trumpet in jazz or whatever, but Scott brings this project together with such a strong lead voice that it gives me goosebumps whenever he’s in command. This is not to say everything else on the record is bland – on the contrary. This is a special, spiritual, intensely rhythmic experience with jazz elements, spoken word, fire percussion, an occasional 808, and just some of the most spirited playing I’ve heard on a record all year. Regardless of music taste, I implore you to listen.
6. ALDOUS HARDING – Designer [4AD]
Having an existential crisis after meeting an ersatz version of yourself on vacation.
Does anyone write songs like Aldous Harding? The answer is no. No one else can make a song that can seem so placid on its surface, but hold so much gurgling trauma and anxiety underneath. This feeling is compounded with seeing Harding perform these songs live with such an intensity that defies their lightweight stature. I’ve called this record a “yacht rock nightmare” as well. I don’t know, maybe I’m reading into it too much. The songs are breezy, but feel like tears are right below the surface. For a self-deprecating, lost-in-the-clouds, lazy romantic kind of guy like me, Harding makes music like no other.
5. JENNY HVAL – The Practice of Love [Sacred Bones]
Being engulfed by the folds of a Georgia O’Keeffe painting.
Twisting, turning, undulating, billowing, pulsating, vibrating… I could go on. I’m talking about the deep folds of rave-inspired synths, rhythms and melodies that are the newest vehicles for Hval’s poetry, who this time is musing about childbearing and the role of the “reproductive member” in society. I don’t feel as though I’m qualified to really break down the lyrical content, but I can definitely talk about the music. This is by far Hval’s most accessible album yet, with ultra-satisfying instrumentals and dreamy vocal performances. There are moments on this record that just make me melt, like when the extra layer of synth comes in at 1:25 on “Six Red Cannas”, the back half of “Accident” and the saxophone on “High Alice”. I cannot wait to see how she brings these songs to the stage.
4. ERIKA DE CASIER – Essentials [Independent Jeep]
Taking an aromatic bubble bath after a night at the club and sending texts to your exes that you’re having fun without them.
Even though my memories of y2K era pop / R&B are filtered through what I listened to on NOW compilations, strands of snapshots from car radio as a kid and sampling random CDs found in my college radio station’s dusty “urban / adult contemporary” section, I think Erika de Casier nailed that ambiguous sound on her debut LP. Songs here are simple and they get the job done. You want to feel yourself and groove? Boom, we’re done. Listen to this album. We’re here. Fluid bass, Timbaland-like water drop sound effects, pillowy keys and just the smooooothest vocals from de Casier herself. Man this record makes you feel so damn cool. It’s inflating my ego a bit, not gonna lie. I am not actually this cool.
3. WEYES BLOOD – Titanic Rising [Sub Pop]
Actors on soap operas being forced to act minute before the sun explodes rewrite their lines as messages to their loved ones.
Truthfully I wasn’t completely sold on this album when it first came out. I kept comparing it to Front Row Seat To Earth, a very special album to me. But once I saw the Titanic Rising songs performed live, it finally clicked. These songs are just SO huge and cinematic that they need to be heard on the big stage. Gorgeous fusions of sweeping strings, balladic piano, sweet guitars, plush synthesizer, and of course Natalie Mering’s calm yet dramatic vocals. It’s like saccharine 60s pop ripped from the past and thrust into the present, outfitted with the brilliant technology we have today for ultimate satisfaction.
2. BIG THIEF – U.F.O.F. [4AD]
Climbing a tall tree outside your childhood home and watching the new family living inside create their own new memories.
Pretty much everything I said about Two Hands applies here, but I feel like on U.F.O.F. Big Thief employ the ole build-anxiety-and-pay-it-off-with-catharsis trick better. My favorite song on their 2017 album Capacity is “Great White Shark”, which is jammy and is hypnotizing with its off-kilter sway, almost devoid of a steady beat. The structure of that song reminds me of a lot of U.F.O.F., whether it’s most of the opener “Contact” (talk about catharsis on that song!), the polyrhythms of the guitar, soft hand claps and rambling chorus on “From” and the slow stomp of “Jenni”. Otherwise, the record is just plain gorgeous, with plenty of little instrumental details filling the empty space on the metaphorical sonic bookshelf. But again – please no more Big Thief music until at least 2021. I still need plenty of time to fully digest these two records.
1. PURPLE MOUNTAINS – Purple Mountains [Drag City]
The solemn, self-indulgent, humorous, yet accommodating final transmission from an unparalleled lyrical mind.
“A comeback and a farewell” as written by Aquarium Drunkard, Purple Mountains was by and far my favorite record of the year. It’s humorous, morbid, insightful, touching, charming, existential, simple, normal, special, modern, nostalgic, depressing, foreboding, and more. Adjectives aside, it’s obviously tough to listen to a lot of this record now, but holy hell, we’re so lucky to have it in our lives. Berman was truly going through it, but he was able to concentrate what he was feeling, with the help of a cast of incredible players, into a singular work of art that seamlessly fits in with what he’s been doing his entire career. How can a man keep writing so many iconic lyrics this late into his career? So many one-liners. Synthesizing existential sadness, interpersonal regret and weightlessness amongst this planet’s inevitable emotional debris into 10 timeless songs. Again, we’re so lucky to have this in our lives. Thank you David, rest in peace and in power.
- Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains
- Big Thief – U.F.O.F.
- Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
- Erika de Casier – Essentials
- Jenny Hval – The Practice of Love
- Aldous Harding – Designer
- Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Ancestral Recall
- (Sandy) Alex G – House of Sugar
- Jessica Pratt – Quiet Signs
- Charli XCX – Charli
- Little Simz – GREY Area
- Big Thief – Two Hands
- Floating Points – Crush
- Lingua Ignota – CALIGULA
- Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats – Anger Management
- Badge Époque Ensemble – Badge Époque Ensemble
- Esther Rose – You Made It This Far
- Black Midi – Schlagenheim
- FKA twigs – MAGDALENE
- Konradsen – Saints and Sebastian Stories
- Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!
- Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
- Oli XL – Rogue Intruder, Soul Enhancer
- Y La Bamba – Mujeres
- Vanishing Twin – The Age of Immunology
- Friendly Fires – Inflorescent
- Great Grandpa – Four of Arrows
- Boy Harsher – Careful
- Ana Roxanne – ~~~
- 100 gecs – 1000 gecs
- Benny Sings – City Pop
- Denzel Curry – ZUU
- Men I Trust – Oncle Jazz
- Megan Thee Stallion – Fever
- Body Meat – Truck Music
- Sault – 5
- Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin¿
- Mdou Moctar – Ilana (The Creator)
- Nivhek – After its own death…
- Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana
- Mannequin Pussy – Patience
- Angel Olsen – All Mirrors
- Kit Sebastian – Mantra Moderne
- Ami Dang – Parted Plains
- Anamanaguchi – [USA]
- KAYTRANADA – BUBBA
- Yves Jarvis – The Same But By Different Means
- Salami Rose Joe Louis – Zdenka 2080
- Girl Ray – Girl
- Lightning Bug – October Song