50 Favorite Albums 2019

Accompanying Spotify Playlist

Honorable Mention:

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

  1. 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
  • 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
  • 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

 

 

50 Favorite Albums of 2018

 

At the start of this year, I lived in Texas, and by its end, I had driven 4,000 miles to Alaska. On the political and global stage, the word continued to shift and turn just as dramatically and quickly, leaving me dizzy as this year ends. The one constant has been a compulsion toward music, listened to in all manners of states—geographically and of being. Every year I compile a list of favorite albums, mostly for myself to revisit the music I’ve enjoyed, but this year the exercise has been particularly therapeutic—a way of tracking the year in song since it has made so little sense elsewhere. Here are 50 albums from this year in a somewhat arbitrary order that I’ve personally enjoyed more than other albums released from this year and that you might too or might’ve already but might’ve forgotten about.

Click here for the accompanying Spotify playlist: Personal Favorites of 2018

(RIYL = Recommend If You Like…)

1. Mitski – Be the Cowboy

RIYL… saying, “I feel that,” after hearing a lyric that cuts you deep, over and over again

2. Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs

RIYL… descending through a poet’s clouded, troubled mental hellscape

3. Amen Dunes – Freedom

RIYL… cruising down city streets as the sun sets

4. Tirzah – Devotion

RIYL… holding a loved one on a blanket in a city park

5. Noname – Room 25

RIYL… staying up late listening to your smart friend regale you with stories and jokes

6. Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer

RIYL… metaphors for the love between marginalized peoples

7. Playboi Carti – Die Lit

Playboi Carti – Die Lit

RIYL… as the cover depicts, stage-diving into a mob of enthralled young people 

8. Boygenius – boygenius

RIYL… ugly crying in public

9. Beach House – 7

RIYL… existential black and white french movies

10. Travis Scott – Astroworld

RIYL… navigating the sprawling houston metroplex with a confident guide

11. Julia Holter – Aviary

RIYL… gazing up into the night sky, searching for meaning

12. U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited

RIYL… dimly lit, hazy rooms

13. Rosalía– El Mal Querer

RIYL… losing yourself in dramatic fashion

14. Milo – budding ornithologists are weary of tired analogies

RIYL… densely crafted punchlines that complicate the rapper ethos

15. Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog

RIYL… gathering around a storyteller in the city center

16. Ariana Grande – sweetener

RIYL… mothafuckin’ artistry

17. Saba – CARE FOR ME

RIYL… the crisis of mortality you enter after losing a loved one

18. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

RIYL… flat Texas countryside and safe space dive bars

19. Sheck Wes – MUDBOY

RIYL… BALLIN’ LIKE A MUTHAFUCKIN’ PRO (punk is dead. long live the new punks.)   

20. Wye Oak – The Louder I Call, the Faster I Run

RIYL… a band constantly perfecting its sound

21. Pusha T – Daytona

RIYL… bars that got Drake shook

22. The Internet – Hive Mind

RIYL… tipsy swiping on tinder

23. Half Waif – Lavender

RIYL… grabbing a stranger on the dancefloor and realizing its someone you love

24. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy

RIYL… Cardi B

25. Tierra Whack – Whack World

RIYL… you got just watch this one if you haven’t seen it, and if you have, watch it again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOTebhPy04g

26. Lucy Dacus – Historian

RIYL… songs about loss that don’t diminish your faith in humanity

27. Snail Mail – Lush

RIYL… that exhilarating but anxiety-inducing period after graduating

28. Robyn – Honey

Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth

RIYL… sugar-coated dance anthems

29. Kamasi Washingtion – Heaven and Earth

RIYL… metaphysical jazz

30. Anderson Paak – Oxnard

RIYL… viewing the world through rose-tinted shades

31. Iceage – Beyondless

RIYL… a post-punk, gothic fireworks display

32. Grouper – Grid of Points

RIYL… having your physical essence dissolve into static

33. Leikeli47 – Acrylic

RIYL… a modern, black matriarchy

34. Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt

RIYL… imagining a miniscule version of yourself inside black-and-white landscape portraits

35. Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain

RIYL… believing in yourself and the goodness of others

36. Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love

RIYL… volleying between transcendent grace and consuming anger

37. Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

RIYL… earnest introspection that sounds sarcastic

38. JID – Dicaprio 2

RIYL… thinking about what would happen if Busta Rhymes and Kendrick Lamar raised a son together

39. Ambrose Akinmusire – Origami Harvest

RIYL… complicating the lines between orchestral, jazz, and rap music

40. White Denim – Performance

RIYL… wanting to know how a song sounds live

41. Superorganism – Superorganism

RIYL… imagining social media as pop musical

42. Jean Grae and Quelle Chris – Everything’s Fine

RIYL… cleverly masking your pain with wry comedy 

43. Vince Staples – FM!

RIYL… california summers, summer fun, wondering if you’ll make it to tomorrow

44. Thee Oh Sees – Smote Reverser

RIYL… music that fuckin’ rips

45. serpentwithfeet – soil

RIYL…  a self-actualizing dollhouse pagan ritual

46. Mick Jenkins – Pieces of a Man

RIYL… Gil Scott Heron in the trap

47. Open Mike Eagle – What Happens When I Try to Relax

RIYL… playing mental games with yourself to get through a party

48. Masaego – Lady Lady

RIYL… being seduced in a library

49. Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer

RIYL… Father John Misty as much Father John Misty likes Father John Misty

50. Joji – BALLADS 1

RIYL…  wondering what a young George Michael would’ve posted on soundcloud

21 Seasons in Dallas – An Ode to Dirk Nowitzki

To all of my family, friends, and mentors in the DFW and to the best, most loyal athlete in sports history to whom I’ve committed y’all to metaphor

The perfect shot arcs with the miraculous bend of a note sustained at just the right time in the melody. You don’t watch the perfect shot; you hear it. In fact, you turn your back as it elevates. You raise your right hand as it bends, throw up your signature gesture—a three-pronged peace sign—and stick out your tongue as if to mock physics itself. Even without looking, you know it’s in.

The crowd knows too, though they tense up as it flies. They are watching Schrödinger’s basketball—both in and not in all at once. Until, finally, less than a second later, it splashes through the hoop, and the music of the swish fades into the roaring of the crowd.

I have seen the perfect shot. It is a basketball arcing from the hands of a man, or should I say giant?, as he appears to topple over—knee-bent, toes pointed, back at an odd diagonal with the court. There are many iterations of this shot, but I am drawn to one in 2011. You stare down Chris Bosh, dribble once, dribble twice, push your shoulder off of Bosh’s chest;  the announcer calls your name. We’re (the team, I should say, but you know how sports fandom works) leading by 8 in what will be the last game of the NBA finals. And here comes the shot, picture perfect from the baseline, over the outstretched arms of the defender. I wept.

As with all great talents, an element of mythos now surrounds your shot, engineered, as it were, by a mad German scientist at the so-called Institute of Applied Nonsense. Dr. Holger and Dirk—Frankenstein and his monster—every summer in the gym, adding equipment to what y’all’ve dubbed “the toolbox.” So tall, so seemingly stiff, and but yet all that time in the lab has made you a poet with the basketball, moving with such a frantic precision.

Like many an adolescent whose formative years were the aughts in Dallas, I, too, wanted to master that shot, “the one-legged fadeaway.” Dallas courts were littered us. Just like there were once little Jordans, sticking their tongues out as they stretched for the rim, and now are little Currys, chewing their mouth guards as they lob a three from damn near half-court. I was a little black kid, when most other little black kids had their signature Iverson headbands, but I idolized you, a 7ft tall German. Always, I am, a racial confusion.

I had no gift for the sport and would soon max out an average height, forever killing the dream. Still, your shot motivated me—if not to be an NBA star then to just be.

All those years you chose to stay in Dallas, and before I knew it, your shot was how I marked time. I wrote my first story in the 8th grade, during the lead up to your first finals appearance. In your game, I have always seen a frenzied, improvised kind of poetry. Your mad scientist likens it to jazz, and certainly, the analogy works. I still thought I could ball at the time but was starting to realize that I might have to create in another medium, one that didn’t require so much of my pudgy body. Each game I watched energized me, and I would scribble nonsense words on whatever scraps of paper I could find—my own jazz-like method of creation.

When you lost, when the team lost, when we lost that final game of the ’06 finals, I heard you and your inner circle spent all night in the stadium, the pain too much to bear. Those next few years, I’ve read, carried a pressure that should have crushed an NBA career. I remember.

The next year, you would win the league MVP but wouldn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs. That was the rhythm of those years… some success that amounted only to an early exit. In that time, your fiancée was arrested at your home, leaving you “sad and furious.” In that time, my family moved three times in the same neighborhood, trying to ignore the lurking shadow of bankruptcy. In that time, my dad suffered a third stroke. I was a junior in high school and misplaced my anger. I went to band practice instead of the hospital. We watched you play the Kings that night. You, we, lost. I didn’t tell my friends where I was headed when the youth pastor came to pick me up, to take me to visit my father.

“I see you, after the final buzzer sounds, rushing to the locker room so that you don’t have to share your emotions with the camera, and I see my dad, wiping his own tears away.”

Before the 2010-11 season, you took a pay cut and re-signed for your 13th season in Dallas. I entered my last year of high school. I thought I could die at any moment, and sometimes, the thought was a welcome one. You might remember being 18 too.

It is not fair to put any spiritual substance on that championship run. The run, after all, was just a series of games, that perfect shot connecting with the target over a thousand times, and nothing more, but when I think of it, I tear up. I see you, after the final buzzer sounds, rushing to the locker room so that you don’t have to share your emotions with the camera, and I see my dad, wiping his own tears away. Destiny achieved.

It’s not fair, any of this. You’re a person, after all, a private person but a person nonetheless, with all the messiness that entails, and here I’ve conflated skill with something even less tangible.  Your career as Maverick has nothing to do with my time growing up in Dallas nor my impending departure for the Great White North, and yet when you re-signed for your 21st season, more than anyone else with one team, the emotion of that champion season swelled in the pit of my stomach.

Your shot, that perfect shot, is not those downtown trips on the DART to gallivant around Deep Ellum clubs. It is not the English teachers who encouraged and helped improved my craft. It is not learning to play the bass to join the worship band. It is not the group of writers who met in classrooms, bars, living rooms to drink and to discuss each other’s words. It is not the merry band of creative weirdos in the Spiderweb Salon that so inspire. It is not those nights bouncing around a living room in North Dallas, sweating and shouting with strangers and friends alike. It is not the students that still e-mail stories a year-or-so after the last day of class. There aren’t even convenient moments in your Mavericks tenure for me to draw satisfactory comparisons for any of the above. So why then does your shot and my time here seem so interchangeable? Is it just a constancy, like looking down at the footprints in the sand or, rather, the sneaker scuffs on the hardwood? Just a convenient metaphor for an emotionally-stunted product of the DFW branch of the patriarchy? Maybe it’s because I thought I wouldn’t ever leave, couldn’t ever leave, my financial mishaps proving too much a burden to overcome. Or, maybe, your shot truly is so perfect that, like the best of symbols, I can observe whatever, whoever I want in it… the good, the bad, the in-between.

You struggled with the move to Dallas. It’s hard to imagine there was ever a time when you weren’t the jolly German giant with murals all over the metroplex. You were once a towering teenager with a goofy haircut and one hooped earring, wandering the hot, humid Texas streets—will that be me, the average height black man with a snapback, kicking up snow in the Alaskan wilderness?

There are no professional sports franchises in Alaska, so my allegiances will not face much opposition, though you couldn’t get me to turn if you dropped me in the middle of the Staples Center with your royal blue 41 on my back. I’d still let out a hearty, “Fuck the Lakers,” and start practicing my, your, our fadeaway as I once did as a naïve little boy, dribbling on the asphalt, with dreams of being just like Dirk.