The 10 Best Albums of November 2019

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The 10 Best Albums of November 2019

We know you’re probably exhausted after combing through all the best of the decade and best of the year lists, but we wholeheartedly promise that this best of the month list is worth your time. November is essentially the last gasp for air in the album release schedule, apart from the few December LPs, Christmas records or perhaps a surprise-released bombshell. Several of these November albums were among our favorites of the year, especially Lucy Dacus’ timely 2019 EP and FKA twigs’ fascinating art-pop masterwork MAGDALENE. Scroll down for Paste’s final monthly albums list of 2019 and this decade.

Here are the 10 best albums of November, according to Paste’s music critics:

10. Omni: Networker

Now 50 years after it began, Omni is boldly carrying the post-punk torch into a current array of modern challenges with Networker, their third record and first for the legendary Sub Pop label. The first thing you notice when digging into the Atlanta duo’s succinct 30-minute record is how mathematical it feels. On the opener, “Sincerely Yours,” the few musical elements that Omni presents us with all churn forward with calculated cohesion. The spaces left by each plucked bass note are filled by snare hits, which are in turn accented by jagged guitar strums. The song advances like clockwork and manages to transmit rhythmic bliss with minimal components. While the biting guitar leads throughout Networker bring Omni’s sound to the border of punk, singer Philip Frobos’ nonchalant vocal delivery acts as a cooling agent, leading the band back into calm territories. At only 30-minutes long, Omni manages to pack in a vast number of carefully-arranged flourishes. Networker stands on its own, but look carefully and you’ll find the homages to the first iterations of post-punk with CBGB at the epicenter. And though CBGB has been closed for quite some time, it’s easy to picture Omni’s own brand of incisive rock reverberating through the club’s wonderfully grimy walls. —Hayden Goodridge

9. Vegyn: Only Diamonds Cut Diamonds

You’ve probably heard Vegyn before whether or not you realize it. The 25 year-old London-based producer born Joe Thornalley first jumped into the cultural consciousness in 2016, producing a handful of tracks on both of Frank Ocean’s albums from that year, the underrated, elusive Endless and the game-changing Blonde. That relationship—whose nightclub and USB-sharing origins sounds like a narrative from Blonde itself—has remained fruitful; Vegyn is a co-host on Ocean’s Beats 1 show, Blonded Radio, and a DJ at his recent PReP+ parties in New York. At this point, I’m inclined to say that that’s enough about Frank Ocean. But it’ll be hard for Only Diamonds Cut Diamonds, Vegyn’s debut record, to escape Ocean’s shadow. Like Blonde, this is an album obsessed with creating something uniquely of its time. Like Endless, its electronica simmers and rarely boils over. Like both, the album revels in immaculately juxtaposed textures. Every time you’re reminded of a specific moment on either of those records—the beatswitch on “Nights,” for example, or the plucky guitar melancholy of “Slide On Me”—you’ll invariably realize that Vegyn produced those. Maybe the question is how much of Vegyn’s own shadow is he trying to outrun. —Harry Todd

8. Sean Henry: A Jump From The High Dive

Sean Posila, who records as Sean Henry, shared his second full-length, A Jump From The High Dive, earlier this month via Double Double Whammy , which follows 2018’s Fink. The Connecticut-raised singer/songwriter retreated home to work on his new record, splitting his time between making music and listening to classic hip-hop and ’90s alternative CDs in his car. On A Jump From The High Dive, Henry lugs around a big suitcase full of bittersweet memories and tries to figure out where to fit it into his present-day life—do you shove it in a closet, throw it out and start fresh, parse through it and salvage what you want or proudly display its contents? Through lenses of wonky pop, alt-rock and even hip-hop, Henry’s heartfelt, charming songs feel like they’ve been unearthed rather than created. —Lizzie Manno

7. Mount Eerie: Lost Wisdom, Pt. 2

Closure is a myth, isn’t it? The word most often associated with it, loss, seems tailored to help us understand that; something—an emotion, a feeling, a presence—is gone. It can’t be recovered. Maybe the impossibility of closure is why we go to such extremes to try and find it. Phil Elverum has always understood that, though never with the clarity of the musician’s two most recent albums as Mount Eerie. 2017’s A Crow Looked At Me and its expansive 2018 companion, Now Only, both confronted the realities of incalculable grief with unparalleled precision, levying spare instrumentation with visceral lyricism to render a family portrait defined by its negative space. Recounting the events that led to those albums—the birth of a daughter, the death of her mother—feels reductive, especially given that Elverum has already offered the story in such detail. But that narrative continues on Elverum’s second collaboration with Julie Doiron, Lost Wisdom, Pt. 2, this time with the additional layer of Elverum’s brief marriage to and separation from actress Michelle Williams. Somehow, though, listening to Lost Wisdom, Pt. 2 doesn’t pose the same herculean difficulty that makes A Crow Looked At Me and Now Only so hard to revisit. For the first time since 2017, it’s not hard to imagine certain Mount Eerie tracks existing outside the confines of context. —Harry Todd

6. Leonard Cohen: Thanks for the Dance

No one writes songs about sex quite like Leonard Cohen did, which is to say, as an adult. It’s a surprisingly rare distinction, given that sex is such a common subtext in music, but Cohen wasn’t reveling in conquests, degrading his partners or exploiting power dynamics like some emotionally stunted ’80s hair-metal singer compensating for something. Though Cohen could behave like a cad in his real-life relationships, his songs about sex are generally chivalrous in an old-fashioned sense of the word: They’re courtly and mannered, attentive and solicitous, and if they are full of vivid descriptions, they’re rarely explicit. It wasn’t just sex: No one writes about a lot of things the way Cohen did, including spirituality and death. Those subjects also figure into Thanks for the Dance, though the album isn’t as grave and searching as the last few that Cohen released during his lifetime when he explored themes of mortality and asked pointed questions of God. At Cohen’s request, his son, Adam Cohen, assembled Thanks for the Dance from sketches his father had recorded, but didn’t use, for 2016’s You Want It Darker, which came out less than three weeks before Leonard Cohen’s death. Adam Cohen fleshed out the sketches into songs with help from frequent Leonard Cohen collaborators Jennifer Warnes, Sharon Robinson and Javier Mas as well as Adam Cohen’s own friends, including Beck, Daniel Lanois, Damien Rice, Leslie Feist, Bryce Dessner of The National and Richard Reed Perry of Arcade Fire. Whether he’s singing about sex or death, or whatever else, Cohen’s voice remains indispensable. —Eric R. Danton

5. Greet Death: New Hell

Michigan trio Greet Death put out one of the best guitar records of 2019, and if you’re a fan of overdrive, you should run—not walk—to the nearest record store to buy it. With thick sheets of punky post-rock and vocals that border on folk and emo, their second album New Hell is hard to pin down—it’s more raucous than your average emo record, but more painfully heartfelt than your average post-rock record. Folding in slowcore and indie rock for good measure, their blustery soundscapes, intricate distortion and big heart make New Hell one of the best hidden gems of 2019. With lyrics of boredom, emptiness and struggles for self-love, Greet Death make their journey through personal hell sound like a majestic, cathartic saga. Self-inquiry has rarely sounded this powerful. —Lizzie Manno

4. Miranda Lambert: Wildcard

One of Miranda Lambert’s trademarks is her ability to weave nostalgia with ballsiness in her music, and she nails it again here on her new album Wildcard. The devil-may-care attitude she first showed us on her spicy 2005 debut Kerosene is still in full force (see: “Tequila Does”). But her tender side, which she first revealed in 2009’s Revolution, peeks through on some of Wildcard’s best tracks. On the hopeful “Bluebird,” she sings, “34 was bad / So I just turn to 35.” Butterflies abound on “How Dare You Love,” and she plots her own fairytale escape à la the Dixie Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away” on the lustrous “Fire Escape,” one of those rocking country romances that sounds even sweeter when you let go of all cynicism. “Life’s pretty weird, life’s pretty great,” Lambert sings on “Pretty Bitchin’.” She’s been through hell and back and now that she’s on the other side of it, she just might be the realest star in country music—she’s certainly in the running for the biggest. Like Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound, Wildcard feels like Lambert’s rock ‘n’ roll introduction. But, if you’ve been paying attention, Lambert has always been a rockstar. She’s been spittin’ fire since she signed to a label in 2003—probably long before that—and her IDGAF attitude has long sounded strong with screeching guitars and thrashing drums. Lambert is an outlaw, and she’s also an album artist, and Wildcard proves she’s one who will be rebelling, experimenting and rocking the hell out for many years to come. —Ellen Johnson

3. Michael Kiwanuka: KIWANUKA

For all the music pumped out into the world every year, the amount of it that is truly profound—that seems to communicate on some deeper, almost intuitive level—is incredibly small. Michael Kiwanuka’s latest album comes close. KIWANUKA is a breathtaking retro-futuristic hybrid of funk, soul, rock and folk that somehow exists in all of the past 50 years at once. It’s a tumultuous record, at once confessional and restive, and shot through with a quiet anguish. KIWANUKA is steeped in heartache, but its namesake isn’t mourning for himself—at least, not solely. Prompted in part by parsing his own relationship with his Ugandan-English heritage and the ways that non-white people are treated in predominantly white cultures, the singer is wrestling with disillusion verging on despair over the state of the world around him, where compassion and understanding are practically bygone virtues and cynical self-interest rules the day. Maybe you’ve noticed. Kiwanuka’s resigned, world-weary tone suggests that he feels the impact of that jaundiced world acutely, as if he is bearing an impossible burden that he can’t seem to drop. —Eric Danton

2. Lucy Dacus: 2019

Time may be a construct, but it’s a pretty damn tireless one. It doesn’t stop when a family member dies, when you move to a new city or when a depression spell hits. The unending flow of time is overwhelming, a riptide that sweeps us under and threatens to drown us as we realize that, fuck, 2019 is almost over and we are on the precipice of a new decade. It’s like what Steve Miller so astutely once taught us: “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.” To counter this, man created holidays to demarcate time and give us a reason to look around and remind ourselves where we are in this continuous cycle of seconds and days and years. Lucy Dacus, always a melancholic and incisive observer of the human condition, puts her own spin on these special days with 2019, her eclectic collection of holiday songs. With three original tracks and four covers, Dacus simultaneously examines and celebrates New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Taurus Season (with a nod at Mother’s Day), Fourth of July, Bruce Springsteen’s birthday, Halloween and Christmas. —Clare Martin

1. FKA twigs: MAGDALENE

In the five years since her transformative debut album, 2014’s LP1, FKA twigs has been through a lot. As though having six fibroids removed from her uterus during this period wasn’t torment enough, she dated and split up with two famous actors, to one of whom she was engaged. As she suffered both immense emotional and physical pain, she all but rebirthed herself. This rebirth narrative is one possible reading of the stunning video for “cellophane,” the first song released from MAGDALENE, LP1’s long-awaited album-length follow-up. A devastating piano lament that only vaguely includes the howling, clicking and stuttering vocal and synth tricks of LP1, “cellophane” arrived alongside a video that, like the majority of FKA twigs’ visuals to date, exists in a not-quite-terrestrial space full of forthright sexuality, brooding sci-fi, angular dancing and plain old horror. The two videos that have followed have been, well, exactly not that, and that contrast lies at the heart of what makes the game-changing genre-less artist’s sophomore album so special. MAGDALENE is the sound of an artist gluing together the million tiny shards in which she found herself after an explosive breakup. If FKA twigs previously sang about her isolating sexual desires, here she details the journey to regain her strength after she’s seen the other side of romantic fulfillment. As expected, the climb is often challenging: On the loping, shapeless “daybed,” ostensibly the only track to survive FKA twigs’ 2016 sessions with Oneohtrix Point Never, she struggles to even leave her bed. As she sings lines like “dirty are my dishes,” “friendly are the fruit flies” and “possessive is my daybed,” she equates the disheveled state of her home with the disheveled state of her heart, and the analogy is nothing short of crushing. —Max Freedman

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