My Top 10 Albums of 2019 So Far

MMC writers look back at the last 6 months of music

Solange: When I Get Home {Review}

There’s something cosmic about Solange’s new record; a tribute to her hometown of Houston that shares the city’s vibrancy; a free-flowing exploration of experimental R&B that bends the rules at will. At the center of this swirl is Solange Knowles, wielding a fearlessly creative vision and a jaw-droppingly gorgeous voice that floats through the unhurried arrangements for a marvelous, blackness-radiating achievement.

Highlights include: “Almeda,” a knocking, chopped-n-screwed tribute to unapologetic black excellence, complete with an electric Playboi Carti verse that juxtaposes “brown liquor, brown skin” with “diamonds dancing in the dark.” “Binz,” a sunny, Sister Nancy-inspired ditty that’s loose, delightful and as fun as the music video that accompanies it.

Vampire Weekend: Father Of The Bride {Review}

Their long awaited return from a 6-year break between albums, the new record from Ezra Keonig & Co. may not have Rostam, but it’s still an absolute triumph; an expansive, bright and warm indie rock record that opens up more and more with each and every listen. At 18 tracks and almost an hour long, Father Of The Bride is somehow fiercely consistent while also showing off Vampire Weekend’s incredible range. It’s the start of a new chapter for one of the most important indie bands of the 21st century.

Highlights include: “Sympathy,” an explosive mix of flamenco, jazz, goth and metal that the band somehow pulls off for one of the most entertaining songs they’ve ever made. “Unbearably White,” a placid probe into a faltering relationship that’s carried by one of their prettiest guitar lines this side of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.”

Thom Yorke: ANIMA {Review}

After soundtracking Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Suspiria in 2018, the Radiohead frontman returns with what’s easily his best solo work; an uneasy piece of minimalist, avant-garde techno that ebbs and flows. On ANIMA, Yorke may be covering his usual bases of hallucinatory, tech-fueled paranoia, but his knack for creating stunningly unnerving soundscapes adds another dimension to his apocalyptic visions.

Highlights include: “Twist,” a 7-minute slab of relentless techno, built from a mishmash of vocal samples and carried by Thom Yorke’s stunning falsetto. “Dawn Chorus,” a long-teased Radiohead track that serves as a sparse, show-stopping centerpiece.

Helado Negro: This Is How You Smile {Review}

The new record from Roberto Carlos Lange’s project is one of the most blissful records to come out of this year; a comforting exploration of the Latinx experience that’s profound but not heavy. Lange’s voice is a terrific, restrained instrument that’s both stunning and gentle, and paired with his astral synth-folk soundscapes, it creates a record that’s timelessly placid and wholly engrossing.

Highlights include: “Two Lucky,” a devastatingly wistful look at youthful love. “Please Won’t Please,” a cosmic exploration of self worth and self love that feels incredibly intimate.

Beyoncé: HOMECOMING: THE LIVE ALBUM {Review}

With her 2018 Coachella set, every single statement ever made about Beyoncé being the pop-star of her generation was instantly validated, presenting a marvelous volley of her greatest hits injected with a crash course on black music by way of The Bzzzz Drumline behind her. HOMECOMING is a marvelous document of this set, one that captures the thrill of hearing an iconic entertainer in her prime.

Highlights include: The live rendition of “Countdown,” which comes roaring out the gate with an assault of brass that bends into DRAM & Lil Yachty’s “Broccoli.” The live rendition of “Drunk In Love,” which somehow eclipses the studio version with how anthemic it is, inducing chills as the crowd screams in euphoric joy.

Bill Callahan: Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest {Review}

The latest record from the marvelous singer-songwriter is easily his largest and most expansive record, an ode to the joys of fatherhood and domestic bliss spilling out from all sides. Callahan’s baritone carries the placid, soothing arrangements with a lilting ease, and his writing is endlessly witty and inquisitive, always searching for answers to whatever question pops up in his head next.

Highlights include: “Young Icarus,” which ties the tale of the boy who flew too close to the sun with Callahan’s own search for meaning in a brilliant metaphor. “Black Dog On The Beach,” a gentle, swaying ode that’s surreal and arcane, drifting through time and space with the ease of a riverboat carried by the tides.

Tyler, The Creator: IGOR {Review}

The new record from Tyler, The Creator is his most daringly ambitious yet; a broken-hearted odyssey that spirals through a pit of anger, guilt, desperation and finally, reconciliation. With collaborators including Kanye, Solange, Santigold and a marvelously baby-voiced Playboi Carti, IGOR is an expansive, cinematic look at love.

Highlights include: “A BOY IS A GUN,” which flips the Ponderosa Twins’ “Bound” into a start-stopping ode to flawed love (sound familiar?). “WHAT’S GOOD,” which pushes and shoves like an Earth-scorching argument.

Big Thief: U.F.O.F. {Review}

Following lead singer Adrianne Lenker’s brilliant 2018 record Abysskiss, Big Thief return with their best record yet, an exploration into an ecosystem that seems both alien and eerily familiar. The cover, depicting the band in a lush, sun-drenched clearing in the woods, depicts the music better than words could; folk music that sounds both exposed and isolated.

Highlights include: The title track, an intimately fingerpicked gem that settles into something surreal, graceful. “Century,” which sees Lenker and bandmate/husband Buck Meek bury their voices into a lovely percussive rhythm with placid guitar work.

slowthai: Nothing Great About Britain {Review}

The debut from the U.K. MC is a searing thesis that manages to combine righteous anger with a cheeky sense of humor for one of the finest protest albums this year. Whether he’s calling the Queen the c-word or dismantling class divides, slowthai’s delivery is both loose and furious, gliding gracefully over these sharp, hard-hitting beats.

Highlights include: “Dead Leaves,” a furious, rapid-fire volley of bars over knocking percussion. “Gorgeous,” a sobering look at youth in Northampton that rides a dazzlingly pretty vocal chop.

James Blake: Assume Form {Review}

On his new record, the avant-garde electronic-R&B artist cheers up with the warmest record of his career, one that opens up with a little help from friends including André 3000, Travis Scott, Metro Boomin, Rosalía and Moses Sumney. Blake’s production work is consistently impeccable here, and with pitch-shifted vocals and a swath of synths, he builds heady, flowing soundscapes.

Highlights include: “I’ll Come Too,” a passionate reach-out to an old flame that’s crooned over clattering percussion and gentle synths. “Where’s The Catch,” carried by a feature from the ever-elusive André 3000 that makes for an instant highlight.

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