2019 was another incredible year for music. Artists expanded their palettes and discographies to combine genres and blend them together in new ways. Albums about heartbreak were done in exciting ways and electronic music saw one of its best album years in a while. As is customary, we picked out our favorite albums of the year for the Best of 2019. We couldn't perceive putting these in order as they are all great and that would create an unnecessary hierarchy. All of these albums are great, so enjoy them each equally.
1. O’Flynn - Aletheia
There is a lot to love about this album from O’Flynn. It is fun, at times gorgeous and delivers one of 2019’s anthems, the LP title track “Aletheia.” It takes from various genres, sub-genres and cultures around the world like afrobeats, South America drum beats, house music and disco for one of the most eclectic and interesting albums of the year. The samples are perfectly timed and help guide a record that has seemingly unlimited repeat value. This is one of the most fun records of the year and up there among the very best debuts by anyone in some time. Read his breakdown of the album with his Director’s Cut.
2. Floating Points - Crush
Floating Points came in with some high expectations after the success of the songs leading up to Crush, a cult-like following and his 2015 album Elaenia. Crush lived up to those expectations and more. It has a full gamut of techno, house and ambient electronica, mixed into one focused album. There is the soaring “LesAplx” or the glitchy and frenetic “Environment,” meant to offer his own commentary on environmental destruction. At its core, the album has a sweeping beauty that is conveyed in a complex and thoughtful way. Floating Points keeps the listener focused on his primary sound, but then explores more experimental and harsh sounds to counter the soothing pieces of music. Crush was made quickly, but doesn’t feel rushed, rather urgent as if Sam Shepherd has something very important to say.
3. The Chemical Brothers - No Geography
The Chemical Brothers followed up their 2015 LP Born In The Echoes with one of their best albums yet. The album was the perfect fit for their live sets and their care-free spirit. This was music that transcends the boundary of states and cultures. This was music for everyone and all. The group set up a new studio with their old equipment to make this record and that mix of old and new was perfectly matched on No Geography. They combined the classic 90’s rave sounds with squelching and searing on “We’ve Got To Try” or the frenzied, robotic “Free Yourself.” They built their name in the rave era of the 1990’s and No Geography channeled the biggest, psychedelic rave beats of that period into something modern and sleek.
4. Bon Iver - i,i
As we said back when i,i was released in August, this felt like Bon Iver’s most thoughtful and complete album yet. It wrapped a cycle of the seasons, winter of For Emma, Forever Ago, then the spring of Bon Iver, Bon Iver, the summer of 22, A Million and fall with i,i. The sometimes-inscrutable lyrics tell a story of a man who is more mature but also dealing with the same problems that plague us all. He deals with the passage of time, mentioning his kids growing old on the emotional, sad and somehow hopeful “Naeen."
The production comes from a wide variety of artists, but it feels very focused. They help back up his falsettos with soft percussion that can swell as tension rises, acoustic guitar and backing choirs take control. The soft fuzz of electronics and synths that came to the fore in 22, A Million are back but more subdued. It sounds as well-produced, written and put together as anything he has done yet. It was a great year for Bon Iver.
5. Octo Octa - Resonant Body
Octo Octa’s album Resonant Body was more than just a piece of music, it was a statement. It builds a dancefloor for all, for all tastes and types of people. It is grounded in upbeat and well-crafted house music like the jackin’ “Move Your Body,” but for those who need a little break, “My Body Is Powerful” is a serene and meditative piece of music to take you out into a bug-free jungle. Resonant Body wants to connect you with yourself, music and others. It is time to activate with Resonant Body.
6. Barker - Utility
Utility was one of the unsung heroes of the year. It sold out at record shops and became a fast favorite among techno fans. The LP takes on many different shapes, but keeps the listener stuck in its hypnotic, melodic gaze. Oscillates from the fluttering synth-led tracks like “Utility” to the blissful on “Gradients Of Bliss” and the experimental “Die Hards Of The Darwinian Order.” It is modern techno at its very finest, keeping the listener engaged with its slow evolving melodies over the entire 42 minutes. With a lot of wannabe 90’s trance in a techno suit being put out there, Barker does techno built around good melodies right.
7. Tyler, The Creator - IGOR
Tyler, The Creator captured the contradictions of modern love in a whirlwind 40 minute album. The album finds him speeding through emotions that come as a relationship is on the ropes, breaks apart and maybe comes back? We cycle through love, despair, regret, anger and uncertainty if you actually made the right decision for this relationship. It is a seamless album that stays on point sonically and lyrically. IGOR to explore various dark electronic sounds with radio-friendly pop and rap. The features mold into his vision as each song flows from one into the next without missing a beat. He was already becoming quite big after Flower Boy, but IGOR has propelled the rapper known for his eccentric sound to become one of the biggest stars in the world.
8. Apparat - LP5
Already given a Grammy nomination, Apparat LP5 lived up to the bill of what his music can hold. Channeling everything that has made Moderat so great, Apparat’s brush strokes are as fluid and beautiful as ever. He goes beyond big pop hooks and enthralls himself in the details and differing song structures. On “HEROIST” skittering low-lying effects that could be found in a sci-fi horror movie like Annihilation, keep you pinned back in your seat, eyes flickering from side to side, but the floating synths also envelop you in a warm embrace.”OUTLIER” feels like a long, sad farewell to someone he knows. His haunting voice matches the organic feel of his compositions, as fluttering synths play alongside strings and soft drums. LP5 has seemingly unlimited replay value and will be well deserving if it does take home that Grammy.
9. Dave - Psychodrama
UK rapper, Dave delivered one of the best and most poignant rap albums of the year. Weakness has become a more common topic in rap against the normal braggadocio, but few open up about the violence and madness of their upbringing and their own struggles about mental health. He is at his best a vivid, visual storyteller. “Lesley” tells the striking tale of a woman in an abusive relationship and her struggle to get out of it.
It isn’t just a showcase of lyrical talent. There are some big and catchy beats that give this more appeal beyond its words. Psychodrama stark and honest look at himself, the world and how mental health can be a battle few think they will win. Albums this well-written and powerful are rare. Dave has done it with Psychodrama.
10. Teebs - Annica
This album channels a lot of what makes electronic music so great. There are beautiful, neoclassical compositions to open and close the record from Teebs. It dabbles in indie-pop, soul and indie rock. The diverse journey through electronic music shines at its most different like on “Studie” with Panda Bear, “Universe” with daydream Masi or “Black Dove” with Sudan Archives. Annica delivers some of its best work with gentle instrumentals using soft melodies and drums, but manages to lift you up with various vocal features and a tight vision for what an album should be.
11. Flying Lotus - Flamagra
The Brainfeeder boss returned this year with his new album Flamagra that features an eclectic cast of characters like Tierra Whack, Anderson .Paak, Denzel Curry and David Lynch. That scattershot approach to his features mirrors what is going on in the album. It is all over the place from quirky electronic beats, hip-hop, soul and even a little jazz. It is strange and fun at times like on “Yellow Belly” where Whack and Flying Lotus yell “he got titties in his face.”
Yet somehow it all is held together by the firm hand and brilliance of Flying Lotus. This cosmic journey is not straight forward or what you might expect. It is the sort of twisted work you should expect from Flying Lotus that carves out his very unique niche in music that isn’t held by any artificial boundary. Flamagra the spiritual follow up to his 2010 album COSMOGRAMMA. This bookends a decade where he has helped define what it means to be undefinable and genre-mixing and flipping has become the norm. We hope there is more to come in 2020 and beyond.
12. Jacques Greene - Dawn Chorus
Jacques Greene has been quite prolific over the course of the past decade, but he peaked creatively and sonically with Dawn Chorus. The album blends together breakbeats, house, electronica and a touch techno into a swirling fever dream. He bridges ambient listening with fun and uptempo drum lines for a heavy dose of euphoric club music. He describes his music as “about the club rather than for the club,” but this album finds itself in a milieu that works in the club or in a more traditional concert hall. It meshes melodies and drums seamlessly, making this album a very easy listen from start to finish. It sounds better with successive spin, growing and evolving over time.
13. Special Request - Bedroom Tapes
Paul Woolford aka Special Request released three special albums this year and any one of them could be on here. All three of them could be on here. But out of fairness to the other music makers of 2019, we chose one of the albums and it is Bedroom Tapes. Special Request initially announced this trio of albums (there is a fourth on the way) as something he made in his underpants. The three records span frenetic, urgent techno and breakbeats to atmospheric techno and house with a hint of soul. Bedroom Tapes bridges those gaps and brings the best of them to the fore. It is built around rich hypnotic melodies that warp and evolve over each track. The album is a piece of music that fits extremely well together, yet doesn’t get plain or boring.
14. Kaytranada - BUBBA
Right at the end of the year, Kaytranada decided to drop his new album BUBBA and put himself in the running for album of the year. He earned those plaudits for 99.9% back in 2016 and he has outdone himself again with BUBBA. This album is everything you want from the Montreal producer and more. It is impossibly smooth, sexy, funky and fun. He has a slew of features like Goldlink, Masego, Estelle and Pharrell on here. He manages to incorporate them into the record without sounding forced. Each song sounds molded to his vision and every artist is engaged and happy to fit into his plans. There are a few instrumentals like “Scared To Death” that shine on their own to showcase just how talented a beatmaker he is.
15. Tourist - Wild
Tourist, real name William Phillips, released two albums in 2019 -- first Emily in February and then Wild in October. Putting out that much good music may seem impossible, unless you are Paul Woolford, but Phillips did it. Wild leans more towards the sweeping and subtle productions on his 2016 LP Emily. The story of heartbreak and renewal aren’t there, but the gentle piano and string productions remain a constant. It feels very complete and flows effortlessly. He combines pitched, distant vocal shouts with beautiful, well-crafted melodies and drums that allow the listener to dance, but don’t overwhelm the track. Tourist had one of 2019’s best years and Wild was the punctuation for that.
16. FKA twigs - Magdalene
FKA twigs released her new album Magdalene last month with one of the most potent and heart-wrenching albums of the year. It is haunting, beautiful and powerful all in one. With production from Nicolas Jaar, Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never), Skrillex, Benny Blanco and others, there was varied star power to help sheppard the LP.
The album expertly moves through the emotions of love, despair and anger. She deals with the confusion and anguish that comes with a breakup. “I’m probably going to think about you all of the time,” she sings on “mirrored heart.” It is almost impossible not to feel the pain she is going through singing these songs, even on an uptempo track like “holy terrain” with Future. This was one of the best breakup albums of the year and most potently written about love and despair in a very long time.
17. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Bandana
The boys are back and it’s no coincidence. After taking the world by storm in 2014 with their first offering Pinata, the duo of Freddie Gibbs and Madlib go two for two with Bandana and make a strong case for best hip-hop album of the year with their critically acclaimed sequel. Just like with Pinata, the beats and rhymes of these two come together effortlessly as Freddie’s poetic street style compliments the clever samples that Madlib digs up for every instrumental. The album hit number one on iTunes earlier this year and “The Album of The Year” tour which supported the project basically sold out across 17 cities. Stand out tracks on the album include the iconic “Crime Pays” and the Anderson .Paak assisted “Giannis.”
18. A Winged Victory For The Sullen - The Undivided Five
A Winged Victory For The Sullen released their third album The Undivided Five about a month and a half ago and it brought a necessary calmness to music. The ambient duo of Dustin O'Halloran and Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie create a special album with The Undivided Five. It is gentle and beautiful, with strings that pull at your heartstrings and soothe your soul. For an ambient record, it remains enthralling, while also very calm all the way through. It is one of those albums that you will be playing over and over again for those times you need to relax. Strings dominate the record, but soft piano accompanies them like a fine-tuned small orchestra. Read their Director’s Cut breakdown of the album to see how it was made all over the world in some incredible places.
19. Joris Voorn - \\\\
It was a long five years, but Joris Voorn finally released a new album this year, \\\\, spoken Four. After the shift towards melodic house music with his 2014 album Nobody Knows, Joris Voorn waffled between sturdy club records and songs that feel at home in your living room. The Dutch producer with the album format, leaned more towards melodic, at-home listening with \\\\, though these records all do work in a larger live setting.
The key ingredients are house and trance. There is a touch of 90’s influenced electronica and breakbeat, but the bread and butter is derived from house and trance – often combined. The record smoothly glides from one song to the next and sounds natural together, notably with previous singles fitting into the rest of the album like a puzzle. Joris Voorn blends together club-ready drums and well-written melodies for an album that feels best listened to as a whole. It plays on some element of nostalgia, but also looks ahead to what electronic music can be in the future.
20. The Japanese House - Good At Falling
The Japanese House delivered an album of the year contender back right at the beginning of March. This is another journey through the painful emotions felt as a relationship starts to slip away and the emotional destruction that ensues. We feel with her as she endures despair, longing, love and maybe a little hope. Just as many breakup albums serve as honest and cathartic writing outlet for the artist, Bain eventually finds herself reaching her way out of this abyss. She comes to terms with how this relationship ended and what was to come on the other side.
There are moments on the album that cut right to the chase with how deep pain can go. On “We Talk All The Time,” she doesn’t mince words over a playful drum beat with the line “We don’t fuck any more, but we talk all the time, so it’s fine” that hits like a ton of bricks like the first time you hear your significant other say, “I don’t think it's going to work.”
Even in these sad moments, it always feels like there is a spark of joy, even if it isn’t in her voice. Good At Falling wasn’t just good songwriting, but it had big pop hooks and instrumental work that made it also fun to listen to.
21. Karen O & Danger Mouse - Lux Prima
Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O & Danger Mouse teamed up on one of the best surprises of the year -- Lux Prima. A match made in indie heaven, Danger Mouse gets to do what he does best -- producing singers and bands. Karen O is the perfect face of this group, singing some of the most beautiful and powerful lyrics this year. The production is what helps set this project apart. It is lush and flowing, with full string sections like on “Reveries,” helping to create a feeling of luxury in the 1920s. Karen O’s powerhouse voice is defined and showcased both as a tender accompaniment to soft guitars or strings, but also riding above and booming over rock ballads.
The cinematic feeling was intentionally created by the pair. “It’s this idea of wanting the listener to have a movie playing in their head while they’re listening to it. It’s less extroverted. It’s a more introverted experience, but with little spikes — little flavor bursts — of extroversion in there for balance,” explains Karen O.
The album finds just the right balance between rock, orchestral flourishes, pop and jazzy overlays. When two very accomplished collaborators from different parts of the music business come together on an album, it can be difficult to meet the expectations of their collective discographies, but they have managed to achieve that and build something new in the process.
22. Fox Stevenson - Killjoy
Fox Stevenson’s debut album is a fitting celebration of his career, a tribute to his roots while also presenting an evolved, never before heard side to his brand. Emotive, vibrant, infectious, and full of life, the album is a coming of age story, at times nostalgic, optimistic, introspective, and always poignant.
Covering a range of genres from his drum & bass roots and beyond, each track is brilliant on its own, but comes together to paint the ultimate call to adventure soundtrack. You can tell Fox and the band, comprised of Konkai (formerly Bustre) and Dan Sawyer, had a lot of fun recording the album, and that electric energy that comes from three best friends recording a passion project such as this shines through for an inimitable result. Destined to be a future classic, Fox Stevenson’s Killjoy is an outstanding body of work that offers a genuine insight into the soul of the UK based producer - you can hear the passion and excitement in every track and it radiates fun, wholesome positivity. Thank you, Fox!
23. James Blake - Assume Form
James Blake opened the year with his new album Assume Form. He took a different tone with this album. His past work explored the world and how it often made him unhappy and depressed. But on Assume Form, his life has changed dramatically and he is in love -- really in love and he wants everyone to know. He is shouting from the mountain tops about doing mundane things like staying inside and talking shit (sounds good to me) and his heart is feeling something very real. It features the likes of André 3000, Travis Scott, ROSALÍA, Metro Boomin and Moses Sumney and they all fit into his vision of how the album should sound.
The album doesn’t completely ditch his past. There are still melodies and post-dubstep structures one might have found on Overgrown or The Colour In Everything. He hasn’t stopped doubting himself, which has always been a part of his psyche and lyricism. We aren’t losing Blake, but rather getting one that has shown growth as a person and is exploring new places as a writer and musically. The sad boy label can and should be buried for good and we now have a reborn James Blake.
24. Max Cooper - Yearning For The Infinite
Max Cooper released his new album Yearning For The Infinite at the end of the year and it was a bit different from the normal album circumstances. London art space The Barbican commissioned the album as part of an A/V project with him. The concept of infinite inspired Max Cooper to make this album and you can hear it. Songs can be hypnotic and repeating seemingly without end, while the LP actually seems to flow into itself like a dog chasing its tail (in the best way).
The album slowly builds to its peak in the middle and then allows the listener to meander their way back down to their bed by the end. Each song feeds into the next with purpose, creating a circular link in the entire project. There are moments where it can feel like it is ready for a museum exhibit with abstract melodic elements and seemingly random beats, but it doesn’t get too heady and lose the listener with a gaudy price of admission.
25. Trentemøller - Obverse
Danish producer, Trentemøller released his album Obverse that captured the best of a dark and brooding sound he has been cultivating over the past decade. It spans more ambient compositions to vocal collaborations and darker, glitchier tracks. Obvsere is done in homage to the Nordic environment around him -- that darkness and contrasting light can be heard on the LP. The collaborations fit with the album and the different styles all seem to flow together on this record without falling out of place. It feels like a dark journey through a winter forest as snow slowly falls from the sky and the little remaining sunlight flees into darkness. Read more about how the album was made here.