Exclaim!'s Top 29 Albums of 2019 So Far

Exclaim!'s Top 29 Albums of 2019 So Far


10. Flying Lotus
Flamagra
(Warp)


Consistent in both his genre fusion and world-building, Flying Lotus brought the heat once again with Flamagra, a set of songs conceived around the idea of an eternal flame.
 
The album demonstrates a more even stylistic approach than jazz-leaning predecessor You're Dead!. Exercises in jazz and funk like "Spontaneous," "Takashi" and "Andromeda" are set against beat-forward moments like "Post Requisite," "Capillaries" and "Pygmy," which serve as familiar warmth for fans of FlyLo's past loops. As he told us in a recent interview, it's also no coincidence that Flamagra ends the same way it begins.
 
Gathering around FlyLo's flame are a host of familiar faces and newcomers who faithfully fuel his vision. Across the listen, collaborations with Thundercat and string wizard Miguel Atwood-Ferguson prove indispensible. Tierra Whack revels in the ramshackle beat of "Yellow Belly," while Denzel Curry's heated delivery on "Black Balloons Reprise" powers the album to its fiery apex.
Calum Slingerland
 
9. Better Oblivion Community Centre
Better Oblivion Community Centre
(Dead Oceans)


Better Oblivion Community Center, the eponymous debut album from Bright Eyes leader Conor Oberst and singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers' new band, is a meeting place for the disillusioned; crafted against a backdrop of injustices and heartbreak, these folk-rock songs are lined with broken bodies.
 
In a particularly bleak moment within the final quiet moments of opener "Didn't Know What I Was in For," Bridgers and Oberst liken being alive to a contractual obligation: "Living's just a promise that I made," they sing.

These two artists make soundtracks for those whose hearts are perpetually heavy, and so while Better Oblivion Community Center is a double-scoop of melancholia, there is an encouraging camaraderie present. Whether singing together or individually, among the soft light of hushed acoustic soundscapes or fuzzy anthemic rock tracks, Oberst and Bridgers offer assurance that you're not alone.
Laura Stanley
 
8. Full of Hell
Weeping Choir
(Relapse)


Full of Hell are a Renaissance band. From their earlier hardcore albums, to their experimental collaborations with artists like Merzbow, to the focused attack of death metal and grindcore on 2017's acclaimed Trumpeting Ecstasy, Full of Hell have displayed an affinity and talent for crafting a diverse range of extreme music.
 
With Weeping Choir, the band have written their most comprehensive album yet, reflecting back on all the sounds they have worked with in the past. The same lacerating death/grind of its companion album Ecstasy is here, but unlike its kin, Weeping Choir revels in Full of Hell's complete repertoire, interjecting grind with bludgeoning hardcore riffage and maddening noise.
 
Weeping Choir is the total realization of Full of Hell's sound, a creative output that is deeply personal and unique. It's an important album not only for the band, but for metal itself, evidence that there are still fringes left unexplored and sounds undiscovered.
Jack Kelleher
 
7. The National
I Am Easy to Find
(4AD)


Everything the National were doing prior to 2019 was working great; consistently churning out an enjoyable record once every couple of years, replete with well crafted, sufficiently woebegone folk-rock songs seemed like a perfect formula. But then, from out of nowhere, I Am Easy to Find dropped like a bomb.
 
The album was released alongside a short film directed by acclaimed filmmaker Mike Mills, who was also an active collaborator on the musical component of the project. The band were also joined by a star-studded list of collaborators during the recording process.
 
At 64 minutes in length, the album feels epic in scope. The stories told here span decades; songs reference everyone from R.E.M. to Patti Smith and are just as diverse, musically. The album's sheer length, and its attempts to grapple with so much at once, only make it feel more fleshed out and human; it's moving in its imperfections, ultimately triumphant.
Sophie Brzozowski
 
6. Weyes Blood
Titanic Rising
(Sub Pop)


After perfecting her classic, country-flecked balladry on her third album, Front Row Seat to Earth, Weyes Blood mastermind Natalie Mering aimed for something bigger on her next LP, this year's Titanic Rising. Perhaps best categorized as 'cosmic folk,' the album finds Mering building on her rich songcraft by adding layers of instrumental and production flourishes: the dense beds of strings on the climax of opener "A Lot's Gonna Change," for example; thick slide guitar licks on "Andromeda"; and the soft synth arpeggiations of album centrepiece "Movies" which, in an astonishing tonal shift, takes a hairpin turn just past the halfway mark into an urgent, horsehair-shredding strings section.
 
Mering's songs blend the best of musicians like Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Patsy Cline, but the themes are updated for the malaise of the modern day. Throughout Titanic Rising, she tackles heady topics like loss of love and faith and the interminable turmoil that defines day-to-day life, but Mering never forgets the strength of the individual. Sure, "a lot's gonna change," as she sings in the opening title's refrain, but she immediately adds some reassurance: "You got what it takes."
Stephen Carlick
 
5. Solange
When I Get Home
(Columbia)


Flattening past, present, future and speculative fiction like a mood board sparkling with candy paint and synthesizer interfaces, on When I Get Home, Solange reframes her Houston, Texas hometown as utopian black dreamscape. A myth-building project that's more fluid and freeform than 2016's A Seat at the Table, it's a study of place in constant flux, tracks sliding into each other in a haze while Solange narrates using artful repetitions. Spare and accentual guest appearances from Gucci Mane, Playboi Carti and Tyler, the Creator emerge as if part of the landscape, while nearly half as many interludes as there are proper tracks stitch it together, like asides pulling up Instagram stories of Houston residents.
 
Like ambient music, this dream-inducing quality can necessitate multiple listens, but these also reward with new experiences, simultaneously providing a bigger, all-encompassing one that feels quintessentially here and now.
Tom Beedham
 
4. Carly Rae Jepsen
Dedicated
(604 Records/Universal)


Where E•MO•TION proved Carly Rae Jepsen was more than just the "Call Me Maybe" singer, Dedicated solidifies her success as more than luck. It's a little more subdued than her last album, but the raw emotions in Jepsen's lyricism and consistently catchy '80s pop sounds make this record instantly familiar and inviting.
 
Dedicated fearlessly tackles the ups and downs of love through Jepsen's lens, with undeniably relatable results. Whether she's embracing overbearing tendencies ("Too Much"), burying a romantic spark for fear of being hurt ("Happy Not Knowing") or experiencing the ever-elusive feelings left from the one that got away ("Julien"), Jepsen's unbridled openness provides catharsis for the heart. Along with the theatrical lyricism, the album's soft disco beats, dreamy synths and never-ending stream of hooks make for another album of non-stop bops.
Joe Smith-Engelhardt
 
3. PUP
Morbid Stuff
(Little Dipper/Universal)


It's got to be hard enough to best the fabled sophomore slump, but managing to pull a three-for-three after releasing two beloved outings must be even tougher. Despite the uphill battle, PUP's third album is almost certainly their best, assaulting your senses with the band's lowest emotional lows and highest musical highs to date.
 
From the rambling spoken word intro of "Kids" to the literal meltdown that plays out over "Full Blown Meltdown," vocalist Stefan Babcock uses the 36-minute runtime of Morbid Stuff as nihilist exposure therapy; the record nose-dives into oblivion only to come out the other side less afraid of the calamity and more aware of the small, personal lights in an otherwise garbage existence.
 
It almost feels unfair to ask Babcock to keep diving deeper into the pool of self-doubt he's splashed around in since 2013. But as long as he's choosing to do this, every time PUP pop back out for a breath of air is a cause to gather 'round.
Corey Van den Hoogenband
 
2. Tyler, the Creator
IGOR
(Columbia)


Heartbreak is a harrowing experience filled with hurt, rage, longing and spurts of dark humour — all of which Tyler, the Creator captures perfectly on IGOR. But the album is more than a heartbreak opus; its true message is that feeling your feelings is a very human experience, and it ought to be celebrated.
 
Tyler communicates this in deceptively clever ways. On IGOR, he's a frenetic and desperate protagonist, but he tempers the melancholy with bold, iridescent production — there's brightness behind the despair. And, though the album is rife with high-profile features (Kanye West, Pharrell and Solange, to name a few), Tyler tucks them between IGOR's layers so that no one voice is ever quite discernible. We're all the same. Emotions are what equalize us.
 
Innovative and honest, IGOR implores us to remember beauty, even in life's crappiest moments. Vulnerability, after all, can be a superpower.
A. Harmony
 
1. Sharon Van Etten
Remind Me Tomorrow
(Jagjaguwar)


Sharon Van Etten has always done heartbreak and devastation well, and her first decade of popularity established her as a singer-songwriter unafraid to delve headfirst into the darker side of human emotion. But then, curiously, things started to pick up. In the five years since her last album, Are We There, Van Etten went back to school, had her first child and broke into acting. She considered abandoning music entirely.
 
In a chaotic world, Van Etten's emotional poise led her to make sense of it all on Remind Me Tomorrow. Extinguishing the last embers of her folk influence in favour of traces of synth-driven heartland rock, Remind Me Tomorrow expands her sound to bring some jubilant highs to the heartrending lows she's long since mastered. "I Told You Everything" and "Jupiter 4" are Van Etten fare at its most refined, while stadium-sized rockers "Comeback Kid" and "Seventeen" showcase her arrival into impending rock stardom, delicately balancing newfound euphoria with her well-worn sense of foreboding.
 
Remind Me Tomorrow is anthemic but not saccharine, melancholic but not austere. Van Etten embraced the chaos to create a bold and unsparing work that captures a vast emotional range — you can't help but feel it all.
Matt Bobkin