Top Eleven Songs of 2019:
Listen to Best of 2019 on Spotify
Lizzo - Cuz I Love You
"Mirror, mirror on the wall / don't say it 'cause I know I'm cute."
Detroit-born Melissa Jefferson didn't launch her music career until she landed in Minneapolis, but the 313 still counts her as its own. A lot has been said about her VMA performance: real women, real bodies, and plenty of self-esteem. She's a talented musician who's comfortable in her own skin. "Tryin' to open up a little more," she says in her title track. But as you can see from her Tiny Desk Concert, she seems to be doing just fine.
Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride
"Anger wants a voice, voices want to sing / Singers harmonize til they can't hear anything."
Ezra Koenig and (expanded) company took six years to follow up on their 2013 hit, Modern Vampires of the City, which was heralded for its wide-reaching musical influences. With FOTB, those influences reach even further, from the Grateful Dead to Soweto.
Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow
"I wish I could show you how much you've grown."
After she released "Comeback Kid" as the lead single in 2018, I couldn't wait to hear the full album. In her fifth release, she maintains her storytelling strengths, with a heavier use of synth over guitar.
Pedro the Lion - Phoenix
"So I didn't see it coming but now it's pretty clear / I traded my own wisdom for a jury of my peers."
This Seattle-based indie rock band hadn't released an album in fifteen years. David Bazan had been hinting at launching an eponymous band for the last few years, but thankfully got said band back together and recorded a fantastic album reflecting on his childhood and Arizonan roots. We all could hope to be as articulate approaching our mid-life.
Michael Kiwanuka - Kiwanuka
"Rollin' with the times / don't be late."
A London-based singer-songwriter originally rose in claim while opening for Adele's 2011 world tour. With Dangermouse at the production helm, Kiwanuka's third album takes on a psychedelic Motown feel.
Lana Del Ray - Norman Fucking Rockwell!
"The culture is lit, and if this is it‚ I had a ball / I guess that I'm burned out after all."
We're now ten years into Lana Del Ray, and I'm still flummoxed as to whether she is her generation's best songwriter, savviest provocateur, or both. When she dropped "Video Games" in 2011, it felt more like character acting than singularity. Now six albums in to her career, she's emerged as an absurdist troubadour, an ironic social commentator in today's ever-on world.
Kills Birds - Kills Birds
"I wish I was volcano / But I think I'm just a rock / A rock that's sitting / Underneath the sea."
LA-based quartet released the best hard, fast, short album of the year.
Bon Iver - i,i
"Full time, you talk your money up / While it's living in a coal mine."
Four albums in and ever-experimenting, Justin Vernon appears to be well on his way to redefining the singer-songwriter standard: a jittery backwoods trip on synth and auto-tune. The only thing that would make me love this album more is if he did an impromptu concert in Miller Valley.
Dave - Psychodrama
This one flew under the radar here in the States, but you don't win the Mercury Prize for anything that's average. A South-Londoner who writes well beyond his 20 years of age, this is a dynamic, deeply reflective album. It's not an exaggeration to say this is London's version of Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City.
FKA twigs - MAGDALENE
"Day one, take me to my favourite show / Day two, hold my hand and pull me close."
A beautiful electronic art pop album. Made with key collaborators like Skrillex, it has an ethereal Kate Bush sound to it.
Tyler, the Creator - IGOR
"This 60-40 isn't workin' / I want a hundred of your time, you're mine."
Years removed from his controversial language and content (anyone remember the Mountain Dew commercials with the battery undertones?), Tyler wrote the most creative break-up album of the decade.
The Black Keys - Let's Rock
"One at a time, get in line for the masquerade."
We're a long way from Akron, OH and 2006. But Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are still going strong.
Sleater-Kinney - The Center Won't Hold
"I need something pretty to help me ease my pain / I need something ugly to put me in my place / Oh, I need something holy / Give me a little taste / And I need something muddy to cover up the stain."
A catchy album by one of the most important bands the past two decades. It's strange to think what this would've sounded like had they gone with their original instinct for Jeff Tweedy to produce instead of St. Vincent. Oh, yeah ... and that whole idea about how we've become so polarized in views that we lack an engaged electorate to care enough to nominate a centrist. But at 202 BPM, maybe it's a catchy panic?
Cate le Bon - Reward
"Wide of the line in occasional bloom."
I first heard of Cate le Bon when I heard her 2013 single, "Are You With Me Now?" and her bundled package of an-album-and-a-personally-made-mug. No, really. It was a thing. This time around, no mug. But a great album nonetheless.
Beck - Hyperspace
"Then it came to me in a flash of light / By the sycamore tree in the dead of night."
It's hard to believe that Beck is on his 14th album and is quickly approaching his 50th birthday. And by the time you reach "Uneventful Days," you're withholding urges of mashing up the lyrics to Phil Collins' "Take Me Home". But this isn't about Beck aging (or delving into an experimental Yacht Rock phase). But a track later on "Saw Lightning", you're reminded that he has no intentions of going away any time soon.
Big Thief - Two Hands
"Forgotten hands are the ones which we choose / To let go of, but it is no less a bruise."
Brooklyn-based indie quartet released two albums during 2019. I really enjoyed this album.
Guilty Pleasure of the Year
Lil Nas X - Old Town Road
"Can't nobody tell me nothing / You can't tell me nothing."
Around September, I happened to notice our five-year old sauntering down the stairs, singing under her breadth. The singing quickly grew louder, with accompanying hand movements as she sang the pre-chorus to this song.