By Alex Potratz
Let me start by saying that 2019 was more or less dominated again by Hip Hop tracks. Songs like “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X and “bad guy” by Billie Eilish commanded every second of airtime on the radio. That’s not to say there are a few diamonds in the rough and hopefully you’ll find a few below to enjoy.
This will be a list of albums from late 2018 or 2019 with the inclusion of a few EPs in primary the Alternative Rock and Indie genre. Please note the blurred lines between genres may place a band or artist in this category for you, but not for me, and vice versa. I would love to include albums from other genres, but I neither have the expertise nor the time to include all them among the rankings.
I’ll start with a few honorable mentions that deserve a shoutout that had a few great tracks or creative techniques, but didn’t have the overall firepower of the rest of the albums on this list.
Good Mood- Ball Park Music
I’m including this even though it came out in Feb 2018, just because this album flew under my radar and I picked it up again in 2019 and the album really grew on me. It has a combination of edgy nails on the chalkboard vibes and mellow tones.
It’s that album that makes you want to just sit in a hammock and watch the clouds go by.
Favorite Tracks: 5- “Exactly How You Are” and 9- “If It Kills You”
Explicit Tracks: #9
Sugar Mountain- Jack River
Another 2018 album that I couldn’t exclude. The modern day Madonna with a flair. With a deluxe version with 2 additional new songs released in 2019 this album is top to bottom pure gold. The lyrics are honest, the production is simple, there is very little to not like.
In the era of more is better this album smashes that notion. Often songs are cluttered and try hard to be the ‘most hype’ or ‘hardest drop’. This album is the complete opposite and doesn’t try to distract the listener from the vocals, of which is thoroughly displayed in this album.
Fav Tracks: 5- “Fools Gold”, 10- “Fault Line”
Explicit Tracks: #10, 14, 17
tryhard – The Band Camino
Another great album by The Band Camino is fast paced, energetic, and full of creativity. This band has always felt like a mix between COIN and Vinyl Theatre for me, but they do a decent job of differentiating themselves from the two throughout this album.
The album has some generic tracks that hold it back from a top spot in the rankings, but the top tracks deserve the attention.
Favorite Tracks: 1- “What I Want”, 3- “Daphne Blue”, and 7- “Farsighted”.
lay lines- flor
Another great album on such short notice. The blend of rock and electronic music comes together effortlessly into beautiful synth track after track.
This album is great to listen to if you want to get work done or go to sleep. Not to say its boring, but it puts you into a relaxed mood that isn’t distracting or hard on the ears.
Fav Tracks: 4- “ley lines” and 9- “money”
Not to be confused with the much more popular band Muse or the artist Beck, Beck Pete is a new singer/storyteller.
This EP goes through the process of falling in love and the songs really tell a story one by one and flow together like several creeks all flowing into a larger river.
Favorite Tracks: 2- “Future Lovers” (Don’t recommend just listening to one song, but instead listening to whole EP from start to finish)
Explicit Tracks: #2, 5
the first glass beach album- Glass Beach
This is by no means a good album. It has a surplus of teeth grinding autotune, songs drag out, and the album seems to never end as the 15 tracks stretches past the hour mark.
I merely want to point this album out for its unorthodox tracks and the fact that it’s probably the most creative album of the year by some stretch. The creativity falls short, but it’s something fresh and the risk is to be applauded when so much of music today fits into one box.
Fav Tracks: 2- “bedroom community”, 7- “calico” (Please just skip track 12)
Explicit Tracks: #6, 8, 14
Nella Vita- Grayscale
Similar to Smallpools and The Jungle Giants, Grayscale, cooks up hyperactive summer songs that will make you want to dance.
This Philadelphia band is not afraid to bang on the drums, rip guitar riffs, and get loud. They do a tremendous job of building the songs with crescendos and know when to quiet down with decrescendos as well. Songs will feel like a rollercoaster with long ascents, drops, and sharp curves. The only thing that makes this not a Smallpools album is the cover however and that keeps this from being higher.
Fav Tracks: 4- “YOUNG”, 7- “Painkiller Weather”
Explicit Tracks: #1, 8, 11
Fever Dream- Of Monsters and Men
I won’t lie that I have always had a sweet spot for Of Monsters and Men. None the less this album is terrific. This band than any causes me to paint a picture in my head as I listen. Other than the imagery they stick to their own sound.
Some bands suffer from changing their sound to what is more mainstream. Of Monsters and Men stick to their stuff and manage to make it fantastic without sounding repetitive. This could be ranked 10a for me.
Favorite Tracks: 1- “Alligator”, 3- “Rororo”, and 6- “Wild Roses”
Explicit Tracks: #10
Violet Street- Local Natives
This album is like a fine aged wine. Bitter and Sour notes, sweet notes, a tad dry in places. Some songs drag a bit and their isn’t really any cohesion between songs, but the songs still manage to fill the room and set a mood.
I don’t want to sound like I am bashing this album, because it’s great, but the songs step over each other and feel less and less unique as the album goes on. This holds the album from cracking the top 10.
Favorite Tracks: 2- “When Am I Gonna Lose You”, 7- “Shy”
What’s It Like?- Sure Sure
Sure Sure, a band out of LA, crafts a fruit salad of an album with flavors of Cage the Elephant, The 1975, Courtship., OK Go, and Coast Modern. Although not a fresh sound they take the best of each bands style and make a top notch album.
The vocals even give a Red Hot Chili Peppers feel from time to time. This album doesn’t exceed tremendously in any area or have weaknesses as well and that placed this album where it is.
Favorite Tracks: 4- “Lie Lie Lie”, and 5- “Warm Animal”
Explicit Tracks: #2
TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2019
These are far from concrete rankings and I often go back and forth, but at long last, here are the rankings.
10: Fake Tunes- Bear Hands
I remember listening to Bear Hands way back in High School and completely forgot about them until this album plopped on my lap. This album eclipses their best album “Distraction” from back in 2014.
This album is a tad too long and the vocals are a bit of a mixed bag. You either like the vocals or hate them. Regardless the vocals are unique and the band has grown to complement their vocals with the lyrics. They have turned one of their weaknesses into one of their strengths.
Favorite Tracks: 2- “Mr. Radioactive”, 4- “Back Seat Driver”, and 6- “Ignoring The Truth”.
Explicit Tracks #1,6,11
9: Social Cues-Cage The Elephant
This is a Cage The Elephant album through and through. If you like classic Cage The Elephant you’ll love this album. If you’re looking for something new from them, then this isn’t it.
The album is a reminder of their place at the top of the Alternative Rock mountain. “Ready To Let Go” again dips into mass popularity like previous hits “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked”, and “Trouble”. This album has more replay-ability and thus gets placed above the #10 spot.
Fav Tracks: 2- “Social Cues”, 6- “Ready To Let Go”, 7- “House of Glass”
8: Reflections- Fever Joy
A short 5 track EP that has a surplus of hard drumming, but is surprisingly smooth to listen to from start to finish with no weak tracks that stand out.
The first project from the duo Avery and Tean is confident and the passion from the pair is clear to see.
The album bleeds into Alt-Pop, but is well produced and is hopefully the first in a long line of discography for Fever Joy. Would put this higher if it had the depth of larger albums. 5 tracks is too little and you will crave for more.
Fav Tracks: 2- “Done Dreaming”, 3- “Reflections”, 4- “You’re Losing Control”
Explicit Tracks: #4
7: Exodus/Earth Glow-Ruelle
Much like Lorde, Ruelle has tremendous range and has very catchy melodies. The melodies aren’t the only substance there however. Her powerful songwriting tells a story.
After experimenting over the past several years she has finally found her sound. Inspiration from Broadway musicals to her piano lessons as a kid all led her to a very orchestral heavy style. Her exceptional atmospheric music akin to Lana Del Rey and one of my favorites artists SHELLS propels her past the heard to the top.
Both EPs released by her this past year were award worthy and that what puts her in such a high spot.
Favorite Tracks: 2- “Exodus” (Exodus), 3- “Skin and Bones” (Exodus), 1- “What Are We Waiting For” (Earth Glow)
6: Titanic Rising- Weyes Blood
Boy oh boy did this album shock me. One look at her lyrics and you see the poetry and emotion behind them. The lyrics plus her sheer out of this world voice will suck you into her songs. You can’t help but just go for the ride and keep listening.
Personally this isn’t my favorite music style, but you just have to bow down to how hallucinatory some of the tracks are. I would not be surprised if some people had this at the top of the list. From here on out all these albums could make an argument for #1.
Favorite Tracks: 2- “Andromeda”, 3- “Everyday”, 6- “Movies”, 9- “Picture Me Better”
5: Yumeno Garden- Last Dinosaurs
A late 2018 album cracks the list. After digesting this over the whole year this album is just peak ‘have fun with friends’ kind of song. You will not find a better upbeat album this year, period.
This album ceases to not put a smile on my face. If people listened to this album on their way to school or work, then the world would be a better place. The vocals are muddy and faded as if they are antique and I love that. The songs are also replayable and haven’t lost their charm as the year has gone on like most albums. This was my favorite album for the first quarter of the year.
Favorite Tracks: 1- “Eleven”, 2- “Dominoes”, 4- “Sense”, 5- “Happy”, 9- “Shallow Boy” (One of my favorite tracks of the year)
4: It Won/T be Like This All the Time- The Twilight Sad
The first UK band to crack the list. The unique vocals, creative textures, and introspective lyrics come together to make a complete work.
There is an edginess and thickness to the sound that comes of as someone who is calloused, damaged and in pain and it’s all very real. The realness to this music stands out against the common shallow and near sighted music that is popular nowadays. These songs are multidimensional and you take away something different after each listen.
Favorite Tracks: 3- “The Arbor”, 4- “VTr”, 7- “Auge/Mashine”, and 11- “Videograms”
3: Mystic Truth- Bad Suns
This is my favorite band, so perhaps I am a bit biased, but I think this album deserves this spot and here’s why.
They incorporate the piano better than any artist or group on this list. The vocals soar over the moon and are only matched by Bleachers. The blazing guitar and drums create a very upbeat rhythm that carries the songs forward.
Their growth from their past 2 albums is noticeable and their audience is only going to grow.
Favorite Tracks: 1- “Away We Go”, 2- “One Magic Moment”, 6- “Darkness Arrives”, 7- “Hold Your Fire”, 8- “Howling At The Sun”, 10- “Starjumper” (Can safely say there is not a bad track from front to back)
2: Twelve Nudes-Ezra Furman
This may come as a shock, but this album checks all the boxes. “The Who” sample, check. Edgy Album Cover, check. Pent up anger ready to explode, check!
All the bottled up energy comes out in this Punk Rock album. The vocals are rough and have an old 70s feel. The guitars are loud. The drums are louder.
This album shows that punk still has a place in 2019 and shows how pain and confusion can be channel from a dark place into something brighter in music.
1: Father of the Bride- Vampire Weekend
I was looking for a reason to not put this number 1 and I just couldn’t. The only bruise on this album is that it was released so slowly bit by bit. It was a bread crumb trail that I followed slowly till the full album was finally released.
After a 6 year hiatus Vampire Weekend dropped an absolute beauty of an album. Rarely do I listen to music that gets better even after the 25th time listening to it. Their use of creative instruments, beautiful duets with Danielle Haim, or use of a choir. They manage to make it work every time.
How many 18 track albums can hold your attention and maintain the level of excellence and not start sounding repetitive. Vampire Weekend took risks with this album and started flying with them. They followed a path to the end with each song regardless of how odd the ending product was. This album has fingerprints of free flowing music all over the place.
If there’s one thing for sure, Vampire Weekend will have a hard time trying to top this.
Favorite Tracks: 1- “Hold You Down”, 2- “Harmony Hall”, 5- “Big Blue, 9- “Married in a Gold Rush”
There are sure to be albums I missed and albums I haven’t had time to get to yet from the back half of this year, but that’s what’s great about music is that there’s always another new song to listen to.
My list is probably not the same as yours, but hopefully you can take away something new to listen to for the start of 2020. Have a good new year!