Our favorite albums of 2019

The Band Camino – tryhard

The album “tryhard” ushers in a new era of energy and excitement for The Band Camino. Prior installments like “My Thoughts on You” and “Heaven” were more contemplative, moody, and less willing to bring out the full force of what a synthesizer and an electric guitar can do when they’re forced to work together. “Tryhard” has no such reservations. The album’s atmosphere is thoughtful without being slow, joyful without being saccharine, and energetic without being frenzied. There’s a calm reverence mixed with a sense of propulsion in “tryhard” –– it’s the musical equivalent of going to a relaxing day at the beach in a rocketship. – Craig Odenwald

James Blake – Assume Form

Within an elite arsenal of sample-based and avant-garde production work, coupled with weathered vocal legatos, James Blake’s album “Assume Form” is his liberation from the destructive mental health issues that he battled in his previous albums. Blake’s face is fully visible and unmistakable, and the singer discovers his Aristotelian “form” –– his individual meaning.

Each song is permeated by a unique and astounding positivity revolving around love, innocence, and novel realizations, but his sparse instrumentals and groaning melodies do not veil his dark former experiences. Emerging from the shadow of his past as a hero, he seems to be victorious against his destructive mental health, armed not with an explosive anger or an antagonistic abuse, but with nothing more than a simple sweetness, a true desire to connect his “motion to feelings.” – Gabriel Farhadian

Bon Iver – i,i

Bon Iver, the indie band only rivalled by La Croix in debate surrounding the correct pronunciation of its name, released the album “i,i.” The title’s meaning is for the audience to interpret. The album stays true to the group’s sound and provides listeners with a transitionally beautiful experience. Ranging from “Yi” recorded on a phone, to “Holy Fields,” which was barely edited from its improvised origins, the album is honest.

The poetics of Bon Iver are raw and vulnerable on topics ranging from religion (“Faith”) to politics (“Sh’Diah”). The music of Bon Iver has never been more rhythmically in tune with the ups and downs life brings daily. The work of Vernon and collaborators has always been internal, but “i,i” actively pursues to outwardly share the emotions that come with critically thinking about the deepest and most important questions in life. – Korbin Breeden

Lana Del Rey – Norman F***ing Rockwell!

Lana Del Rey’s fifth album is her best yet, and her penchant for lyrical poeticism has never been stronger. The singer’s distinct strain of sensual, romantic melancholy leads her to an unprecedented level of vulnerability on tracks like “Happiness is a Butterfly” and “California.”

Meanwhile, her broader ruminations on contemporary American life in songs like “The Greatest” convey a new sense of hopelessness and fear for the future. Producer Jack Antonoff also gets multiple chances to shine, most notably in the lush orchestration of the title track and the nine-minute psychedelia of “Venice B***h.” “Norman F***ing Rockwell” is the perfect soundtrack for slow dancing as the world ends. – Wesley Stenzel

Hobo Johnson – The Fall of Hobo Johnson

This is Frank Lopes’ first album since his viral breakout on the now-infamous NPR Tiny Desk concert performance, with its loud and love-it-or-hate-it raw vocals. “The Fall of Hobo Johnson” perfectly encapsulates the final few years of young adulthood in spoken word/hip-hop/hard rock form, with frantic and angst-filled numbers like “Typical Story” and “All in My Head,” while also capturing the more sentimental and tragic moments of a relationship gone wrong in “Mover Awayer” and “Sorry, My Dear.”

Lopes also mixes in his incredible sense of humor into his music, with hilarious songs like “You and the Cockroach” and “February 15th.” The album’s conclusion, the simple but powerful “I Want a Dog,” leaves the listener rooting for Johnson as he moves into the next phase of his life. – Luke Spicer

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