Top 31 Music Albums of 2019 by benpaco (2019)

Man, this has not been a year that impressed me at all. So many halfassed albums that feel like a need to release *something* just because chronologically, it was time. So many failed experiments, or stylistic changes which are fine but not on par with artists' current quality threshhold. 2020 looks to be a great year, I'm really excited for new Pinegrove, 1975, Oh Wonder, Grimes, Foxing, Airborne Toxic Event, Tame Impala, even Green Day's "motown and soul" record sounds more exciting than most of what this year coughed out. There's half a dozen releases due Q1 2020 that I'd expect will be better than my AOTY. Bleh. Help. Send recs. Send good music. Make good music.

Not outta hope yet. Busta's Christmas mixtape taught me never to give up hope until January 1. But damn if there's been a whole lot of disappointing releases this year.

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An album that excites me? An album that makes me feel energized? Is that even allowed this year?

I'm gonna write a lot about this one because god I actually really like it. It's been a while since music put a genuine smile on my face - the last time (outside of the Petscop soundtrack release which was for non-musical reasons) was Stenographer Club, and the last album was last year. If you don't wanna read all this, the TL;DR - Ruby Yacht forever and ever and ever, if you like anything in the realm of "backpack rap" or "art rap" there's something here for you.

I've been following Hemlock Ernst since 2015, mostly because of his collaborators - first album was produced by Madlib, first feature was on a milo song. That's a pretty elite group, and here he joins one of my other favorite producers, Kenny Segal.

Segal is fairly prolific - 4 albums he produced on are in my top 10 this year. The man is one of a literal handful of producers that my brother (a music theory and performance major) is impressed by, and he's able to craft equally talented chill lofi beats to study to and genuine bangers. I keep a pretty close eye on what Segal is up to as well, though this is generally harder than Ernst as producers just get less shoutouts.

Fun aside - I once saw Segal live, opening for milo before playing in his band. A group of frat guys had shown up to the venue, apparently unaware of either act. Segal was playing excerpts from "happy little trees", so it was a half hour flow of chill beats, quiet moments, and fun samples. One especially high frat boy was really enjoying this, but everyone else in the group of about 8 was complaining loudly over the music. This is past just talking over the acoustic act - this is complaining about the act who can clearly hear you in a room with a capacity of 350. So finally, after one of the guys said "Man, I'm just not feeling this" I jumped in and chirped "Maybe you'd like it more if you didn't talk over the whole thing". A couple people around me gasped, one stranger patted me on the back after repeatedly making eye contract about these people, and I was suddenly hit with intense anxiety that this group of athletes who were clearly in various states of intoxication might not take kindly to being chided, but they ended up just leaving.

Anyhow, yeah, I've followed Ernst and I've defended Segal irl. These are guys I liked. I expected a lot out of this album. But same goes for a number of other artists this year, and I've been let down repeatedly. Even Segal's other main release with Billy Woods was just pretty good, not exactly mindblowing, and his bits of 37 GEMS were spectacular but unfortunately few.

Oh my god this exceeded expectations. It's not a perfect album - there's a few samples that are too long or flows that just don't really click, but when these happen, it feels like there was genuine collaboration here.

A fun aside - collaboration is different from cooperation, and it's really important to negotiate that difference. This was one of the main tenants of my last job, teaching kids the difference between the two. Basically, anyone can cooperate. Sharing is cooperating. Divide and conquer is cooperating. But to truly collaborate, you end up with something a little deeper. Either both of you achieve different goals by the same process, or you collectively produce a better product/idea/whatever than one is able to do alone. This is a weird definition discrepancy, but I ascribe to the latter, mostly because that's how I was trained. Really, really challenging to explain the difference to those under 6.

By this definition, we have collaboration. If Segal's production lags behind a little bit or goes a little extra basic for my liking, Ernst picks it up and goes HARD, like on "Down". If Ernst's flow is a little extra gimmicky or cheesey, you get a darker or more involved beat to contextualize it, like on "Jargonne". This is not the only album with great producer-rapper chemistry, but its among my favorites. I won't stand here and pretend that Ernst/Segal is the next DOOM/Madlib, Eric B/Rakim, Busta/Q-Tip, etc., but there's something really great and exciting here. I actively hope to hear them together again, which isn't a feeling I get all that often with these collaborative projects. And here we loop back to that meaning of collaborative - most of those projects don't feel truly elevating to both artist's craft, just a cool combination. This elevates two guys who were already really great.

It's worth noting that I've complained a good lot about this year for music, but there's one group that's really impressing me - Ruby Yacht. This isn't shocking to me - milo has impressed me for years, as maybe the first rapper whose music I fell in love with, but its hard to not feel impressed by a record label responsible for almost the majority of albums I liked this year, especially when that label (collective?) is so small and niche. Not everything out of the Ruby Yacht had me blown away, but all of it feels like trying to do something special, and in a year of underwhelming performances and unimpressive changes in style, that's something really special to see. Watch these guys. Watch them all.
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2019
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8
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What a rough year for music. This was my album of the year for some time, and I think it is the worst National album of the past decade. At least it seems like they're trying something different than their last album, there's an actual evolution here. This is one of the only records this year that I put on and was instantly excited by. It's not a bad album, I really like The National, and this was an interesting, energized take that I haven't really heard them try for since a few moments on Trouble Will Find Me. Even then, there's some unique energy here I can't really relate to their other albums, and that's awesome. I don't mean to lowball this, but usually there's been at least an album per year that ends up on my overall chart. This is my AOTY with only a few weeks left, and it has gotten several spins but like ... really, it wouldn't be in my top 150 I don't think. [First added to this chart: 12/10/2019]
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2019
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650
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This is an album I fully expected to love and was initially hesitant about. The first track is sort of just an overly long intro, and while "Percentages" is a serious bop, "No Word for Wack" kinda drags, and "Famous Cafes" takes about 90 seconds before it decides to do anything that could justify an almost 7 minute run time. Then we fall into the part of the album that really steps up though. "Neohoodoo" feels more like any good track on a milo album, "Stenographer Club" might be Pink Navel at their best, "Bulging Envelope" is a really fun look at how similar and how different each member of this group attacks a beat, and everything from there to the end varies from pretty good ("Love Child", "Tiny Hole") to "oh wow this uhhhh slaps" ("Uppity", "Bollocking Pt 1"). The closing isn't the strongest, and the last two tracks kinda both overstay their welcome at 5 minutes plus, but there are so many high highs here I can overlook a lot of the just alright bits in between. [First added to this chart: 09/19/2019]
Year of Release:
2019
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8
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Hey look another good album that's simultaneously just a worse version of a recent album by the same artist. This doesn't do that much that Flower Boy didn't, and the standout moments are just more effective song transitions. The thing this has going for it that many of these other albums don't is that Flower Boy is incredible, so a similar and slightly underwhelming version of it is still really good.
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2019
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2,235
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This is a concept album about the way the internet ties people together, and serves equally as a cute testament to that thought and a burial ground for reddit posts I saw once. First 3 tracks kinda show that off well before we get to a track with the same thought but really different energy, as "Maybe We Could Try Retrofitting My Head to an RC Car" is the first of two Bedbug beats on here. Navel and Bedbug are both great on their own, but every time they collaborate, magic happens. In the end, I think these moments both represent the coolest things about the album - as someone put it on bandcamp, it's an almost utopic view of what the internet can do. That's what Chungus Dino and Omer Tower are, that's the voices offered throughout. There's some things I don't like here - the intro to "Talking in Person About the Internet", the at first beautiful but eventually slightly overdone use of echo on the backing yells, but it's so hard for me to be bothered by them in any serious way while listening. This is just a really wholesome listen, with a few extra special tunes throughout. I think Pink Navel has been the most wholesome human in the rap game for some years now, and each album they've released has only further my faith in their artistic visions. This isn't a perfect album, but it was the first album I heard this year that put a smile on my face, and I think there's an immense amount of value in that. [First added to this chart: 09/19/2019]
Year of Release:
2019
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4
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At this point, I mostly know what to expect out of SYSC, and that I'll enjoy it, but this album actually did some more divergent things than I expected that I really liked. The spoken word bits are fine, I don't think they're used as effectively here as they were on the Sgarbossa siblings' old project FTTP, but there's a couple moments, especially the latter half of the second track, that hit this really nostalgic place for me, feels like a genuinely improved upon and modernized take on Saosin or the other more popular but still not quite radio friendly post-hardcore acts of the day. Can't stress enough how cool the people in this band seem to be as human beings, or how nice they were in person when I met them with their old act (Rene Descartes). A pretty fun, angsty time that isn't life changing, but is a fun time by an act I already loved who have been able to incorporate some new ideas into their music successfully. Props.
Year of Release:
2019
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8
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Alright, credit where credit is due, I really didn't get the hype around Lana, and I think with most of her work, I still don't. There's something here that feels far more genuine while also being more lush than what else I've heard of hers. It's just a good balance. My only notable complaint is that the Doin' Time cover is pretty distracting in the middle of the album, and I kinda wish it was either a soundtrack exclusive or a bonus track here. [First added to this chart: 09/19/2019]
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2019
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2,319
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American Football 1: A classic and incredibly influential album but Mike's voice is really irritating

American Football 2: A snoozefest but Mike's voice doesn't bug me anymore

American Football 3: The music is actually pretty good and Mike's voice is good
[First added to this chart: 09/19/2019]
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2019
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176
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Man, this is a really good album, but I can't help but find it a little disappointing, only because both Phoebe and Conor have proven they are fully capable of creating masterpieces, and this is just "really good". Still, a cool collaboration, some standout tracks, some hard hitting lines, really cool people, but unlike "Stranger in the Alps" or "I'm Wide Awake", this isn't in my top 100 of all time. Which isn't a negative just was hoping for more. IDK, I'm in a weird spot on this one. [First added to this chart: 09/19/2019]
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2019
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184
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Alright, this was my surprise of the year so far. I've never heard of either of these guys, only found the album while trying to see what else billy woods has been up to after enjoying "Hiding Places", and this was his other 2019 feature. In doing what little research I could, it looks like stoneset is the producer and Teether the rapper? Both are new names in what appears to be the fairly new world of Australian underground hip hop. At its best moments, this album is able to hit some incredible chill beats and lackadaisical rhymes to just kinda float in, while still bringing enough energy to drive itself forward at other moments. I will say that there are moments where Teether (I think) sounds a little like a parody of MC Ride, and the general mumbling quality of his voice could grate after a while, but for whatever reason, it didn't really bother me, maybe due to it's relatively short run time at a little under 38 minutes. I'm not sure if these are the kinds of tunes I could casually slide into a playlist, but this is a project I see myself returning to. While the features didn't really stand out to me for the most part, the 4 tracks with features did have even better beats, with "To Sleep" probably being my favorite of the album. [First added to this chart: 09/19/2019]
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2019
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4
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Total albums: 31. Page 1 of 4

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Top 31 Music Albums of 2019 composition

Country Albums %


United States 24 77%
United Kingdom 3 10%
Australia 2 6%
Canada 1 3%
France 1 3%

Top 31 Music Albums of 2019 chart changes

Biggest climbers
climbers Up 2 from 7th to 5th
Andre's Gift & Omer Tower
by Pink Navel
Biggest fallers
fallers Down 8 from 18th to 26th
Corpse Flower
by Mike Patton / Jean-Claude Vannier
fallers Down 8 from 20th to 28th
Morbid Stuff
by PUP
fallers Down 8 from 21st to 29th
Soldier
by A.M. Breakups

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