Across the Margin continues its rollout of The Top 50 Albums of 2019 with albums 20 – 11…
Catch up with the countdown, Albums 50 — 41 , Albums 40 — 31 & Albums 30 — 21!
20. Tool — Fear Inoculum
After a 13 year hiatus — which saw Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan release music with the bands Pusifer and A Perfect Circle — the famed alt rock metal band has finally returned with the spectacular Fear Inoculum. Tool, having set aside their long-simmering creative and personal differences since 2006’s 10,000 Days, has filled their own self-imposed creative vacuum with an album that is both calculated and familiar, hardly a bad thing when songs like “Prision Sex” and “Sober” are just as popular today as they were when they were first released in the early 90s. Filled with spectacular drumming by the uber-talented Danny Carey, exquisite singing by a still howling Keenan, and splendid fireworks from bassist Justin Chancelor and guitarist Adam Jones, what has been crafted is an 87-minute sonic voyage to the heart of what makes Tool so great: hard-rocking, intelligent and powerful music. Fear Inoculum could have been released tomorrow, or twenty years ago, threaded between 1993’s Undertow and 1996’s Ænima. It doesn’t make a difference when, all that matters is that after 13 years of silence, Tool’s music is still very much alive, and possibly, more relevant than ever.
Essential Tracks: “Fear Inoculum,” “Pneuma,” “7empest.”
19. Bill Callahan — Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest
Singer-songwriter and storyteller Bill Callahan has always wowed his fans with his gorgeous musical depictions of Americana. His spiritual, lofi musical delivery could easily slip into a line of past greats including Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake or Lou Reed. On Callahan’s latest album, a heady double offering of twenty perfect songs entitled Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest, the artist presents in his own enchantingly unique way exactly what he’s achieved at this point in his life: happiness. It’s a big shift from 2009’s beguiling Sometimes I Wish I Were An Eagle, where the overarching message was that Callahan felt very much alone. The spectre of family life, love, and contentment has now settled over the 53-year-old Callahan and his music, and what he has crafted on Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest, is easily his greatest achievement yet. It’s a wondrous musical ode to the rhythms of domesticity, to making love, to raising a child, and ultimately, to sharing his newfound enlightenment with the world. There is always something to be learned listening to the songs on Callahan’s albums, and the message on his latest is that family is something to be cherished, that can save you, and that can help to build you up when it feels like all is lost. And that’s a message we’re confident anyone can get behind.
Essential Tracks: “Black Dog on the Beach,” “The Ballad of the Hulk,” “What Comes After Certainty,” “747.”
18. Chris Forsyth — All Time Present
Chris Forsyth’s new album All Time Present is a tight collection of eight warm and delightfully infectious songs. Known for his dazzling musicianship and frenetic guitarmanship, Forsyth brings his “A” game on his latest album. With nary a song that doesn’t invite a smile, a toe tap, or a desire to get out on the floor and simply groove, what Forsyth has crafted on All Time Present is an ode to the grandest of all instruments: the electric guitar. To understand Chris Forsyth you need to only know one thing — he fucking shreds. Presented as a double-album despite coming in at only eight songs (most come in at around ten minutes long) there is more than enough time for Forsyth to stun you with his guitar prowess and experimental skill. For those looking for a deeper dive into Forsyth and his talents, look no further than the album’s concluding track, “Techo Top.” Clocking in at just under 20 minutes, it’s a slow-burn with a massive payoff (2/3 of the way in!), finding Forsyth very much in his element of boundless energy and satisfying guitar exploration.
Essential Tracks: “Tomorrow Might As Well Be Today,” “New Paranoid Cat,” “Techno Top.”
17. Tyler, the Creator — Igor
On the follow up to 2017’s brilliant, Grammy-nominated Flower Boy, the founder of the hip-hop collective Odd Future, Tyler, the Creator, delves deeply into the skin of the Frankenstein-esque character from which the record gets its name. It is through this unique and often twisted lens that Tyler, the Creator attempts to deal with a heartbreak that lies at the core of the album. The fifth full-length studio release for the Los Angeles-based rapper features guest appearances from ASAP Rocky, Dev Hynes, Frank Ocean, Playboi Carti, Santigold, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, and Charlie Wilson, yet the album is Tyler, the Creator (well, Igor!) through and through, with his remarkable beat-making prowess and knack for soul-quenching harmonies on full display. One of the most creative and prolific artists in all of hip-hop has done it again, deftly crafting an album that equally bumps while plucking at the heartstrings.
Essential Tracks: “EARFQUAKE,” “I THINK,” “A BOY IS A GUN*,” “NEW MAGIC WAND.”
16. Danny Brown — uknowhatimsayin¿
The fifth full-length studio release from the Detroit rapper Danny Brown, uknowhatimsayin¿, is Brown’s best offering yet. Helmed by hip-hop legend Q-Tip (A Tribe Called Quest), uknowhatimsayin¿ is the album we have been waiting for from the artist. Clearly Brown has come of age, and his unique, choppy flow rife with humor and clever allusions and comparisons have never sounded so honed. The album features guest appearances from freakish talents such as Blood Orange, JPEGMAFIA, Obongjayar, and Run The Jewels, and Brown leaned on a unique bevy of influences when crafting this album such as Blaxploitation films, the comedy of Richard Prior and Joey Diaz, Sensory Deprivation, UK Garage music, and the “Your Mom’s House” podcast. While far less experimental than his three previous releases, uknowhatimsayin¿ exhibits everything that makes Brown so special while displaying a maturity that has us eager for what comes next for this gifted, eccentric artist.
Essential Tracks: “Dirty Laundry,” “Combat,” “Shine ft. Blood Orange.”
15. The National — I Am Easy to Find
Upon completion of 2017’s impressive release Sleep Well Beast, and a lengthy tour in support of the album, The National were poised for a breather and some well-earned time spent recuperating. However, this moment of pause was not to be. Inspired by famed director Mike Mills (20th Century Women), who reached out to the band regarding a collaboration centered around a story about the lifespan of a woman (which has been made into a short film), The National went back to work on their eighth studio album, 2019’s I Am Easy To Find. The latest offering from the ex-Brooklynite indie rockers is as deeply affecting an album we have come upon in many years. With a collection of remarkable female vocalists (including Sharon Van Etten, David Bowie’s band member Gail Ann Dorsey, and Pauline de Lassus) folded into The National’s already stellar sound, what has been crafted is a daring take on quintessential The National sound.
Essential Tracks: “Not In Kansas,” “Hey Rosey,” “Rylan,” “Light Years.”
14. Kevin Morby – Oh My God
Singer-songwriter Kevin Morby’s latest album, Oh My God, is a towering achievement for the talented and driven artist. On the album, Morby takes established musical styles of spiritual messaging — sermons, preaching, prayer — and through his music bends them to his will, as if he were a 21-Century preacher commandeering the traditions of the Sunday pulpit. Channeling the ghosts of Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed on Oh My God’s first single, “No Halo,” Morby seeks to convert his flock to his current way of thinking. While a pleasing piano melody plays over a driving staccato of clapping and percussion, Morby sings of being a boy with “no rooftop to [his] joy.” Sprinkle in the alluring seduction of a flute and some sultry saxophone spilling forth from the darkest corner of Heaven’s most intimate jazz club, and one can get a sense of the intoxicating gospel crafted on this song, and the greater album. There is a sense of Morby trying rather ambitiously to connect his childhood to the greater pull of eternity, as if he could discover the thread that ties us all, and the greater universe, together via a song. “No Halo” is a deep and spiritual dive for the transcendental artist and a strong example of what it takes to forge one of the better albums of the year.
Essential Tracks: “No Halo,” “Oh My God,” “Hail Mary,” “Congratulations.”
13. The Highwomen — The Highwomen
The self-titled debut from the Nashville, TN country music group The Highwomen (composed of Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires) is a profound musical exploration of the stereotypes faced by women in country music, both past and present. One of the more notable tracks on the album, “The Highwomen,” is a profound reinterpretation of country music hit-maker Jimmy Webb’s famed song, “The Highwaymen.” Where Webb gave country music its masculine voice by enlisting Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylin Jennings, collectively known as The Highwaymen, to sing his hit song, in this modern version, The Highwomen flip the gender roles, casting themselves as persecuted women speaking their diverse truths. Throughout the song the talented foursome powerfully sing to dramatic effect, most notably: “We are the Highwomen…/…We are the daughters of the silent generations / You send our hearts to die alone in foregin nations / And they return to us as tiny drops of rain / But we will still remain / And we’ll come back, again, and again, and again.” The oft-present message of perseverance is a powerful force on this album, mixed with ripples of rebelliousness and far-flung concepts of what country music can truly be in a gender-neutral world. The Highwomen are certainly orbiting around the label “Country Music Supergroup,” and we here at Across the Margin could not think of a more deserving foursome to earn such an accolade.
Essential Tracks: “Highwomen,” “Old Soul,” “Crowded Table.”
12. Fontaines D.C. — Dogrel
Fontaines D.C., a crazy-talented post-punk band from Dublin, IR are putting out modern punk music that does justice to the British borne genre of the early 70’s while staying very firmly rooted in the present tense. Their debut album, Dogrel, is brilliant from top to bottom, a seemingly dizzying mix of disillusionment and lamentations on the rise of modernity mixed with uplifting, soothing sounds and lyrical tenderness. What Fontaines D.C. has managed to craft with their debut album is a well-polished sound that bands labor years, if not decades, to attain. Don’t worry punk rock fans, the future of the genre is in good hands, and as Fontianes D.C. lead singer Grain Chatten sings on the kick-ass track “Boys In The Better Land”: “Drivers got names to fill two double barrels / He spits out Brits out / Only smokes Carrols.” We’ve no idea what this means, but trust us, give it a listen or two because it sounds cool as fuck!
Essential Tracks: “Big,” “Liberty Bell,” “Boys In The Better Land.”
11. IDK — Is He Real?
Is He Real? is the debut album from Maryland rapper and producer IDK. The “He” in the album’s title refers to God and it is around this question that the album is loosely based. With guest appearances from the likes of Tyler the Creator, DMX, Pusha T, Burna Boy, GLC and several more notable rappers, IDK spends time getting to the heart of the matter across several of the albums fourteen tracks. IDK never really offers a definitive answer to the album’s burning question, but rather suggests that the answer we seek may lie in the art that we create. An album for those out there who enjoy a thinking person’s rap, and relish diving beneath the lyrics to uncover a deeper meaning, Is He Real? does not disappoint. Switching effortlessly between rapping and singing while channeling the likes of Frank Ocean on tracks like “European Skies,” the dynamic range of IDK’s talents are on full display throughout Is He Real? We see this debut album as a foundation for additional greatness that is still to come, and it’s a solid start for a rapper unafraid to tackle difficult topics and present them in a pleasing, uplifting, and far-sighted ways.
Essential Tracks: “Digital,” “24,” “Porno,” “Lilly.”
Up next, #’s 10 — 1!