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 & 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 forelsketAlways 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 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 – 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. 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 – 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 – 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 – Beautiful Country
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
It’s not the room
Not the crowd
Not the planet
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 & 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:
Complete List of 2019 Albums:
- !!! – Wallop
- A.A. Bondy – Enderness
- American Football: American Football (LP3)
- Andrew Bird – My Finest Work Yet
- Andy Stott – It Should Be Us
- Anemone – Beat My Distance
- Angel Olsen – All Mirrors
- Angelo de Augustine – Tomb
- Apparat – LP5
- Bat for Lashes – Lost Girls
- Battles – Juice B Crypts
- Beirut – Gallipoli
- Beth Gibbons, The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra & Krzysztof Penderecki – Henryk Górecki: Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs)
- Bibio – Ribbons
- Big Thief – Two Hands
- Big Thief – U.F.O.F.
- Bill Evans – Smile With Your Heart: The Best of Bill Evans on Resonance Records
- Bombadil – Beautiful Country
- Bon Iver – i,i
- Bonobo – fabric presents Bonobo
- Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
Cate Le Bon – Reward
- CHAI – PUNK
- Cherry Glazerr – Stuffed & Ready
- Chromatics – Closer to Grey
- Ciara – Beauty Marks
- The Cinematic Orchestra – To Believe
- Clairo – Immunity
- Com Truise – Persuasion System
- Danger – Origins
- Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?
- Drugdealer – Raw Honey
- Ernest Hood – Neighborhoods (Reissue)
- Efterklang – Altid Sammen
- Ex:Re – Ex:Re
- Faye Webster – Atlanta Millionaire’s Club
- Fennesz – Agora
- Fever Ray – Live at Troxy
- FKA Twigs – MAGDALENE
- Floating Points – Crush
- Floating Points – Late Night Tales: Floating Points
- Flying Lotus – Flamagra
- George Winston – Restless Wind
- The Get Up Kids – Problems
- Glok – Dissident
- Guided by Voices – Zeppelin over China
- Guided by Voices – Warp and Woof
- Hand Habits – placeholder
- Hauschka – A Different Forest
- HEALTH – VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR
- Helado Negro – This is How You Smile
- Holly Herndon – PROTO
- Hoshina Anniversary – Nihon No Ongaku / 日本の音楽」
- Insanlar – Demedim Mi
- Jacques Greene – Dawn Chorus
- Jade Bird – Jade Bird
- Jeffrey Lewis & The Voltage – Bad Wiring
- Jessica Pratt – Quiet Signs
- John Vanderslice – The Cedars
- Josh Garrels – Chrysaline
- Josh Ritter – Fever Breaks
- Joy Orbison – Slipping – EP
- Kacy & Clayton – Carrying On
- Kanye West – Jesus is King
- Karen O & Danger Mouse – Lux Prima
- Kelly Moran – Origin EP
- Kevin Morby – Oh My God
- Kim Gordon – No Home Record
- Lali Puna – Being Water EP
- Lana del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell
- Lightbath – Selected Public Works, Vol. 3
- Lily & Madeleine – Canterbury Girls
- Mira Calix – Utopia EP
- Mount Eerie – Lost Wisdom, Pt. 2 (feat. Julie Doiron)
- The Mountain Goats – In League with Dragons
- Mort Garson – Mother Earth’s Plantasia (Reissue)
- The National – I Am Easy to Find
- The New Pornographers – In the Morse Code of Brake Lights
- Nick Cave & the Bad Seesds – Ghosteen
- Nils Frahm – All Encores
- Nilüfer Yanya – Miss Universe
- Nivhek – After its own death / Walking in a spiral towards the house
- North Mississippi Allstars – Up and Rolling
Oso Oso – Basking in the Glow
- Over the Rhine – Love & Revelation
- Panda Bear – Buoys
- Pedro the Lion – Phoenix
- Peter Caws – The Book of Hylas (featuring Parkington Sisters)
- Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains
- Robert Ellis – Texas Piano Man
- (Sandy) Alex G – House of Sugar
- SASAMI – SASAMI
- Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow
- ShitKid – [Detention]
- Sigur Rós – 22° Lunar Halo
- Sigur Rós – Variations on Darkness
- Solange – When I Get Home
- Ssion – o
- Stella Donnelly – Beware the Dogs
- Steve Hauschildt – Nonlin
- Switchfoot – Native Tongue
- Tamaryn – Dreaming in the Dark
- Tegan and Sara – Hey, I’m Just Like You
- Temples – Hot Motion
- Tim Heidecker – Another Year in Hell EP
- Tim Hecker – Anoyo
- Timo Andres & Sufjan Stevens – The Decalogue
- Titus Andronicus – An Obelisk
- Toro y Moi – Outer Peace
- Townes Van Zandt – Sky Blue
- Tycho – Weather
- Vagabon – Vagabon
- Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
- Vangelis – Nocturne
- Various Artists – For the Throne (Music Inspired by Game of Thrones)
- Various Artists – Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990
- Weezer – Weezer (Black Album)
- Weezer – Weezer (Teal Album)
- Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
- Whitney – Forever Turned Around
- Why? – AOKOHIO
- Yeasayer – Erotic Reruns
- Ziúr – Atø