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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 – 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.
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.