After posting my favorite songs of 2019, I’m now ready to unveil my 10 favorite albums of the year. For your reference, here are my favorite albums lists from: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
I’m sorry if this disappoints anyone, but this year’s albums post is going to be significantly abbreviated compared to every other year I’ve done it. I usually get started writing this post in November, but this year I didn’t even start drafting until Dec. 14.
It’s been an extremely busy fall for me, and since I spent 21,000 words writing about music already this fall, I just didn’t have the full albums post in me this year. Again, I’m sorry, but this was the only way I saw getting this out the normal time this year.
Before I get to my long-form thoughts on the 10 best albums I heard this year, here are albums 20 through 11 on my list, accompanied by one song from each.
20. Solange – When I Get Home (“Stay Flo”)
19. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow (“Comeback Kid”)
18. Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars (“There Goes My Miracle”)
17. Wilco – Ode to Joy (“Love Is Everywhere (Beware)”)
16. DIIV – Deceiver (“Blankenship”)
15. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell! (“The Greatest”)
14. Bon Iver – i,i (“Hey, Ma”)
13. Taylor Swift – Lover (“Cruel Summer”)
12. Hatchie – Keepsake (“Secret”)
11. Girlpool – What Chaos Is Imaginary (“What Chaos Is Imaginary”)
Here they are, my 10 favorite albums of 2019:
10. Nilufer Yanya – Miss Universe
I discovered the music of Nilufer Yanya this year, a young London native with a penchant for melding styles. Her full-length debut, Miss Universe, has elements of pop, rock, R&B, jazz, dance and so much more. There’s diversity across so much of the album: “In Your Head” has crashing guitars in symbols while “Tears” could be mistaken as an early Whitney Houston song. The sky is the limit for Nilufer and her crew.
9. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
The first Vampire Weekend album without Rostam Batmanglij playing a significant role came with much fanfare this year. Father of the Bride is a very different record for Ezra Koenig and company, and while the pop-related strictures Rostam brings to his music are missed in some spots, the band plays with more of a care-free, loose style throughout the record. “Sunflower” feels almost Grateful Dead-like, “This Life” is beyond a joy, “Harmony Hall” is one of their most massive songs to date. Father of the Bride isn’t their greatest record, but their new direction is more than intriguing.
8. The National – I Am Easy to Find
The biggest surprise musically of 2019 was the arrival of a new National album. I Am Easy to Find caps off a decade of domination for Matt Berninger, the Dessners and the Devendorfs with an incredibly unique record. The most unique thing is how little Berninger actually appears on the album, his monotone grumbles replaced by a cadre of women voices. In the end it’s still a National record, and that’s always going to deliver. But my favorite thing about I Am Easy to Find is the band finally found a home for “Rylan”, a banger that has been kicking around since the High Violet days.
7. Whitney – Forever Turned Around
Whitney’s 2016 debut, Light Upon the Lake, was one of my favorite albums of 2016. Emerging from the ashes of Smith Westerns, Julian Erlich and Max Kakacek developed a massive following for their psych-tinged indie rock stylings and became heroes in their hometown of Chicago. Forever Turned Around came this year with bigtime expectations and mostly met them. While the album doesn’t have as many fast-moving tracks as Light Upon the Lake, it qualifies as a grower, with “Giving Up”, “Used to Be Lonely” and the title track among the highlights.
6. Oso Oso – Basking In the Glow
Yeah, I know. It’s an emo record. But, emo has made an honest-to-goodness comeback these last few years, emerging from the cringy-er elements from the previous decade into something better if you know where to find it. That’s what led me to Oso Oso this year, and their third album Basking In the Glow. Frontman Jade Lilitri has the nasally voice familiar to the genre, but instead of whining about the same old woe-as-me garbage as his forebears, he takes a much more mature approach on standouts like the title track, “One Sick Plan” and “A Morning Song” among so many others. All the while the band sticks to a full, lush sound that’s easy to love.
5. Jimmy Eat World – Surviving
So, you may be aware I wrote a few words about Jimmy Eat World already this year. That long project didn’t include much about Surviving, their 10th album, for reasons I outlined in Part II (linked to above). But, I can’t wait to eventually update it with all the fantastic songs from their decade-closing record, an exciting collection bringing their pop-rock best while also finding room to find new things. “Surviving” starts things with a bang; “Delivery” could fit on almost any record of theirs; “555” is unlike anything they’ve ever done; “Diamond” cuts deep; “Congratulations” is an epic on a level we’ve rarely seen from this band. The best thing about Surviving is what it portends for a band closing in on three decades together as the 2020s begin.
4. Jay Som – Anak Ko
Melina Duterte released one of my favorite albums of the decade with her 2017 full-length as Jay Som, Everybody Works. She recorded the album almost entirely by herself, playing all the instruments and expertly blending a myriad of different styles. It put her on the map and created lots of excitement for what was to come next. With Anak Ko, she did it again, but differently. This time Duterte enlisted more contributors to augment her sound with excellent results. Lead track “Superbike” dips into ’90s nostalgia with a huge guitar sound and beautiful melodies; “Devotion” has an innovative and fun vocal treatment; “Tenderness” has an almost lounge-y quality to it and feels straight out of 1977. Anak Ko, which means “my child” in Tagalog, is another sign of growth for Duterte, who has certainly come far in just a couple years.
3. Clairo – Immunity
Let me give you sense of what Boston suburb Carlisle, Mass., is like: a former coworker of mine lives there, has a barn on his property, and every year hosts a barn party. From that enclave comes 20-year-old Claire Cottrill, known to the masses as Clairo, who after going insanely viral with her 2017 bedroom pop song “Pretty Girl” released her Rostam-produced debut Immunity this year. It’s a spectacular pop achievement, one that successfully blends so many different styles appealing to different audiences. (I immediately loved the record because the first song is named after the Red Line T stop I lived next to when I first moved to the Boston area.) The album’s emotional fulcrum, “Bags”, is an incredible expression of both musical and lyrical maturity as Clairo imagines the end of a relationship right as it’s starting. Few new artists have a brighter future ahead than Clairo. Pretty good for a young lady from Carlisle.
2. Local Natives – Violet Street
The guys in Local Natives needed a boost. Their third album, 2016’s Sunlit Youth, wasn’t up to par with their first two. It took a lot of synth pop elements and tried to fit them into their well-established sophisticated indie rock sound. For the most part it was fine, but something was missing. When Violet Street arrived earlier this year, I knew they had recaptured the magic of Gorilla Manor and Hummingbird. This one is a mover, tight and concise with a clear sound and purpose, and the results are incredibly rewarding. “When Am I Gonna Lose You?” is a Taylor Rice-led singalong, followed by the Kelcey Ayer-helmed groover “Cafe Amarillo.” There are songs here about the coming climate apocalypse (“Megaton Mile”) and wistful memories of youth (“Garden of Elysian”). Throughout the band brings their best on every track, but best so on penultimate wonder “Gulf Shores”, an epic showstopper representing some of their best work to date. Local Natives are one of our best bands, and they’re back to living up to it on Violet Street.
1. Charly Bliss – Young Enough
I’m just going to say it: I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t admit that part of the reason why I didn’t write as much in this post is because 2019 was not as strong a year for new music compared to at least the previous three. Sometimes it just happens. But that takes nothing away from the very best of this year, and that for me counts as Young Enough, the second full-length record from Connecticut upstarts Charly Bliss. Led by angel-voiced Eva Hendricks, these songs feel like anthems for a generation figuring out their way in the world, and the pains and lessons that come along the way. On standout track “Capacity”, Hendricks opines about trying to be everything to everyone (“I’m at capacity / I’m spilling out of me”). “Chatroom” recounts an abusive relationship; “Camera” rocks from start to finish; the title track displays stunning clarity on heartbreak (“We’re young enough / To believe it should hurt this much”). Throughout, the band exhibits their chops creating shimmering, ’80s-style pop/new wave/punk inspired sounds that don’t overwhelm and accentuate Hendricks’ supreme abilities. Young Enough is a left-field revelation from Charly Bliss, proving them a force to be reckoned with going forward.