Describing the feelings and emotions of any given year is hard, but if 2019 can be summed up in a handful of words, more than anything else, the music of this year felt of the moment. From David Berman’s heartbreaking farewell and Lana Del Rey’s apocalyptic piano ballads, to Show Me the Body’s radical punk proclamations and Mavis Staples’ soulful calls to action, the albums we heard this year were powerful, moving and undeniably incredible.
Including words from ten talented writers, artists and creatives, here are our favorite albums of 2019.
Midland – Let It Roll
Written by Alex Johnson // @AlexJohnson760
Released in late August, Midland’s Let It Roll showed that The Gator Boys are a force to be reckoned with in country music. The trio’s sophomore record took a powerful step forward following their 2017 debut, On The Rocks, finding the perfect combination of slide guitars, pedal steel, and smooth harmonies. Whether it’s lead singer Mark Wystrach, guitarist Jess Carson, or bass player Cameron Duddy on lead vocals, every song on this record has a purpose and stays true to Midland’s style. Though some might question the “authenticity” of that style, all I have to say is close your eyes and listen – the music will do the talking.
Listen // Top Tracks: Cheatin’ Songs, I Love You, Goodbye, Cheatin’ By The Rules
Honorable Mentions: Whiskey Myers – Whiskey Myers; Tyler Childers – Country Squire
Clairo – Immunity
Written by Ellie Burleson // @ellie_burleson
Fuzziness and femininity create the perfect concoction for this 21 year old’s album debut. Immunity represents finding the balance of protecting one’s self from heartbreak but not being afraid to be young and follow your heart. Clairo uses the theme of navigating life as a young adult throughout the album which makes it relatable to anyone who is going through it, or has been already. For the Massachusetts singer-songwriter the formula is simple low-maintenance orchestration with emotional and thought-provoking lyrics sung with soft and delicate vocals.
Listen // Top Tracks: Softly, White Flag, Sinking
Honorable Mentions: Nilufer Yanya – Miss Universe; Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Written by Gabrielle Johnsen // @gabyjohnsen
Lana Del Rey transforms Southern California into a mythic memory, one which she navigates with beauty, composure, and grace, even in her darkest moments. Del Rey’s fifth studio album, Norman Fucking Rockwell!, functions as her overdue breakthrough into a culture which once maligned her indulgence of melancholy and devotion to romance, but now thrives off of the same concepts. As Del Rey’s earnest vocals propel the ebbs and flows of its dynamic fourteen tracks, the record crystallizes nostalgia and hope into a remedy for the perils of modernity. Lana’s pseudo-psychedelic ocean waves are so lush and fully realized, they have to potential to baptize a new generation of Americans into the pursuit of their nation’s ever-elusive Dream.
Listen // Top Tracks: Venice Bitch, Cinnamon Girl, The Next Best American Record
Honorable Mentions: Billie Eilish – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?; Banks – III
Turnover – Altogether
Written by Genesis Mihalko // @GMihalko15
There are a few things I know about music, and one of them is that Turnover can’t possibly put out a bad record. Altogether proves that once again. This album rocks with a relaxed vibe that makes you want to drive with your windows down at night when it’s roughly 71 degrees outside. Altogether takes musical nuances that Turnover is known for: adding and subtracting textures, messing with musical colors, and including small melodies that amplify and accent the melodic line sung by the vocalist. However, this record sounds quite different than both of the band’s previous major releases. Some people may be hesitant of that, but in this case, the band just created another phenomenal experience. You’re probably not going to put on this record to dance around your room and go crazy, but rather, you’ll put on this record to really feel the music and allow your body those moments of zen to reflect and just float in time, and that is a magical thing, if you ask me. Normally I lean towards the hard-hitting records, but this one made me speechless, and that’s hard to do.
Listen // Top Tracks: Still in Motion, Parties, Number on the Gate
Honorable Mentions: Cage the Elephant – Social Cues; Alice Merton – Mint +4
Show Me the Body – Dog Whistle
Written by Imp // @TheUncannyImp
Hot as a midsummer sun and fierce as a blood fight, Show Me the Body’s Dog Whistle is a spiked bat-jackhammer combo in audio format, fighting the drudgery of life imposed upon the masses by capitalist living. The “no work will set you free” refrain from the opening track is a sentiment that echoes throughout the entire record. The vehement grooves presented are as close to industrial as they are Show Me the Body’s punk categorization. These powerful riffs are adjunct to despondent lyrics that unabashedly acknowledges and reprobates the labor of living in an American police state, such as “Part of monolith/You will get nothing back/Not even your pride/Not even your life” on “Badge Grabber.” Despite being released so early in 2019, Dog Whistle easily persisted through to the end of the year as one of the best releases of the end of the decade had to offer.
Listen // Top Tracks: Camp Orchestra, Badge Grabber, Madonna Rocket
Honorable Mentions: Billy Woods & Kenny Segal – Hiding Places; Daniel Saylor – Hermit
Mavis Staples – We Get By
Written by Josh Gering // @fortnightlylist
Mavis Staples is a huge figure in American music, and has managed to maintain her relevance with her new material over the decades. This year, Mavis celebrated her 80th birthday with three star-studded concerts that put into perspective her influence on multiple generations of musicians. There are plenty of artists that continue on for years, but fade quietly from relevance. Mavis, who I also got to see perform this summer, remains very present. This record, produced and co-written by Ben Harper, is a prime example. For me, there isn’t another record that speaks so directly and compassionately to us in this time and place that is 2019.
Listen // Top Tracks: We Get By, Heavy On My Mind, One More Change
Honorable Mentions: Ibibio Sound Machine – Doko Mein; Malibu Ken – Malibu Ken
Baby Keem – Die For My Bitch
Written by Mike Flores // @fleezym
Exploding onto the scene with his viral hit “Orange Soda,” rapper, producer and Top Dawg Entertainment associate Baby Keem puts together an impressive project with DIE FOR MY BITCH. Keem has been making moves since first receiving credits on Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther project, subsequently working with Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock on their respective solo releases. He kept a low profile and remained a mystery, until the release of his new record, where we can clearly assess why the likes of Kendrick took to his sound and writing style. The album isn’t a story or deep introspective look into life, but rather a fast-paced and fun slew of records that are insanely catchy and memorable. The album embodies an aggressive west coast style and mosh pit-inducing attitude on records like “FRANCE FREETSYLE” and “MOSHPIT,” with a detours into an indie-alternative sound on “HONEST.” It even cuts to an acoustic ex-girlfriend ballad, “MY EX,” where Keem shows his ability to compose a melodic record. Baby Keem has talent. He brings a different and vibrant youthful energy, and doesn’t sound boxed into any sub-genre. There’s sure to be a bidding war for his skills, as he recently revealed he is still unsigned.
Listen // Top Tracks: France Freestyle, Top Ramen
Honorable Mention: 2 Chainz – Rap Or Go To The League; Sturgill Simpson – Sound & Fury
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – End of Suffering
Written by Oliver Cable // @CableWrites
It’s rare to find an album this loud that’s simultaneously this sensitive. The signature grinding guitars are back, as is the headbanging-percussion, and yet End of Suffering feels a notch quieter and a great deal more mature than the band’s previous two offerings. The album really comes alive when you see Frank tear himself apart on stage, both vocally and emotionally, to recreate it. The lyrics – at times despondent, at times defiant – overflow with painful realities on life and love, switching between highs and lows, before ultimately coming to rest on hope. Put it on for the riffs, stay for the sentiment.
Listen // Top Tracks: Why a Butterfly Can’t Love a Spider, Crowbar, Angel Wings
Honorable Mentions: Thom Yorke – Anima; Ezra Furman – Twelve Nudes
Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains
Written by Roberto Johnson // @robertoj007
After a decade of musical silence, David Berman’s return to the scene was equal parts prophetic and heartbreaking. His new creation, the masterful self-titled LP from Purple Mountains, distills his flair for country music and penchant for crafting poignant indie jams into a foray of lush roadhouse Americana. There’s no question Berman’s passing shortly after the record’s release illuminates the morbid conscience of this album. Even more so, it shines a bright light on his prowess as a writer and his uncanny ability to illustrate moral ruminations of everyday life in unbearably real detail. His songs are deeply human in a way few other writers have ever been able to achieve. If this album serves as anything, let it be as one final touchstone in a career and a body of work that was consistently great, painfully potent and brimming with haunting beauty.
Listen // Top tracks: That’s Just the Way That I Feel, All My Happiness Is Gone, Nights That Won’t Happen
Honorable Mentions: Jackie Cohen – Zagg; Alex Cameron – Miami Memory
Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center
Written by Tyler Blankinship // @_solodolo_
It’s fitting that in 2019 my favorite album was released by a band that didn’t exist in 2018. Better Oblivion Community Center is what happens when you put an indie rock hero of the last 20 years and one of the genre’s most exciting upstarts, both of which have proven track records in other side projects, together for a full length album. Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers immediately find a sound that draws from some of their best characteristics as solo artists, namely deceptively clever lyricism and catchy guitar riffs, while sounding distinctly like something new. Together they made an album full of sad and contemplative songs that you could almost mistake for fun rock if you weren’t paying attention. They took the album a step further with their incredibly mysterious marketing campaign, tour (with each show referred to as a “meeting”), and music videos that established BOCC as more of a cult than a band. Whatever they are, I’m hoping this isn’t all they have in store.
Listen // Top Tracks: Sleepwalkin’, Dylan Thomas, Service Road
Honorable Mentions: DaBaby – Baby on Baby; James Blake – Assume Form