Some of music’s biggest stars released albums in 2019, with grown-up new projects from Ariana Grande (“Thank U, Next”) and Taylor Swift (“Lover”), and lyrical and sonic departures from Kanye West (Christian album “Jesus is King”) and Beyonce (the Africa-inspired “The Lion King: The Gift”). But it was breakthrough artists such as Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X who dominated the cultural conversation these last 12 months, and will compete for the most prizes at next month’s Grammy Awards.
As the year draws to a close, we look back at the 10 albums that made the biggest impression on us. Our favorites, ranked:
10. Thom Yorke, ‘Anima’
We’re still beating the drum for Yorke’s hauntingly gorgeous work on horror film “Suspiria” last year, which was criminally ignored by the Oscars. (Seriously, have you heard “Suspirium?”) But we were equally entranced by the Radiohead frontman’s heady, unsettling solo effort – his first in five years – which is basically the musical equivalent of a fever dream. Its accompanying music video, a 15-minute short directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is also one of the year’s most visually arresting.
9. Brittany Howard, ‘Jaime’
The multi-Grammy-winning frontwoman of Alabama Shakes makes her solo debut with the audacious, genre-bending “Jaime,” which dives headfirst into hip hop, jazz, spoken word and psychedelic rock. Anchoring it all is Howard’s dynamic, powerhouse voice, which shows soulful new shades on album standouts “He Loves Me” and “Stay High.”
8. Vampire Weekend, ‘Father of the Bride’
On their sprawling fourth album, the Ezra Koenig-fronted group solidifies their status as one of the best indie-rock bands of their generation, creating buoyant, feel-good singalongs tinged with melancholy. Guest appearances from The Internet’s Steve Lacy and Danielle Haim of sister trio Haim – themselves on a creative hot streak – are notable highlights.
7. Mark Ronson, ‘Late Night Feelings’
The hitmaker behind “Uptown Funk” and “Shallow” assembles a dream team of female vocalists, including Miley Cyrus (“Nothing Breaks Like a Heart”), Camila Cabello (“Find U Again”) and Yebba (“Don’t Leave Me Lonely”) for what he’s described as “sad bangers.” The catchy title track featuring Lykke Li, in particular, will have you dancing through tears.
6. Shura, ‘Forevher’
An infectious, intimate reflection on modern love from British electropop singer Shura (real name: Alexandra Lilah Denton), candidly capturing the rush of new romance (“The Stage”) but also anxieties around long-distance relationships and death (“Princess Leia,” inspired in part by the late Carrie Fisher).
5. James Blake, ‘Assume Form’
The British singer/producer extraordinaire has never sounded happier, nor more polished, than on his lush fourth effort, which was inspired by his move to Los Angeles and relationship with “The Good Place” actress/activist Jameela Jamil (herself a credited producer on the album). “Barefoot in the Park,” his breathtaking duet with Spanish breakout Rosalia, should be hung in the Louvre.
4. Lana Del Rey, ‘Norman F***ing Rockwell’
Del Rey (real name: Elizabeth Grant) has long been one of music’s most captivating storytellers, painting vivid portraits of tumultuous romance and fleeting youth against a sun-kissed, nostalgia-infused backdrop. On her explicitly titled sixth album, the once-elusive chanteuse seems to be drawing back the curtain, with searingly confessional lyrics about toxic relationships (“Cinnamon Girl”), the price of fame (“Bartender”) and mourning a bygone America (“The Greatest”). You’ll be hooked from the (unprintable) opening lines of the title track, one of the frankest and funniest starts to an album ever.
3. Billie Eilish, ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’
Lots of ink has been spilled about Eilish, the effortlessly cool 17-year-old who took the music industry by storm with staggering streaming numbers, sold-out tours and six Grammy nominations, including all four major categories (becoming the youngest artist ever to achieve that feat). Many online have tried to discredit her – and her totally reasonable unfamiliarity with Van Halen – but we’re guessing those people haven’t listened to her stunning debut album. Recorded entirely in her childhood bedroom with Finneas O’Connell, her older brother/co-writer/producer, “When We All Fall Asleep” throws everything at the wall and somehow manages to make it stick. Pairing woozy synths and skittering beats with samples ranging from orthodontist drills to “The Office,” Eilish controls the chaos with her hypnotic, lilting voice and emotionally honest lyrics about depression, heartache and growing up. It’s dark stuff for sure, but in Eilish’s capable hands, pop’s future has never been so bright.
2. King Princess, ‘Cheap Queen’
Much of the year’s best music has come from queer artists, with Tyler, the Creator’s introspective “Igor” and Muna’s fist-pumping “Saves the World” both in our heavy rotation. On “Cheap Queen,” the 20-year-old King Princess (real name: Mikaela Straus) has made one of the most confident and spectacular debuts in recent memory. Dripping with high drama and irresistible personality, Straus’ lyrics are at times achingly relatable and winkingly clever, with a timeless sound that seamlessly brings in elements of hip hop (“Prophet”), folk rock (“You Destroyed My Heart”) and doo wop (“Trust Nobody”). Her cheeky latest single, “Hit the Back,” is pop euphoria encapsulated.
1. FKA Twigs, ‘Magdalene’
On her extraordinary second album, “Magdalene,” the experimental British artist creates a richly textured and mesmerizing world that is singularly her own, sonically shape-shifting from one song to the next as she pours gasoline over genre and strikes a match. Even more striking than the uncanny production of “Magdalene” is its raw vulnerability, as Twigs (real name: Tahliah Barnett) thoughtfully walks us through the various stages of heartbreak: the initial confusion (“Home With You”) and anger (“Fallen Alien”), followed by the melancholy (“Cellophane”) of moving on (“Mirrored Heart”). “Magdalene” is a fascinating piece of pop culture intrigue for star watchers attempting to deduce who and what exactly Twigs is singing about. (She was engaged to Robert Pattinson until 2017 and dated Shia LaBeouf shortly after.) But more than that, it’s a devastatingly beautiful celebration of femininity, power and healing, and the obvious choice for the year’s best album.
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/music/2019/12/17/10-best-albums-2019-ranked/4383676002/