The Best Albums of 2019

Story posted December 27, 2019 in

CommRadio's Arts & Entertainment staff counts down its top 15 albums of 2019.

1. “Cuz I Love You” – Lizzo

When people begin to look back on the most iconic albums in the next 10 years, 2019 will be forever immortalized by Lizzo’s “Cuz I Love You,” which has become not simply a pop sensation but an anthem of self-love.

Lizzo emerged onto the scene well before “Cuz I Love You” became the album that it is today. In fact, the singer would recycle a few songs that she felt didn’t receive the attention that they deserved, which would spark a symbolic theme for the album: self-love.

Certainly, the lyrics are witty and Lizzo’s vocals are outstanding. However, what truly makes “Cuz I Love You” so ingrained into pop culture is the phenomenon that it has become. With various social movements sweeping across the world such as #MeToo, in which more and more women are feeling powerful enough to stand up and use their own voice, Lizzo has given women a platform to speak, too.

Overall, “Cuz I Love You” is indeed an anthem of self-love. After its release in May, people across the world began to respect themselves more and wondered “What would Lizzo do?” when needing an extra boost of confidence. The profound impact “Cuz I Love You” has had on people’s everyday life is enough to make it one of 2019’s finest.  —Jade Campos

2. “IGOR” – Tyler, the Creator

Many people’s choice for the album of 2019 is Tyler, the Creator’s “IGOR,” and it’s easy to see why. Tyler finally crafted a complete album. 2017’s “Flower Boy” was great, but “IGOR” is in a whole different category. The lyrical maturity of this concept album shines through. The love triangle about Tyler and his love interest, who is also seeing his ex-girlfriend, helps him explore things such as his sexuality. However, it also allows him to understand his emotions and culminates in the emergence of his darker side, symbolized by Igor’s arrival later in the album.

The production is excellent, and features like Solange Knowles, Kanye West and Santigold add a lot to the album. The instrumentals mix hip-hop, R&B and funk flavors into a wonderful, almost cinematic backing track to this story. From the piano work on “EARFQUAKE” to the heavy mechanic drums on “NEW MAGIC WAND,” Tyler is able to use almost any kind of instrumental to enhance the story he is trying to tell.

“IGOR” deserves every bit of praise that it gets, as the consistency from start to finish helps this album flow well. Tyler has continued his evolution as an artist on this project, allowing him to grow his stardom even more.  —Owen Paiva

3. “Titanic Rising” – Weyes Blood

Weyes Blood is on track to become one of the most profound artists of the 2020s, especially with her 2019 epic, “Titanic Rising.” The album is pure, raw, and an ethereal experience.

Although the singer is not necessarily known for sticking to norms, Weyes Blood definitely goes outside of the comfort zone of modern music with “Titanic Rising.” Each song is purposeful and an experience in themselves. It’s not often that instrumental tracks work well within the confines of a lyrical album, but Weyes Blood is able to pull it off in a mathematical way.

It’s clear that the singer was inspired by a wide range of genres and artists throughout her production of “Titanic Rising.” She resembles a bit of Carole King while also portraying undertones of the Beatles and Pink Floyd. With her relatively underground presence in the music industry, most would call Weyes Blood “indie,” but this album is so much more than that.

The experience is what sets “Titanic Rising” apart from all others, proving that music is an art form. It’s rare when a piece of art can transport you into a very specific point in time, especially one you’ve never been, but Weyes Blood manages to bring listeners to an entirely different universe.  —Jade Campos

4. “Norman F***ing Rockwell!” – Lana Del Rey

Released in August, “Norman F***ing Rockwell!” is one of the most sophisticated yet chilliest albums released in 2019. Lana Del Rey, embodying the indie/alternative genre, seems to have more than one trick up her sleeve with this album.

She has already proved to listeners that she has what it takes to withstand more than one successful album. Between being nominated and winning a slew of awards across different award shows and with “Norman F***ing Rockwell!” being nominated for album of the year for the upcoming Grammy Awards, being a standout for 2019 is an understatement.

With the mystical piano on the title track and Del Rey’s soothing and magical vocals, she captivates audiences and insists that they visualize her lyrics. “Your head in your hands/As you color me blue/Yeah, you're just a man/All through and through.”

Yet she shows her empowerment on the edgy “F**k It, I Love You.” Del Rey tells it how it is without holding back. From the title alone, the audience can tell that Rey is a standout.

Ending the album with the slow, yet perfect finisher “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – but I Have It,” Del Rey speaks to audiences of varying degrees with a subtle look at the current entertainment industry.

With the album’s dreamy instrumentals and the lyrics that scream, “don’t sugar coat things,” Del Rey is everything that music needs right now.  —William Roche

5. “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” – Billie Eilish

In 2019, Billie Eilish became one of pop music’s most popular and polarizing figures, with her subdued sound and her over-the-top music videos garnering an extreme spectrum of opinion. What gets lost in all of this, however, is that, at 17 years old, Eilish, with only the help of her brother, made one of the most poignant and inventive albums of the year.

“When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” proved itself to be more than just a pop album. It’s a bold statement that shows an incredible amount of maturity from someone who had yet to blow out 18 candles at its release. Take the anti-drug anthem “xanny,” for instance. It’s a song that discusses Eilish’s dissatisfaction from her friends’ seemingly unending drug use. It’s a track that is even more profound considering the drug-obsessed world of mainstream music that the Los Angeles-based singer resides in.

Eilish also shows a very likeable sense of humor throughout the album, sampling “The Office” in the track “my strange addiction,” for instance. The lyrics in “wish you were gay” are another prime example of this, with Eilish trying to hopelessly justify why her crush is uninterested with her.

Beyond this, one of the greatest strengths in “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” is the album’s production. The synth-heavy instrumentals are soft and subdued, matching Eilish’s singing style very well, yet the album is hard-hitting when it’s necessary. “Wish you were gay” exemplifies this, as the bouncy synths in the chorus are profound and hard-hitting but not overpowering, providing good contrast in the mostly acoustic track.

“When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” is a remarkable debut album for the teenage popstar, proving her to have better taste and creativity than many of her veteran counterparts.  —Jim Krueger

6. “So Much Fun” – Young Thug

Since his emergence as rap’s resident weirdo in 2014, Young Thug and his yelps, yowls and hypnotic flows have wormed their way into the hip-hop mainstream, fundamentally altering its DNA in the process.

“So Much Fun” is Young Thug’s 10th project in the last five years, and it doubles as a summation of the Atlanta rapper’s career to this point. Yet it somehow feels new and vital at the same time.
 
We are now awash in the artists whom Young Thug has influenced and, in many cases, mentored: Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Baby, Gunna, Lil Keed, Travis Scott and even the late Juice WRLD. Coincidentally, all of those artists who have been apart of rap’s paradigm shift appear on this album and deliver some of their best work of the year in the process.

Rapping over eclectic yet accessible beats from the likes of Pi’erre Bourne, Wheezy, and Mustard, the eccentric rapper nimbly maneuvers through 19 tracks and 62 minutes, making each punchline and melodic tangent more essential than the last. And just when you think Young Thug’s brand of absurdism can’t be outdone, Future shows up on “Sup Mate” to rap in a shrill, fake British accent and proclaim that he “should teach drug classes.”

“So Much Fun” isn’t a genre-defining album, nor is it the best Young Thug album. But as it is, it’s a very strong Atlanta trap album from one of the best in the business.  —Caleb Wilfinger

7. “ZUU” – Denzel Curry

Following up on 2018’s masterpiece “TA13OO” was no easy task for Carol City’s Denzel Curry. But he managed to come through with an album completely different. “ZUU” is a love letter to South Florida and the Miami hip-hop scene. Features such as Rick Ross cement this. The production, led by duo FnZ, which produced most of this album and Curry’s previous, is fantastic. Frequent Curry collaborators like Charlie Heat and Ronny J both produced tracks for this album as well.

Curry is able to bring a ton of personality to this project, giving a more lighthearted and fun take to “ZUU” while maintaining some of the darker themes found on “TA13OO.” This album serves as a nice palate cleanser between that album and whatever the next concept album Curry has up his sleeve.

While this album lacks the lyrical depth of “TA13OO,” it more than makes up for it in personality. Curry’s hook game is as good as it has ever been, and his knack for comedic references is present. “ZUU” may not be the album that fans expected to follow up “TA13OO,” but it shines in its own right. Curry continues to show why he is one of the best of the current crop of rising stars in hip-hop.  —Owen Paiva

8. “When I Get Home” – Solange

“When I Get Home” is easily one of the most underrated albums of 2019, being completely overlooked by albums with a full length tracklist and expansive production. Solange doesn’t need the typical studio creation to make a masterpiece, though.

There are so many layers to “When I Get Home” that make it a listening pleasure. The lyrics are repetitive, and sometimes they aren’t even that deep (“I saw things I imagined/I saw things I imagined”), but they are symbolic of a stream of thought. In fact, the entire album feels like one huge process of thought as someone works through everything going on in their brain.

Cohesivity is one of the most crucial parts to an album transcending beyond good to great, and Solange is able to fuse perfection together into 30 minutes. Most of the tracks are simply transitional songs, but it makes for a remarkably well-orchestrated album. It’s as if the singer went into the studio and simply made music for half an hour without stopping. It’s a feat the Beatles only wished to achieve with “Abbey Road.”

With just a first listen, there’s no question of how influential and meaningful “When I Get Home” is for the forward progression of the music industry. It is groundbreaking and incredibly different.  —Jade Campos

9. “Revenge of the Dreamers 3” – Dreamville

Most “best of” album lists typically contain albums with a strong narrative or theme. Very rarely do they contain collaborative showcase albums, but with Dreamville’s “Revenge of the Dreamers 3,” that thought process has to be changed.

In the third installment of the “Revenge of the Dreamers” series, J. Cole taps not only those on his label Dreamville but also finds young talent across the country to contribute to one of the most replayable albums of the year. Songs like “Costa Rica,” “Under the Sun” and “Down Bad” introduce listeners to new artists like Lute, Guapdad 4000 and Young Nudy while also being some of the best rap collaborations of the year.

The great thing about the album is how effortless the collaborations feel. None of them feel forced, and the chemistry between artists from different camps makes tracks like “LamboTruck,” “1993” and “Wells Fargo (Interlude)” seem like the collaborators have worked together for years.

“Revenge of the Dreamers 3” showcases that the future is bright not just on Dreamville but for hip-hop as a whole, as the new artists introduced on seemingly every track all have bright futures in the industry.  —Jerome Taylor 

10. “Lover” – Taylor Swift

After spending a tumultuous few years tangled in one of the biggest celebrity feuds of the decade, Taylor Swift emerged with her spiteful “reputation,” full of vengeance. Two years later, Swift would completely juxtapose her music with the airy, light and charming “Lover.”

While Swift has never been known to shy away from the truth, “Lover” is the singer’s most confessional album to date. Each lyric is laced with vulnerability and fear, which helps propel this album to being one of the best of her career. Following “reputation,” it is almost refreshing to hear Swift openly admit to her fears—both about her relationships and her family.

However, Swift chose not to simply talk about love and relationships, despite the album title. Several of the songs throughout the tracklist are laced with political undertones, as Swift seeks to become more vocal about politics through her music. While the most popular is obviously the bouncy, pro-LGBTQ+ anthem “You Need to Calm Down,” the most poignant is actually the satirical “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince.” The track puts truth to the fact that Swift does not merely pump out lyrics but adds careful thought and consideration to every line.

Since her fifth album “1989,” Swift has sought to make every album incredibly cohesive, and “Lover” is no different. She tells a story of love, fear and confusion in a way that only Taylor Swift can.  —Jade Campos

11. “Die a Legend” – Polo G

Chicago rapper Polo G grew up listening to local legends like Chief Keef and G Herbo, but it’s the melodic side of drill music (popularized by Lil Durk) that has clearly been woven into the 20-year-old’s narratives of street life in the Windy City.

“Die a Legend,” the excellent debut album from one of rap’s most promising young talents, is a record that is haunted by death, trauma and depression. It also features some of the best hip-hop ballads in recent memory.

Leading Chicago’s new wave of melody-driven trap music, Polo G approaches his verses with the prose of a singer-songwriter against a backdrop of somber pianos, syrupy bass and trap drums. The result is a record that is equal parts catchy and emotional.

On album standouts like “Pop Out,” “Through da Storm,” “Deep Wounds” and “A King’s Nightmare,” Polo G doesn’t necessarily glamorize gang life so much as present the Chicago streets in remarkable detail. These are tracks that feature irresistibly hooky choruses before splashing cold water in your face with lyrics like “My homie died at 16/I remember I was up all night/Kept seeing death in my dreams.”
At one point, the young rapper tries to move on: “Came a long way from depression/All these riches keep me smiling.” But he doesn’t sound like he’s a long way from depression, and he certainly doesn't sound like he’s smiling.  —Caleb Wilfinger

12. “Grey Area” – Little Simz

U.K.-based rapper Little Simz flew under the radar with the March release of “Grey Area,” but those who listened to this record agree it deserves to be in the discussion for 2019’s best albums of the year. Simz is brutally honest on this album with comments about both her personal life and the state of the world as a whole. She shows her technicality on this project, proving to be quite possibly the best MC currently hailing from the U.K.

The personality and candid personal depth that Little Simz brings on this project are phenomenal. Songs like “Selfish” and “Pressure” are great, but this added depth brings so much more to this wonderful record. Simz’ opinion on the world is also present throughout, and the overwhelming negative view on the current state of things manages not to be a drag on the album and in fact works in its favor.

Artists like Kendrick Lamar and Lauryn Hill celebrated Simz in 2017, and they proved to be completely correct, as the production, lyrics and pretty much everything else are perfect on this album. This is one of those albums that most people will recognize on year-end lists, but once they give it a listen, they will completely understand why it’s there.  —Owen Paiva

13. “Social Cues” – Cage the Elephant

The veteran rock band originally from Kentucky has proven that it has only gotten better with age following the release of its latest album “Social Cues.” Cage the Elephant broke onto the scene in 2008 with a self-titled album that was full of testosterone but also featured awkward half-singing, half-spoken word vocals from lead singer Matt Shultz. Since then, the band has softened its sound and improved its songwriting, truly breaking out with 2013’s “Melophobia.”

In terms of overall quality, however, “Social Cues,” may have proved itself to be Cage the Elephant’s best album. A majority of the 13 songs focus on lead singer Shultz’s divorce and the death of three of his close friends. This gives the album a raw sound without compromising the band’s instrumental quality.

The song “House of Glass,” featuring overloaded shedding guitars and a thumping bassline, sounds tortured in a sense, as Shultz sings about his “isolation.” Other highlights include the opening track “Broken Boy,” a fast-paced song in which the lead singer provides possibly the greatest line of the album, “Tell me why I’m forced to live in this skin?/I’m an alien, just an alien.” It’s an incredibly sobering line for a longtime self-described outcast in personal crisis.

Much of the album is not as frenetic as the two aforementioned tracks, but there is no escaping what is an incredibly somber album. The song “The War Is Over” showcases a downtrodden keyboard riff and some of the most hopeless lyrics imaginable.

What is most striking about the album is Shultz’s singing. What was once an overly raspy, monotone voice has developed innuendo. There is more emotion in his voice than ever before. Granted, most of that emotion is quite depressing, but it still makes for an incredibly compelling album.  —Jim Krueger

14. “All My Heroes Are Cornballs” – JPEGMAFIA

Unique. JPEGMAFIA, or Peggy as fans call him, has this unique style to him. It can make his music very “love it or hate it.” However, his third album, “All My Heroes are Cornballs,” picks up from where his equally good 2018 album “Veteran” left off. Peggy’s production on this album is surreal. Largely self-produced, the mix of lighter instrumentals with guitars and other strings mixed with heavier beats and glitch/noise rap styling works so well together.

Peggy built off the groundwork he laid on “Veteran,” taking that rough glitchy sound and refining it a bit: Not in terms of its sound but rather how he utilized it. Peggy manages to keep his sound and style fresh on this project while still maintaining an aura of familiarity.

Peggy’s rapping, and more surprisingly, his singing, are both fantastic on this project, showing range for an already unique artist. Peggy really gives his thoughts on the current state of rap and his position in it in a unique way while touching on the same themes of being an air-force veteran from his last album. JPEGMAFIA is one of the brightest of the newer hip-hop stars, and “All My Heroes Are Cornballs” cements that status.  —Owen Paiva

15. “uknowhatimsayin¿” – Danny Brown

Danny Brown broke his three-year drought without the release of a full-length project, returning by bolstering a new look. Brown ditched his signature eccentric haircut and missing tooth, switching to a clean buzzcut and a fresh set of veneers. This new image reflects the maturity of the now 40-year-old rapper. But don’t be fooled. “Never look back, I would never change up,” states Brown on the intro to his latest project.

The fifth studio album for the Detroit rapper, “uknowhatimsayin¿” comes nearly nine years since his breakout project, “XXX.” “XXX” was characterized by Brown’s unorthodox flows, his colorful punchlines, and “x-rated” content. The overall sound of Brown’s projects has developed over his career. His album “Atrocity Exhibition” displays his motivation to experiment and push the boundaries of conventional rap, while “uknowhatimsayin¿” reflects his growth over time while remaining true to his roots.

Brown has vocalized himself that he wants to focus on the quality of his music. “uknowhatimsayin¿” was produced by Q-Tip and features some complex beats. Danny Brown links up on “3 Tearz” with Run the Jewels, whom he has collaborated with in the past. Other features listed on the track list are from Obongjayar, JPEGMAFIA and Blood Orange, which reflect the alternative style in which Brown approaches this project.

The album is relatively short for a full-length project, as it only contains 11 tracks with a total runtime of 34 minutes. Again, Brown has been focusing on quality over quantity. Despite the album breaking away from conventional means and experimenting with beats some would find odd, “uknowhatimsayin¿” is ultimately an easy listen, even for first-time listeners. This is because Brown raps more conversationally on this project and begins to stray away from his signature, erratic delivery.  —Connor Trask

 

Connor Trask is a senior majoring in telecommunications. To contact him, email cst5140@psu.edu.

Jim Krueger is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email kruegerjim19@gmail.com.

William Roche is a junior majoring in film-video. To contact him, email wtr5043@psu.edu.

Jerome Taylor is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jerometaylor91697@gmail.com.

Jade Campos is a sophomore majoring in print/digital journalism. To contact her, email jmc7727@psu.edu.

Caleb Wilfinger is a senior majoring in print journalism and political science. To contact him, email caleb.wilfinger@gmail.com.

About the Contributors

Owen Paiva's photo

Owen Paiva

Junior / Film/Video

Owen Paiva is Junior majoring in Film/Video. He currently serves as a Social Media Director at CommRadio as well as a Sports Production Intern at WPSU. He previously hosted the talk show “Reel Talk” for the last two years, and used to write articles for the Arts Department. If you want to contact him, email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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Jerome Taylor

Senior / Broadcast Journalism

Jerome Taylor currently serves as one of two Arts & Entertainment Managers for CommRadio. He currently serves as a host for the department’s flagship radio show, “The Nittany Record Club.” He has also written several album reviews and has contributed to several lists that the department has produced. Jerome has also served as a beat writer and producer for several Penn State sports including, lacrosse, volleyball, and basketball. After graduation Jerome hopes to work in the broadcast journalism field covering sports or entertainment. Follow him on twitter (@ThatGuy_Rome) or email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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Jade Campos

Sophomore / Print/Digital Journalism

Jade Campos is a sophomore from Caroline, Virginia. She is a Director of the Arts and Entertainment department of CommRadio and a co-host on the talk show “The Nittany Record Club” alongside Jim Krueger.  Along with CommRadio, Jade is currently a General Arts reporter with the Daily Collegian as well. In the past, she has written for College Magazine and The Virginia Connection. Currently, she is a social media intern with CommAgency where she creates and curates social media content for a client. To contact her, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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CalebWilfinger

Senior / Journalism & Political Science

Caleb is a writer and contributor for the Arts Department at CommRadio. He is an avid lover of music and film, and spends way too much time listening to music and watching movies. To contact Caleb, send an email to: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)