2019 was a strong finish to a great decade of music — here are my 50 favorite releases of 2019. Thanks for reading, as always.
It’s crazy to think another mid-year list is in the books – the first six months of 2019 have flown by. Thankfully, there has been plenty of music for us to discuss, debate, love, and share. Once again, the Chorus.fm is an unique list – a diverse one that beautifully shows off the collective, eclectic taste of our staff and contributors. So without further ado here is our favorite twenty albums of 2019 thus far – we’re excited to see what the next six months have to offer.
Note: You can share your own lists in the forums and clicking the artist name and album title will take you to the album’s streaming page featuring quick links for all streaming services.
In just around four months, it’ll be ten years since Baroness released their breakthrough second album Blue. A critical darling through and through, the twelve-track album explored a sound beyond metal that few if any bands could match – then and now. Over the course of their sixteen-year career, Baroness have transcended multiple styles ranging from sludge to proggy psychedelics while maintaining the aggressive sincerity that’s attracted so many passionate fans. Never a band to rest on its laurels, the Savannah, Georgia quartet once again look to reinvent their sound and re-contextualize what a metal record can be with their boldest and most triumphant effort yet – Gold & Grey.
A few weeks ago I got burnt out. Good-to-great records have been releasing at such a rapid pace (never a bad thing!) and I wouldn’t be able to write a quote-unquote traditional review for every single one. It overwhelmed me to the point of an incredibly paralyzing writer’s block. Then the idea hit me. It’s not an original one as round-ups have existed since the dawn of blogging, but every week or two weeks I’ll do these roundups where I write 1-2 paragraphs about 3-6 albums that’ve released over the past few weeks. I’ll still do the occasional “longer” form of reviews, but primarily I just want to write something about an album I really enjoy without feeling like I have to write 400-500 words every time. So with that out of the way and a hat tip to Steven, welcome to Drew’s Untitled Review Roundup (or DURR). Thank you.
About halfway through Angel Du$t’s jovial third album Pretty Buff, vocalist Justice Tripp is marching to his own beat on the sunny “Bang My Drum” – literally. “I asked my baby girl to stay/She left and took my drum away/Got so many feelings now/I got no way to let it out” bellows Tripp over upbeat acoustic strums and a goddamn saxophone solo. It’s a stark contrast to the Baltimore band’s pummeling 2016 release Rock The Fuck On Forever, as the band (featuring members of hardcore champions Trapped Under Ice and Turnstile) trade in the aggression for some alt-leaning pop-rock reminiscent of seminal 90s bands such as The Lemonheads, R.E.M. and the Violent Femmes.
Three years ago, Oliver Kalb chronicled the drawn-out end of a friendship in vivid detail on his band Bellows’ very good third album, Fist & Palm. Its 11 tracks acting like snapshots into the gradual descent of the relationship. Shortly after that record released the 2016 election happened, and Kalb found himself demoralized by the state of things and perplexed by the constant judgment woven within today’s society. Out of that isolation grew the inspiration for Bellows’ stunning Topshelf debut, The Rose Gardener. The metaphor – a gardener tending to a single rosebush in the dead of winter – defies what most observers would deem futile and explores the thorns to see what might still be living on the other side. Kalb is channeling all that pain from the past few years into something a bit more constructive, resembling a glimmer of optimism amongst all the struggle.
Love is weird, messy, complicated. I know I’m not saying anything incredibly new or profound – we’ve all experienced the whirlwind of falling in and out of love. And sometimes at such an intensity that it feels like you’re dreaming. Copeland’s sixth album, Blushing, explores that sensation thoroughly and almost immediately on the album’s startling opener, “Pope.” Vocalist Aaron Marsh pleads, “Will you be my love?/Until I can prove that this world is not real,” over a swirling cacophony of swirling strings, programming, and more. Suddenly everything drops – it’s just distant piano keys and a women’s hushed voice. Without warning, it’s over. The track is a brilliant juxtaposition between the beginning of a relationship (“Did you dream about anything last night?” is something said during the beginning or good times of a relationship because you want to know everything about your partner) and the end of a relationship (“Hey, hey, are you awake? You should probably get up and get going. I don’t want to be rushed”) – when the women’s voice appears it’s jarring because it’s so comforting, reminding you of that good place you were once at but ultimately it’s a devastating reminder that it’s over.
As I sit here looking at a blank page, pondering about how I’m going to approach writing about The 1975’s gargantuan third album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, I turn to my dear friend procrastination and flick open Twitter on my iPhone. After a few minutes of scrolling through an endless timeline, disgusted and amused simultaneously, I had the belated (and probably way too obvious) realization that A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is an exploration of our codependency of the things – whether it’s drugs, sex, the internet – we use to temporarily numb the sting of loneliness.
Much has been written about The 1975’s leader Matty Healy decision to spend six weeks in a rehab facility in Barbados to fight his addiction to heroin – a stint that helped Healy reflect not only on his life, but the lives he was affecting. His decision to get clean came shortly after the band started writing A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, so unsurprising a lot of the lyrical content is derived from the recovering addict’s time spent in therapy.
I hate voicemail. I hate leaving it. I hate receiving it. I always expect the worst and/or I think I sound like a total goober on the other end. Basically, it’s the one technology that gives me the most anxiety. So it’s fitting that the latest from Antarctigo Vespucci, Love in the Time of E-Mail, would begin with a song called “Voicemail,” kicking off a record that encompasses all the anxiety-ridden excitement and nervousness that comes with exploring personal relationships in a digital world.
It’s the second full-length release from the dynamic duo of Chris Farren and Jeff Rosenstock (the first on Polyvinyl Records). As the frontmen of two beloved underground punk bands – Fake Problems and Bomb The Music Industry! respectively – the two musicians’ profiles have risen considerably over the past few years due to incredible solo albums and headline-stealing performances. So despite having a little more buzz surrounding this release than their 2015 debut Leavin’ La Vida Loca, Antarctigo Vespucci decided to keep doing what they do best – dissecting the pop songs that defined its genre and integrating those moments into 3-minute bursts of intoxicating rock songs. The album offers a terrific mix of Rosenstock’s fuzzy punk energy and Farren’s honey-sweet melodies, resulting in the band’s best release in their 100-year career.
After the release and touring of 2015’s revelationary Pale Horses, mewithoutYou needed to find some space before the apocalypse turned inwards. Vocalist Aaron Weiss relocated to Idaho with his family, a makeshift home studio rig and MIDI keyboard while the rest of his bandmates (including his brother Mike) remained in Philadelphia workshopping new ideas with producer Will Yip. There’s that one saying, you know, that distance makes the heart grow fonder? Well for the genre-defying quintet, distance also made the creativity flow more freely than every before, while some inner-band tensions and relationship strife served as the impetus to untapped creativity and fueled the [Untitled] recording sessions with Yip, yielding 19 new songs (spanning one EP and one LP, both sharing the same name) that showcase the duality within mewithoutYou’s dazzling soundscape.
On the propulsive opener “Fever Dreams,” Emma Ruth Rundle breathlessly declares, “Fear, a feeling, is it real?/So nostalgic too, it just puts the dark on you,” immediately setting the tone on her fourth solo album, On Dark Horses, before the guitars can even come thundering through. Following up the wounded vulnerability on 2016’s Marked For Death, On Dark Horses features a restless Rundle picking up the pieces and moving forward all while creating her most visceral and personal piece of art yet.
While Marked For Death was written in isolation in the desert, Rundle collaborated with Jaye Jayle’s Evan Patterson and Todd Cook and Woven Hand’s Dylan Nadon to help flesh out her new record, giving On Dark Horses a relentless dynamic between Rundle’s intoxicating vocals and the ominous yet electrifying guitar work. The blackened folk of “Control” begins with a slow smoldering of sound before being engulfed by jolted guitar riffs, while the bluesy “Dead Set Eyes” emerges with hazy, dueling guitar interplay that Rundle’s vocals cut through like a knife.
Conor Murphy is not fucking around – the end of the world is coming soon or at least it feels like it is every single day. Murphy carries a sense of impending dread throughout his band Foxing’s spectacular third album, Nearer My God – as if all of this could collapse at any minute. So if you’re gonna square up with the apocalypse then Foxing figured they might as well throw their best punch and create a stone cold classic. And, almost out of necessity, Nearer My God is exactly that.
Yes, it’s been six years since Birds In Row unleashed their devastating Deathwish debut You, Me, & the Violence. Listeners were given a taste of what the band was up to with 2016’s frenzied EP, Personal War, which only left us salivating for more. But in an industry currently dominated by quantity over quality, it’s refreshing that the French trio (operating as single entity under a veil of anonymity just as before), took their time in releasing We Already Lost The World, one of the most punishing hardcore records in recent memory.
After a storm comes the calm. Yes, the violent winds and heavy rains of a ghastly disaster will disrupt the life surrounding it, but the calm always follows and prevails. Deafheaven’s fourth full-length album, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, is that reprieve following the pulverizing storm of 2015’s New Bermuda. Unforgiving in its scope, New Bermuda was a devastating album that encapsulated all of the darkness surrounding the band after breaking through with 2013’s Sunbather. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love sets out to find the humanity within that devastation. So then maybe it’s not incredibly surprising that OCHL opener “You Without End” begins not only with striking grand piano flourishes but also with actress Nadia Kury sober reading of a short story about Oakland. In fact, George Clarke’s simmering vocals don’t enter until three minutes in, taking a backseat to Kerry McCoy’s arena-ready Queen-sized soaring guitar riffs. It’s a proper reintroduction to Deafheaven in 2018, a band that’s wiser, kinder, and more grateful than ever.
“Be kind to the bees, be kind to the bugs, be conscious of others, be careful with drugs,” recommends Culture Abuse’s vocalist David Kelling on “Bee Kind To The Bugs” before offering up this important reminder: “Be kind to yourself, even though it gets hard, don’t let the distractions stack up to the stars.” It’s that kind of mindset that flows throughout the band’s second full-length (and first on Epitaph) Bay Dream. While the band’s 2016 debut, Peach, garnered a passionate fan base, the actual events surrounding the recording were less than ideal for the band. But the continuous touring on Peach opened Kelling’s mind to how cathartic and positive and that he would be loved just by being himself.
I think I say this every year but fuck it – the music 2018 has blessed us with in its first six months has been extraordinary. With all the insane shit happening around us and to us in this day and age, it feels like music is the only sane thing we have. So below we have our top 20 favorite releases of the year thus far. If you can’t find something to love on this list then you just aren’t trying hard enough – this is an eclectic list that encompasses multiple genres and styles. I can’t wait to see what the next six months brings to our ears.
Note: You can share your own list in our music forum.
People often (mistakenly) interpret the Father John Misty persona as being cover for Josh Tillman to be some sort of “holier-than-thou” troll, thus missing the bigger picture on his third album, the 76-minute opus Pure Comedy. The follow-up to Comedy, however, is the polar opposite – God’s Favorite Customer is a concise ten track effort that clocks in under 40 minutes and peels back the Misty avatar to reveal a wounded, introspective Tillman. It takes courage to be this vulnerable – especially when Tillman has spent the last three albums examining and critiquing the world and culture around him. But on his fourth album under the Misty moniker, Tillman takes a step back from that macro view of everything around him and turned his gaze insular, resulting in the most heartbreaking record of 2018.
When Underoath announced in 2015 that the band was getting back together with original drummer Aaron Gillespie in the fold, it was announced as a “rebirth,” as the band knocked out a couple of reunion shows over the following years. It’s an appropriate way to describe Underoath’s return since it’s been eight years since Ø (Disambiguation) and nearly a decade since the band’s last release with Gillespie in the fold. And obviously so much has changed within the metal scene and music community as a whole during the band’s hiatus; Underoath found themselves at a crossroads between pleasing older fans and drawing in a generation of listeners that may have never heard Define The Great Line. So while a level of musical reincarnation was expected, the extent of that remained unknown. Recorded in 2017 with producer Matt Squire, the band looked to deconstruct the idea of Underoath while incorporating all the moments of anxiety , betrayal, and struggles of the past decade. And ultimately these sessions resulted with Erase Me – the most polarizing heavy rock album of 2018.
If you were to describe the course of The Wonder Years’ decade-plus career, you may find the word “growth” as the most fitting. The band’s breakthrough trilogy of albums (2010’s The Upsides, 2011’s Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing, and 2013’s The Greatest Generation) were all about growing up. Each release addressed various stages of getting older all while the band continually got better as musicians and songwriters. Which is why 2015’s No Closer To Heaven felt like such an aberration. Instead of taking the leaps that the prior three albums did, No Closer To Heaven sounded like a lateral move, an album unsure of which version of the band it wanted to be. It resulted in some half-baked, rushed ideas and were the pressure of “what’s next” might have gotten to vocalist Dan Campbell and his bandmates. That’s not to say that Heaven doesn’t feature some of the band’s best work ever (“Cigarettes and Saints”, “The Bluest Things on Earth”, and “Stained Glass Ceilings” are peak Wonder Years), but it was frustrating that the band didn’t fully dive in. Yet it’s that past frustration that makes the band’s incredible new album, Sister Cities, feel so rewarding and refreshing.