These are my favorite albums of 2019. The flood of music and the variety of music in 2019 felt exhilarating, though also overwhelming. I couldn't keep it to my usual top ten, so I extended it to twenty.
My list includes fewer debut albums than ever before; Billie Eilish and Nilüfer Yanya are the exceptions, along with the Better Oblivion Community Center, the debut project of Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers. There were several albums by artists who were not new, but new to me. I encourage you to listen to Lankum, a band that takes the Irish folk tradition to deeper, darker places with earth-shaking drones. Kate Davis at one time sang jazz, but on Trophy made an outstanding pop record. You may know the song she co-wrote with Sharon Van Etten, "Seventeen." The Good Ones is a group from Rwanda, three farmers and survivors of genocide, making music with the likes of Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney, Nels Cline of Wilco, Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, and Fugazi's Joe Lally. And for bizarre atmospherics, I recommend FKA twigs and Nils Frahm.
For lyricism, Purple Mountains, the final music of David Berman, was released in July; a month later he took his life, and the anguish in these songs hit even harder. Josh Ritter tackled the politics of the day in searing fashion (listen to "The Torch Committee" for a brutal depiction of the way fear divides us). And in 2019, it was the words of Adrianne Lenker and the music of Big Thief that captivated my heart. Big Thief released two albums only five months apart and both offer the sorts of things I want from music: mystery, adventure, surprise — music that, at times, is tender, at other times explosive and sometimes all in the same song.
As I explore the many lists popping up online, I look for music I don't know, for new companions and aural experiences. There was so much of that in 2019. I hope you find some of that here.
1. Big Thief: Two Hands
2. Big Thief: U.F.O.F.
3. Angel Olsen: All Mirrors
4. Better Oblivion Community Center: S/T
5. Aldous Harding: Designer
6. Lankum: The Livelong Day
7. Mdou Moctar: Ilana (The Creator)
8. Kate Davis: Trophy
9. Joan Shelley: Like the River Loves the Sea
10. The Good Ones: Rwanda, You Should Be Loved
11. Nils Frahm: All Encores
12. FKA twigs: Magdalene
13. Nilüfer Yanya: Miss Universe
14. Billie Eilish: When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
15. Amanda Palmer: There Will Be No Intermission
16. Josh Ritter: Fever Breaks
17. Wilco: Ode to Joy
18. Purple Mountains: S/T
19. Vagabon: S/T