This past year has had a multitude of amazing releases from artists of different varieties and flavors, but looking back at my top ten, it was a return to the sensibilities I had when I was younger. Many of these releases fall in genres that I’m sure to be ridiculed for still listening to in my early 30s. But a lot of them are the work of artists who have taken the thing that appeals to our most youthful appetites and then let time and experience transform the whole into something new and refreshing, with the sense of familiar and authenticity that made it attractive to begin with. So don’t write these albums off as simply the choices of a rejuvenated sadboi. They are the result of maturing, changing, and growing. Here’s hoping that for all of us. Here are my favorites from 2019.
Cuz I Love You – Lizzo (April 19, 2019; Atlantic Records)
It may seem weird to include a debut album in an EOTY list about artist growth, but Melissa Viviane Jefferson’s first album is all about transformation. The artist we all know as Lizzo struts through so many different genres in a crash course in growing from codependence to independence, leading to one of the best pop albums of the year.
The Act – The Devil Wears Prada (October 11, 2019; Solid State Records)
From the late 2000’s through the last decade metalcore as a genre became more known for its fashion and aesthetic and…erm questionable dance moves…than the music itself. But The Devil Wears Prada is unique as one of the few remaining bands from that second generation to continually evolve and grow while maintaining the heaviness that appealed to their earliest fans. It seems appropriate that they marked their label switch Solid State Records with one of their most ambitious albums to date. Featuring some of the sludgiest, and most haunting and anthemic songs they’ve written, along with splintering vocals by Mike Hrancia and elevated vocals from Jeremy Depoyster, The Act is a bold and innovative addition to TDWP’s catalog.
All Hail – Norma Jean (October 25, 2019; Solid State Records)
Yo. These guys are BACK. Brutal. Moody. Pulsating. Intricate. Heavy. It’s comforting to know that there are old metalcore acts that can seamlessly push themselves while still clinging to the things that make them instantly recognizable. With another solid addition to a discography that spans more than a decade, these scene godfathers show no signs of slowing down. Hail to the chiefs.
Morbid Stuff – PUP (April 5, 2019; Rise Records)
PUP has had the innate ability to end up on end of the year lists with each release, and Morbid Stuff, is no different. With their tightest album to date, the Toronto band has crystallized the essence of their brand of punk to make their most accessible record that retains their signature energy, catchiness, and self-deprecation. Frontman Stefan Babcock continues to bare himself lyrically to the background of the band’s melodic onslaught.
Fake Blood – Heart Attack Man (April 19, 2019; Triple Crown Records)
A pleasant accidental discovery for me this year, Heart Attack Man’s sophomore album finds them embracing the extremes of their influences and affinities. Half of the album is aerodynamic and contemplative, the other is aggressive and scalding. The entire thing is catchy as balls, though, and you all you can do is strap in for 32 minutes while Eric Egan rails against the most negative influences in his life with pure punk angst.
Oliver Appropriate – Say Anything (January 25, 2019; Dine Alone Records)
The end of the decade was marked with the end of the musical project of the scene’s biggest critic and champion. So what better way to close out two decades than with a semi-biographically inspired narrative about an aging scene king wrestling with mental health issues, drug abuse, and their own sexuality? The spiritual sequel to the incredible debut “…Is a Real Boy” is Bemis perhaps at his purest; all other instrumentation is simply table dressing for a troubadour and his acoustic guitar. This is the true charm of Bemis. All he has ever needed was his voice and a catchy melody to spill the deepest meditations on his psyche and existence. The climax of the darkly satirical finale “Sediment” will leave you in rapturous content with how this artist ended their endeavors on their terms.
Top 4 Albums of 2019
Listen, I’ve been a Charles Miller and Luke Granerd stan since their days in Friends (no, no THAT “Friends”). But their evolution into Better Off was something I could neither anticipate nor be more thankful for. Granerd’s appreciation for Pedro the Lion and Jimmy Eat World was fully on display, but rather than being a cheap imitation Better Off became a raw force of emotion and melody in its own right that could not be denied. Their resurrection is no different. Reap What You Sow is Granerd and Miller firing on all cylinders. Miller’s drumming is dynamic and invigorated, Granerd’s croons and bellows are blisteringly evocative, and the melodies are soaring and infectious. The record is also their most dynamic, with them embracing slower, quieter, more pensive moments before ramping up to anthemic climaxes. Reap What You Sow is a great pop album, a great indie album, a great punk album, a great emo album, a great album, period.
In a certain sense, Jade Lilitri is as much a student as a product of his environment. Growing up in Long Island he was witness to the formation of a scene and a new generation of emo and punk heavyweights. And with Oso Oso he has continued in the tradition of bands like Brand New and Taking Back Sunday in writing personal and honest songs that are heavy on the hooks. However, Lilitri strikes his own path by replacing any trendiness with genuine introspection and self-reflection. Oh, and did I mention hooks? This guitar-driven rock record is free of frills and gimmicks and stuffed to the brim with melodies to appeal to any listener.
Admittedly my affinity for Carly Rae started very late. However, once I put preconceived notions aside and actually investigated her discography, I was glad to discover a highly gifted artist that clearly puts everything into their music. Jepsen has been honing her pop chops by leaning more into 70’s and 80’s influences like Donna Summer, Bonnie Tyler, and Cyndi Lauper. Her latest offering Dedicated is full-fledged dance synth-pop heaven, that would have felt at home at any discotheque nearly four decades prior. Dedicated allows her to embrace the full range of her singing and artistry with hints of R&B, jazz, and blues, transforming her from that girl who sings “Call Me Maybe” to one of pop music’s leading ladies.
Aaron Marsh’s expertise in song crafting has always been high caliber, but in this latest stage of Copeland he really stretches his prowess now that they are free of the indie emo pigeonhole of their early years. Ixora and its remix album hinted at Marsh’s exploration with more synthetic sounds, but Blushing utilizes them to an extent that creates an atmosphere that’s intoxicating and haunting a la moody ‘80s synth-pop. But that doesn’t mean the album is all one-note, beautifully melancholic string arrangements blend harmoniously with the synth parts. The result is an album that restrains itself and swells and surges at all the right times to leave you vulnerable and disarmed continuously. Marsh’s whisper-like vocals and falsetto have never been more at home as they are in front of these lush soundscapes. The weight of him singing these devotionals will echo far beyond the end of this decade.
Listen to both my most played and selections from the previously mentioned albums below.
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Happy New Year!