The 10 Best Albums of April 2019

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The 10 Best Albums of April 2019

We could be jumping the gun, but here at Paste we’re pretty sure we heard some of the year’s best albums this month. Kevin Morby dropped his career-best, as did Weyes Blood, and, otherwise, we heard an onslaught of great new rock music: Wand casted a winding psych spell, Washington D.C.’s Priests seduced Kansas with searing satire and Fontaines D.C. (from Ireland, not D.C., mind you), poeticized punk on their debut Dogrel, then proceeded to play The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. We can’t help but wonder if they’re the first Irish punk-rocker upstarts to do so?! Anyways, April really delivered. Don’t miss these 10 fantastic records from the last 30 days.

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

10. Damien Jurado: In The Shape Of A Storm

When Damien Jurado plays solo sets, he sits hunched over his acoustic guitar, the curve of his spine enclosing his body in a cave-like perimeter of internal focus. Watching him feels a bit like interloping on a solitary act of worship or the working-out of a nascent creative idea—a whole crowd invading one man’s privacy. The quiet spectacle aches vulnerability, abstaining from the machismo with which many male singer-songwriter-guitarists perform their work. In recent years, Jurado’s music wandered away from this lone-troubadour aesthetic, particularly on a trio of adventurous collaborations with the late musician/producer Richard Swift. From 2012’s Maraqopa through 2016’s Visions of Us on the Land, Jurado’s albums followed an unnamed protagonist on an extended vision quest that involved sci-fi speculation, meandering hallucination and copious religious allusions. His latest album, In the Shape of a Storm, finds the singer home from his cosmic quest and once again inhabiting a cave-like zone of introspection. The songs are built from raw materials: just Jurado’s voice, his acoustic guitar, and occasional accompaniment from Josh Gordon’s high-strung guitar, which adds ethereal sparkle to the album’s last four songs. Given the conceptual and sonic maximalism of Jurado’s recent work, In the Shape is a low-key flex demonstrating the artist’s multipurpose strength. Many of these songs arrive as rescues and strays—compositions Jurado wrote long ago but never formally recorded. That impulse to collect disparate ideas for posterity could portend an opportunistic, disorganized, or just plain lazy compilation project. Yet Jurado possesses a gift for elevated simplicity, and this quality graces In the Shape of a Storm and gives its 10 songs a pleasingly rounded shape. —Annie Galvin

9. SOAK: Grim Town

Northern Irish singer/songwriter Bridie Monds-Watson has achieved a lot at a young age. She released her 2015 debut album Before We Forgot How to Dream at age 18, which won Ireland’s Choice Music Prize and received a Mercury Prize nomination. Unsurprisingly, her 2019 follow-up Grim Town is about growing up—literally and emotionally. This growth takes shape in a place called Grim Town—a stomping ground for the second guessers, the alienated, the dreamers, the one last drinkers and the young, misty-eyed lovers. Listeners will know they’re in the right place when the surreal train announcement and album opener “All Aboard” informs passengers that they’ll have to discard any semblance of optimism and crawl on their knees to their final destination. Every young person with a beating heart talks flippantly about doom and gloom, but any comedian will tell you jokes are funny because they’re often grounded in truth. The album’s guiding light is Monds-Watson’s youthful voice—containing a pinch of plucky soul and ranging from playful exuberance to moody wistfulness. “Knock Me Off My Feet” represents her light-heated side with a distinctly teenage, communal spirit that relishes a challenge—a spirit that tends to trail off when we age and need it most. The shimmery, off-center guitars of “Maybe” coalesce with rich brass as Monds-Watson’s golden vocal melodies cut as deeply as her lyrics (“What was time / But a graveyard of lost chances…Molding sand castles with ashes / Of unwanted / Romantic advances”). The heart-rending barroom piano tune “Crying Your Eyes Out” asks the simple questions, but often the simplest are the most overwhelming (“Will I ever be enough?”). —Lizzie Manno

8. T Bone Burnett: The Invisible Light: Acoustic Space

The Invisible Light: Acoustic Space, the latest addition to T Bone Burnett’s solo discography after an 11 year gap, comprises a handful of tracks that sound long-buried and freshly unearthed instead of brand-spanking new. That’s okay. The new can sound ancient if it likes, or if it makes sense, and Invisible Light has the aural quality of a relic tucked away in a cavern deep beneath the earth, waiting to be discovered by future generations, warning them of disasters and embarrassments they maybe could’ve avoided if they’d just dug the damn thing up a few years sooner. But Burnett, having busied himself producing and composing music for films and TV series ranging from Nashville to Inside Llewyn Davis to A Place at the Table for the last decade and change, has awakened, and if we’re too late to stop the political tragedies that have befallen us in the intervening years, at least we can rely on his sage counsel for succor. Burnett has a purpose driving him on Invisible Light, and it hews toward the apocalyptic. He has hope, too, wrapped up primarily in “Being There,” but it’s a small hope. “Be not afraid / be not afraid / the angel begged / be not afraid,” he sings. The sentiment, while welcome, isn’t exactly a comfort when people in society aren’t there even when they are there, a reality Burnett details throughout the rest of the track. Maybe not being afraid is enough. Maybe being there is enough. Maybe Burnett’s advisements have come too late. If so, they’re at least a marvel to listen to. —Andy Crump

7. Priests: The Seduction Of Kansas

Saying nothing about the quality of their fierce full-length debut Nothing Feels Natural, Priests are capable of much more than they let on in 2017. Prior to this release, they were making perfectly good—if not great—highly enjoyable punk rock (especially if you’re already primed to enjoy that sort of thing). They were hailed harbingers of a new post-punk wave radiating from Washington D.C.’s storied scene. But The Seduction of Kansas exists in a genre-less vacuum. You don’t need to be a punk fan to enjoy this record. Like shoegaze? Metal? Pop? Indie rock? Come hither. On their second studio album, Priests prove themselves to be highly intellectual and creative songsmiths, drawing on not only their D.C. punk roots but also some adventurous pop sensibilities, all while serving up searing, sage commentary on Middle American ideals. The Seduction of Kansas is a daring flirtation with anarchy. The album’s first whisper of satire takes shape in the provocative opener “Jesus’ Son.” A nod to The Velvet Underground, the track is as memorable a rock song you’ll hear in 2019. Though the band disclosed in a press release it is “an apocalyptic sci-fi tale of epic proportions,” it’s also a heated takedown of male entitlement. “Jesus’ Son” imagines the apocalypse not as the Second Coming—Christ descending unto Earth, bathed in heavenly light—but as some kind of warped dystopia where the Messiah appears as an entitled scumbag, no better than a pouty Brett Kavanaugh demanding he be throned on highest court in the land. The Seduction of Kansas is full of tantalizing tales fraught with disturbed characters, some of whom seem far removed from reality, while others are scarily reminiscent of humanity. —Ellen Johnson

6. Fontaines D.C.: Dogrel

Fontaines D.C. have been pigeonholed as the British Isles’ next great post-punk export à la Shame or Idles, but this Irish five-piece deserve more than that reductive framing. Fontaines D.C. are more poetic than the bands they’re lumped in with, and their debut album Dogrel is a testament to a different set of concerns. Dogrel takes on the degradation of urban cities as lively cultural hubs and launching pads for people to make something of themselves—or at least put some change in their pockets. Frontman Grian Chatten and his bandmates share a love of literature and poetry (the Beats, James Joyce, Patrick Kavanagh, etc.), and they write songs together in Irish pubs, resulting in a brazen-faced, romantic portrait of Dublin and its vast characters. Two of their biggest calling cards are self-belief and authenticity. The uplifting lyrical themes on the lead track “Big” (“My childhood was small / But I’m gonna be big”) are analogous to “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” the lead track on Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, though “Big” has more wit and spit. If self-awareness is one factor of the renewed interest in post-punk, the intense, charismatic Chatten certainly has it as he pokes fun at charisma (“Charisma is exquisite manipulation”). And contrary to what listeners might think, Chatten isn’t evangelizing when he sings, “If you’re a rock star, pornstar, superstar / Doesn’t matter what you are / Get yourself a good car and get out of here.” He’s simply the tongue-in-cheek messenger of the conventional wisdom that’s often spewed at Irish youth. Dogrel is an album of tremendous ardor and vivid landscapes, and interspersed with an Irish underdog spirit, Fontaines D.C. are nearly untouchable. —Lizzie Manno

5. Wand: Laughing Matter

Wand’s music lets the soul wander before kindly accompanying it back home, and their fifth full-length Laughing Matter is another worthy side-by-side trot. Laughing Matter follows the Los Angeles rock outfit’s sky-high 2017 LP Plum and shapeshifting 2018 EP Perfume. While early releases from these Drag City mainstays were characterized by sludgy neo-garage and fuzzy stoner psych, their latest offerings conjure far too much slippery wonder to warrant concise categorization. Wand take risks and thrive on contradiction—their heady guitar embellishments keep you on your toes, and their surreal imagery simultaneously makes you feel insignificant and a pivotal part of the cosmos. Laughing Matter is intoxicating for a number of reasons. Their often opaque lyrics are a strangely touching and immersive experience, and lead vocalist Cory Hanson delivers them with a benevolence that will allow you to trust fall into his snug, fluttering coo. Wand’s affection for nature is evident, and there’s both a foreboding sense that something is slipping from grasp and a blissful acceptance of the changing of the seasons. Laughing Matter’s improvisational jams, winding outros and emotionally crushing melodies result in perhaps their most realized record yet. —Lizzie Manno

4. The Mountain Goats: In League With Dragons

“It never hurts to give thanks to the local Gods/you never know who might be hungry,” John Darnielle sings in “Younger.” Thank the Music Gods for the Mountain Goats, who gift us with yet another elegant and elaborate album with In League With Dragons. If you told me that John Darnielle was Warren Zevon’s secret son, I would absolutely believe you. His voice is breathy, his lyrics wry and his phrasing deceptively simple. But what the Mountain Goats really excel at are their orchestrations: lush and complex but never overwhelming. There’s an element of fantasy all over the album, from the tabletop battlefield of “Younger” (“It never hurts to give thanks to the navigator/even when he’s spitting out random numbers.”) to “Clemency for the Wizard King,” light and airy and breathy and sweet and sincere and as if Tenacious D’s “Wonderboy” was written as a serious rock song. But it’s not just a concept album for nerds. There are noir influences as well, including “Waylon Jennings Live!” which paints a fabulously funny portrait of a man who is either a spy or an international drug lord or maybe the legend himself. The album ends with the prog-lite “Sicilian Crest,” proving that, once again, the Mountain Goats are unafraid to go a little weird in order to stretch and bend between genres. With 16 albums behind them, it would be easy to repeat themselves and crank out another dull routine. But Darnielle and company have more respect for their audience than that, producing an album with the potency to draw in new listeners and give thanks to those already in their company. —Libby Cudmore

3. Lizzo: Cuz I Love You

“Let yourself go” has a negative connotation to it—doing as such would imply something like cancelling all physical activity, restricting your wardrobe to sweatpants and purchasing all your meals from a drive-thru, hair long and unkempt and fingers coated in Cheeto dust. But what if “letting oneself go” looked like something else? What if it meant letting go of self-hate, bad energy and your host of inner demons? What if it included forgetting about the odds against you and just loving yourself with an uninhibited pride? Cuz I Love You looks like that. It’s a parade of Lizzo’s most prideful tendencies and a dazzling way to experience the triple-threat talent (rapper, singer, flautist) who’s currently guiding us in a much-needed confidence craze. On Cuz I Love You, Lizzo’s fortified voice could collapse buildings, her lyrics could bring you to your knees and her unprecedented assurance could inspire you to love yourself just a little bit more. It’s Lizzo’s energy solidified—everything you love about her, wrapped up in one twerkable package bursting with bold statements, bad bitches and, perhaps most notably, bops. Lizzo preaches self-worth by declaring self-worth. She opens “Like A Girl” with the words, “Woke up feelin’ like I just might run for President / Even if there ain’t no precedent, switchin’ up the messaging / I’m about to add a little estrogen” before later name-dropping some of her girl heroes, like Chaka Kahn, Lauryn Hill and Serena Williams (“Willy”). Arguing with Lizzo is tricky business—it’s difficult to disagree with someone who has so much confidence in herself, which is why Cuz I Love You is such a winner. Lizzo is impossible to ignore, and with this album, she proves she’s here to stay. —Ellen Johnson

2. Kevin Morby: Oh My God

Kevin Morby is not religious. Yet by his own admission, he has made a “non-religious religious record.” Oh My God, the dizzying and fantastic fifth album from the increasingly prolific folk-rocker, is preoccupied with the language of exaltation, from its gospel-choir refrains to its outrageous album cover, which depicts Morby, shirtless, posing beneath a famous painting of Saint Cecilia playing piano for the angels. Somehow, none of this scans as ironic or overtly hokey: When Morby sings lines like “Dear God, please forgive me” three times with a children’s choir accompanying him on “Congratulations”—and then caps that off with a searing guitar solo worthy of a Springsteen climax—it’s hard to believe he is a nonbeliever. Morby’s previous work, particularly the back-to-back Singing Saw (2016) and City Music (2017), has been frequently compared to the singer-songwriter greats of the 1970s, notably Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Oh My God has a ramshackle energy to it, as well as a distinctly vintage instrumental ambience, that’s likely to encourage such comparisons. The pianos crackle; the organs rumble and groan (see: “Nothing Sacred / All Things Wild”); everything has that fuzzy analog glow. Oh My God also has a certain unabashed exuberance that’s uncommon in circa-2019 indie-rock. You can hear it in the church-choir backing vocals, in how Morby shouts “Oh! My! God!” throughout “Piss River,” pausing to let each syllable hang in the air. Some records demand to be heard with headphones. Oh My God is not one of them. I first heard the album shortly after being laid off from a newsroom job, which meant Morby’s music was ringing out loudly in my empty apartment instead of piping into my headphones on an overcrowded subway. This seemed to suit its messy, god-obsessed exuberance: Let it ring out wherever you can. If any actual believers were within earshot—well, that’s fine too. —Zach Schonfeld

1. Weyes Blood: Titanic Rising

Natalie Mering’s work under the name Weyes Blood feels less like a catalog of music and more like a journey. And each time she releases a full-length album, her destination comes a little more into focus. That’s especially true on her new record Titanic Rising, which finds Mering edging her peculiar psych-folk closer than ever to the sound of traditional pop music. For someone with a documented predilection for idiosyncrasy and experimentation, she sounds completely at ease in these new songs, and ready for bigger things ahead. Folks who know her debut, 2011’s The Outside Room, might be surprised to hear Weyes Blood in 2019, but they shouldn’t be shocked. Even on that lo-fi bundle of echo and noise, you could hear Mering’s gift for haunting melody and the folk form hovering slightly below the surface. Titanic Rising doesn’t feel blissfully adrift. Instead, it feels like Mering knows exactly where she’s going. You can hear it in the robust string sections of album opener “A Lot’s Gonna Change” and the sturdy backbone-beat of “Andromeda” and the sentiments of “Wild Time,” a patient ambler with a ‘70s soft-rock vibe (including a hint of “Landslide”) and a plainspoken bridge: “Everyone’s broken now,” Mering sings, “And no one knows just how we could have all gotten so far from truth.” —Ben Salmon

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