Craig Manning’s Top Albums of 2019

I wrote a lot of album blurbs in 2019. If you’re reading this post, you probably already know that 1) I’m an insane person, and 2) my big writing project this year was a rundown of my 200 favorite albums of the 2010s. I concluded that project in mid-December, around the same time that everyone else in the music criticism world was sharing their “Best of 2019” lists. For a few days, I debated not even writing up a list this year. I was so emotionally exhausted after pouring so much of myself and my life into that end-of-decade piece that I just couldn’t see myself sitting down to do it all over again—albeit, on a much smaller scale. But then I started delving back into my favorite 2019 albums, albums that I maybe hadn’t spent enough time with in my race to relive a full 10 years of music. And then I started making late-year discoveries, new albums I’d overlooked that excited me greatly. Ultimately, I decided I couldn’t let a year end without the big-list ritual that I have followed every year since 2011.

I did give myself some extra leeway this time, though. Instead of going to 40 albums, as I have for the last several years, I stuck to 30. I also opened the door for late additions (and for the corresponding deletions they would require). The resulting list is not at all what I expected it would look like even two months ago. It’s a list loaded with exciting new talent and with albums that I can’t wait to spend more time with, brushing up against records I’ve already listened to hundreds of times, from artists I’ve loved for many years. I can’t say it’s my favorite end-of-the-year list that I’ve ever made, but it might be the most unexpected. I could feel my music tastes yearning to shift and grow in new directions while compiling this collection of 30 albums, which is frankly a very exciting place to start a brand-new decade. So bring on the 2020s! But first, here are my 30 favorite albums of 2019.

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Trevor Graham’s Top Albums of 2019

What a year. It feels like at least one Friday a month I was rambling around the site about another incredible release day we were being treated to. When I sat down to make this list, the number of albums I’d listened to this year that I enjoyed wound up at about 270. And sure, there are some obvious factors to this that I think a lot of us share — the way this decade has sculpted how we consume music, for one. The 2010’s made discovering new music one of the single easiest things a person can do, and one of the most entertaining activities with ten bucks in your pocket and an internet connection.

But I think the ease and passion for discovery are only the cause for a bigger reason why this was such a remarkable year in music. Because naturally with more music will come more open mindedness, more inspiration, and more tools for artists to create a unique price of art. With each year, that tool belt grows, and we see artists framing their vision of certain sounds differently than we could have ever imagined — blending influences from all directions and being encouraged to tell their stories. In the passing of time, it becomes more difficult to not fall in love with an astonishing amount of music.

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Adam Grundy’s Top Albums of 2019

2019 was a year that gave us outstanding debut records, tremendous follow-ups from several established bands, as well as some surprise albums that I never would have thought to make my list at the beginning of the year. My list and listening taste are as eclectic as it’s ever been and I’m perfectly happy with that.  Here are 30 albums I felt are worthy of your attention and ears delight.

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Mary Varvaris’s Top Albums of 2019

What a year. At times, it seemed as though I’d never had enough music to listen to. Then, at the busiest times of the year, I felt like I had fallen dreadfully behind and wouldn’t find my way back to consuming new music the way I did at the beginning of 2019. It’s also a year that found me diving into discographies of artists I should have devoted myself to much sooner: from Portishead to R.E.M. to mewithoutYou. It’s been another delightful year for music.

After much thought and almost giving up on creating my End of 2019 list, I have finally chosen my favourite music from the past year. Some albums have landed as honourable mentions, particularly if they were released too late (sorry, Harry Styles!), or I just couldn’t move these albums around again. To be honest, I simply don’t watch enough movies to warrant a favourite list of films. Same case with television (although, I’m marginally better there). I hope you find some music that connects with you the way it has with me. Without further ado, here are my top 30 albums of 2019. Plus, some equally special honourable mentions!

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Film Freak Central’s ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ Review

The Rise of Skywalker

Walter Chaw:

Now consider how this possibility for kindness and sacrifice, nursed and carried through the bulk of The Rise of Skywalker (and introduced in The Last Jedi, which is, of course, this third trilogy’s second, moral act, just as The Empire Strikes Back is the first trilogy’s), is betrayed at the end with a murder/death/kill of the most graphic variety. It’s a riff, the third one I counted that references Raiders of the Lost Ark, on Nazi and Nazi sympathizer faces melting before the glory of Old Testament vengeance. There’s a lot of talk in these films about how the Jedi religion is ever only for defense–how it’s about taking the path of love, knowledge, and acceptance no matter how difficult (and it’s extremely difficult), rather than the dark path of retribution and fear. And here’s The Rise of Skywalker, at the end of it, reenacting the same cycle of retributive violence that presumably left the film’s bad guy the same bad guy as the bad guy for all the other films. He, this dark Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), even boasts that it was always him behind every bad thing. He’s another serpent in another Jungian basement, his creature design modelled on, of all things, Leviathan from Hellraiser II. If he’s an archetype, he’s Legion. He is every bad thing. The solution the franchise’s own mythology suggests is to accept that there must be a balance between opposite energies; the temporary feel-good sop is that the good guys kill the bad guys.

One of the best articles I’ve read yet on The Rise of Skywalker.

The Best Reverse Image Search


Aric Toler, writing at Bellingcat:

The first and most important piece of advice on this topic cannot be stressed enough: Google reverse image search isn’t very good.

As of this guide’s publication date, the undisputed leader of reverse image search is the Russian site Yandex. After Yandex, the runners-up are Microsoft’s Bing and Google. A fourth service that could also be used in investigations is TinEye, but this site specializes in intellectual property violations and looks for exact duplicates of images.

Jason Tate’s Top Albums of the Decade

new-best of the decade

Today we launched our best albums of the decade feature. Lists like these are really hard to make, and even after I finished my list I knew I was missing things. But, at some point hard cuts have to get made and you just have to accept that you’re not going to be able to put everything on and that you’re going to forget a few albums along the way.

Here’s what my final best of the decade, top 50, looked like:

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AirPods Pro First Impressions


I bought the first generation of AirPods back in 2017 and fell in love almost immediately. The ease of use and freeing sensation of having no cord attached to my pocket led them to become the most used, and most adored, pair of headphones I’d ever owned. From running errands, to cooking dinner, these became a staple of my everyday carry. With the release of the AirPods Pro, I decided to pick up two pairs for Hannah and I as an early wedding gift. I didn’t think I’d be saying this, but they’ve been improved in virtually every single way. They’re now, without a doubt, my favorite pair of headphones I’ve ever owned. It starts with the new smaller footprint. I never thought the original AirPods felt “big,” but the new ones feel like nothing in my ears. You combine this with the more snug fit from having the rubberized tips, and they feel perfectly secure walking around town or working out in the gym. The sound is improved, partially by having a better seal in the ear, and they offer a nice, fairly neutral, experience for music. The bass is pretty close to what I prefer, not too heavy. I usually like a little more high-end in the treble, but it’s surprisingly steady. If I want more clarity, I have more expensive cans I can turn to, but for most moments when I want to listen to music, or more often, a podcast, these are downright perfect and sound better than expected. (I tested the sound mostly using My Chemical Romance’s Danger Days.) The noise canceling is a nice feature, but one I don’t often find myself needing. I’m sure there will be times in noisy coffee shops or other places where I’ll find it useful, but most of the time I find it overkill, and actually a little unsettling. I’ll probably be using them most often while in Transparency Mode. This mode lets in, and slightly amplifies, just enough sound so that it feels like you have nothing in your ears, while still being able to hear whatever you’re playing. It’s perfect for when you’re in the city and want to make sure you can hear your surroundings. Or when your significant other starts talking to you while you’re listening to something around the house. It’s such a game changing feature that I don’t know if I could go back to any buds that don’t have it as an option.

I’ve had no issues with the new interaction model of squeezing the AirPod stem instead of using taps. The small “click” sound is comforting and it only took a few hours to retrain my muscle memory. The only thing I’m still not used to is the actual way you put the AirPods back in their case. It’s reversed from what I’m used to and I still mess it up. I am also a fan of the new features that came with the second generation AirPods but I hadn’t used yet, such as the always on “Hey Siri” access. It’s is surprisingly handy. Also, the new feature where you can have Siri read messages to you when they come in and immediately respond is something I didn’t know I’d want until I used it for the first time.

I have more expensive and better sounding headphones around the house. And, there are times when that’s what I am looking for and want; however, the ease of use and convenience of having a pair of wireless buds in a tiny case in my pocket is more than worth that trade-off. I already knew I loved AirPods, but adding noise cancelation, transparency mode, and a new smaller footprint has more than exceeded my expectations. This is the future I’ve been dreaming of ever since the opening scene of the underrated romantic comedy Definitely, Maybe.

Battery life has been almost exactly as advertised. The slightly larger carrying case feels negligible in my hand or pocket. The latency of connecting to and controlling the AirPods seems dramatically improved from the first generation. The cost is, well, an issue. They’re expensive and due to their size and physics will not hold the same battery charge forever. For most people, I’d recommend these if you really want noise cancelation, really prefer a rubber tip fit in your ear, and are attracted to the smaller design.

Martin Scorsese’s NYT Essay

The New York Times

The entire essay by Martin Scorsese was extremely well written, but this section really resonated with me:

In the past 20 years, as we all know, the movie business has changed on all fronts. But the most ominous change has happened stealthily and under cover of night: the gradual but steady elimination of risk. Many films today are perfect products manufactured for immediate consumption. Many of them are well made by teams of talented individuals. All the same, they lack something essential to cinema: the unifying vision of an individual artist. Because, of course, the individual artist is the riskiest factor of all.

Very much worth a read.

Deconstructed Special: The Noam Chomsky Interview

Some great stuff here:

Well, you have to take each case on its own. Take the Electoral College, that’s bad enough, take the Senate. The Senate is one of the most undemocratic institutions in the western world. Take a look at the number of voters that each senator represents. If a country tried to enter the European Union with the U.S. political system, they’d be turned down by the European Court of Justice. I mean, there’s a whole history here that has to be thought of. The Constitution in the 18th century, though it was a pretty conservative doctrine nevertheless, by the standards of the eighteenth century was pretty novel and even progressive in some respects.

But to adhere to the 18th century constitution in the 21st century is a pretty strange phenomenon. I mean, take the people who are called originalists, you know the right-wing originalist Gorsuch and so on who say we have to interpret the Constitution the way the founders and the framers in the 18th century understood it. I mean, does that even approach rationality? To discuss the modern world the way somebody in 1780 perceived it?

I always like hearing Chomsky’s perspective on things.

The Secret to Adam Ottavino’s Calm: A Little Black Notebook


James Wagner, writing at The New York Times:

Before every game, one of the linchpins of the Yankees’ talented bullpen, Adam Ottavino, finds a spot in the clubhouse to sit and write.

To combat the six-month mental minefield of self-doubt that is baseball’s regular season, Ottavino has found solace in a daily routine of writing in a journal. In it, he tracks how he cares for his powerful right arm, how he sharpens his focus, how he plans to attack an opposing lineup and, sometimes, he gives himself a pep talk by writing such messages as, “I am a great pitcher.”

“Sometimes you slip into that natural state that you’re getting beat out there,” Ottavino said. “Or maybe you’re starting to doubt your ability a little bit. Sometimes it’s important to remember how good you really are and the many tens of thousands of good pitches you’ve made.

“So I just try to remind myself, ‘I can do whatever I want with my breaking ball.’ Or, ‘I can throw perfect fastballs.’”

There’s some good advice in here for just life in general.

What Americans Do Now Will Define Us Forever

Adam Serwer, writing at The Atlantic:

In the face of a corrupt authoritarian president who believes that he and his allies are above the law, the American people are represented by two parties equally incapable of discharging their constitutional responsibilities. The Republican Party is incapable of fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities because it has become a cult of personality whose members cannot deviate from their sycophantic devotion to the president, lest they be ejected from office by Trump’s fanatically loyal base. The Democratic Party cannot fulfill its constitutional responsibilities because its leadership lives in abject terror of being ejected from office by alienating the voters to whom Trump’s nationalism appeals. In effect, the majority of the American electorate, which voted against Trump in 2016 and then gave the Democrats a House majority in 2018, has no representation.