30. Lightning Bolt – Sonic Citadel
29. Jimmy Eat World – Surviving
Emo bands aren’t known for ageing gracefully because it’s pretty hard to channel adolescent existential angst while in your 30s and 40s, not to mention slightly embarrassing. Jimmy Eat World are the exception to the rule, mainly because they hopped off the cresting emo wave in the mid-2000s in order to turn into a more mature power-pop band dealing with the problems of adulthood. While that may have affected their commercial success, it also means that, more than two decades into their career, they’re arguably far more relevant than any of their peers. It turns out we all had to grow up a little bit in order to learn to appreciate them again, but now that we have, we can all grow old together. And if Surviving is any indication of what the future holds, we’ll still be rocking out pretty hard from time-to-time. –SitarHero
28. Shadow of Intent – Melancholy
What makes Melancholy work so well is how Shadow of Intent attack melody as hard as they do heaviness. Deathcore can be a notoriously difficult genre to nail; cries of stagnation are abundant, but to stray too far away from the established formula only invites jeers of inauthenticity. Somewhere between the feral bellows of vocalist Ben Duerr, the melodeath-inspired fretwork of Chris Wiseman, and symphonic bombast that cloaks it all, Melancholy strikes that precarious balance that makes it work at once. It would be misleading to claim there is anything too revolutionary at work here — worn metal fans have heard these elements at play together before — but Shadow of Intent do what they do so well, it’s hard to tell the difference. –TheSpirit
27. Thank You Scientist – Terraformer
If the rankings on this list were based on the sheer number of notes played, then Terraformer would probably be the easy number one. Eighty-four minutes of Thank You Scientist’s signature brand of hyperactive jazz, funk, and disco-influenced, mathy progressive rock is a lot to take in, and to be completely honest, the album could have used just a little bit of (additional?) trimming. But ambition like this can’t easily be contained. Moments like the breakcore breakdown in “Birdwatching” and the multitude of show-stopping solos on the instrumental “Chromology” point to a band that are somehow still growing as composers and instrumentalists and expanding their palette of sounds, while vocalist Salvatore Marrano turns in his most consistently confident and catchy performance. Perhaps we should consider ourselves lucky that the band managed to trim their set down to under the double-vinyl maximum of ninety minutes. –SitarHero
26. Black Midi – Schlagenheim
Black Midi have landed in 2019 like a goddamned meteorite. With an explosive KEXP performance, these four gentlemen from London didn’t take long to sign a record deal with Rough Trade. I honestly didn’t know anything about them until I streamed said performance. The first thing that struck me was how young these lads where. It takes years of fine-tuning and trial and error for any new band or artist to find a sound of their own, let alone to come up with something remotely creative at this point in music history. But there they were, an absolute madman on drums carrying the torch, guitars being twisted, deranged vocals and lyrics that melted the mic stand as acid melts a steel bar. Schlagenheim is the posthumous form of post punk, defiled with math and noise rock while it still breathes and kicks its coffin. Remember that Joker scene dancing down the staircase? He was thinking of “953”. That fired-up speech by Greta Thunberg at the U.N.’s Climate Action Summit in New York? She had just been jamming “Bmbmbm” in her dressing room on REPEAT. If Black Midi are capable of something like Schlagenheim in their 20s, be afraid of what they will fire at you ten years from now. –Dewinged
25. Thom Yorke – ANIMA
ANIMA‘s screen counterpart filled in the alien soundscapes of the record with images of apocalyptic cityscapes and rhythmic dancers, all moving in a mechanic synchronicity reminiscent of the 21st century hell Yorke’s band Radiohead have been warning us of for decades now. And while this is unquestionably a dark record, it offers far more instances of hope than the majority of their offerings; the aptly titled “Dawn Chorus” serves as such a beautiful sonic sunrise that it’s near-impossible to escape its unnerving mix of warmth and coldness. This record gets under your skin. Not just through its eerily noirish tones, such as on the brilliant closer “Runwayaway”, but also through its bittersweet message: yes, our lives are hellish loops that we’re doomed to repeat for eternity, but we’re given meaning through our friendships and relationships. And that even when those falter, they’re the closest thing to a purpose that we’ll ever have. And that has to be enough. –neekafat
24. Glass Beach – The First Glass Beach Album
23. Liturgy – H.A.Q.Q.
It was easy to laugh when Hunter Hunt-Hendrix first coined the term “transcendental black metal” in 2011, especially when his only claim to the title at the time was Liturgy’s sophomore effort, Aesthetica. It’s not that it wasn’t a good album -– I would argue it was great — but despite its post-hardcore leanings, introduction of the ‘burst beat’, and philosophically-charged lyricism, it just did not execute these traits on a scale grand enough to establish itself as a piece worthy of such a lofty title. But to put it simply, Liturgy’s latest, H.A.Q.Q., does. Returning after a lengthy four year silence and the uber-experimental Ark Work, H.A.Q.Q. stands as a culmination of everything Liturgy have ever aspired to be. From the jagged, start-stop rhythms of “H.A.J.J.” and the exultant bells and chimes that ring in the introduction of “PASAQALIA” to the glitchy electronic outbursts seen throughout the record as a whole, the band’s ability to execute risky and boundary-pushing techniques has finally met up with their ambition to do so. Black metal no longer belongs to corpse-painted ghouls and knife-wielding nerds, and in more ways than one, it just feels right that Liturgy would drop H.A.Q.Q. right at the end decade, showing us the progression the genre has endured in the passed ten years, as well as what we can expect to see in the ten that follow. –TheSpirit
22. Great Grandpa – Four of Arrows
My great grandpa was a smelterman; from what I understand, he worked harder than most. He asked for less and gave more. He was a classy dude who wore cardigans and let me beat him at poker for real money so that I could afford to buy my first bicycle. There was never a doubt that his fridge would be stocked with mini cans of Tree-Top apple juice and ginger ale for our Friday visits. He is the only person I have ever known of whom I do not have a single unpleasant memory.
But what kind of name is Great Grandpa for a rock band anyway? At first glance, a poor one. It does nothing to suggest the uplifting majesty felt when a violin soars above the arpeggiated chords of an acoustic guitar while both simultaneously seek resolution (“English Garden”). There is little reason to believe the group’s songs might erupt into feedback-laden fits of frenzy (“Digger”, “Dark Green Water”), or devolve into stark and somber laments (pretty much every bridge or coda). Certainly nothing about the name Great Grandpa suggests the presence of genius. Nonetheless, the band create a meticulously-crafted brand of alt rock seemingly engineered with maximum emotional resonance in mind. The compositions are well-constructed, tastefully adorned, and serve to complement the earnest performances of the musicians. Slide guitar and sympathetic strings swirl and delight without ever clamoring for attention. The tempo throughout the album is that of a lively stroll with just a hint of adventure. So yes, at first glance, Great Grandpa is a poor band name — immaterial at best. But this thought belies the depth of the experience cultivated in Four of Arrows.
Those of us fortunate enough to have felt the love of a great-grandparent may attribute certain qualities to them. In my case: stoicism, kindness, acceptance, warmth. My feelings about Great Grandpa and my great grandfather seem to occupy the same emotional space. There is a deep pool of reverence for life not lived but vicariously felt. Vocalist Alex Menne translates the stories she and her fellow musicians choose to share in a manner that cuts to the quick. It matters little whether the words were born of a personal experience (“Tip Jar”) or torn from the pages of a bandmate’s diary (“Rosalie”, “Split Up For The Kids”), Menne’s delicately wavering voice carries profound psychic weight. It’s almost as if she internalizes the events depicted — letting them wholly wash over her very being — only to mystically return them to the world for greater consumption and understanding through the gift of song. It should come as little surprise to those who have been affected by this album that particularly grueling recording sessions would sometimes conclude with Menne retreating to cry and regain composure in a nearby room alone (as revealed in a Stereogum article earlier this year). Four of Arrows casts a reflection of life’s ineffable mysteries (and the triumphs and foibles that surround) in a way that feels personal and authentic. It encapsulates a wizened sense of acceptance for a world glorious in its utter indifference to the human condition. Or, as the group themselves offer, “Mono No Aware”. It lends this writer to believe that life is to be experienced and shared, if not to be understood. For that, the name Great Grandpa is earned, and Four of Arrows is a life-affirming success. –WatchItExplode
21. PUP – Morbid Stuff
PUP are a band that inspire extreme devotion and elicit an overly-eager emotional reaction from fans who hang on their every word. I’m in no way immune to this effect; upon release, I almost immediately hailed Morbid Stuff as “the best pop-punk album ever” and a “special and shocking achievement”. While this seems like the kind of overblown reaction destined to bring diminishing returns as you chase the original high of that initial listen, spending more time with these songs has only deepened my kinship with Morbid Stuff. Continuing on from the unfettered success of their previous releases, PUP decide to change things up here, incorporating everything from working class blues anthems speckled with harmonica to noise-rock explosions corralling into metallic grooves. Of course, the band are more adept than ever at deliciously spiteful spurts of uber-catchy punk melodicism, but by branching out, they’ve made a release that can be lovingly embraced by the stalwart PUP faithful while spreading their influence and name to an even bigger audience than they already command. Succinctly put, PUP are your favorite band — you just don’t know it yet. –Slex
20. Vi Som Alskade Varandra Sa Mycket – Det Onda. Det Goda. Det Vackra. Det Fula.
As I’ve become more and more drawn to foreign artists this year, I’ve realized the appeal lies in the peculiar elation of displacement I feel in not quite understanding, making these albums feel strangely personal, as though they’re speaking a hidden language only I can understand. Grafting my own experiences onto something wholly formed but incomprehensible makes these listening experiences thrilling and singular in a way I simply don’t get with English-speaking music. It allows for a level of nuance and listener participation that keeps me coming back. Det Onda. Det Goda. Det Vackra. Det Fula., however, does not apply to this template at all. This album does not give a single fuck if it’s understood; its volatility and force of purpose transcends language. Det Onda… is simply a barrage of masterfully composed screamo, with perfectly judged buildups leading to molten-hot climaxes of throat-shredding intensity. The way the opener delivers a knee-buckling chorus that lodges itself in your brain regardless of comprehension speaks to the supreme level of craft these guys are operating with. The flow is seamless, with dire peaks and tumultuous valleys, finding a seismically affecting plateau with the exultantly cresting “Ensamhet urholkar sjalen” and the ruthlessly pummeling “Vilse i pannkaken”. Det Onda… takes no prisoners, leading listeners on an unforgettable roller-coaster ride of overwhelming emotion. –Slex
19. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
18. Big Thief – U.F.O.F.
If there ever was an alien invasion and I’d find myself hidden under the bed while the creature scans the room, this is the album I’d default to blast through the speakers in order to pacify any potentially hostile attempt of dissecting me or my cat like frogs in a science class. Not only because Adrienne Lenker’s voice would be the last hope for humanity in such a pickle, and you know it, but because in the very probable scenario that me and my feline friend get fried by a laser beam, at least we’ll honourably be disintegrated to the gracious sound of U.F.O.F. Extraterrestrials aside, Big Thief have almost unanimously owned 2019 with not only one album, but two. By the time Two Hands was released in October, it was already overkill. For a genre as ancient and primal as folk music, Big Thief still managed to write songs that slide into you like pollen in spring. There is a scent that emanates from their music that wraps you up like a soft mantle, while Lenker whispers lullabies and secret spells to switch you off. It’s the naked touch of grass under your feet while the sunlight warms your skin and mountain air gently wipes your cheeks. It’s everything you wanted and then more, the ultimate expression of indie folk and soft rock. And “Jenni”? It’s that parting song that puts this decade to sleep forever. –Dewinged
17. Numenorean – Adore
2019 was definitely a year for ‘big’ sophomore albums, and heavy metal fans were certainly blessed in the year’s earlier months. Adore strode out of the gates with poise and purpose, reveling in the foundation of sound that’s been earmarked by (dare I say it?) Deafheaven-core while adapting to some fluid, natural soundscapes that lean heavily into a more ‘extreme blackened’ sense of songwriting. Tracks like “Horizon” shoot furor amongst blast beats and demonic shrieks, while “And Nothing Was The Same” brings simple melancholy into a near uplifting climb — filling in the void as Numenorean tumble from one variation of the same sound to another. Adore is undeniably versatile, if not somewhat displacing for a casual listener, but has the dexterity to pull off a maturing sound. –Nocte
16. Deathspell Omega – The Furnaces of Palingenesia
The Furnaces of Palingenesia is a fiery slippery slope into the world of dystopian intent. In an age where certain views are getting shunned by even the more extreme devotees to metal, there’s plenty of room for controversy when Deathspell Omega dive into their contextual lyrical base. But you know what? The mastermind behind the woe and despair probably wants that from you. The music itself, however, is almost beyond such narrow reproach. Scaling back some of the sheer dissonance of their past releases has opened the band to new audiences, where they preach the Deathspell Omega brand of snarling visceral black metal and jagged melody. For what it’s worth, The Furnaces of Palingenesia sounds like hell, boiled over and molten in its volatility. –Nocte
15. Counterparts – Nothing Left to Love
Nothing Left to Love is the culmination of every Counterparts release up until this point in time. The band have ultimately reached serenity with their sound. Since the release of their debut heavy hitter Prophets in 2010, the band have gone through a decade of mastering their craft of melodic metalcore better than almost any of their contemporaries. Counterparts have grown to be very comfortable with their branch of melocore without stagnation. Each album the band release improves on the last, and this time is no different. Taking influence from melodic metalcore fathers Misery Signals, this album in a sense is a spiritual successor to 2004’s Of Malice and the Magnum Heart, a timeless classic in the genre.
Nothing Left to Love is fast, heavy, melodically graceful, and most importantly, has a hell of a lot of heart. Every single song hits its mark when it comes to leaving a lasting impression on the listener. From the crushing, whirlwind riffs on “Love Me” to the quiet, subdued tear-jerker that is the closing title track, these two songs also tie into each other, essentially bringing the album full circle. The perfect way to end a perfect record. Do not pass this one up if you are a fan of the band or melodic metalcore in general. –JayEnder
14. La Dispute – Panorama
13. FKA Twigs – Magdalene
The fractured nature of Magdalene simply can’t be overstated; it is so thematically essential and physically pertinent to the entire makeup of the album, a twisted spiderweb of broken gasps and stumbling pirouettes. Whereas LP1 was a simmering liminal fever dream of assertive sensuality and surreal menacing implications, Magdalene is the boil over. The grotesque album art broadcasts this simply enough in comparison to LP1‘s skewered yet cherubic cover, but the album proper burrows decidedly deeper into newly unguarded manifestations of emotional and physical anguish. Emerging out of a period of silence borne from a string of brutally public breakups and an intensely painful ordeal in which an ovarian cyst compromised twigs’ very womanhood (and livelihood, being a classically trained dancer yet unable to perform), Magdalene is a forceful reclamation of autonomy and self-care. With complete respect to the likes of Charli and Carly, Magdalene seems more like a phantom limb companion to the embattled and grief-stricken Thank U, Next: less accessible and more outwardly daring but operating on a similar wavelength of healing in real-time. I’ve seen people dismiss the album as ‘Pitchfork-core’ (as if this meaningless statement isn’t just a bunch of hot air, but anyways), but Magdalene is too unmannered and raw to be so easily dismissed, a dazzlingly alien landscape littered with achingly human stakes. –Slex
12. American Football – American Football (LP3)
LP3 has largely been received as a change of pace for American Football. In keeping with this, here is a vaguely uplifting story about this band and a non-fictional human girl: I had to cross London via one of the weirder tube lines, and practically the only other person in my carriage was a girl holding an assorted bundle of mint CDs/LPs, all of which were American Football albums. The train took a while to start, so to kill the silence I pointed at the largest and bluest item in her stash and made it clear in polite, succinct terms that I was also a fan of said album. Now, she was one of the cuter humans I’ve seen in my life, and I was dying to launch into a series of questions directed towards her American Football craze and the extent to which she thought it was[n’t] a solitary pleasure. But then, she looked down at the LP as though to confirm it was still there before smiling the most radiant smile I have ever seen smiled on the tube at me. The way she held the record seemed like it was the most important thing in the world to her, as though just hearing someone express interest in it was enough to make her radioactively happy. It was one of those pure moments when you can tell someone’s been utterly transported by music (or the thought of music). It was also a little weird, and I could tell our interaction had peaked, so I shut up, cancelled my followup chat, and left her to her personal space and clingfilmed merch reverie; we both got off at the next stop and she waved goodbye, still smiling. I went on my way wondering how an emo album could possibly make a person so happy.
Dipping back into LP3 later, I found myself marvelling at just how blissed out it is, in a way I’d never fully appreciated before; there’s something effortless and beautiful here that renders most of Mike Kinsella’s weary dad-isms mercifully unobtrusive and corresponds a lot more closely to that unexpected subway smile than I first realised. People have been touting its status as a ‘mature’ record (as though that could possibly apply to an album with that opening lyric) and affirming the significance of the now houseless artwork (it’s not an interesting point if the band made it first, guys), but American Football have never been a band worth overthinking — they make music for people with enough on their minds to begin with. LP3, then, is perhaps their most successful album both as an unburdening and as a near-seamless piece of gorgeous music. –JohnnyoftheWell
11. Leprous – Pitfalls
Pitfalls is an ambitious, if somewhat incredibly vocally-led release. Shifting away from their heavily electronic-focused Malina into a display of sweeping melodic prog that showcases Einar Solberg’s impressive range and sheer vocal power at every turn. Given that Solberg is the direct mastermind to Leprous’ newest offering both instrumentally and lyrically, the musical saturation on offer leans towards minimalism, where light piano keys meet cleaner melodies. In this manner, Pitfalls soars where most other acts offer overabundance. “Distant Bells” could easily be considered one of the year’s most uplifting tracks. –Nocte