2019 was a strong finish to a great decade of music — here are my 50 favorite releases of 2019. Thanks for reading, as always.
- La Dispute – Panorama (Epitaph)
Panorama. There couldn’t possibly be a better or more proper title for La Dispute’s Epitaph Records debut, as the Grand Rapids, Michigan quintet bring that wide-angled view of their art, creating the most astute and immersive work of their decade-plus long career.
However, as La Dispute takes their sound to a higher astral plane, Jordan Dreyer looks inward. Panorama features Dreyer’s most personal introspective lyrics ever; his pensive whispers and frantic yelps meshing perfectly with the hesitant spontaneity of the “Fulton Street” suite and “Footsteps At The Pond.” The album’s ten tracks flaunt the band’s continued excellent musicianship – from the jazzy “Rhodonite and Grief” (propelled by the rhythmic duo of bassist Adam Vass and drummer Brad Vander Lugt) to the anguished anxiety emulating from the sparse “There You Are (Hiding Place)” (exquisitely paced by guitarists Chad Sterenberg and Corey Stroffolino).
It’s extremely difficult to follow up a post-hardcore classic – much less two – but La Dispute (just like their peers in Pianos Become The Teeth and Touché Amoré) continue to zig when others would zag. On these prior records, La Dispute would build up the tension and release it in frenzied cathartic fashion, rapidly moving to the next moment. Whereas Panorama reveals fully realized compositions, choosing to stay within these fleeting moments (the seven-minute closer “You Ascendant” exemplifies this best) and living within that totality.
- Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race (Dark Descent)
Blood Incantation delivered on the hype created by their very good debut Starspawn and delivered tenfold in 2019 with Hidden History of the Human Race – taking their extreme metal sound into a higher stratosphere and incorporating exciting sonicspheres. It’s equally psychedelic as it is jazzy – “Inner Paths (to Outer Space)” is exactly that while “The Giza Power Plant” is a brainy as it is brawny. The eighteen-minute finale “Awakening From the Dream of Existence to the Multidimensional Nature of Our Reality (Mirror of the Soul)” is truly some of the dopest shit to release in the last decade – a wild ride through a multitude of styles – exploring the complete spectrum that is metal. Obviously Death metal is a tough sell to the average listener but when it’s this advanced, nuanced, and focused it becomes irresistible, as Blood Incantation has placed their stake into the ground as the most exciting modern metal band in the world.
- Big Thief – Two Hands (4AD)
- Big Thief – U.F.O.F. (4AD)
Big Thief kicked off a spectacular year with their ethereal third album U.F.O.F. – an intimate journey into the band’s supernatural psyche. It’s equally breezy as it is sinister as vocalist Adrianne Lenker lulls you in with her gentle vocals (the swelling allure of “Cattails,” the profound “From”) before it decimates you on tracks like “Contact,” while Buck Meek’s simmering guitar work highlights the breathtaking “Jenni.” It’s the type of career-defining album that takes musicians years to conjure – Big Thief did it twice in 2019.
Two Hands is the band-aid being ripped off of U.F.O.F. – it’s visceral; a recording that’s intimate in its proximity to each member, unleashing Big Thief’s most primal work yet. The record’s more physical moments duel between its louder and quieter moments – paced by Lenker’s focused, heavy guitar tones and James Krivchenia’s meticulous, cerebral drumming (“The Toy” and “Shoulders”) – with it all coming to a head on the fiery song of the year candidate (and Obama favorite) “Not.” Two Hands feels loose throughout, as Big Thief’s leave 2019 behind cemented as one of the most important rock bands today.
- Baroness – Gold & Grey (Abraxan Hymns)
John Baizley wrote Purple nearly five years ago it felt like a visceral reaction to the catastrophic van accident he and his band Baroness went through – as if the band were still in “shock” – it’s very go-go-go and aggressive, rarely taking time to catch its breath. With Gold & Grey, Baizley is processing all the emotional and physical pain he and his bandmates experienced, slowing down the record in certain parts to showcase the duality of the record’s themes while expanding its sonic palette. Make no mistake, Gold & Grey gets incredibly heavy, unnerving, and often hallucinatory – drummer Sebastian Thomson and bassist Nick Jost contributions smartly exist in the front of the mix throughout, while Gina Gleason’s backing vocals and gargantuan riffs elevate this particular Baroness record to new highs (“Borderlines” and “Seasons” for starters). Baroness continue to persevere and beat the odds, as Baizley’s earnestness still shines through even in the darkest of moments.
- Lingua Ignota – Caligula (Profound Lore)
“I’m the fucking death dealer/I’m the butcher of the world,” roars Kristin Hayter on the third track off her project Lingua Ignota’s second album Caligula, “If you don’t fear me yet, you will.” This isn’t a warning, it’s a threat as Hayter unleashes a swarming 66-minutes of fire and brimstone against misogyny and its Judeo-Christian foundation. Caligula spares zero wrongdoers, as death will be the easiest thing her abusers encounter (the grim sinister crawl of “Do You Doubt Me Traitor” and the vicious “Spite Alone Holds Me Aloft” are just a sampling). There is no pleasure on Caligula’s eleven brutal hymns – it rips, tears, deconstructs and ultimately creates an ugly medley of folk, noise, and metal – resulting in one of 2019’s most empowering and brutal records.
- Orville Peck – Pony (Sub Pop)
The masked cowboy seems ominous at first but Orville Peck isn’t hiding anything on his Sub Pop debut Pony – the stories he tells are tender and intense – a reflection of the realities and emotions he and many others have encountered. Relishing in the country-pop of the 1960s, Peck recounts former lovers (“Big Sky”) and indulges in nostalgia (“Kansas (Remembers Me Now)”) as his gruff, radiant vocals carries the slow-burn Badlands lullaby “Buffalo Run.” Pony is a mythology building album for Orville Peck, a delicious and much-needed palette cleanser from the current rehashed and tired “yeehaw” imposters.
- PUP – Morbid Stuff (Little Dipper / Rise)
Following up a breakout record is tough enough, but PUP decided to add the extra label of doing so on their own label imprint, Little Dipper (courtesy of Rise Records). Morbid Stuff takes the band down even darker roads – the anxious intensity of “Scorpion Hill” highlights a record that features the band’s heaviest (“Full Blown Meltdown” features Stefan Babcock and Steve Sladkowski guitars reigning down hellfire) and most infectious (“Free At Last” showcases some of Babcock’s most frantic deliverys yet alongside Nestor Chumak and Zack Mykula’s breakneck rhythms) effort yet.
- Greet Death – New Hell (Deathwish)
New Hell – the Deathwish debut from the Flint, Michigan trio Greet Death – is a luscious cornucopia of blackened shoe gaze and grunge revivalism, highlighted by Sam Boyhtari and Logan Gaval very different, very distinct vocal deliveries – giving the multi-hyphenated record a truly diverse sound throughout. The album’s nine tracks cover a lot of ground – the furious “Do You Feel Nothing?” proceeds the crushing nine-minute opus “You’re Gonna Hate What You’ve Done” while the excellently fuzzy “Entertainment” drives home New Hell’s thesis: there’s always beauty in the apocalypse.
- Peaer – A Healthy Earth (Tiny Engines)
Peaer’s third album is a fascinating look into how terrifying ordinary life is. Peter Katz rarely sings above a whisper but his anxieties are deafening. The music on A Healthy Earth is prickly and effortless in nature – the energy of “Ollie” (based on Katz’s dog) is paced by a bass clarinet solo while the colorful “Multiverse” shows off the album’s dynamic layering and “Don’t” shows off the band’s technical wizardry, effectively changing time signatures at the drop of a hat. A Healthy Earth’s lackadaisical surface is just cover for how sophisticated it truly is.
- Have A Nice Life – Sea of Worry (The Flenser)
Have A Nice Life’s first album in five years, Sea of Worry, is an answer of sorts to the questions poised on 2014’s The Unnatural World – life is still fairly unsettling and anxiety-ridden, presented over the course of seven of Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga’s most ambitious work. The title track and “Lords of Tresserhorn” paces the gothic new-wave vibe, flowing abstractly throughout the shape-shifting Sea of Worry.
- Chris Farren – Born Hot (Polyvinyl)
Chris Farren emerged from the Side One Dummy purge of 2018 like a very hot and sexy Phoenix from the ashes, releasing his Polyvinyl debut Born Hot. Featuring his finest pop songs (“Love Theme From Born Hot” and “Domain Lapse”) and catchiest hooks (“Search 4 Me”), Farren straddles the line between self-deprecation and honest vulnerability flawlessly.
- Full of Hell – Weeping Choir (Relapse)
On their Relapse debut, the East Coast collective Full of Hell aim to dismantle and dissect their brand of extreme metal. Weeping Choir rarely takes any moments to breathe – usually it’s dual vocalists Dylan Walker and Samuel DiGristine unleashing rabid back and forth’s on suffocating death metal slashers like “Burning Myrhh” and “Angels Gather Here.” But when they do Full of Hell is adding more complex and experimental moments, as the slow-burn colossal “Armory of Obsidian Glass” suggests. A career highlight – it ominously builds off of haunting guest vocals from Lingua Ignota’s Kristin Hayter before delving into one of the band’s most chaotic and brutal flourishes ever.
- Jimmy Eat World – Surviving (RCA)
Surviving is probably the most apt title for Jimmy Eat World’s 10th album – the band has outlasted every flavor of the day in music, continuously releasing music that pushes their boundaries. This record is no different as the band take some new musical risks (the pulsating “555”) along with a new set of fist-pumping anthems (“Criminal Energy” and “One Mil”).
- Wreck and Reference – Absolute Still Life (The Flenser)
Don’t let the lack of screaming fool you – Absolute Still Life is undoubtedly the darkest, bleakest and most ambitious collection of noise from the Wreck & Reference duo. “Eris Came To Me At Night” – one of 2019’s most grisly songs – still chills me to the bone.
- Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell! (Polydor / Interscope)
- The National – I Am Easy To Find (4AD)
- Knocked Loose – A Different Shade of Blue (Pure Noise)
- Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center (Dead Oceans)
- State Faults – Clairvoyant (No Sleep)
- Tyler The Creator – IGOR (Columbia)
- Mannequin Pussy – Patience (Epitaph)
- Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains (Drag City)
- Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind (Roadrunner)
- DIIV – Deceiver (Captured Tracks)
- Drowse – Light Mirror (The Flenser)
- Oso Oso – basking in the glow (Triple Crown)
- Harmony Woods – Make Yourself At Home (Skeletal Lightning)
- clipping. – There Existed an Addiction to Blood (Sub Pop)
- Sleater-Kinney – The Center Won’t Hold (Mom + Pop)
- Gatecreeper – Deserted (Relapse)
- Great Grandpa – Four of Arrows (Double Double Whammy)
- Prince Daddy & The Hyena – Cosmic Thrill Seekers (Counter Intuitive)
- Georgia Maq – Pleaser (Run For Cover)
- Angel Olsen – All Mirrors (Jagjaguwar)
- Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated (School Boy / Interscope)
- Thom Yorke – ANIMA (XL)
- Angel Du$t – Pretty Buff (Roadrunner)
- Frail Body – A Brief Memoriam (Deathwish)
- Bellows – The Rose Gardener (Topshelf)
- Bon Iver – i,i (Jagjaguwar)
- Wilco – Ode to Joy (dBpm)
- Copeland – Blushing (Tooth & Nail)
- Abigail Williams – Walk Beyond The Dark (Blood Music)
- Field Mouse – Meaning (Topshelf)
- Somos – Prison on a Hill (Tiny Engines)
- Torche – Admission (Relapse)
- Queen of Jeans – If You’re not afraid, I’m not afraid (Topshelf)
- Sunn O))) – Life Metal (Southern Lord)
- Harry Styles – Fine Line (Columbia)