Founder’s Picks: Top 30 Albums of 2019
Below is the rough order of the top 30 albums I enjoyed most and was impressed by this year. Discover something new! Once you get to the top 5, the order changes depending on my mood. Oh well. – RG
30. Sudan Archives – Confessions: This classically trained violinist blew my mind when I saw her open for Future Islands at the Newport Music Hall last year. Her record Confessions is an expansive journey in sound that all throughout expresses an attitude of resilience. The music is both fun and thoughtful, whether you’re paying attention to the lyrics, beats, or the strings.
29. MUNA – Saves the World: There seemed to be more candidates than ever this year jiving for the attention of fans of sweeping synthpop. MUNA rose above the crowd for their consistency and poignant melodies that don’t completely abandon the fun in favor of being moody. This album makes me think of early CHVRCHES at times.
28. Long Beard – Means to Me: I’m a sucker for quiet electric guitar driven ballads, especially when sung by women and given a sound that seems fit for a log cabin on a wintry day. “Monarch” satisfies this urge, along with a good portion of the rest of this record. Long Beard fits right in with the Jay Som’s, Lucy Dacus’s and Phoebe Bridgers of the world, but meanders in her own adventuresome way.
27. Elle Azar – Elle Azar: This new Nashville artist’s brand of pop is sweeping, cinematic, and unassuming all at once. “Mess” will make you fall in love with her sound. Her vocals are reserved but steady and the tone is warm. The music is groovy, yes, but you’ll be more tempted to let yourself be swept away than dance. And that’s okay. This 8-song release is just humbly cool.
26. Motherfolk – Family Ghost: I’m going to make a bold claim. There’s no reason that Motherfolk can’t be the next Local Natives. Their dual vocalists. Their organic yet atmospheric instrumentations. Their big hooks. There are certainly many parallels, yet Motherfolk are completely their own band. And Local Natives released a somewhat forgettable record this year. Motherfolk didn’t.
25. Beck – Hyperspace: I owe this one to my sister’s recommendations. Indeed, this was a late addition to this list, but Beck’s unique twist on synthpop had me pretty impressed on the long plane ride back from California this past weekend. The sounds on this album are diverse and cohesive all at once, and I appreciate the maturity of Beck’s sound. It doesn’t get much more polished than this—though it isn’t overdone.
24. Of Monsters and Men – Fever Dream: The distinct dual vocals and earthy vibes are back with with a more polished twist. While early Of Monsters and Men emerged alongside the mainstream folk explosion and in some ways mirrored the “organic is cool” trend, now they are the most shimmering they’ve ever been. Fever Dream is a driving album good for both late night excursions and studying alike.
23. Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising: At one point in time, 5 albums with various degrees of cinematic, chill indie sounds were vying for a spot on this list. In the end, I had to go with Weyes Blood, the critic’s favorite. It’s pleasant to listen to and overall the most memorable. I remember the impressions that other albums made, but I can’t recall their sounds specifically. And you know I’m a sucker for ethereal vocals. I’d like to see Weyes Blood take Timbre on tour.
22. Angela Perley – 4:30: I consider myself an “entry level” appreciator of country music, though arguably I’m much more on the Americana side of that spectrum. Angela Perley’s latest outing is the perfect release for someone in my position—someone who’s warming up to the sound but is still a rocker at heart. Memorable choruses and silk-smooth vocals certainly help as well.
21. Brittany Howard – Jaime: I admit I never spent a lot of time with Alabama Shakes beyond the singles, but I have to credit Ms Howard with taking my expectations of what a solo outing from her would be and flipping them on their head. This album is soulful, yes—but also experimental and wonderfully psychedelic. It’s one of those albums where you can listen and get something new each time.
20. Coyote Kid – The Skeleton Man: One of my most anticipated releases of the year came from the Twin Cities’ own Coyote Kid, a dark cinematic band formerly known as Marah in the Mainsail. The Skeleton Man is a concept record that allows you either enjoy the fun, dark storyline in as much detail as you choose or enjoy the songs individually for the fun rockers that they are.
19. HÆLOS – Any Random Kindness: I have to hand it to HÆLOS for putting out a record that seemed forgettable, and then came back and kicked my butt after a return listen. This album is brilliant experimental synthpop in the vein of Glass Animals, Polyenso, and even a hint of Animal Collective. So many samples! So many bops! The whole thing is bathed in an aura of darkness that would go well in an off-the-beaten-path nightclub.
18. The Band CAMINO – tryhard: Of all the pop rock releases I listened to this year, this one might have made the most distinct first impression. I’ve heard this band be called “the next 1975.” They’re exploding in popularity, yet no one seems to be discussing their shimmering sound that would still be at home on rock radio enough to please the Boomers and Gen-Xers asking where all the good alt-rock on the radio went. The guitar tone especially is really on point.
17. Weeknight – Dead Beat Creep: The darkwave duo is now a darkwave quartet, having traded in a drum machine for live drums. Never fear, though—the synthy-dance elements that will have you running towards darkness are here in spades. “Falling in Line” is chock full of siren-like synth lines that will force you to move. And plenty of other tracks suit that grey-day aesthetic where you’re trying to both embrace and get out of the doldrums at the same time.
16. The Japanese House – Good At Falling: The Japanese House are one of more unsung heroes of The 1975’s Dirty Hit records, a singer who consistently releases dreamy, guitar driven synth pop. Good At Falling seems like it would be right at home with the Pure Moods New Age-y music phase I went through as a kid, or with the more recent, effervescent dream pop that has dominated my spins. Angst has never sounded so pleasant.
15. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow: Like many artists on this list, I arrived late to the game. Sharon Van Etten’s endorsement by Tuned Up pal and favorite Michigander prompted me to really dive into “I Told You Everything.” I don’t really enjoy this album in a euphoric way. It’s a pensive sort of rainy-day indie rock that oozes tension and weariness at times, in a way that is more cathartic than fatiguing. “Comeback Kid” is the closest thing to an earworm on this album, making me feel some kind of way that I can’t describe.
14. Carriers – Now Is the Time For Loving Yourself, Me, & Everyone Else: One of those paradigm shifting moments in music happened to me when The War On Drugs released their album Lost In the Dream. Carriers have rightly earned several comparisons to the cinematic, thoughtful indie rock group. But they add even more layers of emotion. “Make It Right” makes up 8 of the most poignant minutes you’ll hear this year.
13. Mike Mains & The Branches – When We Were In Love: This band emerged at the beginning of the decade with the earworm “Stereo,” and they are closing it with an album full of them. “Pouring Rain” and “Renegades” are songs that you will want to crank up and just soak in. The entire album has an endearing quality that pop rock lovers ought to find very alluring.
12. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride: This expansive has just about been covered by every major music outlet at this point, so there isn’t much new I can write. I’ll say that this seems to be Vampire Weekend at their most fun and serious simultaneously. Some Phish comparisons have been made that I frankly don’t identify with. I’m too busy sitting over here with a stupid grin on my face because of that falsetto in “Sunflower.”
11. Anderson .Paak – Ventura: At the urging of my sister, I gave this album a shot. It was my first real investment of personal time into the juggernaut that is Anderson .Paak. This ain’t your typical hip-hop record. Be prepared to groove, people. This is an album that was very consistent in rotation from the time it was released until now. Just a bunch of jams that are fit for most playlists—whether you feel like cutting loose or playing it cool.
10. White Collar Sideshow – I Didn’t Come Here to Die: While it’s not my #1 album of 2019, I have to hand it to White Collar Sideshow for releasing what is certainly the most memorable record of the year. Their unique brand of “shock rock” from Arkansas has never been more accessible, or fun. T and Veronica have never been more confident on the stage or record.
9. Bon Iver – i,i: Bon Iver set the bar almost impossibly high with his previous two releases. Perhaps being self-aware that it’s impossible to reinvent oneself at such a dramatic way once again and live up to high expectations, he was content to release an album that felt like more of a natural progression. “Hey Ma” and “Naeem” are highlights on an album that is overall simply a pleasant listen of a brilliant mind’s output.
8. Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost, Part 1: For whatever reason I haven’t been able to get into this band, though I know I should love it on paper. That is, until now. “In Degrees” is a dance number that just exudes cool ,and “Exits” was the radio single from this band that I needed as a proper introduction. I feel fully converted as a fan now.
7. Thom Yorke – ANIMA: The brilliance of Thom Yorke’s live show really awakened me to the brilliance of this album, which is wonderfully dark and anxiety-ridden. I hate panic attacks with a burning passion, and yet I’ll welcome this album anytime. The creep factor of certain songs (looking at you, “Not the News” and “Twist”) came about for me right at the beginning of October—couldn’t have been better timing.
6. Joseph – Good Luck, Kid: This is a dark horse record that few music outlets seem to be discussing, for reasons I can’t understand. This trio of sisters have taken their blood bond and chill-inducing harmonies and added atmospheric depth to their jams. The songs are at times anthemic (“Fighter”), at times down-to-earth, sing-along earworms (“Good Luck, Kid”), and at times quietly poignant (“Shiver”). This is an album that you’re gonna want to crank up and just soak in.
5. Bonelang – Sunny, Sonny.: In my opinion, Bonelang are one of the most underappreciated bands in the US today. Their brand of shimmering psych-pop-meets-hip-hop is entirely unique to them. Some comparisons that come to mind include Glass Animals and Until the Ribbon Breaks, but neither fully suffice. Their sound is fully realized in this, their debut full length release. In addition, this is a concept record that I’ll admit I haven’t fully deciphered. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! There is many a banger on this one. Turn it up!
4. Jimmy Eat World – Surviving: What can I say about Jimmy Eat World that I haven’t said hundreds of times already? They make poignant, emotive rock. Really, really well. This, along with their other records, will age well.
3. Ghost Soul Trio – Too Many Futures: The twisted lovechild of Radiohead, Mutemath, and Foals released this incredibly addictive debut full length that has all the makings of a future cult classic once this band blows up and their new fans dig into their back catalog. The strength of this band’s songwriting and precision in their playing scored them a surprising opening slot for Lizzo this past summer. Listen and you’ll experience why. Time to get weird.
2. half•alive – Now, Not Yet: You couldn’t get on YouTube this year without seeing THAT video for “Still Feel” pop up in your suggestions. Half Alive proved with the release of this album there’s much more to them than impeccable dance moves and a music video filmed in the Bat Cave. For me, their sound picked up where Mutemath left off and added in a heaping dose of radio indie pop. You can especially hear it in “Creature,” the album closer that was, unsurprisingly, produced by Paul Meany.
1. Tycho – Weather: Gosh, Tycho just is so wonderfully consistent. This album didn’t grab my psyche the same way that Epoch did right off the bat, but it served as the calming soundtrack to one of my business trips this year. Weather was a calming friend in my rental SUV as I drove around the very green Raleigh, NC area. Listening to this album in the car during twilight as I drove into Durham is something I’ll never forget.