As society hurdles ass over ears into the smog congested, plastic particle infested, fact contested, crap basket of incivility, we can at least take solace in the fact it was a mighty good year for new music.
My year-in-review list of albums is a bit different than most. I’ve limited mine to albums I actually OWN on CD — there are countless more I streamed online, but these are the ones I stepped up and put a ring on at the cash register.
Event Of The Year: The Prince Estate Opens The Gates
It’s hard to believe Prince has been gone for almost four years now — and the fact that there are likely 100 years of Prince albums awaiting fans in the vault is little comfort to those of us who have at best 20 to 30 years left. The last few years saw some false starts like the somewhat useless 4ever compilation, the moderately expanded Purple Rain reissue, and the Piano and a Microphone 1983 disc that was sold as a full-length album but should have been bonus content within some larger package. Thankfully the Estate got up to speed and unleashed a steady stream of reissues in 2019. The 1999 box set was by far the most exciting release by any artist during the year, highlighted by 2 discs of unreleased songs in pristine audio form that thrilled even the most devout bootleg collectors.
From the expanded liner notes to the comprehensive assortment of b-sides, live tracks, remixes, and a remaster of the original LP, the box set sets a new gold standard for how each era of Prince’s incredible life should be celebrated. One can only hope Around the World in a Day, Sign ‘O The Times, and Parade get similar reissues in the coming year or years. Purple Rain could also use a 5 to 10 CD edition, one that includes the full 1983 First Avenue concert, the full-length ’17 Days’ and other rarities left off the original reissue.
Earlier in the year, the estate reissued 1999’s ill-fated Santana/Supernatural wannabe, Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic, by expanding it to include 2001’s Rave In2 The Joy Fantastic remix album, bringing essential Prince tracks like ‘Beautiful Strange’ to official CD for the first time. Ultimate Rave also included a live DVD which was a nice addition to the more vintage live concerts included in the 1999 box.
I think due to an obscure overseas licensing agreement, Germany was given an exclusive Sign O’ The Times Blu-Ray/DVD box set with a full-length documentary. The set is on its third pressing, this time a compact booklet version, that ships to the USA from Amazon Germany — simply “translate the page” to arrange easy shipping with your current Amazon account.
Prince Originals offered fans yet another full-length album of new material, his versions of songs given to other artists. It played like a very satisfying full-length album, the only misfire being the CD did not include the expanded liner notes found only on the deluxe vinyl issue.
Another brief misfire of the year was a CD reissue of the Versace Experience DJ mix that was apparently sourced from a cassette. So while not a true “source master tape” experience, this release at least makes it easier for most people to play it in their cars.
The Top 50 New Albums of 2019
- The Ocean Blue • Kings and Queens, Knaves and Thieves
In 1989, the self-titled debut album by these dreampop darlings formerly of Hershey, PA, came thiiiiiiis close to winning my album of the year, competing against Madonna’s Like a Prayer, Kate Bush’s The Sensual World, Tears For Fears’ The Seeds of Love, and Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood. I honestly don’t remember who won, because back then — pre-Popdose — my year-end list was simply a playlist on my pre-dawn show on WKSR-AM (serving about a ¼ mile radius within Kent State University).
The Ocean Blue served as the American contemporaries to fellow Sire Records labelmates Echo & The Bunnymen, The Wild Swans, and The Smiths. After delivering three perfect albums to Sire and then going indie for a few more very good records, they went into a quiet period before emerging with the stellar Ultramarine in 2013. Kings and Queens… is the latest entry into what appears to be their next trilogy of perfect albums — their dark and epic The Empire Strikes Back if you will. Beneath the shimmering guitars, earworm hooks, and David Schelzel’s dreamy, lovelorn, and lamentful croon, are beautiful stories, abstract visions, easter eggs to previous albums, and eloquent social commentary. Read Popdose’s 2019 interview with Schelzel.
- Haley Reinhart • Lo-Fi Soul
While other American Idol alumni have won Oscars, Grammys, CMA Awards and their own talk shows, Reinhart has blazed one of the most artistically rewarding careers. At the time, we all wondered if she’d become the next Kelly Clarkson or Janis Joplin. None of the above. It’s all been pure Haley’s comet from that moment forward. She released spot-on solo albums alongside inventive Steampunk-style covers as part of Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox. Trip #4 to the solo plate, Lo-Fi Soul, is her best-ever album, released this year alongside a slew of one-off singles (solo and collaborations). This comes on the heels of a scene-stealing guest spot with Jeff Goldblum’s Mildred Snitzer Orchestra and her cover of the Cranberries’ ‘Dreams’ for that omnipresent Mazda campaign, and sharing the stage with The Doors’ Robby Krieger among others.
Lo-Fi Soul is a mix of modern pop and timeless throwbacks to the 1940s, 60s, and 70s. Plenty of artists release style exercises and period knockoffs as “love letters” to bygone eras, but Reinhart truly delivers the goods — excellent songs, impeccably produced, that work because she when she belts, growls, coos, falsettos, and snarls — it’s clear she truly feels every note. While Amy Winehouse was sadly not long for this Earth, and Aretha is now singing from the heavens, Reinhart, Lizzo, Dua Lipa, and rising star Cat Delphi are here to keep the jazzy, soulful, and magnificent torch songs blazing for generations to come.
- Billie Eilish • When We All Fall To Sleep, Where Do We Go?
It’s way too easy for hipsters and record geek elitists to write off Billie Eilish, the first artist born after the year 2000 to score a number #1 Billboard album. Their loss, because like Angel Olsen, she is rapidly emerging to be this generation’s most visionary and imaginative pop star — titles Kate Bush, David Bowie, and Bjork have held before her. So what if she doesn’t remember Van Halen. We never chided Van Halen fans for not knowing Duke Ellington, Glen Miller, or artists that were popular 40 years prior of ‘Jamie’s Cryin’. Even though I am old enough to remember all of these artists, I still know the real deal when someone new emerges from the herd — and Eilish is the real deal. Sleep delivers freaky trap beats, freeform lyrical flow, dark and dreamy vocals, and surprises around every turn. This album is relentlessly creative, ambitious and daring — so skizzy and rewarding on headsets, it’ll blow the wax straight outta your ears.
- Angela Perley • 4:30
The last time I was into country music was when Gambler-era Kenny Rogers was bigger than Bieber, ONJ-era Olivia Newton John wouldn’t dare ‘Soul Kiss’ on the first date, and Marie Osmond was just a little bit into everything. Ohio-based Angela Perley is also a little bit country and a lotta bit Pat Benatar-style rock and roll. She’s constantly on tour — with and without her band the Howlin’ Moons, becoming quite the concert draw in the Midwest and East Coast in addition to fans around the world who buy and stream her albums. ‘Athens‘ from 2014’s Hey Kid, is one of my favorite songs of the decade, and her two follow-ups, including this one, have landed high on my year-end lists.
While it’s hard to screw up a song in the toe-tapping genres of country, roots, and Americana, it’s also hard to stand out. Perley’s songwriting, performance and production are truly world-class.
- Louise Burns • Portraits
This Canadian singer/songwriter ties the best elements of my Top 3 acts into the fourth chapter of her amazing solo discography. Burns first flirted with fame as bassist and co-vocalist for Lillix, one of the best and most tragically overlooked power pop bands of the 2000’s. While bandmates Tasha-Ray and Lacey-Lee Evin put out a superb third Lillix record without her (Tigerlily), Burns set forth to create solo albums that in my humble opinion rank alongside the best albums by The Ocean Blue, The Church, Echo & The Bunnymen, Tori Amos, Jane Siberry, and Kate Bush.
Portraits has its heart in the 80s with shimmering synths and sparkly beats, but its feet are firmly planted in the modern day thanks to Burns’ sharp lyrics and angelic vocals.
- !!! • Wallop
By now, most everyone knows how to pronounce the name of this band, but it’s still up to some debate whether the “chks” can also be “chicks” or “chiks” when you search for them online. Closing in on 20 years now, !!! has consistently delivered edgy, freeform yet tightly wound, punk rock dance music with each new album. Their most famous contemporaries are LCD Soundsystem, with whom they’re connected to by the band Out Hud and their New York City stomping grounds. Wallop, their 8th long-player returns “the disco chks” to the edgier underground club sound of their first four albums.
- The Stray Cats • 40
Oddly enough, 40 is the first-ever Stray Cats album I’ve ever purchased; their classic hits populate many of the 80s compilations that fill my CD wall. The Cats’ anniversary victory lap turns out to be a slim dandy of an album and the perfect dish to scratch that The Reverend Horton Heat itch I get between that band’s albums. By December, the three core Cats have all since moved back into their solo projects, but hopefully they’ll still strut together a few more times before age 80.
- Black Swan Lane • Vita Eterna
In the early 80’s, Manchester’s Chameleons released three post-punk albums so perfect, they just kept re-releasing them in different forms (demos, acoustic, live, BBC sessions, “re-workings”, etc.) for the next 40 years (and yes, I own them all). While that band seemed fine to rest on their laurels, the world was still in need of NEW songscapes filled with shimmering guitars and haunted, dissonant vocals.
Enter, Atlanta’s Black Swan Lane, which I assume is named after the only street in the city without “Peach” in the title. Founders Jack Sobel and John Kolbeck were actually joined on their first three albums by Chameleons vocalist, sorry, “Vox-alist”, Mark Burgess. The Andys Whitaker and Clegg joined the fun for 2009’s The Sun and the Moon Sessions, heralding an unofficial sequel to the spinoff band’s tragically out of print self-titled album. For several more albums, Black Swan Lane carried on just fine without Burgess (who now fronts Chameleons Vox), but for their latest, former Chameleons guitarist Dave Fielding joins in for 11 of the album’s 13 heavenly songs. If you need to catch up, check out their online store.
- The Wonder Stuff • Better Being Lucky
One of the greatest wonders about the Stuffies — as this Midlands guitar pop band is lovingly called by die-hards — is that despite breaking up after 1993’s landmark Construction for the Modern Idiot, they have never, ever gone away. Frontman Miles Hunt has kept the band and brand intact for some 30+ trips around the sun now, releasing countless albums under his name, The Wonder Stuff, Miles Hunt Club, and duet records with violinist Erica Knockalls. Better Being Lucky ranks among the best modern stuff they’ve done (2006’s Suspended by Stars is a personal favorite).
There really is no equivalent in pop these days than the sound of Hunt’s impassioned voice and Knockalls’ firey violin — the duo are partners in life as well and their passion is well documented on every note of this album.
- Brooke White • Calico
LA singer-songwriter and the human embodiment of sunshine, Brooke White, recorded one of my all-time favorite albums before she landed on American Idol. After the show, she was branded as “the next Carole King”, similar to Reinhart’s tag as the “next Janis Joplin”. After releasing her pleasant big label debut, the aptly titled High Hopes and Heartbreak, she caught her creative mojo again with “Life is OK”, a duet with fellow contestant, the late Michael Johns. As the decade progressed, she released a stack of stellar EPs as part of the duo Jack and White and starred in a charming made-for-cable movie. When I heard that her latest solo album would be country, I curbed my enthusiasm; but she debuted the first single on the local Fox affiliate and I was hooked. Every single track on Calico is a breath of fresh sonic air and living proof, you don’t need to be in Nashville to make a bonafide country classic. Now, for added fun, can you guess who makes a slew of cameos in her ‘Back Pocket’ video?
- Jeff Lynne’s ELO • From Out of Nowhere
After quite a hiatus, Jeff Lynne is back where he belongs, filling stadiums with that massive spaceship light show and topping the charts with new material. From Out of Nowhere was #1 in the UK and #6 on the Billboard Rock Albums chart. Lynne’s space age Beatles music soundtracked the 1970s, culminating in the 1981’s masterpiece, Time. From Out of Nowhere sounds like a lost-gem from that era, serving as a great companion to the mothership, 1977’s Out of the Blue.
- The New Pornographers • In The Morse Code of Brake Lights
This band is supposed to be a “side hustle” for ringers like Neko Case, Carl Newman, and former/possibly future member Dan Bejar, but eight albums in it seems to be as much of an A-list project as their day jobs. Neko typically sings on 2 songs per album and occasionally tours, but she’s more front and center on this outing, resulting in perhaps their best-ever album.
- Harry Styles • Fine Line
On Page 136 of the Manly Men Manual, it clearly states you can never, ever admit to liking boy band music, which is a shame because supergroups NKOTB to BTS, not to mention forefathers David Cassidy, Andy Gibb, and Leif Garrett have produced some of the most joyous pop songs of our lifetime. One Direction was no different, and now one, possibly two, former members (Niall Horan recently crushed it on SNL) have emerged as bonafide superstars with unisex appeal. Harry Styles in many way seems like the second coming of Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, and Prince all in one. His second album shows his first one wasn’t a fluke. The CD arrived right at the end of the decade and truly ends this era on a high note. By the time the multi-layered fabulocity of these tunes actually sinks in, it just might top next year’s best albums list.
- Holden Laurence • Rewire
The Modern Electric is to Cleveland what The Killers are to Vegas: modern power pop purveyors destined for global domination. Well, one of those bands already made it to the headline festival slot, and perhaps the next Modern Electric album will break on through to the other side of worldwide fame. In the interim, lead guitarist, Holden Laurence, dropped his second solo album in 2019, plus a handful of great singles. While both projects echo Echo & The Bunnymen and New Order, Holden’s sound leans closer to The Ocean Blue and The Wild Swans, while his band leans the way of Bowie and The Airborne Toxic Event. Rewire’s collection of lovelorn post punk modern new wave new classics is something all the cliques in a John Hughes film can finally agree upon.
- Tom Bailey • Science Fiction
I completely missed this 2018 solo debut from the former Thompson Twins frontman, but in 2019 Science Fiction made a perfect playlist companion to those Ocean Blue and Holden Laurence records, plus the most recent albums by Howard Jones and Adam Lambert. At times jazzy, new wave, and modern pop, there’s not a dud track in the bunch; it already plays more like a solo-era greatest hits album.
- The Futureheads • Powers
I run hot and cold with these lads from Sunderland, an English borough in Tyne and Wear. Their 2004 self-titled debut was my album of the year, chok full of ear worm originals plus a transcendent cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds of Love’. Their third record, 2008’s This Is Not The World, remains one of my all-time favorites, featuring absolute bangers like ‘The Beginning of the Twist’ and ‘Walking Backwards’. I thought their 2006 and 2010 outings were just OK, with 2012’s a capella Rant coming in at a tie. Some seven odd years and one Barry Hyde solo album later, I was quite shocked to see these barbershop quartet indie rock troubadours return from exile. Powers is a slow-burner — I dismissed it at first, but once it sunk in, it quickly built momentum. In this Trump/Brexit hellscape we currently call home, we need more sharp, creative, deliciously weird bands like this.
- Lissie • When I’m Alone: The Piano Retrospective
I tend to dismiss “acoustic” rehashes of existing material as a contract-filling cash grab, but Lissie absolutely SLAYS on this intimate, haunting, confessional outing. The album plays like a coffee house victory lap through her storied catalog. I was lucky enough to see her countless times in concert, before and after her international breakthrough. The similarity between her voice and Stevie Nicks is haunting; perhaps that’s why her Fleetwood Mac cover, ‘Go Your Own Way’ has 19 million streams and counting. For this collection, Lissie includes covers of the Mac’s ‘Dreams’ along with the Dixie Chicks’ ‘Cowboy Take Me Away.’
- SONTALK • Stay Wild
Back in 2014, Joseph Lemay’s raw, confessional, cathartic, and majestic Seventeen Acres was an utterly melodic emotional gut punch. The fact that his follow-up, Stay Wild, was on a major label seemed like the ultimate happy ending for a struggling singer/songwriter from humble beginnings. Even with the new stage name, the song remains the same — which in this case is a good thing. The ghosts of Lemay’s past — desperation, isolation, and depression — are clearly present in the mix, but so too is the glorious and powerful songcraft that make SONTALK one of this generation’s best singer/songwriters.
- A Projection • Section
If you’re going to bring a genre back from the dead, make it a monster — and that’s just what these Stockholm darkwave darlings do. For their third outing and first with a new singer, A Projection jettisons the Joy Division leanings by making perhaps the best Sisters of Mercy album ever.
- Taylor Hawkins & The Coattail Riders • Get The Money
The Foo Fighters stickman and occasional vocalist pulls out all the stops on his fifth solo album (3rd under this moniker), inviting loads of his friends to the party. Where else on Earth could you possibly get Dave Grohl, Nancy Wilson, Duff McKagan, Perry Farrell, Chrissie Hynde, Joe Walsh, Lee Ann Rimes, Pat Smear, Roger Taylor (Queen, not Duran Duran) and Steve Jones (The Sex Pistols) — all on one record? The result is a big, fun, sleazy mess of an homage to 70s rock excess, which is exactly what they were going for.
- Piroshka • Brickbat
Speaking of super groups, Miki Berenyi emerges from the ashes of the short-lived but epic Lush reunion (I saw them live in Seattle the night Prince died), to join up with Justin Welsh (Elastica), KJ McKillop (Moose) and Mick Conroy (Modern English) to create an aggressive, brilliant post-punk record — complete with album art that recalls the best 4AD releases (RIP Vaughan Oliver). Heaven knows if this band will last, but count me in for any project Miki lends her beauty and beautiful voice to.
- Maren Morris • Girl
Maren Morris is having the best year ever — and when you listen to her two beautiful albums (this and the all-star Highwomen), you will too. Girl is the daytime pool party record that balances the dark of night vibe on the latter platter. Both records were huge commercial and critical hits, and she’ll soon deliver her next package, a baby boy, due in March.
- Robert Forster • Inferno
Not to be confused with the iconic David Lynch character actor who passed this year, the former Go-Betweens frontman preceded that band’s epic box set with another stellar solo outing in 2019. Some 30+ years into his career, Forster remains a master of lyrics and songcraft. All year long, this album meshed well with new outings from fellow not-so-elder indie rock statesmen, Richard Hawley and Bill Pritchard.
- Charli XCX • Charli
I just added up 75 albums that I will rank for an upcoming “Best of The Decade” roundup and (spoiler alert), Charli XCX’s goth pop masterpiece True Romance from 2013 will likely come out on top. She’s kind of abandoned that disc’s romantic Prom Night Siouxise sound on subsequent, weirder, more club-friendly fare while also writing pop hits for countless others. This year, she somehow also found time to guru Nasty Cherry into existence (a made-for Netflix experiment that resulted in one of the year’s top short-form albums). Charli feels as much of a mixtape as her previous two outings: enjoyable, constantly updated digital content for the streaming age.
- Mark Ronson • Late Night Feelings
Mark Ronson is the sonic equivalent of a really great Instagram filter — he makes everyone sound their absolute best. On his latest all-star cavalcade of stars, the uber producer who brought Duran Duran back to the A-list recruits current A-listers Miley Cyrus, Lykke Li, Camila Cabello, Angel Olsen, Alicia Keys and King Princess, while giving the center suite of tracks to rising star YEBBA (Abbey Smith).
- Carly Rae Jepsen • Dedicated
Carly Rae isn’t as big of a celebrity as Taylor Swift, Charli XCX, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, or Camila Cabello, but when it comes to delivering consistently perfect pop albums, she leaves everyone else in her stardust. The 15 new tracks here feed the streaming beast that rewards long-players.
- Audra • Dear Tired Friends
Sam Rosenthal’s darkwave label, Projekt Records, has haunted me like a ghost for much of my life; seeing that he and I both lived in Tampa, Chicago, and the Pacific Northwest at the same time. As a goth-curious, outwardly post punk, pre trans young soul, I first gravitated to his ‘zine and scene, including a slew of acts he curated like Black Tape For a Blue Girl, as well as kindred spirits Rachael’s Surrender, Big Hat, My Scarlet Life, Danielle Dax, and all of the Bauhaus side-projects at the time. Long story short, but this is how I discovered Audra and their dark, dreamy, Peter Murphy adjacent self-titled album about a decade after its 2000 release. Close to a decade after that, the band released its 4th album, Dear Tired Friends, the perfect jolt of guitar-driven post punk to wake up the sleepiest of souls.
- Coldplay • Everyday Life
Yes, they might be the most boring band in the history of the world, but then why do I own all of their records? Well, because sometimes you need stirring music that doesn’t get all up in your grill. Some 20 years into their career, the lads are stretching their wings a bit, so this record should likely get better and better long into 2020.
- Taylor Swift • Lover
The biggest pop star on the planet has yet to have a major scandal or release a dud record. Sure, Reputation wasn’t as good as Red or 1989, but Lover is a fine return to form and a huge step forward. It took a while, but her singing finally caught up to her incredible songwriting. I find her music is best enjoyed while knowing little to nothing about her well-publicized personal life, that way you can make an emotional connection to the songs instead of to her messy list of exes.
- Ladytron • Ladytron
For me, Ladytron were one of the greatest bands of the 2000’s, swept into my ears at the height of the Electroclash movement (Felix da Housecat, Miss Kitten, Fischerspooner, etc.). This self-titled set picks right up where 2011’s Gravity the Seducer left off: sinister yet romantic, retro yet futuristic, dance music you can daydream to.
- Monochrome Set • Fabula Mendax
If you’re like me and snap up all of the Cherry Red Records box set deep dives into very specific niches of UK Indie Rock, you’re well familiar with The Monochrome Set, as they’ve been steadily releasing great music for some 40 years now. Fabula, their 4th outing on Tapete Records, is quite fabulous — post punk with a dash of spaghetti western.
- The Highwomen • The Highwomen
Brandi Carlile and Maren Morris are the big draws here, but Natalie Hemby and Amanda Shires more than hold their own on this seamless, heartfelt supergroup (Sheryl Crow and Yola also appear). Though I must admit, when searching for it on Amazon and Tidal, I typed “Highwaywomen” a bit too many times.
- Ariana Grande • thank you, next
Ariana is so adorable I can’t even handle it. Girl can sing, and she has totally got streaming media on-lock by delivering a steady stream of new albums and singles at near Beatles pace. No quality control issues here amidst the deluge. Just this week, she dropped a 32-track live album to boot.
- Fader • In Shadow
I can almost set my clock by the arrival of new albums by Neil Arthur’s Blancmange and his many side hustles. This second full-length composed with Benge under the name Fader is already top-ranked on many of the electronic music blogs and is one of Arthur’s best since 2015’s Semi-Detached, the Blancmange album that topped my year-end best albums list.
- Beck • Hyperspace
Mr. Hansen’s latest arrived in my mailbox the same week as Coldplay, and both got rolled over by the arrival of Prince’s 1999 box set. Not to be outdone, at the same time, Beck released a companion EP, The Paisley Park Sessions, that included a lovely Prince medley. Beck albums age incredibly well, so I am in no rush to inhale this one, it will likely live for years in my car dashboard stereo.
- Kaiser Chiefs • Duck
I’ve been a fan of this band retroactively since the Parva days, and while I’m not sure if the title of this record relates to keeping your head down or that “other other white meat”, it’s clearly intended to mix up their festival anthem setlists and does so swimmingly. It’s hard to believe 15 years have passed since ‘I Predict a Riot’ was a worldwide smash; few of the new gen bands I listened to then are still around now, so it’s nice to see the Chiefs still in fine form.
- Hirie • Dreamer
Anyone who loves the new Camilla Cabello record will absolutely adore the third album from Trish Jetton’s tropical pop band, HIRIE. Rap, pop, and reggae blend like the perfect margarita across the album’s 11 tracks. If you’re into sand, sunshine, and dirty dancing to the likes of the Dirty Heads, No Doubt and Sublime, HIRIE is your new #1 band crush.
- Madonna • Madame X
Diehard fans who slogged through MDNA and the somewhat better Rebel Heart were finally rewarded with her best album since the tragically maligned American Life.
- The Divine Comedy • Office Politics
Neil Hannon’s vacation aboard the ‘National Express’ is over — but this joyous celebration of the mundanity of daily life is on par with his best work.
- The Raconteurs • Help Us Stranger
Jack White releases so many records that the full decade since the last Raconteurs record went by in a blip. If you loved the first one and liked the second, you’ll love this one.
- Matthew Logan Vasquez • Light’n Up
The lead singer of Delta Spirit, Middle Brother, and Glorietta drops his third solo record, once again bringing a Radiohead and Beck sense of unbridled sonic creativity to Americana, Roots and Garage rock music. The Delta Spirit’s most recent two albums rank in my Top 20 records of the 2010’s, so hopefully we’ll see another full band album someday soon — but until then, their MVP, MLV, is keeping the band’s adventurous spirit alive.
- Lux Prima • Lux Prima
Karen O and Danger Mouse return from where the wild things are with a dark, dreamy and delightful collaboration.
- UNKLE • The Road Part II / Lost Highway
Perhaps the most ambitious album of the year demands and rewards your complete attention. James Lavelle creates the ultimate highway mixtape and invites Ian Astbury (The Cult), Mick Jones (The Clash), Tom Smith (Editors), Dhani Harrison, and a busload of session and stage ringers along for the ride.
- Bill Pritchard • Midland Lullabies
More than 30 years on from his breakthrough, Three Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days, Pritchard never fails to deliver an enchanting listen — if you love the Forster record (above), this is a good follow-up to spin.
- The Black Keys • Let’s Rock
Garage rock’s bickering exes reconcile long enough to bang out another disc of solid bangers and vacuum in enough cash to last them a few more years.
- Joe Jackson • Fool
After forays away from his patented brand of New York style pop, Jackson returns to his sonic home turf with wonderful results.
- Jenny Lewis • On The Line
The Rilo Kiley singer’s latest album was buoyed by one of the year’s best singles, ‘Red Bull and Hennessy’.
- Gary Clark Jr. • This Land
Much like Orianthi, Gary Clark Jr. is an incredibly gifted singer, songwriter, and guitarist, in search of landing that career-defining album — this very ambitious set gets him closer to the end zone.
- Camila Cabello • Romance
This one also arrived long after I started writing this list, but it’s worth including here as its ascension into greatness is only just beginning. Hopefully, her recent racism scandal can lead to some social good as she uses her platform to bring people together to love, dance, and just have fun — that is, until it’s time to vote and end this shit show we call modern life under #IMPOTUS.
50: The Albums I Missed…
A lot of big names made big waves with small albums that will need to wait for an eventual roundup of 2019’s best EPs and short plays — including Adam Lambert (Velvet Part One), The Pierces’ Cat Pierce (assorted singles), Cat Delphi (Woman), Beck (The Paisley Park EP), Thunderpussy (Milk It), and my favorite new band of 2019, Other Americans.
Also, reading everyone else’s top albums list makes me shortlist a ton of new albums worth discovering, including Angel Olsen, Desperate Journalist, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, and Vampire Weekend.
And as for 2020… Green Day, Nada Surf, and the Airborne Toxic Event have all announced new records, The Pierces tease surprises to come, ABBA may be back with a few singles or an EP, and perhaps we’ll see a long awaited Liz Phair disc. The new decade looks like its off to a stellar start. Congrats — you made it to the end. I hope you’ve found something amazing to buy or stream here — support the artists you love!