The Round-Up: The Best Albums of 2019 (First Quarter)

Gah, I can’t believe we’re already 25% through 2019. That said, Spring is in the air, and we’ve enjoyed an excellent, diverse crop of music during these first three months. Have a look at some of my favorite LPs of the year so far in no particular order.

Dawn Richard
“New Breed”
Our Dawn
Probably my favorite project from my favorite R&B artist of the last ten years, “New Breed” is the New Orleans native’s most personal statement to date. In just over half an hour, Richard guides us through the eclectic, electric sound of her hometown, talking her shit and telling her story without fear, apology, or one ounce of bullshit. Truly a one of a kind.

Read my longer review for No Recess, here.

Default Genders
main pop girl 2019
self-released
Aka “Love in the Time of Fentanyl,” James Brooks’ (formerly of Elite Gymnastics) second LP was one of my favorite musical surprises of the last few years. Though his previous work is pretty patchy, this project is absolutely breathtaking and impossible to categorize. The Minneapolis native paints twelve affecting portraits of young people on the brink, with Rockwell’s eye for detail but none of his idealism.

Read my longer review for No Recess, here.

Nivhek
“After its Own Death / Walking in a Spiral Towards the House”
YELLOWELECTRIC
When a new Liz Harris project arrives out of the blue, you don’t ask questions. You just thank your lucky stars and hit play. I don’t know what a “Nivhek” is and why this isn’t a Grouper record, but I do know it feels like a welcome callback to her (even more) experimental early work. Though it only has four tracks, it’s her longest project in years, stretching almost to an hour. Each of the songs have movements that shift between ambient moments of stillness, harsh synth drones, and the odd bit of singing. It’s the kind of thing that will give back what you put in and only start to reveal itself on repeat listens.

Xanman
Various YouTube Videos
Self-Released
Trying to keep up with the rising PG County rapper’s music is a full-time job. There’s basically no info about him online or a hub for his thrilling, unpredictable music on Spotify, DatPiff, Soundcloud, or social media. So, YouTube searches and random clicks are as good as it gets. And honestly, that sense of random discovery and lack of context is a perfect microcosm for Xan’s music, as his stream of consciousness, oft-arrhythmic flow doesn’t fit into categories or marketing best practices. It just fucking goes.


Jayda G
“Significant Changes”
Ninja Tune
The ground is thawing, the days are getting longer, and New Yorkers are emerging from their holes at a rapidly increasing rate. It’ll never be a better time to throw yourself into the gorgeous, multi-faceted dancefloor odyssey from Berlin-via-Vancouver artist Jayda Guy. The incredible disc’s nine tracks touch on everything from deep house to 90s rave to R&B to straight up disco with the touch of a master DJ who knows how to intertwine a bunch of different sounds to craft one cohesive, exhilarating set.

Duggie
“Sojourn”
Self-Released
A real hidden gem, I literally have found zero information online about the Lagos-based producer or his magnificent new EP. However, everything you need to know about this guy can be heard on this incredible project, featuring three near-perfect slices of modern R&B-meets-Afropop. The intoxicating first is a silky devotional, sung by rising crooner Kaysnap, while “Popular” is a playful, late-night number with dancehall touches. The third, “Nightshift,” is probably my favorite, pairing two strong voices from Nigeria’s alté scene on a track that deserves to be a global smash. I need to do some more digging on Duggie, but context be damned, these are three of the absolute best songs I’ve heard in 2019.

Listen to the EP on Spotify.

American Football
American Football
Polyvinyl
A double helping of #dadfeelings, the emo legends’ wonderful third LP features some of their most beautiful guitar-work and Midwestern mope master Mike Kinsella’s most cutting lyrics. Built around endless layers of impossibly twinkly guitars, Kinsella uneasily tries to ease into fatherhood, wondering how they hell he got here and whether he’s the right man for the job. Jokes aside, it’s an affecting, considered look at growing up, accompanied by tuneful, tasteful musical virtuosity.

Future
“Future Hndrxx Presents: The WZRD”
Epic
San Nayvadius’ hot-streak continues on this uneven, but exciting new project. Admittedly, it’s probably 8 tracks too long. But this is 2019, make yourself a playlist. Tuneful, upbeat pre-release singles “Jumpin on a Jet” and “Crushed Up” both delivered the goods, but Future really gets in his bag on the back-half of this project. Whether he’s crooning his ass off on “Baptize” or trading daggers with Young Thug and Gunna on “Unicorn Purp,” the 35 year-old still has so much to give.


Lomelda
“M for Empathy”
Double Double Whammy
At just 16 minutes for 11 songs, you could be forgiven for writing off the Texas folk experimenter’s new album as inessential sketches. You’d be wrong, of course. But I’d understand. The truth is, her third LP is a powerful collection of tracks that explore empathy and care (for herself and others) with arresting insight and a real intent to connect. Some may find her earnestness off-putting, but in this world, we need it more than ever.

Chief Keef
“Glotoven”
Glo Gang
Chief Keef and Zaytoven have so much in common. Though they are good collaborators, the duo basically operate in their own respective lanes, creating sounds and vibes that are all their own. So it’s no surprise that their joint LP is a fantastic, surprising journey into the minds of two of the great sonic auteurs of the last ten years. Zay serves up a tasty, multi-faceted collection of beats — from muscular street rap (“Sneeze,” “Han Han”) to reflective, luxurious piano magic (“Ain’t Gonna Happen,” “Petty”) — and Keef switches his flow up to match each of them, bringing out some of his most forceful, personal raps.

Ariana Grande
“thank u, next”
Republic

Though it doesn’t feel quite as ubiquitous as her other projects, this sharp, consistent LP is probably my favorite Ari record front to back. We all knew the lead single was a classic going in, but playful swooners like “needy” and “bad idea” are among the most weightless, joyful pop songs that you’ll hear. That said, centerpiece “ghostin” stands on its own. The spellbinding, farewell ballad to ex- fiancé Mac Miller beautifully underlines trauma’s ripple effect — the way the death of a loved one spreads far beyond the person you lose and wriggles into all the corners of our lives. An absolute masterpiece.

Solange
“When I Get Home”
Columbia
Frankly, I’m surprised by the fairly tepid response to Solange’s long-awaited follow-up to 2016’s beloved “A Seat at the Table.” Maybe its unhurried, subtle elegance is anathema to the way we consume culture in 2019, or maybe it was just missing a breakthrough single. Whatever the case, the jazzy “When I Get Home” extremely deserves your time. The disc takes listeners on a personal, loving journey through her hometown, revealing so much about what drives her and what makes her the artist that she is.

Jessica Pratt
“Quiet Signs”
Kemado
Even though she’s quite well-known, Jessica Pratt’s music feels like a secret — like you found it at the bottom of a box of records in your grandma’s attic. Her hushed third LP is another direct hit, deftly expanding on the pastoral folk of her first two albums with well-chosen moments of pan flute, organ, and strings. The results are languid, soothing tracks that can’t help but conjure up memories and spark daydreams.

Croatian Amor
“Isa”
Posh Isolation
Danish producer Loke Rahbek has the ability to conjure up both dreams and nightmares, often in the scope of a single song. “Isa,” his sixth LP, delivers plenty of both, striking a deft balance with aqueous ambient synths, industrial percussive touches, and the odd, fleeting human voice. The result is an engulfing, cinematic journey into our increasingly robotic hearts, considering where the organic material ends and the digital begins… or if there’s even a line at all anymore.

Lucki
“Freewave 3”
Self-Released
The Chicago native’s new project feels like it’s submerged in 10 feet of water. Over a cavalcade of downtempo, downtrodden beats, he lays out his bleary-eyed reality, dogged by addiction and tragedy. Few artists tackle addiction with the unglamorous, brutal honesty of the 22 year-old, and in a scene that often glorifies drug use, Lucki does anything but.

Better Oblivion Community Center
“Better Oblivion Community Center”
Dead Oceans
Though the Phoebe Bridgers/Conor Oberst collab is probably my least favorite Bridgers-related project, BOCC still has a handful of lovely moments. The duo sound best to me when the arrangements are spare (see: “Dominos” and “Didn’t Know What I was in For”) and Bridgers takes the wheel. Ultimatley, there’s just too much of Oberst’s creaky voice on here for me, but hey, some Phoebe is better than no Phoebe.

Caracara
“Better EP”
Memory Music
“Sounds kinda like Lifehouse and Third Eye Blind” may not sound like a compliment at face value, but the Philly four-piece’s updated take on the 90’s mod-rock sound of my youth tickles all my musical pleasure centers. Led by the solemn vocals and evocative writing of front-person William Lindsay, the “Better EP” explores the cruel wages of addiction that he observed both from his North Philly neighborhood and in his own life. Though it’s only three songs, it has a hell of a lot to say.

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