2019 is the most consequential year I’ve experienced. I’m not here to brag, just to acknowledge the major life events that sent me from college to adulthood like a cannon. For all the dense experiences, you might expect a slew of this year’s more existential records to dominate my end-of-year reflections, but that is only part of the story. Ultimately, a mix of nostalgic and pop records dominated my ear waves this year, with melody and catchiness dominating over emotional reflections of growth. While I was not immune from the bug of existenialism that caught this year’s most acclaimed records, 2019 was a year for fun growth, and many of my favorite records embody that spirit. Here’s to another fun year of growth ahead, both personally and from the artists we have all grown to love.
20. White Reaper – You Deserve Love
19. Stormzy – Heavy Is the Head
18. Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
17. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
16. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow
15. PUP – Morbid Stuff
14. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
13. The Maine – You Are OK
12. Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka
11. Fontaines DC – Dogrel
10. Tyler, the Creator – Igor
9. Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated
8. Charli XCX – Charli
7. Danny Brown – uknowwhatimsayin?
6. Oso Oso – Basking in the Glow
5. Julia Jacklin – Crushing
On the surface, Julia Jacklin’s sound seems pretty straightforward. Her tight songwriting weaves around uptempo, full-band romps alongside slower burns on piano and rainy guitars. The key to Crushing sits at Jacklin’s ability to weave emotional vulnerability into her strong core as a songwriter. While Weyes Blood, Courtney Barnett, and Lana Del Rey infuse a sense of irony and self-reference into their vulnerability, Jacklin takes from their cue of soft illustration while remaining truly vulnerable and transparent. Hailing from humble expression gives Crushing the immense staying power that it fulfills throughout.
4. The Dangerous Summer – Mother Nature
The beginning of the decade marked the commercial peak of The Dangerous Summer, whose self-reflective brand of pop-punk/emo captured a specific age demographic that no longer dominates the scene. That being said, the band uses Mother Nature to reinvest in that emotionally cathartic sound with gusto, while bringing its themes and weight to the present. The band is as potent as ever in delivering a front-to-back album experience, not too far off from Reach for the Sun or War Paint, and fueled with a strong sense of sunshine energy to combat the introspection that comes with growth. Mother Nature returns to band’s fundamentals to present another dense punch of coming-of-age pop-punk that brought the band to prominence in the first place.
3. Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!
It took a few years for Jamila Woods to fully hit the map, but those who have been following know that LEGACY! LEGACY! is the moment we have been waiting for. Woods cements herself as a tour de force of a modern neo-soul/R&B. The band behind her creates lush landscapes for her conversations about self and society. Experiences with romance, racism, womanhood, and more come to life on the record, illustrating the reciprocity between the emotional and institutional in the lives of black women in 2019. Woods is filled with confidence and candor in a powerful way throughout, crafting a story through sound that will serve as a foundation for the future in a way that few records have this year.
2. Brittany Howard – Jaime
Jaime is a succinct, precise ode to Howard’s whole self. Musically, the record colors the waters of Alabama Shakes with potent combinations of soul, hip-hop, R&B, and folk, placing Howard’s songwriting into a distinct world of exploration. Her ability to flex creates sharp melodic smashes and experimental moments alike. Lyrically, Howard weaves between the liminal space of the personal and nostalgic, reflecting on her experiences in a biracial family, finding a sense of belonging, and getting high with the right folks. Howard’s vocal performances and sharp compositions breathe life into these tracks with such fresh allure, more than distinguishing herself from the Southern soul of her parent project. It also gives us a treat of a record in the process.
1. Taylor Swift – Lover
Taylor Swift may have lost a little support as her original fanbase has aged and her reputation darkened, but Lover is full validation of her position on top of the pop world. It picks up where 1989 left off and Reputation mediated, with feisty affirmations of forgotten lovers, sad endings, and the fights she has to endure on top of the pop world. Swift re-establishes her formula of success here, working with 2010s pop extraordinaires Jack Antonoff and Joel Little, an indie legend in St. Vincent, and country rebels in the Dixie Chicks, showing how her own top notch melodic songwriting is best supported with cast members who have defined the sounds she seeks to embrace. There are so few pop songwriters who combine prolific consistency, attention to detail, and commercial success to the degree that Swift does. She practically sits in a league of her own.