Great Albums Made by Women in 2019

Last year, in an attempt to make myself a little more woke, I challenged myself to create a list of albums that highlighted great music made by women in addition to my normal list of favorite albums from the year. My decision to do it again was reinforced by the fact that I listened to over 1000 albums this year and less than 15% were by women or groups fronted by women. That number might be different for you, but on average I believe women make up a severe minority of the music that gets consumed. There’s a lot of great music being made by women that deserves to be highlighted, so take a look at what I’ve put together here and maybe add one or two into your rotation.

Republic

ARIANA GRANDE – THANK U, NEXT–This album was released only about 6 months after Grande’s previous album, Sweetener. And it was a pretty tumultuous 6 months. Ex-boyfriend Mac Miller had passed away and her engagement to Pete Davidson was called off. Much of thank u, next appears to be inspired by these events with direct references to her exes, ending relationships, and the ways that she coped with them, both healthy and unhealthy. Lyrically this is Grande’s most personal and vulnerable album, an aspect that is reinforced by the fact that there are no featured artists. This is easily the best album that she’s released so far.

Dead Oceans

BETTER OBLIVION COMMUNITY CENTER – self-titled–This group is a collaboration between singer-songwriters Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst. The former being one of the most promising and exciting songwriters to come up in the past few years and the latter being indie folk and emo royalty. The album claims to follow a concept, but it must follow it very loosely. The important thing is this is one of the best collections of folk rock tunes released this year. Bridgers has yet to really disappoint me in anything she’s involved in, and Oberst sounds like he’s genuinely having fun. It’s certainly one of the most interesting things he’s been involved in for awhile.

Scofflaw

DIALITH – EXTINCTION SIX–Symphonic metal is a difficult genre to pull off. There’s a balance you have to strike between the orchestration and the badass metal riffs. Dialith strikes the balance right where I like it with a bit more emphasis on the metal. Their orchestration doesn’t sound like it’s played on a cheap keyboard (an especially impressive accomplishment when you remember that this is an unsigned band). Finally, but certainly not least, vocalist Krista Sion has a beautiful, near-operatic voice that complements the music without over-singing. The songs are never overblown or over-done. No one element tries to steal the spotlight from the others. Overall it’s a very impressive debut.

Polydor/Interscope

LANA DEL REY – NORMAN FUCKING ROCKWELL–I used to be a pretty outspoken critic of Lana Del Rey when she first came onto the scene and accusations of her being inauthentic flowed freely. Over the years though, my opinion has softened as she’s turned herself into something of a real deal. Her songwriting and stylistic choices have only gotten better over time and Norman Fucking Rockwell is where they really go to the next level. Cries of insincerity go right out the window track after track, bolstered by the quieter instrumentals on this album. There are a couple missteps, but it does have just about the best Sublime cover I’ve ever heard.

Nice Life/Atlantic

LIZZO – CUZ I LOVE YOU–I know it’s kind of “the thing” to like Lizzo right now but truth be told, if you’re going to do pop rap, this is the way to do it. Lizzo is an incredibly solid songwriter and you can quickly tell that there’s some decent substance here. Her lyrics are full of feminist and positive messages delivered without a patronizing tone. The instrumentals are inspired by funk, soul, and disco of the ’70s and ’80s with a couple clear nods to Prince. These aren’t songs that exist to just be hits, deliberate care was put into them. Like I said, this is pop rap done right.

Compass

MOLLY TUTTLE – WHEN YOU’RE READY–I mentioned Molly Tuttle’s album earlier this year, and it’s managed to remain one of the most impressive country and Americana albums of the year. Like I mentioned in that video, Tuttle is a very talented guitarist and songwriter. She’s not only the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year award, but she’s one it two years in a row. Her playing is on display on a couple tracks, but it’s also there in many others for those who listen for it. Her songwriting is impressive as well, so even casual listeners will enjoy this.

Rhyme & Reason

PRONOUN – I’LL SHOW YOU STRONGER–Pronoun is a bit of a one-woman indie-pop band project by singer and songwriter Alyse Vellturo, and it’s some of the best damn guitar pop I’ve heard this year. I’m not quite sure exactly what genres and decades intersect on this album or where, but I think I hear some ’80s thrown in there with some early 2000s indie pop and a couple others. The real draw on this album for me though are the hooks. Some of the guitar hooks on here are just so strong that I have to stop what I’m doing to listen, and sometimes I’ll even play the song again. I’ll definitely be looking for Vellturo’s future releases.

Kanine

TALLIES – self-titled–Speaking of solid indie pop, we have Tallies with their self-titled debut. This is like a modern take on new wave with some surf tendencies. Reverb and jangly guitars abound with single-note leads played throughout the tracks. I’d compare them with Real Estate or maybe DIIV with some more modern surf like Best Coast thrown in. The new wave influences come in with some clear nods to bands like The Cure, especially their more pop leaning tunes. It’s great music for a summer cruise with the top down.

Prosthetic

VENOM PRISON – SAMSARA–I wasn’t going to let you go without mentioning at least one more metal album on this list. Venom Prison mix death metal with elements of hardcore without going full deathcore, and it’s some truly brutal stuff. A true highlight of the band is vocalist Larissa Stupar. The female voice always brings a unique quality to harsh metal vocals, and Stupar’s is especially powerful. Her lyrics take the traditionally dark and disturbing themes of death metal and use them to bring the horrors of misogyny and rape culture to light (that is, when you can understand her). They also tackle subjects of fascism and mental health, making this not only a brutal album, but a socially aware one.

Sub Pop

WEYES BLOOD – TITANIC RISING–I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t get this one at first. This album was getting so much hype and I just wasn’t seeing why. After a few listens it finally hit me what an accomplishment this album is. The production here is just absolutely spot on. Weyes Blood just nails that Carpenters-esque ’70s soft rock and makes it sound timeless rather than retro or dated. Natalie Mering’s sentimental and somehow hopeful lyrics guide you through the struggles of life in the modern world. This is easily one of the prettiest albums of the year, and I can’t believe I almost missed it.

Awful Albums of 2019

A lot of things in this world depend on opposites. Light and dark, comedy and tragedy, war and peace; the existence of one is amplified by the existence of the other. This principle applies to the world of music as well. For all the good albums that come out in a year, there are often more bad ones. I’ve put together a list of some of the worst I heard this year for you to angrily disagree with me about. They are listed below in alphabetical order.

BMG

AVRIL LAVIGNE – HEAD ABOVE WATER–This is the Canadian singer’s first album in 6 years and it follows a bout with Lyme disease that inspired some of the songs on it. The lead single and title track gained some traction on Christian radio, but I’m sure many listeners who were hoping Lavigne had turned over a new leaf were disappointed when they saw the racy album cover. Their disappointment probably got worse when they found that literally all the other tracks on the album were unfit for Christian radio in one way or another. Ironically I liken this album to Contemporary Christian Music in general in terms of quality. It’s full of a lot of weak attempts to sound relevant years after the wave has passed.

Eclipse

BLACKLIST 9 – MENTALLY ILL, LEGALLY SANE–This is a rare example of an album where every piece of the puzzle is bad. The writing is bad, the vocals are bad, the guitar tone is bad, the recording is bad, the mix is bad. The performances leave a lot to be desired. The riffs sound like a high school band in 2003 learned just enough to play basic nu-metal riffs, and the drummer flubs his fills sometimes. There are moments where the band isn’t even completely in sync. In some instances a combination of elements this bad can still come together as something charmingly rough like a punk record. But part of what makes this so awful is the band is taking themselves so seriously. I guess if I could say one good thing it’s that the album is short.

We The Best/Epic

DJ KHALED – FATHER OF ASAHD–DJ Khaled believes he is an authority on good music, a curator of fine hip-hop beats and talent, a hit-maker supreme, and he’s quite humble about it too. I mean, he did name is label We The Best Music after all. Jokes aside, there might have been a time when that was true, but this album feels more like Khaled is co-opting the work of other people and putting his name on it, hoping that it will become a hit and he will get rich and famous by association. Even the best featured vocalists and rappers feel like they’re not giving it their all. All 15 tracks start with shouts of “DJ Khaled!” and “We The Best Music!” as if those are indicators of quality. But it ends up being more like a signal to hit skip.

Big Machine

FLORIDA GEORGIA LINE – CAN’T SAY I AIN’T COUNTRY–If I was ever asked what exactly I didn’t like about bro country, I would immediately point to this album. You can find an example of just about everything wrong with the genre on it. Toxic masculinity, formulaic country mad-lib lyrics, appropriated elements from hip-hop and R&B, tonal and moral inconsistency; it’s got it all! There’s seriously very little of value here. Watch my full review here.

Bad Dreams/Empire

IGGY AZALEA – IN MY DEFENSE–An artist who welcomes controversy with arms wide open returns with an album full of unapologetic appropriation and lyrics. She’s not sorry about anything that’s happened and she reminds you of that on every single song. She takes a page out of Logic’s book and fixates on her critics and haters, but doesn’t have Logic’s talent to make it at least tolerable. It might not be so bad if the beats were any good, but I really have a hard time remembering anything from this album at all.

Frontiers

JETBOY – BORN TO FLY–Jetboy are a glam band that enjoyed some very, very mild success in the ’80s and very early ’90s. Even though their songs were used in a couple movies, it still only earns them little more than half a dozen paragraphs of bio on their Wikipedia page. This is their first album in nine years and it’s pretty much 45 minutes of forgettable, vaguely ’80s hard rock that isn’t even all that hard. I don’t really know who they’re making this for because I can’t imagine there are a lot of Jetboy fans out there and this certainly isn’t going to win them any new ones.

Mascot/Music Theories

JORDAN RUDESS – WIRED FOR MADNESS–This album is the musical equivalent of that coworker that eavesdrops on all your conversations and then tries to insert themselves into it, offering some vaguely related anecdote to turn the focus onto them. Jordan Rudess (of Dream Theater) is a really good keyboardist, and he won’t let you forget it for a second. This album has become my new definitive example of prog wankery, meaning music that is technically impressive, but ultimately devoid of any personality or soul. It’s just a wall of notes and scales that screams “hey, look how much theory I know and how it makes me better than you!”

Interscope

MADONNA – MADAME X–This album was promoted as containing wide reaching musical influences. Madonna said Madame X is like a secret agent who can become whoever she wants to be. But let’s just say that if Madame X really were a spy, she wouldn’t be fooling anyone. This album is full of weak and watered down Latin pop and that’s about the only exotic flavor you get. Madonna employs weird vocal processing on a lot of tracks, makes unpredictably weird stylistic shifts, and tries to convince the world that she cares with a couple shallow political tracks. This album fails to deliver on its promises and it’s especially disappointing because we all know Madonna can do better. Watch my full review here.

Big Machine

MIDLAND – LET IT ROLL–The internet likes to joke about how country songs are all about the same things like dogs dying, wives cheating, and trucks breaking down. Midland sees these jokes and uses them as the blueprints for their songs. I have never in my life heard a collection of country songs so bland, formulaic, and unoriginal than on this album. It’s like they plotted all of the biggest Nashville hits on a graph, drew a line through the middle and set a goal to never exceed that standard. If I had to say one good thing about this album, it would be that this band is extremely dedicated to the mediocrity of it all.

Pavement Entertainment

SNAKE BITE WHISKY – THIS SIDE OF HELL–This is the self-proclaimed number one sleaze rock band of Australia, a genre I’m not entirely sure they didn’t make up. This is music for people who think rock peaked with Appetite for Destruction. The attitude, the swagger, the clothes, even the hair is all here. And that includes some of the problematic stuff too. It’s called sleaze rock for a reason. Unlike other bands like Steel Panther where you can clearly tell everything is tongue-in-cheek, I can’t tell if these guys are joking or not.

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.