This year, the music world was blessed with dozens of unique albums as well as some overhyped records that did not live up to their full potential. As the year comes to a close and we look forward to what music 2020 will bring, here is a look back at the 10 best albums of 2019.
10. “SHE IS COMING” — Miley Cyrus
While it may come as a surprise to some, Miley Cyrus did in fact release an album in 2019 that flew under a lot of people’s radars. Although the high-energy single “Mother’s Daughter” saw a lot of radio airplay, not much from the rest of the album reached the mainstream. On this short and sweet six-song album, Cyrus does a number of things right. With tracks like “Unholy” and “D.R.E.A.M. (feat. Ghostface Killah),” she furthers her image of being a rogue rebel with little to no regard for what people think about her. But on the final track of the record, “The Most,” Cyrus really shows off her pipes and reminds us why she’s relevant. This slower, sadder track features an honest Miley Cyrus pushing her vocals to the limit to the point where you can feel the emotion in her voice. Whether you’re a fan, a hater or somewhere in between, this album is well worth the 20-minute listen.
Best Tracks: “D.R.E.A.M. (feat. Ghostface Killah),” “Mother’s Daughter” and “The Most”
9. “i,i” — Bon Iver
With its fourth studio album, Bon Iver brings a lot to the table. Lead singer and Eau Claire, Wisconsin, native Justin Vernon shines with his vocal talent as usual, but this album has more depth to it than previous records. It listens really well as a whole, evoking different emotions throughout, yet never straying too much from the main theme of the record as a complete piece. Much of this album listens like tasteful electronic music; several songs start off slow or mellow and eventually reach a peak. Bon Iver seems to have mastered the concept of creating songs that build and feel suspenseful in a way in which you don’t know what direction they’re headed. This band has never been afraid to stray away from traditional song structure. The instrumentation on this album also helps carry it, with tracks like “Sh’Diah” wrapping up with a beautiful saxophone ending. And while the most popular tracks are definitely some of the best, such as “Hey Ma” and “Naeem,” the album offers much more than just the singles.
Best Tracks: “Naeem,” “Hey Ma” and “Faith”
8. “ARIZONA BABY” — Kevin Abstract
One of the busiest people in the music industry, 23-year-old Kevin Abstract seemingly cannot stop making music. Yet somehow all of it is worthwhile, and none of it feels like the young rapper/producer is mailing it in. Abstract’s rap group/boyband BROCKHAMPTON released its fifth album this year, but Abstract’s third solo studio album just barely outshined the group’s album “GINGER” (not that it’s a competition). Abstract’s solo projects always feel incredibly honest, but this record is his best yet. On “Corpus Christi,” Abstract raps about some of the struggles his rap group has faced with past members, and his lyrics feel so much like stream of consciousness writing as he sings to current member of BROCKHAMPTON, Dom McLennon, “I’m sorry Dom, I probably shouldn’t be putting all our problems on the front lawn.” Every single track adds something to the album. None of it feels like filler. And while his lyrics convey courage and hope in the presence of personal struggles, perhaps what Abstract does best is create hooks. Nearly every one of the tracks on this album — and many of the tracks on BROCKHAMPTON’s album as well — features hooks that are incredibly catchy and nearly impossible to get out of your head. This album has great replayability and makes me excited for what Kevin Abstract is undoubtedly already working on for his next project(s).
Best Tracks: “Peach,” “Baby Boy” and “Corpus Christi”
7. “MAGDALENE” — FKA twigs
The second studio album from FKA twigs, born Tahliah Debrett Barnett, is easily one of the freshest and most unique albums of the year. I can’t think of any music that sounds quite like this, although I can certainly guess who some of Barnett’s influences might be. While some of these songs almost sound like hymns, hence the title of the album named after biblical figure Mary Magdalene, I’m not sure anyone this year did a better job of conveying such specific emotions in their songs. The whole album makes a statement about the role of women in society and how that has changed as the 31-year-old artist has aged. On track two, “home with you,” Barnett hooks listeners with lyrics such as “I’ve never seen a hero like me in a sci-fi, … Mary Magdalene would never let her loved ones die.” This record is heavy, but it’s so unique and powerful that it demands we spend some time with it. One listen through is simply not enough. Each listen brings something new to the table.
Best Tracks: “home with you,” “sad day” and “holy terrain (feat. Future)”
6. “ZUU” — Denzel Curry
Similar to last year, 2019 was a great year for hip-hop and rap. However, this year was stronger for younger rappers who are on their way up compared to last year, which was dominated by industry GOATs such as Kanye West and Pusha T. The energy conveyed throughout the entire 12-track album from Florida rapper Denzel Curry is unmatched. This is easily one of the best albums to throw on from 2019. There’s no need to skip any of the songs, as Curry drops banger after banger on his fourth studio album which feels just slightly more mature than some of his past music. With that being said, there’s still plenty of room for Denzel Curry to rap over lo-fi beats and share some of his Miami culture with the world. Listeners be warned: If you play this album in the car, you might feel the need to ask over and over again, “How dare he make this beat go so hard?” But honestly, somehow each track seems to outshine the energy from the track before it. Still, the pairing of Denzel Curry and Rick Ross makes for one of the best rap songs of the year, “BIRDZ (feat. Rick Ross).” Curry also implements tasteful vocal effects on tracks like “CAROLMART (feat. Ice Billion Berg)” in order to offer something a little different for the hook. These high-pitched vocal effects along with Curry’s deeper voice and the deeper voices from some of the artists featured such as Rick Ross and PlayThatBoiZay work like a charm. You could play this album from start to finish at a party, and I doubt anyone would complain.
Best Tracks: “BIRDZ (feat. Rick Ross),” “CAROLMART (feat. Ice Billion Berg)” and “RICKY”
5. “IGOR” — Tyler, The Creator
It’s been 10 years since Tyler, The Creator dropped his debut mixtape, “Bastard,” and in this past decade we have seen a tremendous amount of growth from him. His 2017 project “Flower Boy” brought the rapper out of his comfort zone in a number of ways, but his latest album is perhaps his most experimental yet. The opening track, “IGOR’S THEME,” features a unique drum beat and a level of energy that segues perfectly into “EARFQUAKE,” arguably the most popular track on the record. And while the new Tyler, The Creator is more groovy than hard and rugged like his early records, we still get some rough customer vibes through much of his lyrics and his always gruff vocal delivery. Tracks like “WHAT’S GOOD” are very reminiscent of his early work. This album does a great job of leading one track into the next seamlessly. Perhaps the best song on the album is a lengthy double track titled “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU.” The first half features an infectiously catchy piano riff and hook before shifting to a rhythmic verse from Tyler over some catchy soul singing. This record also has one of the best closing songs of the year with “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”
Best Tracks: “IGOR’S THEME,” “EARFQUAKE” and “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU”
4. “uknowhatimsayin¿” — Danny Brown
Many people probably figured Danny Brown was past his prime and might not have batted an eye at the seasoned rapper’s fifth studio album. But the 38-year-old released his best album yet this year. From start to finish, this album is perfect. There isn’t a weak song on it; no single element is lacking. Brown’s lyrics are wittier than ever, which is saying something considering his history. The samples and production value coupled with the beats on this album are flawless as well. Brown even included features from hip-hop superstars such as Run The Jewels and JPEGMAFIA as well as English singer-songwriter Blood Orange. The best thing about this album, however, is its diversity throughout. There’s a song for every mood. Tracks like “Savage Nomad” and “Best Life” feature a raw Danny Brown delivering high-energy bangers while “Dirty Laundry” and “Negro Spiritual (feat. JPEGMAFIA)” are more about the lyrical wit and intricate beats. The titular track, “uknowhatimsayin¿” and “Shine (feat. Blood Orange)” are a little more relaxing, yet still provide good replayability.
Best Tracks: “Dirty Laundry,” “Savage Nomad” and “Negro Spiritual (feat. JPEGMAFIA)”
3. “Her and All of My Friends” — Ritt Momney
And the award for most underrated album (and artist) of the year goes to … Ritt Momney and his debut full-length album, “Her and All of My Friends.” Ritt Momney is the solo project of 19-year-old Jack Rutter, a native of Salt Lake City, Utah. And for what it’s worth, I’m not sure there is anyone his age writing music with this level of maturity. Although he tackles topics that anyone might be grappling with such as love, religion and overall purpose in life, he does so in a completely original way. It’s pretty hard to be 19 and write unique love songs or songs in general that don’t even have a hint of cliche, yet somehow Rutter does just that. This album is unapologetically sad in subject matter, yet somehow still the songs are incredibly catchy, relatable and unpredictable. The production value is also quite impressive as the album combines quality backup vocals, raw instruments and tasteful keyboard sound effects and synths. But what truly elevates this album to one of the best records of the entire year is Rutter’s songwriting and lyrics. “Command V” and “Paper News” feature stunningly creative lyrics yet somehow nothing compares to track 12, “(If) The Book Doesn’t Sell,” which features Rutter singing about religion and questioning his departure and drift from his Mormon upbringing. The song features a mock conversation between God and the devil, which is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and creative verses on any record this year. This song would be great for its lyrics alone, not to mention the energy of the instruments that builds right alongside these lyrics as the song comes to a full boil.
Best Tracks: “Paper News,” “Command V” and “(If) The Book Doesn’t Sell”
2. “Seeker” — Mikal Cronin
After writer’s block kept the California songwriter sidelined following his third studio album, “MCIII,” Cronin finally released his first record in four years, and it was well worth the wait. A close friend and occasional bandmate of surf rock god Ty Segall, Mikal Cronin noted that he finally broke his writer’s block on the tour bus with Segall when he wrote the song “Fire,” which is the fourth track on this 2019 album and one of the best songs on the record. All throughout this album, Cronin’s uncooked vocals pair well with some higher production than we are accustomed to from him. But this fuller sound we get from the instruments and harmonizing backup vocals are welcomed. On “Show Me,” we hear Cronin taking risks with his keyboard, synths and a whole bunch of other instruments. This continues on other songs, too. Perhaps the most popular track, “Feel It All,” feels like a very big song. Although beginning with a simple electric guitar strum and raw vocals, Cronin builds so well on each track. He knows just when to introduce each instrument into the song and when to deconstruct and strip back down. Track five, “Sold,” begins much slower with only piano and features a very different Cronin vibe than we’re used to. But it works incredibly well because no song on this record is predictable. By the midway point of “Sold,” as well as other tracks, you can’t believe the direction in which the song has gone. It makes perfect sense and yet simultaneously, it feels genius and incredibly original.
Best Tracks: “Feel It All,” “Sold” and “Show Me”
1. “Pony” — Orville Peck
The best album of the year was written by a man whose real name we do not know. In fact, there’s not a whole lot that we do know about Orville Peck, other than the fact that he is a Canadian artist who identifies as queer and wears a lone ranger mask to hide his identity. And if that weren’t intriguing enough on its own, his debut album is one of the freshest pieces of music in who knows how long. No song or album released in the last five years sounds like this. However, Peck’s voice is reminiscent of some all time greats in the music world. Peck has been described as a crooner, which is fitting because he definitely sounds like a combination of Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and maybe even a hint of David Bowie at times. Peck’s vocal range is one of the widest I’ve heard as well. Throughout the record, he hits notes lower than a fog horn yet also can hit as high as a bird stuck in a helicopter’s propellers. And while the album is often categorized as country, there’s quite a bit of genre-hopping on this 12-track album. From the very first song, it’s hard not to be drawn in by Peck’s voice whether country is your vibe or not. The passion, energy, songwriting and particularly the vocal ability of Peck makes this mysterious, masked crooner’s work a no-brainer pick for album of the year. This is simply the freshest piece of music from 2019.
Best Tracks: “Winds Change,” “Dead of Night” and “Turn to Hate”