The Best Albums Of 2019
25. Taylor Swift — Lover
Taylor Swift’s Lover arrived after much speculation and a very public disagreement with her former record label, Big Machine Records. The 18-track album shed her edgy Reputation era to opt for sunny themes, bright synths, and uplifting ballads. Peppered with snapping beats and tastefully-arranged acoustic numbers, Lover calls back to Taylor’s early days as a musician with subtle country twang while adding a stylistic shift thanks to collaborator/producer Jack Antonoff. Swift pulls listeners in with revved-up pop anthems like “I Think He Knows” while tender and intimate narratives like “The Archer” reveal genuine emotion. Overall, Lover is a celebration of Taylor’s success as the centerpiece of modern pop.–C.D.
24. 21 Savage — I Am > I Was
I Am > I Was is an affirmation of evolution. On tracks like “All My Friends” and “Monster,” he gets vulnerable about his life, family, and career. He goes toe-to-toe with J. Cole on “A Lot,” showcasing his underrated lyricism over a gripping soul loop. He even delves into relationship woes on “Ball W/O You.” I Am > I Was was released in a no man’s land of December 2018, but it’s dynamism allowed it to shine all year.–A.G.
23. Brittany Howard — Jaime
On her solo album debut, the frontperson of the Alabama Shakes confidently steps outside of one of rock’s biggest bands. On her own, Howard whips up a heady mix of funk, blues, and psychedelia, retaining the overpowering thunder of her blues-rock vocals while venturing into dramatically more adventurous sonic terrain. While the Shakes are typically classified as Americana, Howard transcends any reductive labels on her own.–S.H.
22. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds — Ghosteen
Though Nick Cave’s previous album (and instant classic), Skeleton Tree, was released immediately following the death of his son, it’s on Ghosteen that listeners really get a sense of how this tragedy has impacted one of the great songwriters of our time. Cave is his usual eloquent, graceful self, using space and ambiance in ways that underscore themes of grief and healing. Mostly, Ghosteen is a reminder of Cave’s role as a shepherd, and how listeners are in good hands when he’s guiding the flock, making the most complex of emotional circumstances feel manageable, and survivable.–P.C.
21. IDK — Is He Real?
DMV native IDK followed up 2017’s autobiographical IWasVeryBad with an even more deeply personal meditation on the nature of religion and faith. Throughout the album’s 14 tracks, IDK works through his spiritual beliefs and contrasts them with the lectures from the pulpit, trying to reconcile his observations of a broken world with promises of God’s love and understanding. The album closes with “Julia…” a heart-wrenching remembrance of his late mother and a poignant affirmation of his belief.–A.W.
20. The National — I Am Easy To Find
The National have always been more than the five dudes that appear in most press photos, and their latest album underscores the reach of the band. Using a host of outside vocalists, complete lyrical writes on select songs from Carin Besser and Mike Mills, and a short film accompanying the release, I Am Easy To Find functions as an testament to restlessness and creative longing. The National are determined to reach new heights, and are willing to allow others to help push them along.–P.C.
19. Summer Walker — Over It
Summer Walker’s Over It is so good that even if the rising R&B singer is a few hours late to a show or cuts the show short due to sound issues, nothing hits harder than the words she sings on the opening title track or Over It’s final number, “Playing Games.” Multi-platinum producer London On Da Track captivates with his contemporary rhythmic production and Summer seduces with the sound of her voice, making her one of the year’s biggest breakouts.–C.J.
18. DaBaby — Baby On Baby
DaBaby doubled up on album releases this year, but it’s his first project that made him one of hip-hop’s brightest new stars. Spurred by singles like “Suge,” the self-titled-ish debut is a compelling mesh of bravado, humorous quotables, and “don’t f*ck with me” that has made him one of the game’s brightest young stars.–A.G.
17. Maggie Rogers — Heard It In A Past Life
Maggie Rogers soared to fame with a viral video of Pharell’s reaction to a demo of “Alaska” but Heard It In A Past Life proves she’s a mainstay. With her folk background, Rogers fuses traditional influences with the energy of modern dance music. A strong bassline opens the album, entrancing listeners with her unwavering vocals. Much of the record opts for subtle, palpitating beats which propels Rogers’ therapeutic voice to the center of each track.–C.D.
16. Megan Thee Stallion — Fever
Megan Thee Stallion is one of 2019’s breakout hip-hop stars. The Houston hottie had the world driving the boat and in a frenzy over her mixtape Fever this summer, which contains her platinum-selling hit “Cash Shit” featuring DaBaby. On each track, Meg’s vigorous raps take the lead in how to walk, talk and breath with confidence while dealing with men who want to do nothing but waste time.–C.J.
15. Purple Mountains — Purple Mountains
It will be a long time before the final album from David Berman can be appreciated outside of the context of his tragic death by suicide in August of 2019. Lyrically, the album is often a bleak and unsparing portrait of a difficult man beset by loneliness. And yet Purple Mountains also is frequently hilarious and bounces along with some of the most winning melodies that Berman ever wrote. It’s a wrenching listen, but also deeply rewarding and, even now, incredibly engaging.–S.H.
14. Denzel Curry — Zuu
A paean to the South Florida native’s hometown of Carol City, Zuu showcases Curry’s wordplay at its most blunt, painting stark images of a rough upbringing that nevertheless taught just enough of life’s hard lessons to make him a star. “Birdz” reflects the rags-to-riches tale of two generations thanks to a stellar appearance from Rick Ross, while “Wish” invokes a sunny, seaside drive through the city, a shot of brightness among the dark, bruising beats. “Speedboat” is as clear a bridge between the two as the ones that crisscross Miami’s waterways.–A.W.
13. Mark Ronson — Late Night Feelings
Whether as a writer, producer, or collaborator, the pop world is strewn with great songs from Mark Ronson. But few expected him to drop an all-timer of an album this year, taking his own heartbreak and presenting it through the voices of Angel Olsen, Lykke Li, Miley Cyrus, and many others. The resulting record didn’t set the charts on fire, but gave the world an artistic high point from a musician known for bringing out the best in others.–P.C.
12. Tyler The Creator — Igor
Earlier this year, Tyler The Creator called his 2011 Goblin album “trash.” The statement exemplified a musical evolution that’s pleasantly apparent on IGOR, his Grammy-nominated opus. Tyler crafted a soundscape that fuses hip-hop with R&B, electronic music, and other genres. He offsets his boundary-pushing sonics with lyrics that reflect on everyday qualms such as heartbreak, outgrowing one’s past, and staying afloat during life’s trials.–A.G.
11. Angel Olsen — All Mirrors
Angel Olsen didn’t need to build to this. Dating back to her more spare early work, including the underappreciated Half Way Home, Olsen’s inimitable voice and penchant for tapping into traditions ranging from girl groups to busted-radio country have been enough to earn her spot among the great songwriters of her generation. But as Olsen wraps a decade on the musical map, it will be the restlessness to keep pushing herself, as she has on this gorgeously ambitious effort, that her legacy can rest on. Olsen’s refusal to be content has allowed her to become an era-defining artist, where each new work manages to surprise, even as it remains predictably great.–P.C.
10. YBN Cordae — The Lost Boy
An album that surprised all but a few of the YBN clique’s sharpest observers, Cordae harnessed the strength of his old soul and youthful energy to craft a crystal-clear, nostalgic window into his family, influences, and early life. At times heartbreaking, confessional, and vulnerable, as on tracks like “Bad Idea” and “Thanksgiving,” The Lost Boy can also be rowdy, confrontational, and keenly self-aware on “RNP,” “Broke As F*ck,” and “We Gon Make It.” Cordae think he’s lost, but he knows exactly who he is and where he’s been. Wherever he’s going, he’ll be great when he gets there.–A.W.
9. Rapsody — Eve
Rapsody’s Eve is a cohesive hip-hop masterpiece celebrating the lives of Black women who have been tremendously influential throughout the years. Rapsody carefully and accurately portrays the sound of each song to the persona of each woman it’s named after. “Aaliyah” sounds like the late R&B singer and “Cleo” sounds just as rambunctious as Queen Latifah, and the North Carolina MC makes it work in a collection that somehow holds a candle to legendary subjects it evokes.–C.J.
8. Lizzo — Cuz I Love You
First an artist is ignored, running on empty and vying for a break. Then, they become loved, ubiquitous, and triumphant. And finally, they’re hated — deemed too popular or the wrong person to occupy the lofty realm of superstar. So, it’s a testament to Lizzo’s unstoppable force that the back half of this year saw her fighting off greedy former collaborators and mean-spirited snipes from critics, peers, and foes alike. Cuz I Love You rises above all this, telling the heartfelt story of a star-in-the-making, a fat, Black diva with a voice that won’t quit and enough self-love for the fans, the fakes, and yes, even the haters. Never before has a DNA test had such an impact on the pop charts.—C.W.
7. Bon Iver — i,i
Few legacy acts in indie rock have ventured as far into the wilds of esoteric experimentation — while also retaining a huge following — than Bon Iver. But on the group’s fourth album, Justin Vernon found a happy middle ground between the electro-rock freakouts of 2016’s 22, A Million and the more approachable anthems of his earlier work, coming up with one of the most satisfying works of the group’s excellent catalogue–S.H.
6. Big Thief — U.F.O.F.
Perhaps no up-and-coming indie band was talked about more in 2019 than Big Thief, who not only released the staggeringly good U.F.O.F. in May, but followed it up just a few months later with a second LP called Two Hands. Now freshly nominated for a Grammy, U.F.O.F. shows a band at the peak of their powers and refusing to slow down their creative process. –Z.G.
5. Billie Eilish — When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
The 2020 Grammy nominations proved that young artists are the future, except the future is now. Leading that charge is 17-year-old Billie Eilish, who at her young age has become both one of the most vital and alternative voices in pop, largely thanks to “Bad Guy,” perhaps the year’s biggest non-“Old Town Road” single.–D.R.
4. Weyes Blood — Titanic Rising
On her stunning fourth album, Natalie Mering strikes a seemingly incongruous posture, writing beautiful melodies reminiscent of 1970s soft rock set to lyrics that comment with acidic wit about extremely 21st century calamities like climate change and Tinder-related romantic dysfunction. Then again, did listening to The Carpenters make any more sense during the height of the Vietnam War? Each generation needs its own barbed lullabies.–S.H.
3. Young Thug — So Much Fun
An album that lives up to its title, Young Thug’s first-ever Billboard No. 1 is a showcases the Atlanta trap surrealist’s scintillating way with words over a scaled-back musical palette that lets his voice take center stage. It also shows off just how influential Thug has been to the modern generation of warbling wordsmiths with features from Lil Baby, Gunna, Lil Keed, and Lil Uzi Vert, with yet another one of J. Cole’s standout 2019 guest verses thrown in for good measure. Thug’s career accomplishments are far too long to list here, but we can add “best hip-hop album of 2019” to his impressive resume.–A.W.
2. Ariana Grande — Thank U, Next
Even though it’s only been out for the span of a few months, it’s already hard to imagine modern pop music without Thank U, Next. Born out of tempestuous personal circumstances and spiked with a heady dose of hip-hop, this succinct, emotional song cycle bounces between lust, grief, self-love, and female friendship with equal grace. Cementing Ariana as one of the foremost divas of our time, Thank U, Next is a distillation of feminine desire, heartache, and rap swagger that’s nearly perfect and universally appealing.—C.W.
1. Lana Del Rey — Norman F*cking Rockwell
Unamused but never fully disengaged, Lana Del Rey stormed into the middle of 2019 with a softly raging album that took the world by surprise. While plenty of fans have insisted since “Video Games” that Lana had a masterpiece in her, subsequent releases have been good, and even great, but never had the year-defining force that Norman F*cking Rockwell does. A self-assured, introverted beach philosopher with a heart of gold, and the go-to crooner for soundtracking marquee movies, Lana has so often been fascinated by singing stories of the past. On Rockwell though, she belts and sighs about the state of union, Kanye West, and the ever-present ache of falling for a man child. While we all live in a world ruled by those, Lana’s sharp observations offer a welcome balm. “F*ck It, I Love You” is the most worthy antidote for despair, and happiness has delicate wings, but no matter how strange and slippery hope is, with Lana, we have it.—C.W.