best albums 2019
They took chances. Rescue comes in the form of self-recognition. A woman’s time to embrace she must put herself first.” Love matters, but survival—as women throughout history have learned—is inevitably a solo endeavor. As ever, the sound design is exquisite, bass thrumming in clouds under choirs, pianos and their trademark instant-decay drums, but the big earnest melodies give it heart. —Lars Gotrich, ■ MORE: billy woods is the rapper of 2019, Lankum, The Livelong Day What about the heart?" It flew over some folks' heads, but only because it so thoroughly resists the white gaze. The Livelong Day makes the past entirely fresh and present. Across 40 minutes, IGOR draws, erases and redraws emotional lines in the sand, smudging up Tyler's self-esteem with each new boundary crossed. There are moments when Cave appears to be slowly coming to terms with what has happened: “Sometimes a little bit of faith can go a long, long way,” he sings. And from album opener Psycho onwards, where he’s positioned as a patient telling all to a therapist, we meet a rapper as agitated as he is angry. The working title for Laetitia Tamko's second album as Vagabon was All the Women in Me — a versatile phrase to sum up everything from the roles women play in society to the singer's own complex identity as a Cameroonian who relocated to New York at 13. The first solo album by Alabama Shakes front woman Brittany Howard inspires such heady thoughts. In it, she builds a self-contained world that luxuriates in vintage Americana references—both sonically and lyrically—while still hinting at some of our age’s deep-seated flaws. With ambition and intent that should shame many of their peers, These New Puritans have crafted another suite of post-punk symphonies. Ben Beaumont-Thomas Read the full review. Miss Universe doesn’t really need the concept-album framework, with its satirical interstitial muzak from the supposedly caring corporation Wway Health. There’s no sheen on Solange’s vocals. But also, the group will most likely be unavoidable in the new year, so enjoy the unknowing while you still can. Over 12 songs, the pair challenges the rosy image set forth by American myths and politicians, instead vividly narrating from the country’s crawl spaces and secret passageways. The D.C. native sings about universally recognizable ebbs and flows of life on songs like "Broke," "BMO" and "Speak To Me," which are sprinkled with euphemisms that will hit women of color first. To grapple with these questions, Jenny Hval made her most accessible album yet; the production is delicately beautiful and hypnotic, with lyrics that unspool like poetry. Laura Snapes Read the full review. There are spectral strings and synths, bells, electronics, a smattering of piano notes. A subtly defiant assertion that Del Rey is here for the long haul, no matter what. Clockwise from left, Billie Eilish, Bad Bunny and Brittany Howard. The Chicago musician flips between them – from Zora Neale Hurston to James Baldwin – with warmth and close attention, her sandy voice full of tenderness and the jazz-influenced backing sun-baked and dazzling. 2019’s not been great – in fact, things haven’t been great for a while – and Richard Dawson’s album suggests it’s not going to get any better in 2020. "These are black-owned things," as Solange sings on "Almeda." Nevertheless, human decency still feels close at hand – not least from the man singing. LS Read the full review. Too many artists stick unnecessary interludes between album tracks this year; Kiwanuka is a rare exception, a properly immersive album that offers space for reflection between Michael Kiwanuka’s close considerations of where hope might live among love, immigration and civil rights. While that's of note, it does a disservice to the music, which is epic on every level. Black radicalism, the philosopher Fred Moten has written, cannot be understood outside the context of its origins in oppression; as a force of rebirth, it also always breaks out of that context. It has the intensity of electronic music, but this is all acoustic musicin service of songs that are often centuries old. But the original intent is that of a temperance song, and that's how Lankum approach it, with a sustained heaviness to match the story's consequence and building sense of regret. Congleton told me that after they first made a solo acoustic version of the album (a version you may get a chance to hear in 2020), they worked to expand its scope, aiming for "early period Scott Walker" as an inspiration, "where it's fantastic songs, with really cool arrangements and you're hearing something totally new." How do we make sense of our relationships with our bodies or the planet — and how do those relationships impact each other? BBT Read the full review. Like Caroline Polachek, Hannah Diamond and so many others this year, Amber Bain uses super-synthetic electropop and soft rock to say much rougher, grittier truths. Like that opening track warns, she tells you everything. The strongest tracks, though, are when he slinks softly around guests Travis Scott and RosalÍa. The quavering, circuitous voice of British jazz-dub songwriter James Blake is still a beautiful instrument, and his arrangements are as atmospheric as ever here. Write to Raisa Bruner at While artists like Billie Eilish and Polachek have pushed pop into the future this year, King Princess joins Lana Del Rey in showing that there’s potential in classicism yet. From the exuberant, endlessly intricate West African polyrhythms of "I Own The Night" to the Afro-Latinx groove of "The Shared Stories of Rivals" to the metallic, Afrofuturist clang of "Prophesy," this project is both firmly rooted in the past and a vision of a dynamic, powerful future. The Brooklyn band’s second album of the year is earthier than UFOF, the glowing collection that arrived in spring. Powerfully, Straus has openly embedded her sexuality in her music from the start, turning simple love songs into statements of queer identity and rallying cries for contemporary romance. They dip into the strangest, sexiest bits of the 70s, with prowling disco on Feet, rollicking glam on Tastes Good With the Money, and electronically, chemically enhanced psychedelic skronk throughout. It's lovely, but how do you explain it? BBT Read the full review. There are lulling campfire songs and gritty rock grooves, frenetic jazz saxophones and menacing trap drums. Over rippling guitars, Lenker sings morbid lyrics with a startling optimism: “See my death become a trail / And the trail leads to a flower.”, The band understands the captivating nature of liminal spaces, and also the fraught relationship between pain and creation: “The silkworm’s rage / Iridescent thread, beautiful and dead / Billions of worms were boiled to make the bed,” Lenker sings on “Strange.” But if the music itself was a labor of love, it didn’t wear the band out; they immediately turned around and released another gorgeous album, Two Hands, five months later. Consider, then, a side-by-side accounting for a certain pop star who came into full flower over the course of the decade: In 2011, Lana Del Rey's mere presence was viewed by some as an affront to the ideal of authenticity; in 2019, few albums achieved the critical consensus that greeted Norman F****** Rockwell! Remind Me Tomorrow is an album of introspection and honesty that never feels navel-gazing. — that matter, magnified magnificently. The chief grotbags of the British indie scene return, retaining a genuinely reptilian edge to their lounge lizard music. After Manchester, the death of ex-boyfriend Mac Miller and a called-off engagement with Pete Davidson, Grande gracefully considers how life could have been and how it turned out, tangling sweet melodies with embattled production. (Chow), New York singer-songwriter King Princess, real name Mikaela Straus, is just 20. In the 19 years since DJ Screw's death, his Screw music escaped Houston and infected the world. The artwork for Vampire Weekend’s fourth album is pure Windows 97 ClipArt, earnest United Colors of Benetton graphics, CD-era prosperity in its prominent positioning of Sony’s label. Voices emerge from the depths to thread hints of peril or restlessness into the fabric of gentle melodies. BBT Read the full review. As buzz bands go, Black Midi is a weird one, a jagged mulch of math rock, Beefheart restlessness and the 90s Chicago school of alt-jazz, full of the declamatory vocals of Geordie Greep (whose voice you couldn’t make up if you tried). With callbacks crisscrossing place and time, her music is now made of her own sepia-toned mythology. It’s an album of love songs—the oldest subject in the book—but it’s filled with new sonic ideas. Music is filled with no shortage of characters proclaiming how “mad, me” they are, so it’s rare and delightful to come across a genuine oddball. To analyze our moment, Woods scours the annals of history and culture, readily name-checking feminist Andrea Dworkin, Mozambican revolutionary Samora Machel, and J.D. How do we care for each other? One album can’t really contain the pop-cultural moment that is Lizzo – she is at her most enjoyable live, feeding back with a crowd that are delighted to see a star who looks like them, or, rather, not like everyone else in pop. Other moments are bombastic with layers of electronic production and lyrics she drops as an angry rebuke, like on the arresting “Fallen Alien.” “In this age of Satan, I’m searching for a light to take me home and guide me out,” she croons, without much hope. Music Reviews: Hidden History of the Human Race by Blood Incantation released in 2019 vi… The album cast a more intimate spotlight on her gravelly timbre and the sensuality and gravitas of her phrasing, but more than that, its songs showcased her interpretive gifts and, at long last, placed her at the center of her own enthralling mythology. From Stereolab to LCD Soundsystem and Hookworms, almost every year produces a band who replicate the soothingly simple, eternal groove of Neu! (With her flexible but utterly distinctive voice, she sometimes reminds me of Cat Stevens, if you never had a single clue what Cat Stevens' songs were about.) It’s a body of work that’s comforting and heartening in the way a journey towards enlightenment should be, but it’s also challenging, full of ambivalence and irresolvable confusion. Del Rey’s stately sixth album is completely out of step with contemporary trends: as if a Brill Building stablehand went west on a Laurel Canyon recon mission. The Daughters' collaboration is enriched by the distinctness of each of their voices: the dogged Appalachian blues rock of Kiah's "Black Myself," the willowy reverence of Russell's "Quasheba, Quasheba," the commandingly vivid narration of Giddens' harrowing call-and-response "Mama's Cryin' Long," the Kreyol liveliness of McCalla's "Lavi Difisil," the polyrhythmic communal audacity of "Moon Meets the Sun." Alexis Petridis Read the full review. It would've been a historic event for four women of color who write, reinterpret and perform roots music on banjo to simply come together and make music — their collaboration is, in and of itself, a reminder of the whitewashed African roots of their instruments. Also: echoes of All Saints’ sultry best. BBT Read the full review. Because Sharon Van Etten has no time for superficiality. Remind Me Tomorrow was a grown-up record that didn’t sound jaded. Tracks either abruptly snap off like an unfinished thought or dissolve into the silent distance. In venues across the city, artists like Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia, Nérija and the Ezra Collective lead sweaty, explosive gigs that bear little resemblance to the solemn conservatory atmospheres that have come to define the genre. LS Read the full review. After 2017's Infinite Worlds pushed past the boundaries of bedroom pop, Tamko's new record expands her sound still further, most notably landing on synth-smeared electro-pop in masterful, appropriately fluid songs like "Flood" and "Water Me Down."


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