We’ve arrived at the final round, folks. The true heavy-hitters. The absolute classics that I’m pretty sure I’ll keep going back to over and over when they’re ten years, twenty years – heck, maybe even fifty years old if I’m fortunate enough to still be around then!
The realization that I had a pretty interesting cross-section of artists ranging from household names to the downright obscure on this list piqued my curiosity about whether there was some reasonable way to measure exactly how popular each of them were. It’s honestly not something I’ve ever paid super close attention to – I can usually get a sense of when someone whose music I happen to like has achieved A-list celebrity status around the world, because I’ll hear their music pretty much everywhere when I’m out and about in public, and their concerts will usually be prohibitively expensive. On the other end of the scale, when an artist is so-small time that only a small cluster of people seem to know about them, merely acquiring their music or finding out more about them for the sake of writing a review can be challenging. Word of mouth, and recommendations from other artists I enjoy, are often my primary means of getting into an artist, so for pretty much everyone between those two extremes, I often don’t know how many like-minded fans there are, or what demographic is most into them, until I catch a live show and start people-watching.
Welcome to the penultimate section of the Top 100 list! We’re looking at nothing but A-grade material from here on out, folks. Before we dig into the next 20 albums I’ve chosen to highlight, let’s talk about what genres are represented on this list.
Admittedly the concept of “genre” is a tricky thing to define, and I’ve played fast and loose with it as I’ve reviewed albums over the years, sometimes not applying genre tags consistently to the same artist making more or less the same style from one album to the next. or they’ve undergone a radical change in their sound, and yet I still consider them part of the old genre in my mind because they’re still associated with that scene. It’s more of an art than a science, and often the records that excite me most will dabble in a wide array of genre influences, making an accurate descriptor for their sound as a whole rather difficult to nail down.
We’re at the midpoint of the list now… this is where the absolute best of the B-plus range starts to blend into the A-minus range. But first, some more fun facts (or at least, facts that a nerdy analytical guy like me considers fun), this time related to geography. Where in the world are all of these artists from?
I’m gonna keep it lean this year and just stick to a Top 10 Albums list instead of my usual 20. It just seems right, what with the smaller pool of albums that I had to choose from which got a strong enough positive reaction from me that I’d recommend them to others without hesitation. This year I only gave a single album an “A” grade, and the rest of these are in the B to B-plus range. You might wonder if that’s a side effect of having listened to so much music from earlier in the decade over the course of 2019 (in preparation for the Decade-End list I’ve got coming up early in the new year) that I didn’t really make a lot of time for new releases, but I compared my 2019 Music Journal to the one from 2018, and I actually listened to almost the same amount of new albums both years. And I definitely tried brand new artists this year who might not have seemed at first like they’d be up my alley when their music was described to me – a few of those even landed in my Top 10! So it wasn’t for a lack of opportunity, or attentiveness on my part.
Anyway, these are the 10 albums that impressed me most in 2019. I’m sure I’ll eventually find others to add to this list retroactively (feel free to leave suggestions in the comments), so I don’t consider this a done deal. But it’s the end of the year now, and I wanted to at least document what albums I enjoyed the most while they were brand new.
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: Vampire Weekend Album: Father of the Bride Year: 2019 Grade: B+
In Brief: It’s been six years, and Vampire Weekend has made their long-anticipated fourth album worth the wait. In many ways the music is sunnier and folksier than their past stuff, yet their love of electronic sampling and worldbeat influences still strongly influences their sound, which has taken a notable stylistic leap forward. Not all of these 18 songs are winners, and there are a few sections of the album that drag as a result of its long-windedness, but that gives the band room to try a lot of different things and see what sticks, and I’m happy to report that the vast majority of it does.
For the third and final entry in this long-winded look back at the music that mattered to me this year, I present the cream of the crop – the albums that provided me with the most satisfying listening experience from beginning to end, which is a much more difficult feat than simply hooking me with a catchy song or two, and arguably a feat many artists have given up on in the age of digital music that can just as easily be released for bite-sized consumption on a sporadic schedule, rather than thought through as a fully-formed artistic statement. These albums don’t have that much in common with one another, but taken all together, they represent the weird snowball of influences that make up my musical tastes these days, ranging from old favorites who have resurfaced after lying dormant for many years, to buzz-gathering indie artists who have begun to break out of the blogosphere and into some version of “the mainstream”, to those who have given up entirely on mainstream fame and are content to Kickstarter and Indiegogo their way into fans’ hearts with no traditional support structure whatsoever. It’s all a very weird mix, but it’s all quite delicious.
It’s time to kick off my yearly obsession with counting things that it really makes no sense to put in order. More detailed write-ups on the full lengths albums that captivated me this year are to follow, but for now, here’s a haphazard list I’ve compiled of 100 songs that moved me this year… some physically, some emotionally, some both.