Year end record lists are a great way to reacquaint yourself with music you may have missed, forgotten about, or totally adored in the last 10 to 12 months.
Many truths have been challenged in 2019, but music is universal. It has always been the unique ingredient to completely disengage from the world around you OR, conversely, to find supreme focus and connection. Many great records came out this year that can help with both. Here are a few (51 to be exact) that made it all worth it.
Below is a list of the Best 51 Records of 2019. Listen to the playlist below:
Tim Hill plays in the Allah-Las and tours around with Mapache. These guys have carved out their own special LA folk world. Hill’s debut solo record, Payador is southern California country rock to its finest with beautiful acoustic and Spanish guitar. It sounds like a dusty sun light porch with empty bottles of Pacifico at your feet.
Listen to Payador – > Buy/Listen
Somehow finding the perfect balance of intense fame and enigma, Lana Del Rey released perhaps the most beautiful record of the year in Norman Fucking Rockwell. If there was anyone still out there doubting her songwriting chops, they have been put to bed forever. Over the course of the entire hour and 7 minutes, NFR covers the entire emotional spectrum, all set to the backdrop of gorgeous, flowing piano production. With hints of of psych rock and classic 70’s laurel canyon, each sound is a touch point to her poetry which hearkens to nostalgia and California noir.
Listen to Norman Fucking Rockwell -> spotify
With a twinkle in his eye, the stylish guitar playing troubadour, Robert Ellis sits cross legged on a piano bench in the middle of the Texas hills with a slick white tuxedo and tilted white hat. He looks like a movie character. It is this persona he has adapted for his new record, Texas Piano Man. The glitzy pop musical direction is still rooted in story-based country style lyrics. For someone so technically good and talented at playing guitar, a complete trade out of instruments for the piano may come as abrupt, but when Ellis decides on a direction, he goes all in.
After a string of incredible records, Kevin Morby could have done anything he wanted, musically for his next project. His formula is a proven recipe for quality songs of the highest echelon. Instead, he elected for a double LP concept record about God, weather, life and death itself. It’s light on the ears, yet heavy on the soul. Oh My God, is Kevin Morby’s 5th record. It’s long, cinematic and incredibly literary. Oh My God is a true piece of pop art rock. It is undoubtedly best digested in full.
Jessica Pratt’s new album Quiet Signs is her first full recording outside her own bedroom. Despite the access to new tricks, the songs are still deeply rooted in her own hushed environment. Listening to Quiet Signs sounds like a forgotten folk hero you’d stumble upon from the 1970’s. There’s a past-life quality to her work. The songs are new, but they feel like they’ve existed forever, trapped in a silent chamber while your brain plays tricks on you.
When 2014’s Are We There? came out, the slight synths and drum machines seemed like a major leap forward in sound at the time for Sharon Van Etten. Five years later, the intensity bar is raised to a whole new degree. The songs are a punch in the face. Each of the ten songs possess a pulsing dark underbelly; it’s pop music without the glamour. On the surface, you wouldn’t think twice comparing Remind Me tomorrow to something you’d hear from Mark Lanegan, Patti Smith or the recent work of Nick Cave. It’s got the grit, passion and droning ambiance of all three.
LA-based singer, by way of Sweden, Snoh Aalegraa’s growing career continues to get more and more impressive. Ugh, those feels again is the follow up to 2017’s FEELS which are both phenomenal RnB records. Ugh, picks up right where FEELS left off. It’s minimalist and perfectly timed music lends the perfect soundscape to her soulfully retro vocals. Snoh does no wrong.
Listen to Ugh, those feels again -> spotify
Originally planned to be a duel release, this full blown rock version of All Mirrors is a pulsing, dark pop symphony with intricate string arrangements and pounding synths. With the solo version expected to be released sometime in early 2020, All Mirrors as it stands now is a large leap for Olsen, but not necessarily unexpected. She is wildly self-aware and knows exactly what she wants with her artistic output, down to the aesthetic of the record packaging, performances, and visual aids, directing all of the videos herself. It’s clear Angel Olsen is in total control. The detail, depth and beauty of All Mirrors has the potential to launch her into full crossover “breakout” star, but if/when it does, it will be on entirely Olsen’s own terms.
Jenny Lewis went for it and absolutely nailed it on On The Line. It is a gorgeous pop record consisting of an all-star band including Bentmont Tench and Ringo Starr. Lewis’ wit and humor is always at the forefront of her records, but as fun and danceable as On The Line is, there are also some more somber numbers like the incredible track Dogwood. In the end, there is plenty of room for fun however, including party clowns, “getting head in the shadows” and of course, Red Bull and Hennessy.
Listen to On The Line -> spotify
Tyler, The Creator is one of the most fascinating artists alive. Where he may have been written off in previous years for being so goofy and brash, there is no question he is at the top of his game. His artistic visions know no limits. IGOR is aggressive, but beautiful. It’s production is highly detailed, yet relatively lo-fi compared to 2017’s Flower Boy.
Listen to IGOR –> spotify
Backed by little more than a fiddle and snare drum, Esther Rose sings in utter deadpan beautifully about love and loss, Sex and Magic. In a society where a lot artists are playing dress up and singing old “folk” tunes, Rose’s songs run parallel in complete reality. When you’ve spent years in and around honky-tonks and campfires singing songs like Esther Rose has, you don’t need to pretend.
Sturgill Simpson‘s 4th record, Sound & Fury, raised many questions, but a few things are very clear. The “outlaw” country tag has to be removed. He may still be an outlaw by industry standards, but he has left country music in a far off stratosphere deep in the void. Having long been compared to Merle Haggard, Sound & Fury has Sturgill more in the league of ZZ Top and Queens of the Stone Age. The new songs are glitchy, electronic, spastic and totally explosive.
Ian Ferguson’s debut, State Of Gold is a southern, garage version of something Marc Bolan would cook up. It’s jaunty, upbeat flow feels like a 70’s country record, but the guitar and screeching feedback sounds like it was produced in a laboratory operated by Ty Segall.
Much like the cover of his new record, In The Shape Of A Storm, Damien Jurado‘s songs are like his personal paintings. Each one is incredibly unique. They are not all literal. Some are metaphors, some tell a story, some are abstract. Each breath, word, light touch of a guitar string is a brush stroke with purposeful intent. In The Shape Of A Storm is completely stripped down; a human, a guitar and a voice, much like Jurado’s early roots as a spiritual folk singer.
M.C. Taylor’s latest album, Terms of Surrender is not unlike other Hiss Golden Messenger records, with spirituality and love at the forefront, but there is a noticeably darker edge to this one. Underneath it all, there is an undeniable warmth to M.C. Taylor’s songs. They are like layers of clothes, something you actively crave come the fall time. The part folk part gospel, part rock n roll blend provides an excellent backdrop for your cold, exposed ears and warming hands fueled by a hot coffee mug.
Everything is meticulous on Nick Waterhouse production, but the new self-titled record, Nick Waterhouse, is even more precise and even more thorough. The way it looks, the specific tone of the guitar, the certain horn arrangement, the way it feels, it’s all purposeful. Just as California sunshine is good for the soul, so is a collection of Nick Waterhouse tunes.
The confident and slightly goofy Faye Webster doesn’t fit in any particular corner of the music world. Webster is a creative designer, singer, and yo-yo enthusiast with deep roots in the Atlanta hip hop scene. Despite a relatively short record, it covers a lot of ground. Throughout the 30-minute run time of Atlanta Millionaires Club, examples of her musical influences are sporadically touched on, but it’s incredibly cohesive.
“Business partners” Alex Cameron and saxophonist Roy Molloy are back baby. Over the 11 songs of his new record Miami Memory, there are plenty of dark admissions, bold proclamations, off the cuff quips and sharp jabs at society, all wrapped up in highly listenable 80’s pop production and sunny acoustic acoustic numbers. Masturbation, the #MeToo movement, and Elon Musk are not even ALL of the fun topics to be covered in Alex Cameron songs. If he is not gunning to be the modern king of sleaze, then he is running unintentionally and unopposed.
Durand Jones & The Indications have been slowly and steadily climbing the ranks and into the ears of America since their gritty 2016 debut record recorded in the basement. American Love Call is full of all the same soul, but with a smooth, bold, vintage pop finish. Perhaps the biggest difference is the full incorporation of drummer and singer Aaron Frazer. Frazer nearly shares lead vocal duties on American Love Call. He and Jones take turns singing on tracks and the two pair beautifully when singing back up and harmonies. American Love Call has the same spirit and grit as the record their self-titled record, but now with a glossy polish over the top.
As a Daptone Records veteran saxophonist, Cochemea and his polyrhythmic sensibilities have supported many projects emanating from the influential Brooklyn label. On his solo record, All My Relations, Cochemea delivers a heady and meditative ten song offering that’s equally influenced by his Yaqui and Mescalero Apache Indian ancestry and the improvisatory writing from 10 musicians engaging in percussive conversation.
Seven years in the making, Australian pop star Holiday Sidewinder has released her glorious debut record, Forever or Whatever. After slowly releasing singles like Casino and Leo, over the last year, the full record has been a long time coming Sidewinder. Yes, Holiday Sidewinder is her real name and she fully lives up to a naturally given name like that.
Listening to a Cass McCombs record is consenting to an exploration to the edge. His music touches all parts of the globe, but intertwines into the world he has created for himself. Tip Of The Sphere is mellow and relaxing, but you can never get too comfortable because the sounds are always changing on a whim. What Cass McCombs has always been good at is showing everything he has to offer within an hour long album.
A record like Ghosteen is powerful, beautiful, ambient, moving, heavy, long and difficult to digest. It’s a piece of music that can be broken off in chunks and consumed independently, or in its 68 minute entirety.
After 2016’s Pho EP, people have been clamoring for a full LP from Dreamville Records star Ari Lennox. She delivered on all fronts on her debut, Shea Butter Baby. It’s a sexy, smooth, soulful and truly fantastic RnB record.
Listen to Shea Butter Baby -> spotify
Fresh off the heals of Bruce Springsteen‘s award winning Broadway show, he released his first solo album since 2014. Western Stars is a bit of a concept record about an old aging movie star set in a sunny western landscape. It’s full of orchestral arrangements giving the entire piece a very cinematic feel. Bruce’s vocals are extremely sharp.
Listen to Western Stars – > spotify
The Berries are a phenomenal Seattle rock n roll band led by Matt Berry. Berryland is the 2nd record from the group following 2 EPs dating back to 2017.
Listen to Berryland -> Bandcamp
forevher is the 2nd record from Shura out on Secretly Canadian. Shura’s star rose considerably in 2019 touring like mad. BKLYNLDN is one of best songs of the year, and it’s sandwiched perfectly with fun songs on either end of a great indie pop record.
Listen to forevher -> spotify
Clementine Creevy taps into feelings of anger and confusion in Cherry Glazerr’s latest album, Stuffed and Ready. For this record, she turns the lens inward; the album immediately starts out with an edgier, darker tone than the band’s previous music.
Certainly meant to be a tongue-in-cheek poke at music journalists and new album promo cycles, but the real irony is Andrew Bird‘s new record just may be his best work yet.
Listen to My Finest Work Yet -> spotify
Right from the very start of album, Julia Jacklin is no mood to hold back. The opening track, Body, details the end of a relationship right on the tarmac at an airport involving police and foiled vacation. It’s an intensely intimate story and clearly stages the tone for the rest of the new record, Crushing.
As far as “country music” is concerned, 2019 solely belonged to Tyler Childers. Since he released Purgatory in 2017, he’s been climbing the ranks, but his 2nd full LP, Country Squire, in name an ode to the revamped trailer he built for his wife took him alllll the way there. Country Squire, like its predecessor was co-produced by Childers and Sturgill Simpson. Its’ 9 tracks lean more old school bluegrass and trad-country than Purgatory, and flow together beautifully. If you are waiting for a better song than All Yorn’, you’ll be waiting a long time.
Listen to Country Squire -> spotify
The new record, The Valley, as the cover proclaims is full of autobiographical tunes from Charley Crockett’s life. A health scare certainly puts perspective on life and if Crockett’s goal is to tell his story through music, he was afforded another chance. He still sprinkles in a few covers like Sanford Clark‘s It’s Nothing To Me and the folk classic Nine Pound Hammer, but the songs like Borrowed Time and The Valley are the true heart of the album.
Steve Gunn‘s music could belong in any of the last four decades. His particular brand of guitar-driven rock n roll music has earned the attention of folk and indie ears over the last several years. Where 2016’s excellent record Eyes On The Lines was a major step in becoming a bonafide singer/songwriter on the scene, The Unseen In Between is his complete arrival as such.
William Tyler relocated west from Nashville to Los Angeles and compiled a true all-star cast of band mates for this go around. The west coast clearly suits William Tyler’s guitar playing style well. Goes West could soundtrack a full day’s worth of wandering the sidewalks, deserts or beaches soaking up the sights and smells of all.
If Wooh Dang sounds like it was recorded in an old rustic farmhouse in the Swedish woods, it’s because it was. Daniel Norgren’s 6th record feels different. It possesses all of the ingredients of his previous material, but there is a budding new energy within it.
Portland, Oregon based songwriter Taylor Kingman rounded up a group of his rowdy buddies to create a real rarity these days; a genuinely good bar band record. Arguably OK is the groups first album under TK & The Holy Know-Nothings, and they have the right combo of sloppy and considerate.
Listen to Arguably OK -> spotify
Soul stalwart Lee Fields and his band the Expressions released another heartfelt record in 2019, In Rains Love. Lee and company are the ultimate professionals and an incredible live band. Every Lee Fields record is a good one.
Listen to It Rains Love -> spotify
Claude Fontaine’s debut album is an ode to classic reggae and Brazilian music. It sounds equally good as a dusty record store find or as soundtrack to a lazy summer afternoon in the sun.
Listen to Claude Fontaine -> bandcamp
Portland based songwriter Kassi Valazza released a genuinely soulful debut LP Dear Dead Days back in May and has been seeing the fruits of the slow burn since. Originally from Arizona, her songs lend themselves perfectly to the faint sun glow from a car window chugging along a dusty road, yet also the comfort of your living room on a rainy day in the Northwest.
Met with mixed reaction, Mac DeMarco’s Here Comes The Cowboy is one of his best if you like his mellow songs. Yes, they are all sort of mellow, but this record is mmeellowww. There are a few funky jams like Choo Choo, but Here Comes The Cowboy is mostly a breezy sunny day dream.
Listen to Here Comes The Cowboy -> spotify
New Zealand folk artist with a more than small touch of oddity, Aldous Harding released her beautiful 2nd record, Designer. It’s somber and soft. The Barrel is one of the truly great songs of the year.
Listen to Designer –> spotify
Straight from the Nigerian desert in Turag, Mdou Moctar has taken Saharan psych rock to the big time. This record absolutely RIPssss.
Listen to Ilana The Creator -> spotify
Anderson .Paak is everwhere. He has taken the buzz of Venice and Malibu, to his side project in NxWorries, to release two more California-titled records in recent months. 2018’s Oxnard and within months, this year’s Ventura. Ventura is a smoother, more relaxed mood than Oxnard, and there are some truly great songs on it.
Listen to Ventura -> spotify
Recorded in Marfa, Texas, Bradford Cox and company released a wonderfully smooth and clean rock record. It’s got odd old-timely sounds with their blend of psych rock, with pretty piano and much more.
Listen to Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? -> spotify
With the success of their debut record, Light Upon The Lake, Whitney is a far cry from two guys “formerly of the Smith Westerns.” Call them “darlings” if you wish, but the brainchildren of Whitney the band, Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek now find themselves at the center of one of indie rock’s most popular bands. Their 2nd record, Forever Turned Around is just as pretty as their first, with even more focus and attention to detail.
Portland singer-songwriter Anna Tivel’s new record The Question is nuanced, full of hope, and a welcome addition to this year’s folk releases. There’s no easing into The Question: The first two tracks are about religion and gender identity and America’s border with Mexico. Tivel’s stunning 2017 record Small Believer established her on the Pacific Northwest folk scene, and The Question will, deservedly, propel her far beyond it.
With My Morning Jacket still on hiatus, Jim James has been busier than ever, releasing multiple solo albums, a covers album and now, a new live orchestra record The Order Of Nature with Teddy Abrams and his hometown Louisville Orchestra. It’s a beautiful piece with new songs, a couple from Eternally Even and powerful human soul.
Listen to The Order Of Nature -> spotify
Young Irish punk rockers strait from Dublin City (D.C.). Fontaines D.C.‘s Dogrel is well produced, full of energy and sure to get the blood pumping.
Listen to Dogrel -> spotify
Now predominately writing and performing under his own name, Michael Nau has taken the opportunity to get a bit more experimental. Where 2018’s Michael Nau and The Mighty Thread was honey-soaked summery songs, this year’s Less Ready To Go was a surprise release that felt a bit “weirder” with more DIY measures and it sounds great.
Listen to Dogrel -> spotify
Originally released as Four separate 5-track EPs, Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest eventually became an incredible, 20-song record from Bill Callahan.
Listen to Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest -> spotify
Washington, DC rapper and producer Goldlink dropped a very fun, 80’s and 90’s dance record with features from Khalid, Tyler The Creator, Pusha-T, and more.
Listen to Diaspora -> spotify
Legendary producer Madlib teamed up with rapper Freddie Gibbs again on one of the year’s best hip hop records. Bandana is the follow up to 2014’s Pinata.
Listen to Bandana -> spotify
The soulful British songwriter released his 3rd record, the self-titled KIWANUKA. It’s far more worldly and psychedelic than his first two, adding in textures of new sounds with the help of producer, Dangermouse. Few singers have a smoother voice than Michael Kiwanuka, and his “voice” is only getting stronger.
Listen to KIWANUKA -> spotify
Listen to the BEST WHATEVER  RECORDS OF 2019 (PLAYLIST)