2019 Music in Review: The 10 best albums of the year
From start to finish, 2019 has been a whirlwind year for music. It has been a year of innovation and excitement in nearly every genre, whether it be hip-hop, folk, pop or any other. While there were dozens of albums that could be recognized for their brilliance this year, I’ve had to narrow it down to only 10 for this list. These 10 albums have all introduced new ideas into their respective genres while still being an enjoyable listen from start to finish. In a way, all of them manage to reflect the issues of the time while still sounding distinctly human.
10. “Nothing Great About Britain” by slowthai — With “Nothing Great About Britain,” slowthai has brought UK rap to the forefront of the hip-hop consciousness. Reflecting the turmoil of the Brexit era, slowthai masterfully balances political commentary with lines like “I love you like a crackhead loves crack.”Slowthai manages to channel the same rebellious energy of the British punk bands of the ’70s, which is the most apparent in the second track, “Doorman.” The song possesses a strong post-punk instrumental combined with slowthai rapping with the energy of a punk singer, resulting in a musical combination fresh to the British hip-hop scene. This genre fusion is an asset to the song as the aggression from its punk influence underscores the political focus of the piece.
Best Song: “Doorman”
9. “2020” by Richard Dawson — Richard Dawson is the master of illustrating the mundane in a detailed, interesting way. In “2020,” he delivers nine slice-of-life stories from the points of view of various narrators, including a young boy in a soccer match and a worker at an Amazon fulfillment center. He manages to powerfully portray a boring dystopia over progressive folk instrumentation. For example, this is best done on the opening track, “Civil Servant,” in which Dawson describes the monotonous daily routine of a British bureaucrat while also lamenting his hatred for his job, which includes denying people their Disability Living Allowance. Dawson’s clever insights into modern life and brilliant guitar work make this one of the best albums of this year.
Best Song: “Civil Servant”
8. “1000 Gecs” by 100 Gecs — “1000 Gecs” is easily the strangest album released this year. It sounds like what would happen if the Internet of 2009 became sentient and decided to create music. The feeling of listening to this album is akin to an extreme sugar rush. There are elements of electronic dance music, rap, metal, bubblegum pop, ska and so many other genres blended together and sped up in the most hyperactive way possible. On the track “Money Machine,” 100 Gecs provide the most coherent and catchy song on the album — the song combines belligerent verses with a repetitive and mesmerizing chorus. Words don’t do this album justice, and I am excited to hear what 100 Gecs create in the future.
Best Song: “Money Machine”
7. “Magdalene” by FKA twigs — In “Magdalene,” FKA twigs sounds unlike anyone else in the music industry. It’s really impossible to even categorize her music into any one genre. Her combination of R&B, hip-hop, electronic, classical, choral and pop music gives her work the sound of its own genre. While she has been developing this sound all decade, never has it been more coherent than on “Magdalene.” On standout track “Fallen Alien,” twigs describes dormant anger in a relationship. The lyrics are dripping with suppressed indignation, which slowly build into the chorus, an explosive culmination of the musical ideas in the track. From start to finish, the album is an exhilarating ride that makes it one of the most exciting and distinctive albums released this year.
Best Song: “Fallen Alien”
6. “CALIGULA” by Lingua Ignota — “CALIGULA” is the angriest album released this year. Using her experiences as a survivor of domestic violence as fuel, Kristin Hayter, Lingua Ignota’s real name, cathartically screams lyrics of violence and despair. Taking equal influence from Nine Inch Nails and the topic of her undergraduate thesis, Johann Sebastian Bach, Hayter creates discordant, foreboding classical background music over which she unleashes her anger. In “CALIGULA,” Hayter puts the listener through hell, with an abrasive and primal delivery of lyrics that piece together her emotions. The second track, “DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR,” is a disarming nine-minute masterpiece. The song starts out very slowly; Hayter sings quietly for the first two minutes, allowing her anger to simmer, eventually reaching a point of screaming the lyrics halfway through the track, including the powerfully raw refrain: “I don’t eat, I don’t sleep/I don’t eat/I let it consume me.” This track is stunning from beginning to end and is the best example of the tone set by the album. While it’s not for everyone, listening to “CALIGULA” is an incredibly rewarding experience.
Best Song: “DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR”
5. “All My Heroes Are Cornballs” by JPEGMAFIA — On “All My Heroes Are Cornballs,” JPEGMAFIA refines his abrasive, experimental sound and improves upon his last album, 2018’s “Veteran.” Eschewing typical song structure, many of the songs in this project bleed into each other, without defined verse-chorus structure. The production is as loud and in-your-face as ever, and his lyrics explore the depths of Internet culture. On album-opener “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot,” it is immediately clear that the instrumental is much smoother than anything JPEGMAFIA has released before. However, there are occasional moments in the song where his abrasive industrial tendencies break through. Compared to his previous work where the instrumentals were purely grating, the reprieve of melody in this track presents a better listen and an interesting contrast without losing his experimentalism. JPEGMAFIA continues to be on the cutting edge of modern hip-hop, and “All My Heroes Are Cornballs” solidifies him as one of the most experimental in the hip-hop genre.
Best Song: “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot”
4. “Titanic Rising” by Weyes Blood — In “Titanic Rising,” Weyes Blood has perfected the sound of chamber pop. Every song features gorgeous instrumentation, accompanied by Blood’s disarmingly beautiful voice. The songs are theatrical and cinematic, with each track feeling absolutely massive. The lyrics primarily convey a sense of longing for times past when things were simpler, but some also deal with mundane topics. In “Everyday,” Blood describes the relatable trials and tribulations of online dating. She describes a fear of being alone and laments a culture affected by dating apps, saying, “And someone sincerely looked at me/And said “Is this the end of all monogamy?”/And I said, “Not today.””Everyday” is theatrical, with larger-than-life instrumentation; a stark contrast to the unexciting content of the lyrics. While Blood clearly draws inspiration from the works of the Beach Boys (primarily “Pet Sounds”) and Joni Mitchell, she provides a stunning update to the chamber pop of the past.
Best Song: “Everyday”
3. “Norman F—ing Rockwell!” by Lana Del Rey — After nearly a decade of growth in both her lyrics and her music, Lana Del Rey has finally created a truly great record in “Norman F—ing Rockwell!” Del Rey proves herself as a great songwriter in this album, in which she features her most mature lyrics to date. She muses about a failing relationship with a pretentious poet, while also providing commentary on the traditional idea of the American dream. “Mariners Apartment Complex” stands out purely because of her lyrical talent shining through in this track. For instance, the opening lines “You took my sadness out of context/At the Mariners Apartment Complex/I ain’t no candle in the wind”are particularly beautiful. Her voice and lyrics are complemented by alluring piano riffs and Jack Antonoff’s pristine production. On “Norman F—ing Rockwell!” Del Rey has risen above her influences to finally come into her own as an artist and as a songwriter.
Best Song: “Mariners Apartment Complex”
2. “IGOR” by Tyler, the Creator — In 2017, Tyler, the Creator stunned the world of hip-hop with the release of “Flower Boy,” an album that stands in stark contrast to any of his previous releases. His violent lyrics and harsh production were abandoned, replaced with introspective songs about loneliness and unrequited crushes set over jazzy production. With IGOR, Tyler expands and improves on “Flower Boy” in every single way. On “A BOY IS A GUN*,” one of the softer tracks on the album, Tyler showcases his heavy Kanye West influence. The song utilizes a repeated soul sample as the backing instrumentation over which Tyler grapples with the superficiality of his partner. The track features Tyler at his most vulnerable lyrically and his most genius sonically. Over 12 tracks, he tells the story of a relationship from beginning to end, accompanied by his beautiful production and quite a few features, including Solange, Playboi Carti and Jack White. Without a doubt, IGOR provides the most thrilling ride of any hip-hop record this year.
Best Song: “A BOY IS A GUN*”
1. “Charli” by Charli XCX — Charli XCX is a once-in-a-generation pop talent. While her first two albums consist of more or less “normal” pop music, her career took a major turn in 2016 when she began to make music with artists on the British label PC Music. Her EP “Vroom Vroom,” released in 2016, sounded nothing like any music she had released before — it was abrasive, experimental and pushed the limits of what can be considered pop music. She continued this sound with two more EPs, “Number 1 Angel” and “Pop 2.” “Charli” is the first full album that she has released since this shift, and it is truly the culmination of her career up to this point. The instrumentals are punchy and explosive, and her vocals work perfectly with the music. The first track on the album, “Next Level Charli,” features her punchiest vocals yet. She hardly takes a breath through an incessant stream of lyrics, which feature classic Charli imagery such as cars and partying. This track sets the tone for everything on the album to come. In addition, nearly every song has at least one feature, ranging from artists like Troye Sivan to Lizzo to Cupcakke. This album was everything that fans had been hoping for and more and is far and away the best album released this year.
Best Song: “Next Level Charli”