Words by Kevin Connor
Kevin Connor is co-host of the Best Song Ever Podcast, where he and Luke play and discuss their favorite new music. He’s been eloquently labeled “The Banger Bitch.” If it slaps, rips, shreds, is a bop, a jam, or a certified banger – he wants it. It’s what he craves. He also reserves the right to completely trash this list as new discoveries come to light. Here are his top ten albums in descending order.
If there’s anyone who’s going to get me out dancing in a club, it’s going to be Yung Bae. The producer’s 8th studio album Groove Continental: Side A deserves to be danced to. His 2019 album, Bae 5, landed on my radar hard and took a handful of my top songs of that year, detailed in Spotify’s annual year-end playlist, and I had high hopes and maybe too high of expectations for his follow-up; however, they were exceeded easily. Groove Continental is Yung Bae’s most approachable album yet, featuring a stellar lineup of artists including EARTHGANG, Jon Batiste, AWOLNATION, Channel Tres, Cosmo’s Midnight (featured in the track below) and a handful of others. All the collabs here elevate Bae’s super sharp sense of groove, making the album’s name an apt descriptor.
For a brief moment this album didn’t make the list. I really struggled with my final two spots as five albums shuffled back and forth. However, in my due diligence, I sat down and listened to everything once more, giving it all my attention and Beyoncé proved without a doubt she belonged. Not that she has anything to prove after a half-dozen incredible pop albums (she could rest on the laurels of “Crazy in Love,” forever) but RENAISSANCE, her first studio album since 2016’s Lemonade, sees the current-day Queen of Pop utilizing house and techno methods to elevate her vocal performances, which are steeped in flawless production. The hits on this one are among my favorites; “BREAK MY SOUL” and the insanely-catchy “CUFF IT” flow effortlessly into the following tracks, keeping the album moving in a way that I have to consciously listen for some track breaks. While this is nothing new, it does seem to give RENAISSANCE a little more polish and make the listening experience align with Beyoncé’s DJ set approach to the album.
We often highlight duos and trios as perfectly focused, but the 6-piece that goes by MICHELLE is absolutely stunning at weaving their unique musical voices together to stand as one. On songs like “EXPIRATION DATE,” more than half the group is featured on lead vocals, weaving in and out of each others parts effortlessly. While the performances are an absolute highlight the group’s lyricism is a standout. It takes me a few listens to start to dive into lyrics, but AFTER DINNER WE TALK DREAMS stood out almost immediately for smart, witty songwriting. The raw performances on the first track “MESS U MADE” immediately catches your attention, and that attention is kept wholeheartedly through the final track “MY FRIENDS,” a killer closer. AFTER DINNER WE TALK DREAMS’ loungy, dreamy vibe is one of the most cozy of the year.
If I were Nigo, Japanese clothing designer and founder of hip-hip staple BAPE, and had the ability to work with Pharrell to bring in some of the hottest hip-hop artists working today (A$AP Rocky, A$AP Ferg, Tyler the Creator, Pusha T, Kid Cudi, Clipse, Pop Smoke, Gunna, and Lil Uzi Vert) to work on an album, I know I would. That’s what Nigo is doing with I Know NIGO! Mostly Produced by Pharrell and his Neptunes partner Chad Hugo, the album embodies the energy of trying to one-up your buddies at a listening party (“Oh, you like this song? Check this out!”) as much as it feels like those buddies getting in the studio to try and one-up each other with their verses. As a huge Tyler fan, “Come On, Let’s Go” is one of my favorites from recent memory, and he riffs flawlessly with A$AP Rocky on “Lost and Found Freestyle 2019,” but everyone is bringing their A-game, and I Know NIGO! ends up feeling like a lost mixtape of the best hip-hop collective to never exist.
Last year was a good year for pop-punk and this year was a great year. Mint Green’s All Girls Go to Heaven begins with an acoustic guitar and vocalist Ronnica on an island on “Against the Grain” and the follow up “Body Language” begins quiet as well, before the chorus kicks in with an impassioned energy that builds throughout the album, peaking during “Make Me Stay.” Mint Green continues a fantastic effort, weaving between dream pop, indie rock, and pop-punk, living in between all three on the superbly fuzzy “(We) Should have Spoken.” One of the best debut albums of the year, and simply among my favorites, Mint Green made a hell of a first impression.
Danger Mouse had a good year. This is an unofficial shoutout to INTO THE BLUE, the long awaited album from his collaboration with The Shins’ James Mercer, an album I’ve enjoyed but hasn’t resonated with me as strongly as their previous two. Especially since Danger Mouse’s finest collaboration since the biggest song in the world, “Crazy,” came this year with his and The Roots’ Black Thought working together to release Cheat Codes, an album steeped in lo-fi beats and A+ bars. The pair alone would be dynamite without any features; the roster they include elevates the album to be truly legendary. A posthumous verse from MF DOOM (all caps, always) is the highlight of the album, although there’s a half-dozen or so tracks scattered throughout that you could convince me are the peak. Not a lull to be found in this one, and this remains in my rotation after several months.
Whenever you’re reading a top 10, you have to ask if the premise is the 10 best albums, or the writer’s 10 favorite albums. These are 10 of my favorites, and Midnights is probably the album of the year for quite a few (my fiancée very much included). The songwriting isn’t the huge step down some have discussed from Folklore and Evermore, and I much prefer the gentle hand of Aaron Dessner to Jack Antinoff on the production side of things. So is Midnights a worse album than her previous two? I’d certainly make the case. Do I like it more? Absolutely. I wasn’t as wowed in my initial impressions, but sitting with the album the last month, it’s become one of my comfort albums. The middle third drags. “Anti-Hero” is overplayed to hell at this point. But my brain feels fuzzy whenever “Lavender Haze” starts, and I know I’m settling in for a great pop album. There’s a million reasons why I could have left this album off this list, but one reason it’s here: I really, really like listening to it. It’s fun, explores a few different styles of Swift’s career (you can’t convince me otherwise, “Vigilante Shit” is a Reputation B-side), and at the end of day, it’s been a unique experience being a full on Swifite for once (don’t worry, loyal Best Song Ever listeners, we got tickets). Midnights is a cat, purring in my lap ‘cause it loves me.
I said it was a great year for pop-punk, and Pinkshift is a huge part of that. They dropped their debut album Love Me Forever in October (on what we described as TayRaeDay on Best Song Ever), but they’re album maybe the one that stands the test of time for me – if Paramore’s RIOT!, Fall Out Boys’ From Under the Cork Tree, and My Chemical Romance’s Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge can still maintain a grip on me 15+ years later, Pinkshift is probably here to stay too. I don’t put them in my pantheon of pop-punk lightly; Love Me Forever is an incredible first effort from a band that brings an insane amount of energy to their music. The Baltimore, MD three-piece has a level of polish on this album that my brain enjoys, without losing the fuzzy garage sound that my gut loves.
Anyone who knows me personally, professionally, or has passed by me on the street and glanced at my phone knows I have a been a huge Carly Rae Jepsen fan since her 2016 cult-hit E·MO·TION. It’s the album that opened me up to pop music, from my days of being a broody pop-punk teen to an indie-obsessed young adult. But less on me and more on CRJ – The Loneliest Time is her most mature-sounding album to date. After a pair of A & B-Sides with E·MO·TION (and Side B) and Dedicated (and Side B), she’s put a diverse slate of songs on display – starting with the first single “Western Wind,” Jepsen has pursued a more singer/songwriter approach to some of my favorites on the album like “Go Find Yourself or Whatever” and “Bends.” Not to say she hasn’t brought the bangers; “Joshua Tree,” “Bad Thing Twice,” “Anxious” (the most necessary bonus track I’ve ever heard) and the viral title track are Jepsen at her best. Will we get a side B of this album? As a fan of good music, I hope so, but I’d be content with leaving this album as an excellent demonstration of Jepsen’s musical chops, and turn towards the future to see another project where she may expand those chops further.
A little late for thanksgiving, but I’m thankful for my Best Song Ever co-host Luke LaBenne for turning me onto, like, half the good music I listen to. As a previous listener and now member of the podcast, I’ve been a fan of Lucius both times he’s played them. But Second Nature resonated deeply with me from the jump. The disco-y funky title track starts the album strong and it does not step back from the vibes. “Next to Normal” features a harmonizing ghostly wail going into the chorus, challenging the song to maybe be a great pick for your Halloween playlist. Second Nature ascends towards “Dance Around It,” an anthemic peak featuring Brandi Carlile & Sheryl Crow, but the descent towards the more somber-sounding final track “White Lies” is not without highlights; “Tears in Reverse” is a synth-driven, biting, moody track that occupied my head for a solid month this spring, which is when this album got the most play for me this year. I’m happy to revisit it months later and confirm that it’s among the best of the year.