Yeah, yeah, I know: it’s May 2020 and I’m just posting my best albums of 2019. Between work, travel and COVID, it’s taken me awhile, but I hope it’s worth it!
100: The Tallest Man on Earth, I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream.
This album just squeaked into my top 100. More subdued than many of his albums, as though the one or two melancholy songs (usually piano-based as opposed to his exuberant open-tuned acoustic guitar numbers) he includes on most albums have taken up more space on this one. The highlight is the slow build of “Running Styles of New York” with its treated piano and the more typically upbeat “I’m a Stranger Now.”
99: Stats, Other People’s Lives
A dance-pop outfit from the U.K., this album was stitched together over a number of months from various bits and pieces so it’s shocking how consistent the music is. It reminds me of LCD Soundsystem with a dash of the ’80s thrown in.
98: The National, I Am Easy to Find
An album produced under unusual circumstances. The band was burnt out, especially singer and lyricist Matt Berninger, but director Mike Mills (Beginners, Twentieth Century Women) came to them with a film idea and the album kind of developed from there. They involved several female vocalists and Carin Besser (Berninger’s wife) supplied some lyrics. The result is in some ways a typical The National album in the sense of the overall mood and always unique sound, but somewhat leavened by the additional of the female voice.
97: Leah Nobel, Running In Borrowed Shoes
A Nashville-based singer-songwriter with a wide range of interests: she releases alt-pop under the name HAEL and raps as ‘Lil Cheesecake. This albums doesn’t match either of those genres! It’s quirky folk-pop, well-crafted and based entirely on interviews she did with 100 real people.
96: Cursive, Get Fixed
A veteran indie band that’s been around for over 20 years, Cursive writes off-kilter art-rock anchored by the lead singer’s almost off-key voice.
95: Bedouine, Bird Songs of a Kill Joy
An album that wears its heart on its sleeve. Azniv Korkejian is a Syrian-American who’s lived all over the place but somehow sounds as though she’s living in Laurel Canyon in the early-1970s.
94: Kevin Morby, Oh My God
I’ve loved Kevin Morby since discovering him in 2016. A talented singer-songwriter with a unique sound, mostly derived from his voice (which tends to ride that line between talking and singing with the emphasis toward the latter) and interesting instrumental choices.
93: Illirerate Light, Illiterate Light
Great alt-rock with a clear, high vocals reminiscent of Band of Horses.
92: Jessica Pratt, Quiet Signs
See Bedouine above! Another California folk artist with a quiet, delicate, mysterious voice.
91: Anderson .Paak, Ventura
Interesting, very inventive and well crafted electronic R&B
90: Pete Yorn, Caretakers
The best album from this singer-songwriter since 2001’s Music For the Morning After.
89: Bob Mould, Sunshine Rock
The legendary hardcore and noise rock singer/guitarist has wandered a crooked path since leaving Husker Du and his subsequent project Sugar. This is a remarkably straightforward album, still occasionally displaying the “wall of guitar” sound he was known for earlier, but anchored in solid song construction.
88: Julia Jacklin, Crushing
The second album from this Australian singer-songwriter is a fairly conventional collection of folk-rock, raised above the pack by her interesting voice and sharply insightful songwriting (“Head Alone,” for example, features the line “I don’t want to be touched all the time; I raised my body up to be mind.”).
87: Petrol Girls, Cut & Stitch
You’d expect highly political music from a band named after the 19th century French Pétroleuses, the first women to support the Paris Commune (and who were believed, until recent research, to have set a huge number of fires in May 1871). And your expectations are met on this, their second full-length album. Underneath the screaming about injustice, the marginalized, etc., is the sound of a hardcore band with great chops.
86: Jesca Hoop, Stonechild
Jesca Hoop tends to stray into the edge of the territory occupied by Joanna Newsom (not as weird) or Julia Holter (not quite as orchestral), art-pop with interesting vocals and harmonies and a mix of instruments, all of which gives it a feel of music from a different time period.
85: Vampire Weekend, Father of the Bride
I like Vampire Weekend but I’ve never bought into any of the hype (nor the hate – it’s a band that seems to inspire extreme reactions). I try to take the music at face value and ignore anything non-music-related. So to me this is just a great album of pop music full of great hooks and eclectic musical choices. Let me put it this way: I bought the whole album, the first time I’ve ever purchase more than a couple of songs from a Vampire Weekend album.
84: The Lumineers, III
More simple and soulful folk-rock from the Denver-based duo.
83: Purple Mountains, Purple Mountains
The last work released in the lifetime of David Berman (who killed himself five weeks after this album came out) and Berman’s first studio album since the disbandment of the Silver Jews in 2009. Prior to hearing this album, I wasn’t familiar with Berman or the Silver Jews – and now I regret I hadn’t heard of him earlier. It is, of course, impossible to listen to this album without thinking of how this story ends: particularly a song like “All My Happiness Is Gone” or “That’s Just the Way That I Feel,” which contain obvious references to his mental state. But even in the darker songs, a sense of humor shines through, as in this line from the latter song: “I was so far gone in Fargo, South Dakota got annoyed.” A sad loss…
82: The Highwomen, The Highwomen
Country supergroup consisting of Amanda Shires (Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, plus her own excellent solo work), the sublime Belinda Carlile, Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby. Great deep songwriting, whether you like country or not.
81: Bill Callahan, Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest
Bill Callahan starts with one of the key ingredients that often attracts me to a musical artist: an interesting voice. He’s a baritone, not a normal range for singers of popular music, and his voice has an offhand, world-weary tone to it that suits the material well. HIs songs often lack traditional structure and can feel a bit improvised, as though one were in a smoky jazz bar listening to someone riff on a theme.
80: Stef Chura, Midnight
Melodic garage rock/pop, not surprising given that Will Toledo (Car Seat Headrest) produced the album.
79: Beirut, Gallipoli
Still one of the most interesting bands out there with an instantly identifiable sounds via the drawn out horn notes and Zach Condon’s voice.
78: Emeli Sandé, Real Life
Powerful, emotive, gospel-flavored R&B from this British singer-songwriter with a spectacular voice. Feeling down? Listen to “You Are Not Alone.”
77: Ty Segall, First Taste
Ty Segall is the very definition of prolific. I think he put out 4 albums in 2018. Or maybe it was the year before and 2018 was “just” 1 double album. And he dropped a live set earlier in 2019. The interesting thing about this album is he took on the challenge of creating it without any guitars. None. The only stringed instruments are things other than guitar. It’s still a hard rock, psychedelic head spinner.
76: Sara Bareilles, Amidst the Chaos
Great piano-based songwriting in the best tradition of early Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor or even Billy Joel.
75: Joseph Arthur, Come Back World
Arthur has one of the types of voice I really enjoy: slightly, ever so slightly, sardonic or questioning. Other than that, he just writes great songs drawn from several different American musical styles.
74: Black Keys, Let’s Rock
A tribute to the electric guitar! No keyboards or electronics here. See my review for more.
73: The Rails, Cancel the Sun
When I first listened to this, I thought, “Wow, does this ever sound like something Richard and Linda Thompson might have done!” Turns out my instinct was pretty good: the Rails are a duo from London composed of Kami Thompson (their daughter) and James Walbourne, who pulls off some impressively Thompson-sounding vocals. The music itself is very well-crafted and literate folk-rock. “Save the Planet” is a particularly favorite for its offhand, humorous and yet, underneath it all, dark lyrics.
72: Two Door Cinema Club, False Alarm
Bouncy, buoyant ’80s-flavored synth pop.
71: Sigrid, Sucker Punch
Just another Scandinavian who creates incredibly catchy pop music.
70: Ra Ra Riot, Superbloom
The 5th album from the Syracuse-based five-piece (they’ve been around for 14 years, so you’d think they’d have more albums out) is a sunny collection of pop with flourishes of the baroque. Opener “Flowers” is a happy bit of California pop, “Belladonna” introduces some orchestral lushness, and “This Time of Year” is another light bit of upbeat bop.
69: Freya Ridings, Freya Ridings
Freya Ridings’ debut full-length album is a powerhouse of soaring vocals and Florence + the Machines-like orchestration.
68: Strands of Oak, Eraserland
Timothy Showalter (aka Strands of Oak) writes and performs fairly straightforward rock that often features a kind of slow, patient and measured build and emotive swooping choruses.
67: Starflyer 59, Young In My Head
A band that’s been around in various forms and with various sounds since 1993, but was unfamiliar to me. They don’t tour apparently because leader Jason Martin runs his father’s trucking business full-time since the father passed away in 2010! The band started as shoegaze but that’s not what this album sounds like. It has a strong ’80s feel, maybe because Martin’s voice reminds me of Peter Murphy (Bauhaus) although the music is certainly not as gloomy.
66: CHAI, PUNK
I don’t really want to like this album. The vocals are just so saccharine. But I managed to get over this and grew to love the quirky, sappy and hook-laden sound of this Japanese four-women band.
65: The Twilight Sad, IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME
I love it when vocalists don’t sanitize their accents. James Graham of The Twilight Sad lets his Scottish accent hang out throughout their music, and it somehow adds an additional touch to their wall of sound/shoegaze approach, making the vocals slightly more mysterious. This is not cheerful music!
64: Charly Bliss, Young Enough
It’s funny that this album comes only two ahead of CHAI as Eva Hendricks, the lead singer of Charly Bliss, a power-pop outfit from hipster heaven (aka Brooklyn), has a voice that sounds slightly sweet, although not near as much as CHAI. Other than that, there’s no real resemblance here. This is one of the best power pop albums I heard all year. “Blown to Bits” is a particular favorite with its slowly building chorus.
63: Titus Andronicus, An Obelisk
The most articulate punk band currently active takes a (slightly) less bloated approach with strong results. An album for our times!
62: Cate Le Bon, Reward
This Welsh singer-songwriter puts together songs that branch out in interesting and unexpected directions without sounding pretentious or overthought. Take the sudden swelling of the chorus in “Daylight Matters,” a swirling of “I love you’s” that seems to be appear from nowhere and totally pulls the song into different territory. It’s held together as well by very carefully curated instrumentation.
61: Marika Hackman, Any Human Friend
What’s more honest than “brutally honest”? Whatever THAT is, it describes Hackman’s lyrics.
60: Hot Chip, A Bath Full of Ecstasy
Melodic, tuneful synth-pop that reminds me a bit of a sunnier version of OMD, Depeche Mode or New Order. “Melody of Love” is a sweet, yearning tune and
59: Daniel Norgren, Wooh Dang
Norgren is Swedish but sound like he was raised in the American South.
58: Molly Tuttle, When You’re Ready
This is an album that ended up higher on my list than I would have expected. I like some folks and bluegrass but often found that 1) the songs don’t vary as much as I’d prefer and 2) the technical prowess on the instruments tends to overwhelm the actual song. But Molly Tuttle manages to be both a phenomenal instrumentalist and a strong songwriter.
57: Hozier, Wasteland, Baby!
Not the stunner of the his debut but that may just be the typical letdown of the sophomore album: this is still a great collection of neo-soul.
56: Emily Reo, Only You Can See It
A great example of someone who really runs her own career, Emily Reo writes, plays and self-produces her own records, putting them out on artist-owned labels, and books her own tours. This album, recorded all over New York, is, on the surface, shiny and happy synth-pop. Underneath, however, the lyrics tend to cover darker concerns. In that sense (although the sound is quite different) she reminds me of Arcade Fire with its mix of uplifting music and often dark lyrics.
55: Brittany Howard, Jaime
A sonically adventurous and powerful solo debut from the Alabama Shakes and Thunderbitch singer/songwriter/guitarist. “Georgia” is one of the sexiest songs I heard in 2019 and “Stay High” is a beautiful piece of Motown soul. And I love “13th Century Metal,” an odd electronic spoken word song that’s got a great fun feel.
54: Francis Lung, A Dream Is U
A trip back to the heyday of the Beatles by bass player Tom McClung who adapted the Francis Lung moniker for his first solo album since the break-up of buzzy Manchester band Wu Lyf a few years ago. It manages to avoid being too beholden to the Beatles sound thanks to modern instrumental touches.
53: Sebadoh, Act Surprised
A three-piece that’s been around forever but hasn’t released much material, mostly because the members have various other gigs, notably bass player and singer Lou Barlow’s role in Dinosaur, Jr. This is energetic, angular, jagged post-punk with a definite rough, lo-fi edge.
52: pronoun, i’ll show you stronger
pronoun is a one-woman band composed of Alyse Vellturo. This, her debut full-length album, is a great collection of indie pop, with a big sound for a small band!
51: Big Thief, U.F.O.F.
The first of two albums Big Thief released in 2019 is the slightly folkier version. While lacking a song of the power of “Not,” it’s still a spectacularly moving album. They have a tremendous talent for creating a mood. Adrienne Lenker’s voice is part of that but like most good bands, it’s more than that. The subtle percussion and bass, the simple acoustic figures, etc., all speak to a band being aware of exactly how to color a song without overpowering it.
50: Solange, When I Get Home
Not as stunning as her amazing 2016 album, A Seat at the Table, but still a great collection of modern R&B from Beyoncé’s younger sister. Much more electronic and beat-oriented than her previous effort.
49: Elbow, Giants of All Sizes
My favorite English pseudo-prog band! It’s partly the Peter Gabriel-like voice and partly the difficult time signatures and changes in direction. It’s not exactly “Supper’s Ready” but it’s definitely also avoids traditional song forms. This is a pretty mellow and quiet effort with a kind of low level gloom hanging over it.
48: Angel Olsen, All Mirrors
This is powerful stuff right from the start. The opening song, “Lark,” builds from a repetitive bass and drum part with swirling strings and Olsen’s dynamic voice alternately soaring and muttering. The whole album is full of these slow, dramatic, emotive pieces.
47: Sharon Van Etten, Remind Me Tomorrow
This album ended up with an almost identical score to Angel Olsen’s All Mirrors (above), not surprising at all given it has the sense of drama and mystery. It doesn’t pack the same musical power as the above album but it succeeds with a more low-key formula that serves the songs perfectly.
46: Mark Lanegan Band, Someone’s Knocking
Just another collection of Lanegan’s patented edgy, dramatic rock
45: Lana Del Ray, Norman Fucking Rockwell
Singlehandedly keeping torch songs alive since 2012, and getting stronger with every succeeding album IMHO. I took awhile to climb aboard the Del Ray express but I’ve been very impressed by the strength and depth of her songwriting, not to mention her artistic vision, over the last few years.
44: The Felice Brothers, Undress
Excellent folk-rock with highly topical lyrics. I love the title song with its off-kilter call for Americans to undress and open up. It stands in contrast to the more serious closer, “Socrates,” envisioning a fascist state although offering a measured sense of hope.
43: Tacocat, This Mess Is a Place
One of the most fun albums I’ve listened to in awhile, the upbeat punk-pop music somewhat belying the topical concerns of the lyrics.
42: Of Monsters and Men, FEVER DREAM
The word “fever” was a big one in album titles in 2019, between this, Josh Ritter’s Fever Breaks and the Tallest Man on Earth’s I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream. While not quite the breath of fresh air that their debut was, Of Monsters and Men continues to mature as songwriters and musicians. “Alligator” is nice kick off to the album and I love the slow “Sleepwalker.”
41: Maggie Rogers, Heard It In a Past Life
A debut album that proves that “Alaska” was not a fluke. Just fantastic mature songwriting and whoever produced her resisted the temptation to go over the top.
40: FKA twigs, MAGDALENE
I’m not quite sure how to describe FKA Twigs music. Her voice often reminds me of Kate Bush and the songs themselves often have a rhythmic component that also reminds me of Bush. It’s a unique sound, obviously created with great thought and care.
39: Bruce Springsteen, Western Stars
Bruce has still got it, an album that’s like a soundtrack for an unreleased movie. Read my review.
38: Mdou Moctar, Ilana (The Creator)
If you want to listen to something different, try Tuareg music. The Tuareg people are traditionally nomadic peoples who live in and south of the Sahara in Algeria, Libya, Mali and Burkina Faso. Mdou Moctar is new to me, joining Tinariwen, Bombino and Imarhan in this guitar-based, polyrhythmic form of world music that I find incredibly moving. It really gets to me rhythmically, for reasons I don’t entirely understand.
37: IDER, Emotional Education
Spectacular harmonies from this English duo. The kind of harmonies that make me think they’re related, although they’re not. This is beautiful pop music with great hooks and thoughtful lyrics. “Mirror” is a highlight with its emotional affecting lyrics about looking in the mirror and finding faults.
36: Cass McCombs, Tip of the Sphere
McCombs has been around for a bunch of years. This, his 9th studio album, is a quietly hypnotic blend of folk, rock and psychedelia.I particularly like the opening track, “I Took the River South to What.”
35: Chelsea Wolfe, Birth of Violence
A great discovery for me last year, Chelsea Wolfe combines elements of folk, doom metal and drone music into a unique melange.
34: Big Thief, Two Hands
Big Thief was all over the “best of” lists for 2019 with both of the albums it released. This one, which is slightly rockier than U.F.O.F., came in slightly higher on my list. Adrienne Lenker’s voice is a key part of the sound. Her voice is delicate, quavery and almost sounds deliberately constrained at times. It lends a degree of drama and sensitivity to the music. The highlights here are two back-to-back songs, “Shoulder” and “Not.”
33: Joseph, Good Luck, Kid
Three sisters from Oregon (although there’s something vaguely Scandinavian about their sound) who come with the kind of harmonies that seem only possible for siblings.
32: Foals, Part 1 Everything Not Lost Will Be Saved
I really should have rated this album and it’s companion Part 2 as one, even though they were released several months apart. The band said they were intended to be two parts of a single project. But I rated them separately and so here we are. This is muscular, dramatic rock with often very urgent vocals and matching music. Passionate and powerful. Apparently they’re a great live act and I can hear that even on this studio album. This one is slightly less creative to me than Part 2, hence why it’s #32 and the other is #24.
31: Jade Bird, Jade Bird
Bird has one of those voices that just has so much character. When she belts it out, her voice stays pure but with just a hint of grit. (And her voice isn’t some studio production: check out her live videos. Stunning.) Combined with exceptional songwriting, it’s a great debut album full of catchy rock and soul that’s pure and powerful.
30: Daymé Arocena, Sonocardiogram
A Cuban artist whose music very much falls within the Afro-Cuban tradition.
29: Mannequin Pussy, Patience
Passionate, brutally honest, power punk-pop. Read my review for more.
28: Sturgill Simpson, Sound & Fury
On his fourth album, Simpson completes his journey away from his country roots and becomes a rock ‘n’ roll monster. The conceit here is that you’re in a car as someone changes the radio station, so it starts with the sound of a car door opening and closing, the rumble as the driver turns the key and the twirling of the radio dial, ending with a clip of Alex Jones ranting, before the first song kicks in. Then each song ends with the static swirl of the station changing. This allows Simpson and his ever tight band (this is a particularly strong album for bass player, Chuck Bartels, whose lines – way forward in the mix – drive most of the songs) to explore a variety of different sounds, from swamp rock to disco, from Jimmy Buffett-tinged soft rock to Cars-like new wave.
27: Taylor Swift, Lover
Yes, there’s a Taylor Swift album on my list. After years of ignoring her, I tried to listen without prejudice and discovered an insightful and careful songwriter with an ear for a hook. Not the strongest voice in the world, as a number of friends have pointed out when I admit I like her, but I’ve never been much for traditional strong voices.
26: SAULT, 7
This band is a mystery. I can’t find any details about them online, just a lot of speculation about who might actually make it up. Whoever they are, they’ve managed to create one of the most buzzed about albums of the year, a groove-based and deceptively simple collection of funk and R&B that’s a joy to listen to.
25: Peaer, A Healthy Earth
The musical project of Peter Katz, peaer is math rock at its finest. Odd harmonies, unusual time signatures, sudden changes in tempo. There’s something for every geek!
24: Foals, Part 2 Everything Not Lost Will Be Saved
See Part 1 above!
23: Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising
I kept seeing this record on best of lists well before the year ended, but it took me awhile to climb on board. I think that’s because this music takes its time to unveil its treasures. It’s really just classic songwriting, with a particular influence from the 1970s.
22: Thom Yorke, ANIMA
Moody, hypnotic with an underlying sense of unease or paranoia, this is the perfect album for our times. Composed of electronic loops and processed voices over low pulsing beats, it’s Yorke’s best solo work yet. “Dawn Chorus” and “Traffic” are standouts.
21: Fresh, Withdraw
26:32 of pop punk that leaves you wanting more.
20: Pixies, Beneath the Eyrie
I will admit that I was not into the Pixies in their 1990s critical darling heyday. Just too discordant for me at the time. I can admire their groundbreaking sound now and hear it in so much of the math rock and post-punk I like. This sound of this album is still unique but the structures are more conventional (and listenable IMHO).
19: James Blake, Assume Form
This is warm, imaginative, flowing electronic pop. Treated vocals blend together in sweet and intriguing ways. Underneath the vocal treatments, electronics and recorded beats, there beats a core of sweet soul songwriting.
18: of Montreal, UR FUN
The most accessible of Montreal album I’ve ever heard. Which is not to say it’s still not a bit twisted and odd. But hey: some of the words in the song titles are even understandable!
17: Kishi Bashi, Omoiyari
Kishi Bashi’s 4th album is gorgeous, an album of music about the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII that accompanies a film he made. Omoiyari, according to his Bandcamp site, “…is a Japanese word. It doesn’t necessarily translate as empathy, but it refers to the idea of creating compassion towards other people by thinking about them.” The music itself is vibrant and layered with highly thoughtful lyrics. “Marigold” is a sweet love song whereas “A Song For You” seems to come from the perspective of a Nisei (i.e., American-born Japanese who fought in Europe during WWII) soldier.
16: Rina Mushonga, In a Galaxy
Rina Mushonga is Dutch-Zimbabwean and pulls in influences from all over the world to create a delicious melange. Take the opener, “Pipe Dreamz” (sic): a short listen and you might think it’s just a sweet pure piece of pop, but listen more carefully and you’ll hear African-sounding percussion pounding enough.
15: Nilüfer Yanya, Miss Universe
Almost every year, there’s an album I describe as “one for which the expression ‘stunning debut’ was created.” This year it’s this album. Musically adventurous (one song blends calypso and hard rock), raw and beautiful. Interspersed with the music are ads for a fictional company called WWAY HEALTH.
14: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Ghosteen
Cave’s 15-year-old son died in a fall in 2015 and he continues to explore his feelings in his music. For an artist with a rather dark streak in his songs (one album is called Murder Ballads, for goodness sake), this is a deeply intimate collection, his normal narrative approach abandoned for a series of musings on loss and existence, supported by a more electronic and ambient approach to the music. A deeply felt and moving collection.
13: The Mountain Goats, In League With Dragons
Almost 30 years into his career, John Darnelle (the core – and at times only – member of the Mountain Goats) has produced what is, arguably, their best album. It’s very coherent, maybe because it started as a proposed rock opera and some of those songs (about a wizard in a besieged town trying to save his people) are still here. That somehwat odd concept actually blends well with many of the others songs, which cover addiction (including a song written from Ozzy Osbourne’s perspective), a kind of
12: Jenny Hval, The Practice of Love
I continue to love Jenny Hval’s work. She’s generally dubbed with the word “experimental,” which I suspect puts some people off who expect it to mean formless, non-musical noise. It is experimental in the sense that her songs rarely follow any traditional song structure and often include spoken word and sound effects. But each album is incredibly cohesive and they always contain amazingly moving moments. It’s music that really makes you think, which (again) doesn’t necessarily appeal to everyone.
11: Gary Clark, Jr., This Land
Clark’s third album contains one of the best protest songs I’ve ever heard, the title track, with its unrestrained anger after a “neighbor” assumed Clark, as a black man, could not own the property he lives on outside Austin. The whole album is equally powerful as Clark explores the current dark state of the U.S.
10: J.S. Ondara, Tales of America
The cover of this album is designed to resemble one those collections of classic American blues (although he’s wearing a suit that’s distinctly not of that time period) and even if the sound is more folk than blues, it carries the same emotional weight of the best blues. Born in Kenya in 1992, Ondara won a green card in a lottery and ended up in Minnesota. This is his debut album and it sounds like someone who’s much older than his 27 years (at the time of the album’s release). “Master O’Connor” and “God Bless America” are particular standouts.
9: black midi, Schlagenheim
An unbelievably mature and sophisticated debut for a group of people who look to be about 18 years old! This is like a prog version of post-punk, songs spinning off in different directions with precision and musicality. One of my favorites of the year.
8: A.A. Bondy, Enderness
After an eight-year break, A.A. Bondy released his 4th album in 2019. It’s a spare, moody, slow-burn of an album with textured keyboards, very few beats (and those that are there are quite subtle) and slow, yearning vocals.
7: Gong Gong Gong 工工工, Phantom Rhythm 幽靈節奏
Chinese garage rock that sounds like it made a detour through the Sahel on the way. Unique, very odd and completely compelling.
6: Sudan Archives, Athena
Sudan Archives is the stage name of Brittney Denise Parks, a Los Angeles-based violinist and songwriter. This is her debut full-length album and it rocked my world. With a variety of modern beats and loops, the omnipresent violin adding always perfect textures and colors, and her sensuous voice, it’s a great sound. “Down On Me” is one of the sexiest yet saddest songs I’ve ever heard.
5: Lizzo, Cuz I Love You
That voice! Jesus! With the opening cry of “I’m crying ‘cuz I love you…”, Lizzo does more than stake a claim to true soul diva status: she drives a stake through the heart of body shaming and prejudices about both African American and larger women.
4: Billie Eilish, When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Eilish seems to have been tagged with that whole “voice of a generation” nonsense. Let’s hope she can survive that since that seems like the kiss of death (literally in the case of someone like Kurt Cobain) to many who’ve been so tagged previously. Leaving the hype aside, this is undoubtedly the best basement album of the year (and probably the best selling basement record perhaps of all time), a collection of melodic tunes exploring the issues teenagers face that’s produced in a unique way with trap beats, minimal instrumentation and Eilish’s whisper-to-a-scream voice.
3: Young Guv, Guv I & II
The power pop album of the year, which is amazing as Ben Cook (aka Young Guv) comes from the hardcore scene and is part of Fucked Up.
2: Aurora, A Different Kind of Human (Step II)
I create my top 100 via a formula, a very rough and probably not entirely successful attempt to keep my personal bias out. It’s 30 possible points for songwriting (melody and lyric), 30 possible points for creativity and musical ability, and 40 possible points for feel. The thing about the formula is I’m sometimes surprised by the result. I would not have seen this album coming so high. But when I consider it, it scores well on every criteria: the songwriting is impeccable, she’s highly creative, and the overall feel is wonderful.
1: Bon Iver, i,i
The creativity of Justin Vernon and the ever expanding collective that makes up Bon Iver is simply breathtaking. I honestly haven’t the faintest idea how they create these unique soundscapes – and that’s even after watching this excellent NYT Diary of a Song about the creation of iMi, the second track of the album. It started five years ago with two guys sliding on cardboard in a barn. When you hear something musical in that and can turn it into a song, you’re doing something very special.