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As the bumper car ride that was 2019 finally powers down, it’s time for Merry-Go-Round Magazine to take a look at the best that the world of music had to offer. Below, take a look at the top 50 albums of 2019.

Honorable Mentions:

Jay Som – ANAK KO

PUP – MORBID STUFF

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – INFEST THE RATS’ NEST

Drab Majesty – MODERN MIRRORS

Peaer – A HEALTHY EARTH
2019 fremde

50. Lukas Rickli – FREMDE ZEIT ADDENDUM 5 

Genre: Reductionism, Modern Classical

Favorite Tracks: N/A

Having this be the bookend to our top album of the year feels appropriate, as while our Number One throws the kitchen sink at the listener, Lukas Rickli’s FREMDE ZEIT ADDENDUM 5 is almost transgressively quiet. A performance of a composition by out-there auteur Jakob Ullmann, FZA 5 is a slow-burn accumulation of pregnant silence, lightly shifting drone work, and the smallest splashes of Rickli’s haunting piano. It goes without saying it’s music for personal reflection and subtle contemplation, but there are far more pockets of sound to get lost in than one might think. In a year where a large portion of our media got more and more loud and direct with what it intended to say, there’s something captivating and noble about an album that doesn’t do any of the work for you, letting your mind wander among its cavernous sonic construction and reach your own conclusions about its purpose and intent. Besides, those willing to meet FZA 5 on its own terms will appreciate the understated, but no less present, journey Rickli takes us on, eventually culminating in a finale that manages to feel cathartic despite still only making use of the smallest palate of input, a masterful demonstration of how atmosphere and atmosphere alone can commandeer a listening experience. With each hint of melody that interrupts the hypnotic bed crashing into the consciousness like a hammer thrown from Heaven, Lukas Rickli proves that perhaps sometimes it’s better to stay patient and say less. It’s music to think about and experience, and is certainly not for those looking for an easily accessible thrill, but each time I’ve returned from the ethereal solitude of FZA 5 I feel all the more grounded and centered for it. [Thomas Seraydarian]

2019 anima

49. Thom Yorke – ANIMA

Genre: Electronic, Ambient

Favorite Tracks: “Dawn Chorus,” “Traffic,” “I Am A Very Rude Person”

 In a decade that was pretty light on the Radiohead front, Thom Yorke kept himself pretty busy. Where his previous solo endeavors could fall into the classification of Radiohead-esque without the rock elements, Yorke’s ANIMA feels like the man stepped up his game, resulting in the best collection of songs he has released under his own name. Alongside longtime producer and collaborator Nigel Godrich, it is at times both lush and sparse, full of memorable grooves that will have you dancing as awkwardly as Yorke himself. ANIMA’s crowning achievement comes in the somber “Dawn Chorus,” a truly haunting journey through the dregs of a daily grind that may incite a nice crying session before you get your toes tapping again. The album also gave Yorke his first number one album spot on the Billboard Electronic/Dance charts, illustrating that if we give the man the time he needs, whatever materializes will be worth the wait. [Jake Mazon]

2019 clairo

48. Clairo – IMMUNITY

Genre: Bedroom Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Alewife,” “Impossible,” “Closer to You,” “Softly,” “I Wouldn’t Ask You”

There are two things about IMMUNITY that I find really special. Firstly, in this ~tumultuous political landscape~, it takes real confidence to release an album that’s not about having a hot take. Clairo’s debut is an opportunity to be totally personal, to tell an intimate narrative burdened not with layers of sociopolitical context or relevance, and designed only to tell her own truth. At just 21 years old, she’s still processing the skins that bud and shed over adolescence, but now with the burgeoning insight of her young adulthood. That being said, what’s secondly distinct about this album is its sense of reservation. Clairo teeters on the edge of vulnerability, never quite unguarded, always suspended in the final seconds before detonation and frozen there in time. The title itself brings to mind an idea of resistance, but IMMUNITY itself is softer, kinder. It’s protected, for her own sake—bedroom pop with the door cracked open. Her voice floats at the forefront, but shimmery pianos and muted drums frost the window enough to shield herself. From what exactly—Love? Pain? Misinterpretation?—I’m not sure, but it certainly makes me want to lean in closer and try to see through the glass anyway. [Sienna Kresge]

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47. Strand of Oaks – ERASERLAND

Genre: Folk

Favorite Tracks:  “Weird Ways,” “Visions,” “Hyperspace Blues,” “Forever Chords”

Ever imagine your own mundane existence is a transitional scene, or part of a montage in some great and cinematic masterpiece? That your life will follow a neat arc, all the strings will end as bows and the lessons you learned come full circle in a harmony of literal and metaphorical imagery? I used to make playlists and burn CDs, so walking down the street became both the perfect needle drop on an otherwise average day, looking for just the right mix of uptempo energy, and a heartbreaking rendering of how cruel and callous life could be. Ride with the windows down to “Mint Car” by the Cure or stare out through the rain to the sound of Death Cab’s most harrowing tracks. Strand of Oaks’ ERASERLAND stands alone as that perfectly curated mix of both, soundtracking transitional scenes as well as the big plot points. Although bookended between “Weird Ways,” which could be the first act turning point, and “Forever Chords,” which is when our lead is at their lowest, most beautifully broken, ERASERLAND soundtracks all those in-between scenes, the parts that make being human more than major plot points and hitting obligatory emotional beats. “Visions,” in all its echoing, expansive loneliness, kicks a rock down the street and creates a tiles a floor for us to pace across or sink down onto, and “Final Fires” is the perfectly lit kitchen on a fall afternoon or a drive to the mountains. “Moon Landing” is that time before the bars close but after you’ve put on your bell bottoms and decided to walk home because the moon is waxing gibbous, funky and dark but streaked with oranges and purples. “Hyperspace Blues” is driving through the city at 3 A.M., vacant and exhilarating with neon streaking your windshield. More needs to be said about “Forever Chords,” which is less of a transitional scene and more of a major turning point, but what can be said about the most brutal and honest song about humanity? With a building disillusionment and resigned acceptance, the numbing resolution is both crushing and reassuring, and the curtains close on this album more neatly and chaotic than any movie or existance could capture better. Your life may never have the right establishing shot, or closure in the final scene, but you can have ERASELAND in your headphones as you walk out of frame. [Tapley Eaton]

2019 megan

46. Megan Thee Stallion – FEVER

Genre: Southern Rap

Favorite Tracks: “Hood Rat Shit,” “Pimpin,” “Cash Shit (featuring DaBaby),” “Simon Says (featuring Juicy J),” “Money Good,” “Ratchet,” “Big Drank”

The Southern style of hip hop has been so incredibly influential to the genre as a whole that even complete bastardizations of it have reached the mainstream. Whether it be the club or the depths of SoundCloud, none can escape the triplet flow’s omnipresence. This homogeny of the new scene begs the question: Who is really worthy enough to carry the flame of the pioneers? You’d be hard pressed to find anyone that goes as hard as Three 6 or South Park Coalition in their heyday. Enter Megan Thee Stallion, the long-overdue first female artist signed to culture-shifting industry giants 300 Entertainment. Hailing from Houston, the very town where “chopped and screwed” was first conceived, Megan echoes the classic styles along with a bad bitch swagger that would make Gangsta Boo proud. FEVER stands as Megan’s grand breakthrough opus: a deluge of fiery tracks all infectiously catchy, with Megan popping off the dirtiest lyrics this side of the Mississippi. Upon listening to “Simon Says” for the first time, hearing “If he fuckin’ with me then he know he gonna wait / Pussy finger-lickin’ good like I mixed it with Old Bay / N**** actin’ like he player when he really just a play” made my jaw drop to the floor. The world-renowned Juicy J coming along much of this wild ride in both the rapping and production end makes FEVER an absolute must-listen, especially to old school fans yearning for a revival. [Alec Larios]

2019 lahey

45. Alex Lahey – THE BEST OF LUCK CLUB

Genre: Alternative Rock

Favorite Tracks: “I Want to Live With You,” “Interior Demeanour,” “Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself,” “Black RMs”

The existential helplessness of the millennial milieu has never sounded so sexy. Alex Lahey’s sophomore album, THE BEST OF LUCK CLUB, comes from the self-doubt, exhaustion, and angst of being 20-something and trying to find your place in the world, but without ever feeling self-doubting, exhausted, or angsty. Every track sounds like Lahey is having the time of her life, whether it’s in the playful Britpop piano of “Isabella” or the saxophone solo in “Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself” that can most accurately be described as “yowza.” Even on tracks like “Interior Demeanor,” in which Lahey’s lyrics detail the painful breakdown of a relationship, the moody, grungy verses give way to an angry-dance catharsis of a chorus which might be angry, but hey, you still get to dance. With BEST OF LUCK, Lahey has delivered a serious record that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Even better, she’s delivered a record that proves a little saxophone can belong in any song. [A.E. Hodge]

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44. Lizzo – CUZ I LOVE YOU

Genre: Hip Hop‎, R&B‎, ‎Soul

Favorite Tracks: “Juice,” “Tempo (featuring Missy Elliot),” “Jerome”

Originally I thought this album didnd’t even need words, considering how perfect it is. But I’ve seen too many Insta posts from Lizzo about how hard she grinded and sweat and bled to get to where she is and damn, not writing anything would be a disservice to her. In case you missed the memo, she is 100% that bitch and she is here to stay. She writes catchy tunes and raps the motherfucking truth with every fiber of her body. CUZ I LOVE YOU opens the title track with a cry and horns but stays real with a simple piano and beat to accompany her soulful voice, which can most definitely take out Adele and is at the very least is on par with Aretha. She’s got less pop than Nicki Minaj, but she’s got more soul. If you feel like “Juice,” “Boys,” or “Truth Hurts” has been overplayed (you’re wrong), then give “Tempo (featuring Missy Elliot),” “Jerome,” or “Lingerie” a listen, and while you’re at it, give the whole package a spin, because you don’t realize what’s missing from your life. Lizzo is the best thing to come out of Minnesota and the absolute best part of 2019 on so many levels. [Liliane Neubecker]

2019 charli

43. Charli XCX – CHARLI

Genre: Pop

Favorite Tracks: “2099,” “Official,” “White Mercedes,” “February 2017”

No one needs less of an introduction in 2019 than Electronica Queen Charli XCX. From tracks like “Shake It” to “Official,” Charli’s third full-length showcased her versatility, not only lyrically, but in her production. Not to say a nuanced, multi-faceted album of transparency and entertainment is completely lost on Charli XCX—anyone who has listened to most of her discography could tell you that—but there is a palpable tension through CHARLI that isn’t on her other mixtapes and records. It takes you about three or four listens before you realize… it’s growth, further proof of her completely honing her craft. To have lines like “Hurting you feels like I’m hurting as well / All I know is I don’t deserve you” and “Fast like a NASCAR, never touch us / Got visions, levels, they don’t get me / Quiet, no discussions, please hush” on the same record is just bonkers, and honestly something only she can pull off. For years, since she was a literal teenager, Charli XCX has shown up for her fans artistically and in her visibility, so to see her succeed so monumentally is the perfect way to usher us into a new decade. [Jesse Herb]

2019 hitler

42. Westside Gunn – HITLER WEARS HERMES 7

Genre: East Coast Hip Hop

Favorite Tracks: “Broadway Joes,” “Size 42,” “Connie’s Son,” “GONDEK,” “Kelly’s Korner (featuring Fat Joe),” “Undertaker vs. Goldberg (featuring Conway the Machine),” “Kool G (featuring Conway the Machine and Benny the Butcher),” “Lucha Bros (featuring Curren$y and Benny the Butcher)”

 I think it’s safe to say that Buffalo MC Westside Gunn is my favorite rapper now. Having stuck with this series from the beginning up to this iteration, HITLER WEARS HERMES 7 is the culmination of all of WSG’s hard work and stands as the best in his already impressive catalog. Westside Gunn’s brand of braggadocio, uttered in a Pesci-esque cadence, has mostly been a love it or hate it type of deal. But on HITLER 7, it’s undeniable that WSG is at the peak of his game. Brutally colorful depictions of violence, drug dealing, and wrestling’s glory days abound as he threatens to pull old school wrestling moves on every other unsuspecting rapper. He’s so outstanding, in fact, that it’s difficult for the legendary rappers featured on here to keep up. We have the revival of Fat Joe on “Kelly’s Korner,” Curren$y cooking on “Lucha Bros,” and the rest of the Griselda trio of Benny and Conway spitting devastating lines throughout. The entire package is a thrill from end to end. Best get on the Griselda train soon, because this crew is making huge moves, and whether you know it or not, HITLER 7 has changed the game forever. [Alec Larios]

2019 grey area

41. Little Simz – GREY AREA

Genre: UK Hip Hop, Conscious Hip Hop

Favorite Tracks: “Offence,” “Boss,” “Venom,” “101 FM,” “Flowers (featuring Michael Kiwanuka)”

From the opening notes of “Offence,” London’s Little Simz makes it clear that you’re in her court; just fucking listen to the frayed bulldog bodying of “Boss” and try not to be absolutely electrified. Right out of the gate GREY AREA stands out for being notably more organic than many of its peers in 2019 hip hop, Simz regularly making use of what comes across as almost a Blue Note backing, causing everything to register as all the more tangible and approachable. Carrying the general atmosphere of an intimate basement show, Simz tackles a wide variety of topics over the course of GREY AREA, from intrafamilial relationships to raw and vulnerable looks at current racial and sociopolitical realities, flexing both a remarkably impressive technical rapping capability and a captivating grasp on economical storytelling; for a hip hop album this heavily into the realm of the “conscious” subgenre, it’s nearly unprecedented that it comes in at a lean and mean 35 minutes. Able to effortlessly switch up moods and styles while maintaining a cohesive artistic throughline, the one-two punch of the slinking, hypnotic trip hop of “Wounds” and the choking, spitting vitriol of “Venom” the most striking musical demonstration of GREY AREA’s prowess, it’s hard to resist getting swept away. Then again, there’s really no greater pleasure than being suddenly jarred out of your enjoyable reverie by a certain production choice or a turn of phrase, a track like “101 FM” juxtaposing inventive work behind the boards and a harrowing look at grief in a manner that arrests the attention and exits the stage as impossible to forget. All of this is to say that GREY AREA is a consistently surprising album, one that has a new reason to love it at every turn, and is easily one of hip hop’s most striking entries from this year. That it manages to do so without regurgitating the same sneering sense of dystopian grime that domineers most of the UK’s hip hop scene is all the more impressive. [Thomas Seraydarian]

2019 tomb

40. Tomb Mold – PLANETARY CLAIRVOYANT

Genre: Death Metal

Favorite Tracks: “Beg for Life,” “Planetary Clairvoyance,” “Heat Death”

We are living in an unprecedented golden era of heavy metal. I know if you don’t care about the genre, it’s easy to be entirely unaware of this fact, but this decade has spawned an ever-expanding galaxy of bands all mutating and building on top of each other in remarkable ways. The genre is more brutal and intense than ever, and it’s still filled with racist, misogynistic meatheads, but there’s now an undeniable competing strain of artists looking to crush fascism and oppression wherever they rear their ugly heads, and phenomenal music is emerging out of this conflict. And then there’s Tomb Mold, a band looking to crush your entire sense of your own physical being and launch you deep into the yawning chasm of space. Lesser bands could have made a record about a sentient planet that swallows souls into a bloated and corny affair, but Tomb Mold delivers so precisely that it’s hard to find fault in the album. Clocking in at a tight 38 minutes, Tomb Mold rip through a staggering amount of ideas with staggering efficiency. Both “Beg for Life” and “Planetary Clairvoyance” deserve to go down in the hall of fame for all-time perfect metal tracks; the writing and the musicianship on display represent not just a huge leveling up for the band, but a step forward for the entire genre. Death metal has always been an intentionally difficult genre to lock in with, but Tomb Mold managed to score such a direct hit with PLANETARY CLAIRVOYANCE that if you’re ever going to tap into the genre, this is your chance to hop on board.  [Carter Moon]

39. Sir Babygirl – CRUSH ON ME

Genre: Indie Pop, Noise Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Flirting With Her,” “Cheerleader,” “Haunted House,”

CRUSH ON ME is the best Avril Lavigne album released this year, with all the melodrama, euphoria, and brashness that was largely missing from her actual self-titled record earlier this year. The ethos of early-2000s female-driven pop rock is instead being kept alive by this nonbinary bisexual who revels in unapologetic horniness, anxiety, and pettiness, treating a first kiss on “Flirting With Her” or a change in hair on “Heels” like they are the most important thing in the universe. The DIY, bedroom veneer redefines Sir Babygirl’s lack of vocal control into her greatest asset, as she throws herself into every moment with howling enthusiasm and creates some striking, layered vocal arrangements in the process. It’s further elevated by diverse mixing that gets muddled and open at the right moments, crunchy guitars that explode as much as they coil, and a handful of reprises that hint at other sonic avenues like baroque pop and PC Music-esque synthpop. CRUSH ON ME is a succinct debut based on the most basic joys and fears in young adulthood, and rarely has an artist sounded so comfortable in their own skin as Sir Babygirl does here. [Blake Michelle]

38. Night Moves – CAN YOU REALLY FIND ME

Genre: Indie Rock, Americana

Favorite Tracks: “Waiting for the Symphony,” “Mexico,” “Strands Align,” “Can You Really Find Me”

Naming your band after an iconic song is an SEO nightmare, but in this case at least, it’s a pretty strong clue into what this band is bringing to the table with CAN YOU REALLY FIND ME, a slick-sounding record that is clearly indebted to the band’s namesake and other touchstones of late-‘70s and early-‘80s Americana pop filtered through a modern, Tame Impala-esque psychedelic filter. On first listen, many of these songs wouldn’t have sounded out of place on MGMT’s ORACULAR SPECTACULAR, but with further investigation, Night Moves prove to be subtle masters of genre triangulation and eclecticism. The acoustic, harmony-dense ‘70s pop of “Keep Me In Mind” manages to walk a thin rope into sparkly, synth-heavy tunes like “Strands Align” while still maintaining a distinct sense of sonic unity throughout, and it’s an absolute blast to hear them relitigate the guitar pop of artists like Todd Rundgren and 10cc. They’re not the only Midwestern indie rockers to do this, but their version of this sound, which accomplishes the challenging balance of being distinctly modern yet intimately familiar and has a sonic richness that many of their contemporaries haven’t been able to match is an absolute winner, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Night Moves gain a much larger audience in the coming decade. [Adam Cash]

37. Young Thug – SO MUCH FUN

Genre: Trap

Favorite Tracks: “Hot (featuring Gunna),” “Bad Bad Bad (featuring Lil Baby),” “Jumped Out The Window”

SO MUCH FUN  is definitely what the title suggests, because the entire project is a damn good time. It’s Young Thug’s most complete album he’s ever released, with a who’s-who of features from common collabs of Future to Lil Uzi Vert to 21 Savage—he even got a feature from J. Cole on the record, who also serves as an executive producer, and I can’t help but imagine he had a strong hand in helping its cohesiveness. It’s more focused than Thugger’s previous efforts and all of the eccentricities that make him such a singular talent are funneled and corralled here, his chaotic energy better than it has ever been before. Those same outrageous and eye-popping lines that helped Young Thug get on the map are still there. On “Jump Out the Window” he raps “Everywhere I go I keep the strap on me like I’m horny”—for any other rapper it’s a headache-inducing lyric, but for Thug it’s just another day in the office as keeps it moving. The bars are equally matched by its excellent production; the record has some of the most ear-popping beats that the genre had to offer in 2019. Producer Pi’erre Bourne in particular flexes his muscles, giving something fresh and new for Thugger to experiment with, and other producers like T-minus and Wheezy all show up with some high level tracks. Collectively it makes SO MUCH FUN push through the ceiling of commercial success, finally offering a project for the masses to enjoy his genius and intricacies. [Mohammed Ashton Kader]

36. The Highwomen – S/T

Genre: Country

Favorite Tracks: “Highwomen,” “If She Ever Lives,” “Old Soul,” “Wheels of Laredo”

In a world where male country artists still have a larger slice of the airwave pie, Amanda Shires joined forces with Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, and Maren Morris to redesign the 1985 supergroup The Highwaymen (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson). Though younger than their male counterparts, they are just as talented, and you don’t have to just take my word for it: her country royal highness Dolly Parton invited them on stage back in July to preview music from their self-titled debut album. They married all their talents across all the best sounds coming out of Nashville these days. Over the last few years we’ve heard plenty of songs emerge from the fires of the #MeToo movement, but THE HIGHWOMEN is a result of taking that energy and putting it into action. More than just anthems to sing, the group have shared the stage with other talented female artists (Tanya Tucker, Sheryl Crow, Yola), some of whom appeared in the music video for “Redesigning Women,” their hit single which is basically the new feminist anthem (I see you Women’s March 2020). Attempting to further push barriers, they wrote a gay country song, “If She Ever Leaves Me,” a highlight on the album, where Carlile takes the lead with lyrics that address a cowboy who’s got eyes on her woman, and the chorus boasts that “if she ever leaves me it won’t be for you.” Beyond being culturally relevant, they have more accomplishments than fit in this blurb, and I’m glad they’re here to tell both their stories and ours. [Liliane Neubecker]

35. Black Belt Eagle Scout – AT THE PARTY WITH MY BROWN FRIENDS

Genre: Folk, Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: At The Party,” “Real Lovin,” “My Heart Dreams”

AT THE PARTY WITH MY BROWN FRIENDS is in the running to be the prettiest album of the year. It’s filled with soft sounds and mesmerizing riffs that could help light up the most memorable of sunsets. Black Belt Eagle Scout’s album feels like being surrounded by a soothing and calm cloud of fog, the subtleness of the record immediate and extremely personal. Katherine Paul spins tales of young queer and indigenous romance that reverberates throughout the project like a subtle drum beat. There aren’t very many different lyrics on the record, but instead the repetition makes her points known; she hangs on to certain words in her songs like we hang onto certain people and thoughts in life. ATPWMBF is a labor of love, it is an aspirational story while also being grounded in reality—that’s a combo most people spend their entire life trying to perfect, and Paul does it here so expertly. Simply by its nature it’s one of the more emotionally affecting records I’ve heard this year, but Paul’s gifted touch elevates it towards greater glory and pushes it towards the upper echelon of creative works this year. [Mohammed Ashton Kader]

34. Billie Eilish – WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?

Genre: Electropop, Art Pop

Favorite Tracks: “You Should See Me In A Crown,” ”When the Party’s Over,” “Bury a Friend,” “ilomilo,” “I Love You”

2019’s pop scene was dominated by newcomers: Lewis Capaldi, Lizzo, Lil Nas X, Tonnes and I, DaBaby, and the first artist born in the 2000s to get a number one hit, Billie Eilish. Don’t let the misguided uses of “Bad Guy” in BLACKBURN and BOMBSHELL obfuscate WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP’s mastery of atmosphere, lowkey yet dynamic and incessantly catchy melodies, and lyrical poignancy and nuance. I’m still not sure what genre it belongs to; it has ragged, buzzy Soundcloud production and the magnetic poise and intensity of Lorde, minus the lack of polish of the former or the failed pretensions at alternative sounds that plague the latter’s successes. The initial singles, like the almost a capella “When The Party’s Over” and the visceral, haunting “Bury a Friend,” piqued my interest, but deep cuts like the gorgeous “I Love You” proved her songwriting capabilities and a potential for lasting quality. This is not a flash-in-the-pan, or a quick cash-in on a couple of hot singles: it’s a coalescence of the decade’s trends into an eccentric, singular, finely-crafted product that’s the best evidence for Poptimism in 2019. [Blake Michelle]

33. Jessica Pratt – QUIET SIGNS

Genre: Folk

Favorite Tracks: “As The World Turns,” “Here My Love,” “Poly Blue,” “Aeroplane”

Perhaps because of her adjacent association with the freak-folk movement, and perhaps because her vocals played over some light guitar strumming and the hiss of a dissolving tape conjures images of flower children and cultish acid trips, Jessica Pratt’s music has always had a kind of playfulness to it. But from the secluded, distant piano that opens QUIET SIGNS, you can feel the sobering air of morning, perhaps lingering from the night before, perhaps announcing the day ahead. QUIET SIGNS is airy, each song lively and filled with calm, musically Pratt’s tightest and most complex release yet, and yet also her most serious. That sobering air saps power through the quiet intensity of Pratt’s sweetly lingering quaver, a dark mysteriousness ruminating in the simplicity of songs like “As The World Turns” and “Here My Love” that’s hard to shake and easy to let wash over you. Pratt has only gotten better over time, and QUIET SIGNS is a devastating, comforting, and beautiful masterstroke. [CJ Simonson]

32. Caroline Polachek – PANG

Genre: Art Pop

Favorite Tracks: “New Normal,” “Look At Me Now,” “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings,” “Door”

In one of the more banner years for pop music in recent memory, and in a year with three different releases from the PC Music label after several years of relative dormancy, Caroline Polachek still manages to stand out from the crowd. Co-founder of the indie pop group Chairlift, Polachek represents the first of perhaps many indie and alt-rock songwriters to make the jump to the new wave of pop music, a bold artistic decision that has proven a wise one on her debut solo album. Made in close conjunction with stalwart PC Music producers Danny L Harle and A.G. Cook, PANG draws not only from the obvious touchstones of ‘80s synthpop and 2000s dance, but other genre points as well, like the touches of country twang found on songs like “New Normal” or the classic ‘90s singer/songwriter melodies on songs like “Look At Me Now.” Polachek’s vocal performances are incredibly impressive, as she demonstrates significant stylistic versatility along with effortless breath and tone control that put many modern day pop singers to shame; it may be difficult to believe at times, but there is not a single Auto-Tuned vocal to be found on this record. Take the futuristic production, classic songwriting touch, breathtaking vocals, and throw in a bona fide Song of The Year contender in the utterly infectious “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings,” and it’s easy to see that PANG has to be included in any conversation of the best pop music of 2019. [Jacob Martin]

31. Whitney – FOREVER TURNED AROUND

Genre: Indie Folk Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Before I Know It,” “My Life Alone,” “Friend of Mine,” “Forever Turned Around”

In the three years since their debut LP, LIGHT UPON THE LAKE, Chicago-based indie rock duo Whitney has come to know what they are, but more importantly, what they’re not. In this modern age, musicians have the ability to synthesize nearly every sound known to man, but that doesn’t mean they have to. On FOREVER TURNED AROUND, lead singer/drummer Julien Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kacacek don’t fabricate any instrument—when you hear strings, those are actual strings being played by real. live human beings. Their analog approach to the music game has paid dividends, building a homespun image that’s only further accented by their dedication to detail. FOREVER TURNED AROUND is wonderfully crafted and tasteful, a thoughtful follow-up that exists within the world of its predecessor without merely copying it. It evokes Laurel Canyon acts such as Crosby, Stills, and Nash or Glen Campbell while remaining entirely present. FOREVER TURNED AROUND’s message is simple, but it’s a timeless one you can come back to for many seasons to come. [Claire Epting]

30. DaBaby – KIRK

Genre: West Coast Hip Hop

Favorite Tracks: “BOP,” “VIBEZ,” “IPHONE (with Nicki Minaj)”

2019 was the year of DaBaby. After making a name for himself with BABY ON BABY and the smash hit “Suge,” he came back with a second full project to show he’s here to stay. KIRK, which is named after his recently deceased father, is both a victory lap and an acknowledgment of his unfounded success. He opens the album by confessing the insanity of the whole situation on “Intro,” which is a reworking of his XXL Freshman freestyle, and an emotionally gripping track. But on KIRK he quickly picks things up, shouting out his affinity for hopping right in at the start of the next track “Off The Rip,” adding “Straight off the rip, you know I don’t wait for the drop.” He then delivers the chart-topping and trend-starting “Bop” and from there KIRK never slows down. With assists coming in from Kevin Gates, Chance the Rapper, Gucci Mane, Nicki Minaj, and Migos, it’s an impressive show of star power from a newcomer. That is, until you realize DaBaby outshined and outsold them all this year. [Lucas Frangiosa]

2019 slowthai

29. Slowthai – NOTHING GREAT ABOUT BRITAIN

Genre: Post-Grime

Favorite Tracks: “Nothing Great About Britain,” “Doorman (featuring Mura Masa),” “Inglorious (featuring Skepta),” “Toaster,” “T N Biscuits,” “Ladies”

Societal turbulence historically leads to great political art. Marvin Gaye’s WHAT’S GOING ON, Dylan’s pre-1970s records, and Picasso’s early 1950s pieces all exemplify the positive impact disorder can have on inspired and altruistic creative works. If day-to-day life in the United States felt variable in 2019, I can’t even begin to imagine how much havoc Brexit turmoil wreaked on mental stability in the UK. 25-year-old post-grime maestro Slowthai made his mission addressing the widespread dysfunction on his full-length debut NOTHING GREAT ABOUT BRITAIN. The tape followed a number of hard-hitting and gritty EPs that took over the grime scene right as UK rap godfather Skepta started rapping about overseas flights instead of the horrors of living in a South London traphouse. NOTHING GREAT ABOUT BRITAIN bared its fangs more than any other hip hop release this year. Moments like those on the LONDON CALLING-esque punk-rap of “Doorman” and the reissued drug-dealing anthem “T N Biscuits” prove that Slowthai isn’t afraid to hold back even at risk of exploiting his big name features or jeopardizing his rookie status. All political commentary aside, Slowthai’s prowess lays in his live act. His sold out show at The Echo in Los Angeles saw the rapper strip to his personally-branded boxer briefs and get a crowd of hundreds of put-together models and historically standoffish East LA creatives jumping around in a rarely witnessed Echo Park mosh pit. NOTHING GREAT ABOUT BRITAIN pinpoints a fine line between stylish cool and high-octane archarchy that no other post-JPEGMAFIA artist has so accurately captured. While I couldn’t begin to tell you the outcome of Brexit, I can say confidently that with the foundation he laid in 2019, Slowthai will be the new face of grime in the 2020s. [Ted Davis]

2019 maggie

28. Maggie Rogers – HEARD IT IN A PAST LIFE

Genre: Singer-Songwriter

Favorite Tracks: “Fallingwater,” “Back In My Body,” “On + Off,” “Light On,” “Past Life”

I feel like every month of 2019 I was obsessed with a different song from Maggie Rogers’ debut LP, HEARD IT IN A PAST LIFE. So rare is it to find an album that completely transforms with every listen, and more broadly, transforms with the listener. A journey of self-discovery, an ode to every version of yourself, it’s hard to believe that Rogers isn’t channeling lives past—hers, mine, yours. It’s like Miss Maggie knew 2019 would be tumultuous and trying and she released this, the most stabilizing, harmonious record about finding yourself through significant life changes and coming out stronger and even more yourself. Listing notable tracks feels redundant as every track is a different, flawless encapsulation of longing, but imagine having both “Past Life” AND “Back In My Body” on one album. It’s almost too much introspection, sometimes it’s enough just to listen to one side at a time. HEARD IT IN A PAST LIFE is a deeply humbling, quiet scream of an album; it awakens something new in my soul every time I listen to it, and based on her newest single “Love You For A Long Time,” I am terrified of the amount of learning and growing I will be forced to do on her next record (ASAP please). [Aya Lehman]

2019 ariana

27. Ariana Grande – THANK U, NEXT

Genre: Pop

Favorite Tracks:  “NASA,” “7 rings,” “thank u, next,” “bloodline”

Pop music is supposed to be fun. Everyone knows it. It’s like the first thing you learn after how to wipe your own ass and tie your shoes. It’s so embedded in our understanding of what “pop” even is and how pop stars behave that hearing anything other than upbeat positivity or love songs can be difficult. Even songs about heartbreak are expected to remain vague following some particular formula for the genre. Though much of being a celebrity often means making yourself available to public consumption, the general public often behaves in ways that suggest that we have forgotten that pop stars are people too. (Yes they are people with insane amounts of privilege and shouldn’t be coddled, but that’s neither here nor there.) THANK U, NEXT is Ariana Grande’s fifth studio album released just six months after her fourth, SWEETENER, and in THANK U, NEXT Grande opts for authenticity, not shying away from her fans’ lingering questions. Everyone knows Ari has been going through it from the loss of her ex, beloved rapper Mac Miller addressed in “ghosting,” a broken engagement to P*t* D*vidson addressed in the song “in my head,” and the media constantly attempting to make her private life public referenced in “”fake smile.” SWEETENER, Ariana Grande’s first album since the Manchester Arena attack at one of her concerts, focused on healing, moving past traumatic events, and tried hard to solidify Grande’s earned place as a modern pop icon. THANK U, NEXT is the next step in the healing process as she continues to enjoy being herself. In the album she embraces the things she loves about pop music and being a popstar while letting go of some of her grief. “NASA,” “7 rings,” “thank u, next,” and “bloodline” are all songs that contain the exuberant energy of a person bouncing back. Through them and some of the slower and more intimate moments on the album, Ari tells us that grief is a process and that sometimes central to the healing process is having fun. [Amanda Ball]

2019 lingua

26. Lingua Ignota – CALIGULA

Genre: Experimental

Favorite Tracks: “butcher of the world,” “I Am the Beast”

I can’t remember the last time I heard an album with such vituperative, scary force. Aided by baroque, medieval-like compositions, Kristen Hayter launches a full-on polemic against misogyny and abuse. There’s intentionality to the use of these compositions, as they recall a time when there really was no basis of law men had to abide by, and on CALIGULA Hayter’s getting at the fact that not much has changed. Still, that doesn’t mean it can’t and that it won’t, not on her teams at least—she’ll conscript Satan if she has to. In “butcher of the world,” a clarion reclaiming of power, Hayter’s banshee scream of “I’m the fucking death dealer” splits you like the red sea. And then she’s joined by bounding percussion, spindly ratcheting and a flurry of rustling distortion. The combination of her prismatic voice, sometimes taking on this Gregorian garble, with New Age distortion and old or organic sounds, like the breaking of glass or a marble in a funnel, make for an incredibly enthralling, even startling listen. And as it should be. In an album full of them, the most devastating blow actually occurs in its quietest moment. On the closing track, “I Am the Beast,” Hayter, her voice at its most gossamer-like amidst a sonorous harp, professes, “All I want is boundless love / All I know is violence.” Equal parts gorgeous and gnarled, CALIGULA is anything but an easy swallow, but articles of such grave importance rarely are. [Nick Funess]

2019 orville peck

25. Orville Peck – PONY

Genre: Country

Favorite Tracks: “Hope to Die,” “Turn to Hate,” “Big Sky,” “Nothing Fades Like the Light”

From behind the mystery of his rotating masks and cowboy persona, Orville Peck has created an album that is equal parts pain and comfort. PONY is the voice of someone at odds with themselves and with the world, and how could it not be? Mainstream country music has long been hostile to queerness, and Peck is an openly queer man who released one of the most genuine country music records of the last 10 years. It’s not just in the instrumentation—haunting steel guitar, lively banjos, a playful whistle, all led by Peck’s graceful baritone—but in true country style, each song is as unsettling as it is comforting. (A feeling perhaps best illustrated by the bride who picked “Kansas Remembers Me Now” as her first dance, despite it being a murder ballad about the Clutter family murders, who also happened to be the subject of Truman Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD.) The lonesome opening track “Dead of Night” begins with a haunting guitar that is at odds with the peace of the first lines: “The sun goes down / another dreamless night / you’re right by my side.” Of course, as the best country songs do, the narrative ends in heartbreak. Yet despite the ache that runs through every track on PONY, it is not an album devoid of comfort. The penultimate and longest track, “Hope to Die,” begins with the whisper of Peck’s baritone over simple instrumentation, but grows stronger, each verse more desperate with the repeated wish to be taken back, until the last chorus hits with a key change that, quite frankly, proves that God exists, allowing a catharsis for all the sorrow and yearning that came before. It’s an album of hurt and pain that feels at once familiar and new. [A.E. Hodge]

House of Sugar cover

24. (Sandy) Alex G – HOUSE OF SUGAR

Genre: Indie Folk

Favorite Tracks: “Walk Away,” “Hope,” “Southern Sky,” “Gretel,” “Near,” “Project 2,” “In My Arms,” “SugarHouse – Live”

As a member of a couple of lo-fi indie rock projects, I am brave enough to admit that there are not a ton of genuinely original artists in the oversaturated genre. (Sandy) Alex G is the only musician in his niche who has birthed an entire subgenre of bands utilizing only an acoustic guitar, a crappy mic, and the limited features of Apple’s GarageBand. HOUSE OF SUGAR isn’t immediately drastically different from any of his previous albums; it’s lo-fi, reminiscent of Stephen Malkmus or Elliott Smith, and features nonsensical stories and characters making appearances throughout the album’s 37-minute runtime. However, after a few listens through and seeing the material live at Amoeba Records, HOUSE OF SUGAR’s distinctions from the rest of Sandy’s catalog clearly present themselves. The record shows Alex coming into his own as an adult singer-songwriter and further straying from wide eyed twee tropes that were so easily replicated they spawned their own Spotify playlist of (Sandy) Alex G impersonators. “Hope” tells the story of a Philadelphia friend’s overdose in the city’s opiate-riddled Kensington neighborhood. Though “Gretel” may have a fairytale allusion in its Brothers Grimm-referencing title, the “I don’t want to go back” refrain became a mantra instead of a hook for me after the first few listens through the summer 2019 anthem. Most of all, the album’s live closing track “SugarHouse” sees Alex breaking into timelessness territory, his baritone more reminiscent of Springsteen than Melaina Kol. HOUSE OF SUGAR remains consistent with his extensive back catalog, but also sees him showing his age and gracing his devotees with more bittersweet and personally applicable lyricism. As (Sandy) Alex G’s fans have grown out of their angst, he’s grown into one of my generation’s most captivating songwriters alongside them. [Ted Davis]

2019 sharon

23. Sharon Van Etten – REMIND ME TOMORROW

Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Hands,” “Comeback Kid”

Sharon Van Etten’s recent latent tryst with a synthesizer has found her still exploring new facets and nuances in her sound. In the past, Van Etten had cemented herself in a different echelon of melancholic tracks teeming with introspection, EPIC in particular still holding a special place in my heart. She’s turned over a new leaf in the form of her fifth studio album, REMIND ME TOMORROW, which, for lack of a better phrase, is Van Etten’s coming-of-age album, although not the coming-of-age one would ascribe to a pre-teen on the precipice of adulthood. REMIND ME TOMORROW finds Van Etten arriving at a new level of cognisance about herself and thus adulthood. She fondly recalls her adolescence (“I’m the runaway, I’m the stay out late / I’m recovering kid, at the top of our street / I was somewhat like him, I was somebody”) before focusing on the Sharon of now (“Baby, baby, baby / I’ve been waiting, waiting, waiting my whole life / For someone like you / It’s true that everyone would like to have met / A love so real”). She has found herself through acknowledging the old, furthermore loving the present while still remaining hopeful for the future, and moreover she encourages us all to embrace every new iteration of ourselves life has to offer: “I’m feeling the changes / I know it’s just like me to say, I wanna make sense of it all / We could handle anything when we were young.” REMIND ME TOMORROW is a clear testament that Sharon Van Etten, and her ingenuity, aren’t going anywhere but up. [Jesse Herb]

2019 bandana

22. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib – BANDANA

Genre: Gangsta Rap

Favorite Tracks: “Freestyle Shit,” “Crime Pays,” “Palmolive (featuring Pusha T and Killer Mike),” “Fake Names,” “Flat Tummy Tea,” “Situations,” “Cataracts”

The year’s most anticipated releases often fall a bit flat, but Freddie Gibbs and Madlib aren’t in the disappointment business. Their long-awaited follow up to PINATA is a dazzling display, the modern equivalent of Jordan and Pippen if Jordan was more braggadocious about narcotics and if Pippen had somehow figured out to pass with an iPad. Yes, as if this record wasn’t great enough on first listen, the revelation that Madlib made the instrumentals on a goddamn iPad takes BANDANA to an entirely different level. Gibbs is so comfortable with the beats it sounds like he’s lived with them his whole life; he’s furious and funny as fuck, on one bar he’s flexing, another he’s crestfallen. It surpasses the blurring of lines, it’s understanding that all these emotions can and do happen simultaneously. That reckoning is one that a lot of artists ought to face, because it is an element that digs to depths rarely mined, and these lists would be teeming with more tracks like “Crime Pays” and “Fake Names,” tracks that thread that precarious needle of fitting every listening environment. For a 15-track, highly anticipated follow-up, this exceeds even the loftiest of expectations and cements both Gibbs and Madlib as rap royalty. I shudder to think about what they’ll do on MONTANA. [Ryan Moloney]

2019 hiding places

21. billy woods and kenny segal – HIDING PLACES

Genre: East Coast Hip Hop, Abstract Hip Hop

Favorite Tracks: “Spongebob,” “Steak Knives,” “Checkpoints,” “Spider Hole,” “Houthi,” “Crawlspace (featuring Elucid),” “Bigfakelaugh”

“Conscious rap” is a loaded term. Some call Logic a conscious rapper. What billy woods does is far different. Having a finger on the pulse of politics and race is just the tip of the iceberg. Every verse is an intricate snapshot of our decrepit civilization, a long, hard stare into both the abyss and the mirror. What’s presented on HIDING PLACES may be too heavy a task to listen for some but is, in a way, altogether necessary. Fun pop culture references ease the pain of each gut punch while still working to convey this vivid picture of a society crumbling. In one breath he’ll mock white embedded documentarians in black neighborhoods, and in the next, he’ll fish in the cultural cesspool and quote GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. There’s even a particularly effective sample from an episode of HBO’s SUCCESSION capping off the insane track “Spider Hole.” woods’ wordplay is unparalleled. There are a plethora of clever double entendres and probably more secrets yet to be unlocked from the Pandora’s box that is woods’ brain. Producer Kenny Segal, in rightfully earning his co-authorship credit, has a retro approach to production on here that has every track ebb and flow from banging to haunting thus making every one of woods’ lines resonate even more. Like many on this list, woods has kept busy with HIDING PLACES being one of two comprehensive albums he’s released this year, but his and Segal’s efforts on here in particular should surely not be missed. [Alec Larios]

2019 four tet

20. Four Tet – LIVE AT ALEXANDRA PALACE, LONDON 8TH AND 9TH MAY 2019

Genre: Microhouse

Favorite Tracks: “Part 1,” “Part 2,” “Part 3,” “Part 4”

Kieran Hebden does not wear many hats. In fact, a somewhat thorough Google search to justify this idiom confirms he wears next to none. He does, however, go by many names: Four Tet, Percussions, 4TLR, and ⣎⡇ꉺლ༽இ•̛)ྀ◞ ༎ຶ ༽ৣৢ؞ৢ؞ؖ, ꉺლ, to name a few. And while that last one sounds like all the fears of Y2K come to life, the music he makes under those monikers is that of the most blissful dreams imaginable. 20,000 people were treated to that dream at the Alexandra Palace this May, and thankfully those recordings were made available to the seven-and-a-half billion of us that missed out on the concert of the year. ALEXANDRA PALACE is equal parts calm and chaotic, effortlessly spinning through his discography with a precision that’d have you thinking he played this set every night of the year. But this was uncharted waters for Hebden, playing, by far, the largest venue he’d ever sold out to a crowd of Londoners who’d likely seen him scores of times. And yet every single selection sounds fresh, many of them stretched like Silly Putty to triple the runtime of the studio versions and all but a couple are mashed up with another in the Tet discography. There are countless standouts, but the “Only Human / Lush / Kool FM” melting pot in “Part 3” is truly out of this world. Like, Stop Reading This Immediately and Listen To “Part 3” out of this world. Like, it made me laugh and cry the first time I heard it. I could write 2000 more words about it, or, well, I guess I already did. [Ryan Moloney]

2019 father

19. Vampire Weekend – FATHER OF THE BRIDE

Genre: Indie Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Flower Moon,” “Harmony Hall,” “2021,” “Hold You Now”

Listen…. I know how you feel about FATHER OF THE BRIDE. It’s too long, it’s all over the place tonally, it’s simplistic, a Grateful Dead rip, and three privileged white guys shrugging in the face of the apocalypse. But sometimes, especially in the year of our Lord 2019, six years after Vampire Weekend’s last album about death, I do kind of want to pretend like the world isn’t ending for an hour. MODERN VAMPIRES OF THE CITY is heady and exhaustingly brilliant; FATHER OF THE BRIDE is relaxed and unserious in its sincerity. It’s certain to disappoint those who appreciate Vampire Weekend for their quippy, hardcore referrential lyrics, but FATHER OF THE BRIDE finds quiet brilliance in phrases and feelings that are almost impossible to summarize. Why has it felt like Halloween since Christmas 2017? Why do I cry at the simplest turn of phrase, “This ain’t the end of nothing much, it’s just another round?” It’s an ending and a beginning. It’s so simple that it is everything. [Aya Lehman]

weyes blood

18. Weyes Blood – TITANIC RISING

Genre: Chamber Pop, Soft Rock

Favorite Tracks:  “Andromeda,” “Everyday,” “Movies,” “Picture Me Better”

As far as contemporary musicians go, soft rock maven Natalie Mering is no stranger to the game. Having started her career as a performer in high school over 15 years ago, Mering has traveled more corners of the musical world than many artists ever do, spending time in the realms of drone, space rock, and experimental noise before self-releasing her solo debut album as Weyes Blood in 2011. Eight years and three increasingly engaging records later, she’s found her greatest form yet on this year’s TITANIC RISING.  Firmly anchored in the realm of ‘70s soft rock pastiche, TITANIC RISING carries with it an undeniable characteristic edge, simultaneously communicating both a sense of overwhelming existential dread and defiant optimism in the face thereof. Jointly produced with the seemingly omnipresent Jonathan Rado, it is the work of a fully realized and self-assured songwriter as Mering effortlessly tackles topics ranging from young love to contemporary politics to the tragic suicide of a friend with grace and presence. Drawing comparisons to legendary acts like Joni Mitchell and The Carpenters, Mering fuses her elegant but confessional songwriting with lush and vibrant chamber arrangements and some select ambient elements of the space rock of her past to create one of the year’s most achingly beautiful and cinematic releases. Simply put, it’s an impressive feat of songcraft, and stands as one of the year’s best in any sound or style. [Jacob Martin]

17. Danny Brown – UKNOWHATIMSAYIN?

Genre: Art Rap

Favorite Tracks: “Dirty Laundry,” “3 Tearz (featuring Run the Jewels),” “Best Life,” “Negro Spiritual (featuring JPEGMAFIA),” “Shine (featuring Blood Orange)”

Danny Brown has always been about creating his own lane. Never content to adapt to keep up with current trends, the middle-aged rapper has always trusted that his unique blend of filthy party anthems and earnest art rap would find its devoted fanbase, and he of course has been proven correct time and time again. UKNOWWHATIMSAYIN? is such a delightful change after his gothic opus ATROCITY EXHIBITION, finding Brown digging back to his work from projects like HOT SOUP and BLACK & BROWN. Coyly funny and ruthlessly confident from beginning to end, Brown effortlessly reminds everyone why he’s earned his unique position in rap. Despite his elder statesman status, he didn’t shy away from working with so many of the best and brightest in hip hop these days—his collaborations with JPEGMAFIA and Blood Orange are easily some of the highlights from the record. While rewinding and remixing his past, Brown somehow managed to remind us that he’s going to stay a vital part of rap’s future, no small feat for any MC. [Carter Moon]

16. James Blake – ASSUME FORM

Genre: Electropop, R&B

Favorite Tracks: “I’ll Come To,” “Where’s the Catch? (featuring Andre 3000),” “Barefoot in the Park (featuring ROSALÍA),” “Tell Them (featuring Moses Sumney and Metro Boomin)”

James Blake’s music has always had a bit of a bitter taste to it. His 2016 album, THE COLOUR IN ANYTHING, was a dimly lit, chilling listen. But that was all back when he hadn’t found love. If you’ve heard a breakup album before, 2019’s ASSUME FORM is the exact opposite. On ASSUME FORM we witness a clear change in form for Blake, who accredits the sudden burst of color in his music, as well as individual aspects of the album itself, to his partner Jameela Jamil. Some of the haunting sounds remain, but there’s an overall warmth that accompanies the tracks here. An “in love” Blake seems to be singing as if he’s floating above himself looking in. He takes newfound risks, both musically, with 808-heavy tracks like the Travis Scott and Metro Boomin-assisted “Mile High,” and lyrically, allowing the listener to fully pull back the curtains, evacuating his emotions on a grand stage. In doing so, Blake manages to expand ROSALÍA’s reach to the world with the compelling “Barefoot In The Park” and clears a path for André 3000 to take the stage on “Where’s The Catch?” as he delivers a sprawling verse that mimics his BLONDE appearance. Still, Blake remains the confessional centerpiece on an album that is very much about him but applies to us all. [Lucas Frangiosa]

15. Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!

Genre: Neo-Soul

Favorite Tracks: “ZORA,” “SONIA (featuring Nitty Scott),” “MILES,” “BASQUIAT (featuring Saba),” “BETTY (for Boogie)”

What an achievement! While 2019 saw, and likely necessitated, several politically minded albums and artistic statements, few have the sheer listenability and glow of Jamila Woods’ LEGACY! LEGACY! An effortless and entirely triumphant victory lap of female empowerment, black empowerment, and, most importantly, black female empowerment, Woods is able to entirely control each and every sumptuous slice of production Oddcouple, Slot-A, and Peter Cottontale throw her way, sounding just as comfortable on the hypnagogic nu-jazz of “ZORA” as she does on the heady trip hop of “EARTHA” as she does on the claustrophobic complexity of “MILES” as she does on the revelatory groove of “BETTY (for Boogie).” Many are quick to point to Erykah Badu as a logical point of comparison, and Woods certainly does have the same panache for smokey, slightly oddball funkiness that shone bright on Badu’s best work, but there’s an equally present callback to the more radio-friendly pop leanings of ‘90s icons such as Aaliyah that place her in a fresh and exciting nexus of several avenues of appeal. LEGACY! LEGACY! manages to successfully pull-off a tightrope-walk of being both challenging and accessible, Woods never afraid to take an aesthetic or technical risk but never wandering too far off into the weeds; it’s the nearly mythical white whale of a release that could place any of its singles on the radio while still revealing more and more hidden nooks and crannies of appreciation with each listen. Entirely revolving around self-love, care, and respect (Nitty Scott’s verse on “SONIA” is one of the most uplifting musical moments of the year), even if that involves accepting and processing anger into something positive (“BASQUIAT”), there are few albums that made you feel as good as LEGACY! LEGACY! did in 2019. [Thomas Seraydarian]

2019 bon iver

14. Bon Iver – i, i

Genre: Folktronica

Favorite Tracks: “Naeem,” “RABi,” “Hey, Ma”

From the moment I first heard the two lead singles from i,i (“U [Man Like]” and “Hey Ma”),  it seemed clear Bon Iver was returning to the sounds of their first two albums that gained them a devout fanbase (and even a Grammy). The warm guitars and piano once almost synonymous with Bon Iver were back after taking a brief hiatus for the sample-heavy, digital 22, A MILLION. Though when i,i was released, the dissonance on the opening tracks swiftly erased those thoughts that had seemed so obvious to me only a few weeks prior. This fourth album from Justin Vernon and company is a culmination of all the best parts of Bon Iver. The minimalist arrangements feature Vernon’s voice at the forefront (“RABi” and “Faith”), the grand, heavy-hitting song that grows into something so epic it penetrates your soul (“Naeem” sends me), and of course, the bolder, avant-garde sounds that Vernon has been enthralled with since collaborating with Kanye on MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY (“Jelmore” and “iMi”). Despite the album’s title, i,i is Bon Iver’s most collaborative album to date—both in the hands that touched the album and in the influences of the album’s overarching sound. Fittingly, the autumnal component of Bon Iver’s seasonal quartet is the crispest of the bunch, offering solace at a time when it is needed most. [Becca Lengel]

2019 jpegmafia

13. JPEGMAFIA – ALL MY HEROES ARE CORNBALLS

Genre: Art Rap

Top tracks: “Grimy Waifu” “Kenan vs. Kel,” “BBW,” “All My Heroes Are Cornballs,” “Papi I Missed U”

In 2016, a nascent version of Merry-Go-Round Magazine scored an interview with JPEGMAFIA on the heels of the release of BLACK BEN CARSON, and that interview along with the several he’s done since has highlighted his desire to confront his audiences with their own biases, beliefs, and tastes. ALL MY HEROES ARE CORNBALLS takes that desire to another level by turning his vision on his own career. Three records deep, Peggy has a significant following and seems determined to interrogate himself as an artist along with his audience. His latest is a concentrated effort to confront his own budding legacy as an artist with a series of verses and beats that feel both spontaneous and deliberate and are infinitely dissectable by fans and critics alike. His beats are a musical reflection of that approach as well, and his IDM-reminiscent sound is a combination of familiar samples and references, a steady classic hip hop production, and just enough unpredictability to keep the listener out of keel—rather than taking the more flat-out aggressive approach of some of his contemporaries, CORNBALLS’ production opts to continually disorient. The lyrical content demands examination beyond surface level as well; CORNBALLS has several moments that recall a more deliberate and successful attempt at the lyrical approach of Kanye West’s THE LIFE OF PABLO, occasionally intentionally obscuring its ideas in what appears at first glance to be crassness and vulgarity (titling a song in which Peggy invites comparisons of himself to the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson “BBW”; calling a brief, lovely, and apparently sincerely appreciative cover of TLC’s “No Scrubs” “BasicBitchTearGas”). ALL MY HEROES ARE CORNBALLS has been referred to by the artist in question as an attempt to encompass “all sides” of himself, and it’s hard to argue that this vivid, complex, and relentlessly compelling self-portrait is anything but an overwhelming artistic success. [Adam Cash]

2019 denzel

12. Denzel Curry – ZUU

Genre: Trap Rap

Favorite Tracks: “Zuu,” “Ricky,” “Birdz (featuring Rick Ross)” “Wish (featuring Kiddo Marv)” “Automatic (featuring Tay Keith),” “Speedboat”

I historically base my album of the year choice on what is fun and not and what had the most profound cultural impact. I got into music because it makes me happier than anything else I’ve found in my life, and I’ll be damned if the mark of a good album isn’t as simple as whether or not it makes me smile. The main thing that comes to mind when I think of Denzel Curry’s latest release ZUU is driving fast at midnight with my friends in Silver Lake after doing a good job at work. ZUU is the album I put on in 2019 when I didn’t feel shitty about being a not-very-exceptional student turned unpaid intern. However, on ZUU, Curry also presents himself as both a sentimental and badass lyricist, telling tales of the Southern Florida rapper lifestyle without playing into the insensitive and opulent tendencies of his neighbors such as Kodak Black and XXXTENTACION. ZUU is Miami’s response to Jay Z’s cockiest material, a softhearted tape about hometown pride and the hardships of growing up. At its core, “Ricky” is a song about feeling cool with your high school friends at one of your first few concerts. On “Speedboat.” Curry brings it back to his shoreline hometown’s penchant for watersports, but also laments his less fortunate brethren and displays gratitude for his personal triumphs. The album’s best moment, however, comes on “Birdz,” which is a Florida spring break turnup anthem put overtop a trap beat that sounds like Dylan Brady produced a Death Grips spinoff. On top of ZUU, Curry also spent 2019 collaborating with some of the decade’s most prolific hip hop auteurs including Wiki and Slowthai, always walking the tightrope spanning nerdy fuckboy favorite and critically acclaimed rising star. While he may only have two records on streaming platforms, ZUU is proof that Denzel has the potential to be one of mainstream hip hop’s forerunners if he continues to make tracks that are both effortless to party to and approachably poignant. [Ted Davis]

Magdalene

11. FKA twigs – MAGDALENE

Genre: Alternative R&B

Favorite Tracks: “mirrored heart,” “home with you,” “mary magdalene”

After long last the New Testament has arrived. FKA twigs had made us live off the scraps of LP 1 and various EPs since 2015, and while the use of scraps is completely hyperbolic as all of FKA twigs work leading up to MAGDALENE is to only be celebrated, her second full-length album does the unthinkable. A breakup album without being saccharine, Sarah Dessen pivots away from a soaked sob story about RPatz to deliver the diametric opposite: a breakup album steeped in religious allegory and iconography. Whether it be through an emblem of self-love on “holy terrain” or the titular references to “mary magdalene,” twigs finds the love one may have for a deity in herself. Musically the album demands the necessity of introspection against the gorgeous juxtaposition of production on “home with you,” which cements itself as my favorite track, but those looking for the album’s thesis statement should stop at “mirrored heart.” “But I’m never gonna give up / Though I’m probably gonna think about you all the time / And for the lovers who found a mirrored heart / They just remind me I’m without you.” While twigs has stated that she might see people who have found their mirrored image that will remind her of loss, neither that pain nor the one from her ovarian cysts could stop her from following her dreams, and she communicates all that in one stanza. To commend and hark too much on any one aspect of MAGDALENE is beyond incorrect, but one particular notion that deserves special attention is that FKA twigs has said everything there is to know about her engagement by barely saying anything at all. Robert Pattinson was not strong enough to handle her fame and progression, or even be honest with her as she gave everything she could to her art, and despite racist Twihards and constant scrutiny from paparazzi, (re: “a thousand eyes”) she still managed to come out triumphant. God, do we love to see it. [Jesse Herb]

10. Mannequin Pussy – PATIENCE

Genre: Punk

Favorite Tracks: “Drunk II,” “High Horse,” “Who You Are,” “F.U.C.A.W.,” “In Love Again”

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where the only way to move forward was to pour boiling water onto your thigh? And you watched your skin bubble and peel until it started to bleed, splitting from thigh to calf to ankle and only when it reached your feet did you realize how painful it was, so you cleaned and bandaged it all careful and slow—the gauze was hot sand against the open burns—and you could barely walk, every step tearing the skin apart a little bit more, but despite all that you kept walking, straight ahead, because you finally learned what can only be learned by sitting in the center of a fire, and as you walked you asked yourself, why did I have to be torn apart to learn something so simple? If that’s never happened to you, you can have pretty much the same experience by listening to Mannequin Pussy’s album PATIENCE. What you learn in the fire is yours to find out. [A.E. Hodge]

9. Lana Del Rey – NORMAN FUCKING ROCKWELL!

Genre: Singer-Songwriter

Favorite Tracks: “Venice Bitch,” “Happiness is a butterfly,” “The greatest,” “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but i have it”

Very few artists have defined a generation in the way Lana Del Rey has. Starting out as an Internet punching bag at the beginning of the decade, she has since blossomed into one of the most singular, poignant voices in pop music today. On NORMAN FUCKING ROCKWELL!, Lana Del Rey has the last laugh. Co-written with indie it-man Jack Antonoff, Lana Del Rey’s latest offering has her turning her self-possessed mirror outwards. It’s an iPhone snapshot of culture in 2019: not much good, a fair amount of bad, and a whole lot of ugly. Musically, it’s a warm ode to ‘70s folk rock, but it’s her razor-sharp lyrics (which have never been more refined) that cut through the deepest. Many of the titles drop their capitalization after the first word, like a forgotten entry in the Notes app on a Macbook. On standout track “The greatest,” she sighs, “The culture is lit and I’ve had a ball / I guess I’m signing off after all.” It’s gloriously apocalyptic, sung with a devil-may-care cadence that captures the feeling of becoming numb to the assaulting, ever-present cloud of news and Twitter updates. The album closes with the stunning “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but i have it,” a direct, stripped-down piano ballad that seals off the essential time-capsule that is NORMAN FUCKIING ROCKWELL! [Claire Epting]

8. Purple Mountains – S/T

Genre: Folk, Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: “All My Happiness Is Gone,” “Darkness and Cold,” “Nights That Won’t Happen”

It’s worth reiterating: Even before David Berman passed, Purple Mountains’ self-titled debut sounded like a stone-cold classic. From the moment he unleashed the first single “All My Happiness Is Gone,” I was immediately overwhelmed by how much Berman’s wisdom had been missing from the world. And while PURPLE MOUNTAINS felt eerily like BLACKSTAR or A CROW LOOKED AT ME after Berman took his life following its release, one of those special, rare looks at true vulnerability in the face of tragedy, his struggles with depression still felt admirable and urgent and fresh when it was initially released. The Silver Jews in low points ping-ponged between lacking the musical brilliance to match Berman’s stellar songwriting and lacking Berman’s full, uninterrupted attention, but as Purple Mountains, a collective of stellar musicians (including members of Woods and Anna St. Louis) offered some of the most memorable music not just of the year, but of the decade. Berman had more than enough focused wit and witticisms to carry an album, thoughts he’d been contemplating in private for years and years. The album turned out perfect in a way so few things are, perfect both as a sagacious final version of Berman and as a collection of songs to viscerally help us remember how hard the struggle with depression really can be. “The dead know what they’re doing when they leave this world behind / When the here and the hereafter momentarily align,” Berman states on the album’s darkest track, “Nights That Won’t Happen,” and even if it makes me sad to consider that anecdote, I’m glad that for probably the first time in his life the peaceful symmetry of the here and hereafter aligning revealed itself to him. RIP to David Berman and long live Purple Mountains and Silver Jews. [CJ Simonson]

Schlagenheim

7. black midi – SCHLAGENHEIM

Genre: Noise Rock, Post-Punk

Favorite tracks: “Bmbmbm,” “953,” “Ducter,” “Reggae”

If you want to know who your next King Gizzard-esque indie prog band to get a fanatical global following will be, you need look no further than black midi. The British band has the oft-mythologized story of a group of young music dorks who got together to jam and collectively lift each other to the grooviest of heights down pat, and their rapid ascent into acclaim has been aided by live shows that are, according to multiple Merry-Go-Round contributors as well as many others, some of the best rock shows in the business at the moment. SCHLAGENHEIM has been a lightly polarizing property among critics who (fairly) assess that black midi is a young group of musicians who don’t seem to have a completely developed identity, particularly lyrically, and that the songs they write can be a bit clumsy. But, if you ask me, they’re overlooking the simple fact that this record just rips from top to bottom. Yeah, their songs aren’t as polished as they could be. There’s not much going on lyrically yet. But when four musical prodigies, likely no older than their very early 20s, get together to produce the kind of face-melting that we see on SCHLAGENHEIM, I’m personally pretty okay with just shutting the fuck up and letting them do their damn thing. If all goes well, this band is going to fill the Future of the Left-sized hole in our hearts by producing genre-phobic, weird, and off-kilter hard rock for years and years to come (plus, they’re leading the baritone guitar revolution, and that rules). SCHLAGENHEIM is riotously fun in the same way that watching a young LeBron James play basketball was fun—sure, they could use some polish and some maturing, but it’s an absolute joy not just to experience what black midi already brings to the table, but the fact that there might be even more where this is coming from. [Adam Cash]

6. Solange – WHEN I GET HOME

Genre: R&B, Neo-Soul

Favorite Tracks: “Down With the Clique,” “Stay Flo,” “Almeda,” “My Skin My Logo,” “Jerrod,” “Binz,” “Exit Scott (interlude),” “Sound of Rain”

How do we remember? In candy-painted cars. In day drinking. In love. In fear. In Florida water. This is the way Solange dreams on WHEN I GET HOME, a love story about her hometown of Houston, TX in the nebulous shapes and fragments that memory can only hold onto with phantom limbs. Solange takes the people and places of Houston and atomizes them into their conceptual pith, the way they live inside her mind. A literal narration would only serve to miscommunicate here—instead, she meditates in steady loops, every repetition another attempt to manifest her sense-memory differently, an attempt to paint the pictures of mind in their fullness. More than anything, each iteration hums with affection and nostalgia. Punctuated with ruminant interludes and thoughtful guest spots, their collective intimacy watercolor Solange’s reflections on home as only she can remember it. Time eludes, but WHEN I GET HOME captures the amorphous souvenirs that live inside us long after we’ve left. [Sienna Kresge]

5. Big Thief – U.F.O.F.

Genre: Folk

Favorite Tracks: “Cattails,” UFOF,” “Terminal Paradise,” “Jenni”

I was late to the Big Thief parade. I had been hearing the name tossed around by friends for a while, but I just never made the effort to sit down and listen to them. Then I saw a post on Instagram from our fearless music editor CJ Simonson that said something along the lines of “Big Thief’s ‘Not’ is the best song of the year and I will fucking fight you if you say otherwise” [Editor’s Note: This is true]. CJ is really tall [Second Editor’s Note: This is also true], so I had no interest in fighting him, so I put the track on, and it was pretty damn good. So I went to see if this band had anything else worthwhile that could hold me over until they dropped their next album, and wouldn’t you know it, they had already released a phenomenal album this year. U.F.O.F. presents Adrianne Lenker as one of the most gifted songwriters of the decade, an emotional conduit who can deliver the heaviest emotions with the lightest whispers. The title track is heartbreaking even if I am still not completely sure what it is about, and “Jenni” might be one of the most haunting tracks released this year. It is obviously a truly remarkable feat for a band to release two albums so close together and not have any of the tracks feel like unnecessary filler. [Jake Mazon]

4. Carly Rae Jepsen – DEDICATED

Genre: Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Julien,” “No Drug Like Me”

True romanticism is fucking cool. By romanticism I mean the awareness and responsiveness to romantic sensibilities, such as escapism and the tension usually involved with feeling a pull towards loving something or someone. Carly Rae Jepsen is like the patron saint of love. She’s like Cupid 2.0 where Cupid just shoots the arrow inciting new desire that Jepsen then walks, or sings, rather, you through the whole journey. From the beginning of a crush, the desire to get to know them and to get intimate both mentally and physically (“No Drug Like Me,” “Want You In My Room”), to all of a relationship’s firsts (“Automatically In Love”), to when things get complicated (“Too Much,” “The Sound”), to the relationship’s end (“Right Words Wrong Time”), to all the afters when you’re trying to move on (“Julien”)… The woman really gets it. Sometimes love is paying attention to the details and blowing them up, and Jepsen seems to be aware of this throughout DEDICATED, taking small and oftentimes intimate moments and memories and expanding them into huge-sounding pop songs that don’t shy away from the grandness of the feeling of being swept away in love. [Amanda Ball]

Two Hands cover

3. Big Thief – TWO HANDS

Genre: Folk

Favorite Tracks: “Rock and Sing,” “Forgotten Eyes,” “Shoulders” “Not”

This year was the year of Big Thief. While U.F.O.F. was every bit a summer album—light, breezy, and vibrant—TWO HANDS was a fall and winter album. With deep tones of maroon and winter-morning gray, TWO HANDS has an undercurrent of anger that counters U.F.O.F.’s jewel greens and golden hour rays. The drive and passion seeping out of every gravelly chord and lyric in “Not” exudes a pent-up, claustrophobic yet expansive yearning. The build-up into lead singer Adrianne Lenker’s vocal crack is exhilarating and entrancing; I had “Not” on repeat for a week after it was released, and there’s something so addictive about the storming and broiling guitar solo. The opening track, “Rock and Sing,” is a lullaby, vulnerable and exposed, but with a reassuring warmth like a blanket on a cold night, and “Wolf” is a coating of snow in the forest, delicate and light. The album ends in bittersweet contempt with “Cut My Hair,” melancholia and caged violence banging to escape, to be released like steam. With all the wintery darkness of TWO HANDS, there is always a guarded optimism that shines through; even in the dire corners of each song there is hope. Not many bands in 2019 can say they release two spectacular albums in one year, hell, not many bands in this century can cop to that. Churning out prolific work within the confines of a year is reminiscent of the heyday of classic rock, but feels like a rarity in the internet era, where our attention snaps from one new thing to the next faster than it takes to install an update on your phone. On top of this, to have two such distinctive albums—as different as summer and winter—rather than replicating the same materials is a feat. I can’t wait to see where Big Thief take their talent in the upcoming years, bring on Spring Big Thief. [Tapley Eaton]

2. Angel Olsen – ALL MIRRORS

Genre: Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Lark,” “Spring,” “What It Is”

Angel Olsen’s grandeur hits a crescendo on ALL MIRRORS, a cinematic masterpiece filled with hazy synth tones and a sultry string section. Originally recorded as an acoustic solo album in secluded Anacortes, WA, the album’s addition of a 14-piece string arrangement propels it into a show-stopping collection of music. Her fourth full-length studio album, this is the first time where the accompanying music is as strange as Olsen’s distinct vocals. Olsen has always sung with an old Hollywood glam, and on ALL MIRRORS, those vocals remain dramatic and compelling. She delivers her words with ease even as the lustrous strings swell over her. The harrowing orchestral arrangements from Jherek Bischoff and Ben Babbit seamlessly intertwine with Olsen’s hypnotic voice, enhancing her lyricism and, at times, pushing and bending her words to new meanings. Her subject matter grows a bit darker with every release, and ALL MIRRORS finds Olsen singing of heartache as well as self-actualization—“Took a while, but I made it through,” she sings on “Summer.” Many of the album’s lyrics were written during a conflicting time in Olsen’s life; her career was taking off, but her relationship was decaying. On ALL MIRRORS, Olsen realizes she may be better off alone.

Olsen had planned to release the acoustic Anacortes recordings along with the final orchestral version of the album. Upon hearing the final cut, however, she knew this version of ALL MIRRORS was too powerful, too demanding not to stand on its own. Rumor has it she may release the acoustic version sometime in 2020. And while I can’t imagine those recordings could add an integral perspective to ALL MIRRORS, more Angel Olsen on our stereos is always a good thing. [Becca Lengel]

1. 100 gecs – 1000 GECS

Genre: Post-Internet

Favorite Tracks: “money machine,” “stupid horse,” “ringtone”

It seems every few years, notably starting around the time of Radiohead’s OK COMPUTER, we get an album that perfectly encapsulates the next step in the digital age. But after the advent of Death Grips in 2011, who could better channel the rapidly fluxing, increasingly weirder aspects of the modern web? Who could outdate them? Who knows what the kids are listening to these days? Well boys and girls, the answer lies in 1000 GECS, the digital age’s most curious and on-brand product yet.

Laura Les and Dylan Brady have managed to distill the entirety of the memetic and aesthetic trends in the music-media complex that is Tik Tok, Facebook, Instagram, SoundCloud and YouTube into one singular entity, 1000 GECS. It contains some of the inscrutability that forebearers Death Grips prided themselves on, but it’s more concerned with over-accessibility; like an algorithm to suit every tween and teen, the result is a Cronenbergian Frankenstein’s Monster of some of the most abrasive, catchy, ADD-laden, and bizarre music. If I were to give it a name, it’s something like Kitschwave. Like the museum of selfies floured with crushed adderall and then deep-fried in battery acid and bubble gum.

But once you get over the initial gush of outre sonics, you realize this is essentially a straightforward pop album, and a damn fine one at that. Their talent for melody is undeniable; from “Money Machine” to “Stupid Horse” to “Ringtone,” earworm hooks are bountiful. And while the term “kitsch” implies a pre-digestibility, ready for disposal—something that’s been inherently associated with pop, especially the bubblegum kind, since it’s conception—100 gecs’ songcraft is impeccable, puzzling, and captivating, pushing and pulling, all with chiptuned vocals, mind you. That paradox is their greatest feat, making 1000 GECS a ceaselessly rewarding listen. [Nick Funess]

MERRY-GO-ROUNDTABLE Episode 48: PARASITE Roundtable

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1 Comment

  1. Great list, thank you! 100 gecs is a hilarious and fun album.

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