Words by Brian LaBenne
Brian LaBenne is host of the Best Song Ever Podcast with his dear, dear cousin Luke LaBenne. Brian has been a music nerd for a long time now and obsessively keeps ranked lists of his favorite albums throughout the year, determined by an Excel spreadsheet that churns out a rating for each album. He has written for Off Shelf’s Singles Club posts as well.
Every year there’s an album that I treat like a warm blanket, Faye Webster’s sophomore album is the warm blanket of 2019. Pre-flight anxiety? Throw on Faye. Depressed by the hopeless feeling associated with the impeachment hearings? Time for Atlanta Millionaires Club. Waking up on a lazy Sunday, needing a mid-workday chill out and so on the songs on this album are so relaxing, so affable and such a joy to listen to. Combining elements of country and soul and even incorporating a rap feature, it’s also one of the more interesting releases of the year as well. So, snuggle up, hit play and let the warmth commence.
Nilufer Yanya came out of nowhere for me this year and I’m so happy she did. Miss Universe is a fantastic album, which examines how to live with pain in a post-apocalyptic type setting that mirrors our own world pretty well. There are interlude tracks that are actually really great and add so much to the theme of this album. All that being said, Nilufer’s songwriting, singing and guitar playing are what really make this album shine. It’s jazzy, it’s catchy, it’s rough and polished and really balances all those aspects incredibly well.
8. JPEGMAFIA – All My Heroes are Cornballs (EQT Recordings)
PEGGY has lost his damn mind, but I’m here for it. This is his magnus opus, where all his weird tendencies fully click into place. Stretches of the album are noisey collages of hip hop beats and ambient music, all tied together by some of the best rapping and singing of the year. It’s a hallucinatory experience as songs change on a dime and you’re never feeling quite safe or settled in. Also, this album has some of my favorite sung melodies in any album this year. It’s really quite a feat.
Freddie Gibbs and Madlib team up once again for an improvement on their already awesome sound, resulting in one of the strongest, most bangable hip hop albums of the year that will definitely make your trunk rattle. Gibbs virtuosic rapping is on full display on each track and despite the guest appearances being solid you just find yourself begging for him to come back. Madlib of course does his Madlib thing with the beats making them hit hard, sometimes leaning into strange territories but always focused on how to best frame a talent like Freddie Gibbs. Here’s to hoping they continue making albums together.
6. PURPLE MOUNTAINS – self-titled (Drag City)
It’s hard to accurately describe how powerful this album is. David Berman has been one of the best songwriters of the past 25 years and Purple Mountains ranks among the best collection of songs he’s ever put out. It’s also a beautifully heartbreaking testament to the devastating power of depression and how fighting against the wave can be funny, sad, hopeful and helpless all at the same time. It’s so much more than music but is also some of the best sounding music of the year.
Patience is filled to the brim with anthemic punk jams dripping with catharsis and emotion, pain and triumph all in shoutable refrains. I’ve never quite connected with an album as therapy session like I did with this album. It processes trauma and depression and self-destructiveness in such a catchy way and in a tight runtime of 25 minutes. What more could you ask for?
Danny Brown’s trajectory as a hip hop artist has been confounding and exhilarating. Atrocity Exhibition was Brown’s last album and was so out of left field it really made it difficult to predict what he would do next. Teaming with Q-Tip as executive producer of his entire new album, Brown leans into weirdness but in such a catchy and enjoyable framework that it feels like an incredibly cohesive document of his career thus far. Plus, the songs bang.
(Sandy) Alex G has been one of the most exciting artists of the past decade. From just some kid making strange folky music in his bedroom to getting tapped to play guitar with Frank Ocean, watching his progression has been pretty astounding. Through all of this (Sandy) Alex G has been refining his sound from album to album, releasing several fantastic releases, culminating in House of Sugar, the best distillation of his sound thus far. It’s beautiful, it’s noisey, it’s catchy and strange and ends with Alex doing his best at making a Bruce Springsteen song. (Sandy) Alex G seems to only be picking up more and more steam as the years go on and I can’t wait to hear what he has up his sleeve next.
For Reward, Cate Le Bon sought solitude during the writing process, while also learning carpentry and making a really beautiful chair. (Really though, check her chair out!) This solitude and attention to learning a new craft really shines through during this album. The songs are aching and begging to be sung loudly into the night air. Musically, the instrumentation is sanded down and incredibly intentional. Long stretches of time goes without hearing guitar until a couple perfectly placed strums or plucks come through and are gone again just as quickly. I’ve never heard a time and place translated so well into sound as Cate Le Bon does with Reward.
Solange’s last album, A Seat at the Table, was my top album of 2016 and her follow up doesn’t disappoint at all. When I Get Home is an ambient, somewhat off-kilter journey inspired by her hometown of Houston. It draws on spiritual jazz, modern hip hop and Stevie Wonder to create a sonic landscape that is equal parts catchy and minimalist abstract collage. Solange truly sounds like nothing else out right now.
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