This is a list of my favorite albums from what I heard in 2019. Of course, I didn’t hear EVERYTHING released this year, so there’s a good chance a fantastic album that you love isn’t on this list.
I want this to be more of a conversation starter that will help both me and you discover great new music. What should I make a point to listen to that might not be on this list? Are there any listed below that should not have made the list?
Here are 10 great albums that I heard in 2019 (in no particular order other than how they were listed in the notes section of my phone).
The National “I Am Easy To Find”: I love The National, but was still a little nervous diving into this one knowing that the band was slightly pulling back from featuring Matt Berninger’s voice on all of the tracks. What I found was Matt’s vocals presented in a much different way among a lineup of guest female vocalists creating one of the band’s most adventurous albums to date. Included among the tracks is “Rylan,” a fan favorite often played live but never properly released on an album.
Vampire Weekend “Father Of The Bride”: Much of what was written above about The National’s 2019 release could be said about Vampire Weekend’s “Father Of The Bride.” The band had a lengthy hiatus after putting out three successful albums that roughly followed a familiar theme. Multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij stepped away as a full-time member. Guest vocalists were being brought into the fold. “Father Of The Bride” is Vampire Weekend’s natural step forward in progressing its sound. The mood is loose while the songs remain tight – the album features 18 tracks and clocks in at just under an hour. At this album’s core is the familiar sound of Vampire Weekend, but it is encased in carefully calculated boundary pushing.
CAAMP “By And By”: You’d be hard pressed to find a better toe tapper of a song than CAAMP’s “Peach Fuzz.” The guitar solo that kicks off at 2:23 into the song is one of the year’s best as well. This Ohio folk band with pop leanings is more than just another group of banjo toters trying to ride the tail end of the Mumford and Sons wave. CAAMP’s brand of folk music is accessible without being kitsch.
Mannequin Pussy “Patience”: This is the album Sleater-Kinney would have made if they refused to challenge themselves as a band. On “Patience,” Mennequin Pussy layers hard driving punk music with earnest lyrics. “And everyone says to me ‘Missy you’re so strong.’ Well, what if I don’t want to be?” sings Marisa Dabice on “Drunk II.” The line comes just as the band smartly shifts into a lower gear, giving us time to catch our breath and take in every word. This album has heart, but it is presented in a way that doesn’t sacrifice its bite.
Brittany Howard “Jaime”: Howard singing about “something short and sweet” really could be a metaphor for this album. “Jaime” is 11 bursts of soul, rock and expert level story telling packed into 35 minutes. Brittany Howard has taken a breather from being the voice of Alabama Shakes in the past, but never has she been this focused on her own story. On her first solo album, Howard talks of relationships, growing up with multi-racial parents and pushing forward. The introspection is more inspiring that it is heavy handed. Howard puts it all out there without pulling the listener down.
Billie Eilish “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”: It’s not surprising to see the number of times “bought this album for my kid and I actually kinda like it” was posted in vinyl collector Facebook groups over the past several months. The teenage Eilish has multi-generational appeal. The bass drop and “wub wub wub” of “You Should See Me In A Crown” is there for an EDM crowd that skews young while “Listen Before I Go” taps into the struggles felt far beyond our teenage years. “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” is more than slick studio production. It’s gripping lyrics. It’s Eilish’s voice calling out to us. Psst, it’s totally cool for Mom and Dad to like this one.
Sturgill Simpson “Sound & Fury”: Never has an album title so perfectly matched an album’s sound. Those expecting straight up Americana from Simpson’s fourth studio album while ignoring its title may have been disappointed. “Sound & Fury” is a blast of rock that is jettisons out of the speakers. The monstrous guitar solo of “Ronin” starts the album while getting us ready to launch before. It’s all systems go has Simpson fires through “Sing Along” and “A Good Look” before hitting cruising altitude on “Make Art Not Friends.” “Sound and Fury” is a perfectly sequenced rock album with just enough Americana (John Prine co-wrote “A Good Look”) to fit nicely alongside Simpson’s past work.
Lana Del Ray “Norman Fucking Rockwell”: She’s playing a character. Her lyrics are a little too on the nose. All of her songs are overcooked attempts at dream pop. The previous three criticisms have unfairly followed Lana Del Ray most of her career. “Norman Fucking Rockwell” should erase all three of those phrases from critics’ vernacular. Lana’s familiar throwback aesthetic is still there, but everything else we’re served on this album is a little more dialed in than past releases. “Norman Fucking Rockwell” marks the first time Jack Antonoff was brought in as a co-writer and producer on most of the tracks save for the sort of cover of a sort of cover in “Doin’ Time.” Antonoff had success sharpening the sounds of Taylor Swift, St. Vincent and Lorde in recent years. But Del Ray is just as, if not more, responsible for the streamlined approach on “Norman Fucking Rockwell.” While she has writing and producing credits on nearly every track, Lana also delivers a dreamy vocal performance for the ages. This is Lana Del Ray at her best.
Lizzo “Cuz I Love You”: Going to start this one with a bold statement: 2019 didn’t have enough Lizzo. This was no doubt her year, but “Cuz I Love You” deserves more attention. The title track that opens this one grabs you within the first couple seconds and refuses to let go until the final note of the album. Are all of the songs as good as “Truth Hurts?” Absolutely not. In all honesty, that one set the bar rather high. But the energy of “Juice,” “Better In Color” and “Boys” alone make “Cuz I Love You” one of the funnest listens of 2019. Let the reign of Lizzo continue on into 2020.
Jenny Lewis “On The Line”: One of my biggest regrets of 2019 was not going to see Jenny Lewis when she was playing a show less than 10 minutes from my house. I told myself that she hadn’t put out new music in the past five years. Plus, her new album would be coming out that week and who knows if I would even like the new stuff. Jenny, please forgive me. “On The Line” is the alt-rock break-up album of the year (seriously, this should be a Grammy award category). The album is full of sad moments, especially on “Wasted Youth” and “Dogwood,” but much of it is disguised by the warm glisten of the California sun. Jenny’s going through a rough break-up but she doesn’t want to totally bum everyone out around her.
Other Great Albums I Heard In 2019: Indian Summer “Giving Birth To Thunder,” Pup “Morbid Stuff,” Wallows “Nothing Happens,” Oso Oso “Basking In The Glow,” Bon Iver “i,i”