As a fan of alternative, punk, and metal, this year was full of quite a few triumphs — mostly ones I saw coming a mile away. Unsurprisingly, longtime favorites of mine in Norma Jean, The Menzingers, and La Dispute continued to reign their respected genres. It wasn’t too surprising either to see younger artists like Knocked Loose and Oso Oso keep on ascending. But 2019 wasn’t predictable one bit. Who could’ve imagined Slipknot returning to the scorching heights of their first two records? Who thought American Football would bring us a “new” modern classic? This year was a fantastic year for music (especially punk and hardcore), and I’d like to share my top picks with you.
25. The National – I Am Easy to Find
24. SeeYouSpaceCowboy – The Correlation Between Entrance and Exit Wounds
23. DIIV – Deceiver
22. Kings Kaleidoscope – Zeal
21. The Maine – You Are OK
20. Dayseeker – Sleeptalk
19. The Devil Wears Prada – The Act
18. From Indian Lakes – Dimly Lit
17. Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated
16. Copeland – Blushing
15. Big Thief – U.F.O.F.
14. Tool – Inoculum
13. Bon Iver – i,i
12. (Sandy) Alex G – House of Sugar
11. Startle the Heavens – Moving Gently Towards an Ending
10. The Menzingers – Hello Exile
The Menzingers became everybody’s favorite grown-up punks on 2017’s After the Party, but there’s no hangover after the party that was their previous effort. The Pennsylvania outfit has found their groove in a melodic, Americana-infused punk rock sound, and on Hello Exile, they stick to what works: gliding riffs and soaring choruses. They bring back their edge with genre fare political rants on “America (You’re Freaking Me Out),” then revert to their long-cherished nostalgic vigor, longing for lost love “Anna” and accepting what once was with “Strangers Forever.”
9. American Football – American Football (LP3)
For a band that put out one seminal album before calling it quits in the ’90s, American Football hadn’t done justice to LP1 until 2019. While LP2 was a solid reprise, LP3 assures us it was merely bridging the gap between their old and new identities. They’re better than ever fusing their signature math-y emo sound with ambient and post-rock on American Football (LP3). It’s pristine enough with Mike Kinsella out in front, but Hayley Williams and Rachel Goswell give “Uncomfortably Numb” and “I Can’t Feel You” boosts we didn’t know they needed.
8. Counterparts – Nothing Left to Love
Counterparts keeps getting better, pushing the boundaries of melodic hardcore that we didn’t know could be pushed any further. Nothing Left to Love follows up the no-frills bombardment of You’re Not You Anymore with tighter playing and more structured songwriting, giving listeners a full package that not only hits hard, but also resonates deeply. No song demonstrates it better than the destructive and desolate “Paradise and Plague.” Vocalist Brendan Murphy says they’re not reinventing the wheel, but Counterparts remains as steadfast as ever.
7. La Dispute – Panorama
It had been a full five years since we got an LP from La Dispute, though Jordan Dreyer’s lyrical sophistication and storytelling held our hankering over for as long as we could stand. Panorama continues to showcase a band evolving to softer and more pronounced textures, but it’s as prototypical of a La Dispute album as we’ve ever gotten from the Michigan natives in terms of their consistent growth and maturity. Dreyer tells a story of grief from several different perspectives behind a range of ambient indie rock soundscapes, as the members reinvent themselves once again.
6. PUP – Morbid Stuff
We thought the dream may have been over after PUP’s second album. But as they burst out the gates on Morbid Stuff, it becomes clear that it was only tongue-in-cheek — and the light tone continues across their third record, too. Their sarcastic approach to the serious topic of death is a fitting reflection of 20-somethings navigating quarter-life crises, and they do so with the most electric punk anthems of their career. From the spoken word and gang vocals of “Kids” to the grinding guitars of “Sibling Rivalry,” PUP has found their musical sweet spot, one that effortlessly defines the punk genre in 2019.
5. Knocked Loose – A Different Shade of Blue
On their sophomore disc, Knocked Loose wrote with the intention of crafting the most mosh-ready songs possible, and they succeed on all fronts. A Different Shade of Blue churns out some of the most crushing breakdowns, finger-point-worthy lines, and scrumptious guest features (i.e. Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley) the hardcore genre has seen in years. The back half is especially strong, with “Mistakes Like Fractures” and “…And I Still Wander South” competing fully with the likes of “Belleville” the title track. The band doesn’t merely punch the listener, it torches them completely with dense production and ferociously heavy parts.
4. Great Grandpa – Four of Arrows
Seattle’s Great Grandpa showed promise on their debut as an interesting ’90s alternative rock/grunge revival group. But as they transition to album two, they throw that out the window in favor of a rock sound completely enveloped in indie folk and country. Beyond subtle nods to Third Eye Blind (see: “Bloom”), the band manages to be darker and heavier in spirit despite the sonic tone-down. They work with tons of moving parts through an array of instruments, from banjo to violin to piano (even including a piano interlude). The result is an album in Four of Arrows that isn’t simply an ambitious maturation. Rather, it’s an unadulterated epic.
3. Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind
Slipknot was so heavy and angry in their early days that it’s hard to imagine the gang of nine returning to this level of heat. Still, they do their best on We Are Not Your Kind — the key conclusion being that it’s less an appeal to the past as it is an experimental and thoughtful move forward. Corey Taylor doesn’t conceal a single demon across its runtime, with the musicians putting on an igniting display of metallic fury and eerie bits of evolution. Among the most memorable cuts, they’ve written their best metal anthem in “Unsainted,” their most cinematic John Carpenter imitation in “Spiders,” and their most emotionally gripping journey in “Solway Firth.”
2. Oso Oso – Basking in the Glow
I can’t think of a better way of describing Oso Oso’s Basking in the Glow than Pitchfork’s depiction as an “extremely catchy guitar-rock album.” They showed promise with previous sing-alongs like “Reindeer Games,” but the act’s newest release is a sing-along from start to finish. The choruses shine and the guitars glide high above most contemporary indie rock, much thanks to Jade Lilitri’s penchant for writing anthems to hum under a summer night’s sky. While “Impossible Game” is tough to be reckoned with as its climbs, “A Morning Song” and the title track stick just as effortlessly. Basking in the Glow is indie rock as its most satisfying and emo as its most feel-good.
1. Norma Jean – All Hail
We were pleasantly surprised when Norma Jean put out their best album to date in 2013 with vocalist Cory Brandan and an all-new backing band. But then they did it again in 2016. Now, the third time’s the charm, as All Hail somehow knocks even Polar Similar out of the water with its thick, sludgy, metalcore mastery. It’s clear the group has found a magical concoction in their second decade as a metal collective, even if no original members remain. The formula has stayed consistent, but Norma Jean further pushes the envelope with the biggest riffs (“[Mind Over Mind]”), best hooks (“Translational”), and most bone-crushing instrumentation (the end of “Landslide Defeater”) of their lengthy career.