Top 75 Records & The Alt Awards (pg 2)
50. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – Routine Maintenance
The second LP from Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties is the payoff of nearly five years of world-building. After the fallout of separation from his wife the character of Aaron, created by Dan Campbell, is finally moving forward, making connections, and finding a place in the world. Routine Maintenance features detailed storytelling with the skillful vocal delivery to back it up. Lines like “We used to smoke on the fire escape / now we just smoke in the living room”on “Rosa & Reseda” provide vivid imagery that you can’t help but appreciate. Musically the emotional highs are higher and the lows are lower than in any of the project’s past work, forcing the listener to accompany West on his journey and experience the events being described in real time. – Scott Fugger
49. Harmony Woods – Make Yourself at Home
Tackling pain and harsh memories is no easy task, but Sofia Verbilla has transformed hers into mesmerizing art. Her latest record is an unabashed push-back, all the while unleashing the tightest power chords of the year. Make Yourself At Home is an invitation to understanding and healing, from beginning to end. Listen closely, from “Best Laid Plans” to “Sagittarius,” for the layered emotional impact. – Amanda Starling
48. Free Throw – What’s Past Is Prologue
What’s Past Is Prologue sits on the same shelf as Origami Angel’s “Somewhere City” for me: both are emo records rooted in an aggressive optimism. Free Throw’s latest invites honest reflection without guilt, permits frustrations without anger, and is ultimately about wanting to get better. It’s an approachable stream of consciousness that’s vulnerable enough to share revelations like, “And that’s when it hit me / this house doesn’t have to be haunted anymore” on “Cerulean City” or, “And everyone’s ashamed of the person that I have become / and I’m the one to blame I let it get to this point” on “The Fix Is In”. What stands out on this album is the purposeful opening and closing tracks that reference each other in a way that shows all the growing pains the record works through were worth it for the cathartic belt of, “Today I finally learned to say, ‘I love myself’”. Instrumentally the record uses lively, caffeinated guitars and frenzied drumming to convey the intensity of the emotions being explored. The result is so breakneck and infectious that it’s almost overwhelming, but that’s what makes the live show for Free Throw so special—because it’s damn-near impossible to stand still. What’s Past Is Prologue is a profoundly intentional album that begs to be fought with, screamed with, and worked through. – Hannah Hines
47. Field Medic – fade into the dawn
Following his two previous projects, Kevin Patrick aka Field Medic blessed 2019 with a new record titled fade into the dawn. He leaves no feelings untouched, from the struggles of life on the road to heartbreak and alcoholism. The opener, “used 2 be romantic” faces the lowest lows of touring and the toll it can take on love, as Patrick sings, “I used to be a romantic, now I’m a dude in a laminate” over a soft guitar melody. Tracks like “henna tattoo” and “tournament horseshoe” pick up the tempo while holding onto his folky sound and leaving no corners of his mind unexplored. The ten tracks on fade into the dawn coalesce into a ripper that’s a considerable evolution from his previous releases. – Violet Foulk
46. Forests – Spending Eternity In A Japanese Convenience Store
I’d been following Forests since their eight-song 2016 release Sun Eat Moon Grave Party, a record that felt tailor-made for its “midwest emo” tag on Bandcamp despite being released by a band in Singapore, replete with open-tuned shredding and shout-along choruses. SEIAJCS finds the band streamlining their approach to focus on big choruses and catchy sing-alongs, highlighting just how sharp their pop sensibilities are. I can’t think of a better introduction to Forests than the hilarious video for “Kawaii Hawaii,” the lead single and album highlight, where the band dances around a public restroom, miming playing their instruments and directly addressing the camera. They don’t take themselves too seriously, but the tunes rip as seriously as any emo band in 2019. – Keegan Bradford
45. Counterparts – Nothing Left to Love
On Nothing Left to Love, Counterparts maintain their force status in the last decade of metallic hardcore. Combining the raw energy that they displayed on their last releases, Counterparts truly rounded out their sound on Nothing Left to Love. The guitar tones directly mimic that of the metal genre; wailing and whizzing through each track like a sharp knife. The vocals hit like heavy rocks, each lyric holding their own weight. The way Counterparts allows each instrument to have its place in the song allows for each track to breath, making the whole album feel at times cathartic. Counterparts truly made a sound-defining record on Nothing Left To Love. – Sarah Knoll
44. The Menzingers – Hello Exile
The Menzingers sound like what being in love feels like, and I will take that opinion to my grave. While some feel like the group should stop singing about, “getting fucked up with a high school friend”, others see these narratives as reflective love letters to the past. Hello Exile acts as the epilogue to After The Party. Okay we’re starting to lose our hair and get champagne headaches, now what? Tastefully exploring these topics, the group sets a bar for aging punks to follow. It is possible to write a rock album in your thirties without infantilizing the lifestyle, and The Menzingers have mastered it again. The album is split between discussing political frustrations, rocky relationships, and the after-effects of years of partying, aka the ultimate recipe for a relatable record. Being relatable isn’t a sign of selling out, but rather proof that they can still write music that strikes fans as genuine, and perfect material to dance in their kitchen. Hello Exile displays what The Menzingers do best: tracing a timeline, capturing a memory like an old photograph, and sending it as a postcard to the future. – Emily Kitchin
43. Fresh – Withdraw
Fresh is an unprecedented force of energy that has made literal waves on both sides of the pond. Withdraw is a gorgeous, introspective take that is equally relentless in self-examination and sound. There’s nothing more empowering than this record, and experiencing it live is something you’ll never forget. – Amanda Starling
42. Laura Stevenson – The Big Freeze
When listening to Laura Stevenson’s The Big Freeze, one will feel the sensation of waking up early and watching the sunrise, even if they are just sitting at home with all of their blinds drawn. It is a pleasant, warm, and uplifting record, with a sound but that’s at once different and familiar to some of the more intimate songs on her previous record, Wheel. Stevenson’s vibrato is haunting; her melodies blend so effortlessly with the record’s piano, guitars, and strings. At points they are reminiscent of Stevie Nicks; soulful and full of life. “Dermatillomania” is a more upbeat full-band song, featuring the first bit of drums you’ll hear on the record. It complements the album’s softer acoustic/folk-y songs perfectly. The records final track, “Perfect,” is the accumulation of the vulnerability of previous songs, heard especially in the vocal swells, “Don’t let your light filter in, I’ll be alright.” Stevenson was able to paint a pop picture with an indie brush, and the product is a fantastic indie, pop, folk, whatever-you-want-to-call-it. – Ryan Bartlett
41. Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin?
Danny Brown’s latest effort, uknowhatimsayin?, displays a surprising feeling of optimism compared tothe low moods depicted on 2016’s Atrocity Exhibition. Whereas he previously rapped of downward spirals, Brown now has now come to realization: “There ain’t no next life / So now I’m tryna live my best life.” With producers such as Thundercat and Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest, and features by Run the Jewels, JPEGMAFIA, Blood Orange, and Obongjayar creating a range of diverse-sounding tracks, uknowhatimsayin? may be Brown’s most uplifting album. His lighter mood lessens the sense of danger that pervaded his previous records, but uknowhatimsayin? is an absolute pleasure to listen to, and to assume that Brown may have “lost it” would be a horrible mistake. – Dave Gutierrez
40. Tyler, the Creator – IGOR
IGOR, Tyler the Creator’s sixth album, feels sort of like the ugly conclusion to all the balmy production and optimistic undercurrents of 2017’s Flower Boy. Tyler’s positioned himself as a hopeless romantic with his two most recent offerings and IGOR is a breakup album about the ugliest parts of unrequited love. The record is a self-produced affair, with Tyler confronting the jealousy and erratic mood swings that come with the dissolution of any relationship, and trying to untangle all of these feelings has led to his most adventurous album, both lyrically and sonically. Songs like “EARFQUAKE” and “NEW MAGIC WAND” are worlds apart but Tyler knows how to perfectly snap them together like pieces of a puzzle. – Michael Brooks
39. Queen of Jeans – if you’re not afraid, i’m not afraid
Not a soul in music is making a sound like Queen of Jeans. if you’re not afraid, i’m not afraid is the encapsulation of struggle and self-liberation, balancing so many pieces with upbeat finesse. Queen of Jeans expresses situations personal and political in a conversational tone while dotting each moment with pop emphasis, the best example in “Tell Me.” Each listen feels like lean in closer to Queen of Jeans’ stories and selves. – Amanda Starling
38. Big Thief – Two Hands | U.F.O.F.
There’s no denying that Big Thief are a literal force of nature, one that’s guided first and foremost by Adrianne Lenker’s swiss army knife of a voice. Their first release of the year, U.F.O.F, is a nebulous, almost sinister sounding album of ethereal tales about aliens and the cosmos and how those things intertwine with our own lives. Impressively enough, they followed that up a mere five months later with Two Hands, a ragged collection of deep-rooted folk-rock that’s both intimate and warm. Big Thief exist in a universe all their own, a tight-knit group of skilled musicians and kindred spirits that write beautiful and intrepid songs that have the ability to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. We’re so fortunate to be alive at the same time as Big Thief. – Michael Brooks
37. Freddie Gibbs/Madlib – Bandana
When Freddie Gibbs and Madlib teamed up for Piñata back in 2014, there’s no way that the two of them could have predicted their unlikely convergence would result in such a beloved, cult classic album that remains a high point in underground hip-hop this decade. Bandana, the duo’s long-awaited follow up, proves that the two have an unmistakable chemistry, gently nudging one another towards new ideas that neither had yet to explore as solo artists. In this sense, Bandana is the perfect collaboration—Madlib’s production inspires Gibbs to write more solemn and introspective bars while Gibbs’ adherence to gangsta rap keeps Madlib’s beats grounded to earth. – Michael Brooks
36. Denzel Curry – ZUU
While many of the “Soundcloud rappers” from the Florida scene have struggled to maintain consistency across 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 does everything a good record should; banging beats you want to blast out the largest sound system you have, it hypes up its listeners and it has something to say in an interesting way. “M’s all on my bed feeling like I’m Majin Buu / Pocket full of ivy and you know the faces blue”. 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, and full verses worth committing to memory, Denzel has the energy, ability, and skill to elevate his work past all contemporaries. – Henderson Cole
35. Peaer – A Healthy Earth
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 decade and I mean that in the least pretentious and most exciting way possible. It’s reminiscent of two of my favorite lyrical styles in all of music: the stream-of-conscious Strange Ranger musings, and Clique’s abrupt, minimalist punk.
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 told 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. – Henderson Cole
34. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
Ezra Koenig had a blog, now lost to the 1’s and 0’s of internet afterlife, that was fixated on period furniture and historical geography. This fact will not change your view on Koenig; it can only galvanize the side you are already on, but it is worth noting. It’s not just an affectation, he’s kind of always been this way. Just days after announcing Father of the Bride, Ezra Koenig and co-host Jake Longstreth spent an episode of their radio show (not podcast) doing a deep dive on the song “Jamflowman,” a tune by the jam band Twiddle that is reviled by anti-jammers and jam-fans alike. The two dissected the lyrics that tell the story of the Jamflowman in Dr. Suess couplets, the canned solos, and the virtues of various live takes. By the end of it, Koenig had made a convincing case that not only was this song a good jam tune, but a delightful song outright.
So when lead single “Harmony Hall” dropped (paired with the slight, lilting “2021”) and I heard fluttering riffs, bass that can only be described as funky, and a much looser swing than VW’s normal blue-oxford-buttoned-at-the-neck fare, I felt like both Koenig and I had been enlightened. Maybe our dads/friends/cousins who aged into tye-dye and burned CDs of favorite Phish live shows were actually aging gracefully. Maybe Vampire Weekend’s greatest strength was always their ability to use unfamiliar rhythms not just as appropriated sounds, but as self-limiting structures that forced them to find a counter-intuitive melody, one only borne out of study and labor. The early flippant preppiness was an act: so what? So is the Dead knock-off merch and the saxophone. It doesn’t matter how you dress up songs when they succeed both as furrowed-brow academic studies and as infectious pop classics. – Keegan Bradford
33. Better Off – Reap What You Sow
Better Off came back swinging harder than ever before with their new album Reap What You Sow. Last year, their single popped up in my Discover Weekly and I assumed it was a different band using the same name, but sure enough it was the long-defunct band returning. While I’ll admit on first listen I wasn’t intrigued, I revisited it months later with a new set of ears and instantly fell in love with it. When the album came out, I was in the process of leaving an unhealthy relationship and it provided me solitude throughout the process. Even after the fact, the album is ten songs of pure alternative rock bliss that should be played into everyone’s ears at least once. – Kyle Musser
32. Macseal – Super Enthusiast
“Everybody’s falling back in love, falling back in love / good luck keeping your friends because nobody’s falling for ya”. Fitting lyrics for a release that comes as the weather only gets colder and nights start earlier, album opener “Lucky for Some” captures the loneliness that emerges when the people around you are falling into relationships while you navigate your own feelings. When originally looking over the tracklist, I was happy to see “Nothing’s A Sure Thing, Shelly”, a re-worked version of the song from their 2018 EP, Map It Out. While the song is catchy and seemingly up-beat with a sing-along hook, the lyrics capture trying to settle for something that isn’t working while trying to make yourself believe that it is. These feelings come back up with my favorite track on the record, “Picture Perfect”, singing “I never meant to figure it all out / Never meant to distance myself, just need to find an easier out.” The album serves as a reminder to have difficult conversations with yourself and that with discomfort comes growth. – Lindsy Carrasquillo
*Editor’s Note* Ryan from Macseal writes for our site, and wasn’t able to vote for himself, and Macseal still made the list. First time that’s ever happened.
31. Somos — Prison on a Hill
Prison on a Hill is a record heavy with the weight of injustice and authoritarianism, made heavier by the circumstances of its release. Put out early in the wake of guitarist Phil Haggarty’s passing, Prison on a Hill is a powerful and essential record that honors and continues his anti-fascism activism. Behind these yearning pop songs equally indebted to Joy Division and Jimmy Eat World, there is a desperate yearning for action and reform. The characters in these songs face the increasingly unbelievable modern tribulations, some lamenting a youth lost to war (“Farewell to Exile”) while others struggle to afford medical care (“Young Believers”). These are earworms for an age of resistance, and they’re exactly what we need to hear right now. – Jordan Walsh
30. Future Teens – Breakup Season
As experts on the subject of heartache, Future Teens shared their most profound record yet in Breakup Season. The Boston outfit has somehow grown more raw, more impactful, and all the more relatable. From “Frequent Crier” to “Passed Tense,” Future Teens’ catchy and meaningful songwriting is the exact prescription for aching reflection to heal a broken heart. – Amanda Starling
29. MUNA – Saves the World
MUNA have spent the latter half of the decade sculpting a breezier, laid-back style of synth-laden pop music as showcased on their recent release, Saves The World. The band sits next to modern contemporaries while their vocals reference a more carefree style predominant in the 90’s. It’s as if they listened to Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill on repeat and somehow found the catchiest way to fuse that sound with bands like Pale Waves, The Midnight, and The 1975. Saves The World is full of upbeat songs with driving basslines to bop your head to, with a few heartfelt ballads that dim the lights before everything gets a little too bright. The album is self-aware, starting off the second track with lyrics dealing with harassment from fans and the way their language has evolved with the prevalence of social media. The band has also used their platform to tackle themes of sexuality and gender, while also managing to close with a track describing the tumultuous interpersonal relationships we all find ourselves in during our twenties. Overall, the album is their strongest and catchiest yet. – Kyle Musser
28. Microwave – Death is a Warm Blanket
In crafting the sound for this record, Microwave basically said, “Much Love? I don’t know her” and plunged into grating screamo-hardcore territory, harkening back to the permeating nature of their debut record. DIAWB cultivates balance and depth by stacking the seizing parts up against more stripped-down sequences. The title track persistently scurries towards a sinuous breakdown, and the rocky, dribbling “The Brakeman Has Resigned” is when frontman Nathan Hardy is at his most guttural. Their shift in sound feels in tune with the agony the record’s overarching theme is shrouded in: the instability of debauchery. Eventually, you’ll find yourself nursing an injury, or relying on someone’s hospitality to ensure you have a place to sleep, or resenting yourself for gravitating towards thrill more than sensibility—all references that can all be found throughout the lyrics. This is neatly articulated on “Mirrors” when Hardy asks what the next step is after realizing “Everything you wanted is everything you hate.” And I guess he opted to create a masterful album about it. – Bineet Kaur
27. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Norman Fucking Rockwell! might just be Lana’s best album to date. It brings the most evocative, delicate, and cinematic parts of her songwriting and elevates it to 2019 standards. Though it’s not as much of a clear-cute standout as her first record, high points like “Venice Bitch” and “Fuck it i love you” show the over-arching theme of the album: the lullaby of Lana’s voice in a concept album about not giving a single fuck and being boisterous. – Kayla Carmichael
26. Greet Death – New Hell
I never really got into Greet Deaths 2017 debut Dixieland, an album that was championed heavily by our staff that year. Upon listening the their November release, New Hell, my interest spiked significantly. Released at the perfect time between late fall and beginning of winter, this record wafts over you with devastation; akin to a brisk cold Canadian snow squall. Layered with crushing guitar tones and droning vocal deliveries, New Hell slow burns its way much like a Cloakroom or Nothing album might. This album is not a light listen, but it isn’t a depressing one either. The back and forth between slow paced and sledgehammer force makes for an enjoyable listening experience, a quality that’s evident from opening track “Circles of Hell”. – Steven Lalonde
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