And now, finally, it’s time to get started with the Proper Top 100 list! A lot of truly excellent music came out in the 2010s, to the point where narrowing it down to the most deserving albums required a mental refresher on well over 200 albums that I had enjoyed during the last ten years. It’s taken me longer than expected to get this list off to a proper start, due to a bit of a counting mishap when I was choosing my finalists, resulting in some painful last-minute cuts when I realized that I had put more than 20 albums in my lowest tier out of the 100. But that’s all settled now, and I’ve got my list broken into 5 parts, during which I’ll take a look back at 20 great albums per installment.
Everything in this first section of the list would score a B+ if I reviewed it today, so it’ll be a little ways up the list before we get to the truly amazing stuff. But even within this initial batch of 20 albums, there are tons of fond memories that I get from going back and revisiting the vast majority of the tracks on each of these – and in a few cases, new memories still being formed, as I discovered a few of these albums for the first time during a huge back catalogue binge I embarked on last year.
It’s inevitable most years that some of the best music I listen to either isn’t going to fit strictly into the album format and thus won’t be eligible for my Favorite Albums list, or else it’ll have been released the previous year, and thus get added to that year’s list retroactively. In 2019 in particular, there were enough cases of this that I’m basically willing to consider this rundown of EPs, live albums, re-releases, and/or seasonal albums as my “Honorable Mentions” list for the year. 2018 also proved to be the gift that kept on giving, as I got turned on to several strong releases that I hadn’t known about yet when I wrote up last year’s countdown.
2019 was a weird year for me, in terms of the music I enjoyed most. A lot of artists put out genuinely great singles, only to follow them up with lackluster albums, EPs as stopgaps between albums, or really nothing at all. It’s a good thing I was following all of my favorite artists on Spotify, as well as some newer ones I was curious to hear more from, or else I might have not heard a good quarter of this list until 2019, if ever. Usually the vast majority of my Top 100 songs for the year comes from my favorite albums released that year, with some spillover from the year before. While that’s still true in 2019, it’s worth noting that nearly a tenth of my list this time comes from EPs or compilations rather than albums, and close to another tenth of the list is made up of non-album singles, that have yet to be attached to a larger collection of songs (assuming that will ever happen at all). While this speaks to the ability of many of my favorite artists to strike while the iron is hot in terms of getting new music out, it also worries me slightly where the longevity of the album format is concerned. But that’s an issue to discuss when I get to my list of Favorite Albums for the year. My Favorite Songs list, while eclectic and probably whiplash-inducing at certain points, definitely required some tough decision-making because there were so many great songs that spoke to me this year. At the end of the day, whether a song is part of a larger narrative or not, that’s really all that matters – whether the song stands out to me as unique in some way, and makes me want to keep coming back to listen to it over and over again. And everything on this list passed that test with flying colors!
As I do each year, I’ll give some insight into my reasons for picking the Top 30, and you can assume after that point that the ordering is somewhat arbitrary. Many of these songs (limit one per artist) are collected in my 2019 in a Nutshell playlist over on Spotify.
Artist: Polychrome Album: Polychrome Year: 2018 Grade: B
In Brief: A strong start for a promising synthpop act, in a genre where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out. Their reliance on vocal samples, bright pop hooks, and occasional more eerie/atmospheric passages to serve as a contrast, showcases diversity across this playful set of songs. But it also becomes apparent toward the end that there’s a bit of filler here – all pleasant ambient and instrumental stuff, but a bit lighter on the big, bright pop songs than I might have preferred.
My attention span for new releases is going to be somewhat scaled back this year, as I’m making a concerted effort to also catch up on the back catalogues of artists whose more recent albums I’ve enjoyed, but whose past work I’m largely unfamiliar with. I’m doing this primarily because I intend to write up a “Best of the 2010s” column once the decade is over, and I want to make sure I haven’t slept on any early-career gems from bands I got into later on. I’ve sorted all of these back catalogue releases by year in Spotify, and my plan is to devote each month to a specific year. So in January, I revisited my favorite albums from 2010 as well as any “back catalogue” releases from that year that I was previously unfamiliar with. In February, I’ve been doing the same for 2011. So I’m on target to have this particular listening project finished by September, when I’ll probably have relatively few stragglers from 2018 that I hadn’t caught up with yet. There’s no way I’ll have time to really give everything multiple deep listens the way I typically do with newer stuff, but my hope is that I’ll at least be able to identify possible candidates for a personal “best of the decade” list that stand some chance of making a big enough impression on me in a short period of time they’ll feel like essential contributions to an otherwise heavily nostalgic list. We’ll see how it goes – it could be a really fun history lesson, or a timely reminder that many of my current favorite bands didn’t arrive on the music scene fully formed.
But we’ll get to the highlights from that project in early 2020. In the meantime, here are my first impressions of the latest from Polychrome, My Epic, Copeland, Liam Singer, and Dream Theater.