The 25 Best Albums of 2019 (So Far)

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The 25 Best Albums of 2019 (So Far)

The 2019 music year has felt fruitful as ever. These last six months have delivered the rare haul of critically-adored albums that straddle pop blockbuster territory and the music nerd nation. Perhaps that’s thanks to critics’ swelling soft spot for poptimism, but our top 10 alone consists of records by pop mainstays like Carly Rae Jepsen and Tyler, The Creator, rock contemporaries Kevin Morby and Sharon Van Etten and indie newcomers like Julia Jacklin and Faye Webster. It’s not every year the mix is that diverse in terms of both genre and target audience. But that’s just 2019, a year that often makes no sense at all. Two-and-a-half years into a helter-skelter administration and firmly rooted in the chaos of the internet and the correspondingly relentless news cycle, we’re all just trying our best. Luckily, this year’s soundtrack has lent a great deal of calm and clarity. See below for the 25 best albums of 2019 so far, as voted by the Paste Staff.

Here are the 25 Best Albums of 2019 (So Far):

25. Charly Bliss: Young Enough
Recording an excellent debut album is mostly a blessing, of course. But there’s some curse involved, too, in that you have to figure out how to follow it up. That’s not easy to do. Usually, it means refusing to stagnate, lest you be labeled a one-trick pony. So you must try to record a set of songs that showcase some artistic growth and aesthetic ambition, but at the same time, you don’t want to stray too far from what worked so well the first time out. On their second album Young Enough, Charly Bliss navigates these various pressures and pitfalls without overthinking them. The hotly tipped New York City combo broke through nationally in 2017 on the strength of its debut album Guppy, a perfect—yeah, I said it—10-track blast of sweetly serrated pop-rock supercharged with punky energy and plentiful hooks. Two years later, Young Enough introduces new moods and textures without tamping down the band’s irrepressible likeability. There is unquestionably a centerpiece song on Young Enough, and that’s the title track, which clocks in at 5 minutes and 20 seconds long—an epic by this band’s standards. It’s time well-spent: slow-burning, dynamic, emotionally resonant and representative of Charly Bliss in 2019. Here, you can hear how the synthetic sounds better contextualize Hendricks’ desperate words by drawing out their meaning and feeling rather than running roughshod over them like Guppy’s rollicking arrangements. In doing so, they also open up a promising path forward for the band. That sophomore album challenge? Charly Bliss nailed it. —Ben Salmon


helado_cover.jpg 24. Helado Negro: This Is How You Smile
Already a prolific force as Helado Negro, Roberto Carlos Lange wrote the best record of his career in This Is How You Smile. Throughout his discography, the Florida-born son of Ecuadorian immigrants has looked to make sense of the Latinx experience in America. What he does with Smile, the sixth Helado Negro LP, is open up the range of his songwriting to show how universal the truths he extols truly are. Tracks like “Fantasma Vaga” and “Todo Lo Que Me Falta”—love songs in Spanish—just feel tender and relatable, no matter what your cultural lexicon is. And the endearing pop atmosphere of “Running” brings opposite poles together through music, to show that no matter what the shade of our skin is, we all ride the same emotional waves through this world. —Adrian Spinelli


Thumbnail image for AHDesignerArt.jpg 23. Aldous Harding: Designer
Forget the “gothic folk” tag that is often applied to Harding—it obscures far more than it reveals about the New Zealand singer and the slippery sound of her music. Designer, her third album, is riveting in such an offhanded and low-key way that it sneaks up and grabs you with unexpected force. It’s easy to get lost in her lyrics, which are as intense and evocative as they are inscrutable on songs that manage to simultaneously soothe and unsettle. Her music is equally absorbing on taut arrangements that combine guitars with piano and drums, and also with woodwinds, which can lend a deceptive pastoral air. She sometimes sings in a dusky murmur, but can also slide into bright, candy-colored tones. On “Zoo Eyes,” she does it from one phrase to the next. Harding has said she often pursues musical ideas without having any deeper significance in mind, which works out fine: By leaving interpretation to her listeners, her songs can mean whatever anyone wants them to. —Eric R. Danton


ToroyMoiOuterPeaceArt.jpg 22. Toro y Moi: Outer Peace
Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bear followed his enjoyable but underwhelming 2017 album Boo Boo with the smartly subdued Outer Peace, a ridiculously groovy 10-song event that feels more concerned with creating a comfortable space than bombarding the listener with content. Since his early days as a chillwave harbinger, Bear has always worked along the fringes of multiple musical communities—hints of R&B, hip hop, indie and electronica have all showed up in his music at one time or another. Outer Peace is the atmospheric mingling of them all. One minute Bear’s marrying bongos to a disco-y bassline on “Ordinary Pleasure” and the next he’s singing on “Laws of the Universe,” “James Murphy is spinning at my house / I met him at Coachella,” a clever nod to the LCD Soundsystem frontman and one of his best-known lyrics. Whether he’s distributing rock or R&B, freewheeling ambience or calculated intention, Toro y Moi is one of the most interesting figures in any circle he calls home. —Ellen Johnson


21. Better Oblivion Community Center: Better Oblivion Community Center
Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst come from the same musical orbit. One could even argue, the two songwriters—ages 24 and 38 respectively—are like long-lost musical siblings. Though at vastly different points in their careers, both musicians know how to crush and revive listeners with inspired woe, romantic poignancy and their instantly recognizable, consoling pipes. The stars aligned just in time for Bridgers and Oberst to write, record and surprise-drop a haunting album together for a brand new project: Better Oblivion Community Center—which really is their band name and not actually the name of a utopian old folks home. Better Oblivion Community Center is an unsurprisingly tender, affecting excursion. Its largely upbeat instrumentation ebbs and flows with understated folky strums and scintillating keyboards, and the occasional ray of buoyant rock ’n’ roll peeks out just when you need some lighthearted relief from their lyrics. Though many male-female vocal duos lean heavily on duets, this pair elected to skirt that norm by singing mostly in unison and in harmony rather than engaging in the sometimes cheesy call and response. Much of the record could still loosely fall into the folk camp, but there are moments that you wouldn’t expect from Oberst and Bridgers. The throbbing electro keyboards of “Exception to the Rule,” the fuzzy rock surge at the end of “Big Black Heart” and the psychedelic guitar swells on “My City” all represent a venture into new frontiers. —Lizzie Manno

Thumbnail image for SASAMI_albumart.jpg 20. SASAMI: SASAMI
There’s a tension between introspective minimalism and cathartic bombast present in every song on SASAMI’s self-titled debut, creating some of the best moments in music released so far this year. To my ears, SASAMI’s grasp of exciting songwriting is unparalleled, utilizing her degree in classical composition in equal parts with her time as a member of Cherry Glazerr. She wields lyrical tenderness and cacophonous skronk-rock, weaponizing her pain to create truly thrilling indie rock that sounds familiar and fresh at the same time. The free-associative “Morning Comes” is a particular highlight, turning what could be a peak-era Death Cab for Cutie song into a discordant and rambling meditation on alienation and self-medication. SASAMI feels both universal and deeply personal, each song a distillation of shared experience shone through SASAMI’s prismatic style. —Harry Todd


BigThiefUFOFArt.jpg 19. Big Thief: U.F.O.F
New York indie-folk outfit Big Thief have been touring constantly for four years in conjunction with their first two full-lengths—2016’s Masterpiece and 2017’s Capacity—and their third album U.F.O.F. was largely informed by their relentless touring schedule and the band’s heightened personal and musical synergy. Some of the songs were recorded just hours after they were written. As a result, this album’s blustery whooshes contribute to an otherworldliness not yet wholly strung together on a Big Thief album. The sonic wisp of “Contact,” the celestial lyrics of “U.F.O.F.” and the cacophonies that close “Cattails” and “Jenni” all contribute to an incorporeal sheen. On U.F.O.F., Big Thief embrace their more subtle and mystical sides while capturing a wider array of landscapes—the cosmic (“U.F.O.F.”), bucolic (“Cattails”), domestic (“From”) and urban (“Betsy”). —Lizzie Manno


18. Bob Mould: Sunshine Rock
What good did we, as a society, do to deserve Bob Mould? He is a Good and Pure genius, who touches down every so often and blesses us with a new album—in this case, Sunshine Rock—before going back to whatever loud and magical land he occupies. He is like a favorite uncle, occasionally forgotten in the daily grind but always welcomed with a sense of “Why am I not listening to this every single day?” Mould doesn’t waste any time getting right to the title track, and it’s an aching love song in the vein of Sugar’s “Your Favorite Thing.” Mould’s guitar pounds like a heart wrapped in barb wire, offering, pleading for the object of his affection to come away on an adventure. Mould is at his best when he’s begging, making you wonder who could possibly say no to the promise “I’ll be your astronaut.” Mould is the man we need right now. Sunshine Rock is bitter and hopeful, full of rage and promise. It’s an album that defines a moment in all its ugliness and the rare moments of beauty that we have to keep fighting for. “You can’t predict the future, you can’t forget the past,” he sings on “Camp Sunshine.” So maybe we can’t go back there. But we can make our own sunshine in our own little corners. We can all be someone’s astronaut. —Libby Cudmore


foalspartone_albumart.jpg 17. Foals: Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost—Part 1
For six or seven months, Foals lead singer Yannis Philippakis didn’t hardly pick up a guitar, let alone work on any new music. While that’s a lengthy stretch of down time for any typical band between album cycles, it’s particularly noteworthy for the London-based artist, whose band—one of the hardest working acts in the UK since its inception in 2005—has rarely even taken that much time off between shows. How Philippakis began to write was wildly different this time around than at any point in his career—he largely worked in public, usually at pubs and beer gardens. This connection to the outside world changed the course of the lyrical content for what became Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1, the first of two releases set for 2019. Finally not writing in the relative isolation indoors as he has in the past, Philippakis allowed himself to address the weighty issues of the day rather than write from an insular place, all influenced by the setting he wrote in where he was simultaneously surrounded by a sea of Londoners while hiding in plain sight. Not only did the change of scenery alter his lyrical output, but it also led to the most productive period of his band’s career, leading to the release of not one, but two albums this year. Usually, the band whittles down a pile of song sketches into a single, succinct record, only completing the eventual album tracks, leaving the rest to be forgotten. In this case, they took a different approach, deciding to push all of those song ideas to the finish line, effectively saving all the tracks that previously would have been lost. —Steven Edelstone


iameasytofind.jpg 16. The National: I Am Easy To Find
For all intents and purposes, Matt Berninger is a New Yorker. He’s been there long enough to write about the city with authority. So when he sings “You were never much of a New Yorker / It wasn’t in your eyes,” alongside This Is The Kit’s Kate Stables on the title track of The National’s new album, I Am Easy to Find, he knows what he’s talking about. But for the first time in quite a while, Berninger went back to his hometown of Cincinnati on “Not in Kansas,” I Am Easy to Find’s keystone track. Instead of writing about his negative memories of the place (“I never married but Ohio don’t remember me” he sang on 2010’s “Bloodbuzz Ohio”), he experienced firsthand how both he and the Midwest had changed, particularly since the election of Donald Trump, launching into a full and abstract stream of consciousness about his journey home. From the plucky and frenzied guitars on lead single “You Had Your Soul With You” to the pulsating percussion of fan-favorite “Rylan” to the dazzling orchestral strings on album closer “Light Years” (another track that could be argued as one of The National’s best to date), I Am Easy to Find doesn’t radically change the formula they developed over the past couple of releases, but it nearly perfects it, resulting in a record as elegant as the suits Berninger routinely wears onstage. —Steven Edelstone


15. Maggie Rogers: Heard It In A Past Life
In a way, Maggie Rogers is the exemplary model of a modern pop star. Her success story is one that’s exclusive to our times, when the Internet has the power to make moguls out of memes overnight. But Rogers is no Mason Ramsey: Her story begins not with a Walmart yodel, but with an unbelievably perfect demo, played for Pharrell Williams during a songwriting masterclass at New York University in 2016. The video of his reaction (stunned, in the best way) went viral, and Rogers stumbled into sensation. As Pharrell more or less said upon hearing that first cut of “Alaska” (which now boasts more than 85 million Spotify streams and club remixes for days), Maggie Rogers is singular. Other Internet-made stars flake and fade, but Rogers has continued to burn oh-so bright, incomparable in terms of musical style. While she’s kept us satiated with an EP and a crop of sparkling singles, we’ve been waiting for Heard It In A Past Life for a few years. Now that it’s here, one thing’s clear: Maggie Rogers is a pure pop star and a deserving one, at that. She’s self-assured in a way other radio stars aren’t, never afraid to fold in her folk background and do whatever she wants. And you just can’t help but root for her. If Maggie Rogers can find a way to exist alongside the likes of Billie Eilish (which she has, at least by this list’s judgement), she’ll be the next big thing in pop. The charts are starved for something real and down-to-earth, and her songs, while heavily produced in comparison to some of her folksier beginnings, have an earnestness to them that can’t be fabricated. Rogers’ career may have first sparked on the internet, but now it’s a fire burning IRL. —Ellen Johnson


14. Billie Eilish: WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
Billie Eilish’s career to this point has been one that could only have happened now. She has only ever made music in the streaming age, where she’s translated copious plays into press hype, rather than the other way around. But her music, songs that emphatically encapsulate teenage angst for an existential era, is very much of this period as well. So perhaps, when we eventually look back on the music of this era a few years from now, there will likely be no singular album that absolutely nails the sound of 2019 quite like Billie Eilish’s debut record, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, for better or worse. She delivers the record that her generation has been waiting for, one with loads of in-jokes and language (the album literally begins with a joke about pulling out her Invisalign, while “all the good girls go to hell” ends with a joke about “snowflakes”). After all, this album isn’t made for critics—or even anyone born more than a few years before 9/11—it’s for those who share the same teenage hormonal desires and emotional pitfalls that Eilish is currently going through. While someone like Snail Mail, only 18 months her elder, can put out a record with largely the same themes as WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, yet still speak to an older audience, Eilish’s debut largely doesn’t care, well aware that she doesn’t need anyone above, say, 25 to make her the biggest pop artist on the planet. —Steven Edelstone


flylo_albumart.jpg 13. Flying Lotus: Flamagra
Flying Lotus’s sixth album is as much of a throwback to the bold, experimental productions that made him one of the most uniquely influential hip-hop/electronic crossover producers of the past decade as it is a new relic for other musical creatives to once again derive stylistic permutations from. And while the 27-track sprawl is decidedly innovative, Steven Ellison never wavers from his hallmark: instantly recognizable Flying Lotus harmonics, filled with the fragrance of experimental jazz that only a member of the Coltrane family tree could enact. The intention behind Ellison’s collab tracks is palpable, and there isn’t a hint of frivolity on dual-force gems like “Spontaneous” (Little Dragon), “More” (Anderson .Paak), “The Climb” (Thundercat) and an imaginative foray with off-kilter and equally atmospheric rapper Denzel Curry, on “Black Balloons (Reprise).” This one will be looked upon as yet another touchstone for furthering the fusion movement from FlyLo, and Flamagra isn’t leaving the turntable anytime soon. —Adrian Spinelli


12. Stella Donnelly: Beware of the Dogs
Stella Donnelly references the ’90s one minute and 10 seconds into her debut album, Beware of the Dogs. It’s not what you think. She does not quote a Pavement lyric or drop a gnarly riff from a Hole song. Donnelly, who is in her mid-20s and from Perth, Australia, is the rare indie-rocker who alludes to the ’90s without a hint of nostalgia. “This is not ’93 / You lost your spot on the team,” she sings in that opening cut, a deceptively sunny-sounding kiss-off to an abusive man. The song is called “Old Man,” and it’s a fine introduction to Donnelly’s songwriting, which is frequently funny, confrontational, and charged with an awareness that the personal is political. These wry indie-pop songs unfold like short stories populated by assholes and assorted misadventures. They are often breezy and uncomplicated in arrangement, but Donnelly remains a compelling narrator: On Beware of the Dogs, the songwriter roasts an obnoxious date (“Tricks”), takes inventory of the indignities of the touring life (“Lunch”), stresses about mortality (“Die), and turns in a sober and knowing protest of rape culture. The resulting album is an imaginative indie-pop chronicle of millennial malaise. Throughout, Donnelly sings in a thick Perth accent, and her vocals are dotted with audible laughter, theatrical flourishes, inspired instances of talk-singing, and other oddities. It’s almost as though her stories can’t quite be contained within the limited space of the songs themselves. —Zach Schonfeld

solange_albumart.jpeg 11. Solange: When I Get Home
The magic of “Almeda,” a standout from Solange’s welcome March surprise, When I Get Home, is unshakable. Produced by Pharell and Solange and featuring Playboi Carti in a bouncing, tail-end rap sequence, “Almeda” is a celebration of steadfast black faith: “Black faith still can’t be washed away / Not even in that Florida water,” Solange sings, citing the unisex cologne she carried to the 2018 Met Gala that’s said to have healing effects—but nothing as potent as black resilience. In an exhilarating anthem honoring the chopped ’n’ screwed mixing style that originated in her hometown of Houston, the younger Knowles sister embraces “black-owned things.” With “Almeda,” perhaps more than any other song on the album, Solange gracefully re-entered music and cultural conversations in the assured, commanding way only she can. Solange is a visionary—she overproduces ideas and whittles them down into glittering little nuggets. But the products of her latest brainstorm are less flashy than the profound studio effort that was 2016’s A Seat At The Table. For When I Get Home, Solange rallied the likes of Gucci Mane and Playboi Carti (among others) for a record that spans ambient avant-garde jazz to startling trap. After hearing it, I have a hard time imagining the day in the near future when a new Solange release won’t be regarded as objectively brilliant. —Ellen Johnson


Thumbnail image for KevinMorbyOhMyGodArt.jpg 10. Kevin Morby: Oh My God
Kevin Morby is not religious. Yet by his own admission, he has made a “non-religious religious record.” Oh My God, the dizzying and fantastic fifth album from the increasingly prolific folk-rocker, is preoccupied with the language of exaltation, from its gospel-choir refrains to its outrageous album cover, which depicts Morby, shirtless, posing beneath a famous painting of Saint Cecilia playing piano for the angels. Somehow, none of this scans as ironic or overtly hokey: When Morby sings lines like “Dear God, please forgive me” three times with a children’s choir accompanying him on “Congratulations”—and then caps that off with a searing guitar solo worthy of a Springsteen climax—it’s hard to believe he is a nonbeliever. Morby’s previous work, particularly the back-to-back Singing Saw (2016) and City Music (2017), has been frequently compared to the singer-songwriter greats of the 1970s, notably Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Oh My God has a ramshackle energy to it, as well as a distinctly vintage instrumental ambience, that’s likely to encourage such comparisons. The pianos crackle; the organs rumble and groan (see: “Nothing Sacred / All Things Wild”); everything has that fuzzy analog glow. Oh My God also has a certain unabashed exuberance that’s uncommon in circa-2019 indie rock. You can hear it in the church-choir backing vocals, in how Morby shouts “Oh! My! God!” throughout “Piss River,” pausing to let each syllable hang in the air. Some records demand to be heard with headphones. Oh My God is not one of them. I first heard the album shortly after being laid off from a newsroom job, which meant Morby’s music was ringing out loudly in my empty apartment instead of piping into my headphones on an overcrowded subway. This seemed to suit its messy, god-obsessed exuberance: Let it ring out wherever you can. If any actual believers were within earshot—well, that’s fine too. —Zach Schonfeld


9. Carly Rae Jepsen: Dedicated
Since we’re living in a post-Emotion world, it’s hard to remember a time when Carly Rae Jepsen wasn’t regarded as an accomplished pop icon. But before the sexual torment of “Emotion,” the sweet rush of “Gimmie Love” and all those “Run Away With Me” saxophone memes, Carly Rae Jepsen was, to most, “Call Me Maybe” and nothing more. 2015 became her moment, and Emotion the pop album to save them all. Now in her thirties, going on four years since then, Carly Rae Jepsen is perhaps even more the music media darling and pop culture mainstay. And while we’ve never really looked to her for lyrical profundity, she’s always been savvy when it comes to pure feelings, making her fourth LP Dedicated another beacon of emotional intelligence, and Jepsen a straight-A student of pop history. Dedicated is about relationships, but it’s also an examination of self. She sashays from one romantic identity (single, heartbroken, in love) to another, but as the record beams on, it becomes clearer they’re all one in the same—a trinity. If the bar for Carly Rae Jepsen—and maybe even 2010s pop as a whole—is the intellectual pop perfection of Emotion, then Dedicated falls only a little short, landing somewhere between effortless earworm territory and therapeutic ecstasy. —Ellen Johnson


8. Jenny Lewis: On The Line
To witness a shape-shifting musician like Jenny Lewis truly evolve throughout the years—succeed in multiple projects, try on manifold musical styles, experience pain and loss and outline it all in her songs—and then arrive at a sensational album like On The Line feels monumental. First as the frontwoman of one of the most beloved indie-rock groups of the aughts and then as a realized soloist and supergroup hero, Lewis has had a brilliant career, even when things took a turn for the rocky in her personal life. The best of her four albums outside of Rilo Kiley, On The Line is absolutely dazzling. It sounds decidedly grown up, mature both lyrically and musically, and it’s a spectacular studio effort. Lewis sings contemplative lyrics with a glamorous edge, giving us an album that’s as much a rock ‘n’ roll relaxer as it is a lyrical thunderbolt. The On the Line singles are all illustrious earworms, but the album opener, “Heads Gonna Roll,” is especially grandiose. As ever, Lewis’ attention to detail and location is mesmerizing. She makes a boxing reference, namedrops Elliott Smith and the “sycophants in Marrakesh,” recalls a run-in with “Harlem nuns” and relaxes with a pack of Marlboros all before proclaiming, “Maybe a little bit of hooking up is good for the soul.” In a most delightful way, “Heads Gonna Roll” is about everything and nothing. Another single, “Red Bull & Hennessy,” is one of the best rock songs of the year. Marking at least the second mention of cocktail ingredients on this album, “Red Bull & Hennessy” is a delicious display of desire. On The Line, her best solo work to date, finds her trading chaos for peace and pain for parties. And West Coast rock combined with piano glam and Lewis’ lyrics makes for a most celebratory listen, indeed. —Ellen Johnson


7. Julia Jacklin: Crushing
Autonomy can be damn frightening. The realization—the one arriving after a breakup, before a solo move, following a graduation, etc.—that you’re actually in this thing alone and only you are in the driver’s seat can leave you feeling scared silly. Or it can leave you feeling high on independence. Julia Jacklin’s Crushing is a striking search for self, a call to upend that which tethers you down. But it’s also rooted, deeply, in a sense of calm. The Aussie songwriter’s ability to process emotion is out-of-this-world sharp, and this album is her best, most piercing work to date. Crushing can change from melodic balladry to anthemic rock at the drop of a hat. And for its entirety, Jacklin, slowly gaining cred as one of the most underrated singer/songwriters working, basks in a newfound clarity. Crushing is the brave story of a woman—and an artist —coming into her own. Securing that agency, however, was no walk in the park. Jacklin clearly had to sort through mountains of wreckage to arrive here, but the album’s autobiographical nature is what makes it so affecting. Jacklin said, in writing it, she realized “how not very special” she is (evident in “Body,” as she sings, “It’s just my body / I guess it’s just my life”). But in recognizing the non-exclusivity of her experiences, she made something singular. —Ellen Johnson


6. Lizzo: Cuz I Love You
“Let yourself go” has a negative connotation to it—doing as such would imply something like cancelling all physical activity, restricting your wardrobe to sweatpants and purchasing all your meals from a drive-thru, hair long and unkempt and fingers coated in Cheeto dust. But what if “letting oneself go” looked like something else? What if it meant letting go of self-hate, bad energy and your host of inner demons? What if it included forgetting about the odds against you and just loving yourself with an uninhibited pride? Cuz I Love You looks like that. It’s a parade of Lizzo’s most prideful tendencies and a dazzling way to experience the triple-threat talent (rapper, singer, flautist) who’s currently guiding us in a much-needed confidence craze. On Cuz I Love You, Lizzo’s fortified voice could collapse buildings, her lyrics could bring you to your knees and her unprecedented assurance could inspire you to love yourself just a little bit more. It’s Lizzo’s energy solidified—everything you love about her, wrapped up in one twerkable package bursting with bold statements, bad bitches and, perhaps most notably, bops. Lizzo preaches self-worth by declaring self-worth. She opens “Like A Girl” with the words, “Woke up feelin’ like I just might run for President / Even if there ain’t no precedent, switchin’ up the messaging / I’m about to add a little estrogen” before later name-dropping some of her girl heroes, like Chaka Kahn, Lauryn Hill and Serena Williams (“Willy”). Arguing with Lizzo is tricky business—it’s difficult to disagree with someone who has so much confidence in herself, which is why Cuz I Love You is such a winner. Lizzo is impossible to ignore, and with this album, she lets us know she’s here to stay. —Ellen Johnson


5. Tyler, The Creator: IGOR
On “IGOR’S THEME,” the opening track on Tyler’s highly anticipated follow-up to Flower Boy, he shows that even with the heightened expectations, he can still surprise us. Relying on heavy, ominous low synth tones and complex percussion—a combination that’s featured prominently throughout the album—the mainly instrumental song is a bit of a change-up from his past work, essentially combining the best aspects of Cherry Bomb with the emotionality and relative absence of Tyler’s rapping presence on Flower Boy to create a hangover record of sorts from the flamboyance of his last record. Perhaps the Yeezus to Flower Boy’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he continues to push the themes of loneliness and his inability to be fully loved found on his previous record, only this time largely twisting the knobs in a louder and darker direction. Tyler warned us to not “go into this expecting a rap album,” but some of the best tracks on IGOR are when he does give into these tendencies. The slowthai-aided “WHAT’S GOOD” largely follows suit, proving that he can make hard-hitting hip-hop better than almost anyone else. —Steven Edelstone


Thumbnail image for fayewebster_atlmillionairesclub.jpg 4. Faye Webster: Atlanta Millionaires Club
If she prefers to stay inside, then Webster makes music for her own kind: With all its droopy pedal steel, unhurried funk and a breezy island air that could sub in for your AC, Atlanta Millionaires Club is the perfect summer album for indoors-y types. Drawing on both her Americana roots and the bendy R&B of artists like Aaliyah (one of her cited inspirations), Webster creates a dramaticized retelling of romantic shortcomings that sounds like the sun crying. After her debut album Run and Tell and high school, Webster did what any aspiring songwriter would: moved to Nashville. There, she studied songwriting at Belmont University before trying out graphic design, but when she found herself jonesing for a trip home every other weekend, decided to abandon collegiate life altogether and made plans to return to Atlanta, where she has since stayed put. Since then she’s spent considerable time photographing various ATL stars like Offset and Lil Yachty. Webster released her second, self-titled album after college, which contains her first Spotify hit, the groovy “She Won’t Go Away,” a hazy country dream. But dreamier still is Webster’s third solo LP, Atlanta Millionaires Club, a steamy brush with R&B flourished with lots of twang and retro grooves. It’s weird and sleepy and full of droll one-liners like “I should get out more,” the chorus from “Room Temperature.” —Ellen Johnson


3. Sharon Van Etten: Remind Me Tomorrow
Singer/songwriter Sharon Van Etten experienced a lot of change after the release of her last album, 2014’s Are We There, and they’re the kind of life-altering shifts—newfound romantic partnership, motherhood, career advancements—that are all but destined to reveal themselves in one’s art. And here, on her fifth studio effort Remind Me Tomorrow, those evolutions are apparent in a powerful sonic swerve, and in Van Etten’s desire to explore both nostalgia and rebirth, and maybe even how they intertwine. Remind Me Tomorrow was the first great rock album of the year, and it would behoove any and all of Van Etten’s fans, even those who staunchly prefer her folk-leaning material, and rock ‘n’ roll aficionados of all stripes to open their ears (and their hearts) to this beautifully executed pivot. And for all its bold sonic upheavals—the addition of drum machines and electric shred and cavernous synth—Remind Me Tomorrow maintains Van Etten’s gothic sensibilities. Sharon Van Etten was already one of the great lyricists of the ’10s, but with this breathtaking project, she’s proved an artistic pliancy her contemporaries may not possess. She hit her stride with Are We There, but here she’s not even on the ground. —Ellen Johnson


VampireWeekend-FOTB-Art.jpg 2. Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride
If such a decree is not already at large, I hereby declare Father of the Bride the official album of summer 2019. If you’re still skeptical, just listen to it outside, maybe while eating a popsicle. Let Danielle Haim and a choir of children sing you down the aisle on “Hold You Now;” let the bendy “Bambina” rock you into a summer stupor. Let it be easy. It’s light without being too flighty, thoughtful but not esoteric and chock full of tiny little musical treasures. Peel back what some have perceived to be a lyrical disaster, and Vampire Weekend’s fourth full-length is an album of rewarding moments and juicy samples. A record that’s roughly five songs too long and as many choruses too cheesy may not sound like the most enticing listen, but Ezra Koenig expertly spins even the shabbiest couplets into nuance—and he does it to the tune of pure sunshine. He adopted a passion for the Grateful Dead, intensified one for character studies and swapped boat shoes for Birkenstocks, and the result here is the rare album that not only works as picnic music but also makes for a fine conversation topic. Vampire Weekend proved their talent with a trio of excellent albums in 2008-2013. With this comeback, Koenig proves they’re not going anywhere. —Ellen Johnson


1. Weyes Blood: Titanic Rising
Natalie Mering’s work under the name Weyes Blood feels less like a catalog of music and more like a journey. And each time she releases a full-length album, her destination comes a little more into focus. That’s especially true on her new record Titanic Rising, which finds Mering edging her peculiar psych-folk closer than ever to the sound of traditional pop music. For someone with a documented predilection for idiosyncrasy and experimentation, she sounds completely at ease in these new songs, and ready for bigger things ahead. Folks who know her debut, 2011’s The Outside Room, might be surprised to hear Weyes Blood in 2019, but they shouldn’t be shocked. Even on that lo-fi bundle of echo and noise, you could hear Mering’s gift for haunting melody and the folk form hovering slightly below the surface. Titanic Rising doesn’t feel blissfully adrift. Instead, it feels like Mering knows exactly where she’s going. You can hear it in the robust string sections of album opener “A Lot’s Gonna Change” and the sturdy backbone-beat of “Andromeda” and the sentiments of “Wild Time,” a patient ambler with a ‘70s soft-rock vibe (including a hint of “Landslide”) and a plainspoken bridge: “Everyone’s broken now,” Mering sings, “And no one knows just how we could have all gotten so far from truth.” —Ben Salmon


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