Jai Paul – Leak 04-13
Honorable mention only because this album didn’t technically come out in 2019. The story of Jai Paul’s would-be debut album has been told many a time, including by the artist himself. Still, this album sounds as fresh today as it did 6 years ago when it was first (illegally) released into the world. Having it now, preserved as it was when it was first leaked along with two new single, I can only hope this signals Jai Paul’s return and control of his narrative/career that was once robbed of him.
The Top Ten
- Big Thief – U.F.O.F. / Two Hands
- Maybe it’s cheating to group these two albums together, but it’s hard for me to separate them. U.F.O.F., the celestial one, and Two Hands, its earthy twin (so described by the band), pair up nicely in their meditative take on the “indie” genre. Big Thief is one of the best band’s the proverbial we’s got going right now, and these albums are a powerful testament to that.
2. Brittany Howard – Jaime
- The first solo album from Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard fits into a lineage of recent works than span and add to the many different black musical genres—works like D’Angelo’s Black Messiah and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. At times gospel, RnB, hip hop, always soulful, Jaime takes us on a tour of many different styles, showcasing the range of her voice and songwriting.
3. billy woods & Kenny Segal – Hiding Places
- billy woods is not a rapper to listen to passively. His robust, low voice navigates densely written and delivered bars with ease. Hiding Places invites you to listen to it with the lyric book open. Kenny Segal provides woods with beats that evoke the languid atmosphere of woods’ methodically destructive storytelling.
4. FKA Twigs – Magdalene
- I’ve got no points of comparison for Magdalene. It’s orchestral, it’s trap, it’s pop, it’s just plain out there. Even on first listen, you can tell you’re listening to an artist who’s somehow tapped into the future, but the rich production and expressive vocal takes definitely reward repeat listens.
5. Solange – When I Get Home
- From beginning to end, When I Get Home feels like a singular piece. Each track flows smoothly into the next with Solange’s abstracted take on RnB providing the connective tissue. That being said, this is not a thematically linear album. It flows with the ethereal quality of a dream. This is music to get lost in, to float to, to drift away to—like imagination, itself, it feels boundless, weightless.
6. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
- Let’s call Norman Fucking Rockwell! Lana Del Rey’s take on the great American novel. It’s got all the necessary ambition and all the incisive critiques The American Dream’s pseudo-allure and even a cover of Sublime’s take on much-covered Gershwin classic. (Okay, maybe that last one breaks the argument.) Norman Fuckin Rockwell! feels both of its time and deliberately out of it. The songs are often slow, quiet ballads that still, with their dry humor (the album begins with a plainly sung, “Goddamned man child”) and earnest storytelling, feel as disruptive as the Fucking in its tongue-in-cheek title, lampooning the false Americana of its titular painter.
7. Anderson .Paak – Ventura
- Anderson .Paak has been Mr. Feature Extraordinaire for the last couple of years, but on Ventura he has his most realized solo effort since Malibu force launched him into the broader spotlight. On Ventura, .Paak adds class to his trademark cockiness, crooning like the soul singers of yesteryear. Smokey Robinson even makes an appearance to provide weight to the context.
8. Jamila Woods – Legacy! Legacy!
- First off, I’m destined to love an album that has a song titled after the late great James Baldwin. Second, the album is great. Woods tackles a wide range of issues with each song named after a famous Person of Color who has also contributed to the discourse. I’d like to think each person honored here, from Betty Davis to Frida Kahlo to Sun Ra among others, would groove to these intelligent, political, poetic neo-soul anthems.
9. Cate Le Bon – Reward
- Reward is somehow both lush, dreamy, beautiful as well as existentially lonely. The album delivers the breezy air of the English mountainside it was recorded at—in a cottage, no less—with meditative repeated refrains like “Last time for all time” at the end of the song, “Home to You,” that draw you into Le Bon’s singular thought process. Reward will take you by the hand into a peaceful solitude as it complicates your understanding of the cacophonous world outside.
10. Rapsody – Eve
- Eve opens with a sample of Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit,” which would have been a bold statement even if a certain somebody hadn’t also used the sample a few years prior. But Rapsody is more than bold enough to rap over Simone’s tragic, haunting ballad. Indeed, over the course of the album, Rapsody asserts herself against a country that routinely makes strange fruit of black bodies and against men, including other rappers, that objectify and harm the bodies of women. Eve is a testament, balancing hard-hitting bars with elegiac spoken word. If you aren’t listening, it’ll make you.
The Rest (in no particular order)
RIYL = recommend if you like
- Crumb – Jinx
- RIYL – groovy, atmospheric jams
- Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana
- RIYL – one of the best rappers working with one of the best producers (again!)
- Angel Olsen – All Mirrors
- RIYL – weeping to a string section (also, one of the best album openers of the year)
- Tyler, The Creator – Igor
- Igor is both an expansion of the sound Tyler pivoted to on Flower Boy and yet another pivot. After awhile, it seems like every rapper has their “I’m not a rapper” album, but Tyler breathes new life into the trope with an earnest exploration of the dissolution of a relationship. Plus, the few bars we are given on the album reflect that terrifying bass-laden delivery that Tyler first burst onto the scene with.
- Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains
- I’ll confess I have only returned to the album once since David Berman’s passing. Berman was clearly grappling with a great deal of inner pain when he wrote this album but still managed to tackle his hurting with his trademark wit and lyricism.
- Jay Som – Anak Ko
- RIYL – indie rock hooks that won’t leave your head for days
- James Blake – Assume Form
- The album offers touching, melodic insights on love and I would also recommend Blake’s writing after the album’s release.
- Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow
- RIYL – Sharon Van Etten’s typical earnest, vulnerable songwriting with heavier bass tones and more synth-laden production.
- Caroline Shaw / Attacca Quartet – Orange
- RIYL – a Pulitzer winning composer at the top of her game
- JPEGMAFIA – All My Heroes Are Cornballs
- RIYL – your rap to make you laugh as it unsettles you
- Sudan Archives – Athena
- RIYL – violins set to a beat
- Little Brother – May the Lord Watch
- RIYL – Smart, funny skits and unexpected comebacks
- Jessica Pratt – Quiet Signs
- RIYL – staying up late contemplating the meaning of existence
- Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin¿
- RIYL – Stand-up comedy
- (Sandy) Alex G – House of Sugar
- I just want to remind everyone that Republicans mistook a photo of Alex G to be former Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke. And I can’t quite explain why, but that seems very fitting.
- Nilüfer Yanya – Miss Universe
- I came to this album late, but the songwriting here reminds me of some of the best indie bands from earlier in the millennium while still sounding fresh and all its own.
- Helado Negro – This Is How You Smile
- RIYL – carefully, beautifully examined nostalgia
- Denzel Curry – Zuu
- RIYL – one of rap’s most interesting rappers going
- Raphael Saadiq – Jimmy Lee
- This album is HEAVY. Saadiq is processing both grief and trauma in songs that beautifully render his heartbreak and emerge wholly changed on the other side.
- Quelle Chris – Guns
- RIYL – satirical and politically charged verses
- Flying Lotus –Flamagra
- RIYL – the kind of interesting, unique features that only FlyLo can get (gotta love an album that has both David Lynch and Denzel Curry)
- Young Thug – So Much Fun
- RIYL – lots and lots of Thugger
- Bon Iver – i,i
- RIYL – the logical progression from 33, A Million
- Great Grandpa – Four of Arrows
- RIYL – when a band is willing to reinvent themselves
- Pile – Green and Gray
- Jenny Lewis – On the Line
- Jenny Lewis is one of my favorite songwriters ever, and On the Line gives an alt-country backing to the funny, poignant songwriting she perfected with Rilo Kiley and has continued in her solo albums.
- Hand Habits – placeholder
- RIYL – melodies that lull you into a dream state
- PUP – Morbid Stuff
- RIYL – meditating on death while driving 90mph down a highway
- Griselda – WWCD
- RIYL – Wu Tang approved albums that sound like they were recorded in the 90s
- Holly Hendron – PROTO
- RIYL – motherfuckin’ space noises from a songwriter with a PhD
- Dababy – Baby on Baby
- Dababy rarely flips up his flow, even when he says he’s gonna flip up his flow, but goddamnit if it isn’t just fun and easy to bop to.
- Black Midi – Schlagenheim
- RIYL – panic attacks induced by loud noises
- Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?
- RIYL – psychedlic baroque rock
- Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
- RIYL – songs that sound like they could soundtrack pivotal scenes in an 80s dram-com
- Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
- RIYL – the idea of Vampire Weekend making an Americana/Country album
- Cuco – Para Mi
- RIYL – tender, DIY pop songs
- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
- RIYL – understanding your place in a world that often seems cruel
- Jenny Hval – The Practice of Love
- RIYL – strange, captivating pop songs that actually dissect “love” instead of reveling in it
- Julia Jacklin – Crushing
- RIYL – introspective indie pop
- YBN Cordae – The Lost Boy
- RIYL – a promising young rapper with a unique storytelling style