Across the Margin commences its rollout of the Best Albums of 2019 with albums 50 – 41…
Throughout 2019, as we here at Across the Margin spiritedly indulged in what was to be another stunning year in music, we were continuously awed by the wondrous output across musical genres. As the year’s most celebrated albums began to come into focus, we came to realize how challenging assembling the striking offerings of 2019 in a ranking system would be. There exists a parity of blessing this year, and it is safe to say that any of the albums we celebrate in our countdown are surely someone’s favorite album of the year. And so, while we boldly title this yearly celebration “The Top 50 Albums of 2019,” what we are proud to present here is simply the albums we are most grateful for this year, those which received the most play and settled most soundly in our souls. So, without further delay, let’s step in and drop the needle…
50. Jenny Lewis – On The Line
On the opening track of her fourth solo album On The Line, Jenny Lewis enchantingly croons “And you think you’re going to Heaven / And that I am going to Hell / And that I’m gonna keep on dancing / ‘Til I hear that ringing bell.” That beauteous song, “Head Over Heels,” is a melodic, dreamy track that is emblematic of Lewis’ impregnable spirit and the impassioned energy coursing through the former Rilo Kiley lead guitarist’s latest album. After a five year hiatus, where she lost her mother to liver cancer and ended a twelve year relationship, Lewis returns to her craft, bringing with her a posse of talented musicians. On The Line features contributions from Jim Keltner, Ringo Starr, Beck, Benmont Tench, and Ryan Adams. Regardless of the all-star cast involved, it is Lewis’ superb song-writing expertise and wistful, alluring voice that drives the album, filling it with depth (particularly the funky “Little White Doves,” about Lewis’ experience reconciling with her mom just before her passing), thoughtful nods to her childhood years spent as an actor (“Wasted Youth”), and a heaping of Lewis’ characteristic swagger (“Red Bull & Hennessy,” “Party Clown,” etc.!).
49. Denzel Curry — Zuu
Florida native Denzel’s Curry’s fourth studio album, Zuu, is as enjoyable of a rap album as we came upon all year. The album paints a portrait of daily life unfolding across Miami’s Carol City Neighborhood, using a series of hard-hitting terse tracks throughout the album to set the stage. Zuu is an album that has catapulted Curry to hip-hop’s upper echelons. The main reason for the accolades — Curry digs deep into, and celebrates, his Miami roots and influences in a way not seen before from the artist. Laden with nods to his hometown heroes (from MC Cool Rock, Bushy B, Plies and beyond), Zuu is a celebration of where Curry hails from, who he is, and ultimately, what he is capable of. Zuu is rife with pulsating bass, sharp humor, and a teeming with splendid tracks that make it clear this talented artist has flat out arrived.
48. Better Oblivion Community Center — Better Oblivion Community Center
Better Oblivion Community Center is the serendipitous pairing of indie rock legend Conor Oberst and brilliant up-and-coming singer-songwriting goddess Phoebe Bridges. Catching the indie rock world off guard with their announcement of the project, Better Oblivion Community Center was, to us, one of the most welcome and logical collaborations we’ve come upon, period. Trading verses and licks so naturally as to appear to be a seasoned act, Oberst and Bridges compliment each others talents perfectly, and because both artists wear their hearts on their sleeves across all their music, every song on Better Oblivion Community Center is introspective, gut-wrenching, and jaw-droppingly beautiful. Look no further than the profoundly touching “Service Road” or the heart wrenching “My City,” for evidence of the way these two artist bolster each other’s affectivity. Or wade over to the more buoyant “Dylan Thomas,” which finds both Oberst and Bridges singing in perfect unison, adding more testimony to how lucky us music fans are that these phenoms of the musical world collided.
47. Garcia Peoples — One Step Behind
Garcia Peoples is a phenomenally talented musical group comprised, unmistakably, of Grateful Dead junkies who are both carrying the torch for one of the greatest Americana bands of all time and pushing the legendary bands musical aesthetic forward. The latest album from the psychedelic rockers, their third studio release, consists of just two songs, the 32-minute title track, “One Step Behind” and the eight-minute song “Heart And Soul.” In just two, albeit stretched out songs, this grouping of extremely gifted musicians exhibit exactly what they are made of. In tandem, both songs act as journey, a musical exploration that exhibits everything that makes Garcia Peoples so incredibly special: their harmonic range, an unfathomable patience, scintillating guitar riffs, layered entrancing soundscapes, and pulsating grooves that just don’t quit.
46: Dave — Psychodrama
In combination with his breakout role as “Modie” on Netflix’s British drama “Top Boy,” UK rapper Dave released a defining modern concept album entitled Psychodrama in 2019. Across Psychodrama’s eleven tracks, Dave takes the listener on a journey through his own traumatic psyche. Easily Dave’s most accessible work as of yet, the album features dark, trap-style 808 beats paired with introspective storytelling rhymes. On the song “Black,” Dave speaks to the racial injustices found in the United Kingdom. Through the song, listeners gain insight into the similarities between the United Kingdom and the United States’s black experience, and the yearning for escapism that is specific to Dave’s environment. The standout track on Psychodrama is undoubtedly the eleven minute “Leslie,” where Dave chronicles in specific detail a story of abuse, betrayal, violence, and trauma a friend of his who he would regularly take the train with experienced. He finishes the song with a message to all women in toxic relationships, calling on them to reach out and ask for support. To tie the entire project together, Dave cleverly inserts his own therapy sessions throughout the album, exhibiting an intense vulnerability while offering a window into his own inner conflict.
45: Billy Strings — Home
For our money, there is no more exciting of an act in all of bluegrass at the moment than Billy Strings. The 26 year-old phenom was named New Artist of the Year and Guitar Player of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Association awards show in Raleigh, North Carolina. In contemplation of Strings’ new album Home, and having the opportunity to see him live (run, don’t walk…), it is easy to see why his talents are being so celebrated. Strings’ aim, it seems clear, isn’t just to carry the torch for the bluegrass legends that paved the way for him, but to advance the genre and infuse into it a slew of modern influences. This fact is roundly exhibited by his live shows, which feature exploratory improv jams and covers of songs from celebrated bands such as Pearl Jam, Widespread Panic, and Phish. Home is a brilliant jumping off point for anyone interested in getting acquainted with Strings’ work, but assuredly this is just the beginning of a prolific career for the young artist — a fact we couldn’t be more thrilled about.
44. DJ Shadow — Our Pathetic Age
Legendary DJ and producer DJ Shadow (Josh Davis) released a beast of an album in 2019, a two disc showcase of his prolific and exceptional talents. Our Pathetic Age boasts a total of twenty-three extraordinary tracks. The album’s first half is comprised of instrumental works and the second half finds DJ Shadow joining forces with some of the most renowned artists around, including Run The Jewels, Nas, Fantastic Negrito, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, and De La Soul (to name but a few). Our Pathetic Age is Shadow’s reaction to the divisive and daunting times we live in, but the album isn’t all doom and gloom, as he explains: “Despite the title, it’s a hopeful, vibrant album…there is always light in darkness. I want it to reflect the times we live in, a signpost in the ground to mark the era…Our Pathetic Age.”
43. Vampire Weekend — Father of the Bride
There is a wonderful phenomenon unfolding across the last musical decade that is manifesting itself in some of the most interesting and compelling music being made today. That is, the worlds of indie rock and jam music are melding in a way never imagined. We see that in acts such as Real Estate, Ryley Walker, Kurt Vile, and The War on Drugs, where thoughtful, introspective indie songs are being used as launching pads for wondrous explorative rock music. As 2019 comes to a close, the line between jam band, indie rock band and rock band is increasingly blurring, exhibited plainly by the latest album from the famed Vampire Weekend, Father of The Bride. Take, for instance, the albums airy, meandering song “Sunflower,” or the digitally-infused, patient “2021.” Both songs manifest themselves as entities that demand to be heard in live settings, where they can be given more room to breathe and grow. This is the case with so many of the songs that grace Father of the Bride’s eighteen track’s, and finding Vampire Weekend exhibiting a maturity and range of skills we never saw coming when they first made waves with their debut self-titled album back in 2008. It has been six years since Vampire Weekend last released an album, and the wait was well worth it.
42. Mikal Cronin — Seeker
Across The Margin’s infatuation with Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist, garage rocker/god Mikal Cronin is well documented. Thus, it most likely comes as no surprise to see us proclaiming that once again Cronin has released a must-hear album. Cronin’s fourth full-length solo studio release, 2019’s Seeker, was recorded live with long-time collaborator Ty Segall’s Freedom Band, and this methodology has manifested a driving, impassioned rock album rampant with edge and fervor. Seeker is the first album of Cronin’s to depart from his conventional naming system (Mikal Cronin, MCII, MCIII), and this is apt, as it sets the album up as a beast unto its own. Seeker is flush with lyrical content that is more vulnerable than you would normally expect from Cronin, and ultimately darker. We continue to marvel at the fact that Cronin’s albums are released to minimal fanfare and modest critical reception, but we will also continue to sing his praises knowing that in time, Cronin will get his just due as the inimitable talent that he is — and Seeker is absolute proof of this continued assertion.
41. Little Brother — May The Lord Watch
If one was in search of the perfect song to use for the morning’s wake up call, Little Brother has you covered. May the Lord Watch, the latest album from the hip hop duo from Durham, North Carolina — consisting of rappers Phonte and Big Pooh — there exists a song entitled “Good Morning Sunshine” that’s sure to get your day going correct, as confident and assured a song as you’ll find in 2019. May The Lord Watch, the group’s fifth studio album and first since 2009, finds Phonte and Big Pooh in seasoned form, aided by a wealth of experience and wisdom. The album is grown man rap, but never comes off as preachy or bitter of a new generation. Phonte and Big Pooh stick to their signature smooth flow with southern twinges, where Phonte continues to bless us with soulful melodies, and they both lean on their classic boom-bap sensibility. The most exhilarating moments on May the Lord Watch are born of the duo’s storytelling sensibilities and relatable plot lines that fans have grown to love. For example, the final verse on the track “Everything” finds the rappers trading perspectives as a woman and man in a complex yet identifiable relationship, a song based on their own life traumas. The sound of May The Lord Watch may indeed be familiar, but it persists as a refreshing offering from the current hip-hop realm. Little Brother remains pure. ((All album reviews written by the Across The Margin staff, except for Little Brother and Dave, written by Miki Hellerbach.))
Up next, #’s 40-31!