My Favourite Music of 2019
I’m back. A year older, a year less relevant. But people seem to want me to do this so, even if it’s just for a laugh, here is my round-up of the music I liked most in 2019. Once again, I’ve created a Spotify playlist of selected songs for your convenience.
Big Thief made my 2017 list with Capacity and the band’s debut, Masterpiece, would be on my 2016 list if I were to do it again (though I always thought the names of those first two albums should have been reversed). This year, the band released two more excellent albums. I prefer the second one, Two Hands, though “Cattails” alone is reason enough to include U.F.O.F here.
Two other artists who’ve recently made my previous year-end round-ups are Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen and they’re back this year with Seventeen and All Mirrors, respectively. Also returning, after a longer time away, is Bonnie “Prince” Billy, whose I Made a Place is another fine addition to his great collection of music (alas, it’s not on Spotify so not on the playlist).
Vagabon’s Vagabon is fabulous. Michael Kiwanuka’s Kiwanuka is a delight. While I liked some of Aldous Harding’s previous songs, too many of them lacked enough energy for my taste. But Designer totally works for me. And I’ve just started listening to Weyes Blood’s Titanic Rising, so it’s a little early to know for sure if it belongs among my favourites for the year, I have a feeling it deserves to be here.
From our old-man rock category, some old faves make the list. It took me longer than usual to connect with The National’s I Am Easy to Find, but I eventually did. It’s not as cohesive or as consistently good as some of the band’s other stuff, but there are some great songs on it. And I guess it’s been a while since Wilco put out anything truly essential, but Ode to Joy is another worthy album.
While we’re on the subject of old indie rockers, Pedro the Lion released Phoenix, its first new album in 15 years (leader David Bazan has been doing solo work in the interim). Maybe I’m just a sucker for a song about a bike.
Last year, Phoebe Bridgers appeared here as part of boygenius and this year she’s back as part of Better Oblivion Community Centre, a fine collaboration with Connor Oberst. Something I liked even more, though, was “Walking on a String,” the single she recorded with The National’s Matt Berninger.
Two albums I’m still not sure about are Nick Cave’s Ghosteen and Lana Del Ray’s Norman Fucking Rockwell. Ghosteen is haunting and powerful, but some of the songs may be too haunting to really enjoy. And I sometimes wonder if I liked Lana Del Ray more when people said she was fake. Is that weird?
Finally, when I first started listening to, and liking, Clairo’s Immunity, I considered it a guilty pleasure. Some of that may have been the feeling that this young woman’s intimate songs weren’t meant for an old man—and that was before I really listened to the lyrics. (This Song Exploder episode tells the story of the making of “Alewife,” a song about the suicidal thoughts she had when she was 15.) Or maybe it was a song like “Sofia,” with its dance-pop sound that isn’t the kind of thing I normally spend a lot of time listening to. Eventually, though, I stopped feeling guilty and just enjoyed the album. Guilt is a foolish emotion, especially when it comes to music.