Oh, 2019. I barely knew you…
I didn’t get out to as many shows as I wanted to, probably didn’t check out nearly enough bands - local or otherwise - as I should have. I certainly didn’t write as much as I wanted to (though, when it happened, it happened all at once and was exhilarating). At CincyMusic, we’re incredibly fortunate to have an outlet that even gives us the opportunity to write about music, that trusts us and believes in us, and really, let’s us just… write. And for that, in 2019, eyeing 2020, I am forever grateful.
There was a lot more I ended up stoked on this year than I initially thought, so let’s get to it. These 11 albums are in no particular order, and are simply my favorite albums of the year (that I heard). If you don’t know who the band or artist is, I hope you’ll check one or two of them out.
Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated
I mean, I guess you should know who she is? Even so, I imagine you did the same thing that I did and completely ignored her after “Call Me Maybe” became whatever it became. Y’all, my mistake. Dedicated is quirky pop perfection (and frankly, her previous album, Emotion, is almost as good, though not as refined). There’s the radio ready stuff, for sure, but even those tracks have room to breathe and get weird. It’s a funky one, through and through, and it’s easily my favorite/most listened to album this year. Also, she is an absolute delight live - her show at Bogart’s this year is among my 2-3 favorite live experiences of 2019.
Pup - Morbid Stuff
This one just straight rips. I was fortunate enough to chat with their vocalist earlier this year, and was really impressed by the mindset of the band, how hard they work to do what they do, and how much they respect their fans the world over. I was legitimately caught off guard by how good this album is and how much it continues to pack a punch, all these months later. Big, brash, punk as fuck, it’s a genuine and heartfelt look at the toll it takes just being a human being in 2019.
Pedro the Lion - Phoenix
I didn’t realize how much I missed Pedro the Lion until this album came out and I said to myself, wow, I really missed Pedro the Lion. Yes, David Bazan has been nothing if not prolific and he’s had some incredible releases both solo and as a part of other entities (Lo Tom’s only album is basically perfect, FYI). But this… this was something else, and something much needed. Phoenix is as sincere an album as you’ll find of a man who’s questioned essentially everything and is still unsure of the answers, and struggling to find peace with what, in his estimation, he’s figured out. It’s a long listen, but rewarding every single time.
The Get Up Kids - Problems
I am, shamefully, late to this one. Not that I had written them off, per se, I just didn’t know if I could connect with The Get Up Kids the same way I used to. I couldn’t be happier to know that still, all these years later, I absolutely can. They’ve grown up in a way that I wasn’t expecting - Problems is an album that does a lot to reckon with what came before and states their case really strongly for whatever comes next. It’s a grown-up record, big on the rock, less so on the punk, but all the vibes you love from everything they’ve done before comes out in this one. And that’s all I can really ask for.
Melanie Martinez - K-12
Even after my first 2-3 listens, I honestly wasn’t sure what this album was going to be. I knew that it made me uncomfortable (doubly so after watching the hour plus video that accompanied the release of the album), but that I was also really intrigued and had a really difficult time getting some of the melodies out of my head. It’s a weird album, and probably the less you know about it, the better. But, for me, it falls right in line with the Out There pop stuff I tend to enjoy. It’s a dark one, but you want to kind of dance to it all?
Queen of Jeans - if you’re not afraid, i’m not afraid
This is just an all-around incredible record - it’s lush, honest, immaculately produced, and is just the right mix of earnest and cutting. It’s steeped in Americana, but has a distinctly 2010’s vibe. It’s a quintessentially Topshelf Records record, and I love that. I caught them live, opening for The Menzingers, earlier this year, and I was immediately a fan. It’s a slow burn of an album, taking its time as it alternates from quiet and contemplative to fierce and soaring. As soon as I heard the album, I knew I’d be writing about it on this list.
Norma Jean - All Hail
A monster of an album, All Hail just… rips. It’s a bit of a throwback to the things I’ve always liked about Norma Jean - big riffs, chunky breakdowns, desperate vocals. If you’re a fan of the band, it has a distinct Redeemer era vibe and I am 100% okay with that. To be honest, I’m surprised by how often I came back to this one - it’s not breaking the mold and certainly isn’t anything new, but everything it does, it does extremely well. And, I guess, every now and then, it’s good to have something you can play start to finish that both soothes and makes you want to punch holes in the floor.
The Appleseed Cast - The Fleeting Light of Impermanence
Next to Illumination Ritual, this is easily my favorite album from The Appleseed Cast. Whether it’s the new lineup, or something else entirely, they’re a reinvigorated band. It’s a kinetic album, mostly instrumental, the vocals showing up at exactly the right time in exactly the right place. If you’re a fan of Mogwai and what they did with Rave Tapes, this cuts along the same lines, but is distinctly its own thing, and a seriously awesome evolution for a band that’s been doing this as long as they have. Also, they’re insanely good live, and these songs were a highlight when I saw them earlier this year.
Tegan and Sara - Hey, I’m Just Like You
The conceit of this album alone would have made it basically impossible not to include it on any kind of favorites list this year: take poetry and lyrics and journal entries from high school, and turn them into Tegan and Sara songs here and now. It’s an odd choice from a duo who, really, could do anything they wanted to at this point in their career, and wow, did they. Already this album is among my favorites of their entire discography. The lyrics, composition, and even the marketing behind the album… all of it works seamlessly. If you’ve written them off as purely Pop after their last two albums, please do yourself a favor and check this one out.
Baggage - Life in Misophonia
What I love about this record is how unapologetically it is what it is. Baggage is led by Jonathan Diener, of The Swellers (RIP), and is a mix of so many great rock and emo bands from the late 90’s and early 00’s that it would basically be impossible for me not to enjoy it, if not outright love it. Its pace isn’t urgent, even when what it’s trying to convey might be, so it takes it’s time, letting each song gather purpose and energy. The immaculate production helps keep this one consistent, and, seriously, lush. It’s an album that’s very much its own thing, but has me excited to see where they go next.
Bonus Releases! I’d be really bummed not to share these two very different albums with you. Technically, yes, they released in 2018. But these reissues/re-releases got my attention this year (one, after seeing one of the bands live, the other after a strong recommendation from a friend). They’re on opposite ends of the musical spectrum, and I kind of love that.
Pool Kids - Music to Practice Safe Sex To (reissue)
This one hits all the right notes for me (literally and figuratively, I suppose). Wild vocals, even wilder guitar work (I do love me some noodly guitars), super weird time signatures, it’s an even weirder album when it plays it straight because it’s still so damn good (and, I guess, there’s not one track that doesn’t veer off into Odd Music territory at least a little bit). It’s an overly charming introduction to a band that is already making some big waves in the indie music scene (seriously, they’re touring with The Wonder Years of all bands next year which is a bit of a step up from playing The Revival Room at The Southgate House Revival just a couple of months ago). Please check this one out and pay attention to what they’re going to do next. I already know it’s going to be great.
Holy Fawn - Death Spell (remaster/reissue)
This band caught me by surprise. I took a trip to Indianapolis for the second annual Post. Festival (which had its flaws, but as a whole was a really great experience. Ostensibly I went to see my friends O’Brother and The End of the Ocean headline day two (and catch up with my buddies in Au Revoir on day one), and knew that Holy Fawn was on tour with them for a brief Midwest run. I wasn’t expecting their live show to be so intense, and for their album to become one of my most listened to since hearing them at the fest. Heavy, loud, and pretty, they somehow take all of the aggravating aspects of what a band like Deafheaven might do and distill the shoegaze-y metal aspects into something way more palatable and, at times, truly beautiful. It’s a big album, and veers between heavy and quiet and screechy and lovely at an almost glacial pace. But damn, does it all just… work.
Happy Holidays, y’all. Thanks for reading, and happy listening.