The Best Albums of 2019

With our Best of the Decade lists in the books, it almost feels anticlimactic to look back on just 2019. But that would be unfair to a year that provided us with a breadth of music that broke molds, reinvented artists, and introduced us to some of the voices that will surely define the next decade.

We previously talked about 2019 as a year that saw the end of genre as we know it. And sure, that’s probably an overstatement, but it’s clear that this year saw a very real blurring of the lines. The best hip hop album of the year could hardly be categorized as just that. Much of this year’s pop music felt fresh and starkly different than what we’re accustomed to. So let’s look back at a year full of surprising and fascinating albums. And as always, share your favorites in the replies!

15. blink-182 – NINE

I am of the camp that believes that 2016’s California was the moment of blink-182’s true re-birth. An album that captured at least some of the spark of the band’s early days without feeling like it was set in the past. But I wasn’t expecting NINE – an album that sounds like a band (finally) growing up and expanding their sound in all of the ways that make sense. And look, I’m aware of the need for eye rolls upon seeing an album like this on a list like this, but when I listen to NINE, I hear an album that feels fresh and relatable. And that’s not normal for a band that saw its heyday flash before its eyes two decades prior. – Kiel Hauck

14. New Found Glory – From the Screen to Your Stereo III

Anyone can make an album of covers, but it takes talent to make them sound unique and worth covering. From the Screen to Your Stereo III is not only the best of New Found Glory’s series of songs from movies, these songs sound as though they were made for the band from the start. Fast, playful and emotional, From the Screen to Your Stereo III is a joy to listen to and a masterclass on turning what should be a gimmick into art. – Kyle Schultz

13. Tiny Moving Parts – Breathe

This album may come as a surprise because of the albums I’ve waxed poetic about in our podcasts and other reviews this year. Breathe is the perfect math rock album the scene needed to cement the subgenre as a staple part of the pop punk family. All of Tiny Moving Parts’ albums are great, but Breathe is incredible. There’s not a track out of place, and it flows seamlessly. Tiny Moving Parts are the perfect band to start a math rock journey with, but you may just stop there, because they are truly the best in today’s scene. – Nadia Paiva

12. Bring Me the Horizon – amo

Unlike much of the old metalcore guard that has begrudgingly adapted their sound to something much more mundane and unimaginative, Bring Me the Horizon have spent the better part of the decade crafting their future as artists. Amo is an album unlike any other in rock this year, and maybe ever. A genre-bending affair the finds the band dipping their toe into electronica, pop and alternative, the album twists and turns, sonically and thematically, throughout, keeping the listener off-kilter, but fully engaged. Amo isn’t an album for the fans, but it’s an endeavor that sets them apart from their peers and opens new doors of possibility for a band that is dead set on sticking around. – KH

11. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – Routine Maintenance

Considering it is a sequel album, Routine Maintenance manages the seemingly impossible task of meeting the cavernous emotional depths of its predecessor. Creator Dan Campbell shows real growth of Aaron West’s character, who has led quite the life in the five years between albums (“Bury Me Anywhere Else”). Having put Aaron through absolute hell, Campbell successfully shows the resolve and determination of a person building a new life for themselves in a fully realized and vibrant world. Routine Maintenance is an album about rebirth (“Runnin’ Toward the Light”) and the strength of family (“Routine Maintenance”). – KS

10. From Indian Lakes – Dimly Lit

Another album from the DIY, lo-fi world is the latest offering by From Indian Lakes. He released this, his fifth album, independently, and created magic. I love when artists get to truly express themselves and Dimly Lit is one of the best examples. It takes twists and turns, but Joey Vannuchi holds all the strings in his hands, never letting them get tangled. Borrowing plenty of support from the outside, the album is filled with gentle lyrics and a swelling soundscape that will make you fall in love. – NP

9. Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated

It isn’t easy to follow-up one of the most heralded pop albums of the decade, but Carly Rae Jepsen has never been one to dwell on past success. Frankly, it’s unfair to compare Dedicated to E-MO-TION, but if you have to split hairs, the former is a more grown-up style of pop music. Jepsen leans into her seductive side without losing the more relatable elements of her lyrics and personality that draw her fans in. From the quirky synthesizers that open the album on “Julien” to the funky beat of “Want You in My Room”, Jepsen finds new tools to add to her arsenal without losing sight of the elements that make for a great pop record. Put plainly, Dedicated is a delight. – KH

8. The Early November – Lilac

Lilac is easily the most diverse album in The Early November’s career. Effortlessly juggling new stylistic choices with the group’s renowned emotional sensibilities, Lilac is ambitious, unpredictable and sweeping. Vocalist and songwriter Ace Enders pushes himself to a career-defining high across an album that is ultimately about finding the strength to save yourself from a number of addictions and vices. The instrumentation from each band member is intricate, lavish and astoundingly gorgeous. After a career of refining their sound, Lilac is the album that The Early November were always trying to write. – KS

7. Wallows – Nothing Happens

While I didn’t formally write about this album this year, it quickly became a favorite. I’ve long been a fan of lo-fi pop rock and Nothing Happens is the best of the best. It’s packaged in soft, melodic ribbons and bows but there’s plenty of punch – glitter in the card, if you will. The members of Wallows wrote a great album about dealing with the end of adolescence and being forced into the big adult world. – NP

6. Tyler, The Creator – Igor

Tyler, The Creator began the decade as one of the most divisive artists in the country, seemingly driven by shock value and an outdated, misogynistic approach in a genre that was trying to shed that label. Things began to shift around the time of Tyler’s surprisingly vulnerable Flower Boy, and Igor seems to capture his full metamorphosis. A venture more inspired by funk and neo-soul than rap, Igor finds Tyler sensitive and gentle as a singer, but more than anything, it solidifies him as an artist willing to take risks. And in doing so, he has become one of the most fascinating producers and songwriters in hip hop. – KH

5. The Regrettes – How Do You Love?

How Do You Love? Is an album that immediately makes a name for itself by being loud, fun and sincere. A collection of songs about falling in love, The Regrettes manage to take the most generic topic in music and make it completely their own. The album is a playful mixture of  sincere sweetness (“Coloring Book”), emotional conflict (“Dead Wrong”) and sarcastic confusion (“How Do You Love?”). The guitars expertly weave indie pop and garage surf rock into an explosive sound. This album also includes one of the year’s best singles and music videos, “I Dare You”. – KS

4. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell

Lana del Rey released Norman Fucking Rockwell to a fanbase ready for a new direction from the alt pop princess. She tells tales of the harder parts of fame here, highlighting personal insecurities, making the album one of her more relatable projects, but wraps it all in a fresh take on Americana that made the wait worth it. A jazzy cover of a Sublime song and a poignant closer make this album one of the best of the year. – NP

3. Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

Billie Eilish has been on a collision course with this moment for a while now. A moment in which genre lines have become almost completely blurred and artists are no longer confined by industry gatekeepers and the major label machine. No matter how you feel about it, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? has to be considered one of the year’s defining albums, simply because of its impact. At age 17, Eilish may have broken pop music, being much more interested in making something that interests her than making something that comforts our expectations. Funny thing is, Eilish is an undoubtedly great artist, and this thing she has created will be now be mimicked by many, creating a new pool of music that is quite unlikely to hold a candle to its inspiration. – KH

2. Taylor Swift – Lover

A highlight in a career of high points, Lover is a powerful album drenched in romanticism. Every story told throughout the album reflects a hopeful future, even in the darkest moments. Gloss pop mixed with deep R&B beats and hints of Swift’s country roots peek through the cracks to create a sound that is as intimately familiar as it is diverse (“Cruel Summer”). However, Lover still finds time to highlight an anti-patriarchy anthem (“The Man”) and a commentary on the current state of politics (“Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince”). Lover celebrates Swift’s past by somehow poising her future to shine ever brighter. – KS

1. Copeland – Blushing

Blushing is at the top of my list because of how it has stayed in my mind since Valentine’s Day. Along with the unconventional Thursday release date to fit with the album’s themes, the album was one of my most anticipated at the end of 2018, and my first five-star review of 2019. It continued Copeland’s musical journey in the same vein as 2014’s Ixora, and brought back a lot of the whimsy we’ve seen in their earlier releases. Blushing is set to stand the test of time as a beautiful piece of art, and a gem in the crown that is Copeland. – NP

Honorable Mention

Hozier – Wasteland, Baby!
Say Anything – Oliver Appropriate
Queen of Jeans – If You’re Not Afraid, I’m Not Afraid
Lizzo – Cuz I Love You
Maggie Rogers – Heard it in a Past Life

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Summer 2019 and the Death of Genre

This year’s song of the summer is undeniable, but what does it tell us about the future of music? Evan Sawdey of PopMatters joins Kiel Hauck to break down the success of “Old Town Road”, the rise of Billie Eilish, and the odd absence of some of pop music’s biggest stars on the charts this summer. They also discuss Taylor Swift’s new album, Lover, break down their “deserted island discographies,” and share their most anticipated albums set to release in the back half of 2019. Listen in!

Like our podcast? Come join the conversation on Flick Chat.

What was your song of the summer? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Melanie Martinez – K-12

When I think of controversy in music these days, I immediately think of Billie Eilish. Her album was unique and her videos are provocative. Even the way she dresses has made headlines. But before Billie released When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, there was Melanie Martinez. She started as a contestant on season 3 of The Voice, auditioning with Britney’s “Toxic”. She didn’t win, but that appearance catalyzed a career that made it possible for artists like Billie to push the boundaries they do.

You can stream K-12 on YouTube.

Melanie released her first album, Cry Baby, in 2015, then went on to direct and star in music videos for all 13 tracks. The album covers issues like abuse, alcoholism and kidnapping. You name it, Melanie has written about it. The album tells the story of a girl named Cry Baby and her childhood. It took me some time to get into her style – the original horror-trope filled pop, disguised in the color pink and cupcake frosting – but eventually, at the prompting of a friend, I bought the album. Melanie was accused of sexual assault in 2017, although not criminally charged. She was very quiet while all of this happening, leaving social media, as well as leaving fans wondering whether she would ever release more music.

This past May, she became active on social media again and announced that she was releasing an album/film combo called K-12. It would continue the story of her alter ego Cry Baby to a boarding school with ulterior motives. It was released to YouTube on September 6th.

The album opens with “Wheels On the Bus”. She talks about how adults don’t tend to take adolescents seriously and about some of the activities teens partake in, casual sex and drugs being her choice examples. This album is much more mature than her last album from a lyrical standpoint. She seems to have taken into account the sensitive nature of her lyrics and toned it down. She hits on a lot of heavy subjects, but none as violent as tracks from her last album like “Sippy Cup” or “Tag, You’re It”.

“Class Fight” is about bullying, but in the film, there’s a moment that starts to show the project’s true intent. The class is told to stand for the pledge and a young African-American boy refuses. He says, “You hear that? Liberty and justice for all? That’s BS.” His dissenting voice is quickly silenced by school authorities, and it’s a nod to civil rights and another stab at the idea that children aren’t as wise as the authority around them.

The girl, Kelly, mentioned in “Class Fight” is another antagonist in the film that serves to further the tracks about body image, “Strawberry Shortcake” and “Orange Juice”. The latter is a very poignant track about eating disorders. “Show and Tell” is about Melanie’s experience with fame, and the idea that she’s a person, not a puppet.

Each track is obviously pivotal to the film, but as an album, the project feels long. She sings about so many things that it can feel bombarding, and after a while (before watching the film), I didn’t really know which details to focus on. I’d much rather sit and watch the hour and a half long film. The album alone kind of feels like listening to The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack without ever seeing the Broadway play. The film is free to stream on YouTube, and with its beautiful cinematography and choreography, it’s well worth the timestamp, and ends on quite the cliffhanger. As for future plans, Melanie stated in an interview that she’s planning on producing two more films.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Review: Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

It wasn’t that long ago that I was commenting to someone on the possibility that Billie Eilish may truly mark the long-expected demise of “the album.” The Los Angeles-born teen became a viral pop sensation via individual tracks and experiences released to YouTube and has continued climbing in profile song-by-song, seemingly without record industry assistance.

You can buy or stream When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? on Apple Music.

Yet here we are in early 2019 with her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? released via Interscope Records. So maybe Eilish won’t hammer the final nail into antiquated music-consumption practices (yet), but she certainly stands to be the next in line to turn pop music on its head.

Right from the start, it’s clear that Eilish is pulling at the dark, dread-filled sounds she began exploring on some of her best 2018 tracks. Indeed, “Bad Guy” and “Xanny” follow in the footsteps of hits like “You Should See Me in a Crown” and “When the Party’s Over”, which fit right in on the front half of When We All Fall Asleep.

“All the Good Girls Go to Hell” feels like the culmination of Eilish’s brooding explorations and has already been added to my next Halloween party playlist. She truly excels when leaning into her youthful agnostic indifference and tying it to fuzzy, bass-heavy production. You can practically see her smirk as she delivers the lines, “Pearly Gates look more like a picket fence / Once you get inside ‘em / Got friends but can’t invite them”.

Yet for all of the ways Eilish displays her angst and wit in the way only a teenager can, she truly shows her depth as an artist when the music dies down a little. What’s amazing is that the themes she explores so deliciously to buzz and bass sound much more thoughtful and poignant when delivered quietly.

The back half of When We All Fall Asleep feels like someone is slowly turning down the volume before closing with “Goodbye”. Here, we see past the veneer as Eilish sings lines like, “The world’s a little blurry / Or maybe it’s my eyes” on “Ilomilo” or when she digs at depression and suicidal thoughts on “Listen Before I Go”, singing, “Tell me love is endless / Don’t be so pretentious / Leave me like you do”.

Last year, “When the Party’s Over” showed us a potential roadmap to these kinds of moments, and the album reaches its high water mark with “I Love You”, a quiet, acoustic duet with her brother Finneas. The tale of a complicated relationship, it’s a reminder of how real feelings can feel, no matter your age or experience. Eilish is creating art for a younger generation of music followers, but the core concepts here are timeless.

None of this is easy to do, and it speaks to the deep talent of a 17-year-old who got started writing songs in her bedroom, just like almost every great artist. Yes, there’s filler and missteps and the general type of experimentation that makes debut albums more mystery than definition. Nevertheless, Billie Eilish has cemented herself as a bonafide pop star, even she’d have you believe she has no interest in filling that role. That’s typically how the best kinds of stories begin.

4/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.