Tyler, the Creator – IGOR
The WPGU web writers had no issue ranking IGOR as the best album of 2019. Tyler the Creator strayed from his previous work with the creation of IGOR, earning him a No. 1 album on the Billboard Charts. As if this wasn’t achievement enough, Tyler the Creator produced and wrote the entire album solo. When I reflected on the music of 2019, IGOR was the first thing that came to mind. This album was nothing short of epic and rightfully deserves the recognition it has received from listeners.
IGOR is dramatic at heart. From the sound to aesthetics, the album brings the IGOR character to life, personified by Tyler the Creator. I couldn’t talk about IGOR without mentioning the iconic blonde wig Tyler wore for every performance, whether it be a video or live show. This theatrical style is fitting for the songwriting that took place on this album. “PUPPET” is heavy and delicate. His lyrics speak to being so codependent on someone that they control your every move. Yet, the melodies behind these intense lyrics feel light and airy. Tyler the Creator’s ability to combine and create styles sets him and IGOR apart. When we talk about influential albums of the 2010s, I am certain we will be talking about the creation of IGOR.
Toro y Moi – Outer Peace
Interested in wonderful electronic / chillwave tunes to end your year? I suggest turning towards Toro y Moi’s 2019 album Outer Peace. Filled with bops such as “Ordinary Pleasures,” “Who Am I”, and “Freelance,” Chaz Bear (Toro y Moi) tackles millennial issues. Wanting to buy a house, struggling with anxiety from internal pressure, and attempting to figure out who he is, Chaz turns these crises into danceable jams. Production is stellar as always. Also, the vinyl is beautiful. So what’s not to love?
Wallows – Nothing Happens
By Kyra Puetz
Wallows released their debut album, Nothing Happens on March 22nd of this year, a day that I’ll forever pinpoint as the beginning of my obsession with Wallows. Wallows was my top artist on Spotify this year, something that only slightly surprised me before I remembered how obsessively I listened to Nothing Happens when it first came out. As I listen to the first track, I’m immediately pulled back into the captivating sound that is “Only Friend.” For starters, the transitions are absolutely flawless. Please, name a better transition than the one between “Only Friend” and “Treacherous Doctor.” On the Wallows Nothing Happens commentary, the band members talk about how they worked really hard to make sure there was little to no breaks in between the music, which is something they definitely accomplished.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is by far “Are You Bored Yet?” featuring Clairo, the queen of bedroom pop. This is the single that got me excited about the album and introduced me to Wallows. “Are You Bored Yet?” is the dreamy intermission of this energetic, indie-pop album, touching on themes of uncertainties of a new relationship and if this new person is truly worth it. If you only listen to one song off of Nothing Happens, “Are You Bored Yet?” should be it.
Nothing Happens offers a nostalgic look at the past with songs about relationships and teen angst. As I wrote in my previous review of Nothing Happens, “Nothing Happens, as a whole, is there to convince listeners that nothing really does happen in the end; most teenage problems are over-exaggerated and we’ll all make it out okay.” Fingers crossed that 2020 will include more unmatched transitions and bops from Wallows.
Clairo – Immunity
By Sam Enno
This year Claire E. Cottrill, also known as Clairo released her album Immunity departing from the cuteness of her previous works: underproduced bedroom pop songs. Clairo’s first studio album Immunity has received praise from all over the scene. Immunity has all the makings of an amazing album, but most notably, Clairo’s lyricism is beautifully vulnerable and emotional. Her voice sets this album apart and makes it one of our favorites of the year. Clairo’s charm had us hooked before we began, however, her new sound feels seems to say a little bit more than just being a “pretty girl.” The album begins with “Alewife” on serious, big sounding slammed drums and beautifully sung vocals centered on a piano which nearly sucks the air out of the room. The album is extremely well produced in the way that it has aspects of pop music, the brain food we all crave in music, and yet they are used with such restraint that they present a desire to listen a little more carefully. The album claims a hit song “Bags” which is catchy with a riff and simple phrase sung “walking out the door with your bags” in Clairo’s almost melancholy style. The album uses real and virtually produced drums, which give each song a slightly unique feel, making the album both interesting, and more enjoyable. Clairo’s naturally pretty and charming vocal style is only more desirable with her new forms of production, it’s a no brainer why we feel this album is one of the best in its genre this year.
Big Thief – Two Hands
Big Thief often matches lead singer Adrianne Lenker’s ethereal, but still startlingly natural, lyrics to musicality that matches, folk-tinged guitars and melodies that feel like memories or forgotten paths. Creating amazing and immersive works, especially recently, when Two Hands came with an instrumentation so grounded, nearly sounding live, it is something to make you sit up straight and make the songs reach deeper than ever before. With a startling amount coming out in the last two years between Big Thief and Adrianne Lenker’s own solo project, it is a particular talent for one band to continuously make albums that can find unique and refreshing places with the same sensibilities. Here, the pulling together of a record that finds a band that often finds a lyrical comfort in mystical turns of phrase and repetition with a physically reverberant sound that brings every word that much closer to you is not something to miss.
Maggie Rogers – Heard It In A Past Life
By Paige Patano
Maggie Rogers’ Heard It In A Past Life was released early in 2019, and it proved the test of time by remaining in my rotation for the entire year. Rogers, a recent graduate from the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, fuses folk, dance music, and pop in a way that is entirely her own. The album starts on a fun, lighthearted note with “Give A Little” and ends with “Back In My Body,” a more slow-paced anthem about feeling like yourself again. My favorite song, however, is “Alaska.” This is the song that got Maggie Rogers noticed, and I was extremely pleased to see her include it on her first full-length album. “Alaska” combines descriptive singer-songwriter lyrics, an upbeat dance rhythm, and a dazzling falsetto in the chorus to create a beautifully well-rounded track. Other standout songs include “On + Off” and “Say It.” On Heard It In A Past Life we see depth, we see lightheartedness, and we see uncapped creativity. More than anything, we see a wonderful glimpse into the mind of Maggie Rogers.
Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Lana Del Rey’s newest album Norman Fucking Rockwell debuted this past August to phenomenal success. Featuring gentle piano ballads under titles such as Venice Bitch, Del Rey’s sixth studio imbues soft rock with an edginess characteristic of her previous albums. Nonetheless, Norman Fucking Rockwell is more than the latest addition in the line-up. Tracks such as “Mariners Apartment Complex” and “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – but I Have It” showcase improvements in Del Rey’s songwriting ability. The album’s headliner (“Norman Fucking Rockwell”) is especially worth the listen. Other highlights include Del Rey’s melodious vocal execution and a majestistry worth of Norman Rockwell himself.
Billie Eilish – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
In March of this year, Billie Eilish released her debut album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? At only 17 years old when this album was released, Eilish proved to the world that though she may be young, she is no amateur when it comes to making music. Eilish has managed to create an album that is completely new and quite unlike anything the music industry has seen before, while still creating something people can listen to and connect with. In WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? Eilish plays around with different sounds and techniques to create 14 hauntingly beautiful songs that have their own unique personalities, yet still manage to form a cohesive album. Every song on WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? manages to make you stop and listen for a second, whether that be due to the creepy, gothic moods Eilish conveys through her songs, or due to her lyrics that tell some type of story based on Eilish’s own experiences. Chances are, you’ll find yourself relating to some of the songs on this album, too, and it won’t take long for you to find a favorite track on the album. My personal favorites are “xanny,” “all the good girls go to hell,” and “listen before i go.”
Lizzo – Cuz I Love You
By Abby Weber
Lizzo’s April release of Cuz I Love You is one of the most empowering albums to be released this year. With tracks like “Soulmate” and “Like a Girl,” this album has the perfect mix between dance energy and self-love. Gucci Mane and Missy Elliot both make guest appearances, helping Lizzo cement her way as maybe the first rapping flautist in music history. Lizzo belongs on a list of top albums of the year simply because a night out at Lion or a UGL study session would not have been complete without a little “Good as Hell” or “Juice!”
Freddie Gibs & Madlib – Bandana
By Natalia Fic
Rapper Freddie Gibbs and producer Madlib have coexisted as a highly eclectic duo since their last collaborative album, Piñata, released in 2014. With Gibbs having extensive experience within the world of street rap, and Madlib creating impeccable beats from a young age, the release of their upcoming project, Bandana, was bound to defy the norms surrounding modern hip-hop. The duo’s follow-up sophomore album would be put on hold for a few years, with Gibbs dealing with jail time after a false sexual assault accusation, along with countless hours dedicated to clearing certain samples, causing a delay with the long-awaited release. After five years, we are presented with the masterwork of two devilishly respectable musicians.
Bandana is solid from beginning to end, capturing the grand return of two individual musicians. Gibbs’ deep understanding of flow and Madlib’s ability to transform any sample into a beat make it an instant classic. The time between the two albums allowed both artists to reach their utmost potential and find their groove within each other- a more mature and precise version of Piñata.
Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
In an alternate timeline thousands of years into the future, aliens will stumble upon a golden record among the heaps of fallout and debris left from the fourth and final Martian Civil War. An encapsulation of life itself, the contents of the capsule include the best representations of the sights and sounds of planet Earth as civilization knew it; photographs of our solar system (and our supermarkets), recordings of human brainwaves and animal wildlife, and a vinyl copy of Titanic Rising.
Let’s say Karen Carpenter’s long lost sister possessed the instrument-layering bravado of Beach House and had a fixation for classical church music. Throw in some Linda Ronstadt and George Harrison vibes and you have Natalie Mering, better known as Weyes Blood (pronounced “wise,” not “wee-yes” or “why-yes”). On her fourth studio album, she borrows and adopts from all, yet transforms it to a sound completely her own.
On “Andromeda,” which can be aptly described as an intergalactic radio hit in another dimension, sci-fi strings blend seamlessly with earthy percussion — drums, bongos and shakers — all resting on lowkey guitar slides. With “Movies,” a space-age synthesizer arpeggio finds itself submerged in the depths of the ocean as Mering sings, hauntingly, “I love movies.” And in the ever-intensifying “Everyday,” Mering’s vocals layer over an upbeat ‘70’s melody until reaching one last wondrous refrain. “Lay down my guy,” she sings, with the instrumentation fizzling into an amalgamation of outer space ambience.
Given the wonderful the production value of “Titanic Rising” Mering’s vocals remain a clear driving force in the album’s 42-minute length. Ethereal in all the right moments, yet anchored when it needs to be, Mering further solidifies her vocal style as simultaneously comforting and unnerving.
The brightest moments are when the feeling’s truly ambiguous; when, somehow, it feels as if you’re suspended, drifting off. Nevermind the uncertainty of knowing whether you’re at the bottom of the ocean or among the stars — you’re floating, and it’s beautiful.
Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
An end of the year review for an album is unique from a normal review in that it is retrospective and not only does it have to take the quality of the album into account but also its impact. In this respect, Vampire Weekend are surely among the best of the year, as they were initially the swan song of alternative rock, thereby putting them in an especially interesting position to decide its fate. By all accounts, Vampire Weekend has completely delivered with their impressive discography still keeping the spirit of the genre relevant today, and perhaps the best example of this is their 2019 LP Father of the Bride. Isolated, the album is absolutely fantastic with lavish production and a great catchy sway throughout almost all of its tracks, much like every one of their other albums. But it’s real noteworthiness comes from the fact that it is so extraordinary and popular despite being created and released after nearly a six-year-long hiatus for the band. Any artist that is able to pull this off so well this is certainly immensely influential in contemporary music, and Father of the Bride is special in that it stubbornly cemented alternative rock’s ethos into the mainstream for years to come.
BROCKHAMPTON – GINGER
By Ryan Flynn
With their second studio album, BROCKHAMPTON continues to grow and experiment with new sounds and styles. On GINGER, they move into pop while still incorporating their usual hip hop and rap beats. While more laid back and quiet than their previous albums, BROCKHAMPTON manages to give us a great album and standouts like “SUGAR” & “BOY BYE.”
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
By Matt Mak
This past decade, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have been spending time away from their post-punk/alt-rock roots and have been instead experimenting in an emanating cascade of synths and electronics. Ghosteen, an album coping with the loss of Cave’s son, is the culmination of this decade-long experiment, and it’s certainly the most ambitious album to come out of this new electronic/ambient era of the Bad Seeds discography.
All Mirrors – Angel Olsen
By Emma Boone
With her fifth studio album, Angel Olsen takes a career-defining leap. The once folksy, sometimes acoustic, always lively sound is replaced with heavier, grander tones. Olsen’s voice is breathier, and orchestral tones and driving drum beats swell around her as she sings of a journey of self-discovery and human consciousness. Each song is equally complex, but the lead track, “Lark,” is a standout; at just over six minutes long, the song transitions several times between Olsen’s isolated vocals and the intense, hypnotic sounds of the melody around her. Angel Olsen came into this decade an indie-folk dream girl; the hazy, moody All Mirrors ensures she won’t go out the same way.
Chai – PUNK
By Ryan Davila
PUNK by CHAI exudes pure, unadulterated fun. From front to back, this album is filled with tight bass grooves, saccharine synths, soaring melodies, and unparalleled charisma. Accompanying the technical finesse, PUNK offers strongly written tracks that are incredibly distinct from one another. Each song is sure to stand out in its own unique and intoxicatingly energetic way. If you are a fan of droning synths, striking harmonies, and happiness in general, PUNK is one album you surely do not want to miss.
Danny Brown – unowwhatimsayin¿
On Danny Brown’s sixth solo effort sees him meeting up with legendary hip hop producer/rapper Q-Tip for a very compelling album experience that is a decidedly different experience than his previous release. On uknowhatimsayin¿ Brown ditches the dark, troubling themes of Atrocity Exhibition and instead opts for some more off-kilter production and traditional hip hop one-liners. In addition to Q-Tip, Paul White, Flying Lotus, Thundercat, and others also contributed to the zanier production that’s heard on this record. The vocal features from Run the Jewels, JPEGMAFIA, Obongjayar, and Blood Orange are also very solid additions with each contributing great verses/hooks on their respective tracks. Overall, Danny Brown’s latest release cements his spot as one of the best artists in hip hop with some more of his trademark wacky delivery and some clever bars scattered throughout the project.
Ariana Grande – Thank U, Next
Ariana Grande is no newcomer to the music industry. The pop star has currently released five studio albums alongside 45 singles and is a well-known name worldwide. However, her most recent release, Thank U, Next is by far, her most heartfelt and impactful album yet. The album’s lead single/title track has served as a sort of “self-love anthem” from Grande, detailing her how her journey and relationships with others shaped her into the person that she loves today. Perhaps the most important part of this single is the time at which it came out. Released very soon after her broken engagement and the loss of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, the song employs an uplifting tune coupled with positive and inspirational lyrics to focus on the good in dark times for Grande. Thank U, Next as an album focuses on gratitude and growth while still managing to remain catchy and unpretentious, a feat that in itself should grant this album a seat among the top 50 of the year.
Cage the Elephant – Social Cues
Social Cues takes a darker and more depressing turn from Cage the Elephant’s previous albums as it was strongly influenced by lead singer Matt Shultz’s divorce from his wife. As a result, we hear some of the rawest and most emotional tracks produced by the band yet. Even though most of the songs are more than capable of getting airtime, Cage the Elephant created this album with the goal of further exploring themselves rather than aiming for radio hits. The title track “Social Cues” delves into the struggles that come with fame but are often left unacknowledged; Shultz sings, “People always say, ‘Man, at least you’re on the radio.’” Shultz’s personal life is heavily on display in this album, creating a sense of vulnerability, especially in the closing track “Goodbye.” The quiet, somber instrumental shifts the listener’s focus to the lyrics and vocals, in which Shultz blames himself for the end of his marriage while wishing his ex-wife the best for the future. Overall, Social Cues contains an honest and angsty tracklist that presents a deeper look into who Cage the Elephant really is.