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Tom Jenkins Best of 2019

In a decade that changed music so much it’s hard to discuss what was the most important music of the past 10 years. From the psychedelic juggernaut Tame Impala taking over the charts, to the affirmation of Kendrick Lamar’s genius, to the return of Outlaw Country, to women like Courtney Barnett, Phoebe Bridgers, and the supergroup boygenius taking over rock music. 

There is almost too much to talk about from the past ten years, but 2019 may have brought some of the best music of the decade. With the emergence of the incredible genre bending Lizzo, to Gen Z finding their queen weirdo in Billie Eilish. 

For me 2019 was also a banner year in live music, from seeing Vampire Weekend’s transition into a sort of indie jam band, to watching Childish Gambino’s larger than life stage presence, to seeing Phish’s triumphant return to the Farm at Bonnaroo.

But I’ve written plenty about those shows, so I thought I’d write about my favorite 19 albums of 2019, in no particular order. 

Ona: Full Moon, Heavy Light

Out of Huntington, West Virginia Appalachian indie rockers Ona followed up their incredibly underrated 2016 debut “American Fiction” with “Full Moon, Heavy Light.” A mature evolution in into lo-fi pop, that showcases each member of the five-piece act from lead singer Bradley Jenkins’ and lead guitarist Zach Owens’ lyrics of fatherhood and reflection, to bassist Zach Johnston infectious bass lines. “Full Moon, Heavy Light,” is just the beginning of one of America’s most exciting rock acts right now. 

Tyler Childers: Country Squire

In just four years, Tyler Childers has had a meteoric rise to the top of Country Music. The Eastern Kentucky artist who got his start running the roads of Appalachia with his amazing life act, supported by his backing band the Food Stamps. Childers released his second studio album in August, the follow up to “Purgatory,” “Country Squire” the album was once again produced by, Johnny Cash producer Dave Ferguson and Sturgill Simpson. The album was fun, honest, and all and all a perfect follow up to his debut. The songs feel worked through and fully formed. “Country Squire” is a working man’s record simply because of the work Childers and co put into working on the road. 

Wilco: Ode to Joy 

After a busy 2018 for Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, releasing two solo records “Warm” and “Warmer,” along with his memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back). Tweedy and company returned to the studio to make one of their best records from this decade “Ode to Joy.” The album was sincere, filled with hope, and a reflection of where Tweedy is at this point in his already amazing song writing career. 

Maggie Rogers: Heard It In A Past Life 

Maggie Rogers was one 2019’s most exciting artists with her debut album, “Heard It In A Past Life” offering up some pure pop gold. The album garnered her to be nominated for Best New Artist in these upcoming Grammy awards and with some stiff competition Rogers will have a tough time winning. But to be nominated in such a category alongside artists like Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X should be enough to get anyone to start paying attention to Roger’s talent. 

Big Thief: Two Hands 

“Two Hands” may have been one of my favorite albums of 2019, in just one-year Brooklyn based indie rockers Big Thief released two incredible albums. “Two Hands” came as a sort of surprise releasing it this past October just five months after their other album “U.F.O.F” but not to serve as some sort of B-Side for it. “Two Hands” may have been the most interesting approach lead singer and songwriter Addriane Lenker has taken, with the passion in songs like “Not” it is impossible to deny the genius and uniqueness that Lenker brings. 

Big Thief: U.F.O.F

As mentioned before, “U.F.O.F” was Big Thief's first record of 2019. Release back in May, the band had seemed like they’d created their best work yet, now with “Two Hands” you can make an argument for either one being their best work yet. 2019 was an incredible year for Big Thief and only makes me more excited to see what they will bring in the near future. 

PUP: Morbid Stuff 

Out of Toronto, Ontario punk rockers PUP blended their angst and frustrations with two to three-minute upbeat at times pop centric punk. With songs like, “Kids” and “Morbid Stuff” the band has elevated their sound and songwriting to bands like Titus Andronicus and The Gaslight Anthem. 

Sturgill Simpson: Sound & Fury 

Not to be told what to do or sound like, country music’s most inventive and daring artist Sturgill Simpson released his fourth studio recorded “Sound & Fury” the record was paired with a Anime film that essentially served as a 45-minute music video. But it wasn’t the Anime that made the album so different, it was Simpson’s refusal to be pinned into one genre and thus releasing a dystopia distorted rock album. With only his voice reminding you of his prior work. 

Lizzo: Cuz I Love You 

Arguably the breakout star of 2019, Minnesota based pop star Lizzo managed to blend genres like hip-hop, pop, soul, rock, and even throwing in a flute somehow to make not only one of the best albums of 2019 but maybe of the decade. Few artists have the ability to garner the amount of critical acclaim and popularity in a matter of months. Even selling out the Madison Theatre here and moving to (and selling out) the U.S. Bank Arena to perform because of ticket demand to see the sensation that is Lizzo. Her talent and work feel unique and harken back to artists like Prince and David Bowie. 

Bon Iver: i,i 

In a year with so many great albums it may be hard to remember that Justin Vernon released his fourth studio album a sprawling and beautiful album “i,i.” Taking inspiration from his love of Bruce Hornsby and the Grateful Dead and his new found appreciation for therapy and mental healthcare Vernon created his most confident and optimistic work. 

The Black Keys: Let’s Rock

We hadn’t heard from Akron, Ohio’s the Black Keys in nearly five years. With Dan Aerubach producing multiple records, as well as releasing his own studio record and creating another band the Arcs he was fairly busy. Their last record “Turn Blue” was a departure from the sound that made the duo the biggest act in rock, steering more towards a psychedelic sound than their old formula of plug in and play loud. Well the two returned to that sound quite literally with “Let’s Rock,” as straight up of a rock record as we got all year. 

Post Malone: Hollywood’s Nightmare 

Post Malone may be one of the biggest acts on the planet right now and although his unique look and love of Bud Light makes him stick out like a sore thumb, from what we thought a conventional pop star could be, it’s undeniable Malone’s ability to write incredibly catchy pop music. The lead single from Malone’s third studio record “Circles” may have been one of my favorite songs of 2019. 

The National: I Am Easy to Find 

It was a pleasant surprise to hear from Cincinnati’s own the National again so quickly after their 2017 record “Sleep Well Beast.” “I Am Easy to Find,” is hands down the bands most adventurous work yet, adding in lead singer Matt Berninger’s wife Carin Besser as his co-lyricist and female vocals from artists like Sharon Van Etten and Gail Ann Dorsey who played bass for David Bowie, the band embarked on uncharted territory in 2019. What came of it was their most creative and exciting work. Like a fine wine, the National just continue to age with grace and never seem to disappoint. 

Caamp: By and By 

Columbus, Ohio folk trio Caamp released their follow up to their 2016 self titled record with “By and By” this past July. Caamp’s entire aesthetic can be heard through their music, everytime you put one of their tunes on you want to be sitting by a fire under the stars, or on a long road trip through the countryside. 

Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell! 

Hailed as one of the most talented songwriters in music today, Lana Del Rey created an album that may serve as the best snapshot of where we are at in 2019. Similar to the songwriters of the 60’s Southern California era, Del Rey creates a time capsule of a Country and a time in turmoil, packaged in a beautiful song. 

Better Oblivion Community Center: Self-Titled 

Phoebe Brigders is maybe the most active artist in indie music right now. From her own solo work, to being in a supergroup boygenius with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, to working with the National frontman Matt Berninger on his new solo album, even releasing a political Christmas song with Berninger and Fiona Apple. But just add to that list Bridgers work with singer / songwriter Conor Oberst to create another group where the two duet on each song. Better Oblivion Community Center, released their self-titled album this year that truly showcases Bridgers voice and each of their songwriting abilities. It truly seems that Bridgers has the ability to create an album with Cure-like pop hits after hits, with the song “Dylan Thomas” that is what they did. 

Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride 

If I were to rank these albums, “Father of the Bride” may have been the album I played the most, was most excited for and completely bought in on. It had been six years since the New York based indie superstars Vampire Weekend had release a studio record and the first three records all had that classic Ezra Koenig sound. That upbeat, Colombia elitist satire that the band was started on. But when they returned in April of this year Koenig and company had created this Southern California influenced masterpiece. Taking influence from artists like the Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, to even changing their live act to resemble a Phish or Grateful Dead performance, with jamming to even marketing their merch the same way. If this is the direction Ezra Koenig chooses to take Vampire Weekend than I’ll be catching them on ever tour. 

Billy Strings: Home

Probably the most exciting new artists to come into both the bluegrass and jam band scene, Billy Strings is a 20-year-old metal head who was raised on bluegrass music and is taking much of the country by storm. With his face melting guitar solos and amazing voice, Billy Strings continues to blow me away. His 2019 record “Home” is collectively his best work and truly dives into the psychedelic aspect that makes his live act so amazing.  

Orville Peck: Pony 

I was late to the Orville Peck train but I’m all aboard now. The Canadian masked cowboy reminds me if Marty Robbins and Morrisey were blended together to create some dream-like cowboy fantasy. “Turn to Hate” was maybe one of my favorite songs of 2019 but the album “Pony” as a whole is incredible and has been mistakenly overlooked by many music outlets. If you’re looking to drink a glass of whiskey by yourself slap on “Pony” and let Orville Peck take you on a ride through his Wild West.