Henderson’s Favorite Albums of 2019

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2019 was an especially long hard year for me personally and the entire world generally, but somehow, over the course of the year, I was able to pull off some magic and achieve some cool stuff both in my own life and with The Alternative. I’m not sure that any of it would have happened without all the awesome records that came out this year, which helped me through the roughest of times and motivated me when it was time to get to work.

For those of you that don’t know, my “day job” is that I am an entertainment lawyer, and I have my own firm that I built over the last few years with DIY energy and some tape. 2019 was the biggest year yet for the firm, and I started representing some of my favorite artists and helping them with the release of their records. Its pretty awesome to get to work on releases that you genuinely believe are some of the best of the year, but as is our rule over here at The Alternative, working with these bands meant that I couldn’t write about them, or even vote for them on our overall site list. So, I won’t be including them on this personal top 25 list either, and instead listed them below. Here’s to hoping I get to work with some more awesome people in 2020.

Sick Records I Worked On:

All At Once – We Got This (self-released)
Baggage – Life In Misophonia (Smartpunk Records)
Blush Cameron – Ambiguous World (Flesh and Bone Records)
CaraCara – Better EP (self-released)
Elijah Who – time off (Vinyl Digital Records)
Fallow Land – Slow Down, Rockstar (Spartan Records)
Greet Death – New Hell (Death Wish Records)
Harmony Woods – Make Yourself At Home (Skeletal Lighting Records)
Heart Attack Man – Fake Blood (Triple Crown Records)
Leggy – Let Me Know Your Moon (Sheer Luck Records)
Oso Oso – basking in the glow (Triple Crown Records)
PHONY – Songs You’ll Never Sing (Smartpunk Records)
Prince Daddy & The Hyena – Cosmic Thrill Seekers (Counter Intuitive Records)
Slingshot Dakota – Heavy Banding (Community Records)
Superdestroyer – Pets (Lonely Ghost Records) 

But now time for the main attraction, this year was one of the deepest years for new music. That’s why we had to make our site overall list a top 75, and why I’m going to make this list a top 25. All of this records are worth your time, take a listen and I know you will find something you missed. Enjoy.

25           Taking Meds – I Hate Me (Near Mint  Records)

There are 2 types of people in this world. Those that acknowledge Such Gold as one of the best bands of the decade for their ability to combine mathy experimental song structures with hardcore, and then those people that don’t get it yet. Well the other side of Such Gold’s coin, is their friends, frequent collaborators, and fellow upstate NY punks, Taking Meds. They have been doing some of the same genre bending that Such Gold has, but with a more directly antagonistic energy. “Pass me on the right this morning? / .38 to your ear / No court appearance necessary.”

What I mean is, they are pissed off at all the frauds, bastards, and sellouts. That isn’t to say that this is a screaming hardcore mosh pit of a band, these are songs with melodies, structure, and yes, the occasional scream, but make no mistake, it is clear what they are saying. “Converse sponsored former pop punk / I saw your press photo… Just remember on the day that you come for me / Lifers know when they’re in bad company”. Even the non-diss tracks on the record carry the angst and ferocity of someone who has nothing left to lose. It’s this chaotic energy, along with the well-executed hooks, the scattered strange samples, and the slow burning breakdowns, that make I Hate Me something so special.

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24           Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains (Drag City Records)

There are a bunch of songwriters that are also poets, but there are so few poets that are also songwriters. This has a lot to do with poets being even more underpaid than musicians, but also just that creating poetry that connects with people takes incredible talent. David Berman of Purple Mountain and Silver Jews was able to do that, connecting to people with his witty lyrics and country rock instrumentals. His throwaway lines would be most rock band’s magnum opus, and his ability to write these songs seemed endless. Unfortunately, as talented as David Berman was, he was too smart, too empathetic, and too fucking depressed for this world. This writer can relate. In fact, this witty memorable album is almost too sad for me to listen to let alone write about it. After Berman took his own life on the verge of its release tour, I think the entire music community lost a bit of its soul. Every music fan should listen to this record and all of Berman’s work (as Silver Jews, his comics, and his texts), and then cry if needed because the world sucks in 2019. Thankful its over. “Snow is falling in Manhattan”.

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23           Gucci Mane – Woptober 2 (Atlantic Records)

By my count, Gucci released three full lengths this year, but none really hit as hard as the second in the trilogy, Woptober 2. There are so few true rap legends currently releasing records on a consistent basis, and most of those old heads sound like fossils in the display case. Gucci stays fresh; still innovating trap rap even still, after kicking in the door for the whole thing 15 years ago.I tatted my hood on me, I’m really from the slum / Diamonds look so good on me, I came up off of crumbs / Tattoos on my face, the media said that it was dumb / Mama threw me out the house for trapping when I was young.

Nothing can stop Gucci from being the coolest in the room and spitting fire at anyone that dares challenge. “Ya’ll been hiding from the truth, but ya’ll gonna listen today / I’m the head coach so know what position to play” Out of prison, healthier than ever, and sitting atop a sky high pile of bars. The hooks are here, the silliness, the slick southern bouncing beats, the versatile flows, the guest verses from big leaguers bringing their A game. “It’s Gucci!” He can still do it.

22           Origami Angel – Somewhere City (Chatterbot Records)

I have listened to a lot of emo records in my life, but there is a certain brand of emo that is the emo of all emo, the “REAL EMO” in the American Football tradition of twinkly guitar tap solos and vulnerable lyrics. To be honest, most of the newer bands that fall into this category recently fail to live up to their emo revival elders, let alone their first and second wave emo forefathers, but Origami Angel is one that feels worthwhile. Gone are the songs about how your ex sucks, and instead with tracks about how your brain sucks. Yes, Pokémon and other cartoon shows and video games play a role in this record as they have in Gami’s past work, but only as a way to approach the real focus of mental health. “It’s a long way from here to where I wanna be, but I know that there is nothing stopping me.”

The entire album across as much needed advice for the listener, a relating hug after an admission of struggling. None of this would work if vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Ryland Heagy wasn’t able to execute the lengthy guitar licks and ranging vocal melodies throughout each track, but each and every one is nailed like a perfect Guitar Hero score. “I’m telling you / the secret is / that it’s in your brain!” I’m down for more of the outrageously online, self-help energy of Origami Angel.

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21           Dababy – KIRK (Interscope Records)

Sometimes a rapper gets hot, like NBA Jam hot, torching everything he touches. DaBaby is that hot right now and he can’t miss. Over the course of his 2 full lengths this year, he probably dropped 20% of the biggest (if not the best) rap tracks of the year. DaBaby oozes confidence, he’s street and not afraid to throw down, he’s about his city Charlotte North Carolina, and he is more than willing to be a pop star. His videos are sick, his live performances are incredibly well choreographed and executed, and so are his fuck the cops press conferences.

He is very limited in terms of diversity of flows, but at least he has bars, and if someone wants to make pop rap that has real life bars, I’m into it. It kind of reminds me of early 50 Cent but with a Southern energy instead of a New York one. Of the 2 records, I would say Kirk is a little better than Baby On Baby, because although they both have HITS, on Kirk he showed a bit more of his emotional side, discussing deaths in his family and a bit of the anxiety of his rise to the top. Sure, he’s dancing, but he’s also saying something while he leaps to the top of the bean stalk, and that shows there could be a lot more where this came from.

20           Half Thought – Half Thought (self-released)

Half Thought is made up of members of the now inactive (?) Philly stoner punk band Clique, who in my opinion wrote 2 of the best albums of the decade. The debut Half Thought record follows in those footsteps with slow and steady winding guitars and somewhat sparse lyrics about the government being shit and hating your minimum wage job. “Sell wellbeings for kickbacks / No principles, just capital gains / It’s fucking shameful / All of these faux moral authorities, oh my God. / This shit is backwards.”

The amount Half Thought can say with just a short line make their songs incredibly powerful, leaving you in a cloud of smoke, pondering the half sentence verse you’ve just heard, like the kid in the back of your class who makes a smart ass comment when you forgot he was still here. “Chilling in the gig economy / Burn the cash, pretend we’re living free. / Not enough, it’s not enough again.” The vocals occasionally gather enough momentum to approach near screams, but other times dissipate entirely leaving space for a bass solo or an elongated drum fill. In this empty space, Half Thought reigns supreme.

19           Mannequin Pussy – Patience (Epitaph Records)

My first take on this album was that “Drunk II” is one of the best songs of the year. maybe THE best. It’s a fucking jam. “And everyone says to me, ‘Missy, you’re so strong’ / But what if I don’t wanna be? / And everyone says to me, ‘Missy, how do you stand?’ / There’s so much you don’t see.” But as I listened to the full album more, I began to find that many of these tracks contain the same anguish, tension, cutting lyrics, and shredding guitars that I loved so much on the single. That’s not to say that there isn’t variety and versatility here. Over the course of the record, vocalist and songwriter Marisa Dabice, scrapes up every trick in the bag and leaves it all on the stage. Punk rock with a dash of hardcore energy and the songwriting chops to put it all together, Mannequin Pussy leveled up in a real way on this record, and I think we can expect them to be one of the top rock bands for a long while.

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18           Maxo Kream – Brandon Banks (RCA Records)

Maxo Kream is a true street poet. Within his bars, he tells the stories of the people who are down and out and still striving to keep going. On Brandon Banks, Maxo gets heavier into the discussion of his family than he has ever before, discussing his father’s prison sentence extensively and also his own temptation toward a life of crime, despite the destruction that lays in its wake. “Meet Again” might be one of the most touching tracks of the year and it is certainly one that historians will revisit when revisiting this era. “I got homies in the grave, I got brothers in the pen / I got some that’s coming home, I got some that’s going in / Tried to go to visitation, but they wouldn’t let me in / So our only conversation writing letters with a pen.” These are tracks that get to the essence of our carceral state, while also being absolute bangers. I need more Maxo in my life, and more rappers with this much talent.

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17           Mike Krol – Power Chords (Merge Records)

Hooky fuzzed out guitar driven tracks right from the first second of the first song and you know what you’re getting. Krol’s garage indie pop recalls an earlier era when the Arctic Monkeys made music with guitars and Tokyo Police Club made music that was good. Okay that’s harsh but you know what I mean. “Can somebody call an ambulance to save me from myself?” Krol is keeping the flag of this particular species of indie rock held high much in the way Carseat Headrest did a few years ago with Teens of Denial.

I had absolutely no expectations going into this record but its just so genuine and enjoyable that when a guitar solo peaks through the clouds you just have to grab the nearest person to you and start dancing. When you’re done dancing you can begin to digest a bit more and what you will find is that there’s a healthy dose of humor “Check my pulse again / Breathe out and breathe in / I’m still here listening / With all my patience wearing thin.” In every way, this is a record that keeps the listener smiling, but it never comes across as a joke.

16           Terrible People – Like Clean Air (Tired Records)

One of the coolest things that I “discovered” in the music world this year is that fact that there are Asian bands are not only making indie/emo/punk hardcore records IN ENGLISH, but they are fucking sick and probably way better than anything going on in America at the moment. 1 of the 2 bands this applies to on this list, is Terrible People who are an indie/emo band from Singapore in the vein of Oso Oso, Transit, and Basement, that executes their own addition to that scene perfectly. “I’m trying to pay all my dues to people, that I’ve left behind / Trying, to make it in this future.”

This is no mime job of American music, Terrible People morph these influences into something unique with a bit of Brit indie fuzz vibes, and lyrics about things like life, and feeling lost. “This is me sitting in my couch.” On “Some Type of Kismet”, they slow it down into a yelling basement chant in a way that almost reminds me of vintage Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. The world is a big interesting place, and if you limit your listening to your home continent you are missing out, Terrible People should be the only evidence of that you need.

15           Field Medic – fade into the dawn (Run For Cover)

Field Medic is the solo project of Kevin Sullivan. Armed with his guitar, a beat box of drum loops, and a buskers confidence, he has hit the ground running and released a bunch of songs over the last few years, but on fade into the dawn, he has developed his songwriting to a level where there are hooky tracks that are also emotional layered, and seemingly unlimited by his spartan setup. The folky stories within these songs are interesting, but also touching and relateable in the way that music needs to be in order to connect with people on a sidewalk or subway car.

On used to be a romantic, Kevin discusses a show where he was talked over his entire set and driven to despair. “I gotta sell some shirts to try and make the rent. / I think I’m sick of transit. / My anxiety is spinning on a compass. / I used to be a romantic, now I’m a dude in a laminate.”, and that’s one the lighter songs. On the bottle’s my lover, a song about his fight with alcoholism, it plays out as a love song to his abusive mistress, alcohol. “Thinking of drinking while we’re lying in bed. She tells me come over, I’m drinking instead. / Cause the bottle’s my lover, she’s just my friend.” Like Purple Mountains’ David Berman, Sullivan sets out to say something witty and important with every line of his songs, and while that isn’t always perfectly executed, when it does land, it feels like a sentimental indie dark comedy in a few minutes.

14           (Sandy) Alex G – House of Sugar (Domino Records)

I always really respected Alex G’s lo-fi popstar rock in a way that I don’t with many of his contemporaries in that genre. I think that’s because the dude writes indisputable hits. On every album, there are at least a few earworm melodies that keep you replaying tracks again and again. On House of Sugar that is again the truth, but here nearly all of the songs shine with a full level of production. You can tell that he has been more selective with what has made the cut, and therefore the quality has risen across the record.

Even with this increased level of polish, Alex G’s tracks still feel like you stumbled into a practice session you aren’t supposed to see yet. “Don’t let them put me down… I don’t want to go back.” The lyrics bring enough to the table to keep you thinking, but it’s the instrumental and production choices that really inspire contemplation pulling just a little bit from every song you’ve ever loved. (Sandy) Alex G is an internet impresario. Alex G is for real.

13           King of Heck – Shine In My Chest (self-released)

King of Heck are something new, loud, and in your face. Desert acid rock blended thoroughly with screaming hardcore vocals and a mathy rhythm section. It sounds like as if you stumbled into practice space and 2 bands were playing at once, but perfectly in sync. This combo somehow works like peanut butter and nutella… cause its fucking sweet. Reconstituted from members of the talented band Alaska (the name comes from an Alaska song), King of Heck are clearly punk vets who want to make what they want to make and aren’t willing to compromise from that vision, and we are all the better for it. “You still wanna be on everyone’s timeline / you’re still sleeping with your phone as a night light.

The energy of the guitars riffs, driving drum tempo and screaming vocals from Joel Kirschenbaum (also known for his artwork, and music videos) are a whirlwind hurricane of fists and feelings, that often depart to reveal melodious verses from Tyler Kawada and occasionally a psych rock breakdown. There’s just so much here in its 20 minute run time, and it surprises you at every turn. A truly exciting and fresh listen that initially baffled me, but then welcomed me in like a secret club no one has heard of yet. Join us.

12           Diva Sweetly – In The Living Room (Seal Mountain Records)

Anderson Ragan, comedian and member of emo noodlers Pictures of Vernon, approached me some time ago and told me that they were going to be making music that sounded much different from now on. Obviously, that’s always a risk, but my instant reaction was go for it. My theory is that artists should 100% make the art they want to make, because an artist is way more likely to make something great if they push themselves to innovate and make what they truly believe in. Sometimes that ends in an ambitious mess, but at least it was worth the attempt. Luckily for all of us, that is not what happened when the members of Pictures of Vernon added a new vocalist, changed genres, and formed Diva Sweetly, an indie pop synth diy party punk memecore band.

This album is dancey, and sing songy, experimental in many ways for a transition from an emo sound, but it all lands really well. The lyrics pour out from dual vocalists Karly Hartzman and Daniel Gorham. On “Wax on the Candles” you get the full experience of a backyard party that’s long gone out of control. Emotions spraying everywhere and tables flipped over. The band make some absolutely insane decisions on this record that all miraculously land right side up like a water bottle in I Think You Should Leave. The background “bah bah” acapella voices? The commercial for a knife that peels your tongue? The Super Smash Bros homerun bat sample? Auld Lang Syne? I’m all in.

11           Forests – Spending Eternity In A Japanese Convenience Store (Sweetness Follows)

Forests is an indie/emo band from Singapore and for my money they are writing some of the best emo songs in the entire world. Their album, Spending Eternity In A Japanese Convenience Store, is jam packed with delicious riffs, tooth shatteringly sweet hooks, and charming samples. Its simultaneously everything that you wish American and European emo bands were still doing, while also bringing a unique vibe from their hometown scene.

While the slightly accented English is sometimes noticeable, there is nothing that would make you believe this band was from a nation on the other side of the world. Forests draw influences from a bit of everything past and present, whether it was commercial emo of the eyeliner wave (Hit The Lights, Motion City), or twinkly pre-revival (Snowing, Dikembe), or screamy party punk (PUP, Free Throw). They can do it all, and they are writing tighter more well-crafted songs than the other bands in the genre. I’ve heard rumors the band is splitting up, but I would hate to see this stunning record not get the chance to tour the US and catch a hold of a ton of imaginations. “You can’t spell forever, without over

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10           City Morgue – As Good As Dead (Republic Records)

City Morgue is real life horror movie music, villain rap in the tradition of Big Pun, and probably the next big thing. Made up of Harlem street rapper SosMula and former Long Island hardcore vocalist ZillaKami, City Morgue are 1 part horrorcore scream-rap and 1 part mosh pit screamo with a dose of “emo rap” production and a strong nu-metal influence. The concoction results in the feeling you get when cave someone’s face in. Their live shows in NYC already look like a Knocked Loose pit. “THRESH” is built on horror soundtrack synths and is very explicitly about killing their enemies. “I’m in the booth with a rifle now / You in the house with a Bible now / What’s that saying, You don’t like me now? / Kick your head into the curb, make you bite the ground.”  They follow that up with one of the better tracks on the record “SPLINTER” which is about showing up to a snitch’s house and killing everyone they know. Take a peek at this verse through your fingers:

Go apeshit, I shoot up your house, I do not party / Doot-doot-doot like we playin’ Baby Sharkie / Search your dead body, take the car keys off carcass / I’m speeding out your driveway, bottom ocean where I’m parking / I’m a rat killer, hundred dolla billa / Pull up at your crib and delete you cause I’m a sinner / Rat killer, take your whole family with ya / Make em all fight to death then kill the winner.

When they do calm down, like on “THE GIVE UP” which is built upon a Blink 182 esque guitar loop, they show a bit of the pain that comes with a life in the abyss. “They make you die cause you hide what you feel inside / You cannot cry so your highs are your lowest times.” There’s more here than meets the eye. City Morgue are building a nu-rap genre along with artists like Rico Nasty and Princess Nokia, and they’re terrifying the public the whole way, but if you are brave enough to listen, you will find that the emotion, songwriting, and the world they are portraying are all real, a window into hell on Earth.

9              PUP – Morbid Stuff (Little Dipper / Rise Records)

Can we just take a minute to appreciate the last decade of PUP records? All 3 of their LPs, including the newest Morbid Stuff, are non-stop punk energy with accessible verses and catchy scream-along hooks. It doesn’t even seem possible that they can still be good and INTERESTING. I am never bored with listening to these records and on their newest work, Morbid Stuff, I’m constantly finding more about these songs to enjoy, including the meta moments when vocalist takes a look toward the crowd and addresses the listener. “And make no mistake, I know exactly what I’m doing / I’m just surprised the world isn’t sick, of grown men whining like children / You shouldn’t take it so seriously, It’s just music after all / And half the crap I say is just things I’ve stolen from the bathroom walls of shitty venues across America.”

It’s that repeatable energy blast that makes this band so special. Its like as if someone took the best live recording of Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown” and turned that into a full album of tracks with emotional themes, and honestly, better lyrics than “Nervous Breakdown” lets be real. The tracks vary from full on hardcore circle pit, “Full Blown Meltdown”, to almost emo revival level of melodic punk and it almost all lands. This record is a back flip off your friends house into the pool and you’re 90% sure you wont hit the sidewalk. Who gives a fuck anyway? If you ask me that’s a perfect use of potential.

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8              Denzel Curry – ZUU (Loma Vista)

While many of the rappers from the Florida “Soundcloud” scene have struggled to maintain consistency across tracks let alone albums, Denzel Curry has only seemed to elevate his artform. Having previously displayed his ability to hold his own across a full-length, Denzel took a further step in 2019’s ZUU. This is a record that has everything a good hip hop record should; head banging beats, insane amounts of hype, and lots to say.

More than anything, ZUU showcases Denzel as an artist and gives you a grand tour of his influences and the scene that he came out of. “Everybody thinking that they know me for real / Cause they only see me on a poster for real / Don’t test my gun we got holsters for real / Fuck a poptart we carry toasters for real.” Full of one-liners, variable flows, headbanger energy, and full verses worth committing to memory, Denzel has the intelligence, talent, and skill to elevate his work past all contemporaries.

7              Strange Ranger – Remembering The Rockets (Tiny Engines Records)

It’s no secret that I believe Strange Ranger are one of the best bands in the whole world, a modern version of The Strokes or Third Eye Blind without the bad attitude and honestly with more creativity than either one. Over the course of their 3 full lengths, they have moved from Montana, to Portland, to Philly, and along the way they have developed a stream-of-conscious poetic lyrical style that few would even attempt to imitate, let alone craft from scratch. “The cars come by your house / its Friday night again /  I miss the morning.”

From releasing an 80 minute double LP as their first record, to whistling falsettos across this record, Strange Ranger are never afraid to take astronomical risks with almost no concern for anything but the true fidelity of the song. On this LP they lean more toward a smoother indie sound and write songs about wishing for a comfortable happy life. Only in 2019, does this seem like more of a longshot than anything else they’ve done. “Daddies with their kids / I still want that / I still feel sick / I can’t hide from the violence in my dreams

6              Great Grandpa – Four of Arrows (Dbl Dbl Whammy Records)

Great Grandpa are a band that writes incredibly emotional indie rock mega anthems that leave everything on the stage. They are also a band that once wrote a song about getting too high to escape the zombie apocalypse. So, what I’m saying is, they can do anything. On Four of Arrows, they put that ability to use and crafted a set of songs that welcome deep introspective thinking while you try to hum along to Alex Menne’s stunning vocals. Lyrics cut deep and then rebuild you better than before.

This is a record that could even draw strong comparisons to the best of Third Eye Blind, but also Big Thief, Hop Along, Manchester Orchestra and really any band that has left you stunned in the last decade. This record expands on their past work with a more serious tone, but also more variable vocals and tighter instrumentals. You can discuss for hours which is your favorite song on this record, but for my money, it’s “Bloom”. “I get anxious on the weekends, when I feel I’m wasting time. / But then I think about Tom Petty, and how he wrote his best songs when he was 39. / Say I’m young enough to change / Please say I’m young enough.

Every single member of this band should be on your list of artists to watch. Anything they do, you need to check it out. Apples with Moya side project? sick. Alex’s Pickleboy solo project? sick. They all glow in the good way. PS I’m happy they reworked, “Mostly Here” for this LP, so now we have 2 versions of one of the best songs of the decade.

5             String Machine – Death of the Neon (Know Hope Records)

String Machine is a somewhat psychedelic ensemble of indie punk musicians woven together into an irreplaceable quilt. Part Arcade Fire, part Spirit of the Beehive, the band crafted an LP Death of the Neon that sounds like a major label funded dream project of some established creator. The lyrics, production, and instrumentation glows on every single track. A dog barking as a drum tone? Sure. A winding breakdown that ends in muffled melodies that evaporate into a chorus? Absolutely.

I constantly was wondering why these songs aren’t the biggest record in the world, only to check that they had less than 6k plays on their biggest song. Its almost completely unfathomable that this record exists and is this underrated. If there is any justice at all left in this music industry, even just a tiny drop, that will change soon. The soundscape they’ve created is a theme park I never want to leave. I can’t wait for more.

4              SASAMI – SASAMI (Domino Records)

There are almost zero records I listened to this year more than SASAMI’s self-titled debut. Every time I would step into a subway station and the anxiety of entering America’s oldest rat incubator would begin to overtake me, I would turn on this record and descend deep into the tones, Sasami’s warm vocals, and the measured space between words. This is a record that finds its groove on each and every track but also throughout the record as a whole.

Sasami Ashworth’s jazzy electronic indie recalls Metric and the band she toured in for years, Cherry Glazerr, but there is something about the writing on this solo project that is truly special. The lyrics provide witty thoughts and emotional tethers: “When you quantify my love / You may find it’s not enough / But that’s okay with me.” In an era when “chill” rock is everywhere, SASAMI has shown that chill doesn’t have to mean boring and stale.

3              Peaer – A Healthy Earth (Tiny Engines Records)

Mathy experimental indie is often thought of as “intelligent” music, but in a stuffy music theory way that really only applies to the instrumentals. The lyrics are often neglected, basic in structure and content. That is not the case with Peaer, and especially not with their 2019 full-length, A Healthy Earth. Peaer have the instrumental chops sure. Their winding, jazzy indie fills out each of these tracks, and their usage of a variety of instruments adds a surprising flair. But lyrically, this is some of the smartest music I’ve heard all year and I mean that in the least pretentious and most exciting way possible.

Each track on A Healthy Earth ponders a difficult thought concept in its sparse poetic lyrical transmissions. The cyclical nature of all things: “Everything in nature is a circle / everything in human nature is a right angle / or the wrong answer, for the right question / as if that is more important than knowing and understanding that everything is just a fucking circle.” Attraction: “I like you because I look like you / I like you because you look like the same kinda type of things that I like.” The struggle of our cutthroat consumer society from the perspective of someone who buys an infomercial product that ruins their life: “Hello? Are you there? / I saw your commercial and now I’m scared / I use that product every day in my hair, I just didn’t know what it would do to me / I even gave it to my family / Why does everything want to kill me in a million different tiny ways?” There is so much here for you to digest and ponder while you chew on their riffs, I feel like this record will only grow on me with time, just has this band has over the last couple years.

2              Rosie Tucker – Never Not Never Not Never Not (New Professor Records)

I love this record. From the first instant I heard it I loved it. It was love at first listen like when a cartoon character melts into a puddle. Within 4 hours of me first hearing one of these songs, I was messaging Rosie to get them on our SXSW lineup, no exaggeration. The entire album is pure melodious indie rock distilled into a fraught emotional potion that I just want to chug and get it over with every single time. “I woke up bereft, with no poetry left / Except that to be found, in sweat stains and coffee grounds / What’s left of the energy spent, keeping my feet nailed down… I’ve got a bad habit of holding my tongue.

Rosie Tucker is exudes the same diy songwriter energy of some of my favorites, Laura Stevenson, Jeff Rosenstock, in that they are very true to themselves and their punk roots in their music, but they can still write well crafted bangers. Even Taylor Swift wishes she had written “Fault Lines“, or at least she will when she hears it, and I know that because any self-respecting songwriter would feel that same. “I loved you plenty like I tried to love the city, but my favorite’s still the glimmering from far away.” These songs are so small and personal and yet so BIG that they beg to be blasted in front of stadium crowds. “You know the full weight of every wager you lost / I know for certain that certainty comes at a cost / but I get afraid of what I can’t define / so I tally affection with nickels and dimes”. You just need to listen.

1              Pile – Green and Gray (Exploding In Sound Records)

If you want to talk about the most underrated rock band of the decade, it would be hard to see Pile missing the top 5, and I think they sealed that deal with their final LP of the decade. Green and Gray is the political punk rock record that mainstream corporate rock media has been calling for since the start of the Trump era. There were others, also mostly ignored, but it would be hard to convey the despair of Trumpland in a squealing guitar solo better than Rick Maguire of Pile does here. If anything, the lyrics might be too smart for their own good, and often take a good hearty amount of listens before their deeper meanings can be uncovered. Luckily this experience is more of an adventure than a slog through text.

The record is not directly about Trump or even the Republicans (except Steven Miller who gets a scathing diss track), “From a long line of translucent lizards comes our boy Stephen / That inferiority complex passed down generations”, and is instead a poetic description of the emotional and societal landscape that we live in. Struggling to find time for the people we love because we have to work so much to survive, disillusioned with our leaders and isolated from the outside world. “And I can count on one finger, the people that can hurt me now / So work comes first / I’m sorry if I shut off, Never been able to do both / So I keep my nose down, And if it means a movie alone, It could be worse

Its just the album I needed to make it through this year. Pile gets what it’s like in hell world, and they lay it all out there both in their mellow vocals and warm guitar tones, and their screams and frantic drumming. “Opened up / Pulled apart / By an anxious surgeon / Sharing panic / Gifting dread“. Lets hope 2020 is the year these songs become our revolutionary fuel, and we start to take back the world from these ghouls, because I don’t think I can handle another year like this one. “The door opens.


Henderson Cole / @HendoSlice

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