Every introduction to any “best of” type post must make some sort of attempt at quantifying the greatness (or lack thereof) of any given 12 months, but being that this particular year marks the end of the 2010s, it is understandable that these kind of write ups may carry a little more significance this time around. For the music we hear this year not only serves as a timestamp for 2019, but as a reflection on the decade that was, or perhaps as a glance at the future and what is to come.
This year has already produced a wide array of incredible albums, so we are going to let the music do the talking. Because now, as much as ever, great music comes from all corners of the creative world, from major cities to the extreme depths of the internet. The best part? We have access to just about all of it. Right now, today.
With words from eight different writers, creatives and artists, here are the best albums of 2019, so far.
Anderson .Paak – Ventura
Written by Stephen Adams // ReFlex the Architect // @ReFlexArchitect
Like many Anderson .Paak fans, I was a bit let down by the uber radio-friendly Oxnard, especially after the high-quality Dr. Dre and Anderson .Paak collabs on Dre’s Compton album. However, right out of the gate on Ventura, it’s pretty obvious this is the .Paak I came to see. When you start your album with a song as strong as “Come Home,” with proper ‘70s soul arrangements with a blistering Andre 3K verse that is easily the stuff of legend, you must be in your element. On songs like “Chosen One,” with its multiple switch-ups, a 16-bar Paak rap verse and incredible coda section, you can see why Paak said in interviews that he had a lot more freedom with the production on this album. To quote the man directly, “No cap, no cap!” The whole record just has that effortless funk feel, with Paak flexing equally on vocals, drums and behind the boards as a producer. My one gripe though, Paak seems to play blink-and-you’ll-miss-it with his guest list of musical royalty, which includes Smokey Robinson, Lalah Hathaway and Brandy among others. Featuring them on a proper duet could have taken Ventura to even greater heights.
Top tracks: “Chosen One,” “Come Home,” “Reachin 2 Much”
Ari Lennox – Shea Butter Baby
Written by Mike Flores // Riffs & Rhymes // @mikefleezy
Soulful R&B singer Ari Lennox puts her talents on full display on her debut full length studio album, Shea Butter Baby. Ari inked a deal with J. Cole’s imprint, Dreamville Records, in 2015 and has been building her core fan base and creating a buzz ever since. After touring with Cole and releasing her critically acclaimed EP, Pho, in 2016, Ari surpasses expectations with this new release. The smooth vocals and vulnerable songwriting propel Ari to the top of her class and her ability to connect with fans is paying its dividends. Ari commands our attention with the release of Shea Butter Baby and we are excited to see what she has in store in the coming years.
Top tracks: “Chicago Boy,” “BMO”
Ibibio Sound Machine – Doko Mien
Written by Josh Gering // The Fortnightly Playlist // @fortnightlylist
A high energy blend of West African funk and post-punk electro, Doko Mien continues on the foundation laid by Ibibio Sound Machine’s earlier records. This is easily their most complete and honed-in work to date. Eno Williams’ vocals, in both English and Ibibio, are engaging and mesmerizing. Throughout the album we’re treated to wild psychedelic guitar solos, hot horns, an insanely tight rhythm section and synths that offer both throwback and modern twists. All reports are that Ibibio have a great live show, so I’m excited to see them on one of their few West Coast dates this summer.
Top tracks: “Wanna Come Down, “Just Go Forward (Ka I So),” “Tell Me (Doko Mien)”
Jabriel – Manifest
Written by Candice Johnson // BINACT // @candiiboo
After almost two years, Florence, South Carolina native Jabriel released Manifest in mid-May. For some, it may be easy to lean on the “R&B is dead” quip, but this magnetic full-length project is proof that rhythm and blues is alive and well. Jabriel has a beautiful voice that hugs the faultless production of each track. Listeners will get lost in the deep cuts of this body of work while finding themselves amidst the gripping song content and quality. Do yourself a favor and get hip now.
Top tracks: “Ghost,” “Noise,” “Once More”
Mereba – The Jungle Is The Only Way Out
Written by Tyler Jones // Riffs & Rhymes // @TAJtheWriter
As the R&B lover that I am, there was no way I was gonna miss out on Mereba’s newest full length project. After seeing “Stay Tru” on Colors, I had to hear more and see what this was all about. I wasn’t disappointed, as “Kinfolk” grabbed my heart and never let go. She has so much control over her voice and tone that it can’t help but inspire and push you to sing along as your own creative mind flutters. The experience is spiritual and has you explore your own soul with each note.
Top tracks: “Kinfolk,” “Sandstorm,” “Stay Tru”
Nilüfer Yanya – Miss Universe
Written by Ellie Burleson // Riffs & Rhymes // @ellie_burleson
It was only three months into 2019 when Miss Universe came out and all it took was one listen for me to know that it was going to be in the running for my Album of the Year. Yanya and her band took a creative direction that is worth some major attention. More often than not, I find myself humming the tunes and going back, observing each instrument and how it was used to forward the music’s incredible sound pallet. The unique combination of alt-rock, jazz and pop puts this album in a league of its own.
Top tracks: “Angels,” “Paradise,” “Baby Blu”
PUP – Morbid Stuff
Written by Genesis Mihalko // What’s So Special About Music Anyways? // @GMihalko15
After announcing a hiatus after their 2016 album, PUP shocked the masses when they released Morbid Stuff in early April and announced their comeback to the music scene. With the stature that is the band PUP, everyone was expecting large than life results when talking new tunes from the artist. Let me tell you, PUP didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Morbid Stuff takes the band’s characteristic pop-punk sound with dashes of alt-rock and elevates it to fit the progression of the 2019 scene, all while still reflecting back on the good ol’ days. This record utilizes the vocalist’s ornate timbre as the instrumentalists waver back and forth between over the top instrumental lines and passages that balance the vocal line in a way that allows them to shine. This technique creates an album that is lively, intriguing and it continually gives the audience something new. This may very well be the top album of 2019, for it utilizes the perfect blend of innovation and the “tried and true” of the pop-punk. My recommendation is to listen to this album for the first time driving with your windows down on a warm summer’s day. In that moment, you’ll see how phenomenal it truly is. PUP knocked it out of the park.
Top tracks: “Morbid Stuff,” “Kids,” “See You at Your Funeral”
Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
Written by Roberto Johnson // Riffs & Rhymes // @robertoj007
Natalie Mering’s career has produced a multitude of beautiful songs, but Titanic Rising is easily her crowning achievement as one of this decade’s more quietly celebrated indie acts. Each minute of Titanic Rising is as breathtaking as the next and you will be hard pressed to find another record this year as cinematic or aesthetically captivating. Whether it’s the astral serenade of “Andromeda” or the levitating thrill-ride of “Movies,” Weyes Blood doesn’t compromise a single moment of music from being as gorgeous as it possibly can be. Maybe the most rewarding part of this album, the devil is all in the details. The steadily ascending layers of keys, vocals and strings create a monumental wall of sound, one ripe with substance upon each revisit. Titanic Rising has the feel and sound of a defining record. As of this moment, it’s Mering’s magnum opus.
Top tracks: “A Lot’s Gonna Change,” “Andromeda,” “Something to Believe”
Featured image by Shore Fire Media