2019 was a great year for rock n’ roll. Not necessarily with big charting singles or huge sales – rap, pop, country, Kpop and Latin music still reign there. But I can’t remember when there was last such an incredible amount of purely great rock n’ roll albums released in a single year. Some were weird and off-kilter, others embracing the deep blues basics. Either way, it felt like something long-missing from the musical landscape was finally recovered.
That’s not to say other genres didn’t leave an impression. Some up-and-coming rappers blazed brightly, folk and country artists went down some exciting weird routes, and if you’re a fan of R&B and soul, you definitely shouldn’t have left this year without an album to groove to.
Below are the albums that made the biggest impacts on us in 2019.
Top 10 Albums of 2019:
- Bedouin Soundclash – Mass
The hype for this album began building for me with the release of the excellent “Salt-Water” in 2018. It sounded like nothing the Canadian duo had released before, and nothing like anything else out there. With each subsequent single released, I grew more exciting for what was sounding like an amazing comeback for the band, who hadn’t released a full album in eight years. And then suddenly…all the songs disappeared. It wasn’t until some months later the group announced they had signed to a new label and the album would now be released in October of 2019. This was in February 2019 – the waiting would kill me! But it didn’t – and the album lived up to all my hopes. On top of the incredible tracks previously released, every new song previously unheard took interesting risks and musical gambles that paid off in spades. From the jazzy moment of “Full Bloom” to the feel-good afropop of “Better Days”, the group accomplished the herculean task of exceeding expectations. Welcome back Bedouin Soundclash.
2. Sam Fender – Hypersonic Missiles
The debut full-length album from this young British rocker was aptly titled, as Fender seemed to shoot out of nowhere and lighting speed and left an explosive mark on everyone who heard his music. After building buzz playing events like SXSW, and gaining fans in his home country (including Elton John), Fender played the Troubadour in LA and showed he could translate his incredible songs to a live venue with ease. The album itself brings notes of Jeff Buckley and The Killers, while lyrically Fender showed himself unafraid to tackle serious subject matter (see the searing “White Privilege” and devastating “Dead Boys”), but also had no trouble kicking up a heartfelt romantic ruckus (“Will We Talk?”). This is one of those albums that make you excited to see what comes next from them. If Billie Eilish is the current queen of the new alternative movement, Fender should be in deep consideration to be its king.
3. The Glorious Sons – A War on Everything
The second group of Canadians on this list, but bringing to the table a much more traditional brand of rock ‘n roll. But they REALLY brought it. Infusing healthy doses of southern rock and punk rock into their sound, the band capitalized on the stateside success of their single “S.O.S.” by delivering an album packed full of barn-burning rockers (the glorious “The Ongoing Speculation Into the Death of Rock and Roll”), foot stompers (“Panic Attack”) and even some fine-tuned balladry (“Pink Motel”). Every song on the album came packed with hooks aplenty, as well as lyrics that laid bare a surprising amount of vulnerability under the muscular riffs. I would speculate that rock is far from dead as long as these guys stick around.
4. The Menzingers – Hello Exile
Philadelphia’s The Menzingers have always excelled at spikey melodic hooks behind meaningful messaging, but on this year’s Hello Exile, their songwriting advanced to the next level, with songs drawing from the deeply personal to the literary, all packed into incredibly memorable punk rock melodies. Tracks like “Anna” and “Strangers Forever” hit an equally powerful emotional nerve and showed off a maturity in outlook and maturity. It’s pop punk for adults who grew up with the band’s music.
5. Dave Hause – Kick
Similar to The Menzingers, Hause also comes from the punk scene, though has taken his solo work further towards a singer-songwriter/Americana direction. Following his great album Bury Me in Philly, Hause came back with a collection of songs even more fine-tuned and anthemic songs for Kick. “The Ditch” bled with a delicate balance of desperation and acceptance, and “Saboteurs” should be co-opted as a modern rally cry. And some songs were just plain catchy as hell, like the fast-paced “Weathervane” or “Eye Aye I”. Hause has classed himself in with the rising group of solo rock songwriters like Brian Fallon and Craig Finn, who merge the songwriting of classic rock with a rebellious punk spirit, with timeless results.
6. Alex Lahey – The Best of Luck Club
Thank god for Australia’s Alex Lahey, if only for keeping the saxophone alive and well in modern rock. And for playing the blistering sax solo on lead single “Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself” herself! Lahey is a multi-talent, continuing to gain fans in the states. This year, she was included in one of Taylor Swift’s personalized playlists, and made headlines with her spot-on cover of My Chemical Romance‘s “Welcome to the Black Parade”. And all of this praise is duly deserved. Her second album’s songs are consistent earworms, from the outcast anthem “I Don’t Get Invited to Parties Anymore” to the friendship ode “Isabella”. She’s a force to be reckoned with.
7. blink-182 – Nine
I will be the first to say that these pop-punk legends’ last album, California, underwhelmed me. The lyrics felt basic, and they seemed to still be figuring out how best to utilize Matt Skiba, as his voice didn’t provide the same dynamics against Mark Hoppus’ as departed member Tom Delonge’s. Nine has completely renewed my faith in them. First single “Blame it on My Youth” still felt a bit pandering to younger audiences, but it still continued to get caught in my head. The kinetic “Darkside” also grew and grew on me, helped by its mesmerizing video. When the full album finally hit, songs like “Heaven”, “No Heart to Speak Of” and “Hungover You” affected me like few other blink songs have in the past. These were certainly darker songs, but felt like an organic growth from the band’s previous work. With an EP containing some interesting collaborations due next year, my enthusiasm for the band has been reborn, and I await future work with high anticipation.
8. The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger
Not only was it a surprise to hear Jack White and Brendan Benson’s The Raconteurs were returning this year, but it turned out to be one of the most welcome surprises, as Help Us Stranger is hands down their best album. The tracks flow with a loose spirit that remains lively throughout. If someone had told me this album was released in the seventies, I would believe them. All the best trappings of classic rock are there (album stand-out “Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying)” sounds like a lost Lynyrd Skynyrd track as it opens), and White and Benson sound like they’re having a great time on every song. From the propulsive “Born and Razed” to the moseying “Now That You’re Gone”, the band sounds like they were ready to come back and make us appreciate them more than ever. Mission accomplished.
9. Reese McHenry – No Dados
The first moment I heard Reese McHenry‘s song “Detroit”, I was an instant fan. Sounding like Janis Joplin fronting The Stooges, the song was pure rock ‘n roll soul and hit like a freight train. Then I learned Reese’s story – the stroke and illness that had her on bed rest for two years and almost took her life, and her fight to recover and return to making music. That someone who nearly died came back with an album as strong as this made the music all the more powerful. And No Dados is powerful. The songs here are packed with mean riffs, haymaker drumming and McHenry singing like a blues siren. Dare I say, it’s life affirming.
10. Strand of Oaks – Eraserland
Timothy Showalter’s Strand of Oaks excels at taking alt. country and Americana formulas the dosing them with psychedelic influences and classic rock power to create sweeping and swirling songs that grow more infectious the more they seep into your being. On the excellent Eraserland, Showalter takes his sound even further with beautiful results. Opening single “Weird Ways” opens as an elegant, longing elegy and expands into a soaring anthem. “Hyperspace Blues” has hints of mod and classic punk in its propulsive beat, while the vocal melodies twist from powerfully emotive to spacey and distorted. “Moon Landing” struts with an 80’s Clash pomp, and “Ruby” is simply a perfect love song. Eraserland is adventurous, gorgeous and fantastically weird. Can’t wait to see what he does next.
11. Los Coast – Samsara
Great blend of rock, soul and psychedelia out of Austin, TX. “Battles” is a rager, and “The Morning Weight” is a classic soul gem that Sam Cooke would have been envious of.
12. Karen O & Danger Mouse – Lux Prima
Moody, haunting tunes from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ punk siren and the famed DJ/Producer.
13. Anderson .Paak – Ventura
Funk-infused rap that pushes boundaries while not leaving the party behind.
14. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
Indie rock heroes make a trippy R&B Grateful Dead album and it works for the majority of this double-LP. “Harmony Hall” is the song of the year.
15. The National – I Am Easy to Find
Joined by an array of female co-vocalists, the normally brooding band finds some gorgeous lighter touches on their best album in years.
16. Catfish and the Bottlemen – The Balance
British indie rockers write songs that open up and leave their mark the more you listen to them.
17. G Flip – About Us
Australian drummer’s debut album is filled of simple, sad confessional bedroom pop songs that will take anyone back to their most vulnerable days in life.
18. Maggie Rogers – Heard it in a Past Life
Pharrell Williams-annoited viral star’s debut album shows off the excellent songwriting that impressed the rap/R&B tastemaker. “Light On” is the AAA answer to Robyn‘s “Dancing On My Own” and a hit in any decade.
19. Kishi Bashi – Omoiyari
Stunningly orchestrated, lush classical pop.
20. Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center
Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers team up and write a whole slew of super-smart, clever folk rock songs that was tailor made to soundtrack hipster parties for years to come.
EP OF THE YEAR:
Darlingside – Look Up & Fly Away
Runner Up: Scott Ruth – Telephone
Below you can find all of these albums in one playlist for your listening pleasure: