Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
The best albums of 2019: The ballots

The best albums of 2019: The ballots

Graphic: Natalie Peeples

The A.V. Club’s list of 2019’s best albums was determined by 12 critics, who each submitted a ranked ballot of their top 10 to 20 records of the year. Those ballots can be found below, some with annotations providing insight into their choices.

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Jenny Hval, The Practice Of Love artwork
Jenny Hval, The Practice Of Love artwork

Kelsey J. Waite

Top 10 LPs

1. Jenny Hval, The Practice Of Love
2. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Ghosteen
3. Solange, When I Get Home
4. Cate Le Bon, Reward
5. Barker, Utility
6. Thom Yorke, Anima
7. Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising
8. Jenny Lewis, On The Line
9. Floating Points, Crush
10. Teebs, Anicca

The next 10

11. Angel Bat Dawid, The Oracle
12. Aldous Harding, Designer
13. Little Simz, Grey Area
14. Aleksi Perala, Sunshine 3
15. James Blake, Assume Form
16. Flying Lotus, Flamagra
17. Alessandro Cortini, Volume Massimo
18. Holly Herndon, Proto
19. Toro Y Moi, Outer Peace
20. HARRIETT, HARRIETT

Top 5 EPs

1. Andy Stott, It Should Be Us
2. Four Tet, Anna Painting
3. Kelly Lee Owens, “Let It Go”/“Omen”
4. Haai, Windows Down, Systems Up
5. Charlotte Gainsbourg, Rest

Top 5 singles

1. Missy Elliott, “Throw It Back”
2. Rosalía, “Aute Cuture”
3. Jenny Lewis, “Dogwood”
4. Roísín Murphy, “Incapable”
5. James Blake, “Can’t Believe The Way We Flow”

Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy! artwork
Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy! artwork

Baraka Kaseko

Top 10 LPs

1. Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy!
2. Dave, Psychodrama
3. Tyler The Creator, Igor
4. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Bandana
5. Anderson Paak, Ventura
6. Brittany Howard, Jaime
7. Ari Lennox, Shea Butter Baby
8. Sir, Chasing Summer
9. Rapsody, Eve
10. Goldlink, Diaspora

Top 5 singles

1. Lil Nas X, “Panini”
2. Ari Lennox, “BMO”
3. Beyoncé ft. Blue Ivy, Saint Jhn, and WizKid, “Brown Skin Girl”
4. Tyler, The Creator, “Earfquake”
5. Dave ft. Burna Boy, “Location”

Nick Cave, Ghosteen artwork
Nick Cave, Ghosteen artwork

Katie Rife

Top 10 LPs

1. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Ghosteen
2. Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising
3. FKA Twigs, Magdalene
4. Jenny Hval, The Practice Of Love
5. Orville Peck, Pony
6. Julia Jacklin, Crushing
7. Megan Thee Stallion, Fever
8. Angel Olsen, All Mirrors
9. Sleater-Kinney, The Center Won’t Hold
10. Mannequin Pussy, Patience

The next 10

11. Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy!
12. Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell!
13. Michael Kiwanuka, Kiwanuka
14. Joan Shelley, Like The River Loves The Sea
15. Sharon Van Etten, Remind Me Tomorrow
16. PUP, Morbid Stuff
17. Palehound, Black Friday
18. Ezra Furman, Twelve Nudes
19. Hand Habits, Placeholder
20. Lizzo, Cuz I Love You

Top single

Palehound, “Aaron”

Trans peoples’ bodies are too often sites of violation and humiliation, whether they’re being tossed around as political footballs or subjected to invasive questions from strangers. That’s why it’s important for songs like Palehound’s “Aaron,” a tender love song for a trans man, to exist as a healing counterpoint. Palehound lead singer Ellen Kempner wrote the song for her partner in the midst of his transition, expressing her unconditional love when she sings, “You sing your song with your back turned to me / Your body’s shaking, voice certain and still / And if closing my eyes will help you turn around, Aaron / I will, I will, I will, I will…” Those last two repeated words, delivered in a thin but urgent soprano, contain a rainbow of emotions: Kempner’s sadness at Aaron’s pain, her desire to soothe his alienation and insecurity, and her willingness to do whatever it takes to make things okay. Backed by a simple acoustic guitar line that builds with layers of arpeggios and cymbal brushes into a joyous, open-hearted tumult, the song’s triumphant ending suggests that while life may be difficult for Aaron right now, with love and time, everything will be all right. [Katie Rife]

Brittany Howard, Jaime artwork
Brittany Howard, Jaime artwork

Shannon Miller

Top 10 LPs

1. Brittany Howard, Jaime
2. Little Simz, Grey Area
3. Anderson Paak, Ventura
4. Tank And The Bangas, Green Balloon
5. Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
6. Megan Thee Stallion, Fever
7. Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats, Anger Management
8. YNB Cordae, The Lost Boy
9. Lizzo, Cuz I Love You
10. Anna Wise, As If It Were Forever

The next 10

11. Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy!
12. FKA Twigs, Magdalene
13. Solange, When I Get Home
14. Ari Lennox, Shea Butter Baby
15. BTS, Map Of The Soul: Persona
16. James Blake, Assume Form
17. Tyler The Creator, Igor
18. H.E.R., I Used To Know Her
19. Denzel Curry, Zuu
20. Toro Y Moi, Outer Peace

Top 5 EPs

1. Missy Elliott, Iconology
2. Seventeen, You Made My Dawn 
3. Blackpink, Kill This Love
4. Miguel, Te Lo Dije
5. Benee, Fire On Marzz

Top 5 singles

1. Tierra Whack, “Unemployed”
2. Taeyeon, “Four Seasons”
3. BTS, “Make It Right (Feat. Lauv)”
4. Cardi B, “Press”
5. Labrinth & Zendaya, “All For Us”

FKA Twigs, Magdalene artwork
FKA Twigs, Magdalene artwork

Danette Chavez

Top 10 LPs

1. Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy!
2. FKA Twigs, Magdalene
3. Andrew Bird, My Finest Work Yet
4. Cuco, Para Mi
5. Jenny Lewis, On The Line
6. Esteman, Amor Libre
7. Bad Bunny and J. Balvin, Oasis
8. The Mountain Goats, In League With Dragons
9. Lizzo, Cuz I Love You
10. Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

The National, I Am Easy To Find artwork
The National, I Am Easy To Find artwork

Randall Colburn

Top 10 LPs

1. The National, I Am Easy To Find
2. Martha, Love Keeps Kicking
3. PUP, Morbid Stuff
4. Emily Reo, Only You Can See It
5. Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy!
6. King Princess, Cheap Queen
7. Mike Adams At His Honest Weight, There Is No Feeling Better
8. Girlpool, What Chaos Is Imaginary
9. Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising
10. Purple Mountains, Purple Mountains

The next 10

11. Slaughter Beach Dog, Safe And Also No Fear
12. (Sandy) Alex G, House Of Sugar
13. Charly Bliss, Young Enough
14. M83, DSVII
15. That Dog, Old LP
16. Pronoun, I’ll Show You Stronger
17. Big Nothing, Chris
18. Vivian Girls, Memory
19. Blanck Mass, Animated Mild Violence
20. Yohuna, Mirroring

Top EP

Spirit Night, Two Songs

Songwriter Dylan Balliett, formerly of The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, has been releasing solo material as Spirit Night for roughly a decade, but these songs are the first to creep online since 2016’s Shame, an incredible LP about addiction and depression he reissued last year. Backed by wistful guitars and a muscular beat, “Everywhere I’ve Gone” evokes Shame in its exploration of the persistence of past regret in a new city. “Angelica,” meanwhile, is a cloudy, lovesick anthem illustrating how logic often rings empty in the throes of heartache. Both are gorgeous and evocative enough to tide us over until the next LP.

Top 5 Singles

1. Stormzy, “Vossi Bop”
Tight, angular, and utterly intoxicating. The perfect vessel for one of the most singular flows in hip-hop. Also, Idris Elba!

2. Slaughter Beach Dog, “Black Oak”
This sprawling standout from the Modern Baseball spin-off begins as a compelling bit of gothic folk before a knotty, somnambulant riff ushers the listener (and the characters) into something more turbulent and dreamlike.

3. Lala Lala featuring WHY?, “Siren 042”
Best lyric of the year: “And I’m sorry I was evil / I don’t do that anymore.”

4. Mallrat, “Nobody’s Home”
Few modern voices chill me out as much as Australian pop singer Mallrat. I could listen to the last 30 seconds of this song forever.

5. Big Nothing, “Waste My Time”
Play this ferocious, big-hearted banger for anyone who tries to tell you rock is dead/lame/irrelevant.

Alex McLevy

Sharon Van Etten, Remind Me Tomorrow artwork
Sharon Van Etten, Remind Me Tomorrow artwork

Top 10 LPs

1. Sharon Van Etten, Remind Me Tomorrow
2. Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
3. Ex:Re, Ex:Re
4. Charly Bliss, Young Enough
5. DJ Shadow, Our Pathetic Age
6. Lizzo, Cuz I Love You
7. Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell!
8. Mannequin Pussy, Patience
9. Pile, Green & Grey
10. FKA Twigs, Magdalene

The next 10

11. Brutus, Nest
12. Marika Hackman, Any Human Friend
13. Pup, Morbid Stuff
14. Imperial Teen, Now We Are Timeless
15. KODM, LP
16. Versus, Ex Voto
17. Petrol Girls, Cut & Stitch
18. Jenny Hval, The Practice Of Love
19. Big Thief, Two Hands
20. [Tie] Ariana Grande, Thank U, Next + Taylor Swift, Lover

Top 5 EPs

1. LPX, Junk Of The Heart
2. Gabriela Marlena, Manners
3. Pom Pom Squad, Ow
4. Tierra Whack, “Whack History Month”
5. Miley Cyrus, She Is Coming

Top 5 singles

1. Katy Perry, “Never Really Over”
2. Billie Eilish, “Bad Guy”/“You Should See Me In A Crown”
3. Lizzo, “Soulmate”/“Juice”
4. DJ Shadow feat. De La Soul, “Rocket Fuel”
5. Charlie XCX & Christine + The Queens, “Gone”

Top 5 reissues

1. Miles Davis, The Complete Birth Of The Cool
2. Stereolab, the complete ’90s-output reissues
3. REM, Monster
4. The Joy Formidable, A Balloon Called Moaning
5. The Frogs, It’s Only Right And Natural

Potty Mouth, Snafu artwork
Potty Mouth, Snafu artwork

Annie Zaleski

Top 10 LPs

1. Potty Mouth, Snafu
2. Taylor Swift, Lover
3. Ride, This Is Not A Safe Place
4. SWMRS, Berkeley’s On Fire
5. Desperate Journalist, In Search Of The Miraculous
6. Miranda Lambert, Wildcard
7. Jade Bird, Jade Bird
8. Jenny Lewis, On The Line
9. Ariana Grande, Thank U, Next
10. The Menzingers, Hello Exile

The next 10

11. Apex Manor, Heartbreak City
12. Filthy Friends, Emerald Valley
13. Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising
14. Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
15.Silversun Pickups, Widow’s Weeds
16. Brittany Howard, Jaime
17. The New Pornographers, In the Morse Code of Brake Lights
18. Signals Midwest, Pin
19. Ex Hex, It’s Real
20. Miss June, Bad Luck Party

Top single

Sturgill Simpson,“A Good Look”
Sturgill Simpson is known for being a serious country artist, so when his new album SOUND & FURY included the song “A Good Look,” it caused a bit of whiplash. A disco tune doused in gasoline and set on fire—or ZZ Top taking their synth-heavy ’80s blues forays to even further extremes—the song is funky, fickle, and danceable.

Top reissue

R.E.M., Monster
Although Monster was once dismissively categorized as the CD most commonly found in used record stores, the album has accrued more respect and depth as it’s aged. That might not be obvious from the buzzsawing, glammy sound—it’s by far R.E.M.’s loudest record—but the reissue goes a long way to underscoring why Monster is now being hailed as a before-its-time collection. The deluxe reissue’s stellar live concert, intriguing demos, and a new remix from original producer Scott Litt—the latter of which has polarized fans—prove that Monster remains an album that sparks nuanced conversations.

Solange, When I Get Home artwork
Solange, When I Get Home artwork

Clayton Purdom

Top 10 LPs

1. FKA Twigs, Magdalene
2. Solange, When I Get Home
3. Barker, Utility
4. Jenny Hval, The Practice Of Love
5. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Bandana
6. Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy!
7. Earl Sweatshirt, Feet Of Clay
8. CFCF, Liquid Colours
9. Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats, Anger Management
10. Danny Brown, uknowhatimsayin¿

The next 10

11. Maxo, Lil Big Man
12. Leif, Loom Dream
13. Teebs, Anicca
14. Bon Iver, i,i
15. Denzel Curry, ZUU
16. Pivot Gang, You Can’t Sit With Us
17. Fennesz, Agora
18. Megan Thee Stallion, Fever
19. Gang Starr, One Of The Best Yet
20. Clams Casino, Moon Trip Radio

Top EP

Benny The Butcher, The Plugs I Met

Top single

NLE Choppa, “Shotta Flow”

Top reissue

Jai Paul, Leak 04-13 (Does this count? If not, then the Duster box set)

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Bandana artwork
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Bandana artwork

Mosi Reeves

Top 10 LPs

1. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Bandana
Not as earth-shattering as Piñata, but it’s more consistent and self-assured. Hate Gibbs’ line on “Palmolive” that promotes anti-vaxxer nonsense, though.

2. Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell!
It’s as close as she has comes to making the Great American Album. “Venice Bitch” is truly a thing of beauty.

3. Young Thug, So Much Fun
It is a lot of fun… if talking about greatness, your attractiveness to women, and making the Forbes billionaires list is your thing.

4. Santi, Mandy & The Jungle
This is the personification of the alté movement in the Afropop scene. Not as overhyped as Rema’s EPs or as sophisticated as Burna Boy, but it’s still incredibly infectious.

5. Vagabon, Vagabon
An electronic indie-pop gem with some very sharp melodies. Not every song sticks, but the experience does.

6. Crumb, Jinx
These songs are effortlessly minimalist slacker grooves. (I guess referring to something as “slacker” dates me, but it seems appropriate here.)

7. Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
The first half is full of drowsily ironic SoundCloud bangers. More startling is the second half, when she surprisingly becomes as emotionally sincere as any pop balladeer.

8. Purple Mountains, Purple Mountains
“Nights That Won’t Happen” is certainly one of the saddest songs in recent memory.

9. Dâm-Funk, STFU II
Mainstream critics may ignore Dâm-Funk as the greatest innovator of modern funk, but true devotees of the genre are paying attention.

10. Raphael Saadiq, Jimmy Lee
If only aging soul musicians were honored with as much consistency as, say, older rockers like David Berman, then this heartbreakingly autobiographical look at a man who loses his life to drug addiction would earn the widespread year-end acclaim it deserves.

The next 10 (unranked)

King Princess, Cheap Queen
Teebs, Anicca
Da Baby, Baby on Baby
Galcher Lustwerk, Information
Ariana Grande, Thank U, Next
Danny Brown, uknowwhatimsayin¿
Floating Points, Crush
Quelle Chris, Guns
Westside Gunn, Flygod Is an Awesome God
H.E.R., I Used to Know Her

Angel Olsen, All Mirrors artwork
Angel Olsen, All Mirrors artwork

Max Freedman

Top 10 LPs

1. Angel Olsen, All Mirrors
All Mirrors is Angel Olsen’s first album to include strings, but instead of relegating her 14-piece orchestra to the periphery, she tasks her studio players with crafting her eerie synth-rock songs’ backbones, which are as visceral as her incomparably hair-rising vibrato.

2. Cate Le Bon, Reward
Cate Le Bon wrote these songs on piano instead of her usual guitar, a shift that results in a dawn-time indie-rock album as newly accessible as it is stuffed with her signature angular rigidity.

3. Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising
Just like the rising tides of which Natalie Mering warns, strings flood her hymnal, faintly psychedelic folk-pop arrangements as she confronts climate change with hope rather than powerlessness.

4. SASAMI, SASAMI
On her acrid debut album, Sasami Ashworth incisively recounts breakups over bitter guitar riffs and finds tranquility in the tumult.

5. FKA Twigs, Magdalene
FKA Twigs untwists her long-warped beats, lays bare her (very) public heartbreak, places her voice in the front of the mix, and never once sacrifices the established hallmarks of her eternally ahead-of-the-curve production.

6. Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell!
In transitioning from melancholy trap-pop to just-as-melancholy Laurel Canyon soft rock, one of the decade’s most divisive pop stars delivers a lovelorn, apocalyptic set that lingers throughout its 67 minutes, and then long after.

7. Nilüfer Yanya, Miss Universe
A self-help bot narrates interludes throughout Miss Universe, but Nilüfer Yanya doesn’t need the assist—her Sade-lite croon and inability to write anything less than a razor-sharp hook make her debut album impossible to quit whether she’s in bedroom-pop, grunge, or R&B mode.

8. Common Holly, When I Say To You Black Lightning
Brigitte Naggar matches stories about how trauma spirals our lives into disarray with folk-rock arrangements that unfurl just as disorientingly.

9. Jenny Hval, The Practice Of Love
Jenny Hval is among the last artists whom listeners might expect to drop a collection of ’90s-inspired techno bangers, but that’s exactly what The Practice Of Love is—and Hval’s signature abstractions about life’s oddities and mundanities aren’t lost to her newfound accessibility.

10. Kim Gordon, No Home Record
After 38 years of co-fronting no-wave and noise-rock bands (most notably, of course, Sonic Youth), Kim Gordon flies solo for her first time, and as she toys with abrasive electronic and industrial textures, she’s rarely sounded better.

The next 10

11. Stella Donnelly, Beware Of The Dogs
Stella Donnelly presents a winning case for staying sprightly (save a sprinkling of distraught balladry) while telling the world’s myriad abusive men to literally fuck off and die.

12. Marika Hackman, Any Human Friend
The pulsating electronics of new wave have led to many a hip-shaking dance-floor moment, and Marika Hackman’s embrace of the genre might be its most sexually liberated moment yet, with abundant odes to masturbation and middle fingers to heteronormativity.

13. Black Midi, Schlagenheim
When Black Midi heard the widespread allegations that rock was dead, the British foursome took its corpse and rushed it with hefty electric currents of bizarre time signatures, dance-inducing start-stop-start-again guitar riffs, and drumming so technically proficient it borders on AI.

14. KAINA, Next To The Sun
A first-generation Latinx person, Chicago artist KAINA’s background suffuses her elegant, jazzy pop debut while her soothing, gorgeous voice delivers sermons about feeling unmotivated and lost in the backward currents of the modern day.

15. Brittany Howard, Jaime
In flying solo, Alabama Shakes frontperson Brittany Howard turns the experimentation of her band’s previous album, Sound & Color, up to 11 and delivers a quick, fiery set of loosely rock-ish anthems about love, race, and resistance all bound by her shape-shifting voice.

16. Blanck Mass, Animated Violence Mild
The album title says it all: Even though Fuck Buttons member Benjamin John Power’s long-form, metal-dashed raves remain vicious, his latest LP is his liveliest, least aggressive collection yet.

17. Priests, The Seduction Of Kansas
The band responsible for arguably the decade’s best punk debut steps back a bit from the term “punk” and ventures through more subdued rock sounds, never once turning its lens from its long-established focus on the widespread lie known as the American Dream.

18. Sir Babygirl, Crush On Me
Overt bubblegum pop one second and snarling pop rock the next, Sir Babygirl’s debut sees the outwardly queer artist queering not just the sounds comprising long-established genres, but the boundaries among these styles too, rarely sounding less than ecstatic in the process.

19. TEEN, Good Fruit
TEEN’s fourth album would ultimately wind up being its last, and what a note to go out on: This is the band’s hookiest set by an order of magnitude, with rocketing synthpop songs striking just as potently as psychedelic ballads whether trauma or love (or both) is the focus.

20. (Sandy) Alex G, House Of Sugar
Philly’s resident musical weirdo refines the rough experimentation of 2015’s Beach Music and advances the country-inflected creaking of 2017’s Rocket Music on a collection rife with the vaguely detailed yet hauntingly familiar character sketches that have defined his squawking ditties from day one.

Top EP

Guerilla Toss, What Would The Odd Do?
Guerilla Toss’ earliest releases were noisy, fanged barrages of joyous psychedelia under which frontperson Kassie Carlson buried abstract lyrics. Newest release What Would the Odd Do?, which boasts Carlson’s most personal and transparent lyrics to date, is the culmination of the group’s gradual journey toward easing back its bombast without sacrificing its hallucinogenics and immense grooves. Whether atop the skronking pulse of “Plants” or the slowly sprawling funk of “Land Where Money’s Nightmare Lives,” Carlson vividly details her recovery from her long-hidden opiate addiction, and her band sounds equally clear while retaining its longtime frantic core.

Top 5 Singles

1. Angel Olsen, “Lark”
2. FKA Twigs, “Cellophane”
3. Cate Le Bon, “Daylight Matters”
4. Georgia, “About Work The Dancefloor”
5. Kelly Lee Owens, “Let It Go”

Jens Lekman and Annika Norlin, Correspondence artwork
Jens Lekman and Annika Norlin, Correspondence artwork

Brian Howe

Top 10 LPs

1. Jens Lekman and Annika Norlin, Correspondence
2. FKA Twigs, Magdalene
3. Floating Points, Crush
4. William Brittelle, Spiritual America
5. Jenny Hval, The Practice Of Love
6. Black Taffy, Elder Mantis
7. Solange, When I Get Home
8. James Blake, Assume Form
9. RAP, Export
10. Bill Callahan, Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest

Top 5 reissues

1. Arthur Russell, Iowa Dream
2. Richard Buckner, Dents And Shells
3. R.E.M., Monster
4. Brian Eno, Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks – Extended Edition
5. Everything But The Girl, Amplified Heart

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