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Under the Radar’s Top 100 Albums of 2019 (Part 2)

Dec 31, 2019
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This is part 2 of our Top 100 Albums of 2019 list. Feel free to check out part 1, with our Top 40, first here.

2019 was a divisive and toxic year for politics on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere, but can we all agree that the decade's final year was firmly a fantastic one for music? Probably not, but here at Under the Radar we certainly felt that way. So while we all stress about impeachment, never ending Brexit negotiations and the election of Boris Johnson, protests in Hong Kong and a trade war with China, immense forest fires in Australia and Brazil and the ever worrying threat of climate change-there was amazing album after fantastic album to get lost in. Whoever says full-length albums are a forgotten artform or that indie rock has been overcome by poptimism clearly hasn't heard 2019's best releases. Some notable artists even released two great albums this year.

As you've probably noticed, we've taken our time assessing which 2019 albums are the best, posting this list on the very last day of the decade. We're not overly concerned with being first, more with getting it right. Here we present a Top 100 Albums of 2019 list-whereas many other websites might opt for only a Top 50 or less-and our writers have done brand new write-ups on each of the Top 60 albums. Even then, there were some good albums that almost made the list, but didn't quite get on there, including 2019 albums by These New Puritans, TOY, Priests, Iggy Pop, Hand Habits, Glen Hansard, Wand, Sudan Archives, Telekinesis, Vivian Girls, The New Pornographers, and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard's Fishing for Fishies-so consider all those honorable mentions.

To arrive at Under the Radar's Top 100, 24 of our writers and editors (including myself and my co-publisher/wife Wendy) each submitted a list of their favorite albums of the year and were encouraged to turn in at least a Top 45. All-in-all 443 different albums were submitted for the vote, but to make the Top 100 an album had to be picked by at least three or more separate writers (our #1, for example, was picked by 21 of our writers and our #2 was chosen by 18 different writers). We then did a secondary vote to determine the bottom four, from a selection of 19 different albums that almost made the Top 96. It doesn't always shake out this way, but in 2019 my two favorite albums of the year were mirrored by the overall staff vote. So as we usher in a new year and decade, take time to reflect on 2019's best albums below (part 2, with #41-100, is below, check out part 1 with the Top 40 here). Let us know in the comments which albums were your personal favorites. By Mark Redfern

41.

Tyler, the Creator

IGOR

(A Boy is a Gun/Columbia)

The biggest flex on Tyler the Creator’s innovative sixth album is the proud statement on its cover: “All songs written, produced, and arranged by Tyler Okonma.” It’s a statement that loudly signals his artistic philosophy. Tyler does not see himself as simply a rapper. Instead, he thinks of himself in the role of the visionary super producer—equal parts Quincy Jones, Pharrell, and Kanye West.

Tyler has always been an auteur, even back in the shock rap days of Goblin, and on IGOR he lets those instincts run wild. This is a sharp, heartfelt break-up record with so many left-turns that it can barely be classed as hip-hop. There are boom bap drums here, alongside buzzing synths and sweet harmonies. Flickers of the rich soul of Stevie Wonder sit next the goofy imitations of ’80s white boy funk. But whatever you call it, IGOR is unquestionably the work of an inspired artist. By Conrad Duncan

42.

Chromatics

Closer to Grey

(Italians Do It Better)

Following a seven-year hiatus, the hypnagogic, noir-influenced sound of Chromatics has never sounded more refreshing as it does on Closer to Grey. As expected, their covers of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” and The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “On the Wall” are expert renditions of two classic songs, never self-indulgent, always progressive and tasteful. Lead singer Ruth Radelet’s gentle, drowsy vocal stylings are a brilliant match with Johnny Jewel’s sharp production tactics—where Chromatics have maintained a particularly low energy level on their previous albums, Closer to Grey runs slick and buoyantly, up-tempo compositions exploring a more determined and cutthroat aesthetic, penning some of their best songs in the process. By Timothy Michalik

43.

Alex Lahey

The Best of Luck Club

(Dead Oceans)

There are no radical changes on Australian singer/songwriter Alex Lahey’s second album The Best of Luck Club, but it’s certainly a step up from her well-received debut album, 2017’s I Love you Like a Brother. If anything perhaps it feels a little more considered but it still has her trademark mix of soaring melodies, witty self-deprecating lyrics and killer pop hooks. Lahey described the album as being inspired by the “highest of highs and the lowest of lows in my life thus far” and it’s an album that when she hits the highs she really delivers. One of the album’s stand out tracks, “Don’t Be so Hard on Yourself,” perfectly encapsulates Lahey’s formidable talents and The Best of Luck Club is a body of work that is absolutely jam-packed with wit, charm, and memorable choruses. By Andy Von Pip

44.

Lizzo

Cuz I Love You

(Nice Life/Atlantic)

From the opening notes of the title track to Lizzo’s third album (and first full-length for major label Atlantic), you know you’re in for quite a ride. With an absolute powerhouse voice singing a neo-soul ballad that somehow fuses Aretha Franklin’s prime on the same Atlantic label, the “ya ya” of Jane’s Addiction’s “Of Course,” and the anguish of Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, it is the perfect introduction to her immense talent. Elsewhere, Lizzo effortlessly veers between singing and rapping like her predecessor Missy Elliott (who appears on “Tempo,” another highlight) but with raw, smoldering sexuality and a sense of both body positivity and self-empowerment simply not ever heard before in mainstream pop music. Alternating between lovelorn but self-empowering ballads like “Jerome” and upbeat anthems like “Juice” and the unstoppable “Like a Girl,” this album is irresistible and it goes by so quickly that you’re tempted to just play it again. By Matthew Berlyant

45.

Fontaines D.C.

Dogrel

(Partisan)

In terms of debut albums in 2019, few artists had a more significant impact than Dublin’s Fontaines D.C. It’s partly down to good timing. Thanks to bands such as Idles and Shame the UK and Irish post-punk scene is currently the hottest form of guitar music on that side of the Atlantic, which will likely carry on for another year or so before the UK press declare something else as the biggest thing since The Beatles.

Regardless, Fontaines D.C. has proven to be such a success largely thanks to frontman Grian Chatten’s wistful, off-kilter poetic delivery. Chatten has captured the mood of a city (and country) currently facing an identity crisis. The 2008 economic bust has led to extremely high rent-rates while arts and music venues are continually closing down to make way for tech firms and fancy hotels. Meanwhile, the UK’s impending exit from Europe leaves Ireland in a delicate position with her border.

While Dogrel isn’t an explicitly political album, the voices that pervade its songs sit amongst the modernist novel tradition of James Joyce’s Dubliners atop of songs like “Too Real” or “Boys In the Better Land,” which hit extremely hard. By Adam Turner-Heffer

46.

SASAMI

SASAMI

(Domino)

SASAMI’s time as a jobbing musician, most notably playing synthesizer for Cherry Glazerr, has stood her in good stead for her eponymously titled debut album. Endless time on tour was put to use penning SASAMI, which speaks primarily about failed relationships, namely, her own. Not necessarily a heartbreak record, SASAMI is nonetheless intimate with SASAMI (full name Sasami Ashworth) closing in the microphone, singing like she’s whispering secrets in your ear. Her compositions revolve around a guitar and are more all the more effective for their simplicity in production. She hits particularly sensitive notes on “Jealousy” and “Morning Comes,” where her voice sits alongside the instrumentation, letting the honesty blaze through. By Lily Moayeri

47.

Piroshka

Brickbat

(Bella Union)

Having taken Lush out for one more spin with a new EP and a tour a few years ago, Miki Berenyi continued her un-retirement from rock and roll in 2019 with a new set of bandmates. Piroshka boasts former Elastica drummer Justin Welch, former Moose guitarist K.J. McKillop (also Berenyi’s long-term romantic partner), and Modern English bassist Mick Conroy—a somewhat incongruous alignment on paper that melds uniquely well on record. Brickbat is styled and spontaneous, brash but not without its bliss. By Ian King

48.

Better Oblivion Community Center

Better Oblivion Community Center

(Dead Oceans)

Few song titles felt more apt for listeners in 2019 than the opening track to Better Oblivion Community Center’s self-titled debut: “Didn’t Know What I Was In For.” The unexpected pairing of Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers yielded a splendid lo-fi sonic turn from both. While Oberst and Bridgers have enjoyed other successful collaborations, there’s such an obvious chemistry at work with one another that fans have been hungry for more tunes since Better Oblivion Community Center first released. By Matt Conner

49.

Hayden Thorpe

Diviner

(Domino)

The abrupt end to Wild Beasts came as a surprise to the group’s fans, but the members had been sitting on that split for a while. It’s clear from central Wild Beast Hayden Thorpe’s debut solo album, Diviner, that he’s been on his own trajectory long before the group parted ways. The piano-centric and stripped back Diviner is plaintive and personal, what Thorpe refers to as a break-up album with himself. Prone to the dramatic, Thorpe channels ANOHNI in his beseeching falsetto. “Human Knot” is George McCrae’s ’70s groover “Rock Your Baby” through a forlorn filter—with the polar opposite sentiment—while the melody refrain on “Stop Motion” is simple and gorgeous. Thorpe hits his emotional pinnacle on album closer, “Impossible Object.” By Lily Moayeri

50.

Girl Band

The Talkies

(Rough Trade)

The long-awaited successor to Holding Hands with Jamie arrived both more avant-garde and yet more approachable than the Dublin group’s 2015-released debut album. Girl Band can forge insistent earworms out of scrap metal, space, and tension, and four years of relatively limited activity have only sharpened their instincts and serrated edges. The Talkies is Exhibit A in this year’s case for independent guitar bands still wielding radical potential in their corner of the increasingly pop-timized music world. Hopefully the next one won’t take as long. By Ian King

51.

Charli XCX

Charli

(Atlantic)

Charli XCX’s long-mooted third album strikes a careful balance between her hit-making talent and the avant-pop experiments of her 2017 mixtapes. Charli (the artist) has never suited traditional pop stardom—her writing is much too strange for that. Therefore, Charli (the album) is still filled with thumping drums and distorted synths, even as it softens her eccentric impulses. “Gone” and “1999” are euphoric pop sugar-rushes, while “Click” and “Shake It” are deranged club bangers backed by instrumentals that sound like a warehouse of synths malfunctioning. As a document of the vast breadth of her talent, it is her most complete work yet. By Conrad Duncan

52.

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib

Bandana

(ESGN/Keep Cool/Madlib Invazion/RCA)

Indiana’s very own Gangsta Gibbs re-teams with old producer pal Madlib for another album, five years after the excellent Piñata. The results are even better, with Madlib’s dusty, perfectly-assembled sample-based beats providing a catchy and timeless backdrop to Freddie Gibbs’ immaculate bars. Gibbs gets vicious on “Half Manne Half Cocaine,” confessional and personal on “Practice,” and lives the good life on “Crime Pays.” And he assembles the most killer team-up of the year, recruiting Yasiin Bey and The Roots’ Black Thought to spit truth on “Education.” From beginning to end, the production, vibe, lyrics, and performance are all top-notch, making Bandana the easy rap album of the year. By Scott Dransfield

53.

Danny Brown

uknowwhatimsayin¿

(Warp)

No one has a voice like Danny Brown. No one really raps like him either. With his high, sometimes strained style, he merges sharp and precise into fluid, delivering lines in smooth bursts, building to often hilarious punchlines.

This is evident across his fifth album, a record that exists in a weird Rick and Morty parallel universe. Here an idiosyncratic figure dealing in pop culture references, crude sexual encounters, and social commentary delivers a warped mutation of radio friendly cuts that somehow sound radio friendly without sacrificing an ounce of personality.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s lined up Q-Tip to produce, alongside a starry collection of supporting acts that includes everyone from Run the Jewels to Blood Orange, not that any of them can overshadow Brown. He is his own man running his own show.

As he puts it early on, “Never look back/I would never change up.” An equally apt summation comes in the first lines of closer “Combat,” Brown swaggering in with “I don’t give a fuck/I could talk a cat off the back of a fish truck.”

This is an artist who started the decade by announcing his arrival. He ends it making clear he’s nowhere near done yet. By Stephen Mayne

54.

The Divine Comedy

Office Politics

(Divine Comedy)

For the latest release from the chamber pop project of Northern Irish singer/songwriter/composer Neil Hannon, The Divine Comedy turns its focus toward the workplace and the mixed blessings of technology (“You’ll Never Work in This Town Again”). Hannon’s wit and heart add considerable depth to the concept, along with a minimalist parody worth its weight in Philip Glass. By Hays Davis

55.

Wilco

Ode to Joy

(dBpm)

There’s nothing cheerful about Wilco’s weary new release, Ode to Joy, but Jeff Tweedy’s sullen, even sardonic, songs on the band’s 11th studio album are no less appreciable for their dark matter. The decaying guitar tones, sorrowful flourishes, and incessant stomp of “Bright Leaves” sets the tone from the outset, as Tweedy sings, “I never change/You never change.” Some songs here are personal (“Hold Me Anyway”), others political (“Citizens”), but Wilco accompanies them all the same with their incredible chemistry and a restrained instrumentation that keeps Tweedy’s questions front and center. “I blow my horn for the whole band,” he sings. We wouldn’t have it any other way. By Matt Conner

56.

Slowthai

Nothing Great About Britain

(True Panther/Method)

On his incendiary debut album, Slowthai depicts a country in crisis, filled with crippling poverty and endless political turmoil. He responds to the chaos with puckish humor. Nothing Great About Britain is knowingly provocative, designed to anger conservatives, royalists, and any authority figures with delusions of grandeur. But it also stretches further than mischievous controversy.

Slowthai is a gifted storyteller with a sharp ear for vivid details, such as on the unguarded “Northampton’s Child,” and his music brings together a rich sample of British counterculture, from grime (“Grow Up”) to punk (“Doorman”) to UK garage (“Toaster”). Contrary to its title, this debut proves there is still much to celebrate about Britain, with Slowthai’s wit and invention as a prime example. By Conrad Duncan

57.

American Football

American Football (LP3)

(Polyvinyl)

What a turn of events the last few years have brought for that first American Football LP. The little album that could—made and left behind two decades ago by three college students, only to slowly but surely build an adoring audience among a generation of students that followed—has now been outshined twice in the reunited and reinvigorated band’s still-young second life. That’s what I love about American Football, man. Their music gets better, the album title stays the same. By Ian King

58.

Whitney

Forever Turned Around

(Secretly Canadian)

Whitney’s sophomore album, Forever Turned Around, comes on all smooth and supple, like a glass of Pink Champale on a summer day. The album is imbued with a ’70s soft rock vibe that foregoes the faster tempos of their debut in favor of fuller production at the hands of Jonathan Rado. The core duo of Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek clearly spent a lot of time crafting this batch of songs. The clipped cadence of “Song For Ty” is utterly addictive and the soaring chorus of “Friend of Mine” is truly a thing of beauty. And those weren’t even the singles. A band that’s going places at their own pace. By Mark Moody

59.

Billie Eilish

When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

(Darkroom/Interscope)

Billie Eilish’s two-year sneak attack on the international music scene hit full force with her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? DIY in nature, the album is wholly written and produced by Eilish (who just turned 18) and her brother Finneas O’Connell in the latter’s childhood bedroom in their parents’ home. The stripped back and lo-fi nature of the album is unpredictable and diverse, a perfect showcase for Eilish’s blues-infested torch singer voice. In a flash, her playful whisper-y delivery (“My Strange Addiction”) gives away to absolutely heartbreaking (“I Love You”). Eilish’s relatable lyrics are sketched into dark and gory imagery, which puts her in a class of her own that speaks to young and old alike. By Lily Moayeri

60.

C Duncan

Health

(FatCat)

With Health, Scottish composer and artist C Duncan was brave enough to open up his creative process to his trusted companions in Elbow, with whom he toured much of the last couple years and whose Craig Potter produced the album, and the result is an injection of the band’s dramatic touch in Duncan’s previously fragile skin. Duncan’s melodies have graduated from their bedroom beginnings into grander halls, especially on excellent tracks such “Talk Talk Talk,” “Pulses & Rain,” and “Impossible.” By Matt Conner

61.

Metronomy

Metronomy Forever

(Because)

62.

Ezra Furman

Twelve Nudes

(Bella Union)

63.

Fat White Family

Serfs Up!

(Domino)

64.

(Sandy) Alex G

House of Sugar

(Domino)

65.

Foals

Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2

(Warner)

66.

Mark Ronson

Late Night Feelings

(RCA/Sony)

67.

Electric Youth

Memory Emotion

(Watts Arcade Inc./Last Gang)

68.

Blanck Mass

Animated Violence Mild

(Sacred Bones)

69.

Earthquake Lights

Distress Signals

(Self-Released)

70.

Lower Dens

The Competition

(Ribbon)

71.

Bleached

Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough

(Dead Oceans)

72.

Vagabon

Vagabon

(Nonesuch)

73.

Kirin J Callinan

Return to Center

74.

Temples

Hot Motion

(ATO)

75.

Chelsea Wolfe

The Birth of Violence

(Sargent House)

76.

Alex Cameron

Miami Memory

(Secretly Canadian)

77.

Mount Eerie with Julie Doiron

Lost Wisdom pt. 2

(P.W. Elverum & Sun)

78.

Caroline Polachek

Pang

(Columbia)

79.

Jessica Pratt

Quiet Signs

(Mexican Summer)

80.

Charly Bliss

Young Enough

(Barsuk)

81.

SOAK

Grim Town

(Rough Trade)

82.

Jamila Woods

LEGACY! LEGACY!

(Jagjaguwar)

83.

The Chemical Brothers

No Geography

(Astralwerks)

84.

Girl Ray

Girl

(Moshi Moshi)

85.

Hot Chip

A Bath Full of Ecstasy

(Domino)

86.

The Soft Cavalry

The Soft Cavalry

(Bella Union)

87.

Bill Callahan

Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest

(Drag City)

88.

Luke Temple

Both-And

(Native Cat)

89.

Penelope Isles

Until the Tide Creeps In

(Bella Union)

90.

Clinic

Wheeltappers and Shunters

(Domino)

91.

Faye Webster

Atlanta Millionaires Club

(Secretly Canadian)

92.

Florist

Emily Alone

(Double Double Whammy)

93.

Foals

Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1

(Warner)

94.

Helado Negro

This Is How You Smile

(RVNG)

95.

Jaakko Eino Kalevi

Dissolution

(Weird World)

96.

Julien Chang

Jules

(Transgressive)

97.

Kim Gordon

No Home Record

(Matador)

98.

JPEGMAFIA

All My Heroes Are Cornballs

(EQT)

99.

Holly Herndon

Proto

(4AD)

100

Little Simz

GREY Area

(Age 101/AWAL)

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