2019 – The Year in Review – Top Albums & Songs

Yes, I managed to listen to over 120 albums in 2019. Streaming music subscription services can be a wonderful thing (for consumers, at least). Believe it or not, I still actually purchase music in physical formats, as well.  At any rate, distilling those 120+ albums down to a serviceable “list” of favorites was no mean feat. Behold, my Top Albums of 2019:

15 Peter Caws

15. Peter Caws & Parkington Sisters – The Book of Hylas

Sometimes, through weariness or discouragement, no new thing arises.
Sometimes, through pressure and anxiety, many old things overwhelm.
Learn to wait, for the stirring or for the subsiding.
Learn to wait, for the turmoil to be still, for the stillness to speak.
Let memory recall times of taking refuge, times of setting forth anew.
Bring to mind times of comfort or times of purpose.
You have passed this way before.
You have left markers along the way – look for them.

Peter Caws is University Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at The George Washington University. Fun fact: he is the father of Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws. The Book of Hylas is a set of meditations on life and how to live it, recited by the elder Caws, and set to music by Boston-based Parkington Sisters. Clocking in at 13 minutes, this is surely the shortest “album” I have ever short-listed for a Year In Review.

14 Vampire Weekend

14. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride

Baby, I know pain is as natural as the rain
I just thought it didn’t rain in California

After a lengthy six year gap, Vampire Weekend returned with their long-awaited fourth LP, Father of the Bride. P4K says it showcases them embracing a full-on jam band vibe. I can’t disagree. Plenty of hooks and ear-worms are here to be pulled out of context, but the album works quite well as a whole. At once cheerful and lamentable.

13 The Get Up Kids

13. The Get Up Kids – Problems

It’s not about hopeless
Not a song of despair
Just about choices and making them fair

Their first album in 8 years, and second since “breaking up” in 2005 and then reforming in 2008, Problems finds The Get Up Kids right back at the height of their considerable powers. They haven’t lost the energy and creativity, although they may have lost one member. Another album that benefits from being experienced whole.

12 Sharon Van Etten

12. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow

Turning the wheel on my street
My heart still skips a beat

Sharon Van Etten has long been a hardworking supporting act and a talented and proficient solo artist. With Remind Me Tomorrow, she embraces a much broader palette than she employed in the past with her singer-songwriter chops. Production values are up, nostalgia and retro-electronic flourishes feature heavily, and her songwriting is ornamented and adorned in ways both unexpected and refreshing.

11 Bon Iver

11. Bon Iver – i,i

When we were children we were hell bent
Or oblivious at least
But now it comes to mind, we are terrified
So we run and hide for a verified little peace

Bon Iver has always been a superbly singular artist and his falsetto-whisper-croon lilt delivery a vehicle for inscrutable pathos and lonesome heartache. Justin Vernon has worked with some of the industry’s biggest names and yet has managed to carve a channel all his own. i,i in many ways feels like the natural continuation of his sonic odyssey, thus far. Lush and idiosyncratic, this is another album that benefits from whole immersion.

10 Angel Olsen

10. Angel Olsen – All Mirrors

You know best, don’t you, now?
Don’t you, now? Don’t you, now?

Angel Olsen’s sweeping epic All Mirrors has aplomb and grandeur aplenty. Widescreen cinema balladry. Olsen delivers the goods.

9 Efterklang

9. Efterklang – Altid Sammen

My soul in that case, at times
Min sjæl i det bIå, til tider

We are in love now, we are in love
Vi er forelsket nu,  vi er forelsket

Always us, together to share us
Altid os, sammen om at dele os

We are infinite
Vi er uendelig

The Danish outfit’s fifth proper album, the first in seven years, is an ornate and densely-layered work. Altid Sammen (meaning “always together”) is replete with orchestral arrangements and exiguous sonic experimentation. The album is sonorous and rewards total immersion. The vocals are entirely in Danish. I have no idea what they’re singing about.

8 Nick Cave

8. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Ghosteen

And if we rise my love
Before the daylight comes
A thousand galleon ships will sail
Ghostly around the morning sun

Without a doubt the most emotionally gut-wrenching release of the year. A 2xLP exegesis on grief and mortality. Nick Cave’s most personal work, ever. Simply devastating.

7 Bibio

7. Bibio – Ribbons

Pretty ribbons
And lovely flowers

Stephen Wilkinson is back with his signature blend of acoustic instrumentation and digital warble, creating arrangements in much the same fashion I imagine a skilled florist does. Exceedingly chill and carefree, Ribbons is an album that practically begs to be the soundtrack to your next nature hike.

6 Mountain Goats

6. The Mountain Goats – In League with Dragons

I’m gonna burn it all down today
And sweep all the ashes away

The Mountain Goats play D&D. That’s it. That’s the review.

5 Townes Van Zandt

5. Townes Van Zandt – Sky Blue

Oh but when good times
Come fallin’ over me
Breath turns to melody
All I need’s gonna fall
Away like dreams

A collection of new material, old material, and a few covers originally recorded with Bill Hedgepeth in 1973, Sky Blue is a welcome addition to the prolific troubadour’s back catalogue. An artist I first came to hear and revere by way of T Bone Burnett and the Coen Brothers, Townes Van Zandt remains a legend of American Country Western music. His writing is poetry that exists on another plane of existence, and yet remains as weary and grizzled as the most down-to-earth Texas troubadour, busking his way across the American Southwest.

4 Big Thief UFOF

4. Big Thief – U.F.O.F.

And you don’t need to know why when you cry
You don’t need to know why
You don’t need to know why when you cry

The first of two albums they would release in 2019, U.F.O.F. finds Adrienne Lenker not letting off the gas, ever traveling forward. This album was recorded in a large, cabin-like room. This is a band to watch over… watch over and marvel.

3 Bombadil

3. Bombadil – Beautiful Country

Suzy don’t forget
Forget to move on

Bombadil have previously featured on my Year in Review lists on more than a few occasions. This year they dropped a brand spanking new album without too much fanfare. It’s exquisite. By degrees, the band is leaving the boondocks behind.

2 Big Thief Two Hands

2. Big Thief – Two Hands

It’s not the room
Not beginning
Not the crowd
Not winning
Not the planet
That’s spinning

Well, darn. Big Thief released two magnum opus records in 2019. I will not be sorry for including both of them on my list, here. Jesus Christ how do they do it?

1 Jeffrey Lewis

1. Jeffrey Lewis & The Voltage – Bad Wiring

Were you going somewhere sooner or later
Or just pushing all the buttons on the elevator
You gotta’ have free will to live your pre-planned life
You gotta’ pay the bill or you get unsubscribed

Admittedly, I had no idea that this was going to be my favorite record of the year. But it is. And I have absolutely no reservations about saying so. Jeffrey Lewis has long been a musician I follow. He’s… what do you want to call it, “Anti-Folk” or some such? His songwriting is biting and incisive, the auditory equivalent of an erudite Reddit thread piercing your brain. He’s done entire albums covering obscure punk rock bands, also entire records covering Jewish counterculture poets, and don’t forget the songs about LSD and sexual legends of the Chelsea Hotel. He’s very much borne of a New York City mythology spanning decades including the years when I am not yet alive. The existential pathos of his work cannot be replicated. This album is like a Rick & Morty episode that flies above the heads of the show’s misogynistic fanbase and yet they still applaud. Brutal, crushing, existential self-awareness seems to be a hallmark of Lewis’ work.

Well I guess we’re not supposed to be wise
If everything that learns also dies

Honorable Mentions: Andrew Bird, Kevin Morby, Bruce Springsteen, Angelo de Augustine, Jessica Pratt, Weyes Blood, Jade Bird, HEALTH, FKA Twigs, Whitney, Holly Herndon, American Football, Lana Del Rey, Why?, Over the Rhine, Pedro the Lion, Helado Negro, Clairo, Josh Ritter, Purple Mountains, Vagabon, Ssion, Chromatics, and Beirut.

Apple Music Playlists:

Top of 2019 – Albums

Top of 2019 – Top Songs

Complete List of 2019 Albums:

  1. !!! – Wallop
  2. A.A. Bondy – Enderness
  3. American Football: American Football (LP3)
  4. Andrew Bird –  My Finest Work Yet
  5. Andy Stott – It Should Be Us
  6. Anemone – Beat My Distance
  7. Angel Olsen – All Mirrors
  8. Angelo de Augustine – Tomb
  9. Apparat – LP5
  10. Bat for Lashes – Lost Girls
  11. Battles – Juice B Crypts
  12. Beirut – Gallipoli
  13. Beth Gibbons, The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra & Krzysztof Penderecki – Henryk Górecki: Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs)
  14. Bibio – Ribbons
  15. Big Thief – Two Hands
  16. Big Thief – U.F.O.F.
  17. Bill Evans – Smile With Your Heart: The Best of Bill Evans on Resonance Records
  18. Bombadil – Beautiful Country
  19. Bon Iver – i,i
  20. Bonobo – fabric presents Bonobo
  21. Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
  22. Cate Le Bon – Reward

  23. CHAI – PUNK
  24. Cherry Glazerr – Stuffed & Ready
  25. Chromatics – Closer to Grey
  26. Ciara – Beauty Marks
  27. The Cinematic Orchestra – To Believe
  28. Clairo – Immunity
  29. Com Truise – Persuasion System
  30. Danger – Origins
  31. Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?
  32. Drugdealer – Raw Honey
  33. Ernest Hood – Neighborhoods (Reissue)
  34. Efterklang – Altid Sammen
  35. Ex:Re – Ex:Re
  36. Faye Webster – Atlanta Millionaire’s Club
  37. Fennesz – Agora
  38. Fever Ray – Live at Troxy
  39. FKA Twigs – MAGDALENE
  40. Floating Points – Crush
  41. Floating Points – Late Night Tales: Floating Points
  42. Flying Lotus – Flamagra
  43. George Winston – Restless Wind
  44. The Get Up Kids – Problems
  45. Glok – Dissident
  46. Guided by Voices – Zeppelin over China
  47. Guided by Voices – Warp and Woof
  48. Hand Habits – placeholder
  49. Hauschka – A Different Forest
  50. HEALTH – VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR
  51. Helado Negro – This is How You Smile
  52. Holly Herndon – PROTO
  53. Hoshina Anniversary – Nihon No Ongaku / 日本の音楽」
  54. Insanlar – Demedim Mi
  55. Jacques Greene – Dawn Chorus
  56. Jade Bird – Jade Bird
  57. Jeffrey Lewis & The Voltage – Bad Wiring
  58. Jessica Pratt – Quiet Signs
  59. John Vanderslice – The Cedars
  60. Josh Garrels – Chrysaline
  61. Josh Ritter – Fever Breaks
  62. Joy Orbison – Slipping – EP
  63. Kacy & Clayton – Carrying On
  64. Kanye West – Jesus is King
  65. Karen O & Danger Mouse – Lux Prima
  66. Kelly Moran – Origin EP
  67. Kevin Morby – Oh My God
  68. Kim Gordon – No Home Record
  69. Lali Puna – Being Water EP
  70. Lana del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell
  71. Lightbath – Selected Public Works, Vol. 3
  72. Lily & Madeleine – Canterbury Girls
  73. Mira Calix – Utopia EP
  74. Mount Eerie – Lost Wisdom, Pt. 2 (feat. Julie Doiron)
  75. The Mountain Goats – In League with Dragons
  76. Mort Garson – Mother Earth’s Plantasia (Reissue)
  77. The National – I Am Easy to Find
  78. The New Pornographers – In the Morse Code of Brake Lights
  79. Nick Cave & the Bad Seesds – Ghosteen
  80. Nils Frahm – All Encores
  81. Nilüfer Yanya – Miss Universe
  82. Nivhek – After its own death /  Walking in a spiral towards the house
  83. North Mississippi Allstars – Up and Rolling
  84. Oso Oso – Basking in the Glow

  85. Over the Rhine – Love & Revelation
  86. Panda Bear – Buoys
  87. Pedro the Lion – Phoenix
  88. Peter Caws – The Book of Hylas (featuring Parkington Sisters)
  89. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains
  90. Robert Ellis – Texas Piano Man
  91. (Sandy) Alex G – House of Sugar
  92. SASAMI – SASAMI
  93. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow
  94. ShitKid – [Detention]
  95. Sigur Rós – 22° Lunar Halo
  96. Sigur Rós – Variations on Darkness
  97. Solange – When I Get Home
  98. Ssion – o
  99. Stella Donnelly – Beware the Dogs
  100. Steve Hauschildt – Nonlin
  101. Switchfoot – Native Tongue
  102. Tamaryn – Dreaming in the Dark
  103. Tegan and Sara – Hey, I’m Just Like You
  104. Temples – Hot Motion
  105. Tim Heidecker – Another Year in Hell EP
  106. Tim Hecker – Anoyo
  107. Timo Andres & Sufjan Stevens – The Decalogue
  108. Titus Andronicus – An Obelisk
  109. Toro y Moi – Outer Peace
  110. Townes Van Zandt – Sky Blue
  111. Tycho – Weather
  112. Vagabon – Vagabon
  113. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
  114. Vangelis – Nocturne
  115. Various Artists – For the Throne (Music Inspired by Game of Thrones)
  116. Various Artists – Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990
  117. Weezer – Weezer (Black Album)
  118. Weezer – Weezer (Teal Album)
  119. Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
  120. Whitney – Forever Turned Around
  121. Why? – AOKOHIO
  122. Yeasayer – Erotic Reruns
  123. Ziúr – Atø

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s