Alt Revue's Top 25 Albums of 2019
It's time for the annual Top 25 albums of the year! This year was an extremely difficult year to decide on the Top 25 as there were many deserving albums. However, after much discussion, anguish, and jamming we were able to get our list down to what you'll find below. Did we get it right? Let us know your top albums of the year! - Alt Revue
25. Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride - I'm going to sound like a broken record with Vampire Weekend here, but expectations were enormous coming into the release of this album. The hype machine was real here. Now, I'm not saying this album is bad, it obviously made our Top 25 of the year. There are some great tracks on the album like "This Life", which should emerge into the canon of VW's top hits. That said, I was let down by tracks such as "Big Blue" and the like. That said, it was still a monster album throughout the year garnering commercial and critical success despite some criticism. Hence, why it isn't higher on our End of the Year list.
24. Jenny Lewis - On the Line - The former frontwoman of Rilo Kiley was back in a big way this year with her dynamic new album On the Line that dropped in March. The album was headed by the single "Heads Gonna Roll" which got significant airplay, though it was probably our least favorite song on the album. Lewis sticks to her guns on this one as she displays that same vintage style that feels so full and warm. Earlier this year, Michael compared it to the difference between a solid state and a tube amp. Jenny Lewis' music sound is a tube amp.
23. Summer Cannibals - Can't Tell Me No - Part alt-rock and part garage rock, Summer Cannibals (alums of our Artist Spotlight feature!) achieved something with their release of Can't Tell Me No. Can't Tell Me No was perhaps one of the strongest alt-rock albums of the year and most certainly the strongest that had elements of garage rock. The entire album is great from start to finish featuring great tracks such as "False Anthem", "Can't Tell Me No", "Behave", "Innocent Man" and more. When we first heard it, we were also reminded of classic alt like The Breeders. There's a lot to love here and if you haven't heard the album yet, do yourself a favor and give it a listen.
22. Sigrid - Suckerpunch - Sigrid is quickly climbing the ladder among the alt-pop hierarchy on the scene today. Having a chance to see her at Austin City Limits, she drew a huge crowd and absolutely nailed her set. Perhaps her strongest assets are her dynamic hooks, dance-worthy beats, and soaring vocals. Suckerpunch, Sigrid's first full-length release, has driven her to new heights with the album debuting Number 1 in Norway and Number 4 in England. She was also nominated for an MTV Video Music Award for the Push Artist of the Year. All this has come off the back of Suckerpunch, an album that's sugary sweet with pop brightness, but has addicting beats and vocals that will be sure to hook the alt crowd.
21. Brittany Howard - Jaime - Alabama Shakes are a great band, but Brittany Howard was always the star of the show. When Howard announced her solo album, we were excited to see what she would do on her own. Needless to say, we weren't disappointed. Jaime effortlessly blends elements of soul, blues, gospel, and music from a different time. It's all just so damn good. Her work this year has pushed her to new heights of notoriety and fame, as she performed at Austin City Limits 2019 and put on one hell of a set. She's hitting the road in 2020 in support of Jaime starting overseas. We're extremely happy for her success, as it's well earned after putting out such a strong effort like Jaime.
20. CAAMP - By and By - CAAMP (alumni of the Artist Spotlight!) put out what might be one of the strongest alt-country albums of the year in By and By. Full of warm melodies and topped off by Taylor Meier's strong smoky vocals, CAAMP are one of a kind. They also manage to infuse electric guitars into their melodies and walk delicate balance of jam and relaxing music. You should definitely check out "No Sleep" for a great example of this. They drew great reviews with By and By and secured a lineup slot at Austin City Limits 2019. If you haven't listened to CAAMP and remotely like alt-country, folk, or good music to jam to, you won't be sorry.
19. Thom Yorke - ANIMA - We believe it was mentioned during our review of the album, but every once in a while, the king needs to come down from his thrown and remind people why he's the king. In June 2019, Thom Yorke did just that. He has continually showed why he remains at the top of more electronic-infused alternative music and he continued this trend with ANIMA. ANIMA has been almost universally acclaimed as his best solo record by numerous in the industry. We would say we have to agree, it's definitely the most complete sound solo album he's put out. This album is vintage Thom Yorke but taken up a notch, so dive in you're going to love it.
18. MISSIO - The Darker The Weather // The Better the Man - In case you hadn't heard, MISSIO (alums of the Artist Spotlight feature!) and The MISSIO Mafia have absolutely dominated the Sirius Alt Nation Charts this year. They have had multiple tracks secure the Number 1 slot on their Alt 18 Countdown for weeks! The Alt 18 Countdown is a list that's voted for by the public, so needless to say they're killing it. The songs that have been featured on the Alt 18 Countdown have all been from The Darker The Weather // The Better the Man. This album is another achievement for the Austin,TX natives as they continue to show they are absolutely fearless when it comes to blending sound and genre. The Darker The Weather // The Better the Man features hip hop tracks that collaborate with Paul Wall and Kota the Friend. At the same time it features ballads like "I See You". We've said it before and we'll say it again, MISSIO only cares about making good music. They aren't scared to experiment with their sound. The end result? They've been rewarded with a coveted spot at Hangout Fest 2020.
17. Strand of Oaks - Eraserland - Led by the gorgeous single "Weird Ways", Eraserland was nothing short of a tour de force Strand of Oaks. Timothy Showalter was able to stretch his creative self quite a bit on this album, as he brought in some post punk elements, some alt-country flair, and some familiar alt stylings. While all of these elements flowed throughout Eraserland, they never felt out of place or wrong. The Indiana born, now Austin, TX residing Showalter managed to push all the right buttons with this one. At some points his melodies would move into more atmospheric wavelengths. Sometimes this was digitally achieved, others it was achieved via guitar. No matter how he did it, its absolutely breathtaking.
16. The National - I am Easy to Find - A calculated record that manages to do everything right, I Am Easy to Find made waves when it dropped in May. The album features tracks such as "You Had Your Soul With You", "I Am Easy to Find", "Quiet Light", and more. The National's continued success as one of the biggest bands in alt led to some all-star team-ups with Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers on some great tracks and we almost forgot to mention that Sharon Van Etten appeared on "The Pull of You", which appeared on the album. They also toured the country with Courtney Barnett offering support. Needless to say it was a big year for The National. For us, this is one of the best top to bottom albums from the group.
15. Jay Som - Anak Ko - Jay Som's third album dropped in August of 2019 and it made some waves when it did. The dream pop artist released yet another collection of strong indie rock tracks that stand up among some of the best releases of the year. Some of the songs are shimmering bright, such as "Superbike". Others are a little more low-key, like "Peace Out". Regardless, Jay Som keeps a consistent voice with fantastic vocals throughout the album. Jay Some consistently pushes throughout the album, never delivering a "clunker" on the record. Anak Ko only has served to raise her star power, she has the talent to go far.
14. The Black Keys - Let's Rock - In June 2019 the music world lost it's collective fucking mind as one of alt's mainstays officially returned from a five-year hiatus. The Black Keys were back and in a big way. Let's Rock was a behemoth of the summer music season, with tracks like "Lo/Hi", "Go", "Eagle Birds", and "Shine a Little Light" absolutely lighting up radio broadcasts and streaming services. To top it off, The Black Keys announced an expansive headlining tour in support of the album featuring support from Modest Mouse and *repeat repeat (alums of our Artist Spotlight!). Expectations were high for Let's Rock, so...did The Black Keys deliver? Absolutely the Akron natives did! Let's Rock will most assuredly be appreciated as being among the better albums in their discography when all is said and done.
13. Wilco - Ode to Joy - Ode to Joy might not have garnered some of the earthshaking movement that some of these other albums achieved this year. However, one thing was consistent, many saw Ode to Joy as a "return to form". For me, I really think Wilco never left their form. Sure they're a band that likes to tweak now and then. Despite this, Ode to Joy might be their most alt-country sounding release in a long time, so the statement makes sense. To me, Wilco always achieves expectations so they didn't really shock anyone's expectations here. That said, Ode to Joy is a meticulously crafted, sonic experience, where Wilco revisit some of their alt-country roots, while feeling free to push boundaries, per the usual. A strong effort by one of the best bands out there today.
12. Big Thief - U.F.O.F. - Adrienne Linker and co. are absolute all-stars on U.F.O.F. Only the band's third full-length release (though they would release two albums this year alone bringing that total to four), Big Thief's mystic seems to grow by the day. U.F.O.F. might just be some of the most evocative alt-folk that's out there today. With solid melodies established by Buck Meek, Max Oleartchik, and James Krivchenia, Linker is free to bring her unique vocal presence to the party. That's what you get with U.F.O.F., is twelve songs that absolutely bring it, solidifying this release as one of the top albums of the year for us.
11. Julia Jacklin - Crushing - For many, Julia Jacklin came out of nowhere. Not Alt Revue. Immediately after hearing Crushing, Michael La Torre wrote about Jacklin: "...Jacklin's 'Crusher' is an achievement on all fronts musically. Jacklin is a rising star to keep an eye on...she's got the talent to rise quick. Only two albums into her career, with a head full of momentum from this strong release, the sky is the limit." We weren't wrong with this one. Jacklin had a successful year on the back of Crushing, as she became a staple of the Festival circuit and conducted her own headlining tour with support from Black Belt Eagle Scout. Jacklin's unique blend of indie and alt-country is so poignant, it simply must be heard. Check it out on Crushing.
10. City and Colour - A Pill for Loneliness - Wow, Dallas Green shook us with A Pill for Loneliness. Released in October, the album has stunning sonic movements that feel almost atmospheric in nature. The sound envelopes you both guitar and synths. Then there's Green's vocals. Again and again, he relentlessly delivers sweet harmonies that shift into unbelievable falsettos. A Pill for Loneliness was easily one of our featured staff choice Albums of the Month for October, so it makes sense it would end up on this list as well. A Pill for Loneliness is an "end to end" record. That is, you can listen to it from top to bottom, no need to skip anything. Michael loves to put this record on and drift away in it.
09. Weyes Blood - Titanic Rising - On Titanic Rising, Weyes Blood effortlessly blends traditional indie and modern pyschedlia. Another rare album that achieves a sonically atmospheric sound, Natalie Mering is bold in her blending of sound. She molds elements of alt-country and easy listening to produce something completely different from where she started. What cannot be understated on the album are Mering's vocals. She shows off one of the most dynamic registers in alt music period. For us, we were instantly hooked and couldn't stop listening.
08. Stella Donnelly - Beware of the Dogs - Easily one of the most gifted songwriters in alt music today, Stella Donnelly dropped a bomb on the music world in the form of Beware of the Dogs. The Australian singer/songwriter who prides herself on being a "shit-stirrer", we simply love the biting voice she has developed in her songs. Her main target? The patriarchy and toxic masculinity. We are here for it. With lines like "Oh, are you scared of me, old man? / Or are you scared of what I'll do? / You grabbed me with an open hand / The world is grabbin' back at you", she has put the music industry and the world for that matter on notice, she's calling it out. What's even better is that these songs are delivered many times in a fun alt-pop sound. Though her tone may be sarcastic at times, she means every word. She is a star on the rise and Beware of the Dogs was a critical success bringing Donnelly into a new stratosphere of success, and deservedly so.
07. Orville Peck - Pony - You likely won't find a more unique artist on this page than the enigmatic cowboy that is Orville Peck. While his trademark look is one thing, his sound, and vocals are something completely different. Drawing inspiration from classics such as Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons, and Dolly Parton, Peck is able to take classic country sound and give it a bright alt sheen for the modern day. Some of this comes from his talent at writing lyrics, for example his song "Queen of the Rodeo" is a fantastic ballad about a drag queen. You'd almost never guess this unless he told you, (which he did tell Michael at Austin City Limits). But when you know it makes so much sense. But the star of the show are his incomparable vocals, his baritone style stands out among the crowd today, but his range is so diverse he can easily hit a falsetto without thinking twice. Pony was nothing short of downright incredible and if you haven't had the opportunity to listen to it yet, I recommend you do so (after you finish the list of course!). His hard work has been rewarded with lineup spots at Austin City Limits 2019 and Hangout Festival 2020. He's also been featured on the cover of British GQ, and been interviewed by The New York Times, NPR, and Vice. Not bad for an artist who to date has released one album!
06. Bishop Briggs - CHAMPION - Vocals, vocals, vocals...Bishop Briggs might have some of the most dynamic vocals on this list. They're downright flawless, but more than that, they soar above the powerful melodies she achieves in her music. This album has a little bit of everything for listeners. There are points where she motivates the listener (like on "CHAMPION") and there are moments where she rips our collective hearts out with her lyrics (like on TATTOOED ON HEART). Bishop Briggs put a lot of pressure on herself to follow-up 2018's Church of Scars, she beat the mark with CHAMPION.
05. Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow - Sharon Van Etten had a tremendous year based on the release of her album Remind Me Tomorrow, that dropped way back in January. Despite it's release date, Van Etten remained on fire throughout the year, playing a world tour and a national tour in support of Remind Me Tomorrow. Chock full of singles like "Seventeen", "Comeback Kid", "No One's Easy to Love", and "Stay" this album is sure to make a lot of End of the Year lists, and for good reason. It was by far one of the most crisp and polished records of this year. From the onset, we knew it deserved a spot in our top 5 for this countdown.
04. Maggie Rogers - Heard It In A Past Life - At the beginning of the year, some of us at Alt Revue (particularly Michael) proclaimed this the album of the year. That was in January! And he was close! Heard It In A Past Life is that good. It's filled with absolute alt-pop bangers like "Light On", "Give a Little", "Overnight", "Alaska", and "Fallingwater" just to name a few. Rogers is probably only second to Billie Eilish with the amount of crossover success she achieved as a result of her album. Her work was rewarded with multiple Grammy nominations and a headlining performance at Coachella 2019. She followed-up the immense success of Heard It In A Past Life with a brand new single "Love You For A Long Time" in November that was met with critical acclaim.
03. Better Oblivion Community Center - Better Oblivion Community Center - Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst seemingly formed Better Oblivion Community Center out of nowhere dropping their eponymous debut in January of 2019. Little did we know the album would be such a monster, packed full of alt-folk greatness. One area that should be highlighted is Bridgers and Oberst's ability to harmonize despite who is taking the lead. They mold so well together vocally. Lyrically, the album is intense, well-crafted, and thought provoking. This one was our Number 1 for the Top 15 Albums of the Year (So Far) in June, and for good reason. It still holds up, even more so as we are in the colder months of the year. Something about Better Oblivion Community Center just plays better in the fall/winter months. But personally we'll take it any time we can get...So please tour again soon!
02. Billie Eilish - WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? - We can't recall a more anticipated debut album than WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? Billie Eilish was basically a star before releasing her first full length release. WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? pushed her star into a different stratosphere, as she's arguably the biggest artist in music right now. Not just alt music, like all music. WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? came with lofty expectations. Eilish did not disappoint, as the album has seemingly produced single after single, music video after music video, and the 17 year old Eilish has become not only one of the most commercially successful artists in music, but also one of the most critically successful ones as well. WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? will most assuredly be on many lists similar to this throughout media. There are good reasons for this, beyond what we've already outlined. First, Eilish and her brother FINNEAS make one hell of a songwriting pair. The use of beats on the album is unlike anything we've heard in a long time. Not to mention WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? is a single machine! It features tracks such as "bad guy", "you should see me in a crown", all the good girls go to hell", "wish you were gay", "my strange addiction" just to name a few! Additionally, something we feel that always gets overlooked with Eilish is that she's a fantastically talented singer and flashes of it all over WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?. Her hard work was rewarded with multiple Grammy nominations, MTV Music Awards, and headlining spots at Austin City Limits 2019 and Hangout Fest 2020. It would be criminal not to include Billie Eilish on this list and she came so close to getting the top slot. But that honor goes to another.
01. Purple Mountains - Purple Mountains - When David Berman founded Purple Mountains and dropped his self-titled album, an entire generation of fans were introduced to the enigmatic frontman who was a mainstay for Silver Jews in the 1990's and early 2000's. The album instantly became a critical and commercial success and it looked as if the songwriter/poet Berman was back into the mix of the alt world. A tour was set to support the album and all seemed bright. No one would know that Berman would never make that tour, committing suicide just days before it was set to start. No one originally saw Purple Mountains as Berman's ultimate swan song. Perhaps he did, we'll never know. Many have looked back at tracks like "Nights That Won't Happen" and pointed to the lyrics found there and other places as autobiographical. His friends at Drag City insist that he was simply writing lyrics to battle his depression, but it's hard to say. We often sit back and wonder "what if?" but we also know that's futile thinking as well. What we're left with are our memories of Berman and his contributions to music, including Purple Mountains. For us, Purple Mountains is not only one of the best albums we heard this year, it's one of the best albums we've ever heard. And we thought this before Berman's untimely death. With that in mind, we simply had to put Purple Mountains at our Number 1 Album of the Year.