With the year (and decade) coming to a close, I reflect fondly on the year in music. With turbulent times, comes great art. 2019 perfectly captures the uncertainty, frustration, and isolation many of us feel. While there were many “top” albums, I decided to focus on the ones that meant the most to me personally. The end result was 9 instead of 10. My apologies to those who prefer top 10 lists. If you want an extra album, check out Maggie Rogers or Big Thief.
9. Kills Birds – Kills Birds
This is the surprise of the year for me, as well as like nothing else on this list. Mixing rock, punk, and poetry, the band play searingly sharp with near combustible energy. I was first exposed to them through a podcast that was showcasing their surprise singles. “Volcano” had me immediately. It takes a bit to fully appreciate the band’s talent for song structure. Underneath the punk ethos, is budding pop lines. The longer you give the act, the more they reveal themselves and are sure to illicit some sort of response from listeners. They also reminded me of one of the greats in a similar genre, Mewithoutyou.
8. Thom Yorke – Anima
I admit to not being the biggest Radiohead fan. This is not because I don’t revere them, I definitely think they are incredible, but because I fear I am not intelligent enough to “get it”. Their entire aesthetic – album artwork, lyrics, performance – are all so well constructed and thought out, that listeners need to patiently let their music come to them. I am guilty of being too rushed like many. However, with the lead man’s solo work, we find some equally as incredible and accessible work. For his short film project, he worked with Paul Thomas Anderson and Netflix, and this is where I immediately fell in love with the album. The entire album is cinematic and plays on a lot fo the technological fears alive in this current moment. There is still a lot to digest here, but if listeners want to just chill out and listen, it is just as enjoyable.
7. Andrew Bird – My Finest Work Yet
We love the not so subtle boast of this one. While we love most of Bird’s work, this one may be his most accessible and yes, finest. His trademark whistling carries an otherwise jazzy album, full of literary references and incredible lyrical gymnastics. As a musical genius, he pulls together artists who truly know their tools and contribute to a tight and expressive album of the highest integrity. The whole piece works together to form a statement, and in this current space we live in, this is something to be admired. If you are unfamiliar with his immense talent, then we think this is the best place to start.
6. Jade Bird – Jade Bird
There have been tracks this or any year that floored us to the point of “Uh Huh” from the UK songstress Jade Bird. Her vocals are piercing, brave, and filled with swagger. Here is an artist who effortlessly blends folk, pop, Americana, and rock with ease while crafting some of the best sing alongs of the year. Her vocals are a revelation and are reminiscent of the country mavericks of yesteryear. “Lottery” and “I Get No Joy” have also found heavy promotion through the pop mainstream, while the artist has continued to grow as a lasting touring presence.
5. Coldplay – Everyday Life
Yes, they are perhaps the biggest band on the planet. And yes, they receive a tremendous amount of criticism. Yet, with there newest release, the act continues to prove their tremendous talent for drawing listeners in with anthemic vocals and stadium sized instrumentation. Soaring and expansive, Everyday Life proves to be as tight as it is ambitious. Broken into two halves, the band are surprisingly vocal with their convictions (“Guns” “Trouble in Town”), while working in worldly styles in a very Coldplay way. If you haven’t watched their album release concert from Jordan – one show at sunrise and one at sunset respectfully – then we definitely recommend it as the act is vowing to cut back on touring until they can do so environmentally friendly.
4. Corey Kilgannon – As Above, So Below
It is said that in politically turbulent times, the best art is produced. While we certainly hate the current political climate, we have heard some great artistic responses. Of this, is the expressive and biting lyrics of the incredible songwriter Corey Kilgannon. With the title track, we were immediately smitten with the way he critiques religion, race, and gender. He has an incredible political consciousness that reminds listeners of some of the best. The album is certainly not a straightforward trip. With many quirks and genre exits, Kilgannon shows his tremendous talent on an exceptional album.
3. Girl in Red – Chapter 2
This one hits us on so many levels. The heartbreaking build of the young artist is a rare talent which will stick with you long after the criminally short five tracks. When paired with 2018’s Chapter 1 EP, it forms a fantastic full release. It is difficult to properly describe this album – it needs to be felt. We do not know a better artist at crafting a mood and experience through both song and video. The young Norwegian songwriter writes, produces, and records everything herself. This keeps the integrity as well as completes her vision with integrity. Recent “tastemakers” have been dropping her name as primed for a 2020 breakout. Listen now, and tell your friends. Her video for “I’ll Die Anyway.” is by far the most emotional video we saw all year.
2. The Avett Brothers – Closer Than Together
This album snuck past a lot of critics this year. However, we have found the act only getting better with each release. In these turbulent times, there are certain artists we need to hear from. Their talent is needed to put some sort of expression to what we all feel. With their grasp on America’s heartland, The Avett Brothers are such an act. The opener “Bleeding White”, shows a Clash turn for the act and sets up some of the more provocative tracks like “We Americans” and “Bang Bang”. We appreciate their thoughtfulness and straightforwardness with their critique, which is tempered with love for their country. The band still proves to be incredible storytellers with tracks like “C Sections and Railway Trestles” which are sure to pull at your heartstrings (especially if you’re a parent).
- Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
While being a solid fan for as long as the band has released music, we know what Vampire Weekend are capable of. Yet, it was not until their newest release that we found an entirely new level of love and admiration for the act. Lyrically they have always had a way of crafting near genius lines that will both make you think and sing along. With tracks like “Harmony Hall” and “This Life”, we feel that they have reached new and more mature heights while still maintaining a brilliant pop sensibility. Musically, the textured and delicately crafted sounds make it one of the best of any genre in this or any year.