The 25 Best Albums of 2019 (So Far)

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The 25 Best Albums of 2019 (So Far)

The 2019 music year has felt fruitful as ever. These last six months have delivered the rare haul of critically-adored albums that straddle pop blockbuster territory and the music nerd nation. Perhaps that’s thanks to critics’ swelling soft spot for poptimism, but our top 10 alone consists of records by pop mainstays like Carly Rae Jepsen and Tyler, The Creator, rock contemporaries Kevin Morby and Sharon Van Etten and indie newcomers like Julia Jacklin and Faye Webster. It’s not every year the mix is that diverse in terms of both genre and target audience. But that’s just 2019, a year that often makes no sense at all. Two-and-a-half years into a helter-skelter administration and firmly rooted in the chaos of the internet and the correspondingly relentless news cycle, we’re all just trying our best. Luckily, this year’s soundtrack has lent a great deal of calm and clarity. See below for the 25 best albums of 2019 so far, as voted by the Paste Staff.

Here are the 25 Best Albums of 2019 (So Far):

25. Charly Bliss: Young Enough
Recording an excellent debut album is mostly a blessing, of course. But there’s some curse involved, too, in that you have to figure out how to follow it up. That’s not easy to do. Usually, it means refusing to stagnate, lest you be labeled a one-trick pony. So you must try to record a set of songs that showcase some artistic growth and aesthetic ambition, but at the same time, you don’t want to stray too far from what worked so well the first time out. On their second album Young Enough, Charly Bliss navigates these various pressures and pitfalls without overthinking them. The hotly tipped New York City combo broke through nationally in 2017 on the strength of its debut album Guppy, a perfect—yeah, I said it—10-track blast of sweetly serrated pop-rock supercharged with punky energy and plentiful hooks. Two years later, Young Enough introduces new moods and textures without tamping down the band’s irrepressible likeability. There is unquestionably a centerpiece song on Young Enough, and that’s the title track, which clocks in at 5 minutes and 20 seconds long—an epic by this band’s standards. It’s time well-spent: slow-burning, dynamic, emotionally resonant and representative of Charly Bliss in 2019. Here, you can hear how the synthetic sounds better contextualize Hendricks’ desperate words by drawing out their meaning and feeling rather than running roughshod over them like Guppy’s rollicking arrangements. In doing so, they also open up a promising path forward for the band. That sophomore album challenge? Charly Bliss nailed it. —Ben Salmon

helado_cover.jpg 24. Helado Negro: This Is How You Smile
Already a prolific force as Helado Negro, Roberto Carlos Lange wrote the best record of his career in This Is How You Smile. Throughout his discography, the Florida-born son of Ecuadorian immigrants has looked to make sense of the Latinx experience in America. What he does with Smile, the sixth Helado Negro LP, is open up the range of his songwriting to show how universal the truths he extols truly are. Tracks like “Fantasma Vaga” and “Todo Lo Que Me Falta”—love songs in Spanish—just feel tender and relatable, no matter what your cultural lexicon is. And the endearing pop atmosphere of “Running” brings opposite poles together through music, to show that no matter what the shade of our skin is, we all ride the same emotional waves through this world. —Adrian Spinelli

Thumbnail image for AHDesignerArt.jpg 23. Aldous Harding: Designer
Forget the “gothic folk” tag that is often applied to Harding—it obscures far more than it reveals about the New Zealand singer and the slippery sound of her music. Designer, her third album, is riveting in such an offhanded and low-key way that it sneaks up and grabs you with unexpected force. It’s easy to get lost in her lyrics, which are as intense and evocative as they are inscrutable on songs that manage to simultaneously soothe and unsettle. Her music is equally absorbing on taut arrangements that combine guitars with piano and drums, and also with woodwinds, which can lend a deceptive pastoral air. She sometimes sings in a dusky murmur, but can also slide into bright, candy-colored tones. On “Zoo Eyes,” she does it from one phrase to the next. Harding has said she often pursues musical ideas without having any deeper significance in mind, which works out fine: By leaving interpretation to her listeners, her songs can mean whatever anyone wants them to. —Eric R. Danton

ToroyMoiOuterPeaceArt.jpg 22. Toro y Moi: Outer Peace
Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bear followed his enjoyable but underwhelming 2017 album Boo Boo with the smartly subdued Outer Peace, a ridiculously groovy 10-song event that feels more concerned with creating a comfortable space than bombarding the listener with content. Since his early days as a chillwave harbinger, Bear has always worked along the fringes of multiple musical communities—hints of R&B, hip hop, indie and electronica have all showed up in his music at one time or another. Outer Peace is the atmospheric mingling of them all. One minute Bear’s marrying bongos to a disco-y bassline on “Ordinary Pleasure” and the next he’s singing on “Laws of the Universe,” “James Murphy is spinning at my house / I met him at Coachella,” a clever nod to the LCD Soundsystem frontman and one of his best-known lyrics. Whether he’s distributing rock or R&B, freewheeling ambience or calculated intention, Toro y Moi is one of the most interesting figures in any circle he calls home. —Ellen Johnson

21. Better Oblivion Community Center: Better Oblivion Community Center
Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst come from the same musical orbit. One could even argue, the two songwriters—ages 24 and 38 respectively—are like long-lost musical siblings. Though at vastly different points in their careers, both musicians know how to crush and revive listeners with inspired woe, romantic poignancy and their instantly recognizable, consoling pipes. The stars aligned just in time for Bridgers and Oberst to write, record and surprise-drop a haunting album together for a brand new project: Better Oblivion Community Center—which really is their band name and not actually the name of a utopian old folks home. Better Oblivion Community Center is an unsurprisingly tender, affecting excursion. Its largely upbeat instrumentation ebbs and flows with understated folky strums and scintillating keyboards, and the occasional ray of buoyant rock ’n’ roll peeks out just when you need some lighthearted relief from their lyrics. Though many male-female vocal duos lean heavily on duets, this pair elected to skirt that norm by singing mostly in unison and in harmony rather than engaging in the sometimes cheesy call and response. Much of the record could still loosely fall into the folk camp, but there are moments that you wouldn’t expect from Oberst and Bridgers. The throbbing electro keyboards of “Exception to the Rule,” the fuzzy rock surge at the end of “Big Black Heart” and the psychedelic guitar swells on “My City” all represent a venture into new frontiers. —Lizzie Manno

Thumbnail image for SASAMI_albumart.jpg 20. SASAMI: SASAMI
There’s a tension between introspective minimalism and cathartic bombast present in every song on SASAMI’s self-titled debut, creating some of the best moments in music released so far this year. To my ears, SASAMI’s grasp of exciting songwriting is unparalleled, utilizing her degree in classical composition in equal parts with her time as a member of Cherry Glazerr. She wields lyrical tenderness and cacophonous skronk-rock, weaponizing her pain to create truly thrilling indie rock that sounds familiar and fresh at the same time. The free-associative “Morning Comes” is a particular highlight, turning what could be a peak-era Death Cab for Cutie song into a discordant and rambling meditation on alienation and self-medication. SASAMI feels both universal and deeply personal, each song a distillation of shared experience shone through SASAMI’s prismatic style. —Harry Todd

BigThiefUFOFArt.jpg 19. Big Thief: U.F.O.F
New York indie-folk outfit Big Thief have been touring constantly for four years in conjunction with their first two full-lengths—2016’s Masterpiece and 2017’s Capacity—and their third album U.F.O.F. was largely informed by their relentless touring schedule and the band’s heightened personal and musical synergy. Some of the songs were recorded just hours after they were written. As a result, this album’s blustery whooshes contribute to an otherworldliness not yet wholly strung together on a Big Thief album. The sonic wisp of “Contact,” the celestial lyrics of “U.F.O.F.” and the cacophonies that close “Cattails” and “Jenni” all contribute to an incorporeal sheen. On U.F.O.F., Big Thief embrace their more subtle and mystical sides while capturing a wider array of landscapes—the cosmic (“U.F.O.F.”), bucolic (“Cattails”), domestic (“From”) and urban (“Betsy”). —Lizzie Manno

18. Bob Mould: Sunshine Rock
What good did we, as a society, do to deserve Bob Mould? He is a Good and Pure genius, who touches down every so often and blesses us with a new album—in this case, Sunshine Rock—before going back to whatever loud and magical land he occupies. He is like a favorite uncle, occasionally forgotten in the daily grind but always welcomed with a sense of “Why am I not listening to this every single day?” Mould doesn’t waste any time getting right to the title track, and it’s an aching love song in the vein of Sugar’s “Your Favorite Thing.” Mould’s guitar pounds like a heart wrapped in barb wire, offering, pleading for the object of his affection to come away on an adventure. Mould is at his best when he’s begging, making you wonder who could possibly say no to the promise “I’ll be your astronaut.” Mould is the man we need right now. Sunshine Rock is bitter and hopeful, full of rage and promise. It’s an album that defines a moment in all its ugliness and the rare moments of beauty that we have to keep fighting for. “You can’t predict the future, you can’t forget the past,” he sings on “Camp Sunshine.” So maybe we can’t go back there. But we can make our own sunshine in our own little corners. We can all be someone’s astronaut. —Libby Cudmore

foalspartone_albumart.jpg 17. Foals: Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost—Part 1
For six or seven months, Foals lead singer Yannis Philippakis didn’t hardly pick up a guitar, let alone work on any new music. While that’s a lengthy stretch of down time for any typical band between album cycles, it’s particularly noteworthy for the London-based artist, whose band—one of the hardest working acts in the UK since its inception in 2005—has rarely even taken that much time off between shows. How Philippakis began to write was wildly different this time around than at any point in his career—he largely worked in public, usually at pubs and beer gardens. This connection to the outside world changed the course of the lyrical content for what became Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1, the first of two releases set for 2019. Finally not writing in the relative isolation indoors as he has in the past, Philippakis allowed himself to address the weighty issues of the day rather than write from an insular place, all influenced by the setting he wrote in where he was simultaneously surrounded by a sea of Londoners while hiding in plain sight. Not only did the change of scenery alter his lyrical output, but it also led to the most productive period of his band’s career, leading to the release of not one, but two albums this year. Usually, the band whittles down a pile of song sketches into a single, succinct record, only completing the eventual album tracks, leaving the rest to be forgotten. In this case, they took a different approach, deciding to push all of those song ideas to the finish line, effectively saving all the tracks that previously would have been lost. —Steven Edelstone

iameasytofind.jpg 16. The National: I Am Easy To Find
For all intents and purposes, Matt Berninger is a New Yorker. He’s been there long enough to write about the city with authority. So when he sings “You were never much of a New Yorker / It wasn’t in your eyes,” alongside This Is The Kit’s Kate Stables on the title track of The National’s new album, I Am Easy to Find, he knows what he’s talking about. But for the first time in quite a while, Berninger went back to his hometown of Cincinnati on “Not in Kansas,” I Am Easy to Find’s keystone track. Instead of writing about his negative memories of the place (“I never married but Ohio don’t remember me” he sang on 2010’s “Bloodbuzz Ohio”), he experienced firsthand how both he and the Midwest had changed, particularly since the election of Donald Trump, launching into a full and abstract stream of consciousness about his journey home. From the plucky and frenzied guitars on lead single “You Had Your Soul With You” to the pulsating percussion of fan-favorite “Rylan” to the dazzling orchestral strings on album closer “Light Years” (another track that could be argued as one of The National’s best to date), I Am Easy to Find doesn’t radically change the formula they developed over the past couple of releases, but it nearly perfects it, resulting in a record as elegant as the suits Berninger routinely wears onstage. —Steven Edelstone

15. Maggie Rogers: Heard It In A Past Life
In a way, Maggie Rogers is the exemplary model of a modern pop star. Her success story is one that’s exclusive to our times, when the Internet has the power to make moguls out of memes overnight. But Rogers is no Mason Ramsey: Her story begins not with a Walmart yodel, but with an unbelievably perfect demo, played for Pharrell Williams during a songwriting masterclass at New York University in 2016. The video of his reaction (stunned, in the best way) went viral, and Rogers stumbled into sensation. As Pharrell more or less said upon hearing that first cut of “Alaska” (which now boasts more than 85 million Spotify streams and club remixes for days), Maggie Rogers is singular. Other Internet-made stars flake and fade, but Rogers has continued to burn oh-so bright, incomparable in terms of musical style. While she’s kept us satiated with an EP and a crop of sparkling singles, we’ve been waiting for Heard It In A Past Life for a few years. Now that it’s here, one thing’s clear: Maggie Rogers is a pure pop star and a deserving one, at that. She’s self-assured in a way other radio stars aren’t, never afraid to fold in her folk background and do whatever she wants. And you just can’t help but root for her. If Maggie Rogers can find a way to exist alongside the likes of Billie Eilish (which she has, at least by this list’s judgement), she’ll be the next big thing in pop. The charts are starved for something real and down-to-earth, and her songs, while heavily produced in comparison to some of her folksier beginnings, have an earnestness to them that can’t be fabricated. Rogers’ career may have first sparked on the internet, but now it’s a fire burning IRL. —Ellen Johnson

Billie Eilish’s career to this point has been one that could only have happened now. She has only ever made music in the streaming age, where she’s translated copious plays into press hype, rather than the other way around. But her music, songs that emphatically encapsulate teenage angst for an existential era, is very much of this period as well. So perhaps, when we eventually look back on the music of this era a few years from now, there will likely be no singular album that absolutely nails the sound of 2019 quite like Billie Eilish’s debut record, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, for better or worse. She delivers the record that her generation has been waiting for, one with loads of in-jokes and language (the album literally begins with a joke about pulling out her Invisalign, while “all the good girls go to hell” ends with a joke about “snowflakes”). After all, this album isn’t made for critics—or even anyone born more than a few years before 9/11—it’s for those who share the same teenage hormonal desires and emotional pitfalls that Eilish is currently going through. While someone like Snail Mail, only 18 months her elder, can put out a record with largely the same themes as WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, yet still speak to an older audience, Eilish’s debut largely doesn’t care, well aware that she doesn’t need anyone above, say, 25 to make her the biggest pop artist on the planet. —Steven Edelstone

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