Well, this is it. The end of the year. The end of the decade, but that’s another article. We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time, and this final product is something we’re very proud of. While it’s not our goal to deliberately be obscure, we can’t help that so many great albums of 2019 went largely unnoticed, and that’s why we’re here. You just work with what you got, right?
You’re probably wondering how we got to a top 75. Sure, it’s a nice and even number, but why that number? We take a holistic approach to developing lists and features like this. We didn’t set out to make a top anything at first – 75 came to be because, as we refined our lists into the trim, peak performance beast it is, we found that these specifically are the albums we want to showcase. If you want to see the epic training montage that got our list to where it is now, here’s a little behind-the-scenes information.
We started early. Like, at the beginning of the year early. A committee was formed, made up of me (David), fellow editor Jake, and our PR manager/occasional editor Inter. We tracked albums that we loved throughout the year using our normal listening habits and made personal lists. Of course, others were involved. We regularly polled all 20+ members of the Everything Is Noise team throughout the year for their own picks and factored them into a separate list of consideration.
Throughout the last few months, our AOTY committee sat down and had a few hours-long meetings to discuss each and every pick. What were the merits of this particular album? Was it standing the test of time, having just as much punch as it did when initially released? Did it stand out in its perceived genre or sound, or even in a band’s catalog? We cut the list down to amount we felt comfortable with, ranked them individually, then totaled all the points together for a final ordering. Inter, Jake, and I (David, in case you forgot) each took 25 albums to write about.
So, here it is. As you read this top 75 list, please understand that, regardless of ranking, each and every album on here is special. These are the artists and bands that excel in their craft, creating musical moments that stayed with us the most, sharing their experiences so that we may benefit from them. They’re the best, and they all deserve a listen regardless of your proclivities toward their genre. Please enjoy this labor of love, and let us know what your albums of the year are as well!
It’s great if a band is unique in what they do. It’s even greater if a band don’t rest on their unique sound, but instead building on it and writing interesting, compelling songs. Širom was founded 2015 in Slovenia and impressed especially with their 2017 album I Can Be a Clay Snapper. With their new album A Universe That Roasts Blossoms For A Horse they dug even deeper into their world of Slovenian folk, jazz, and experimental music and delivered an utterly fascinating record.
Blending elements of traditional Irish music, contemporary classical, and a wee bit of post-rock, The Gloaming have created something wholly unique on 3. Using piano, guitar, fiddle, hardanger d’Amore (a 10-string bowed instrument), and crisp, emotive vocals, this album is a fine example of expanding to become greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a boundless epic that finds the sweet spot between comfort and exploration. It’s an old friend taking you by the hand to guide you on a brand new adventure.
Morild – Så kom mørket og tog mig på ordet En sort sky af minder I afgørende stunder Frosset fast til mit indre Jeg håber det forsvinder med lyset At dø eller blive fri
February 1 // Indisciplinarian
Sometimes the axiom ‘go big or go home’ are words to live by and if Morild created this album with those words in mind, they’ll not be going home for quite a while. An authentically massive post-black metal record that is as confident as it is beautiful, it refuses to compromise in any aspect. These harrowing and lavish soundscapes trade the spotlight with intense vocal performances with panache creating one of the most memorable experiences of the year.
Making death metal interesting and fresh can be a delicate matter. While Vitriol didn’t reinvent the wheel, they managed to unleash an incredibly energetic take on modern death metal. To Bathe From The Throat Of Cowardice balances being surgical on point and precise with sharp riffs and profound technical skills, all while cultivating a vibrant and very human harshness. If you want to listen to one death metal record in 2019, make it this one.
Brought to us by Art As Catharsis, one of the most interesting labels of our time, Big Dead channels Radiohead sensibilities with space, prog, and psychedelic rock. The Australian band surfs on dreamy soundscapes, sprinkles of post rock, and krauty moments while never losing focus of their intricate songwriting. A gentle reminder how strong the Australian music scene can be these days and a wonderful addition to the world of modern art rock.
The best treat of electronic artists is their understanding of endless possibilities, their strife for outworldly soundscapes, and compelling sound design. Signals Into Space is the seventh studio album by UK electronica veterans Ultramarine and it displays a delicate balance between experience and joy of discovery. This album has moments of comfort next to moments of unnerving sound collages without giving away too much of its mysteries.
One of the main motifs of this list should be ‘overlooked’. It’s shocking how many great records are getting ignored by the music press, despite ticking tons of boxes for being a big success. Tenta‘s W.E.I.R.D. Subtopia is one of them. Creating rich tunes channeling Deftonian alternative metal, Pink Floyd-ish psychedelic rock, and creative outbursts which remind the listener of The Mars Volta, Tenta easily manage to be themselves all the time. An overlooked masterpiece with the strong claim to be a cult classic.
Vi som älskade varandra så mycket – Det Onda. Det Goda. Det Vackra. Det Fula.
November 22 // Moment Of Collapse Records
An icy cold blend of skramz and post-rock …Det Fula. is a fresh and unique mixture that is brimming with energy. The potency of the idea never wanes even in the less active moments and ratchets up appropriately when the more chaotic passages emerge. The phenomenal pacing and dynamic composition of each song embellish an already great concept, propelling its ascendancy to one of the most original albums of the year.
Nostalgia is without a question a huge driving force for artistic affection. Either you want to revisit a certain area of music history or you are searching to get reminded of places in which the mundane world was blurred out by sweaty basement shows and lonely evenings without headphones on. Everyone knows about that effect, but only a few bands can handle nostalgia so elegantly and charmingly like Swervedriver did on their 90s grunge/shoegaze homage Future Ruins.
If less is more, M for Empathy is the most. Eleven tracks, most of which are less than two minutes, this album is like a series of passing thoughts. The stripped-back delivery of each song, from the minimalistic instrumentation to the no-frills vocal delivery, are in perfect harmony literally and figuratively. Lomelda’s emotive and understated voice make each line sung a heartfelt and charming moment to cherish.
Cosmic progressive blackened death-thrash metal, am I right? This is a sub-sub-subgenre I’m all for becoming a thing and it’s now bands like Anticosm that will lead the charge. Interesting and frenetic guitar work, vile vocals, drums that could defibrillate your heart, and an inconsolable vigor fueling wanton destruction. Call of the Void is a shapeshifting spaceworm just indiscriminately looking for more targets to annihilate – frankly, we’d all be too lucky to be devoured by it.
With a love for electronic and folk music, Oliver Spalding released one of the most cathartic records of the year with the gorgeous and emotive Novemberism. His airy-yet-powerful vocals glide across restrained instrumentation and this mixture creates a decadent minimalism that had no equal this year. This album finds beauty in fragility and will comfort every soul it encounters for years to come.
If ever there was a soundtrack for getting lost in a snowy forest, it’s Safe Passage. Blending chamber music, folk, and psychedelia, Astralingua conjure magic from a relatively straightforward tool set. Lush, delicate instrumentation, gorgeous harmonies, and timeless melodies all culminate in a sterling package of songs that feel as if they have been pulled from another time. Both chilling and comforting, Astralingua have captured magic on this record.
Yorushika – だから僕は音楽を辞めた
April 10 // U&G Records
Yorushika is the project by Japanese producer/songwriter N-buna and vocalist Suis. And yes, the duo released two full-length records in 2019. While both records are absolutely fantastic, their first one, Dakara Boku wa Ongaku wo Yameta, has just a tiny bit more catchiness to it, pumping out one ultra energetic and fun, slightly math rockish J-rock hit after another. The symbiosis of infectious vocals and fast-paced instrumentation, lead by confident and razor sharp guitar licks, make this album a very bright and positive experience.
Like violent waves crashing into the shoreline evenly dividing the calm from the storm, The Origin of My Depression is a genuine force of nature. The jarring of power electronics colliding with impenetrable walls of synth all the while project mastermind Xandra Metcalfe’s whispers and wails push the listener violently to and fro’. It’s a harrowing experience which takes no prisoners.
After the end of Postmadonna, vocalist/guitarist Pat Goodwin teamed up with some other local talents, and they formed a little band called Great Grandpa. Following their new endeavour, I was always expecting something phenomenal, and when they released their second album Four of Arrows in 2019, they hit it out of the park with mesmerizing lyrics, the right amount of math rock complexity, and tons of warmth. This album is what happens when five friends are incredibly on point with their artistic vision, while leaving enough room to shine as individuals.
If you know Duster, you know why they are here. Making some splashes in the late 90’s indie rock scene with their debut Stratosphere, they quickly became a hot insider tip. After 19 years of silence, they are back with their new self-titled album, a timeless place of wonder full of grunge, indie, space rock, and slowcore. This charmingly weird gem continues their unique sound and progresses into something impalpable, or in other words: Duster are back.
If there is one record on this list which is pure, absolute carnage, it’s most certainly Atmospheres of Desolation. While all in all a brief affair coming in at just under 30 minutes, consider it a merciful decision to keep this harrowing trek so short. Noctambulist created an impenetrable atmosphere from start to finish with quaking drums and hellish, sludge-leaning growls that never relent.
A Quiet Ritual is dark, mysterious, haunting, and incredibly dense. Nothing to digest easily, nothing to consume easily. It’s challenging and overwhelming, and it’s so damn good at that. The British trio embraces darkness with their third full-length, and they do it with a certain noir elegance which is second to none. Drawing from industrial, experimental, dark folk, and ambient elements, this album will change you. For the better.
You will see a swath of jazz and jazz accessories on this list, but Yazz Ahmed’s profound entry of Polyhymnia is one of the brightest in the bunch. Billed as ‘psychedelic Arabic jazz’, there’s an air of feminine energy throughout the tracklist, breathing an arresting quality into all that you hear. “One Girl Among Many” is especially powerful, while songs like “Ruby Bridges” and “Deeds Not Words” bask in more ambient textures and melodies in between bursts of kaleidoscopic colors. Easily one of the most fulfilling aural journeys of 2019.
Who needs common language when you have music, a universal communication tool that reaches well beyond any cultural barrier? Japan’s Otoboke Beaver may tempt you to reach out to your Duolingo app, but they’re perhaps best enjoyed by feeling the music. The energy radiated from the punk quartet could be registered on the Richter scale, their defiant nature ever present in their delivery. Songs blast by at mach 11 before you can get your bearings, or notice that you’ve been nodding your head the whole time. Itekoma Hits is endless, entropic fun.
This year really needed a massive, doomy sludge album and Lethvm must’ve known that. Taking cues from the masters of the genre, Acedia mixes a cavernous-but-breathable atmosphere with gut-wrenching vocals to elicit genuine feelings of dread. This is one heavy record. Every choice made by the band on this set of songs works well, not the least of which is pacing and duration. Acedia is the perfect dose of an apocalyptic nightmare.
Blending classic country music’s Western aesthetic with subtle nods to new wave and post-punk, Orville Peck arrived on the scene with a fully formed sound that no one expected. Many less mature artists would have taken a much more aggressive approach in blending these styles, but Peck just didn’t hear it that way. This is easily the most refreshing country-adjacent album to surface in some time. Don’t let the hats and fringed masks keep you from experiencing this beauty.
Even as a duo, Battles are all about changing constantly. An ongoing evolution, testing and gracefully overstepping limits of genre and expectations. With a handful of crazy, but surprisingly fitting features, Juice B Crypts is not only a triumphant return of one of the most influential math/experimental rock groups ever, but also a versatile and vibrant record full of creativity and excitement.
It’s hard to think of another album that packed as many good ideas into its running time as Hypno5e did in A Distant (Dark) Source. Every riff smacks of intelligent heaviness, the atmospheric licks color sepia tones into the air, and the supernatural themes informs the group’s progressive cinematic metal approach. If you’re short on time, this is the album you need in your life as it encompasses so much of the heavy music experience into one convenient, cutting, incomparable package. A great (enjoyable) trip.
Next stop on the jazz train is the inimitable Theon Cross. With an ear for unparalleled groove and foot-stomping rhythm, the UK lord of tuba melds so well with the more raucous elements of his music. He hits these ultra-bassy, earthy tones to forge a hip-hop-like foundation before letting loose maximal drums, saxophones, guitars, and some trombone. It’s a distinct flavor of jazz not too common in the contemporary scene which explains – and justifies – the recognition he’s getting with Fyah.
Following up a well-received triple album is no easy task and more than likely explains the four-year gap since their last release. Swallow The Sun resurfaced with their latest quite early in the year, but its cohesive tone consisting of light gothic leanings, melodic passages, and dynamic black metal moments, made it the best thing to happen in doom metal this year.
It was a bold and somewhat risky move to incorporate more pop sensibilities into Weather, but Tycho not only surprised with how effortlessly he made this new direction work, he also created his best album to date. Not ditching his chillwave/electronica roots, but building on them, making his artistic identity much more interesting and organic on the way. This is way larger and better than the sum of its parts, perfectly catchy and a perfectly produced reinventing of an already fantastic artist.
It is intensely hard to write about CALIGULA because it is itself so intense, harrowing, and scarring. It’s most accurately referred to as an experience, cliche as that sounds. Kristin Hayter commands supreme agency as she breaks herself down and builds back up to a finely sharpened blade of retribution that cuts through the tendrils of deeply personal anguish, violence, oppression, and any other force doomed enough to cross her. This is admittedly not for everyone, but those that want a coarser trial of wracking noise and emotion will be thoroughly rewarded.
You’d be hard pressed to find another album as warm and delicate as Heart Hunger. Meernaa’s soulful, sublime take on R&B is steeped in history, dedicated to the women that came before frontwoman and songwriter Carly Bond. It’s a careful dance with the past even with time’s lurching hand irreversibly pushing forward where Bond battles with internal struggles, levels profound observations, and basks in the beauty of the natural world.
When the preeminent voice in American folk music teams up with a premier jazz multi-instrumentalist, there’s no doubt that magic will happen. Bringing their love of indigenious folk music and appreciation of its history to bear on a variety of folk songs from across the globe, Giddens and Turrisi created something that is as important as it is beautiful. Lush instrumentals and peerless vocals make each track its own journey, and each one is worth taking.
Unfortunately one of the most overlooked bands on this list, but we’re doing everything in our power to change that. The best music in the world speaks to your heart and mind. Plenty of examples of that exist above and below this entry, but none as succinct as this album. Gorgeous and ethereal progressive/jazz rock with a lot of spirit and passion. Vesper Sails can go On to the Moon if they want – we’ll follow them there and back.
By all rights, black metal had a fantastic year, but no other band did it quite like Misþyrming. Not only did they capture what is great about the current era of black metal with its bleak, scorching atmosphere, but they also managed to put together a well-written and expertly paced album. The mood never lightens – the varied pacing that swerves between all-out assault and mid-tempo groove makes Algleymi the most rewarding black metal record of the year.
Striking a perfect balance between melody and brutality is a tall task. While there is no single objectively perfect blend, Hath might have stumbled upon the most elegant mixture to be heard in a long time. With riffs aplenty, soaring guitar solos, and stellar vocals, there’s not a weak moment to be heard across the albums nearly one hour runtime. Of Rot and Ruin also happens to be a debut LP. Knowing that this band is just getting started is good news indeed.
Kilchhofer Anklin – Moto Perpetuo
March 15 // Marionette
It’s probably impossible to describe the experience this album offers. A multi-dimensional masterpiece through and through, sending you on a trip through adventurous soundscapes, self-reflecting arrangements, and otherworldly sound design. This album will change your perception of what music can be, and it will change you.
Deeply emotional, Nick Cave once again establishes himself as one of the most important songwriters of the last 50 years. Ghosteen is the last part of his trilogy, and it once again deals with the loss of his son. Nick Cave proves that death can’t tear us apart from our loved ones and subtly shows us that those connections can transcend sorrow and pain. This album is huge and deep, in the best way possible.
It’s a miracle to me how Jan Kerscher AKA Like Lovers manages to give each of his songs so much character, so much independence, and still managed to make an incredibly cohesive album with Everything All The Time Forever. With impressive confidence, this album is all about identity, with perfectly executed ideas and flawless arrangements. Critically overlooked, everyone who is interested in modern art pop should fall in love with this record.
Overindulgent? Yeah. Massively epic? Uh huh. A progressive space opera about the human condition using everything from shimmering choral vocals to blast beats and cat noises? Affirmative. Something this absurd can only come from Devin Townsend, a man whose wacky reputation truly precedes his corporeal presence. This is the album he was born to make as it represents him as a person and an artist. Empath is gospel to prog-minded individuals looking to be reminded of the goodness in the world. One of the most emotional, hair-raising, borderline overwhelming experiences of the year.
While many jazz veterans tend to stick to the past, Brad Mehldau elevates jazz into the future while cutting old burdens of the genre. To describe how Finding Gabriel sounds and feels is a herculean task but everyone brave and bold enough should try it on their own. This is what jazz should be: free, open, new, fresh. Every song is an embrace for the absurd, but also classically beautiful.
Embracing the variety of human emotions is arguably the purpose of music. Whether through lyrics, atmosphere, or the entire spectrum of the previous two combined, feeling is at the center. Pan•American focuses on melancholic end of the scale through the use of minimalist, ambient folk and does so with shockingly great effect. A Son is a license to feel.
This is not an album you can harness on your first listen, but what reward well worth it has been easy to attain? Reading how this album was made sounds like the intro to a Black Mirror episode before shit goes down, seeing as an actual AI trained by Herndon was instrumental (literally) in the creation of PROTO. While the album deserves recognition based on innovation alone, you’ll soon realize it’s a multifaceted, avant-garde powerhouse of elegance and humanity, despite its machine contributor. Surely it deserves recognition in just about every other field, right down to your high school’s science fair.
Our Voices Will Soar Forever can be off-putting to listen to. It’s imbued with such a genuine and raw sense of pain, anguishing in its brutal mix of hardcore punk and metal. These are real stories told by real people – survivors of an oppressive and disparate system that would see them and others like them dead. Amygdala buck back – silence isn’t an option, even if they have to deafen you to be heard. Complacency isn’t possible, even if peace is sacrificed. This is the best hardcore album you’ll hear this year.
Our review called There Existed an Addiction to Blood a ’horrorcore album for the Jordan Peele generation’, and really, what else do you need to know? clipping. have always been razor-sharp with the use of violence, social commentary, and the experimental leanings they throw into their hip-hop. This is one of those albums that you could see being turned into a feature length film with its galaxy-brained approach to dense themes that are often touched on, but never this artistically – or noisily. Invest in a body bag before venturing forth.
Throes bubble forth from the primordial ooze to show us true reckoning with their violent, sludgy hardcore. In the Hands of an Angry God captures an unfathomable weight and swings it around like a planet-sized wrecking ball. The only thing you’ll hear before it decimates your existence is the aural punishment of unhinged guitars, beastly guttural vocals, and a true disdain for all things decent and good. Open wide.
A potent blend of percussion, piano, and vocalizations, Mosiasmic is cemented itself as one of the most unique jazz albums of the year. Each moment of this record is rife with nuance through Ikarus’ impeccably layered compositions that are as bold as they are original. With a take as unique as this, it could be easy to let the whimsy shoulder the load but it’s the stellar songs that make this album a standout.
Being on Pelagic Records should have been a dead giveaway that Herod were different. It wasn’t enough to be one of the heaviest things in music this year, but to also weave in an ever-relevant environmental/human consumption doomsday and add in immersive atmosphere to liven up their dense-as-hell sludge metal really set Sombre Dessein apart. Truly the best way to get pummeled into the ground this year. At least our bodies are biodegradable.
Constellatia – The Language Of Limbs
November 15 // Isolation Records
Blackgaze’s reign as the most experimental and revolutionary genre mash-up has waned a bit in the last few years with even many of the genre’s standouts failing to find a fresh approach. Enter Constellatia. Emotive in every moment, from the chill-inducing crescendos to the wretched vocal passages, no album this year employed tension and release to a greater degree than The Language of Limbs.
The unbridled energy of jazz reaches even the furthest regions of the musical landscape and The Comet is Coming have mastered harnessing and channeling it. Powerful electronics, potent saxophone, and snappy drumming form the framework of this cosmic desert and create some of the most lyrical instrumental music created this year. Seams nearly burst throughout each track and there’s not a dull moment or sour note to be heard.
With 18 songs and nearly 90 minutes of runtime, Sakanaction‘s 834.194 is a lot, but damn, it’s a lot of greatness. The Japanese act dances around dozens of different genres with eaze, navigating through all different styles and owning every single one of them. Modern music is their playground, and Sakanaction are the kings of that playground. Take their hand and let them guide you through those lovely soundscapes.
Ezra Collective are just too damn smooth for their own good. This is exactly what you expect to hear going to a jazz club just fancy enough for you to always feel underdressed, but never unprepared for the tasteful stylings like the ones found on You Can’t Steal My Joy. This doesn’t mean the collective is run-of-the-mill – anything but. Their rhythmic focus is dance floor and even hip-hop ready (the Loyle Carner feature is reason enough to purport this), showing the versatility and breadth of this ensemble. It’s tight, defiant, and ready to impress.
Finding a place for the hammered dulcimer outside of traditional folk music would seem like a tall task for some, but House of Waters had the brilliant idea of building jazz fusion around this enigmatic instrument. The cascading notes which flurry from those tiny hammers, the spot-on percussion, and punchy bass lines make Rising one of the most refreshing and effervescent experiences of the year.
What math rock should be. Challenging, but not weird for the sake of being weird. Forward-thinking, but balanced. Irish outfit Alarmist run through a lot of mathematical equations, having fun finding new solutions on the way. Sequesterer is pumping out energy, but finds room to breathe and contemplate. A rich collage of ideas, put together perfectly by some great artists.
From one song comes many interpretations. One such example is how Varisema captures the life cycle of a flower. Conceived early on in tumultuous conditions for it to settle and cautiously grow a bud, eventually blossoming into vibrant sight. It receives sustenance from those around it, and it in turn gives back to complete its role of the ecosystem before returning to the same dirt that birthed it. Such is the simple beauty of HELU’s work on this criminally underrated progressive/post-rock opus that warrants multiple intent listens. Absolutely stunning.
My relationship with screamo is long and intense. Seguimos Ciegxs brought me back to ‘all-we-have-is-now’ screamo shows in basements when I was 16. It’s unrelenting power, raw emotions screamed out in the night. Drei Affen capsulated that feeling in an inimitable way, transporting this distinctive sound into the present, uncompromisingly giving everything they have.
Even at a young age, still grasping toward whatever it is he’s ultimately going to become, you can tell YBN Cordae is a big deal. Recognition came in the form of a spot on the XXL Freshman list for 2019, but the real proof is his wonderfully constructed album, The Lost Boy. Cordae hits just about every possible note worth hitting in modern hip-hop, channeling contemporaries and legends alike while maintaining an identity of his own. This dude’s gonna blow up real soon.
Equal parts doom, post-metal, and shoegaze, Latitudes have evolved once more and created the most engrossing and lush album of their career. Emotive vocals swirl around massive guitars and each moment that passses makes the listener feel as if they are adrift in an intangible sea of emotion. Part Island excels in every aspect of music making and will go down as one of the most exquisitely crafted albums in this space.
The triumphant return of one of the greatest bands in extreme metal, Death Atlas sees Cattle Decapitation sprawl wider and deeper than their previous outings with some new elements to boot. They have mastered the marriage of brutality and elegance by continuing to match their unflinching misanthropic themes with some of the most skilled players in this space and arguably the greatest vocalist in metal. Death Atlas is nearly an hour of bitter revilement and railings against humanity that is a joy to hear.
‘No one brings me down like you do’ is probably one of the best lines I’ve heard all year. No Words Left is a mirror into Lucy Rose‘s emotional turmoil, intimately shared through those tunes. Nerve-wracking and gut-punching, it delivers honesty in the best way possible. You can hear her fingers on the piano, and you can feel her words in your heart. They will never leave you. Be thankful for that.
Why the music world keeps ignoring this band is beyond me. Once again, Ştiu Nu Ştiu shows that they are one of the most interesting metal bands out there right now, while the term ‘metal band’ doesn’t give justice to whatever Ştiu Nu Ştiu is. Sitting between black metal, folk, doom and prog, but being so much more. After the masterpiece which was Fake End, Sick Sad Love is the next step in the evolution of this extraordinary band.
Muladona is tremendously menacing and disturbingly detailed. This supernatural story of haunting death is given a new, harrowing life as Rorcal’s latest offering of ugly blackened sludge metal. Listen to the music and become sickened at the muck slung about – read the lyrics (or the novel it’s based on) and become terrorized enough to second guess sanity. Only Rorcal could make something like this sound so good.
Avandra’s indulgent progressive metal has only gotten more fortified and poignant since its April release. As if woven with the threads of great tragedy and introspection, this is an album that basks in both harsh realities and philosophical musings from higher beings. Descender marvels at humanity from above in its cosmic throne, painting brushstrokes of striking emotion in the sky to hang over us, and we’re eternally grateful for the experience.
The soul sensation from the creative melting pot which is Austin, Texas, Black Pumas are all about smoothness and empowerment. You can grip the warmth their self-titled debut bathes you in reanimating Sam Cooke and Otis Redding vibes in the most respectful way, adding the necessary amount of their own identity to their sound. With their track “Colors” and “Black Moon Rising”, they also gave us two of the best songs of the year. Groovy, smooth, and just downright awesome.
Venturing past the first song on A Boat on the Sea catapults you into the most fun you’ll have this year. Energetic prog rock that’s brighter than the sun sonically, but a tad bleak on the lyrics are a match made in… well, whatever place of transcendence you choose to believe in. It’s of no concern to Moron Police – they’ll still be here playing music to their heart’s content while everything burns around them. Either that, or soundtracking an anime. Same difference, right?
Jazz is one of the oldest forms of modern popular music, so to see it continue to metamorphosize with innovation is nothing short of a gift. The Biology of Plants seem to tap into nature itself in order to being a sense of organicism that jazz was built on, but also progresses it into something unique and stimulating unlike much else on this list.
The myth of the sirens of the sea comes to the forest as the mood of Knocturne, an album drowning in atmosphere just as you would in the trees if you were to follow the hypnotic call of Be Forest. 2019 didn’t see an album as darkly alluring as this outstanding ambient shoegaze gem.
Little Simz comes across as someone who’s a master of their destiny. GREY Area practically shows the English rapper finding hip-hop’s equivalent of the Infinity Gauntlet and issuing command over all in her domain. Supremely confident, charismatic, and touting a smooth sound that dances alongside her gripping voice, it wouldn’t make any sense to make a list like this without some Simz.
Fear of Falling Asleep is sensual, delicate, catchy – everything good electronic-based music should be, but it’s also more. Never does the mechanical electronic body feel too cold as it’s warmed to the touch with tender (pun definitely intended) R&B vocals, dreamy atmosphere, and some pop sensibilities to intoxicate just the right amount. Lay back and listen with headphones.
If you are looking with tearful eyes towards the void Prince left when he passed away, there is some closure to be found in Kyle Dion‘s self-reflecting and sexy debut Suga. With the right amount of roughness around the edges, Dion gets the best of funk, soul, and r’n’b for all the blessed souls who press play on him. With a wink and a smirk, Kyle Dion gives smoothness a new face and seduce you to join the love.
Aside from surprises, one of the most satisfying things to behold in music is the final arc of an evolution. Belgium’s finest post-hardcore act, Brutus, perfected their ferocious, melodic formula by doubling down on songwriting. The result is a genuinely warn, oddly nostalgic trip through some of 2019’s best tracks that should feel like ground retread, but is far from it. The effects of each element of the band are maximized for the highest possible hit rate, but it’s Stefanie Mannaerts’ timeless voice that makes everything else work.
Surprises in music happen every year, but I think I speak for humanity as a whole that Brittany Howard surprised us all with her album, Jamie. While her talent was on display during her time with Alabama Shakes, everything ascended to another plane with her soulful and diverse solo effort. A veritable bouquet of genres where each song is infused with her incalculable charm – it’s the greatest revelation of 2019.
Fusing dream pop and electronica together, The Japanese House deftly avoids substance over style by focusing on songwriting and heartfelt lyricism. That’s not to say that style isn’t here though, quite the contrary. Good At Failing is drenched in synth leads, massive choruses, and hooks aplenty while still having something to say. Rare it is that an album can be so balanced, but The Japanese House have cracked the code.
Angsty teens become parents one day. To experience the growth within music is a nearly transcendental experience, and American Football gave us the honor to sit in the first row. ‘I blamed my father in my youth/Now as a father, I blame the booze’. The tables have turned, and we all can feel that. Time will get us, but we can embrace the good things coming with it, like experience and respect. The best album of their career, and probably my most listened album of the year. We’ll see each other in the ambulance.
Chills. Just absolute chills. Every opportunity to write about this album brings around new words to describe it, just as every new listen shows you something fresh and exciting hidden in its enigmatic folds for digestion. Atmospheric black metal – nay, music in general – rarely ever sees artists so in tune with their craft as this. Nick Krueger’s stories bellow forth from the depths of magic lands, warming yet indescribably threatening. The variety of musicianship on display is so otherworldly, you’ll marvel at the fact it’s mostly all one man’s doing. Unparalleled, it’s something to talk about well beyond 2019.
With two sublime albums already behind him, Michael Kiwanuka decided to do something incredible: change directions. While not a complete about-face from his previous work, embracing his love of classic soul paid off making Kiwanuka his most personal and monumental effort to date. It’s a flawless record that spans the gamut of human emotions, from weighty social matters to embracing his role during this tumultuous time in society. This album is a gift.
I had a hard time figuring out how to address this album without getting too personal. Sitting down with this record is like sitting down with a good friend after a long night on a kitchen table with dimmed lights, listening to the story of his tragic but hopeful and rich life. Loyle Carner makes me think that I’m his close friend, and Not Waving, But Drowning is his gift to me. Pure honesty. His real self, offered to my real self. Thanks for an experience way larger than music.
2019 was a wild ride. We are excited for the next one. Thanks for scrolling. And thanks for listening.