The Top 25 albums of 2019
By Drew Renner
Album of the Year : 2019 Edition
It’s hard to believe we are here at the end of not only another year, but another decade. The 2010s were an interesting era, but we can look more into that another time. For now, it is all about the previous year of 2019 and all the best music it had to offer. You may remember last year’s list was dominated by indie(ish) rockers that most people had probably not heard of (though hopefully you all at least checked out the Metric album.) This year .. not so much. The top 5 are all very well known names, most of them returning after far-too-long hiatuses. This is mostly because of how good of a year pop music had, but the veteran rock acts also put out very steady efforts, showcasing both the glories of the past and new directions for the future.
Unlike last year (and many before it), it was a very tough decision for who was to be on top. Several people had strong cases, and it switched a few times throughout the course of the 365 days. But I’m confident we came back around to the right decision.
I also made a song list, which you can check out on our forums once you’ve completed reading about the albums. Maybe you can even leave a comment and/or post your own list! I’ll post the link, a recap and A History of #1s at the end.
First thing is first though – congratulations to Canada once again for producing the top album of the year.
1. Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated
There’s really nothing like the feeling of listening to Carly Rae Jepsen. Not only does she sell her experiences and views on the people in her life, but fully transports you into her world of dopey love songs. Following up the Emotion Chronicles, this album had a lot of hype from her fans and almost no hype from anyone else (only debuted at #18 on the album charts 🙁 . That’s almost perfect though, most people don’t deserve Carly. She is a delicacy only properly appreciated by those willing to take that journey from the ordinary world to the fantastical. These songs, like all of her best, are growers too. The first time through you might think, OK these are some solid pop songs but what else you got? The lure to keep coming back is strong though, impossible to resist. You don’t have to be her lover to understand there is no drug like her. Whether you’re at the start of a romance or at the end, Carly has a tune to boost you up. So she has earned her first #1 album, with a strong possibility to repeat the feat sooner rather than later. She did say she recorded enough material for several albums after all. We want the Sax!
Top three: Want You In My Room, Party For One, Too Much
2. Taylor Swift – Lover
So I’m a fellow who really liked the Reputation album, but there’s no denying that everyone and their mother was sick of the Taylor and Kanye West feud. Coupling that with the fact that she chose Me and Calm Down as her lead singles, Lover hit the world with the most tempered expectations since Fearless blew everyone away back in 2008. Then, with the wave of her magic wand and an aptly named opening track “I Forgot That You Existed”, the old Taylor came to the phone and answered the call like a true ghostbuster. Not only does she get back to making 1989 style mega pop jams, but even acknowledges her country music history with a few songs. And while some of it is political, this album is mainly about her finally finding the right person, someone she can just be with without the whirlwind tabloid drama that has plagued her many other famous relationships. I don’t really know Joe Alwyn, couldn’t even tell you which character he played in The Favorite, but if he is inspiring Taylor like this then I’ll buy him a beer next time we meet up.
Top three: Cruel Summer, I Think He Knows, Cornelia Street
3. Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind
At the end of last year. Slipknot released a song called All Out Life, which is one of the best things they’ve ever done. I dare you to listen to that and not get really hyped up. In quite possibly the biggest flex of the year, they decided to not include this on their album. Why? Cause they didn’t need it! There’s already over an hour of intensity that features the masked men returning to the form of their earliest works. That unique sound mixed with new maturity in the lyrics created quite a spectacle (mostly about accepting your originality rather than fight against it) and proof that these guys still have a ton to offer the music world. We are not your kind indeed.
Top three: Birth of the Cruel, Unsainted, Spiders
4. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
It took six long years, but Vampire Weekend finally returned with a follow-up to their brilliant Modern Vampires of the City. This isn’t just a sequel though, it is big and bold, combining many different influences from all over the world. Sometimes it might even remind one of Dewey Cox or Tracy Jordan trying to combine every music genre into one song, but it really works for the most part. This album could have sank to the bottom of the sea after Raj left the band, but instead it soars, the lyrics still pack that same punch and the new guitarist is pretty damn good.
Top Three – Sunflower, How Long? , Unbearably White
5. Tool – Fear Inoculum
It has been thirteen years for Tool since their last album and it had one wondering if maybe they had just become “classic rock” without anyone even realizing it. But nope, Maynard, Adam Jones, and Justin Chancellor returned with some new, very very long songs. On first listen, having six ten minute plus songs might be a difficult pill to swallow. They are growers though, and at the end of the day I’m very glad we got this new version of Tool rather than listening to them try to just recapture what worked in the past. I also cannot give enough of a recommendation for Tool’s live shows. The show I saw in November was the best I’ve ever been to easily and #2 is the Tool show from last year. It is an incredible experience.
Top three – 7empest, Invincible, Pneuma
6. Cage the Elephant – Social Cues
Cage might have lost producer Dan Auerbach, who helped them bring their peak effort Tell Me I’m Pretty into the world, but they retained the lessons learned. They were always a fun light rock band with quality song-writing, now they can legitimately claim to be one of the best in the world. The trick this time was to add a heavy dose of melancholy into the record. Divorce, social anxiety, the feeling that all your dreams coming true isn’t enough to make you happy – these are heavy topics that they deal with whilst also making them extremely catchy.
Top three: Ready To Let Go, House of Glass, Skin & Bones
7. Ariana Grande – Thank U Next
Ditching the usual two-year-cycle for pop musicians, Ariana had too many bottled up feelings and decided to unleash them upon the world early. The death of ex lover Mac Miller, a very publicized break-up with Pete Davidson and the cementing of her A-list status all combined to make Ari’s best album to date. She was rewarded with her first two number one hits on the billboard hot 100 and is one of the favorites to take home Album of the Year at the Grammys.
Top three: NASA, Fake Smile, Bad Idea
8. Bring Me The Horizon – Amo
In a favorable twist, a band that I used to dislike became one that I loved. Bring Me The Horizon’s redemption actually started a few albums back, little did I know that though. So it’s almost like I got three new albums from them this year (four now with the surprise release at the end of the year!). And while switching to a much more relaxed sound deserves some of the credit, there are plenty of former screamocore bands who go this way and don’t achieve the same results. These guys earned their redemption through quality song-writing and backing it up with enough energy to keep even their old fans happy enough. Though they have an answer for the toxic people in their lives – they’re just like clouds ya know? Cause life’s so much brighter when they go.
Top three: Medicine, In The Dark, Mantra
9. Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go?
This album was originally sold to me as going to a sexy demon party. Sounds like fun to me. The album isn’t so sexy or fun, mostly dealing with pretty depressing topics, but it is a fantastic piece of music nonetheless. Billie’s mumble-singing might not be for everyone, I’ve certainly had my complaints about the rise of mumble-rapping, but for most people it works with the style. They don’t have to lie and say they like her like that because it’s the truth! Bad Guy was also everywhere this year and should have been burned out like a certain song about horses, but instead it somehow gets even more catchy every time it comes on. Billie is the new voice of her generation, quiet words that are still as sharp as a cruciatus curse.
Top three: Bad Guy, All The Good Girls Go To Hell, You Should See Me In A Crown
10. Kim Petras – Clarity
Petras seemed like the type of artist who would release singles whenever she wanted, with an occasional holiday themed-EP. In a somewhat brilliant move, she decided to just package all these singles together in one easily digestible package and now has a top ten album under her belt. Also unlike a lot of her fellow LGBTQ artists, Kim doesn’t just make songs about being trans, she’s just making music that she would like to listen to. And fuck to. There’s a sexual charge in every single one of her songs that so many people try to sell us, but don’t really ever get close.
11. Rammstein – Rammstein
Described by their fellow Germans as Neue Deutsche Harte, this metal band has been going for nearly thirty years now and can still wear the label of new hardness. This untitled album was their first release in ten years though, and people were wondering what to expect. A lot has happened since then, especially for a band that often likes to dip their lyrics into muddy political waters. What we get is ultimately kind of the Rammstein Awakens, a mashup of all their previous highs and an unintentional celebration of their entire career. They hit hard, and even though I can’t understand the language, I can tell what is supposed to be deep, and what is supposed to be funny. They were rewarded with a record for biggest selling debut in Germany this century, and a slew of impressive chart rankings around the rest of the world.
Top three: Auslander, Radio, Sex
12. Babymetal – Metal Galaxy
This Japanese metalpop (known there as Kawaii metal) band is not for everyone, certainly not for people who skip through the opening theme songs for anime programs. If you can get past that, this album is a really great time. I love the combination of hard rock with J-pop even though it seems like it should be obnoxious. And going back and forth between japanese and english could also be off putting for some, but it’s also so seamless that you might not even notice. The album is incredibly diverse, not just from pop and metal sounds, but all sorts of things including a song with freakin’ bagpipes as the lead instrument.
Top three: Kagerou, PA PA YA, Elevator Girl
13. Little Simz – Grey Area
I don’t think anybody predicted that Little Simz, a british woman, would have the top hip-hop album of the year, yet here we are and Metacritic agrees with me. It feels old school, but also not just something that is calling back to the glory days of the 90s. Kinda reminded me of Jack White’s Lazerus, where he took some songs he wrote as a teenager and performed them with his veteran body. I don’t think that was the process here, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.
Top three: Venom, 101 FMZ, Offence
14. Denzel Curry – ZUU
Zuu is a tribute to his home town of Miami, pushing Denzel into the future while also acknowledging all of the influences that brought him to this point. That could refer to his dad, who taught him to trust no man but his brothers, or even a hero of his like Rick Ross who joins him on one of the album’s better songs. He raps over modern trap beats and nostalgic 90s rock based beats, and both work equally well. It’s like the south west answer to the recent run by the Top Guy, Vince Staples. But Denzel knows that all of this could be temporary if he doesn’t excel, looking at the tragedy of XXXTentacion as a story of how quickly things can go wrong even while living the life you’ve always wanted. Also, yooooooooo.
Top three: Speedboat, Ricky, Birdz
15. Of Mice and Men – Earth & Sky
Anyone whose read me before knows that this band is one of two offshoots to result from the breakup of 2000s metalcore band Attack Attack! And that I usually choose the other parent from the divorce, Beartooth, who are one of my favorites. What you might not have known, and what I just found out, is that Mice and Men have replicated Attack Attack’s end of last decade in another way, by replacing their vocalist (though under a bit more unfortunate circumstances, the old singer was too sick to continue.) Aaron Pauly is still no Caleb, but he and the rest of the guys have figured out a way to mix their heavy riffs with harmony, no longer just smashing guitars for the hell of it. He’s also a hell of a songwriter.
Top three: Taste of Regret, How To Survive, Mushroom Cloud
16. Wage War – Pressure
Wage War first entered my life as a piece of very tiny text at the end of the Sonic Temple 2019 lineup. I like to give everyone on the card a listen, and they stood out from the rest of the lower card. Still not my favorites since it was a bit too much, but a few weeks later they released the first single for this album “Low”. That riff is hard as fuck and the hook is equally catchy, making them stand out even amongst the groups much higher up on the card than they were. The album delivered on the promise of the lead single and even had some surprises, like an all-clean vocals song Me Against Myself which is much better than it has a right to be. I’m guessing I’m not the only one pleasantly surprised by all of this, and that next time they appear on a festival it will at least be in some regular sized type.
17. Plague Vendor – By Night
This is the second time I’ve ranked a Plague Vendor album and they still don’t have a damn wikipedia page! So I have to go on the epitaph records website to find out how they wanted this album to look like a house falling apart, but lit up like crazy. And that immediately clicks with the very first song New Comedown, which I would have to mosh to even if the safety of myself and others was under question. I guess I would describe their sound as a mix of aggressive early punk rock from the 70s with the music and a modern artist like Cage the Elephant with the vocal and lyrical content.
Top three: New Comedown, Night Sweats, Let Me Get High/Low
18. The Shelters – Jupiter Sidecar
The Shelters are a band from LA, and had been a very promising up-and-coming artist coming into the year. The late Tom Petty had seen something in them, letting them use his studio and throwing in a bit of advice every now and then before he died. This was their first album without their mentor, and it seems like the legacy has passed on just fine. Rather than just try to channel Petty’s legendary discography, they found influences all across the span of time. There are the big alternative rock sounds of the mid 2000s, the rock songs that are really pop songs of today, the grooviness of the 80s, the finding of hope within sadness of the 90s, etc…
Top three: Bad Dreams, Tangled Up, You’re Different
19. Ed Sheeran – No. 6 Collaborations Project
I think most people expected very little from this album, assuming that Ed was just using it as an excuse to hang out with his friends and get paid for it. We’ll call this the Sandler Technique, who made a bunch of money from Netflix to vacation in Europe with his family and Jennifer Aniston (though Murder Mystery is actually pretty damn decent.) I Don’t Care, with the Bieber, was a huge hit, but it didn’t change the narrative, as the album debuted to about half the sales that Sheeran’s previous effort. Little did we know that this was actually a worthy follow up, with the first two songs featuring Khalid, Camilla Cabello and Cardi B giving us two of his best right away. Ed expanded his horizons too, and whilst he has always had a little bit of hip-hop influence, this was the first time trying a true rock song. Could not tell you how surprised I was to see him and Bruno Mars pop up in Apple’s The Riff playlist for new hard rock songs. Though what was up with all these pop stars releasing the weaker songs on their album as the lead singles this year? Ed, Taylor and Ariana need new agents.
Top three: South of the Border, Antisocial, Beautiful People
20. Maggie Rogers – Heard It In A Past Life
Maggie is technically a new artist, gaining a nomination for that very thing at the grammys, but she has been around the block. She opened for HAIM, played festivals and even booked SNL all before her “first” album even came out. Turning her folk songs into something more resembling alternative also opened up a new base of fans for her and she has just taken off since. She wrote and produced every song on here, so all this praise is much earned and I could see her succeeding in those departments for other artists sometime down the line as well.
Top three: Give A Little, Light On, Fallingwater
21. Steve Lacy – Apollo XXI
Steve Lacy is best known for his work with R&B band The Internet, and you’ve probably heard some of his production as well for people like Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole, Solange and the excellent “Just A Stranger” for Kali Uchis last year. This year he teamed up with Vampire Weekend to make one of the best songs of the year, Sunflower, and expanded his base even more. He even got to be in the video with Jerry Seinfeld. His own solo album is a mix of pop, alternative, R&B and experimentation – a unique experience for a unique artist. The guy is such a great guitar players and uses that in so many different ways.
Top three: Basement Jack, Playground, Guide
22. Titus Andronicus – An Obelisk
Titus are one of three artists to place on this list in back to back years, though I feel like that is pretty rare in the rock world unless your name is Ty Segall (who actually didn’t make the cut this year, the first time in forever.) So I wasn’t much out of it, mostly just stuff that was shelved during the latest recording sessions. Little did I know, the soft reception to Cough actually set off a spark in the guys, and they recruit legend Bob Mould to come in and produce the follow up. And they didn’t just go back to what they do best (epic concept albums), instead making a lean and breezy punk album full of fire, something they had never done before (it’s about ten minutes leaner than their previous shortest and between thirty to fifty five minutes shorter than their best albums.) Like I always say though, whatever it takes.
Top Three: Troubleman Unlimited, (I Blame) Society, My Body and Me
23. Angel Du$t – Pretty Buff
Not be confused with the german metal band, Angel Dust, or the slang for the narcotic PCP. This band is from Baltimore and signed with Roadrunner Records before recording this album. The result is their hard-hitting short punk songs becoming a bit more sleek and shinier, but also a bit more focused. You gotta love the way Big Ass Love segueways right into On My Way, ala the last few songs on Abbey Road. Even though I did see them live at the Louder than Life festival (on a small side stage), I always picture them playing these in a bowling alley or somewhere very small, with people that didn’t exactly come for their music and are slowly won over song by song. It’s just a very fun band to spend time with.
Top three: Bang My Drum, Big Ass Love/On My Way, Take Away The Pain
24. Gary Clark Jr. – This Land
After spending the last few years at church, Gary Clark Jr. returned to the rock world with aplomb this year, and a new attitude to go along with it. Now that he has made it, Gary reasonably expected to be welcomed into any community with open arms. Well not so much, as Gary found himself paranoid and pissed off in the middle of Trump country. Maybe he could move a little northward and avoid all that, or the people near his home could just stop being assholes. Gary is done with the diplomatic approach though, and if his mix of being one of the best guitarists in the game as well as one of the sharpest soul singers wasn’t enough, then it’s likely that nothing will impress these people. His songs get more personal as the record goes along, appealing to a single person at a time rather than the entirety of white America.
Top three: This Land, Pearl Caddilac, Low Down Rolling Stone
25. Death Stranding: Timefall
This is perhaps the most surprising entry on the entire list. I can’t ever remember even listening to an entire video game soundtrack much less ranking one (and I love video games!) The only two songs I can even pick off the top of my head are Breaking Benjamin’s “Blow Me Away” from the Halo 2 soundtrack or the Snake Eater parody of James Bond themes as Snake climbs the longest ladder ever (a joke from Kojima ..probably) . The Death Stranding soundtrack does more than just deliver good songs though, it’s sold the world that Hideo Kojima built better than any of the weird trailers laced with his signature long cut-scenes. Walking around, trying to reconnect the world while throwing poop at ghosts didn’t sound appealing until it had the likes of Chvrches, Bring Me The Horizon, Khalid and Major Lazer backing it up.
Top three: Ghost, Ludens, Trigger
Alex Lahey – The Best of Luck Club
Amyl and the Sniffers – Amyl and the Sniffers
The Band Camino – Tryhard
Beck – Hyperspace
Chance the Rapper – The Big Day
Chemical Brothers – No Geography
DaBaby – Baby on Baby
Drenge – Strange Creatures
IDER – Emotional Education
Jade Bird – Jade Bird
Liam Gallagher – Why Me? Why Not.
Niights – Hellebores
The Regrettes – How Do You Love?
Ride – This is Not a Safe Place
Sheer Mag – A Distant Call
Yola – Walk Through Fire
And Carly can now join the history of #1s (going back to 2003! I guess I’m old now)
2019: Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated
2018: Metric – Art of Doubt
2017: Sheer Mag – Need To Feel Your Love
2016: Against The Current – In Our Bones
2015: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday
2014: Taylor Swift – 1989
2013: Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
2012: Dr. Dog – Be The Void
2011: The Sounds – Something To Die For
2010: LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
2009: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!
2008: Metallica – Death Magnetic
2007: LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
2006: My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade
2005: Death Cab For Cutie – Plans
2004: Beastie Boys – To the 5 Boroughs
2003: Linkin Park – Meteora
And a link to the best songs of the year!
1. Cruel Summer – Taylor Swift
2. All Out Life – Slipknot
3. Ready to let go – Cage the Elephant
4. Sunflower – Vampire Weekend and Steve Lacey
5. 7empest – Tool
6. Want you in my room – Carly Rae Jepsen
7. Medicine – Bring Me The Horizon
8. End of the game – Weezer
9. NASA – Ariana Grande
10. Daphne Blue – The Band Camino
So basically all the same people in a different order. You’ll have to click to find out the other 40 songs that were listed.
Thanks for tuning in to see my top albums of the year. Be sure to check out anything you didn’t already know and even if you don’t like it just let it run on mute so my favorites can get paid!
I’ll be back at the end of the month for a full Grammy recap.