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My Favorite Albums of 2019

I’ve been on some sort of OCD-crazed purging tip lately, which led me to go through my box of ticket stubs I’ve managed to hold on to since the early 2000s -physical reminders of the two decades of formative moments that have now placed me at the threshold of yet another new decade.

What’s been the soundtrack to my life over the years? A lot of the familiar, then, as the years advance, a bunch of new names. But what’s stayed consistent for the past 20 years is that I’ve listened to what I love. Yes, there was a lot of Britney and Christina in high school, but at that same time it was also Elliott Smith, Aimee Mann and Atmosphere. And so on.

The list below seems like the perfect summary of not only the year or decade, but my very deep relationship with music since the beginning. A look back for a glimpse of what’s to come. Enjoy!

 

20. Andrew Bird – My Finest Work Yet

Andrew Bird is one of those artists that had been there from my musical beginning, his music providing a nice warm Sherpa sweater refuge over the ups and downs of life.

The music of My Finest Work Yet is no different. Just Mr. Bird being Mr. Bird, but this time his often-complex lyrics take a somewhat political undertone during times could definitely benefit from his perspective on things.

Favorite track: “Archipelago”

 

19. Sandy (Alex G) – House of Sugar

Admittedly this is the first Sandy (Alex G) album I’ve really been able to get a handle on, and I’m so glad I did. It’s approachable without being approachable at all. Unassuming while bold. And I like that!

Favorite track: “Gretel”

 

18. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow

One of those ticket stubs was from Sharon Van Etten’s show at The Cedar in February 2012. Having only released Tramp a few days earlier, the mood was joyful, loose, engaging. But after all that, she ended the show with one her most affecting songs, “Love More.” I remember that because I was completely floored. The dark of that oblong room, my friend Megan standing next to me, knowing that she was experiencing the same emotions I was. That’s what I love about music’s effect on memories – it cements them. The songs of Remind Me Tomorrow have that power and then some, so thanks Sharon!!

Favorite track: “Jupiter 4”

 

17. The Tallest Man On Earth – I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream.

I spent the majority of 2019 making the same face Kristian Matsson makes on the cover of I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream. Is he tired? Relieved? Over it thinking ‘wtf’ in his head? At peace with something? All of that or none of the above? Well same!!!!

Favorite track: “I’m a Stranger Now”

 

16. Blood Orange – Angel’s Pulse

Technically a mix tape, but that doesn’t matter. Dev Hynes does it once again, even if this is a collection of material left on the recording room floor. What a treat! The music of Blood Orange has been interwoven with my memories of attending Pitchfork Music Festival since 2012; a reunion of close friends celebrated with some of the best music year after year. I think I’ve seen Blood Orange four times at the festival, which is why listening to his music feels like coming home.

Favorite track: “Happiness”

 

15. Big Thief – Two Hands

Holy hell. It’s like, what excellent Big Thief album do you put on your list, because we got two to pick from. For me, it was Two Hands.

Favorite track: “Not”

 

14. Angelo De Augustine – Tomb

A lovely, quiet album when most of the year had me just wanting to tell everyone “shhhhhhhhh!” Also sad!

Favorite track: “A Good Man’s Light”

 

13. Billie Eilish – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?

Her show at Red Rocks looked like Paris Fashion Week. How exciting for the future of pop music! How jealous are you of the teenagers who get Billie as their pop star?

Favorite track: “listen before i go”

 

12. Ariana Grande – thank u, next

If everyone could be as emotionally mature as Ms. Grande and take a shit year/luck/whatever and respond not with venom but with grace, charm, wit and a wink, the world would be a much better place.

Favorite track: “needy”

 

11. Thom Yorke – ANIMA

In 2006 I found myself “on the farm” at Bonnaroo at the ripe old age of 20. The Eraser had leaked. In the company of other Radiohead fans, we played that damn CD a lot, but personally I was always left wanting a little…more. ANIMA no longer sounds like music coming from a side project – this is Thom Yorke fully-formed as his own thing, and it’s fantastic.

Favorite track: “Impossible Knots”

 

10. James Blake – Assume Form

James Blake first shook me to life in May of 2011. He played the goddamn 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis. Like, scooze? In what world does that happen? Anyway, I’ve been a big fan ever since and, like many of the other artists on this list, Assume Form is peak James Blake, what everything else was leading up to.

Favorite track: “Into the Red”

 

9. Kevin Morby – Oh My God

I truly cherish this man and especially this album of his. The comparisons to Dylan are earned – this is a rollicking, spiritual, tour de force of an album.

Favorite track: “Hail Mary”

 

8. Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising

I mean maybe because it has Titanic in the title but despite that fact…another wow!

Favorite track: “Everyday”

 

7. Helado Negro – This Is How You Smile

I had the pleasure of taking a driving trip down to Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, shortly after this album was released, and I couldn’t think of a better landscape to be surrounded by to soak this album in.

Favorite track: “Fantasma Vaga”

 

6. Solange – When I Get Home

Where to begin with Ms. Solange? I was supposed to see her for the first time in 2013 at The Bottom Lounge in Chicago. And then she canceled the show. Then she rescheduled and waved to me and my friend Liza from the stage and it was a moment. She has since graced Pitchfork Music Festival twice, in 2013 and 2017. Both were chic, especially the 2017 performance where we all had a seat at the table and then my friend Mimi fainted during “Losing You” (iconic) and we had to carry her out of the crowd!

Favorite track: “Almeda”

 

5. Bon Iver – i,i

While nothing might be more impactful to me personally than the somewhat surprise release and Kid A-esque turn of 22, A Million, i,i, see’s Justin Vernon blowing the fable of his founding wide open, inviting some of the best names working in music today to create an album that is peak Bon Iver. Justin’s music will always sound like home to me, even if Wisconsin technically gets to claim that right. Anyway, I feel incredibly lucky to be living at the same time this man is making music – there’s nothing else quite like it that speaks to my soul in a way that says, “this is for you.”

Favorite track: “Naeem”

 

4. Angel Olsen – All Mirrors

I received a ‘hot tip’ in Chicago in October 2012 to show up early for Dark Dark Dark’s performance at Schubas because an up-and-comer, Angel Olsen, would be opening. And here we are now, me, alone at the Gothic Theatre in Colorado this past Sunday, witnessing the live translation of All Mirrors. And then I died!

Favorite track: “Tonight”

 

3. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride

Vampire Weekend have transformed into a jam band, and they’ve never sounded better! PS – favorite Red Rocks show of the year. I’d never seen them before. It was 25 degrees and snowing. And they played for 3 hours. Good tf night.

Favorite track: “Unbearably White”

 

2. FKA twigs – MAGDALENE

MAGDALENE came out on what would be a literal 24-hour travel day from Rome to Denver, via Amsterdam and Detroit. Yah. Groggily tapping play before takeoff on the first leg of the journey, I was simply not prepared for what I was about to hear. I’d listened to lead single “Cellophane” maybe once or twice, never finding myself in the right place or mood – so why not start by being trapped in a metal tube for a day?!

By the time I got to “mirrored heart” somewhere over the Alps, I was completely basically in a state of shock. What the fuck was I listening to? How was this album so brilliant? Needless to say, “mirrored heart” and the rest of MAGDALENE stayed on repeat for the large majority of those 24 hours. I’m so glad this album exists.

Favorite track: “mirrored heart”

 

1. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!

The first time I heard “The greatest,” I couldn’t understand what was happening. Aside from “Venice Bitch” and “Mariners Apartment Complex,” which were practically a year before NFR, I had no idea what to expect from this album sonically. Lana has bobbed and weaved between folk, trip-hop and pop over her career. I’ve truly enjoyed all of it, but “The greatest” just hit different. How could a song named “The greatest” be like, one of the greatest songs I’d ever heard?

Norman. Fucking. Rockwell!!!!!! I’d add even more exclamation marks to the title if I could. I can’t do any better writing about this album than those that do this professionally have, but I will say this: I’ve always been a fan of the underdog, probably because I’ve felt like one for most of my life. How Lana has triumphed now in the most quiet yet self-assured way possible over the past decade makes me beyond happy. Even if she doesn’t care about (or need) the accolades, they’ve been a long time coming. And I hope this means even more people take a moment to not only discover but spend time with her music if they haven’t already. NFR is the triumph of the year / decade. A time capsule of feelings and moods for my generation and those that follow. Guess that I’m burned out after all.

Favorite tracks: “Fuck it I love you,” “The greatest,” “California,” “Happiness is a butterfly”

 

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My Favorite Albums of 2017

Favorite Albums of 2017

IS TIME FLYING BY OR WHAT?! But seriously though, I know a lot of people think 2017 was worse than 2016, but for me, it was a year of growth, rebuilding and renewal, and I feel pretty great about it; I’m still emo, I’m still gay, but sometimes you gotta go through the darkness to see the light, right?

You could say the same for some of the artists and the albums that appear on this list, which are my favorite albums of the year. I say favorite, not top, because let’s be honest, there are other albums that came out this year that might be considered “technically” better than the ones on my list. Even the order of my list could be argued, but fuck it, they’re listed based on how much I love them, not who is a better artist or band, etc.

Anyway, back to that going through the darkness thing – lots of these albums are long-awaited returns for bands and artists that went through similar emotional journeys (or just needed a fucking break), so maybe that’s why some mean more than others to me. At any rate, I’m just happy that good, thoughtful music continues to exist in a world that increasingly doesn’t make much sense. And so, here are my favorite albums of 2017.

20. Sufjan Stevens – The Greatest Gift / Planetarium / Carrie & Lowell Live

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To say that this was a prolific year for Sufjan would be an understatement. While I know that putting his three releases this year all at number 20 is cheating (and that’s not even counting “Tonya Harding”), there was just too much good stuff not to recognize on this list, and all three of these albums now hold a special place in my heart (and in my Sufjan library).

Favorite Tracks: “Exploding Whale (Doveman Remix)” / “Mercury” / “Should Have Known Better (Live)”

19. Arcade Fire – Everything Now

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Yes, it falls flat in the middle and there’s not excuse for a song as lame as “Peter Pan,” but the good stuff in Everything Now is really good. “We Don’t Deserve Love” never fails to stop me dead in my tracks.

Favorite Track: “We Don’t Deserve Love”

18. Spoon – Hot Thoughts

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I mean they couldn’t not be on this list, sooooooooooo…

Favorite Track: “Tear It Down”

17. St. Vincent – MASSEDUCATION

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Mostly just because of The New Yorker’s profile on her, but also because Annie fucking rules.

Favorite Track: “New York”

16. Conor Oberst – Salutations

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I was lucky enough to see Mr. Oberst perform in Denver this summer, and the songs on Salutations absolutely thrived when played live. Also, nostalgia, ya know? ALSO, any album that name checks John Muir AND Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin is a winner in my mind.

Favorite Track: “Barbary Coast (Later)”

15. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

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Obligatory, but well deserving.

Favorite Track: “PRIDE”

14. Perfume Genius – No Shape

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Like, holy CHIC! Super fun and sexy and enduring album.

Favorite Track: “Valley”

13. LCD Soundsystem – american dream

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My personal american dream was fulfilled this summer dancing to “All My Friends” with all my friends at Pitchfork Music Festival, so that’s cool. american dream also slaps.

12. Cigarettes After Sex – Cigarettes After Sex

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There’s a song literally called “K.” K.

Favorite Track: “Sweet”

11. Laura Marling – Semper Femina

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I’ve always been a big Laura Marling fan, and Semper Femina finds the artist at the top of her game. The album even earned her a Grammy nomination – chic for her!

Favorite Track: “Nothing, Not Nearly”

10. The National – Sleep Well Beast

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Because nothing fits depression better than The National!

Favorite Track: “I’ll Still Destroy You”

9. Lorde – Melodrama

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But like who’s the 31 year old that inhabits Lorde’s body? For real though, this albummmmmmm. Soundtrack for a generation I tell ya.

Favorite Track: “Supercut”

8. Rostam – Half-Light

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Listening to this album is like being curled up under a down comforter in some really good lighting with some chic candle burning, and who doesn’t love that? And in these dividing times, what’s a more enduring line than “Everyone of us has felt the lights go down”?

Favorite Track: “EOS”

7. Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins

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I mean my Wi-Fi network was named Central and Remote forever – it was also the original name of this blog – so yeah, I am a bit of a Grizzly Bear fanboy. Admittedly, Painted Ruins is still growing on me, however it’s also provided a great reminder of how talented this band is, and I’m glad they decided to come out of hibernation when we needed them the most.

Favorite Track: Tossup between “Neighbors” and “Sky Took Hold”

6. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

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It’s scary how well this man can lyricize basically every trope about American society and our downfall as humans while making it all sound funny, lovely and heartbreaking at the same time.

Favorite Track: “Total Entertainment Forever”

5. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

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Really honestly I don’t think a guitar solo has made me weep until this album came around and now there’s three of them on here that do just that. I also don’t think I’ve ever felt as blissed out as I have while listening to “Thinking of a Place” while driving in the mountains.

Favorite Track: “Strangest Thing”

4. Aimee Mann – Mental Illness

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I credit Aimee Mann’s Lost in Space” as playing a major role in my personal “musical awakening” in high school. And while there have been great Aimee Mann albums since then, Mental Illness is the first one that leaves me feeling as shook as I felt back in 2003.

Favorite Track: “You Never Loved Me”

3. Feist – Pleasure

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I had been anticipating a new album from Feist since 2011’s Metals became my standby lakeside companion in Chicago. Pleasure was well worth the wait, and I’m happy for its existence every day.

Favorite Track: “Baby Be Simple”

2. Lana Del Rey – Lust For Life

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Lana’s just always kinda been my (and every other gay man’s) thing. I really don’t understand how she releases a new album every other year and they just keep getting better and better. Lust For Life is like, peak Lana, even though I hope the peaks just keep coming like they have been. It’s got everything – breathy ballads, Lana saying “fuck,” a song about drugs and marzipan, trip-hop beats, beaches, music festivals, and “Get Free,” a song that came to define my outlook on 2017 and life in general, a “modern manifesto” that got LANA TO SMILE ON THE ALBUM COVER.

Favorite Track: “Get Free”

1. Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up

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It was really looking like Fleet Foxes might not ever return, so when the rumors of a new album started swirling around, I tried not to get my hopes up. Then I saw Robin Pecknold open for Joanna Newsom at The Boulder Theater last year, and that had to mean something, right? Little did I know that I was hearing him sing a handful of songs he was working on for what would become Crack-Up, my favorite album of the year, one that exceeded all of my hopes and dreams for what I’d want in new Fleet Foxes material. I really don’t have much to add to what’s already been written about Crack-Up by much more talented writers other than to say the one-two punch of “On Another Ocean (January / June)” and “Fools Errand” reduces me to a puddle of goo every single time. Endless gratitude to these gentlemen for making music, and my favorite album of 2017.

Favorite Track: “Fools Errand”

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