2019 :: TOP ALBUMS – 30 THROUGH 02

2019 was a year musically marked by fragmented, flowering exploration and redefinition. I think that says something about where we are creatively, but also where we are as a people. This list reflects that. I’ll say it again :: This list is totally personal, so I expect no one to agree with my choices. No one… Especially with this year’s choices. I only hope to inspire and pay some sense of homage to the things that moved me this year musically. I stuck with the 280 character Twitter format for 2019. It keeps things digestible. Enjoy and I will again implore you, as George Michael did, to “Listen Without Prejudice!”

30

Thurston Moore

SPIRIT COUNSEL

Music as art. The listener feels a part of some sonic artistic installation that fills a roofless gallery under vast desert skies. Alive with exploration and searching, these broad compositions reveal themselves through deft, painterly lines and electric, vibrating textures.

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29

Branford Marsalis Quartet

THE SECRET BETWEEN THE SHADOW AND THE SOUL

What lies at the intersection of Ornette Coleman, Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea and the strut of a New Orleans second line? This lyrical release. Accomplished, purposeful, artful and unexpected, “The Secret” is the culmination of a career built upon musical brilliance.

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28

Fennesz

AGORA

Digital landscapes of sound, bathed in the shifting light of time-lapse. Techno meets grand sonic storytelling in an evolving statement of both the romantic and the electronic in turns. Incredibly mature.

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27

Helado Negro

THIS IS HOW YOU SMILE

In a word, sublime. These meditations on the immigrant life of a South Florida Latinx man glow with the warm pride of an open heart. There is darkness, displacement and uncertainty as well, but the albums earnest calmness offers an optimistic balm for those. Again, sublime.

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26

Jamila Woods

LEGACY! LEGACY!

A love letter, history lesson and personal portrait wrapped in one incredible release from this Chicago native. A personal history is explored through the lens of 13 cultural icons. This gives a backbone to the album and creates a powerful conversation between past and present.

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25

Purple Mountains

PURPLE MOUNTAINS

David Berman ambles through acrid songs of heartbreak, loss and grief awash in his inimitable style and swagger. This is Berman’s swan song, a snapshot of an artist in the days before his suicide. At once warm as a Nashville summer’s evening and as cold as the grave itself.

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24

Fabian Almazan Trio

THIS LAND ABOUNDS WITH LIFE

The title says it all. This release abounds with life. These are compositions of affirmation and contemplation, interlacing birdsong, a kind of beat poetry and sterling jazz musicianship into an inspiring personal brew. Brilliance realized.

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23

Kim Gordon

NO HOME RECORD

A solo debut after 38 years making iconoclastic classics? You bet. It’s all here, the exploratory sound and fury, the crawl of noise and pulse of rhythm… Often in exuberant collision. Yes, we’ve heard Kim play with these concepts before, but not like this. So very fresh.

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22

Solange

WHEN I GET HOME

Jazzy, open, protean, progressive and free-spirited. Gone are the confines of traditional song structure or crystal clear thematics that have characterized Solange’s past albums. What takes their place is the new textural expression and inquiry of a creative master at work.

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21

Kris Davis

DIATOM RIBBONS

A veritable jazz “supergroup” masterfully helmed by pianist Kris Davis and featuring Nels Cline, Marc Ribot, Esperanza Spalding, DJ Val Jeanty, Ches Smith, Terri Lyne Carrington, Trevor Dunn, JD Allen, Tony Malaby, soars, bobs and weaves through 10 tracks of avant garde bliss.

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20

Raphael Saadiq

JIMMY LEE

Plays like a follow-up to Gaye’s landmark “What’s Going On.” This music is soulful, groovy, and brilliantly produced, but what takes the release to greatness is its portrait of Saadiq’s brother’s life, lost to deep heroin addiction. A work of pathos, desperation and true humanity.

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19

Joel Ross

KINGMAKER

Moving, complex jazz songs, exquisitely produced. The maturity and balance of these compositions belie Ross’ 23 years on the planet. His talent as a vibraphonist is perhaps only surpassed by his sensibilities as a bandleader on this release. So good.

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18

DIIV

DECEIVER

“Deceiver” chronicles the arduous arc of addiction and recovery and frames it in the fittingly claustrophobic guitars and serene snarl of sinewy shoegaze. Not quite metal. Not quite art rock. Not grunge. Nor sludge. Rather all of these in turns. Epic and affecting.

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17

Jenny Hval

THE PRACTICE OF LOVE

Pagan, ecological art pop with a passionate kiss of the personal. “The Practice” listens like an OG rave thrown by a poet and set in a cool, mist-laden forest at twilight. Awash in 90s crystal techno clarity, echoes of The Orb feel both nostalgic and totally fresh.

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16

(Sandy) Alex G

HOUSE OF SUGAR

Quirky and immersive, this 13 song collection is affecting and deeply intimate. Thematically, it explores the pull of need, desire and addiction. Musically, the album underscores these themes of a broken, demon-driven life through deft, exuberant exploration.

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15

Tom Harrell

INFINITY

Tom Harrell, Jonathan Blake, Charles Altura and Mark Turner make imaginative, spiritual magic on “Infinity.”  These songs dance between bebop sophistication, avant-garde searching and post-bop intensity with lyrical ease and exultation.

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14

Caroline Shaw / Attacca Quartet

ORANGE

This is joyful, adventurous, headlong chamber music. The album presents 6 pieces from composer, singer and instrumentalist Caroline Shaw realized through the amazingly capable hands of Attacca Quartet. Rangy, melodic, and contemporary, this is the sound of a new classical moment.

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13

Sharon Van Etten

REMIND ME TOMORROW

The push of squall and the pull of the intimate. The drive of fuzz and the echo of ambience. The blood of the soul expressed and the shimmer of independence. And, all of it anchored on “Remind Me Tomorrow” by Van Etten’s inspired North Star of climaxing melody and song craft.

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12

Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain, Chris Potter

GOOD HOPE

A three-way conversation amongst masters — Hussain on his kaleidoscopic, shape-shifting tabla, Holland on his chanting, strutting bass and Potter contributing his evocative, expressive tenor sax. In turns, playful, contemplative and always captivating.

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11

Bon Iver

I,I

Effortless and elastic. Passionate and powerful. Doleful and displeased. Resolute and reformative. These are soulful, heart-felt songs of protest and hope for our uncertain times.

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10

Big Thief

U.F.O.F.

Big Thief floats through an abyss of love, longing and loss on a raft of haunting and vulnerable acoustic compositions. 12 songs of spellbinding, fantastical and mystical significance.

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09

Dead To A Dying World

ELEGY

Vast, epic, cinematic, emotional, and intricate. With oppressive doom and darkness balanced by lacy, delicate Baroque flourishes, Elegy is equal parts Baroness, Swans, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Bach, and so many more. That union makes it so very unique.

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08

Lana Del Rey

NORMAN FUCKING ROCKWELL!

Like being captivated in conversation with Bret Easton Ellis, Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa and Charles Bukowski at a honey-hued, rum-soaked 1970s Laurel Canyon bunglaow. Songs of world-weary realism, ascerbic wit and sterling craft. An artistic landmark in the pop genre.

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07

Vampire Weekend

FATHER OF THE BRIDE

Like a lost collection of Paul Simon songs at his most culturally and musically broad, “Father of the Bride” is a soulful map of the bittersweet pull between happiness and angst. Carefree and freewheeling, the band charts a new course and gives us hope for a polyphonic future.

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06

FKA twigs

MAGDALENE

A work of true beauty and independence. So VERY accomplished for a sophomore release. Barnett leads us through 9 stunningly crafted songs that probe themes of individual completeness, self love and sovereignty. Personal, innovative, experimental and visionary.

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05

Angel Olsen

ALL MIRRORS

More dramatic and deeply affecting than her earlier work (and that’s saying something). Scott Walker is here in spades. Siouxsie Sioux stylings also abound. The Cure, too. Layered and fed through Olsen’s sensibilities, all of that gives the album a new, vibrant sound and a fresh urgency to amazing effect.

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04

Oso Oso

BASKING IN THE GLOW

10 slices of absolute pop-punk perfection from Long Beach maestro, Jade Lilitri. The album adds up to a razor sharp, guitar-driven treatise on the universal swing between conviction and insecurity and the search for light in life. Easily the most listenable album of 2019.

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03

Brittany Howard

JAIME

A highly personal solo debut from the Alabama Shakes lead that probes her life as a biracial queer woman born in the deep American South. This is soul redefined – a foot firmly in the traditional sound, but also effortlessly shifting into something beyond genre. Arresting.

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02

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds

GHOSTEEN

Cave deals with the 2015 loss of his son through parable and story in these 11 harrowing, heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful songs. The result is strikingly beautiful, immersive and totally cathartic. Grief, loss and quivering sanity embodied.

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