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Best Music of 2019: Staff Picks

Rolling Stone’s writers and editors share their personal favorite albums released in 2019 — from pop blockbusters to weird noises and fun sounds of all kinds

Staff Picks, Album, Rolling Stone

Here at Rolling Stone, we listen to a lot of music in any given year. When we asked staff members to share their favorite albums of 2019, we found some strong consensus picks — Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell!Taylor Swift’s Lover, Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You, and Miranda Lambert’s Wildcard all appeared across multiple lists — along with dozens more choices that reflect individual writers’ and editors’ vastly different tastes. (One colleague responded with a list of favorite songs instead of albums, suggesting a further divide in how we listen to music. Another sent a series of irony-soaked jokes.) Read on for a glimpse of the many sounds that filled 24 Rolling Stone staffers’ headphones in 2019.

Jonathan Bernstein, Research Editor

1. Our Native Daughters, Songs of Our Native Daughters
2. MUNA, Saves the World
3. Ian Noe, Between the Country
4. Rapsody, Eve
5. Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell!
6. Miranda Lambert, Wildcard
7. Brittany Howard, Jaime
8. Julia Jacklin, Crushing
9. Hiss Golden Messenger, Terms of Surrender
10. Joanna Sternberg, Then I Try Some More

This year, I found myself gravitating either towards familiar auteurs (Miranda Lambert, Brittany Howard) in the midst of their own sonic reinventions, or brand-new voices (Ian Noe, Joanna Sternberg) whose songs sounded, on first listen, like they’ve always existed. The rest of this list is a mix of songwriters who found ways to deepen and interrogate their own storytelling (Rapsody, Hiss Golden Messenger, Lana Del Rey) and artists who tore down the myth of second-album failures, instead making the most fully-formed, irresistible work of their young careers (MUNA, Julia Jacklin). But the album that did all of the above, and more, was Songs of Our Native Daughters, a little-discussed banjo-playing supergroup debut helmed by Rhiannon Giddens (and rounded out by Allison Russell, Amythyst Kiah, and Leyla McCalla). It felt both like a culmination of each singer’s ongoing artistic project, and like a tectonic shift for roots music that will be discussed, written about, and listened to another 100 years from now.

Jon Blistein, Staff Writer

1. 100 Gecs, 1000 Gecs
2. Vampire Weekend, Father of the Bride
3. Sturgill Simpson, Sound & Fury
4. Sheer Mag, A Distant Call
5. Omar Apollo, Friends
6. Mannequin Pussy, Patience
7. Charly Bliss, Young Enough
8. Nilüfer Yanya, Miss Universe
9. Slowthai, Nothing Great About Britain 
10. Bad Bunny, X 100pre

These are the albums I listened to the most this year, or at least the ones that leapt out as having been meaningful when I was scrolling through all the music I added to my iTunes library in 2019. (If I went off sheer spins alone, there might be a bit too much Grateful Dead on here.) Who knows if there’s some overarching theme connecting these choices — staring at them now, in that reflective mood the end of a year brings, I can’t see anything. They’re certainly not indicative of what I spent all my time listening to this year, and honorable mentions go out to Stormzy, Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen, and Post Malone. But these 10 specifically — they all just really rock, I guess. They definitely all sound great when you’re stoned on the train.

Rick Carp, Research Editor

1. Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Nocebo
2. Horse Jumper of Love, So Divine
3. Shizune / Lytic, Split 7″
4. A Paramount, A Love Supreme, Crisis Meditations
5. Ghost Spirit, Hourglass
6. Pinocchio, Pinocchio
7. Have A Nice Life, Sea of Worry
8. VR Sex, Human Traffic Jam
9. Short Fictions, Fates Worse Than Death
10. Albatros, Futile

2019 had a ton of incredible releases, but there wasn’t much of a contest for my AOTY. I listened to Elizabeth Colour Wheel’s genre-obliterating full-length, Nocebo, more often than anything else since high school. The Boston quintet shifts between shoegaze, black metal, and grunge, with vocals that sound like a banshee version of Amy Winehouse. This year also had some great stuff for fans of math rock, post-punk, screamo, and more. Some of my favorite music from the past reverberated throughout the year. Members of amazing bands like Off Minor, Antioch Arrow, Lord Snow, and Orchid returned to make music with new friends or had their hands involved in the mastering and recording efforts on many of these projects.

Jon Dolan, Reviews Editor 

1. Miranda Lambert, Wildcard
2. Big Thief, U.F.O.F.
3. Stef Chura, Midnight
4. Purple Mountains, Purple Mountains
5. Sharon Van Etten, Remind Me Tomorrow
6. Vivian Girls, Memory
7. Big Thief, Two Hands
8. Pip Blom, Boat
9. Stella Donnelly, Beware of the Dogs
10. Frankie Cosmos, Close It Quietly

Miranda Lambert, the most likable person in music, has never sounded like she was having more fun than on the near-perfect Wildcard, an album where the whole world of country, pop, and rock becomes her personal playground. My favorite band, Big Thief, made two wonderful records in 2019; they’re like Fairport Convention if they were Low fans from rural Northern Minnesota. This year gave us two hugely meaningful comebacks: Vivian Girls made their first album in eight years (miraculously sounding like the Go-Go’s by way of Hüsker Dü) and literary indie-rock genius David Berman released the beautiful Purple Mountains shortly before his tragic death last summer. My favorite new band was Pip Blom, who have a brilliantly specific twist on Nineties indie-rock, suggesting Sleater-Kinney if they’d been on Drag City instead of Kill Rock Stars. Sharon Van Etten changed her sound from rugged noir folk-rock to sculpted noir pop, singing about leaving New York, having a kid, and other life changes; Michigan’s Stef Chura repped for frantic Midwestern garage-rock; Stella Donnelly’s debut was full of catchy, conversational twee-pop tunes that hit their targets (usually dumb men) like golden elephant darts; and Frankie Cosmos made a sort of bedroom-rock Blonde on Blonde, spilling the contents of her teeming brain all over the 21-song Close It Quietly.

Patrick Doyle, Senior Music Editor

1. Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell!
2. Taylor Swift, Lover
3. Sturgill Simpson, Sound & Fury
4. Vampire Weekend, Father of the Bride
5. Willie Nelson, Ride Me Back Home
6. The Black Keys, Let’s Rock
7. Yola, Walk Through Fire
8. Bruce Springsteen, Western Stars
9. Todd Snider, Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3
10. The Highwomen, The Highwomen

Earlier this year, I had a brief moment to ask Lana Del Rey about the making of Norman Fucking Rockwell!, the most adventurous, funny, provoking, and soulful album she’s ever released. “The best stuff was recorded in three weeks,” she said. I asked about the seven-minute “Venice Bitch,” which devolves into a long instrumental, and she said it came out of her and producer Jack Antonoff getting lost layering tracks for fun; Antonoff assumed they would reel back the experiment for the finished product and make the song shorter. “He was like, ‘Don’t you want a three-minute song?’ And I was like, ‘No! That’s it!'” she recalled. That kind of vision has made Lana, as Taylor Swift said recently, “the most influential artist in pop.” Swift made an excellent album of her own this year by refocusing on her roots, as did the Black Keys. Sturgill Simpson went in another direction, creating something noisy, abrasive, wild, and deeply rewarding; Vampire Weekend emerged to prove that years of studio tinkering were worth it; Yola made something timeless. And nobody knows how many albums Willie Nelson has recorded, but the fact that he can record something as moving as “My Favorite Picture of You” at 86 proves that he should continue to roll up whatever he’s smoking.

Brenna Ehrlich, News Editor

1. Better Oblivion Community Center, Better Oblivion Community Center
2. Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
3. Charly Bliss, Young Enough
4. Kim Gordon, No Home Record
5. Sleaford Mods, Eton Alive
6. Girl in Red, Chapter Two
7. Wilco, Ode to Joy
8. Raconteurs, Help Us Stranger
9. Orville Peck, Pony
10. Deerhunter, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?

I’m a fan of weird, and 2019 certainly delivered on that front. From Billie Eilish and her spooky whisper-hum to Bradford Cox and his grim visions of the future, I was a fan of indie and rock that landed in left field this year. Kim Gordon wailing about Airbnbs, the Sleaford Mods finding a spider in their kebabs, Girl in Red musing about a “dead girl in the pool,” and Orville Peck’s masked cowboy ballads — it’s been a great year for seriously strange songwriting.

Suzy Exposito, Latin Music Editor

1. Bad Bunny, X 100pre
2. Ariana Grande, Thank U, Next
3. Y La Bamba, Mujeres
4. Vivian Girls, Memory
5. Helado Negro, This Is How You Smile
6. TR/ST, The Destroyer 1 + 2
7. Tyler, the Creator, Igor
8. Alcest, Spiritual Instinct
9. Fémina, Perlas y Conchas
10. Megan Thee Stallion, Fever

For most people, 2019 began at midnight on January 1st. For me, it began eight days earlier, when Bad Bunny whimsically dropped his surprise debut, X 100pre, on the morning of Nochebuena, a.k.a. Christmas Eve. When I should have been making a flan, or entertaining relatives’ invasive speculations on my reproductive future, I instead spent most of the day camped out on my grandmother’s balcony in Miami, knocking out the first Conejo Malo profile since his debut. I’m still mad about it, to be honest, and my family’s still concerned about my biological clock — but the record still slaps? On a more serious note, what I hear in this hodgepodge of records spanning five different countries is the sound of the world healing itself. Superstars like Bunbuns and Ariana revealed their most vulnerable selves this year. The former’s “Solo De Mi” was a reggaeton written for victims of domestic abuse, while the latter’s “Ghostin” is a shattering reflection on her own survivor’s guilt. Even Tyler, the Creator (and his Mary J. Blige wig) let his sincerity shine in the bizarro synth-pop soul of Igor. Indie records by Vivian Girls, Helado Negro, Fémina, and Y La Bamba were all made to cradle their listeners with compassion. TR/ST’s dark wave double-album Destroyer is sonic chainmail for the darkest of nights; Alcest is there for the morning after. And at the end of the day, or year, the unabashed joy and sensuality of Megan Thee Stallion’s Fever boasts medicinal properties like no other.

Dewayne Gage, Associate Social Media Editor

1. Gunna, Drip or Drown 2
2. Future, The Wizrd
3. Young Thug, So Much Fun
4. Summer Walker, Over It
5. Juice WRLD, Death Race for Love
6. Future, Save Me
7. Tyler, the Creator, Igor
8. DaBaby, Kirk
9. Lil Keed, Long Live Mexico
10. Lil Durk, Love Songs 4 the Streets 2

2019 saw a dearth of major rap releases. Jay-Z became an NFL shill; Drake hopped on a loosie here and there; Kanye gave everyone a gospel album that felt half-baked. But between the cracks left by these titans, rap continued to redefine itself at the close of the decade. The late Juice WRLD’s Death Race for Love interpreted and perfected a new wave of emo-rap as it went from the cinders of SoundCloud to the mainstream. Tyler, the Creator’s not-very-rap-centric Igor received a Grammy nomination for rap album of the year that left even him confused. Above all, Atlanta maintained its stylistic stranglehold on hip-hop. The decade is ending on a whisper, but at least it sounds good.

Kory Grow, Senior Writer

1. Karen O and Danger Mouse, Lux Prima
2. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Ghosteen
3. Sarah Mary Chadwick, The Queen Who Stole the Sky
4. Jenny Lewis, On the Line
5. Iggy Pop, Free
6. L7, Scatter the Rats
7. G Flip, About Us
8. Duff McKagan, Tenderness
9. Gaahls WYRD, Gastir – Ghosts Invited
10. The Cranberries, In the End

I’ve always been a fan of Karen O (her collaboration with Nine Inch Nails on Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” is essential listening), and of course I’ve always dug Danger Mouse’s chameleonic flexibility; he may be a low-key genius. But I wasn’t prepared for Lux Prima, a dusky, glitzy, sexy record that sometimes feels like a James Bond theme and sometimes like an icy Goldfrapp soundscape. It felt like music that they had custom-recorded just for me. I was lucky to get a lot of other deliciously sad music this year — Nick Cave’s gorgeously morose Ghosteen, Sarah Mary Chadwick’s criminally slept-on The Queen Who Stole the Sky, Gaahls WYRD’s shadowy Gastir – Ghosts Invited, Cranberries’ tragic In the End — but I also found records with brightness, like Jenny Lewis’ decadent On the Line, G Flip’s effervescent About Us, and Duff McKagan’s surprising Tenderness. At a time when mainstream rock seems to be at a nadir, these sorts of records give me hope for the next year and the next decade. (Also, don’t miss my Number 11 pick, Mattiel’s Satis Factory, which contains the best Velvet Underground and Nico homage this side of Jonathan Richman.)

Christian Hoard, Music Editor

1. Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
2. 100 Gecs, 1000 Gecs
3. Miranda Lambert, Wildcard
4. Taylor Swift, Lover
5. Megan Thee Stallion, Fever
6. DaBaby, Baby on Baby
7. Vampire Weekend, Father of the Bride
8. Danny Brown, uknowwhatimsayin?
9. Lizzo, Cuz I Love You
10. Todd Snider, The Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3

At the risk of sounding like a classic Onion column, a few random observations: If these albums have anything in common, it’s that most of them sound only like themselves, which feels like an increasingly rare thing these days. A few of them — especially 1000 Gecs and Baby on Baby — also have a well-developed sense of fun. 2019 may have been the first ever year when I spent more time listening to playlists — mine or others — than albums. Even so, I’m glad that so many artists, young and old, put so much work into making great albums. A 17-year-old and her brother making one of 2019’s best and biggest albums by ignoring how modern pop songwriting works and doing it all themselves is the story of the year, or one of them at least. The two St. Louis kids of 100 Gecs collaborating on music for a “festival” occurring inside Minecraft, then pivoting toward a deeply irreverent debut album: Also a good story. In the 2010s, Miranda Lambert made four very good or great solo albums, plus three really strong Pistol Annies albums. You can put that decade up against almost anyone’s.

Charles Holmes, Staff Writer

1. Roddy Ricch, Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial
2. The infamous Tyler, The Creator and Funk Flex’ “Butt Sex” freestyle
3. Nicki Minaj and Joe Budden waging the world’s first podcast-only beef
4. No Malice letting us know that while others give you “Wraith talk,” he is in the business of serving up “faith talk” on the Kanye West, Kenny G, and Clipse banger “Use This Gospel”
5. Cousin Greg doing anything on HBO’s Succession
6. Playboi Carti begging the plug not to set him up on “Earfquake” (P.S.: Dear The Plug, please refrain from setting Carti up)
7. Bryson Tiller, Trapsoul
8. The way Bad Bunny adlibs “Bad Bunny, Bad Bunny” like we’re all going to forget who he is if he doesn’t remind us
9. The Justin Bieber remix of 50 Cent’s “Many Men” that no one asked for, but is actually quite good
10. The sound of Brad Pitt eating dog food in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

No one wants to be the one to say it, because to say it would mean that you’re the asshole in the room. Sometimes, though, there needs to be an asshole in the room. So: 2019 wasn’t a great year for music. It wasn’t a bad year for music, either; mostly, it was a fine year. In quality and quantity, the album continued to disintegrate into a primordial ooze of nothingness. Songs increasingly sounded like snippets, and snippets sounded better than actual songs. Artists marched toward their final form as content creators first and musicians second. That’s what makes the task of defining “the best” or “my favorite” or “the most important” albums of the year seem futile. Here’s what I’ve got instead. Yes, podcasts, radio freestyles, and adlibs are now 2019 albums — as are albums that were technically released in 2015 — because categorization is as dumb as ranking things. Also, who will stop me? (Ed. note: Sure, Charles.)

Joseph Hudak, RS Country Editor

1. Mike and the Moonpies, Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold
2. Jesse Malin, Sunset Kids
3. Tanya Tucker, While I’m Livin’
4. Midland, Let It Roll
5. Randy Houser, Magnolia
6. Dave Hause, Kick
7. Sarah Potenza, Road to Rome
8. Andrew Leahey & the Homestead, Airwaves
9. Khruangbin, Con Todo El Mundo
10. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (soundtrack)

As one of Rolling Stone‘s Nashville editors, I listen to a lot of country and Americana music, but only a few albums from the genre end up in heavy rotation. Mike and the Moonpies’ Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold was one of them. Recorded with strings from the London Symphony Orchestra but still maintaining the Moonpies’ barroom vibe, it was the record to beat for me this year, in all genres. Jesse Malin’s Sunset Kids, recorded with Lucinda Williams, came close. Like the Moonpies mixing orchestral overtones with Texas twang, Malin combined his gritty New York punk aesthetic with the introspection of Americana. Indie artists Sarah Potenza and Andrew Leahey (who is an occasional contributor to Rolling Stone) also released excellent albums, with Potenza, a former contestant on The Voice, belting out anthems of self-worth, and Leahey and his band the Homestead keeping Tom Petty-style rock alive and well. In the end, though, the album I found myself playing the most was a collection of songs from 1969: the original soundtrack for Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. With tracks by Paul Revere and the Raiders and Buffy Sainte-Marie, along with actual radio spots from the era, it was my favorite driving music — even if it did soundtrack the Manson murders.

Daniel Kreps, Staff Writer

1. Jessica Pratt, Quiet Signs
2. Ex Hex, It’s Real
3. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Ghosteen
4. Angel Olsen, All Mirrors
5. Purple Mountains, Purple Mountains
6. Lizzo, Cuz I Love You
7. Thom Yorke, Anima
8. Wilco, Ode to Joy
9. The Highwomen, The Highwomen
10. Brittany Howard, Jaime

Jessica Pratt’s Quiet Signs is a delicate album that was an escape from the cacophony of 2019 in the Trump era. Its timing was right: A few months after its release, my family welcomed a daughter, and Quiet Signs became our family’s soundtrack, mollifying her crying outbursts and lulling her to sleep in our arms. I’d continually find myself returning to its sparse yet potent songs alone, too. It’s beautiful music for otherwise repugnant times. Other defining 2019 albums for me: Ex Hex with the year’s low-key best rock album, Nick Cave’s sublime meditation on life and death, David Berman’s devastating swan song, haymakers from Angel Olsen, Lizzo, the Highwomen, and Brittany Howard — strong voices to inspire and empower my daughter — and the most satisfying Wilco album since A Ghost Is Born.

Sacha Lecca, Deputy Photo Editor

1. Fontaines D.C., Dogrel
2. Black Midi, Schlagenheim
3. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Ghosteen
4. The Mystery Lights, Too Much Tension!
5. Stuyedeyed, Moments of Terribleness
6. Bodega, Shiny New Model
7. Amyl and the Sniffers, Amyl and the Sniffers
8. Sleaford Mods, Eton Alive
9. Warmduscher, Tainted Lunch
10. Idles, A Beautiful Thing: Live at Le Bataclan

I am fortunate to hear, see, and experience a lot of music in my role in Rolling Stone‘s photo department. It occurred to me once I’d made this list that I had selected 10 artists I’ve enjoyed seeing live. Oddly enough, with most of them (excepting Nick Cave), the first time I ever heard their music was the first time I stood in front of them in a crowd or a photo pit and was instantly frozen as they made a room of any size seem small, filling each space with rage, sorrow, or exhilaration. Unsurprisingly, their records in 2019 thrilled, delighted, and stopped me dead in my tracks all over again.

Angie Martoccio, Staff Writer

1. Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising
2. Mort Garson, Mother Earth’s Plantasia
3. Julia Jacklin, Crushing
4. Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell!
5. Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Colorado
6. Stella Donnelly, Beware of the Dogs
7. Jenny Lewis, On the Line
8. Bruce Springsteen, Western Stars
9. Gene Clark, No Other
10. Taylor Swift, Lover

California was the ultimate muse in 2019, with Lana Del Rey and Jenny Lewis bringing mellow rays of Laurel Canyon sunshine into their work and Weyes Blood creating Titanic Rising, a psychedelic masterpiece that wrestled with the devastating effects of climate change. (The West was so inspiring, even Bruce Springsteen became a rhinestone cowboy!) Australian musicians Stella Donnelly and Julia Jacklin each used sharp, introspective songwriting to challenge misogyny, sounding like disciples of Courtney Barnett. Two cult classics from the Seventies were reissued and rescued from varying degrees of obscurity — Gene Clark’s No Other, first released in 1974, and Mort Garson’s Mother Earth’s Plantasia, a whimsical 1976 LP made entirely on a Moog synthesizer for the purpose of soothing houseplants. All in all, it was a fantastic year for my two primary interests, indie rock and boomer nostalgia.

Steven Pearl, Copy Editor

1. Harry Styles, “Treat People With Kindness”
2. Tones and I, “Never Seen the Rain”
3. Megan Thee Stallion feat. Juicy J, “Simon Says”
4. Jonas Brothers, “Sucker”
5. Sofi Tukker, “Like This”
6. Partner, “Long and McQuade”
7. Mika feat. Jack Savoretti, “Ready to Call This Love”
8. Y2K and bbno$, “Lalala”
9. Missy Elliott, “Throw It Back”
10. Adam Lambert, “Superpower” / Katie Kadan, “All Better” (tie)

The biggest change in 2019 was how I listened to music: iTunes out; Spotify, YouTube, and every possible kind of streaming in. What I listened to — whether having a kiki, chilling out, or darting around town — was as pop-’clectic as ever. From bouncy alt feel-goods like “Never Seen the Rain” and nasty get-downs like “Simon Says” to stoner singalongs like “Long and McQuade” and the gorgeous, groundbreaking harmony of “Ready to Call This Love,” these are my favorite songs of the year.

Kyle Rice, Designer

1. Béyonce, The Lion King: The Gift
2. Labrinth, Euphoria (Original Score)
3. Harry Styles, Fine Line
4. Daniel Caesar, Case Study 01
5. Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
6. Lizzo, Cuz I Love You
7. Doja Cat, Hot Pink
8. Melanie Martinez, K-12
9. Sabrina Claudio, Truth Is
10. Kanye West, Jesus Is King

2019 was as much about distraction as it was about self-identification and intention. Melanie Martinez took us to a dream-like world full of pastels and pigtails, but stayed explicit in her message about body image and self-worth. Lizzo brought some rock-star wardrobes we could only imagine, and kept it real by declaring slow songs out and tempo in. Artists have always written richly about their experiences, but this year felt even more personal than the last. Let’s hope the vibe continues as we enter a new year.

Claire Shaffer, Staff Writer

1. Default Genders, Main Pop Girl 2019
2. Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell!
3. FKA Twigs, Magdalene
4. Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising
5. Sault, 5/7
6. Ice Cream, Fed Up
7. Jessica Pratt, Quiet Signs
8. Beyoncé, Homecoming: The Live Album
9. Miranda Lambert, Wildcard
10. Priests, The Seduction of Kansas

My first year at Rolling Stone was also my first year working full-time at a music publication, which is insane. I feel extraordinarily lucky to have a job in media while many of my friends and former colleagues are working freelance (not an easy gig, especially if you’re a culture writer) or exiting journalism altogether. Given the state of things, I don’t find it surprising that much of my favorite music this year sounded a little apocalyptic. Even the jubilation of Homecoming can feel like a last hurrah at points — how is any live show going to top Beychella??? — but I’m getting too pessimistic. Music rules. Buy albums. Tell writers you admire (not me) that you enjoy their work — or better yet, pay for it.

Rob Sheffield, Contributing Editor

1. Taylor Swift, Lover
2. Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell!
3. Mannequin Pussy, Patience
4. Harry Styles, Fine Line
5. Lizzo, Cuz I Love You
6. Palehound, Black Friday
7. FKA Twigs, Magdalene
8. Sharon Van Etten, Remind Me Tomorrow
9. The Hold Steady, Thrashing Thru the Passion
10. Patio, Essentials

Music was something to cling to in 2019, more than ever. These were the albums that pushed me forward and lifted me up this year. They’re all over the musical map, from pop to rap to guitar noise. Some are by old favorites; some are by new kids; one is by Bruce Springsteen. Some of these albums are full of rage and fury. Some are full of consolation and healing. Some look out at the world; others look deep into the heart. But they were all reasons to celebrate in 2019. (For more of Rob Sheffield’s favorite music of the year, click here for songs and here for albums.)

Hank Shteamer, Senior Music Editor

1. Moon Tooth, Crux
2. Tomb Mold, Planetary Clairvoyance
3. Arch/Matheos, Winter Ethereal
4. Sheer Mag, A Distant Call
5. Angel Bat Dawid, The Oracle
6. Lizzo, Cuz I Love You
7. The Messthetics, Anthropocosmic Nest
8. Branford Marsalis Quartet, The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul
9. Purple Mountains, Purple Mountains
10. Hole Dweller, Flies the Coop

Sometimes, a record comes along early in a given year and floors you; then you go back to it after a while and the luster has worn off completely. That was not remotely the case with Moon Tooth’s Crux, which I spun incessantly for most of 2019 and still have on repeat. (More on that here.) Beyond that, bands I already loved, like Sheer Mag and Tomb Mold, continued their hot streaks; the Fugazi-descended Messthetics upped their game brilliantly; Lizzo owned the culture with a party-starting, heart-shredding opus; Arch/Matheos sent me to prog-metal heaven; Branford Marsalis reminded the world that he’s a radical genius disguised as a model mainstreamer; and Angel Bat Dawid and Hole Dweller blindsided me with otherworldly DIY jazz and transporting Tolkien-informed synthscapes, respectively. And though spending time with Purple Mountains in the weeks after David Berman’s death felt both weird and crushingly sad, there was some small comfort in knowing that he left the world with one last masterpiece.

Brittany Spanos, Senior Writer

1. Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell!
2. Ariana Grande, Thank U, Next
3. Bad Bunny, X 100pre
4. Harry Styles, Fine Line
5. FKA Twigs, Magdalene
6. Mark Ronson, Late Night Feelings
7. Taylor Swift, Lover 
8. Jonas Brothers, Happiness Begins 
9. Carly Rae Jepsen, Dedicated 
10. Beyoncé, Homecoming: The Live Album

Big year for crying in the club, which is a mood that permeates most of my favorite albums. NFR!, Thank U, Next, Late Night Feelings, Fine Line, Magdalene and Dedicated were especially full of some of the best heartbreak opuses I have heard in a long time. Each of those artists also triumphed with some of their most mature writing and production yet. It’s been exciting to see and hear so many definitive musical moments from pop artists this year.

Simon Vozick-Levinson, Deputy Music Editor

1. Wilco, Ode to Joy
2. Priests, The Seduction of Kansas
3. Deerhunter, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?
4. Steve Gunn, The Unseen in Between
5. Pip Blom, Boat
6. Patio, Essentials
7. Big Thief, Two Hands
8. Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising
9. Empath, Active Listening: Night on Earth
10. Gang Starr, One of the Best Yet

Sadness, anger, and anger tinged with sadness are the dominant moods of the top three albums on this list, along with several of those that follow. But there’s also excitement (Pip Blom and Patio, each doing their part to renew the covenant of guitar noise on their fire-bright debuts), transcendence (Steve Gunn, making a quiet breakthrough as a songwriter on his fourth album), and a reassuring reminder of what remains (Gang Starr, still sounding like Gang Starr nearly a decade after we lost Guru). Peace out, 2019!

Amy X. Wang, Senior Music Business Editor

1. Ólafur Arnalds, re:member (string quartets)
2. Caroline Shaw and Attica Quartet, Orange
3. Soda Lite, Vale & Stone
4. Danny Paul Grody, Sunrise, Looking East
5. Eluvium, Pianoworks
6. Breaking, Shell
7. Caterina Barbieri, Ecstatic Computation
8. Jan Bartoš, Janáček: Piano Works
9. Third Coast Percussion, Perpetulum
10. Curved Light, Flow and Return

What a loud year it’s been — musically, societally, psychically. Amid the barrage of bass-line distortions and pop hooks in the year’s chart hits, the ambient and classical genres provided some very weird, very fun albums that serve as the perfect antithesis. My favorites are the ones that felt most meandering and even perplexing. One features a 17-minute-long track that crests and peters off to nowhere; another reintroduces a Czech composer with newfound emotion. These records served the dual purpose of 1) delivering offbeat inspiration each time I needed to conquer writer’s block, and 2) disguising on my Spotify Wrapped the fact that I commuted to work every morning of 2019 while looping Ariana Grande’s “Imagine.”

Alison Weinflash, Managing Editor

1. Lizzo, Cuz I Love You
2. Jenny Lewis, On the Line 
3. Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell!
4. Bruce Springsteen, Western Stars
5. Vampire Weekend, Father of the Bride
6. Taylor Swift, Lover
7. Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
8. Wilco, Ode to Joy
9. Sharon Van Etten, Remind Me Tomorrow
10. Big Thief, U.F.O.F.

2019 was exhausting, and these albums all helped to make the year a little better. While it’s hard to pick a favorite, Cuz I Love You and On the Line were the two albums I couldn’t stop playing all year. From the joyous anthem of “Juice” to the knock-down and bass-heavy “Tempo”, Lizzo proved herself as a powerhouse talent who can do it all. Jenny Lewis enlisted a Beatle (Ringo Starr) and even used Carole King’s Tapestry piano to create a collection of melodic, California-inspired songs. Two very different albums, but so much great music.

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