2019 had plenty of music releases that I liked, but what follows is a short list of albums released in 2019 that I really, really loved. I’m also interested in what music from 2019 or otherwise that you too really, really enjoyed, and would encourage anyone that is so inclined to share their own list.

So, here goes:

7. Charli — Charli XCX

“I just wanna go back”, Charli XCX repeats over dancing synthesizers on the lead single 1999, an irresistible anthem about the nostalgia of looking back fondly at the past. But Charli sounds like the future. This album is a testament that pop music can be foot tappingly formulaic and original at the same time. A collection of electrifying bangers, Charli blends some of the catchiest choruses of 2019 with streaks of glitchy, eccentric effects that fit together to create what sounds like the future for modern pop music. Several guests appear throughout the album, but Charli does not make the mistake of bringing in outside vocalists solely to sell a track; nearly all of the features are chosen to compliment XCX. The only song that takes exception with this rule is “Blame It On Your Love”, in which Lizzo’s out of place verse subtracts from the theme of the rest of the song seemingly only to put a trendy name in the title. Still, this kind of play for commercial appeal is not the norm here. Instead, Charli sees Charli XCX successfully embracing pop appeal without making artistic sacrifices in favor of chart success.

Fav Tracks: Next Level Charli, Gone, 1999, Click, Thoughts, Official, February 2017, 2099

Least fav: White Mercedes, I Don’t Wanna Know

6. Bandana — Freddie Gibbs & Madlib

Bandana is the second collaborative album from rapper Freddie Gibbs and producer Madlib. To the amazement of my roommate at the time, I only discovered their critically acclaimed first album, Piñata, in 2017, several years after it had been released. It quickly became one of my favourite hip-hop albums of all time and I have been anticipating a promising follow up ever since. Bandana delivers. Despite the 5 year gap between the two releases, Gibbs and Madlib pick up right where Piñata left off. Gibbs bar after bar spins poignant narratives on top of inventive Madlib production, just as Piñata did 5 years ago. Clearly, the duo’s ability to play off of each other to create some of their best work hasn’t changed. What does seem to have changed is the dynamic between the two. This time around Gibbs is the star of the show, with Madlib’s production frequently taking on a more supportive role. Madlib still undoubtedly brings dope beats to the table, just not front and center to same degree that made tracks like “Thuggin’” on Piñata so memorable. There are definitely a few “Thuggin’” comparable instrumentals on Bandana, the enchanting skewed sample on “Crime Pays” comes to mind, but as a whole Bandana simply finds Madlib to be more in the background. Nonetheless, even in the background he is still generally a notch above most producers’ best work which is particularly impressive given that every beat for Bandana was created on an iPad. Moving on to the rapping, Freddie Gibbs sounds great. His ability to weave catchy hooks around a beat while telling a story is better than ever. Other vocal high points include the Pusha T and Anderson .Paak features. Again, Bandana delivers.

Fav Tracks: Half Manne Half Cocaine, Crime Pays, Palmolive, Fake Names, Situations, Giannis, Cataracts, Education

Least Fav: Massage Seats

5. Malibu Ken — Malibu Ken

Aesop Rock teams up with producer Tobacco for their self titled debut record, Malibu Ken. Aesop Rock is a rapper that I have always wanted to like more but often found it hard to dive deep into his discography. Listening to Aesop spit can feel like a hurricane of weird words and phrases that are flying by too fast to process. Listed none but first on this quantitative ranking of rappers by size of vocabulary, Aesop is a rapper without peer, just simultaneously difficult. On Malibu Ken, though, when paired with Tobacco’s psychedelic, warped out synthesizers and vocoder choruses, Aesop’s rapping feels more grounded in something tangible and is subsequently less overwhelming. While I do still find myself getting lost in his atypical racing lyrics, it doesn’t subtract from the enjoyment of the track because the instrumentals are so stellar and Aesop’s flows are captivating even while lost. Of course, when the lyrics do click, they really click: “I can’t even keep a cactus alive when I’m present/When I’m gone it’s a groundbreaking botanical epic/ From desolate to Little Shop of Horrors in a second/ It’s weird knowing life thrives more when you exit.” Tobacco compliments Aesop Rock by providing a background which allows these moments to shine through rather than become overcrowded, making the duo an instant match.

Fav tracks: Corn Maze, Tuesday, Dog Years, Purple Moss, Sword Box, Suicide Big Gulp

Least fav: 1+1=13,

4. Forever Turned Around — Whitney

Melancholic falsetto sung introspection surrounded by lush layered guitars and horns, all set alongside imagery of the outdoors. Forever Turned Around sticks to this formula to a tee, barring “Rhododendron”, the one vocal-less track in the list. It is very much the same formula that had Whitney succeed on their debut, A Light Upon the Lake, and despite changing very little, the group doesn’t sound stale. This is also true for the album lyrically. Many songs from Forever Turned Around visit similar themes of change, longing, and uncertainty, yet it never feels repetitive to the point that it harms the album. Initially this seemed likely due to a short run-time of 32 minutes, preventing the frequently overlapping ideas from becoming grating. With further listens, evidently the greatest strength of Forever Turned Around is that each song is much more than the sum of its parts. Despite that the pieces that make up each song are similar they are always somehow written together differently enough that every point in the album feels fresh. Ironically it is when the band tries to use different pieces that they slip, with “Rhododendron” being the least captivating point on the record.

Fav tracks: Giving Up, Used to be Lonely, Song For Ty, Valleys (My Love), Friend Of Mine, Forever Turned Around

Least fav: Rhododendron

3. Ventura — Anderson .Paak

In the last few years Anderson .Paak has blown up. And he deserves it. He has one of the most unique voices in hip-hop and R&B today, puts on breathtaking live shows (I cannot stress this enough, go see him live), and continues to release incredible music. Just months after his 2018 record, Oxnard, .Paak surprised fans by hinting at a new project: Ventura. Where Oxnard was mostly built with west coast beats and rap centered vocals, Ventura does the opposite, honing in on sung melodies via .Paak’s soul roots. He still raps occasionally, but there is no doubt the backbone this time is held by soul. Ventura kicks off strong with “Come Home”, which opens with .Paak pleading to a past love to come back into his life and closes with a similarly themed verse from Andre 3000 whose flow and rhyme schemes make a case for best feature of the year. Continuing on with very few slowdowns along the way, most songs on Ventura are highlights. .Paak breathes energy into every melody he touches with his signature brand of playful charisma. Meanwhile the instrumentals are warm with slices of funk grooves that at many times would be enjoyable even without the stellar vocals that they accompany. On Ventura’s most skip-able moment, “Twilight”, for instance, when the songwriting combo of .Paak and Pharrell clashes to form the least satisfying chorus of the album, the vocals and horns still sound good. Ventura closes with “What Can We Do” which features posthumous vocals from Nate Dogg that are reworked to convincingly have one believe that he and .Paak were singing a back and forth duet in the same studio. Continuing on with his coastal series that began with Venice, to Malibu, to Oxnard, and now Ventura, Anderson .Paak shines regardless of which beach he’s headlining.

Fav tracks: Come Home, Make It Better, Reachin’ 2 Much, Yada Yada, Chosen One, Jet Black, What Can We Do?

Least fav: Good Heels, Twilight

2. All My Heroes Are Cornballs — JPEGMAFIA

Rapper, producer, and now singer JPEGMAFIA teased All My Heroes Are Cornballs with a tongue-in-cheek marketing campaign about how his fans and peers were going to be disappointed with the final product. His previous album, Veteran, saw him break into a new, significantly larger fan-base in the music industry and he continuously joked that everyone would be disappointed by the follow up release. While there are plenty of differences between this album and Veteran, quality is not one of them, and most fans won’t find themselves disappointed. Moreover, All My Heroes is much more immediately accessible than Veteran, making it likely a better starting point for new listeners. Mainly this is because All My Heroes is more melody based than Veteran. The experimental always changing production and off kilter vocals are still here, but there is less focus on the hyper rhythmic aggressive beats that showed up on Veteran. Instead, much of the track-list uses melodies and arpeggios to form song structure, and some even find JPEG singing over simple chord progressions. Again, this does not result in any less distinct weirdness or spirit that made Veteran so appealing. Most songs at some point lead up to a bizarre beat switch, or somehow utilize sounds that most musicians wouldn’t even consider touching. JPEG’s lyrics that range from referencing internet culture to politics to self reflection are as present and punchy as ever.

Just don’t expect Veteran — actually, don’t expect anything.

Fav tracks: Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot, Kenan Vs. Kel, Beta Male Strategies, JPEGMAFIA TYPE BEAT, Grimy Waifu, All My Heroes Are Cornballs, BBW, Thot Tactics, Free The Frail, DOTS FREESTYLE REMIX, Papi I Missed U

Least fav: PRONE!, Lifes Hard, Here’s A Song About Sorrel,

1. IGOR — Tyler, The Creator

For most of this list, the difficult part of the format was the order. Choosing the albums to write about was easy; what was hard was deciding how to rank them. Except for IGOR. IGOR is my favorite album of the year. The instrumentals on IGOR are rich with hard hitting beats over smooth chord progressions, the pitched up vocal hooks catch, and the lyrics reveal an emotional love-struck side of Tyler at his most passionate. All of this comes together to form a tight 40 minutes of hits that has no peer in 2019. It is kind of amazing that the rapper who was not that long ago banned from the UK because of his infamously controversial lyrics now has a number one album about love and heartbreak that blends neo-soul, pop, and hip-hop, but that’s what IGOR is. IGOR tells the story of Tyler’s changing psyche as he chases a love interest into an obsessed frenzy. It continues upon Tyler’s blooming artistic transformation that began on Flower Boy. It is a must listen.

Fav tracks: NEW MAGIC WAND, EARFQUAKE, I THINK, A BOY IS A GUN, PUPPET, IGOR’S THEME, WHAT’S GOOD, GONE GONE / THANK YOU, I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE, ARE WE STILL FRIENDS

Least fav: RUNNING OUT OF TIME (if I had to pick one)

BA in politics, most alive in the front row of a concert