Grant’s Favorite Music of 2019

Artists have released some amazing music in 2019, especially in the second half of the year. This year I found ten albums I love, while last year I only had three! A Spotify playlist is located at the bottom of the page if you are so inclined.

Music lists from past years: 20182017 / 2016 / 2015

Best Songs:
10ish) Torch Committee, Josh Ritter

10) Seventeen, Sharon Van Etten

9) I Don’t Matter at All, Pkew Pkew Pkew

8) Let Out, Ari Roar

7) Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You, Julia Jacklin

6) When I Awoke, Toth

5) Handmade Ego, TENDER

This song is the best album opener that I’ve heard in a while with a propulsive beat, a killer baseline, and lots of interesting sounds that fill in the composition. I was hooked on this one after the first few seconds. The lyrics add to the mood describing a fascinating and complicated relationship:

So caught up in my self indulgence
I tell myself I’m not hopeless
I need you
I need you to struggle with me too
4) The Flow, Daniel Norgren

In this song the piano, vocals, and guitar are all equally important to create a trance, which is perfect for a song about a unknown drifter slowly moving through life. I never would have guessed the songwriter with a cajun sound is actually Swedish, but if it sounds this good you won’t find me complaining about cultural appropriation.
3) Not/Cattails, Big Thief

Yes, that is two different songs. But part of why they belong on this list is because the two songs came from two different albums released this year and they sound like they came from two totally different songwriters. The lightness of tranquility of Cattails is juxtaposed with Not, a song with a driving electric guitar and desperate vocals that eventually break down into a screeching climax. Both songs are beautifully composed and emotionally deep. It is very impressive what Adrianne Lenker and the other members of Big Thief have accomplished in 2019.
2) The Ride, Amanda Palmer

The scale of this song is astonishing as Palmer lays out an entire perspective on life focused on the metaphor of a roller coaster. Things will be overwhelming and our mortality is always looming, but try your best to live without fear. Palmer’s beautiful voice and enchanting piano enable you to buy in on everything she is singing.

The chain pulls us up and we know that we’re all gonna dive
The blur and the noise of the screaming can blind and distract you
But isn’t it nice when we all can scream at the same time?
And it’s just a ride, it’s just a ride
And you’ve got the choice to get off anytime that you like
1) EARFQUAKE, Tyler the Creator

After hearing Rick Rubin’s interview with Tyler, I was very impressed at how he thinks about music and builds his craft. It is not something that I would expect from someone who decides to wear a blonde bob for every performance for Igor, but similar to Marilyn Manson you shouldn’t judge the musician by the on-stage persona. This song in particular exhibits his ability to craft a song with a great hook and many dynamic payoffs.

Runner Ups: Water Me Down by Vagabon, Harmony Hall by Vampire Weekend, State of Gold by Ian Ferguson, Maybe by SOAK, Story of a Fish by Jeremy Ivey, I’m Not Where You Are by Marika Hackman, and The Fool by Overcoats

Best Albums:

10ish) Cascadia, Said the Whale

10) Black Pumas (self-titled)

9) On the Line, Jenny Lewis

8) Violet Street, Local Natives

7) I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream, Tallest Man on Earth

6) How do We Stay Here?, Close Talker

5) i,i Bon Iver

Some have described this album as a return to Justin Vernon’s days in the snowy cabin where he recorded For Emma, Forever Ago. While I see that connection, I believe it is an expansion of his initial vision, adding elements of types of music he has delved into over the past decade. The result is probably Vernon’s best work yet. Whether it is the surprising horns on the song iMi, the rapid drum beat of Naeem, or the autotune background vocals on Hey, Ma there are plenty of expertly considered flourishes that show how much Vernon has grown into a multifaceted musician.
4) Sound and Fury, Sturgill Simpson

This was the surprise of the year for me. While I loved Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, I didn’t go for his follow up releases as much and I began to dismiss his releases. While I had to warm up to this one, it has proven to be an incredible release. This album is packed full of great alternative country melodies and powerful guitar rock. I don’t care what genre it is, I just know it is great music. Simpson introduces a scathing look at our world and envisions a post-apocalyptic world to rail against. He decided to take this one step further and create an anime movie on Netflix to accompany the album, which is an amazing way to listen to the album. I do wish the film could have featured the reptile aliens made of light that he sang about on his second album, but I shouldn’t complain.
3) Kiwanuka (self-titled)

Michael Kiwanuka followed up his amazing 2016 album Love and Hate with an even more impressive album bearing his own name. Since that Love and Hate released, his music gained popular appeal thanks being featured in shows like Big Little Lies, Parenthood, and Blacklist. But instead of letting that success go to his head he pushed his musical boundaries further and created a richer and more expansive sound without losing the soul. His interviews indicate that he is still full of self-doubt, but I wonder if his uncertainty leads to an earnestness that has a tangible quality. Regardless, he should take pride in his accomplishments…and keep the releases coming!
2) My Finest Work Yet, Andrew Bird

While I really enjoyed Bird’s 2007 album Armchair Apocrypha, the albums following were possibly too precious, and I haven’t listened to them much over the years. However, Bird seems to have pulled back from his conceptual songwriting for this album, and I am in awe at the results. The strings, the whistling, and the melodies are all top notch. In addition, Bird showcases his ability to write about interesting subjects in poetic ways. For example, he ties in his appreciation of historic works with a modern philosophy on the song Sisyphus in which he says “to hell with this” and he lets the rock roll. The jaw dropping song for me is Bloodless, in which Bird compares the current state of US politics to the lead-up to the Spanish Civil War:

They’re profiting from your worry…
I’m keeping mine with the altruists
I’m putting my weight behind the dancer
I know it’s hard to be an optimist
When you trust least the ones who claim to have the answers…
And it feels like 1936
In Catalonia
Bloodless for now
1) Laughing Matter, Wand

This LA band has put out five albums since they formed in 2013, but I missed all of their releases until this year’s Laughing Matter. Their layering of sound and texture creates an exciting evolution of garage rock. I am probably most impressed with their ability to create diverse sounds and moods in their track list. For example, they follow a thoughtful acoustic track with the fifth track Walkie Talkie. While the song isn’t one of their singles, it is an early indication that the album will take you for a journey as it picks up the pace with a sound akin to vintage Strokes, but filtered through modern influences.

I’m on twitter: @5DollarWrench

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