As 2019 comes to an end, it’s time to reflect on the year’s finest musical releases.
The past 12 months have provided listeners with quality music. Pop and hip-hop continued their chart domination with notable releases from Lizzo, Ariana Grande and Tyler, the Creator, while rock and metal contributed with strong efforts from Blood Incantation, The Twilight Sad and Opeth.
Music enthusiasts were spoiled for choice this year. With so many great releases, how can one be certain they aren’t missing out on the very best?
Don’t worry, Arts Desk has you covered. Check out these albums to ensure you experience the best that 2019 had to offer.
Pedro the Lion - “Phoenix”
Genre: Indie Rock
No other album in 2019 was able to top Pedro the Lion’s January release “Phoenix.” The band’s first release in 15 years is an incredible, emotionally gripping 45-minute exploration into frontman David Bazan’s childhood in Phoenix, AZ.
Top tracks “Circle K” and “Black Canyon” are masterclasses in songwriting and storytelling, showing what makes “Phoenix” great. “Circle K,” with its subdued guitar and bass lines, is profoundly sad and relatable, while “Black Canyon,” with its swirling guitars and powerful vocals, is a journey that demands repeated listens.
The album’s greatest strengths are its simplicity and lack of pretension. “Phoenix” never tries to sound groundbreaking and it isn’t going to surprise any listeners with its fairly par-for-the course indie rock musicality. But the album will impress you with its honesty and transparency, defiantly standing out amidst a sea of disingenuous and plastic indie rock artists of today.
Don’t overlook Pedro the Lion’s “Phoenix.” Give it a listen, and you’ll understand why it is the best album released in 2019.
Black Midi - “Schlagenheim”
Genre: Experimental Rock/ Noise Rock
Black Midi came out of nowhere. The London-based rock quartet made waves playing on KEXP and live with former Can-member/experimental music legend Damo Suzuki in 2018, but before that, the group hadn’t released anything.
Then, in June, after some quiet single-releases, the group released “Schlagenheim” and its popularity skyrocketed. Listening to the album, it’s not hard to tell why. The band members, despite all being 19-21 years old, are all fantastic musicians with an ear for crushing and complex noise rock.
From the quiet and slow build of “Speedway” to the all-out political assault of “Near DT, MI,” the album pulls just as much influence from ‘70s groups like Genesis, Talking Heads and Can as they do ‘90s groups like Fugazi and Slint. For a truly one-of-a-kind rock record, look no further than “Schalgenheim.”
The Lumineers - “III”
Genre: Indie Rock/Folk Pop
Finding deep meaning behind hit songs today can feel like a futile effort. The Lumineers’ latest album, “III,” breaks this by artfully weaving together killer melodies and cinematic flare to tell the story of a crumbling family’s journey with addiction.
The format of “III” is uniquely divided into three sections (Gloria, Junior and Jimmy) each with three songs following the journey of generationally different members of the Sparks family. The true genius comes from the different tone that each part of the album captures.
“Gloria Sparks” is filled with upbeat piano that acts as a symbol for the addiction she is dealing with. In contrast, “Junior Sparks” has very little piano and more subtle undertones of guitar because he is the only member of the family to not directly suffer from an addiction. The album culminates in “Jimmy Sparks,” which is a chaotic and confusing mix of gentle refrains and building anxious undertones.
Every tune on the record is just oozing with symbolic brilliance that makes it both a joy and heartbreaking to listen to. The subtle themes from their former albums still resonate giving a fitting adieu to their past work transforming the album into a history of family, love and sorrow.
The arts desk can be reached at email@example.com.
Alex Whetham is an asst. arts editor for The Spectrum.