(For albums 15-11, click here)
(For albums 20-16, click here)
10. Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising
If you wanted to hear what Carole King and Karen Carpenter would sound like in 2019’s landscape, look no further than Titanic Rising, the fourth album by Weyes Blood. Titanic Rising really hit with me because the blend of folksy, album-oriented radio of the 60’s and 70’s combined with the glitchy technologies of today played itself so masterfully in my ears. You could at first listen allow the experience of Titanic Rising to wash over you, but after a few more listens the solid hooks and lush instrumentation will penetrate and stay in your veins for some time.
9. Faye Webster, Atlanta Millionaires Club
Bringing elements of folk, country, and lo-fi bedroom pop makes Atlanta Millionaires Club a fun, experimental album that plays right with just about anything in your playlists. An easy, breezy air seems to flow throughout this album, making it a delightfully chill listen. Webster’s relaxed vocals still hold weight, though. Songs like “Hurts Me Too” and “Jonny” would sound even more heart wrenching if you weren’t so enamored with Webster’s delivery. “Pigeon” is also one of those where you aren’t noticing how much of a jam it is until you realized you’ve been repeating the song for the last fifteen minutes.
8. Michael Kiwanuka, Kiwanuka
If the explosive opening moments of “You Ain’t The Problem” don’t fill you up with joy, then skip this album. Just do it. It’s not for you. For everyone else with a pulse, Kiwanuka is a journey of self-discovery and finding purpose. Songs are dripping with funky fuzziness that cannot be contained by any single genre. Full of sharp guitar soul, many tracks on Kiwanuka would seem fitting on a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack. “Hard To Say Goodbye” and “Final Days” are gritty as they are smooth. “Rolling” contains this simple, yet effective guitar lick that elevates the track on another plane. For me, the pinnacle of this album is the song “Hero”. What it takes to live a life worth emulating is the eternal inner struggle, yet Michael Kiwanuka tackles it with depth and razor-sharp precision.
7. PUP, Morbid Stuff
After two devastatingly great albums, Toronto quartet PUP had the daunting task to keep riding the wave of high energy on their third effort. What we got was Morbid Stuff, a crushing 37-minute assault that, while on the surface feels like the previous two albums, focuses quite a bit on depression and the mental stress of being in a band that has been an international sensation over the last few years.
On the title track, singer Stefan Babcock sings “I got stuck on death and dying and obsessive thoughts that won’t let up and it makes me feel like I’m about to throw up”. The clear and upfront presentation is appreciated, especially when topics like this get muddied in metaphor and distant lyricism. Furthermore, “Scorpion Hill” is epically wrenching as the songs protagonist deals with cutbacks at work while struggling to support a family. Ultimately, the song ends with a discovery of a gun and the protagonist’s wife saying “I can’t pretend to know how this will end.”
Morbid Stuff may be a darker departure from their previous work, but the signature PUP sound is still there. “Kids”, “Closure”, and “Free At Last” are undeniably PUP and are standout tracks on a already stacked album.
Enjoy this excellent video of “Free At Last”.
6. Alex Lahey, The Best Of Luck Club
I had only heard of Alex Lahey a week or two before her show at a local club here in Boston. I was in a slump of finding things to listen to, so I fired up this album to see what it was all about. To say I was blown away is an understatement. I bought a ticket 30 minutes into listening to The Best Of Luck Club. This album showcases how strong of a performer Lahey is. Every song is catchy and her delivery in endearing and has a tinge of humble honesty that I love.
I have adopted “I Don’t Get Invited To Parties Anymore” as my theme song and I feel that “Am I Doing It Right?“, and “Isabella” are fabulous examples of Lahey’s strong songwriting. “Interior Demeanor” and “Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself” feel like they belong on here as well as albums from the feminist rock movement thirty years ago.
And, yes, Alex Lahey is phenomenal live.
5. Raphael Saadiq, Jimmy Lee
It’s hard to believe that one could make a career-defining album after thirty years making music, but Jimmy Lee is exactly that for Raphael Saadiq. A masterful exposition of the gripping loss due to addiction, Jimmy Lee is a love letter, a cautionary tale, a monument to the memory of Saadiq’s brother who died of a heroin addiction in the 90’s. This album is deeply personal, so personal you can feel the sorrow in your headphones, yet it’s accompanied with a tremendous soundtrack that leaves you hanging on every beat. Since recording as a solo artist, Saadiq has put together a string of outstanding albums including 2011’s Stone Rolling, which was also a masterclass of musicianship.
I feel Jimmy Lee is on the same level as recent releases like Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly (Lamar makes an uncredited appearance on the track “Rearview“) as a transformative album calling on social change and ultimately self-love to make a positive difference in today’s world.