The Top 50 Albums of 2019

Presenting in its entirety, Across The Margin’s Top 50 Albums of 2019…

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.!).

Essential Tracks: “Wasted Youth,” “Heads Gonna Roll,” “Red Bull & Hennessy.”

 

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.

Essential Tracks: “RICKY,” “SPEEDBOAT,” “BIRDS ft. Rick Ross.”

 

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.

Essential Tracks: “Dylan Thomas,” “Service Road,” “Sleepwalkin’,” “My City.” 

 

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.

Essential Tracks: “One Step Behind,” “Heart and Soul.”

 

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.

Essential Tracks: “Location ft. Burna Boy,” “Leslie ft. Ruelle,” “Streatham.”

 

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.

Essential Tracks: “Taking Water,” “Away From The Mire,” “Watch It Fall.”

 

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.”

Essential tracks: “Kings & Queens ft. Run The Jewels,” “Rocket Fuel ft. De La Soul,” “Rain On Snow ft. Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon.”

 

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.

Essential Tracks: “This Life,” “Harmony Hall,” “Sunflower ft. Steve Lacy.”

 

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 CroninMCIIMCIII), 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.

Essential Tracks: “Shelter,” “Caravan,” “Show Me.”

 

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.

Essential Tracks: “Everything,” “Black Magic (Make It Better)”, “The Feel.”

 

40. King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard — Fishing For Fishies and Infest The Rats’ Nest

The prolific Australian rock outfit King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard’s output is so copious that we find ourselves in the rare position of simultaneously heralding two of their captivating 2019 releases. So be it. Not only are KGATLW unrelenting in their releases, but those products are often so different in character, that it seems difficult to comprehend they are born of the same source. In April of 2019, KGATLW released Fishing For Fishies, a rock album coursing with blues and a vibrant, boogie down spirit. Flipping the switch dramatically, just a few months later, August found KGATLW releasing Infest The Rats’ Nest, a true to form thrash metal album that hits hard as hell. What’s fascinating, and wholly admirable, is that both albums lyrically touch on relevant concerns regarding the environment and humankind’s treatment of the planet. Yup, you got that right, one of the world’s most exciting rock acts gives a fuck, and plainly speaking — both of the King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard’s albums released in 2019 emphatically deserve your attention.

Essential Tracks: “Boogieman Sam,” “This Thing,” “Cyboogie,” “Mars For the Rich,” “Planet B,” “Superbug.”

 

39. Fruit Bats — Gold Past Life

Fruit Bats, Eric D. Johnson’s indie folk-rock outfit, released its eighth studio album this year, Gold Past Life, and it’s an absolute musical gem. Johnson has been crafting his art for some time now, and twenty years into his career seems an appropriate time to take stock of the journey. On the album’s opening track, “The Bottom of It” — whose groove is hey-day Bee Gees-esque (as is the subsequent “Gold Past Life”)  — Johnson commences the album singing “Now that you’ve gotten to the autumn of / Your years and you feel your best yet / And you found a turkey feather and you hung it like an amulet.” From the onset, it’s clear we are in retrospective territory, and nostalgia is the name of the game on Gold Past Life. With superb production by famed producer Thom Monahan, track after track on the latest Fruit Bats album harkens back to a sound of yore. The familiarity across the albums eleven tracks is pleasant and comforting, spirited yet not time worn. Beyond the nostalgia, Gold Past Life is diverse as well, featuring ballads like “Barely Living Room,” synthy enchanters such as “Two Babies in Michagen,” and hypnotic dazzlers like “Cazadera,” which reminds us poignantly that “Sometimes a cloud…is just a cloud.”

Essential Tracks: “The Bottom of It,” “Gold Past Life,” “A Lingering Love.”

 

38. Rapsody — Eve 

Hands down, the most compelling and meaningful concept album we’ve come upon all year is North Carolina rapper Rapsody’s Eve. A ridiculously talented and dexterous MC, Rapsody utilizes her monstrous skill-set to craft what she describes as a “love letter to all black women.” The album’s title, Eve, is a reference to the Bible’s Book of Genesis, and it is employed here as a means of unifying all black womanhood. On Eve, each of the track’s is named after inspiring black women: artists, musicians, activists, athletes, models, and businesswomen. Celebrating black goddesses such as Nina Simone, Oprah Winfrey, Afeni Shakur, Serena Williams, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Michelle Obama (just to name a few), Eve is a mastersterstroke of black feminism, while at the same time another overt example of just how incredibly talented Rapsody is.

Essential Tracks: “lbtihaj,” “Iman,” “Nina.”

 

37. Lana Del Rey — Normal Fucking Rockwell

Trapped in a different time, yet painstakingly current, Lana Del Ray has always existed as something of a vibe. Or, more aptly reasoned, absolutely lost in one. Del Ray’s music has persistently sounded like fantastical escapism as she lives and sings in a sort of dream world. On her latest effort, Norman Fucking Rockwell, it appears that Del Ray’s inspiration is drawn from within, and from the current state of her mind. Throughout the album’s fourteen lush tracks, Del Ray deeply analyzes herself and her partners complicated, yet human, interactions with love and life. The credit for her deep introspection may be in part due to her co-writer for the entire album, musician Jack Antonoff1. A standout track on Norman Fucking Rockwell is “Love Song,” a song that makes you believe that true love still exists. The lyrics and effortless delivery paint a familiar picture of a love story with simple imagery and ideas that transport the mind to a place of vulnerable honesty: “Oh, be my once in a lifetime / Lyin’ on your chest in my party dress / I’m a fuckin’ mess, but I / Oh, thanks for the high life / Baby, it’s the best, passed the test and yes / Now I’m here with you, and I / Would like to think that you would stick around / You know that I’d just die to make you proud / The taste, the touch, the way we love / It all comes down to make the sound of our love song.” Del Ray presents hope simply on Norman Fucking Rockwell. She has moved slightly out of an impulsive state into one of wisdom and analysis. Norman Fucking Rockwell is her most compelling work to date, and a clear sign of growth for the phenomenally talented young musician.

Essential Tracks: “Doin’ Time,” “Norman Fucking Rockwell,” “Fuck it I Love you.”

 

36. Sam Cohen — The Future’s Still Ringing in My Ears

New York based producer, singer and songwriter extraordinaire Sam Cowen can currently be found on tour both opening for, and playing with, renowned singer-songwriter Kevin Morby, whose stellar album (entitled Oh My God) Cohen produced. Remarkably, while crafting Morby’s album, Cowen  — formerly of the indie rock bands Apollo Sunshine and Yellowbirds — gave birth to his own album entitled The Future’s Still Ringing in My Ears (co-produced by Danger Mouse). The album paints an unforgiving, and unfortunately convincing, picture of present day America, particularly in the magnificent song “Something’s Got a Hold On Me.” Throughout this psych rock, 60’s era-song, Cohen describes an America where the population is “too fat to riot” and the “future has been a terrific disappointment.” There is an all-together relatable exasperation that permeates the track, particularly when Cohen laments that “something’s got a hold on me, and it will not let go.” Listeners vexed and drained by the ongoing corruption and ineptitude that currently persists in America will feel a deep measure of pacification from the camaraderie and the soothing soundscapes of the song, and the greater album.

Essential tracks: “Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” “I Can’t Lose,” “ Man on Fire.”

 

35. Aldous Harding — Designer

On her third studio record, a follow up to 2017’s wonderful Party, New Zealand singer-songwriter Aldous Harding crafts a work of art that is disarmingly pretty and entirely engrossing. Although much of the sonic aesthetic of the album is shaped via muted percussion and gentle guitar, Designer’s offerings are diverse and prone to moments of eruption and moxie. Undividedly, Harding is sort of an enigma, a talented wonder whose eccentricities incite curiosity, and we are still trying to figure her and her lyrical stylings out. Take for example a series of the lyrics from her infectious hit “The Barrel”: “It’s already dead / I know you have the dove / I’m not getting wet / Looks like a date is set / Show the ferret to the egg / I’m not getting led along”. Unsurprisingly fans, us included, discuss at length the odd and obscure lyrics and themes present in her work, and while that is part of the fun of Harding’s music, make no mistake about it — the music she crafts is deeply affecting, gorgeous, and her musical abilities persistently provoke awe.

Essential Tracks: “Designer,” “The Barrell,” “Weight of the Planets.

 

34. Sunwatchers — Illegal Moves

The Brooklyn-based psych-rock band Sunwatchers crafted one of our favorite releases of 2019 with the album Illegal Moves. In their own words, “Illegal Moves is the band’s most potent blend yet; a heady potion of free-jazz, psychedelia, punk & noise rock that is both tender and ferocious; the perfect soundtrack to smash capitalism and fix our broken system through sonic catharsis and revolution.” The psychedelic adventure that is “Beautiful Crystals” acts as an ideal introduction to the band, featuring a driving and dynamic skronk-grooving number that emphatically highlights the power and talents of this exciting band.

Essential Tracks: “New Dad Blues,” “Beautiful Crystals,” “Greeneyed Pigmen (Get The Blade.)

 

33. Andrew Bird — My Finest Work Yet

Seasoned songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird’s presumptuously (and aptly!) titled latest album, My Finest Work Yet, is brimming with reactionary lyrics to the worriments of our modern times. By far his most political album to date, Bird — like so many artists in the Trump/Climate Crisis era — felt compelled to transform his frustrations into art, and the first single released from My Finest Work Yet, “Bloodless” embodies the triumphant result of this desire. “Bloodless” recounts what he sees as a bloodless civil war, where those in power are profiting from our worry and devisiveness, and where “the best have lost their convictions, while the worst keep sharpening their claws.” While My Finest Work Yet, and the weighty track that is “Bloodless” delve into despair, there is still so much hope and optimism abounding throughout the album, or as Bird explains, “we can turn this ship around, but need to step back and be honest with ourselves about what’s happening while it’s still relatively bloodless.”

Essential tracks: “Sisyphus,” “Bloodless,” “Manifest.”

 

32. Lambchop — This (is what I wanted to tell you)

Lambchop, Kurt Wagner’s illustrious alt-country (and increasing electronic) band, followed up 2016’s stunner of an album Flotus with another deeply personal and alluring album, This (is what I wanted to tell you). While Lambchop also encompasses famed bassist Matt Swanson and pianist Tony Crow, Lambchop’s albums persist as deep dives into the psyche and mind’s eye of Wagner. This (is what I wanted to tell you) pairs Wagner’s understated, sharp lyrical prowess with lush, dreamy soundscapes. “Everything For You” is a soothing jaunt where auto-tuned, pacifying vocals intermingle warmly with brisk, snappy percussion and delightful keyboards riffs, and it is just one of the delightful tracks found throughout another captivating and impressive Lambchop release.

Essential Tracks: “Everything For You,” “Crosswords or What This Says About You,” “Flower.”

 

31. Anderson .Paak — Ventura

Anderson .Paak excels when he is at his most soulful, and that is exactly the state of mind we find .Paak in on his latest album, Ventura. .Paak appears to draw inspiration from, and live in a similar pocket, as Yes Lawd!, the debut studio album by the neo soul duo NxWorries, which consisted of .Paak and producer Knxwledge. One stand out track on Ventura, that exemplifies this soulful mindset, is the Sonyae-assisted “Chosen One.” The song is as classic a love and lust song as you will find and it combines .Paak’s classic funky rhythms with an effortless transition into a string assisted rapped bridge section that is funky and dance-inducing. Like with “Chosen One,” .Paak perfectly picks featured collaborations throughout Ventura, tying its ideas and themes together perfectly. These include contributions from Smokey Robinson, Brandy, Andre 3000, and Lalah Hathaway on the stunning “Reachin’ 2 Much,” a track which benefits from a seamless soulful transition that is reminiscent of Motown-era bops. Hathaway’s tone layered with .Paak on the chorus is really just butter. The inherent funk of .Paak’s voice dramatically shines through in the context of a sound that is kept consistent throughout the entire project.

Essential Tracks: “Come Home ft. Andre 3000,” “Make it Better ft. Smokey Robinson,” “Jet Black ft. Brandy.”

 

30. Thom Yorke – Anima

Famed Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke’s latest solo effort Anima is a dystopian, emotional masterpiece. This is Yorke’s third solo release (following Eraser and Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes) and was produced by perpetual Radiohead collaborator Nigel Godrich. A companion 15-minute film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson was released by Netflix to coincide with Anima’s released and is well worth the watch. No stranger to melancholy or weighty, gut-wrenching themes, Yorke once again leans into his solo material in a personal manner, layering Anima with despondent ruminations on friendship, love, and loss. The album’s centerpiece, the jaw-droppingly beautiful, “Dawn Chorus,” speaks to regret and uncertainty, finding Yorke singing: ”If you could do it all again / Yeah, without a second thought / I don’t like leaving / The door shut / I think I missed something / But I’m not sure what.” What’s incredibly hard for us to get our head around is how an album can be so devastating and yet danceable at the same time, but therein lies the genius of Yorke and his seemingly endless capacity to both wow and inspire.

Essential Tracks: “Not The News,” “Dawn Chorus,” “Traffic.”

 

29. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds — Ghosteen

Ghosteen, the seventeenth (!!) full length release from the legendary Australian rockers Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds is as weighty as it is a thought-provoking album. Inspired and shaped in part by the accidental death of Nick Cave’s 15-year old son in 2015, Ghosteen is considered the third, and final, offering from a trilogy of albums that includes 2013’s Push the Sky Away and 2016’s Skeleton Tree. Further attempting to make sense of Cave’s tragic loss, the album finds the singer profoundly vulnerable and struggling with how to continue after so much hurt. However, unlike the Skeleton Key before it, where Cave fully confronts death, Ghosteen finds itself sprinkled with moments of hope and a vision of a time where he has reached a level of acceptance with his sons death. Music is powerful in many ways, and one of those is in its ability to provide healing and a means to accept that which is causing you hurt. This cathartic capability is well exemplified in Ghosteen, offering up a genuinely human piece of work all too relatable to anyone who is working their way through the pain of losing someone they deeply loved.

Essential Tracks: “Spinning Song,” “Bright Horses, “Galleon Ship.”

 

28. Bon Iver — i, i

The fourth full-length release for the Justin Vernon led band Bon Iver is a triumphant patchwork of layered textures and captivating soundscapes. Brimming with symbolism1 and cryptic lyricism, i,i is somehow both spacious and flush with dazzling electronic flourishes. A complex and engaging piece of art, i,i features contributions from artists including James, Blake, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, BJ Burton, S. Carey, Aaron & Bryce Dessner, Phil Cook, Moses Sumney, Bruce Hornsby, and Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner. Vernon views Bon Iver’s four albums as if they were the four seasons, with For Emma, Forever Ago representing Winter, Bon Iver, Bon Iver expressing Spring, 22, A Million channeling Summer, and i,i leading us into Autumn. It is here, on this album, where Bon Iver labors successfully to modify and push forward their novel and uplifting soundscapes, and in doing so redefine the boundaries that confine indie rock and soulful art-pop.

Essential Tracks: “Hey Ma,” “Naeem,” “We.”

 

27. Black Pumas — Black Pumas

The Black Pumas are a funk and soul duo based in Austin, Texas, consisting of singer Eric Burton and guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada. This year they not only released their terrific self-titled debut album, Black Pumas, but they also found themselves named Best New Band at the 2019 Austin Music Awards and nominated for a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. We are happy to report that the growing Black Pumas hype is real, and fully realized on Black Pumas. It’s a brilliantly produced album, rife with lush and funky soul soundscapes, and as fun to listen to as it is socially conscious and inspiring. While the sound of the album harkens back to the heyday of soul, Black Pumas is electric and alive with a fresh energy and a unique Latin influence that only serves to heighten the spirit and vibe of its songs ((Adrian Quesada played guitar in Grupo Fantasma, who won a Grammy for Best Latin Rock Album in 2011.)). Black Pumas is the sort of album where you can put on and just let the whole thing ride  — there’s not an uninspiring track to be found — and its something we do here at Across The Margin time and time again.

Essential Tracks: “Colors,” “Black Moon Rising,” “Fire.”

 

26. Hiss Golden Messenger — Terms of Surrender

Hiss Golden Messenger, a folk rock band originating from Durham, North Carolina and led by the gifted musician M.C. Taylor, released their eleventh studio album this year entitled Terms of Surrender. Co-produced by Brad Cook (he’s produced and collaborated with Bon Iver and Kevin Morby and was formerly of the band Megafaun), and featuring assists from the talented Jenny Lewis and Aaron Dressner of The National, Terms of Surrender is running over with enticing roots-rock melodies and deeply affecting songs. Take the sprightly opening track “I Need A Teacher” for instance, a song inspired by teacher protests against cuts to education funding in North Carolina. Or indulge in “Happy Birthday, Baby,” a loving ode to Taylor’s five year old daughter that serves as an apology for “all those miles that I roam.” Or the albums concluding heartbreaker of a title track, “Terms of Surrender,” a song that cuts you right to the core with its honesty while concluding the album brilliantly. All of Taylor and Co.’s unique and remarkable musical stylings are on display in Terms of Surrender, and we can’t help but wonder at this point if Hiss Golden Messenger just keep getting better, or if this is just another impressive release from one of the most consistent acts in all of folk/ rock n’ roll.

Essential Tracks: “I Need A Teacher,” “Happy Birthday, Baby,” “Cat’s Eye Blue.”

 

25. Billie Eilish — When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

Billie Eilish, the 17-year-old Los Angeles based pop singer-songwriter, took the music world by storm in 2019. Eilish’s potential has been evident for some time now, particularly in the form of 2017’s superbly crafted EP Don’t Smile At Me, but with the release of her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, that potential appears to be fully realized. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is a tremendously playful album, and there are youthful themes and a budding spirit throughout its dozen sings, but Eilish’s lyrical prowess and the varying soundscapes found on it are nothing short of expert and dazzling. Get used to hearing the name Billie Eilish, as this young phenom is as gifted as they come, possessing a skill set so adept that it ultimately proves you don’t need to know who Van Halen is to make a truly outstanding album.

Essential Tracks: “bad guy,” “all the good girls go to hell,” “bury a friend.”

 

24. Thee Oh Sees — Face Stabber

We here at Across The Margin remain in awe of the Los Angeles, California based rock outfit Thee Oh Sees. The Josh Dwyer led band isn’t only one of our favorite live acts, but their prolific album releases continue to amaze us. On their twenty-second studio album, 2019’s aptly entitled Face Stabber, there is a song we would like to point you towards as it serves to perfectly encapsulate Thee Oh Sees immense talents and their intense, driving and unrestrained sound. That song, the 21-minute “Henchlock” is an all-encompassing sonic journey exhibiting Dwyer’s remarkable guitar prowess and the greater bands evolution from their former garage rock sound. For years now, Thee Oh Sees have increasingly been upgrading their hypnotizing thrash rock with elements of psych rock and jazz. This sublime genre blending has finally reached a fevered pitch with Face Stabber, and has birthed unto us an album that plainly, and powerfully, exhibits the raw, authentic power of the mighty Thee Oh Sees.

Essential Tracks: “Henchlock,“ “Face Stabber,” “Scutum & Scorpius.”

 

23. Weyes Blood — Titanic Rising

The soaring, dreamlike soundscapes crafted on Weyes Blood’s  (aka Natalie Merings) latest album Titanic Rising, the bands fourth studio release, are some of the most mesmerizing music we’ve come upon in 2019. Weyes has described the sound of the album as “The Kinks meet WWII or Bob Seger meets Enya,” which will give you an idea of just the sort of sonicaly unique beast we are dealing with here. Co-produced by Jonathan Rado (of  Foxygen), the pairing employed Brian Eno’s “oblique strategies” to craft an album of lush aural environments that are as much inspired by the Beatles as they are modern bands such as Radiohead or LCD Soundsystem. The title of the album Titanic Rising is a nod to the sinking of the Titanic, drawing a parallel between that tragedy and the current concerns facing humankind with Climate Change and in the rise of the Technological Age. This comparison helps to illustrate the depth of the themes and lyrical content present on the album, yet Titanic Rising doesn’t come off as overly dark. Instead it wraps itself in an alluring, contextualized, and profoundly heartfelt sonic cloak.

Essential Tracks: “Andromeda,” “Everyday,” “Movies.”

 

22. DIIV — Deceiver

The latest release from Brooklyn based shoegaze aficionados DIIV is an edgy, blissful, and engrossing journey of an album. Heavier than DIIV’s prior two releases, and displaying a newfound musical bravado, Deceiver is inspired by lead singer Zachary Cole Smith’s recovery from drug addiction. Reinvigorated, and with a well-rounded zest for music and life, Smith unabashedly pours his heart and soul into Deceiver. Working with renowned producer Sonny Diperri (Nine Inch Nails, My Bloody Valentine, Protomartyr) to dial the albums sound in just right, DIIV have crafted a classic shoegaze album effortlessly blending elements of dream pop, post puk, and surf rock with the band’s signature sound. With a revised lineup2, the band sounds better than ever, and it is clear that Smith’s struggles, and newfound victory, has fashioned both he and the band as more impassioned than ever before.

Essential Tracks: “Skin Game,” “Taker,” “Like Before You Were Born.”

 

21. Kevin Abstract — Arizona Baby

Kevin Abstract’s — founding member of the California-based rap collective Brockhampton (“the greatest boy band in the motherfucking world”) — latest album is entitled Arizona Baby, and it certainly has earned our attention. No track on the Jack Antonoff-produced album exhibits Abstract’s exuberance for love, his unapologetic homosexuality, and his boundless spirit quite like “Baby Boy” (featuring Ryan Beatty), a lo-fi ballad that is as beautiful as it is telling of the artist’s talents. Abstract is an excellent emcee, yet “Baby Boy” doesn’t find him rapping but rather crooning over a psychedelic soundscape that is both uplifting and overwhelmingly delightful to behold. The remaining offerings on Arizona Baby are assuredly diverse, and exhibit the range of musical talents that Abstract possess. The album seamlessly glides back and forth from smooth R & B to hard hitting rap and all the while Abstract presents himself as vulnerable, honest, and entirely forthcoming in a deeply personal way.

Essential Tracks: “Baby Boy,” “Georgia,” “Boyer,” “Peach.”

 

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.”

 

10. Steve Gunn — The Unseen In Between

The Brooklyn- based guitarist Steve Gunn has been our radar for some time now. From his earliest self-titled release, and forward through his days playing along Kurt Vile as a collaborator and member of Vile’s band, the diverse influences that shine through his work, and his pinpoint, entrancing finger-picking, are persistently awe-inspiring. We’ve been waiting for that break-out album that would display, in all its glory, Steve Ginn’s extreme talents and songwriting virtuoso to the masses. With the release of The Unseen In Between this past January, that time has arrived. The Unseen In Between fashions itself as Gunn’s most personal album to date, highlighted by the deeply affecting tribute to his late father on the song “Stonehurst Cowboy.” The production on the album by the wondrously gifted Jim Elkington is impeccable, leading to a visceral, intimate feel. Once within Gunn’s grasp, from the commencement of the alluring “New Moon,” and unto the buoyant, driving “Vagabond” (featuring vocals from Meg Baird), and beyond, there are countless intricacies both musically and lyrically to explore. Described by fellow rocker Ryley Walker as a “big-city, small-detail approach,” Gunn’s latest album is a celebration of the moments in life that are often overlooked, as well as the people that are sadly dismissed in our society (See “Luciano,” a song about a bodega store owner and a cat). A revered stalwart in the New York City music scene already, Gunn is the sort of guitarist that could quickly become a legend in his own time, and The Unseen In Between is an immense and highly impactful step in that well-earned direction.

Essential Tracks: “New Moon,” “Vagabond,” “Stonehurst Cowboy,” “Luciano.”

 

9. Sharon Van Ettan — Remind Me Tomorrow

New Jersey native Sharon Van Ettan’s latest album, Remind Me Tomorrow, finds Van Etten returning from a five year musical hiatus and releasing her most daring and arresting testament to her phenomenal talents. Taking stock of her life, at a point in time where Van Ettan’s star has begun to justly soar, Remind Me Tomorrow hosts a slew of songs that examine her life’s journey and the wins and losses amassed along the way. One of these songs, “Seventeen,” displays a deeply introspective Van Ettan as she reflects on her teenage years living in New York City (“I used to be free, I used to be seventeen”) while hinting at the woman she will one day become (“I know what you’re gonna be, I know that you’re gonna be”). While lyrically contemplative and nostalgic, “Seventeen,” as well as the entirety of Remind Me Tomorrow, roars with the confidence and fervor of a fully realized artist and human.

Essential Tracks: “Seventeen,” “Jupiter 4,” “No One’s Easy To Love,” “You Shadow.”

 

8. Strand of Oaks — Eraserland

Strand of Oaks, the rock project helmed by songwriter and producer Timothy Showalter, released a remarkable album this year entitled Eraserland. Showalter describes the ten songs that comprise the album as being about “existing and continuing on, a testament to the hope that even if we feel like we are disappearing, there is that glimmer of light.” Backed by My Morning Jacket’s rhythm section, Eraserland is a splendid achievement and the stand out song “Ruby” is the feel-good peak of the album. Described by Showalter as “the happiest song I have ever written, “Ruby” is anthemic, rock and roll at its very finest, a song seemingly constructed for summertime indulgence on an album that sounds right as rain all year long.

Essential Tracks: “Weird Ways,” “Ruby,” “Visions,” “Moon Landing.”

 

7. Purple Mountains — Purple Mountains

A devastating loss rocked the music community this year with the heartbreaking passing of singer-songwriter David Berman. Before he left us, and ten years after the celebrated frontman of the Silver Jews announced his retirement from music, Berman graced eager fans with a tremendous project under the moniker Purple Mountains. Produced by Jarvis Taveniere and Jeremy Earl of Woods, Purple Mountains found Berman as sharp and cutting with his songwriting as ever. Frankly speaking, Purple Mountains — a truly majestic and profoundly introspective album — has become hard for us to listen to, as many of the themes found on the album are struggles that Berman dealt and are presumably why he is no longer with us today (depression, lost love, isolation, etc). Yet Purple Mountains is a stunner, and a deeply honest album that floored us with its candid reflections and stunning imagery. David Berman was a genius, one of the greatest songwriters of all time. His work — Purple Mountains and the six Silver Jews albums that preceded it — is a catalog we will celebrate forevermore. R.I.P. David, and thank you for bearing your soul, and gifting us with beautiful, relatable, and heart-wrenching music.

Essential Tracks: “All My Happiness is Gone,” “Snow is Falling in Manhattan,” “She’s Making Friends, I’m Turning Stranger.”

 

6. Michael Kiwanuka — KIWANUKA

Michael Kiwanuka exists in a space all his own within the world of modern music. He represents nostalgia and his art harkens back to greats before him such as Richie Havens, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin (and in his sound he carries their spirit.). This year Kiwanuka released what many view as his magus opus, the self titled Kiwanuka. Building upon his tremendous work that came prior, Kiwanuka manifests itself as a reflective piece of art that perfectly blends early 70’s singer-songwriter rock, late 70’s soul, and contemporary British pop R&B. A fascinating tactic Kiwanuka employs on the album is the use of an introductory interlude to preface a song. The method to which they are placed and used really completes the project. “Piano Joint (This Kind of Love)” has a wildly spiritual intro that seamlessly transitions into the song itself, which starts with a simple kick-drum and numbing yet empowering piano chords. The song is written to be a pop, love ballad, yet when delivered with Kiwanuka’s 70’s soul influence the song proves to be even more poignant and specific. “Hero” has an intro that starts with a somber piano background that transitions into a guitar-rich, quick-paced anthem reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along The Watchtower.” The tonal difference from the intro to the full song shows that its lyrics can be contemplative and discouraging as well as commanding and hopeful. These two songs, and their intros, connect the albums’ tones while showcasing multiple perspectives on similar ideas.

Essential Tracks: “You Aint The Problem,” “Hero,” “Piano Joint (This Kind of Love).”

 

5. Angel Olsen — All Mirrors

Angel Olsen talents are astounding. The American singer-songwriter continually impresses us with the scope and quality of songs she releases. Her music is epic in its range, wildly introspective, and evocative in its boldness, strength, and authenticity. On her latest album, All Mirrors, these facets to her talents are multiplied to infinity. The album’s opening track, guided beautifully by a 12-piece string section, showcases the raw power and emotion of Olsen’s music on full blast. If ever there was a song to set the tone for an album, the opening track “Lark” is that offering. But the intoxicating magic doesn’t end there. All Mirrors second song, the self-titled “All Mirrors,” continues the sonic goodwill earned previously and propels the album into orbit. There’s an additional eight songs on All Mirrors, all competing for the title of “best song on the album,” and we have to admit it is hard to choose just one, as they are all standouts. “Too Easy” reflects echoes of early Stereolab. “New Love Cassette” finds Olsen offering her love up to some abstract spectre of a being while powerfully fuzzy strings soar over an infectiously droning bass beat. We could go on and on with our well-crafted accolades, but trust us in our position that this is Angel Olsen at her best, backed up by an orchestra of dreamy stings that add an alluring depth to her already illustrious sound.

Essential tracks: “New Love Cassette,” “All Mirrors,” “Lark.”

 

4. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib — Bandana

When 2019 commenced, there were few albums we were as excited to get our hands on than the collaboration album, entitled Bandana, between Gary, Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs and the brilliant producer Madlib. In late June the follow-up to  their critically-acclaimed 2014 album Piñata was unveiled and to say that it delivered on expectations is a gargantuan understatement. The first single released, “Crime Pays,” was an exceptional tour de force, exhibiting just how well Gibbs and Madlib work together. Gibb’s precise and assailing flow glides smoothly over Madlib’s lush, alluring production to spirituous effect. The respect that the two have for each other is endearing and to hear them speak about each other it is obvious they both know they are working with the cream of the crop at their craft. For example, Madlib claims that Freddie “raps like a damn saxophone: his smooth cadence, his flow, he’s crazy like Charlie “Bird” Parker and all them cats.” Brimming with Gibbs’s brand of braggadocio thuggery, Bandana features assists from such heavyweights such as Pusha-T, Killer Mike, Yasiin Bey, and Black Thought, and emphatically places Freddie Gibbs amongst the best of the best emcees on the planet. The duo claims they already have another album near completion that will complete a trilogy, a fact that has us beside ourselves with excitement.

Essential Tracks: “Crime Pays,” “Palmolive ft. Pusha T,” “Flat Tummy Tea,” “Giannis ft. Anderson .Paak.”

 

3. YBN Cordae — The Lost Boy

The debut album, The Lost Boy, from North Carolina native YBN Cordae stopped us dead in our tracks. With a dexterous, seasoned-sounding flow, and an uncanny ability for vivid storytelling through rap, it was unfathomable to us, after the first few front to back spins, that this was Cordae’s coming out party. Wearing his heart on his sleeve across all fifteen tracks on the album, Cordae appeared to be making peace with his past in order to prepare for what is most certainly a bright future ahead. On “Wintertime,” Cordae comes clean about all the “skeletons in our closet from a shady past,” and on “Family Matters” he opens up about his families’ baggage in order for there to be  “no more sufferin’ in silence.” Cordae, it appears, wants us all to know exactly who he is, a feat he pulls off with precision throughout the weighty, but fun as fuck, The Lost Boy. The 15-track album contains six features, and they are all remarkable. Chief among them are Cordae’s pairing with Anderson .Paak on the party starter “RNP” and the soulful ride that is “Bad Idea” with Chance The Rapper. All in all, The Lost Boy isn’t simply the best debut album we came upon all year, but the best hip-hop album we came upon in all of 2019.

Essential Tracks: “RNP ft. Anderson .Paak,” “Bad Idea ft. Chance The Rapper,” “Broke As Fuck,” “Have Mercy.

 

2. Neal Francis — Changes 

There was a reoccurring theme we noticed in contemplation of so many of our favorite albums of the year. That is, we noticed a strong familiarity with the music, as if it were an echo from the past overtaking us. Whether it was albums by the Fruit Bats, Michael Kiwanuka, or the Black Pumas, while indulging there were moments of almost deja vu where we could swear we had been in that sonic moment before. Yet, the soundscapes were simultaneously novel and current, and blazing with a brand new energy. This is certainly the case with Chicago-based musician Neal Francis and his funky, soulful, familiar-feeling album, Changes. Neal Francis was a young piano prodigy who by the age of 18 could be found touring with Muddy Waters’ son, honing his ivory skills. Now 30 and seasoned, and after forging a winning, recent battle with drugs and alcohol, Francis is ready to let it all hang out. On an album steeped in New Orleans soul, early 70s rock n’ roll, and Chicago blues, Francis pays tributes to all his musical influences while weaving an auditory narrative that is all his own. Changes has become our go-to house (office!) party album, and one of the best albums top to bottom we’ve heard all year — a true masterpiece.

Essential Tracks: “Changes Pts 1 & 2,” “This Time,” “She’s a Winner,” “How Have I Lived.”

 

1. Sturgill Simpson — Sound & Fury

Sound & Fury, the fourth full-length album from country music outlaw Sturgill Simpson, tops Across the Margin’s list of best Albums of 2019. The albums songs, woven together smartly by a car-radio flitting through stations as we imagine Simpson barrels down some dusty, sun-burnt American road, dance from glam to synth to dance-floor rock thrillers. The fact that Simpson is our guide on the Sound & Fury’s sonic journey only serves to draw you deeper into the music, and to educate you more fully on the talents that Simpson possesses. There’s an effortless to Simpson’s music, an ability to chameleon-like slip from one genre to another while somehow staying firmly rooted in the country-westen ethos. And that is what is most appealing about Simpson’s music, looking at him, and listening to him speak, it is easy to build up the misconception that he’s “just another country western singer”. But this prejudice could not be farther from the truth. From the infectious dancehall jams of “Sing Along” to the fast paced tempo of “A Good Look,” to the synth-laced “Make Art Not Friends,” where Simpson sings: ““This town’s getting crowded / The truth’s been shrouded / I think it’s time to change up the sound,” it’s more than apparent that Simpson is an artist striking out on his own. He’s upending generations of ideals and concepts of what a country music artist can be, blurring the lines between genres in the process, and it’s so refreshing and necessary in this day in age that we can’t not place it at the top of our 2019 list. The music, and its implications, are just that good.

Essential Tracks: “Sing Along,” “Make Art Not Friends,” “A Good Look,” “Remember To Breathe.”

 

 

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