If I’ve realized anything about music this year, it’s that anyone who claims to hate pop music is lying. A general aversion to hit songs repeated on the radio should not be mistaken for an aversion to the genre altogether. Perhaps mainstream media gets to shape what’s popular, but it doesn’t get to decide what’s “pop.” So, when my Spotify Wrapped reported that my top-played genre was pop, I was shocked only for a second. After all, it makes perfect sense: From the catchy pop-punk choruses of Oso Oso’s summer release to the danceable grooves from Toro y Moi’s Outer Peace, 2019 was a year that I shamelessly clung to the music that made me feel good. It was the melodies to which I couldn’t help singing along that got me through countless morning commutes; it was the lo-fi bedroom pop tracks from up-and-coming twenty-somethings that assured me making good music is possible without fancy equipment. Now that the end of the year is here, let’s revisit some of the albums that made my favorite soundtracks.
20. WILLOW – WILLOW
19. Lolo Zouai – High Highs to Low Lows
18. 100 gecs – 1000 gecs
17. Whitney – Forever Turned Around
16. BROCKHAMPTON – GINGER
15. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
14. (Sandy) Alex G – House of Sugar
13. Winona Forever – Feelgood
12. Private Island – 5xx
11. Oso Oso – Basking in the Glow
10. Vacationer – Wavelengths
9. KAYTRANADA – BUBBA
8. Blood Orange – Angel’s Pulse
7. Hovvdy – Heavy Lifter
6. HOMESHAKE – Helium
5. Men I Trust – Oncle Jazz
For a nearly hour-and-fifteen-minute album, Oncle Jazz is one you won’t mind playing all the way through — that is, if you’re fond of funky bass lines and fuzzy dreampop. The Canadian group’s third LP features a carefully crafted capsule of their current essence. Lead vocalist and guitarist Emma Proulx’s breathiness blends warmly with the rest of the instrumentation, which remains minimal and purposeful. Having released about a dozen consecutive singles in between 2015’s and 2019’s record, Oncle Jazz seamlessly integrates eight reworked versions of them into a 24-track collection.
4. Barrie – Happy to Be Here
Brooklyn-based Barrie Lindsay is a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer — thus plenty equipped to launch her own music project that people have since caught on to. After piecing together a perfect five-piece band, Barrie released a very likable debut, Happy to Be Here, in 2019. The 10-track collection, according to her Spotify bio, is “a softly explosive document of Barrie’s vision for a well-crafted pop song.” Groovy guitar riffs and synth chords create a cheery yet laidback pop feel that ensures you’re happy to be there.
3. Clairo – Immunity
Up-and-coming indie-pop star Claire Cottrill (a.k.a Clairo) shattered expectations in August with her first full studio album — an intimate, sophisticated, sonic scrapbook of a young woman’s struggles with mental health, epiphanies and uncertainties surrounding love, and acceptance of her sexuality. The record doesn’t lose Clairo’s beloved lo-fi elements, and it capitalizes on the singer’s timid, sentimental vocals in serious songs like “Alewife” and “Bags,” two standouts from Immunity. Produced by Rostam Batmanglij (formerly of Vampire Weekend), the release not only made for the perfect late-summer soundtrack, but also reflected a tremendous collaborative effort that kickstarted a rising talent’s career with grace.
2. Toro y Moi – Outer Peace
Although Toro y Moi’s style is guaranteed to shift at least slightly with every release, it’s never quite fallen flat. For a producer who’s been dropping LPs regularly for a decade, that’s pretty impressive. Outer Peace contains his funkiest tracks yet, their buoyancy keeping you happily afloat along a lazy river of sorts. Not being shy to leverage autotune and other vocal effects, Toro y Moi delivered a strong synth-pop dance album this year that’s impossible to resist.
1. Crumb – Jinx
Having captured listeners’ attention with two consecutive EPs before Jinx, Crumb makes every second count on the indie group’s freshman full-length record. Arguably, it’s some of the most hypnotic, palatable psychedelic rock out there. There’s something about the jazzy elements — the freeform feel, light-as-air percussiveness, and quiet confidence — that carries you into a dreamlike yet introspective state. One of the standout tracks, “Part III,” opens with uptempo energy that eventually reels itself back into a more trademark tempo with the dazy, lazy lyrics to match: “I waste my time in the morning and evening / Caught in a feeling / I lost my mind looking up at the ceiling / It’s just a feeling.”