Top Favorite Albums of 2019

Alright, we made it. The final list of the year, my ten favorite albums from 2019. Unlike other sites, I do not rank my top ten. These are just the ten albums that stood out to me for one reason or another and have endured through the year as my favorites. Since half of these were not officially scored by me, score isn’t really the most important factor, but you can safely assume that everything on this list would be scored a 4.0/5.0 or higher. I also try to represent as many genres as I can. But enough explaining, on to the musics!

AM Taxi

AM TAXI – SHIVER BY ME–I came across this album because another band I listen to were being good bros and gave it a shout out. I did not expect to find one of the best albums I’d hear all year. I previously described this album as punk attitude with a bit of heartland rock and that combination just really works for me. There is zero filler, and when you think you can predict the direction a song is going to go, they take a left turn and make you believe that’s the way you should have expected it to go all along. I wish I could go into more detail, but the bottom line is that this is just some great rock music done very well.

Zappo Productions/Thirty Tigers

BRUCE HORNSBY – ABSOLUTE ZERO–After over 30 years and ten albums, veteran soft rock and Americana singer-songwriter Bruce Hornsby takes a surprisingly experimental turn on his latest album. You might expect an artist like Hornsby to just release a collection of piano ballads that old fans will buy but otherwise won’t make too many waves. Instead, he’s teamed up with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, yMusic, and others to actually challenge himself and put out something really unique in his catalog. Even though this leans experimental, Hornsby’s strong skills in songwriting and melody still come through, making this album still very listenable. This was a surprising release, and easily one of my favorites. Watch my full review here.

Triple B

FUMING MOUTH – THE GRAND DESCENT–Now for one of my favorite extreme metal releases of the year. Fuming Mouth play a combination of death metal and hardcore, but like Venom Prison, they never go full deathcore. It’s more like death metal with the raw energy and breakdown riffs of hardcore. This album just comes right out of the gate with the brutality and lets up only a few times over its 33 minute run time. Some say the band is a little one-note, but I personally think they manage to vary the dynamics from song to song enough to keep it interesting. But if we’re honest, sometimes we just want to listen to metal for some intense brutality. And Fuming Mouth brought it this year.

Elektra

THE HIGHWOMEN – self-titled–I’m not entirely sure why, but I often find that in the world of modern country music, a lot of the best albums are made by women. That trend continues this year with The Highwomen. This is a collaboration between Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires, and Natalie Hemby and is a loose tribute to the Highwaymen collaborations of the ’80s and ’90s. The songs on here are inspired by folk and the sounds of previous generations of country music, but have lyrics with very modern sentiments, including what I imagine is one of very few lesbian country love songs. The songs are great, the harmonies are sweet, and every member brings something to the table that makes this album rise above other country releases this year.

Dirty Hit

THE JAPANESE HOUSE – GOOD AT FALLING–First off, shout out to Josh Scott of JHS Pedals for turning me on to this artist on his YouTube channel. Second, if I picked an album of the year, this would easily be a front-runner. Good at Falling is The Japanese House’s debut album following a quartet of fantastic EPs and it is indie pop brilliance. At times the sound reminds me of “Hide And Seek” era Imogen Heap, but it doesn’t sound dated. The songs sound fun but the lyrics cover dark, personal, and emotional topics at times. The production is spot on for every track and even when it doesn’t sound fantastic, you know that it was intentional. You don’t want to miss this one. Watch my full review here.

AGE 101

LITTLE SIMZ – GREY AREA–This is not only the best British rap album of the year, but the best rap album of the year in general. The first thing that grabbed my attention was Inflo’s production, pulling obvious influence from jazz rap of the ’90s but with enough forward thinking to keep it from just being a throwback sound. Then there are the lyrics. Simz delivers smart and conscious lyrics in fantastic flows. The features are all great too. Every guest delivers something that adds to the song instead of feeling tacked on. This is the rap album where everything fell into place; the beats, the flows, and the features all work together and every gamble payed off.

Ghosteen Ltd

NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS – GHOSTEEN–Nick Cave and company continue the themes of 2016’s Skeleton Tree and conclude the trilogy started by 2013’s Push the Sky Away. This album finds Cave still processing the grief of losing his son, and while the lyrics are still dark and poetic, the music has taken on a more hopeful feel. Vintage synths and strings and the occasional piano dominate the soundscapes created by long-time Bad Seed Warren Ellis. This album isn’t exactly easy to listen to, and it takes a few spins to really dig in. But once you do, the beauty of the work as a whole becomes apparent. Read my full review here.

Century Media

THE OFFERING – HOME–Here is a band whose sound is so hard to nail down that they misleadingly get categorized as power metal on some websites. A more accurate description, and I’m not joking, is a combination of death metal, deathcore, groove metal, hard rock, heavy metal, metalcore, nu-metal, power metal, prog, and thrash. I know that sounds like a metal version of that game kids play where they mix every kind of soda at the fountain, but believe me when I say that the end result tastes way way way better. I don’t know how these guys do it, but they make it work. The songs are the right amount of catchy and brutal, and, oh yeah, they pull it off in a fucking epic 14 minute album closer! My words will never do it justice. You’ll just have to hear it for yourself.

Prosthetic

PALADIN – ASCENSION–Rounding out my metal picks for the year, and speaking of clever blending of sub-genres, we have this album by Paladin. Now, they don’t go quite as crazy as The Offering, but what they accomplish is almost as impressive. Ascension flawlessly blends the styles of power and thrash metal. Within each song, they jump from thrash to power metal bits multiple times, vocally and instrumentally. But the transitions are never jarring in an awkward way. If it’s jarring at all, it’s more in a pleasantly surprising way. And the jumps change from track to track. One will have thrash verses and power choruses, where another will have thrash choruses and power solos. It continues to impress me every time I listen to it. Watch my full review here.

Wilsun

SHEER MAG – A DISTANT CALL–Sheer Mag is a band that is rather unapologetically inspired by ’80s power pop. But they’re more than just an ’80s cover band or an uninspired throwback. They take the things that make you love ’80s music and turn them into solid rock songs. You get hints of glam, Cheap Trick, a dash of punk, and a pinch of Judas Priest. Top it of with Christina Halladay’s awesome voice, and you’ve got one fun rock album. The songs are catchy and they remind you of the best tracks from the past without sounding like cheap ripoffs. It’s like the first time you heard The Darkness back in 2003.

Honorable Mentions of 2019

Before we get into my top favorites of the year, I’d like to mention some albums that are good in their own ways but didn’t quite make the cut. These are albums that represent some kind of special achievement, a better-than-expected comeback, or albums that impressed me in one way but weren’t really exceptional for one reason or another. Not much else to say beyond that, so on to the musics!

Equal Vision

AS CITIES BURN – SCREAM THROUGH THE WALLS–As Cities Burn finally give their fans the album they’ve been waiting 14 years for! No, I didn’t count wrong. Not only is this their first release in 10 years, but it’s the first since their 2005 debut to feature original vocalist TJ Bonnette. This reunion also brings harsh vocals back into the mix, but this isn’t just an attempt to recreate Son, I Loved You at Your Darkest. This album pulls inspiration from their entire catalog. The frantic, mathy hardcore of 2005 is traded for competent post-hardcore with mature, but distinctly As Cities Burn songwriting. Watch my full review here.

RCA

BACKSTREET BOYS – DNA–On their first album in six years, the Backstreet Boys actually try to bring their sound up to current trends. The result is better than you’d probably expect. I’m not saying it’s great, because there are some tracks here that sound incredibly dated and others that just plain aren’t that good. But a Backstreet Boys album in 2019 could have been a lot worse than this. Part of the reason I think it went this well is the group is talented enough vocally to apply themselves in a lot of different situations. It’s one of the reasons they’re one of the few bands from their era still releasing music as a group.

Darkroom/Interscope

BILLIE EILISH – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?–Billie Eilish has been getting a ton of hype this year and it will probably upset some people that this album is an honorable mention and not on my final year-end list. And look, I pretty much agree that she is a very exciting and promising voice for the future of pop music, especially considering she’s only 17. I think she has the potential to put out some really fantastic albums, but this just isn’t doing it for me like it is for other people. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic debut for a young artist, but I think the best is yet to come from Billie Eilish. Watch my full review here.

Real World

THE GLOAMING – 3–The award for the prettiest album I’ve heard this year should probably go to this one. The Gloaming is an Irish folk band that tries to modernize the music by incorporating elements of contemporary classical, post-rock, and minimalism. The results aren’t necessarily ambient, but very beautiful and pensive tracks with sparse arrangements. Another carryover from post-rock is long songs with many on this album being over seven minutes, but none of them overstay their welcome. It’s an excellent album for both active listening and just playing in the background.

Decca

JEFF GOLDBLUM & THE MILDRED SNITZER ORCHESTRA – I SHOULDN’T BE TELLING YOU THIS–Jeff Goldblum continues his venture into the realm of jazz musicians with his second album, this one being a proper studio album. His backing band returns and the album features several guest vocalists, including Miley Cyrus, Sharon Van Etten, and Fiona Apple. Goldblum only offers his own voice to one track, deferring to his talented guests for most others. In a similar fashion, his piano playing is beyond competent, but he’s content to sit back in the mix and let other members of his band take the solos. There are a few clever mashups of pop lyrics with jazz instrumentals. The only thing missing is the banter with the audience and the guests like we got on The Capitol Studios Sessions. Read my full review here.

Thrill Jockey

MATMOS – PLASTIC ANNIVERSARY–Matmos, a group famous for building their songs from samples of everyday objects, turns their focus to plastic. Creating an entire album from plastic items is not only a creative challenge but an environmental message. At first, that might make this sound like a novelty record with a heavy-handed agenda, but the result is some truly impressive electronic music. Matmos effectively try their hand at various musical styles including IDM, industrial, and even Samba, all using items like vinyl records, silicone implants, billiard balls, and a riot shield. It’s very impressive for a group to continue challenging themselves like this so deep into their career and still turn out really compelling music. Watch my full review here.

Nuclear Blast

POSSESSED – REVELATIONS OF OBLIVION–And the winner of the band that waited the longest time between releases goes to the OG death metal band Possessed who put out Revelations of Oblivion thirty-two years after their last release of new material. Now, the only original member is vocalist Jeff Becerra (I know, I’m disappointed Larry LaLonde didn’t come back too), but he really does keep the original spirit of Possessed (hehe, spirit) alive in this new iteration. Usually, when a band comes back after an extended break the results leave a bit to be desired, but Revelations doesn’t suck, which is quite the accomplishment.

NPG/Warner Bros.

PRINCE – ORIGINALS–This is a collection of demos of songs that Prince wrote for other artists. If I’m perfectly honest, I wasn’t too familiar with many of these songs. And some of the ones I was familiar with, I didn’t know Prince wrote them (Manic Monday? Really?!!?). Even though these are demos, they are fully fleshed out performances of these songs, sometimes rivaling proper studio releases. Truly a testament to Prince’s perfectionism. I know you’re wondering, and yes, “Nothing Compares 2 U” is on here, and it’s just as amazing as you’re imagining. It’s just so interesting to hear how these songs were originally envisioned by their writer.

Starbomb

STARBOMB – THE TRYFORCE–Starbomb is a collaboration between comedy band Ninja Sex Party and YouTube gamer/artist Arin Hanson (a.k.a. Egoraptor). The collaboration is really not too surprising given that Danny from NSP is Arin’s co-host on the YouTube gaming channel Game Grumps. Starbomb’s sound takes the ’80s synth inspired sound of NSP and puts rapped lyrics about video games over it. The Tryforce is the group’s third (and possibly final) album and their best so far. The production has gotten better and so has their songwriting, which has transitioned from fitting as many dirty jokes as possible into a song to clever lyrics and wordplay. Comedy music is pretty niche already, making it all about video games narrows the demographic even more. But if you’re into either of those, you don’t want to miss this.

Spring Snow/Columbia

VAMPIRE WEEKEND – FATHER OF THE BRIDE–Six years after capping off a fantastic trilogy of albums with Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend return with their fourth album. Representing a bit of a stylistic shift for the band, the album pulls inspiration from genres like Americana and jam bands like Phish, but it still has a sound that is very distinctly Vampire Weekend. With only a couple exceptions, the compositions on this album are a bit more relaxed, but their lyrics are still just as dense as they’ve ever been. The album is a bit long and as such, there is some filler, but there are some real gems on here. “Harmony Hall” in particular is one of my favorite singles of the year. Watch my full review here.

Great Heavy Albums of 2019

Much like last year, the majority of all the music I listened to this year fell into what I call heavy genres. These include heavy metal and all of its sub-genres as well as other stuff that might not necessarily be considered “metal” but is still heavy. Examples would be things like hardcore, industrial, the black metal inspired electronic of Gost, and the brutal experimental noise of Lingua Ignota. This year, heavy music accounted for over 40% of everything I listened to, which translates to over 400 albums. It didn’t seem fair to limit this to what managed to make it to my overall favorites list, so here are ten other heavy albums that I believe are worth your time.

Relapse

COFFINS – BEYOND THE CIRCULAR DEMISE–Death/doom metal is a genre I’m pretty new to, so my enjoyment of death/doom albums pretty much comes down to the sound and how well it can keep my interest. This Coffins album does a very good job combining the brutality of death metal and the crushing heaviness of doom. They know when to take it slow and when to speed things up, and they choose their riffs wisely for each case. There’s also this weird sound that I’m not sure if it’s some instrument or some kind of vocal processing, but it works and it’s one of the ways Coffins is setting themselves apart.

Inside Out

DREAM THEATER – DISTANCE OVER TIME–The prog metal pioneers return yet again with their 14th album. It also happens to be one of their shortest with the standard version clocking under an hour of run time. Despite the length, there’s no shortage of impressive musicianship to be found, as can be expected from Petrucci and company. What’s most impressive is that they avoid a lot of excessive self gratification and give us some very tight and focused metal performances instead. And this one gets nice and heavy with some decent riffs and solid grooves on some passages. They’re among the best and this album just continues to prove that. Watch my full review here (yes I know the intro is creepy).

Roadrunner/333 Wreckords Crew

FEVER 333 – STRENGTH IN NUMB333RS–I’m not sure why, but nu-metal is trying to make a comeback. But if it means we get more bands like Fever 333, it might not be such a terrible thing. This is a very angry and visceral brand of rap metal that I can’t help but compare to Rage Against the Machine at times. Not just in sound, but also in message. Instead of shallow, tough-guy bravado, Jason Aalon Butler sings of the injustices and difficulties he’s witnessed and experienced as a person of mixed race. This album will really get your blood pumping in more than one way.

Creator-Destructor

GYGAX – HIGH FANTASY–As this band’s name implies, they are heavily inspired by tabletop RPGs like D&D. While that sounds supremely nerdy, even to me, these guys are just about the best old-school hard rock band I’ve heard this year. They’re so old school that I almost wouldn’t consider them heavy metal, but some of their riffs push it just over that line. For a little more reference, they give off some heavy Thin Lizzy and Blue Oyster Cult vibes at times with their rhythms, guitar tones, and dual guitar leads. So if you’re itching for something new in that wheelhouse, give Gygax a try.

Southern Lord

HIGH COMMAND – BEYOND THE WALL OF DESOLATION–This decade has seen a bit of a renaissance of crossover thrash come bubbling up from the underground. The success of bands like Power Trip has allowed more great bands to come into the spotlight. High Command is one of those bands. Despite the name and album art seeming more appropriate for epic metal or stoner rock, they deliver some wonderfully punishing thrash riffage. The lyrics however have more in common with bands like Iron Maiden or Sabaton, telling stories of medieval fantasy battles. Look no further for good thrashy fun.

I Built The Sky

I BUILT THE SKY – THE ZENITH RISE–I know I literally just talked about this one at the end of November, but as far as instrumental guitar music goes, it really is the best of the year. This is a genre that is really difficult to stand out in, especially now that the internet has been flooded with bedroom musicians and producers. Rohan Stevenson excels because he holds to the guitar philosophy that man cannot survive on shredding alone. Yes, he’s very talented and his shredding is impressive, but what really impresses me are the hooks and melodies between the solos. I Built The Sky is one to watch in the new school of instrumental metal music.

Flightless/ATO

KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD – INFEST THE RATS’ NEST–One of two albums released by King Gizzard in 2019, and the better of the two in my opinion. This album finds the psych rock chameleons trying their hand at thrash metal, and they do a pretty dang good job. Keeping with their psychedelic foundations, this album is produced to sound more like an early thrash album from the late ’70s with heavy Motörhead influences. The lyrics tell an apocalyptic sci-fi story of life after the Earth’s climate collapses and how the same greedy practices exist even after they’ve caused irreparable damage. Not every King Gizzard experiment lands, but this one certainly does.

YLYLCYN

LITURGY – H.A.Q.Q.–Yes, it’s another album I just covered in November, but this thing made a big splash when it landed. With H.A.Q.Q. Liturgy continues to push the boundaries of what black metal can do. Depending on who you ask, that’s a really good or really bad thing. Either way, you can’t deny how brutal and heavy these tracks are, using their musical heft to emphasize the emotional weight of Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’ lyrics. The way they incorporate classical instruments like chimes, glockenspiel, and harp is genius, and piano interludes serve as nice little retreats from the insanity before diving back in. Overall it’s just a very satisfying and cathartic experience. Read my full review here.

Silent Pendulum

POUND – ••–This is easily one of the most unique releases that I heard all year. Pound is a guitar and drums duo who play what they call “experimental, instrumental grind, math, dbeat, and sludge.” But hints of prog and djent show up from time to time. Guitarist Ryan Schutte plays a 9-string baritone, so there’s no lack of low end. Riffs zig and zag all over this album, but it’s not all prog weirdness. There’s a bit of melodic structure here too. You won’t find them on Spotify, but if you’re looking for something different, the whole album is on their YouTube channel, or find them on Bandcamp.

Southern Lord

SUNN O))) – LIFE METAL–This wasn’t a particularly fantastic year for slow metal, but we did get not one, but two Sunn O))) albums this year. Of the two, I prefer Life Metal. I know a lot of purists aren’t big fans of it because it’s less experimental than their previous work, but I personally love it for being a more back-to-basics approach. It’s also about as positive or uplifting as a Sunn O))) album can be. The second album, Pyroclasts is also very good, but it’s more meditative and improvisational. If you like your metal slow, it doesn’t get much slower than this.

Good Albums I Didn’t Review in November 2019

It’s already been about a month since my last post like this, and yet again there was a lot of good music that I didn’t get to write a full review for. I was hoping to get one more out before this, but life got in the way like it does. So once again, here are some albums that I think might be worth your time. Like I said last time, as these are all “good,” their score would be 3.5 or higher if I gave them a full review. On to the musics.

Nuclear Blast

BLIND GUARDIAN TWILIGHT ORCHESTRA – LEGACY OF THE DARK LANDS–They’ve been hinting at it for years and now Blind Guardian have finally delivered on the promise of an orchestral album. Never ones to half-ass anything, this album is massive, sounds massive, has interludes with dialogue, and a second disc with instrumental versions of everything. It can be a slog and it’s hard to keep up with the story, but the companion novel (The Dark Lands by Markus Heitz) is available in English now, so I’ll probably be revisiting this one.

Dark Descent

BLOOD INCANTATION – HIDDEN HISTORY OF THE HUMAN RACE–Death metal is a pretty saturated genre right now, and a lot of it is competent but a bit bland as far as death metal goes. Blood Incantation are not bland. They actively push their sound and songs in interesting directions. I do personally wish the last track was broken up into two or more tracks, but this is a great example of what the genre is capable of.

aural music

BOTANIST – ECOSYSTEM–Like I said in my Liturgy review, black metal doesn’t really appeal to me unless there’s something that differentiates it from the “traditions” of the genre. Botanist plays black metal on hammered dulcimers. It doesn’t get much more non-traditional than that. More seriously, as the name implies, Botanist sounds organic and they have the talent to make this more than just a novelty.

Mass Appeal

DJ SHADOW – OUR PATHETIC AGE–This album is split into two halves with instrumentals on the first half and all-star guest rappers on the second. The first half is fine, but the second half is what you really want to hear. It has strong guest verses by people like Nas, Pharoahe Monch, Run The Jewels, and a mini Wu-Tang reunion. Shadow drops some sweet beats and brings out the best in his guests.

Young Turks Recordings

FKA TWIGS – MAGDALENE–I’m not convinced that this album deserves all the hype that it’s getting, but it’s still very good. Twigs is one of the artists on the leading edge of pop music, pushing it further into the future and exciting new places. It’s her first full length in 5 years, the production is great, and she sounds great.

Island

R.LUM.R – SURFACING–I normally don’t go for a lot of modern R&B music, but for some reason I’m just drawn to this guy. I don’t know if it’s his melodies, his falsetto, his unabashed love of indie and prog rock, or the fact that the songs aren’t exclusively about fucking. Either way, if I like an R&B record, there’s something special about it that makes it stand out. And this one does stand out to me.

Omnivore

HARRY NILSSON – LOSST AND FOUNND–Nilsson was working on a new album around the time that he died in 1994. Now, almost 40 years after his last studio album, we finally have a release from those sessions. The result is a time capsule of what singer-songwriter music was like in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It’s definitely a product of its time, but it shows that Nilsson still had his writing chops towards the end of his life.

I Built The Sky

I BUILT THE SKY – THE ZENITH RISE–One of the biggest challenges with instrumental guitar music is to keep it from sounding like self-indulgent wankery. It happens a lot with the shreddy metal stuff especially. Rohan Stevenson avoids this with his strong melodies. His songs are technically impressive, but they still have melodic soul that keeps you from tuning out.

20 Buck Spin

OBSEQUIAE – THE PALMS OF SORROWED KINGS–A little heavy on the metal this month, aren’t we? Anyway, Obsequiae plays black-ish medieval folk tinged metal and utilizes actual medieval instruments like harps, hammered dulcimers, hurdy gurdies, psalteries, and more. There are even instrumental tracks played exclusively on these instruments. It sounds like it could come across as a little pretentious, and in some ways it does. But overall, the band provides an interesting listening experience.

Warp/LuckyMe

TNGHT – II–Last, but certainly not least, Hudson Mohawke and Lunice finally give us a proper follow-up to the amazing trap EDM EP that was their 2012 debut as TNGHT. This one isn’t strictly trap music, but the relentless energy of the first release is still here. It’s loud, it’s a little strange sometimes, but it gets you moving, which is all I really ask from TNGHT.