Blake's Favorite Albums of 2019
Updated: Mar 26, 2020
I started a music podcast this year.
I know, I know. But for a long time now, I’ve wanted a more consistent outlet for my love of music, and while me adding to my plate is probably something my therapist would be angry about if I ever went back, it’s been refreshing so far. I don’t feel a need to turn every passion into a work project, but it’s allowed me to express more about myself and engage more creatively than I get to by sticking to basketball. (I love my job, obviously. Variety is appreciated, though.)
Doing the project – Columbia House Party – with my friend Jake has the added wrinkle of exploring and appreciating a variety of music that we maybe don’t agree on. Music is subjective, and how you relate with it is often an ethereal, intangible experience. Jake and I have a lot of overlap in our musical tastes, sure. We also have very little annual overlap in the very tops of your year-ends or most-listened-tos. There’s some Venn Diagram to the show, to the shows we go to together, and with most of my friends I share tastes with.
Diving into albums from both of our pasts and exploring why those albums resonated with different people at different times has lent helpful perspective to this, one of my favorite annual exercises. Foremost – and this is something I realized in introducing The Phoebe Bridgers Corollary in 2018 – albums are timeless and it’s not always necessary to experience them immediately. If you’re going deep on one album and it means you listen to a little less new stuff for a while, live in that first album. The others aren’t going anywhere. (Consequently, I listened to 119 albums this year, down about 20 percent from 2018.)
Additionally, it’s lessened the pressure I feel to get the list “right.” There’s no such thing, and even people with similar taste can amicably split hairs on what albums hit them hardest. It’s a favorite albums list, not an objectively best albums list.
This stuff should be obvious. Sometimes it’s hard to separate a job where you’re evaluated on the accuracy of your analysis and a side-passion where you’re just allowed to feel. It’s a welcome balance. It also made the tougher decisions a little easier to lock in for a year that was defined more by the amount of good albums (my initial pass at a top-75 had 90-plus albums) than the amount of great ones.
Ironically, the side project also cut into the time I had to do this list, so it’s coming out later and with briefer blurbs than in the past.
What follows are the albums I enjoyed most in 2019.
Honorable Mention (75-50, in alphabetical order) 2 Chainz (Rap Or Go To The League), Alice Merton (Mint), Ariana Grande (thank u, next), Avril Lavigne (Head Above Water), Baby FuzZ (Plastic Paradise), Big K.R.I.T. (K.R.I.T. IZ HERE), Charli XCX (Charli), Gary Clark Jr. (This Land), Halogens (Happy Hour), JPEGMAFIA (All My Heroes Are Cornballs), Kehlani (While We Wait), Lana Del Ray (Norman Fucking Rockwell), Lucy Dacus (2019), nf (The Search), Maxo Kream (Brandon Banks), Nina Nesbitt (The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change), Sharon Van Etten (Remind Me Tomorrow), Skepta (Ignorance is Bliss), Slaughter Beach, Dog (Sade And Also No Fear), Slipknot (We Are Not Your Kind), T-Pain (1UP), Tiny Moving Parts (breathe), Tory Lanez (Chixtape 5), Tove Lo (Sunshine Kitty), Turnover (Altogether)
Other Honorable Mention Jeff Rosenstock (Thanks, Sorry!), Kelso (Always a Godmother, Never a God EP), Lil Peep (EVERYBODY’s EVERYTHING), Lykke Li (still sad, still sexy EP), Drake (Care Package), Snail Mail (Habit EP), Poppy (I C U: Music to Read To), Weigh the Anchor (Different Ways EP), and Sofi Tukker (DANCING ON THE PEOPLE EP) were all shorter EPs, live albums, or compilations of previously released tracks that I really enjoyed but were excluded from ‘best albums’ consideration. It’s a bit of an arbitrary line, admittedly, so I thought I should mention that they were also really good.
50. blink-182 – Nine
Did I put this at 50 knowing that the way my basic WordPress populates, the blink album cover will be the teaser image, giving people the impression I maybe had it No. 1? Yes. It was also just exactly what it needed to be for a 2019 blink-182 album: Not as cohesive in theme or sound as California but a lot more fun. The higher highs understandably come with lower, please-just-play-the-hits lows, which you accept when firing up cool dads playing angsty pop-punk.
49. Julia Michaels – Inner Monologue 1 & 2
I had higher hopes for this two-part EP because of how much I loved Nervous System. This missed the mark a bit, not in the sense that it was bad, but it didn’t show the progression I’d expected from someone so talented. I do deeply appreciate two tracks about the toll overworking can have on relationships.
48. Post Malone – Hollywood’s Bleeding
You probably don’t need much explanation here, as Post Malone was unavoidable in 2019. There’s nothing wrong with that, as the oversaturation maybe masked that this is still a really good album, save for a couple of tracks.
47. Tyler, The Creator – IGOR
We’ve come a pretty long way from the early Odd Future stuff. The artistic growth is remarkable and the separation from the earlier…less enjoyable lyrical content is appreciated. It feels like the blending of influences and styles here is the direction things should be moving on, and IGOR has the potential to be one of those albums that are look backed on as a genre-pusher in time.
46. STUCK OUT HERE – Until We’re Each Someone Else
Toronto pop-punks who shoot music videos playing shinny and heavy-handedly build a song around a Gatsby/Daisy analogy? Sign me up.
45. PKEW PKEW PKEW – Optimal Lifestyles
Same as the last blurb but songs about taking the TTC while sad instead.
44. Pale Lips – After Dark
I didn’t really know how to describe what “bubblegum punk” was, or how to describe Pale Lips, and then I saw them described like that and, you know what, sure. This album is a ton of fun, bouncing between a more straightforward punkier sound to surf-punk songs reminiscent of early PIxies genre-mashing, all with infectious, high-energy vocals.
43. Kevin Gates – I’m Him
I’ve always really appreciated that before he raps about sex, Kevin Gates lets you know exactly how generous a lover he is. I didn’t love some of the sing-ier tracks on this one but Gates remains one of my favorites in terms of flow and delivery.
42. King Princess – Cheap Queen
I feel like this is one of the bigger risks on the list to feel too low in retrospect, as I came to the album pretty late. Expanding from viral status and broadening the sound over a full album with no loss in songwriting quality and no bow to expected sound progression in the streaming era is (probably) pretty difficult. Here, it turns out great.
41. Julia Jacklin – Crushing
You will be absolutely shocked to see a sad, wistful, Oceanic, female singer on my list, I am sure. Jacklin is such a tremendous lyricist, simplifying stories and feelings that shouldn’t fit as neatly and as sweetly as they do.
40. Denzel Curry – ZUU
I still just find myself firing up his Rage Against The Machine cover on Like A Version but the new album is also pretty good.
39. Taylor Swift – Lover
I have a place for basic pop music and have no issue admitting that kind of thing. Guilty pleasures don’t exist. And so I have no problem with my summer running playlist having been heavy on Taylor Swift, including the best terrible song of all time, “ME!” Brendon Urie Over Everything.
38. Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin?
From the man who brought you the lyric “Bank roll thick like that neck on Sabonis” and the best verse on Run The Jewels 3, uknowhatimsayin? is yet another step forward for one of the sharpest and most interesting rappers out there. Brown gets a bit more comedic here by his own admission but loses none of the deeply personal energy that makes all of his albums land.
37. Hatchie – Keepsake
I was a little underwhelmed at first by the follow up to the Sugar & Spice EP. The more it stayed in the rotation, the more it grew on me. Pitchfork compared it to a John Hughes rewatch in the negative sense but I think you can just as easily spin that as a positive, even if your expectations were a bit higher.
36. Maggie Rogers – Heard It In A Past Life
Her ability to project a presence much larger than herself, in vocals and in energy, made her one of the breakout stars of the earlier part of the year. I found myself coming back to it fairly often, too, ranking it among my most played of 2019.
35. glass beach – the first glass beach album
In a wave of emo-adjacent bands blending different influences and genres, glass beach are probably the hardest to accurately define or describe. I am a basketball writer, not a music writer, after all. To borrow from one of my favorite Delon Wright descriptors, this album feels amoebic, never keeping one shape or form for long.
34. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana
“Real Gs move in silence like lasagna” should be off limits but “real Gs move in silence like Giannis” just works too well. They’d have been excised from the list if the Eastern Conference Finals went differently, though, since this album came out in late June.
33. Potty Mouth – SNAFU
Please do not wait six years before the next album. Unless you need to, and the next will be as good as SNAFU.
32. Claud – Sideline Star (EP)
I’m breaking the EP cutoff for this one because it at least goes eight songs and, well, it’s really very good. I can’t remember whomst, but someone posted one of Claud’s songs on Instagram with a caption along the lines of “music to get sad and high-five to and that about sums it up. Depending on what creative direction Claud goes from here, the first full-length has the potential to be right up my alley and really, really good.
31. Mess – Learning How to Talk
I came across this one fairly late and was pretty floored. Allison Gliesman’s voice is the perfect fit for this type of softer, slow-building music, her sweetness and the dream-pop/gaze creating a contrast that leads to tense, emotional peaks in each track.
30. The Menzingers – Hello Exile
I joked when this album first came out that I love The Menzingers because you know all the lyrics the first time you play the album. It was a joke, but it’s kind of true! “Anna,” my most-played track of 2019, builds naturally off of After the Party (the album and, more specifically, the song). They have an incredible way of making you feel immediately nostalgic, wistful for something that may or may not have even existed. It’s like catching up with a friend from your hometown and hearing the same new stories.
29. Sigrid – Sucker Punch
A few years ago, I may not have given something like Sigrid a chance. Luckily, as my pop sensibilities have opened up, friends are on the lookout for good artists in this vein to send my way. My pal Eric sent me “Don’t Feel Like Crying” and all of Sucker Punch joined the gym rotation immediately. (I have found more and more that pop/synthpop is a better workout energy for me than my usual wheelhouse.)
28. pronoun – i’ll show you stronger
Some of i’ll show you stronger might feel chill and even upbeat thanks to underlying tempos that put a pop-punk spin on what are largely very emo lyrics. It works – incredibly well – it can just hit with an unexpectedly hard punch on first, somewhat unsuspecting listen. And then from there, you can just dive in knowing full well how sad you might come out the other side.
27. Haviah Mighty – 13th Floor
The winner of the 2019 Polaris Music Prize also put on one of the most intense 10-minute sets I’ve ever seen live that night.
26. Young Thug – So Much Fun
The No. 1 album of the year from the Raptors that I polled and who actually answered. Just don’t get them trying to rank Young Thug albums and mixtapes. This one is, as the title suggests, a lot of fun, and Thugger’s influence on an entire corner of the hip-hop world continues to be more and more obvious by the day.
25. Betty Who – Betty
Every song is catchy and will get stuck in your head, with upbeat synth-pop beats that force you to meet her energy, even if you don’t think you have it in reserve.
24. Billie Eilish – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
You probably don’t need me to explain one of the biggest crossover successes of 2019. She rules.
23. Prince Daddy & The Hyena – Cosmic Thrill Seekers
The album made a lot more sense once Jacob explained the background – that lead singer Kory Gregory is singing about an acid trip that “wasn’t that bad” but that he feels he’s never come down from. Gregory’s manic vocals might be off-putting at first but really pull together everything that’s going on around them (which is “cinematic,” in his description). It’s a bit of a wild ride, with enough sincerity spread throughout the tumult.
22. Devon Kay & the Solutions – Yes, I Can’t
Decon Kay’s influences are laid extremely obvious on Yes, I Can’t, a near-perfect 2019 pop-punk albums that has appreciated nods to plenty of your prior pop-punk favorites. There is a blink-182 song, a Menzingers song, some ska sprinkles, and so on. It makes a new album feel welcoming and familiar. “Fresh” is also one of my favorite love songs of the year.
21. DaBaby – KIRK
Not only did DaBaby drop two really good albums in the same year, he was also the first person to make SNL fun in what feels like years. He doesn’t differ up his flow much across tracks, which can make the album feel like one long song at times, but he’s so good it doesn’t really matter. Bonus points for beating a guy up on his own snapchat and for the Hornets throwbacks.
20. Diva Sweetly – In The Living Room
As you’d expect from a debut LP, there are still some kinks to work out, namely how to balance two very good but very different singers. Mostly, though, In The Living Room flows beautifully with a lot of upbeat melodies and more optimism than the genre normally affords.
19. Laura Stevenson – The Big Freeze
“I want to feel you restless. I want to wake up from it.” The opening line to my favorite track from the album, “Living Room, NY,” takes you to the nut of the The Big Freeze immediately: Laura Stevenson is wistful for even the simplest comforts of love, and you’re going to feel every ounce of pain that its absence brings.
18. Jenny Lewis – On The Line
Little known fact: On “Hollywood Lawn,” Jenny Lewis is actually singing about Semi Ojeleye, not Beaujolais. And as specific a detail as what Lewis is drinking in any given song is, On The Line works best because of how little detail she leaves you with otherwise, creating the feeling that yes, this song is about you and your situation, protagonist of reality.
17. Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated
If E-MO-TION was a killer album about longing for someone, Dedicated is a killer album about making the most of it when you’re with them. It’s not quite as strong as E-MO-TION (or the B-side), but really, what is? There are enough killer pop tracks here that I’ll probably be coming back to this album just as often. It also gave me one of my favorite live shows of the year. I wish more people would move past the pre-meme “Call Me Maybe” idea they have of her, because those people are missing out on one of the best pop stars of this generation.
16. Girl K – For Now
Has nobody outside of Chicago heard Girl K yet? Did I only find them because of Josh Terry? Either way, get on board.
15. Mannequin Pussy – Patience
“Drunk II” wasn’t my “favorite” song of the year but to split hairs between favorite and “best,” I think it might be the best song I heard this year. “Everyone says to me, ‘Missy, you’re so strong,’ But what if I don’t want to be?” is a killer through line for a story of putting on a brave cover and hiding everything inside…until you can’t.
14. Juice WRLD – Death Race for Love
In 2018, I got really into Lil’ Peep, feeling he was a perfect bridge between my emo/pop-punk tastes and my hip-hop ones. Juice WRLD picked up that mantle, maybe even better, basically rap-singing (mostly) emo lyrics over great drill beats splashed with pianos that would fit on any emopop album. I would imagine if I were in high school now, as an emokid with friends who only listen to hip-hop, Juice WRLD would have offered an appreciated middle ground. (I think it says a lot about how important he was becoming, too, that most of the 25-and-under NBA posted some sort of Instagram message when he passed away.)
13. Origami Angel – Somewhere City
We got asked in a recent mailbag how we would classify Origami Angel, which led me to yet another pretty funny thread of r/Emo arguing about what is and isn’t emo. This probably doesn’t qualify (their earlier EP does, but this is maybe…mathcore? I don’t know where these lines are drawn), but it does qualify as an absolute banger of an album. The “what if a self-care motivational Instagram account made a punk album” lyrics get a little long in the tooth at certain points, and they’re at their best singing self-reflectively rather than as a message of support, but it’s hard to nitpick an album in this genre for being too positive and reassuring. Plus, any time you might roll your eyes at an over-sweetened lyric, a killer guitar riff drops in to steal your attention back.
12. Future Teens – Breakup Season
At first glance, Breakup Season felt a bit too literal. Everything is just…right there, laid plainly, almost to the point of parody of early-20s relationship angst. Dig deeper, though, and the songwriting is far more nuanced and mature than the song titles let on. The album opens with a lamentation of the impending death of a dog because nobody else has stuck around this long on “Happy New Year,” weaves through the poppy, laughing-through-the-tears “Frequent Crier,” and then reaches its peak with a three-song arc – “Passed Tense,” “Swiped Out,” and “Heavy Petting” – that puts a lump in your throat struggling not to look back on the idiosyncrasies and moments that come to define a relationship. “Swiped Out,” in particular, was my favorite song of the year. It’s just a tremendous window into what trying to get over someone in the modern, tech-driven dating environment is like. “I can’t bring myself to tell her it was fine” is an absolutely killer if-you-know-you-know line. I love this album.
11. Angel Olsen – All Mirrors
Everything about this album is so large and dramatic in the best possible way. The strings and synths create this tense, sprawling environment that Angel Olsen pirouettes through with incredible vocals and a rawness that takes you through the hurt and heal with her. Sarah MacDonald does a great job unpacking it all here.
10. Stella Donnelly – Beware of the Dogs
I strongly recommend experiencing this album for the first time while exploring Memphis in the rain, full of BBQ and sadness. The album incredibly witty and biting while still maintaining an important element of empathy, a tough balance that Stella Donnelly strikes perfectly.
9. insignificant other – i’m so glad i feel this way about you!
The album’s title track is insignificant other’s best song and the best introduction to what they’re about. I opted to include “Heathers,” though, because I was listening to this album a lot around the start of July and it nudged me to rewatch Heathers for the first time in years late one night during Kawhi Watch. Winona Forever.
8. Clairo – Immunity
“Can you see me using everything to hold back?” is such a perfect line to capture “Bags,” the breakthrough single from Immunity, as well as Clairo’s overall strength as a songwriter. Immunity feels deeply personal and at the same time entirely accessible. That balance of specificity of experience and openness of interpretation that takes a lot of talent to pull off.
7. Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center
A Phoebe Bridgers-Conor Oberst collaboration seems pretty tailor-made to my tastes. Oberst putting more twang into his vocals makes it feel less like a Bright Eyes extension and more like the first foray into what I’m going to dub yeemo-haw. Bridgers, meanwhile, is my favorite singer and songwriter at this point in time, to the extent that there are times on Better Oblivion Community Center where I found myself wishing it was just a Bridgers album with Oberst featuring. Luckily, they work well together, with the pairing peaking when Oberst is softly backing as Bridgers reaches her more feverish crescendos.
6. oso oso – basking in the glow
I took one week off in 2019, a nice reset trip to Costa Rica after the NBA Finals, Kawhi Watch, working on the book, and dealing with some difficult family stuff. It was a nice resort, with wild animals and ocean access and a really creepy tree with two chairs and a spotlight that looked right out of a Bray Wyatt vignette. I ran every morning there and listened to this album each time. This is a pointless story, I realize, but it’s an association that’s etched in now and despite how painful basking in the glow is in parts, it triggers a calm response in me now. Jade Littri’s songwriting, especially on the album’s emotional valleys, is nearly unmatched right now.
5. Tegan and Sara – Hey, I’m Just Like You
Tegan and Sara’s turn to more of a synthpop sound on 2016’s Love You to Death was truly inspired growth. With Hey, I’m Just Like You, they find a middle ground between where they came from – quite literally – and where they’ve gotten to. Re-recording their earlier demos would be a cool gimmick regardless, but putting their own modern sound and spin on them is even better, and a good reminder to us all to not forget – or be held back by – where we came from. Strongly recommend wandering around Quebec City with this in your headphones.
4. Charly Bliss – Young Enough
It would not be a stretch to call Charly Bliss my favorite band of the last few years. Guppy was one of my top albums of 2017 and Young Enough is, somehow, just as good or better. Eva Hendricks’ profoundly vulnerable songwriting matches her singular vocals perfectly, and the sparkle that the band drips all over a pop-punk base truly makes their sound unique. Synthy dance-along songs with gutting lyrics are hard to come by effectively and Charly Bliss do it perfectly. They genuinely mean it when Hendricks sings “I’m fucking joy and I hemorrhage light.” They are also an incredible live band and I have no earthly idea how Hendricks maintains that level of energy for a full set, bouncing and screeching and drumming along to “Chatroom.” See them the next chance you get.
3. Alex Lahey – The Best Of Luck Club
I don’t think it’s the best sign that multiple people told me this year that “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself” reminded them of me. For me, this album will be inextricable from the Raptors’ championship run, as it came out in mid-May and was what I was listening to most over the next month. Don’t be so hard on yourself was an appreciated reminder – with a beautiful and equally appreciated sax solo – as were reassuringly relatable tracks like “Am I Doing it Right” and “I Don’t Get Invited to Parties Anymore.” Lahey’s ability to write through situations as if she already has the benefit of hindsight is comforting, if challenging. And if that doesn’t do it for you, her cover of “Welcome to the Black Parade” surely will.
2. PUP – Morbid Stuff
I realize I lose the veil of objectivity here. And I struggled with where to rank PUP, if I ranked them at all. The truth is, I genuinely believe Morbid Stuff was one of the best albums of 2019, and pretty much every critic or outlet ranking has agreed so far. Stefan Babcock’s ability to crystallize all of our anxieties into these biting, winking verses with choruses we can sing along to is unparalleled in the genre right now, and the drum and bass work keep PUP true to their punk roots, making them maybe the most accessible (and highest-upside, from a crossover appeal perspective) punk band going right now. My only complaint would be that sometimes the guitar riffs, while excellent, sound like the guitarist is playing through the shame of having left dishes on the counter unwashed before heading to the recording session. PUP rule, especially live. You’ve heard me preach this long before now. My friends made an incredible album and you should support them.
1. Great Grandpa – Four of Arrows
When I saw first heard Great Grandpa – opening for Sorority Noise and Citizen in 2017 – I was pretty high on them. Plastic Cough was deeper on my list of favorite albums, and my blurb for them identified them as “probably the band I’m most interested in seeing how they follow up their 2017.” I had no idea the follow-up would be this good. Great Grandpa broadened their sound, creating more space for more detailed, complex environment-building that gives every piece of the group opportunities to shine. Alex Menne’s vocals still do the primary lifting here, though – her voice bounces around between wails and warbles, her lilts growing to become the defining characteristic of Four of Arrows. The back-to-back of “Mono no Aware” and “Bloom” might be the best middle-of-the-order on an album this year (“I get anxious on the weekends, when I feel I’m wasting time” hits home), “Treat Jar” could have been a radio-play single a decade ago, and “Digger” works perfectly as a Track 2 that the album is built around. That “Digger” and the album title are heavy on tarot card imagery and reference Mercury in retrograde makes it a perfect fit for a 2019 in which I kind of started to find that stuff fun and interesting? Now, if CoStar would just stop roasting me every time I log on. Anyway, this was my favorite album of the year. I hope you enjoy it.
My favorite live performances of 2019
Carly Rae Jepsen
Snotty Nose Rez Kids
Taking Back Sunday
PKEW PKEW PKEW
Playlist: Favorite Albums of 2019