The Top 75 Records of 2019 & The Alt Awards

Posted: by admin

The Alternative started as my college radio show way back in 2009, which later became a twitter account, and eventually the website that is The Alternative you know today. Along the way, The Alt became much more than just my site and my favorite music. Over its history, near 100 people have contributed to The Alt, and we now have an incredible staff of 10 editors and 20+ contributors that are all working hard to find and recommend the best music. Even cooler, we now have readers that support us, share our content, and allow us to do awesome things like these big lists, sponsored fests, and even top secret projects that’ll be revealed soon…

With The Alternative, we’ve managed to collectively build an alternative to the traditional corporate music media sites. All of our contributors are completely free to write about whatever music they enjoy without concern about clicks, advertisers, or ownership pressure. That is so special because it allows us to write about the music we truly believe in and review music completely on its merits. This is exactly how we’ve been able to assemble an end of the year list like this one that gives small DIY artists a fair chance to compete with artists on major labels with huge fan bases and pr campaigns.

Next year, we’re taking a big step at The Alt and beginning to pay all of our contributors for their work (the first time anyone at this site has made money from it). We hope this will allow us to devote more time and energy to this project and continue to grow our site free from outside pressures. If you like our music recommendations and enjoy our articles, we ask that you please consider donating to our Patreon. The more we collect, the more our contributors (writers, editors, artists, and photographers) will be paid, and the more cool things we’ll be able to pull off. Even $1 a month makes a big difference.

This year, we put together an spectacular list of our 75 (okay, 77) favorite releases of 2019, because 50 just wasn’t enough. I personally guarantee that every single one of you reading this will find a new record you love on this list if you take the time to listen. I found 10 myself. Listen through while you read up on each release, and then take a look at the winners of our 4 yearly awards (AOTY, Best Debut, Best Non-LP, and Most Underrated). Yes, there is a Spotify playlist. We hope you enjoy. I’d put our list up against anyone’s. – Henderson Cole


PAGE 1 (#75 – #51) – PAGE 2 (#50 – #26) – PAGE 3 (#25 – #1 + Playlist & Awards)

75. Pronoun – i’ll show you stronger

i’ll show you stronger is a great yet under-the-radar indie pop record. It packs a punch with just over 40 minutes of gleaming guitar driven bedroom rock. pronoun combines a ton of complex emotions with sparkly synths and triumphant confidence. The track “run” is a standout, but the whole album has a definite larger than life resiliency about it. I could gush on forever about each of it’s tracks and all of it’s addictive qualities, but its better you just listen yourself. – Steven Lalonde

74. Westside Gunn – Hitler Wears Hermes 7

Dior, cocaine, guns, and wrestling—these are the things that make up Buffalo rapper Westside Gunn’s universe. Hilter Wears Hermes 7, his second full-length of 2019, isn’t necessarily groundbreaking in its approach to east coast boom-bap, but there is something refreshing about Westside Gunn and his golden age hip-hop pastiche. Gunn’s voice is nasally and cartoonish, he sounds like Ghostface Killah if you accidentally played Fishscale at 45 rpm. He barrages his tracks with a constant onslaught of ad-libs each one more dizzying than the last. But most importantly, he can flat out rap his ass off, and his prolific workload since the release of his breakout mixtape FLYGOD in 2016 has yet to diminish in terms of quality. – Michael Brooks

73. Jay Som –  Anak Ko

Anak Ko, Jay Som’s sultry follow up to her 2017 breakthrough album Everybody Works, is as charming and disparate as anything else we’ve heard from the Oakland bedroom pop auteur—from the sun-drenched dream pop and shimmering guitars of “Superbike” to the lo-fi R&B of “Tenderness”, a song that finds Melina Duterte singing about her fractured relationship with social media atop a sensuous groove. Whereas her previous work was bolstered by fuzzed-out guitars, Anak Ko dials in on Duterte’s passion for syncopated rhythms, resulting in catchier songs that have more room to breathe. Anak Ko is a kaleidoscope of swirling keys, plinky bass riffs, and sputtering drum machines–all performed and filtered through Duterte’s genre-defying lens. – Michael Brooks

72. Signals Midwest – PIN

Signals Midwest songwriter Max Stern has long shown his ability to write emotional emo-rock in the way of Into It. Over It., Dikembe, or Spraynard. On this newest release, he slowed things down a bit and made sure that every emotional lyric would be delivered with its full weight and context. The tracks encounter similar motifs: changing hometowns, emotional despair, and heartache, but those prominent themes make for scream along anthems. – Henderson Cole

71. String Machine – Death of the Neon

String Machine are a seven-piece outfit from Pittsburgh that channel their beautifully intimate homespun folk through soaring post-rock arrangements. Their sophomore LP Death of the Neon is a gorgeous odyssey moving through a decade’s worth of sub-genres that lived and breathed thanks in part to crowded basements and sweaty house shows, it’s also the rare record that feels meticulously crafted but sounds effortlessly performed. Through sheer ambition String Machine are able to cram the nine songs that make up Death of the Neon with every idea they could possibly think of, the end result being one of the most pleasant surprises in all of indie rock this year. Michael Brooks

70. DaBaby – Baby on Baby | KIRK

2019 was all about DaBaby. The Charlotte, NC rapper broke out with “Suge,” the single from his March album Baby on Baby, and then earned himself a perfectly-timed second wind by dropping another great record, KIRK, in September. In a rap landscape that’s recently been dominated by auto-tune crooners, emo-pop torchbearers and rule-bending idol-killers who value style over form, DaBaby’s uncanny rapping ability and dry, assertive delivery provide a breath of fresh air. On Baby on Baby he solidified his signature flow and flexed his motor-mouthed technical skill over simple trunk-knockers. KIRK’s plush beats, radio-ready hooks and smattering of guest verses make for a pleasantly accessible complement that proved he could hang in a mainstream setting. If he can maintain this momentum in 2020 then he’ll be a household name in no time. – Eli Enis

69. Slingshot Dakota – Heavy Banding

Slingshot Dakota have achieved the music they’ve always wanted to make, and we’re all lucky to be here for it. Heavy Banding balances so much: raw lyricism, gorgeous keys, impeccable synths, and some of the most intense drumming they’ve released to date. So much self-growth occurs throughout the record, from familial struggles in “Blood Villain” to embracing of individuality in “Weird Like Me.” There’s so much intimacy in the album’s lyrical storytelling, from the loss of a friendship to building a truly supportive community, and that therein lies the surprise punch found in every listen. – Amanda Starling

68. Perspective, A Lovely Hand to Hold – Lousy

Lousy starts with a doo-wop intro and then hops into that jagged indie/emo that we all know and love. Perspective have the ability to constantly keep the listener on the edge of their seat with their sharp tempos, fluctuating time signatures and angular deliveries, but yet still keep us all humming along with their smooth harmonies and comforting hooks. Not to be limited, the record ratchets up the intensity just a bit when needed, and leaves opens for some good moshing. Overall, this makes for an exciting listen, and a solid addition to the modern “emo” canon. – Henderson Cole

67. Chris Farren – Born Hot

For the presentation of his third solo LP, indie-rock’s biggest goofball doubled down on the tongue-in-cheek narcissism of his live show. The record’s announcement was paired with a hilarious music video about a fictional viral cat, and the accompanying merch spread included throw pillows and oven mitts emblazoned with Farren’s shirtless body. Musically, however, Born Hot is yet another batch of openly self-loathing power-pop from the patron saint of insecurity. Unlike the bombastic pop-punk songs he writes for Antarctigo Vespucci, his joint venture with Jeff Rosenstock, Born Hot feels like a space for Farren to tinker with the theatrical potential of a bedroom-bred ballad (“Domain Lapse”, “Space In Yr Love”) and try to form his myriad depressive woes into zippity novelty songs (“Does The Good Outweigh The Bad?”, “I Was Amazing”). He’s the only one who can make this sort of thing work, and the album is as zany as it is endearing. – Eli Enis

66. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains

David Berman is best known for his band the Silver Jews, a band that began as the soundtrack for his poems (a catalog of writing that was always every bit as vibrant and clever and heartbreaking as his music). On his podcast Three Songs, Berman’s bandmate and friend Bob Nastanovich hilariously details the band’s ups and downs, being fired and rehired telling stories about calling up Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth (who they barely knew) and leaving dozens of improvised songs on their voicemail. It’s important when looking back on Berman’s songs that we don’t lose sight of that, the giddy, spur-of-the-moment inspiration that lit the songs with something glittering even in the darkest moments.

It’s hard to talk about Purple Mountains, a record that was a thrilling surprise. Berman was back, he was doing interviews (!), he was touring (!!!); it felt like a gift. The record is still a gift, but it’s impossible to listen to outside of the loss, and it’s tempting to read the record as elegiac. He takes a nearly Buddhist stance on desire and the longing and loss tied up with it: “The end of all wanting, Is all I’ve been wanting, And that’s just the way that I feel.” On “All My Happiness Is Gone,” the lyrics narrate a heavy sorrow that inches ever closer: “Mounting mileage on the dash, Double darkness falling fast, I keep stressing, pressing on. Way deep down at some substratum, Feels like something really wrong has happened, And I confess I’m barely hanging on.” But the song, like the rest of the record, is as rich and lively as any in Berman’s catalog, a shuffle with some swing that sounds nothing if not triumphant. Just like he told us on “Smith and Jones Forever,” something is added in every ending. No light ever goes out without something else getting added to the air. – Keegan Bradford

65. Mat Kerekes – Ruby

Ruby is a vulnerable, challenging record that plays with both nostalgia and quiet observation of human emotions. It sounds like it should be played in the fictional, colorful house from the book “Goodnight Moon”—full of wonder and twinged with eeriness that comes with an over-awareness of time passing. It’s full of questions like, “Do you ever miss it? / The things you loved when you were a kid? / Your parents love that spread too thin?” from the song “An Ode” and, “Are you gonna show the world the treasure you’ve created for yourself?” on “One For The Wildflowers”. While there are many tender moments, there’re also cinematic breakout-in-song-and-dance moments like on the Queen-esque single “Diamonds”, which is wild considering Ruby was self-recorded and produced by Kerekes himself. There’s depth to the lyrics and storytelling even though, instrumentally, the songs pass in a warm, gentle breeze. But that contrast is what makes the album truly special. And even when it ends, the line “All of my years keep slipping away” continues to echo. – Hannah Hines

64. Knocked Loose – A Different Shade of Blue

Knocked Loose packed a hefty amount of energy into their sophomore album, A Different Shade Of Blue. Drilling through every track with the spirit of hardcore, Knocked Loose made an outstanding fusion of metallic guitar tones and vibrant lyrics. A Different Shade of Blue feels like Knocked Loose have learned a lot since their previous release, Laugh Tracks. They’ve really taken the time to develop their sound, which shows through on tracks such as “Mistakes Like Fractures.” The vocals and guitars drip with anger while the bass and drums ground the tracks and don’t make everything sound too muddy.  – Sarah Knoll

63. Jail Socks – It’s Not Forever

There are a lot of songs that came out this year that you could make a case for being ‘Song of the Year,’ but only one made me beat the shit out of my steering wheel like it stole something. “Popular Avenue” is a song that is either all chorus or four different, progressively ass-kicking bridges; a song that only leaves one slapping riff behind to pick up another that slaps even harder. It’s baffling that this is Jail Socks’s official debut. This is a band that sounds like seasoned vets, both grown as hell and burly as fuck. Twinkly emo is no more, twinkly punk is the future. From the record’s first moments, you can tell that these songs must go off live, but you don’t have to wonder: find any video of these kids in a crowded basement. You can see it in the party-moshing, crowd-surfing kids singing every word who know that they’re ahead of the curve on the ‘Next Big Thing’. If you’re not familiar, now’s the time. – Keegan Bradford

62. Cool Original – I Never Said I Didn’t Care

When Strange Ranger moved to Philly and dropped this year’s well-received (and very good) album Remembering the Rockets, it was a deserved coup for those of us here in Portland, but one with an asterisk. Portland bands are perennially underappreciated (Snow Roller and Duck, Little Brother, Duck deserved better!), and the best way to find a wider audience is still, sadly, a single piece of advice: move.

There’s nothing I can do about that besides bang the drum for our local bands who are currently fighting to break out of the PNW bubble, but if moving is what it takes right now, then there better well be some damn justice for Cool Original. Nathan Tucker, drummer for Strange Ranger, has a bristling nerviness to his songs that spill over with needling guitars. I Never Said I Didn’t Care is an indie rock record with a sardonic edge, acknowledging that the good old days might not have been all that great but missing them all the same, and filling every inch of every song with riffs that feel both classic and invigoratingly fresh. All of the album’s strengths are on display in the first song, “Never Gonna Stop Hanging Out,” but “Teething” is the song that has stuck with me; a searing anthem almost splitting apart with longing and loss.  “You want me around, but do you need me / Felt like first steps, but it was teething.” Hook it up to my veins. – Keegan Bradford

61. Angel Du$t – Pretty Buff

My screenwriting professor from college claimed that the hallmark of quality art is avoiding predictability. I think Angel Du$t would have earned an A+ in his class, as this record emanates spontaneity. Just when it seems like they’ve mapped out the next thirty seconds or so of a song, they take a detour. There’s a section in “Big Ass Love” that repeats a riff a handful of times with a different drum fill following each instance. And some saxophone snakes in on “Bang My Drum” and “Take Away the Pain.” This record overlaps with bands like Nai Harvest and Sublime who just wanted to bang out some tunes about cutting a rug and having a good time, but it makes a name for itself by supplementing its balminess with skittering, wispy riffage. – Bineet Kaur

60. Mess – Learning How To Talk

Mess have created a beautiful, foggy landscape to tell their stories in on Learning How To Talk, using delicate chord progressions as a soft guiding light for the poetic songwriting. Allison Gliesman’s voice is as edgy and mesmerizing as a diamond and it casts each song in a different radiance, and the results are hypnotizing. Mess have mastered using silence moments on a song like “Cave”, when the line “Painted over the sidewalk” jolts from a quiet respite before erupting into a swirl of instrumentals that convey all of the track’s emotions. The dreamy guitars and haunting drums are reminiscent of the post-rock legends, Explosions In The Sky, while the enthralling vocals paired with visually provoking lyrics have sort of a Now, Now-“Threads” essence. The last track, “Boston”, ends with the line, “Sound like every single ghost I’ve ever met/ I wish I loved them instead”, and it is said so peacefully you almost miss how the weight of it will undoubtedly sit on your heart. – Hannah Hines

59. Sir Babygirl – Crush On Me

Technically Crush On Me should be on this list twice because of the recently released BICONIC Edition, a remastered version of the album featuring three bonus songs including an amazing cover of Kesha’s “Praying”—but that’s besides the point. Sir Babygirl is over-the-top DIY pop music at its best. To experience Kelsie Hogue’s online presence is to immediately be able to picture the music she makes. And that’s how you know it’s genuine. Whether you’re screaming along to “Heels” or experiencing the slow, steady builds of “Pink Lite”, listening to Sir Babygirl is enough to make you dance uncontrollably and throw a one-person party. – Scott Fugger

58. Cicala – Talkin’ to Breathe 

Cicala’s music takes me back to when I was first getting into music on my own, all ages acoustic shows at a small bar where the confessional lyricism always stuck with me and made me want to seek out more. The album’s conversational tone is carried by layered instrumentals that allow for Quinn’s words to remain in the forefront. It’s a record full of  a search for understand that feel like listening to a long time friend, providing both comfort and a need to reflect.  –Lindsy Carrasquillo

57. DIIV – Deceiver

I’ve always thought of DIIV as a sonically pleasing lo-fi shoegaze band with minimal instrumentation. It’s not a knock on their body of work or their style, but with Deceiver DIIV have taken a more full-bodied approach to their songwriting craft. The instrumentation is sturdier, there’s an abundance of waterfalling guitar riffs, and it yielded their most beautifully abrasive record. Tracks such as “Blankenship” and “Horsehead” stand out for their heaviness and emotional resonance. While the album does presents dark themes, it balances fragility and a sense of maturity seamlessly and is the perfect album for those sludgy, overcast days when you cant help but self-reflect. – Steven Lalonde

56. Terrible People – Like Clean Air

I heard Smoking Man, Terrible People’s first full-band release, and felt the same as I did hearing early Modern Baseball. Here was a collection of unpolished, self-recorded songs by a group of guys in college that was rough and scrappy, but with a wealth of hooks just waiting to be sanded off. When I saw on Twitter that they were recording new material, I reached out immediately to try and get a sneak peak, and was rewarded with “Peachy.” I haven’t calmed down about this record since. “Peachy” takes bright guitar picking and gang vocals and builds until it reaches a triumphant crescendo, and that’s just the first two minutes of the album. The rest goes all kinds of places, from the gentle fingerpicking of “Subiaco,” and the jangly infectiousness of “Drunk Call.” But for my money, there are very few moments this year as fun and electrifying as the stuttering breakdown in “Some Sort of Kismet” where guitarist/vocalist Alif narrates an awkward party conversation with incongruous verve: “‘Hey you’re here too?’ ‘Cool, nice’ ‘You too.’” – Keegan Bradford


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 growing, SASAMI has shown that chill doesn’t have to mean boring. – Henderson Cole

54. caampBy and By 

Caamp’s most recent album, By and By, is a layered continuation of their past efforts, with the addition of a bassist to round out a sound that had been missing from the duo’s dynamic. Focusing on building more composed instrumentals, they’ve developed a folk sound that can fit into indie demographics with ease while utilizing the wider array of sound at their disposal. Caamp has shaped a niche image of the woods into a unique style that successfully mellows and hastens the heart rate of listeners, depending on the required mood. Fans of folky rock need to make a point to get listening. – Luke Ferrara

53. black midi – Schlagenheim

Post-punk’s origins lie in England, and London’s black midi proudly carries that torch, with a style as eclectic as This Heat of past, post and future. With lyrics ranging from cryptic to outright gibberish, black midi seems to toy with the listener, the music sounding so beautifully chaotic, sometimes going from the absolute quietest to the most frantic of freakouts, as if it emanated from a strange wormhole of punk that lays in-between time. But despite such chaos, Schlagenheim successfully avoids being overwhelming. They may sound too esoteric for some, but black midi is undoubtedly never a bore to listen to, and Schlagenheim is proof of their unique place in music today. – Dave Gutierrez

52. Lucy Dacus – 2019

Part covers and part originals, the tracks on Lucy Dacus’ record, 2019, were released one at a time over the course of the year, each corresponding to a theme based on the season: Taurus season, the 4th of July, Valentines, etc. You name it and we now have a Dacus song to commemorate it, even The Boss’s birthday. Rather than stick to traditional songs and themes of these occasions, she pushed the boundaries a bit more, using 4th of July for a track with a biting critique of America, Valentines Day to cover a French love song, and so on. This unique structure and method of delivery made this record one of the most intriguing and interesting releases of the year, and she executed it well with excellently crafted songs, and perfectly selected covers. These are no transient one-offs. This is a record we will revisit year after year. – Jessica Lavery

51. Grayscale – Nella Vita

Nella Vita is a record that doesn’t shy away from the more intense emotions that life gives us: joy, pain, love. Instead, Grayscale nurtures them and gives them breadth and depth. Reflecting on life through the lens of the group, the tones and lyrical content expanded on through the album provokes visuals that read as very conversational and, at times, romantic. This band has nailed the delicate balance of translating life into song, providing an equal contrast of sound that seamlessly shifts from dancing, to laughing, to crying, to self-introspection. Nella Vita doesn’t masquerade as a record that reminds one to look at the brighter side of life, nor does it weigh one down with its melancholy themes and painful lyricism. It exists in the grey area of optimism and pessimism, and it represents one of the more honest pieces of work released this year on the pop-punk front. – Hope Ankney


PAGE 1 (#75 – #51) – PAGE 2 (#50 – #26) – PAGE 3 (#25 – #1 + Playlist & Awards)

The Alternative is ad-free and 100% supported by our readers. If you’d like to help us produce more content and promote more great new music, please consider donating to our Patreon page, which also allows you to receive sweet perks like free albums and The Alternative merch.