Top 20 Albums of 2019 (20-11)

20. Clairo: Immunity

While Clairo’s success has been so attributed to her same sex romance lyrics, the success of Immunity lies in so much more than that. The power of the album is in its restraint. Opening with a song about a friend who stopped Clairo from committing suicide in 8th grade, the album never gets too sad or too happy. On “Sofia,” she sings “I just wanna say how I love you with your hair down” which might be the most excited she sounds on the album and also one of its most memorable lines. It is memorable because of how plain spoken it is without seemingly overly poetic on its face but it is very artful in the context of the song. There are lot of those little moments sprinkled throughout the album making it one of the more satisfying listens of the year. – Adam Tercyak-Morgan

19. Field Guides: This is Just a Place

Field Guides managed to grasp the ephemeral with their newest album. The sound throughout the album feels more delicate than it is as each song develops its own texture. Sounds and instrumentation are added to steady drum beats capturing a feeling of overwhelming calm. Some genres and bands try to push the boundary of what can be musical, and Field Guides are no different. They just go about pushing the boundaries in a softer and more listenable way. – Jacob Holke

18. The Exbats: E is 4 Exbats

For a project that initially started as a fun way for a father and daughter to bond through a mutual love of music, Arizona punk band The Exbats have come a long way in a short amount of time. E is for Exbats is a compilation that collects fourteen reworkings of the group’s strongest songs selected from the band’s three full-length albums, various EPs, and a smattering of singles released over the last five years. Whether the band’s teenage singer/drummer, Inez McClain, is shouting about wanting to fuck Captain America’s sidekick or killing a friend’s abusive boyfriend, she approaches every song with a sense of youthful urgency and snarky fun. Inez’s father, Kenny McClain, plays guitar and delivers energetic, catchy riffs that compliment and bolster the band’s best punk inclinations. E is for Exbats is a tight collection that serves as a reminder that a generation gap has nothing to do with making universally relatable rock ‘n’ roll. – Andy Mascola

17. Thurston Moore: Spirit Counsel

In what would likely be considered oxymoronic, Thurston Moore has indeed created his most accessible avant-garde work to date, this spanning his impressive 40+ year career including his time with Sonic Youth, various collaborations, and individual efforts.  In contrast to his previous five solo albums and particularly to his last and perhaps most traditional album Rock n Roll Consciousness, Spirit Counsel balances on the thin equipoise of irrepressible noise and intentional lush orchestration.  Over the two and a half hours of music and triple disc set are three compositions each titled more like poems than songs.  The first, and longest at just shy of 64 minutes, “Alice Moki Jayne” is named after jazz musician and composer Alice Coltrane, visual artist and musician Moki Cherry, and poet activist Jayne Cortez.  The slow building swells of two 12-string guitars, a 6 string bass, and intermittent drumming and percussion rise and fall like the tide at times sounding like the ocean electrified by some distant source of energy.  The tension builds around these moments when the chorus of individual instrumentation conjures up imagery of columns of water being held in suspension until its boiling point at which time these aquatic obelisks collapse back into fluid form.  Upon these moments of release are when the song offers it’s most harmonious convergence and the instrumentation moves from a tightly wound soundwave to an undulating surge of warmth and release. While subsequent tracks “8 Spring Street” and “Galaxies” follow a similar blueprint, each offers its own unique sonic stamp.  The former extracting more rock oriented notation while the latter delving deeper into experimentation and noise heavy improvisation.

With obvious but not derivative nods to Glenn Branca, Tony Conrad, and Steve Reich Spirit Counsel offers a sonic temple of contemplation for the listener to utilize as she sees fit.  It is a meeting place for the musically minded as much as a liminal space for meditation across three distinct movements. While I may pause at the idea of loading up your car stereo with this album in preparation for a sunny summer drive in the countryside, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest that you could reach the same destination never having left your home with but a pair of headphones plugged into Spirit Counsel on 10. – Greg Scranton

16. Ex Hex: It’s Real

Without a penis among them, Ex Hex made the best cock rock album of the year (maybe the decade) with It’s Real. While Ex Hex has been colloquially known as Mary Timony and co, the “and co” shines brighter than on the band’s debut album with Betsy Wright’s sneering vocals on “Rainbow Shiner” sounding as good as anything Motley Crue released. The blazing opening guitars on “Good Times” would sound at home on the sunset strip in the early 80s. Standout track “Cosmic Cave” is sequenced at track 8 of ten on the album and it doesn’t even feel odd because all the way through, It’s Real is a tour-de-force. – Adam Tercyak-Morgan

15. Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride

Vampire Weekend’s fourth LP marked more than a few changes and firsts for America’s most beloved indie rock band. Delivering eighteens songs in just under an hour, Father of the Bride is the band’s longest album to date. It’s also their first on a major label, their first without multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, and their most collaborative, utilizing vocal assistance from Danielle Haim and the guitar work of Steve Lacy and Chromeo’s Dave Macklovitch to name just a few. The country-esque duet between Koenig and Danielle Haim on “Married in a Gold Rush”, the jam band inclinations of the epic “Harmony Hall”, and the soulful, jazzy touches on “This Life” all contribute to making Father of the Bride VW’s most eclectic record in terms of genre-jumping. Although often direct lyrically, with references to a failing relationship throughout, the music on Father of the Bride maintains an overall optimistic feeling. In 2019, Father of the Bride offered a welcome respite from a relentless and often irksome 24-hour news cycle. – Andy Mascola

14. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard: Infest the Rats’ Nest

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard second album of 2019, Infest the Rats’ Nest, was perhaps their best yet. An efficient nine songs at 35 minutes of white knuckle guitar and drum driven thrash metal, the Aussie collective condense their prophetic message of complete annihilation of the human race on Earth with distilled and frightening acuity.  Infest the Rats’ Nest opens with a pummeling drum beat echoed by an ensuing guitar onslaught which comprises the opening thirty seconds of the opening track “Planet B”. Vocals reminiscent of iconic late 80’s and early 90’s metal, pierce the heavily staccatoed instrumentation.  From interplanetary exploration to our current human condition to pandemic outbreaks of future super bugs that are sure to wipe out civilization as we know it King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard warn us of an impending chaotic and uncertain future on this giant spinning marble. The immediacy of action is undebatable, we must act. However, in our current condition we may only slay the beasts of our nightmares with the hope that our future will be safe from an apocalyptic world overrun by flesh hungry rats. If you’re more of a visual person than an auditory person then check out the band’s amazing 90’s era Doom-esque first person shooter game at Mars for the Rich named after the second track on the album.  If up until now things were not graphic enough for you “Organ Farmer” would not disappoint. While not entirely dark, in theory, King Gizzard take the thought of organ donation into the bizarre world of say a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film where bug eyed characters extract human organs for profit to serve some wild cyborg experiment. – Greg Scranton

13. Mdou Moctar: Ilana: The Creator

An unlikely success story but certainly an indication of how global our world has become, as of 2019 Mdou Moctar is a legitimate star in the western music world.  Hailing from a small town in the Tahoua region of northern Niger, Moctar grew up in a deeply devout Muslim family and thus the only type of lawful music was halal or vocal.  With instrumental music or haram outlawed in his community Moctar secretly built his first guitar fashioned from old bicycle parts and wire.  As his legend grew beyond Niger and throughout the continent of Africa he recorded his first album, Anar, in 2008 which was subsequently widely disseminated via early cell phone sharing rather than traditional recorded means.  From the wildly popular 2011 release of Music From Saharan Cellphones by Sahel Sounds came the influx of electrified traditional African music to the receptive audiences of the West.  Since then Mdou Moctar has been at the forefront of this movement along with fellow Nigeriens Les Filles de Illighadad and Hama.  Ilana: The Creator is unquestionably Moctars most polished and complete album to date and showcases both his range and his virtuosity as a musician.Greg Scranton

12. Karen O & Dangermouse: Lux Prima

When a band or artist works with Dangermouse, there is a fear that he will just Dangermouse their sound up, meaning he’ll give it a slick neo-soul feel and it’ll end up sounding derivative of Gnarls Barkley or Danger Doom. Those fears began to subside with last year’s excellent Parquet Courts‘ album, Wide Awake! and should be completely gone now with Lux Prima. Even with Dangermouse as a fully named collaborator, he doesn’t change Karen O’s dynamic sound but rather enhances it where possible and knowing how to sit back when necessary. From the gorgeous nine-minute titular opening track to the post-punk snarl of “Woman,” the album shows a producer and an artist in harmony together creating something that is at least the sum of its parts if not greater than. – Adam Tercyak-Morgan

11. Sneaks: Highway Hypnosis

With the exception of all but two tracks, Sneaks (Eva Moolchan) all but throws her post-punk minimalist drum machine and bass guitar formula completely out the window on her third release, Highway Hypnosis. It’s a bold move, one that could have easily been dismissed by both fans and critics as Moolchan selling out in order to embrace a more “now” sound. That kind of critique wouldn’t have been completely baseless either, as with the help of hip-hop producers Tony Seltzer and Carlos Hernandez (Ava Luna), the bulk of songs on her 2019 full-length finds Sneaks embracing genres as diverse as trap, electro, and dub. Fortunately, Moolchan is able to inject enough of her humor and unique eccentricities to make a record that takes Sneaks’ sound forward without abandoning the charmingly original traits that attracted listeners initially. – Andy Mascola