As 2019 comes to a close, we give you one of our most beloved traditions: our year-end album list. For a look back at previous installments, check out our lists from 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.
2019 was a uniquely wild year for us, resulting in less available bandwidth for music discovery than we’ve had in the past. While previous installments have chronicled five of our most heavily-played albums of each calendar year, this time we’re going to be doing things a bit differently: here are five albums we play the hell out of in specific situations, in 2019 or whenever, in no particular order.
1. For a four-or-so-person dinner party: Van Morrison – Moondance <1970>
Small gatherings call for a specific flavor of sonic wallpaper – one that discreetly adds to the surrounding environment without making its presence too overtly apparent. It must never abruptly command the attention of the room, while still rewarding the occasional moment of acute awareness during a break in conversation. It must be warm, and timeless.
Van Morrison’s Moondance checks all of those boxes. It’s an album that finds mystical wonder in simple, relatable human experiences, and in turn communicates that sense of reverence in a deeply familiar musical language.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: And It Stoned Me <4:32>
2. For late-night bedroom jams: Andrew Bayer – In My Last Life <2018>
For an artist normally associated with thumping trance sets at massive EDM festivals, the reserved sexiness of Andrew Bayer’s third studio album is all the more impressive. In My Last Life seamlessly integrates the smoothest elements of its influences – deep house, indietronica, and synthpop, among others – with breathy, ethereal contributions from an alternating pair of female vocalists. The result is a cohesive and euphoric tapestry that shines most brightly in dimly-lit surroundings.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Tidal Wave <8:17>
3. For an even-later-night wind-down: Lambchop – Mr. M <2012>
If you’ve reached the conclusion of an exhausting plot arc with just enough time left before sunrise, Lambchop’s Mr. M seems built for just this type of quiet, personal moment. “Sad” seems too clumsy and incomplete of a descriptor for an album that sounds like a compilation of sedated, end-of-life reflections, but Mr. M is a beautiful type of melancholy that never devolves into dreariness or self-pity. Soft, lounge piano, swirling string arrangements, and brushed snares conjure a sense of classic mid-century American tranquility, an illusion that stands in stark contrast to frontman Kurt Wagner’s weathered, whispering observations about the banalities of everyday life.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Gone Tomorrow <6:57>
4. For a harrowing descent into madness: Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz <2010>
Sufjan Stevens, a blank-faced indie-folk prodigy who many listeners had understandably pegged as a sensitive, intellectually quirky art-school type, begins his sixth album with a characteristically minimal acoustic ditty that seems to confirm those initial expectations. Once the quaint opener fades to black, however, The Age of Adz plunges headlong into its true form: a glitchy, sci-fi-laced dystopia that’s as dense and jarring as it’s conceptual source material, the apocalyptic visionary folk art of paranoid schizophrenic sign painter Royal Robertson. There’s plenty to dissect here amongst the alien landscape of asynchronous blips and cascading orchestral interludes, none of which will give you the warm fuzzies.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Vesuvius <5:28>
5. For a hazy Sunday morning remedy: OutKast – Aquemini <1998>
The gloriously eccentric combination of yin and yang that earned OutKast their unanimous recognition as the greatest hip-hop duo of all time is on full display on their seminal Aquemini, an album that chronicles the gritty realities of urban life just as adeptly as it indulges its creators’ most bizarro, funk-drenched eccentricities. The production features a colorful cast of collaborators and a sprawling inventory of live instrumentals, all delivered with a viscous, laid-back Southern flow. For those mornings where one’s head seems permanently affixed to the countertop, Aquemini is a sticky-icky hangover cure.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: SpottieOttieDopaliscious <7:06>
Honorable Mentions: Our Individual Picks
Just as we’ve picked five albums for specific situations, our individual picks this year are albums / mixes that we love working to.
ASA’S PICK: Metallica’s First Three Albums <1983-1986>
Metallica is a band that 13-year-old me loved, 16-year-old me hated, 20-year-old me was completely ambivalent about, and 28-year-old me circled back and developed a deep respect for. Their genre-defining impact on the development of heavy metal is mostly the result of their first three albums, the earliest and most groundbreaking of which (Kill Em All, 1983) they recorded before the age of 20. While I’m admittedly not a huge fan of the rest of their catalog, the three-punch combo of Kill ‘Em All, Ride The Lightning (1984), and Master of Puppets (1986) is as much a museum piece of American musical history as it is a blood-pumping companion for manual labor.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: For Whom The Bell Tolls <5:09>
MATT’S PICK: Perseus – Soundspace MIX215 <2019>
Under the alias Perseus, DJ Leon Oziel and his label French Express returned early this year (after a long hiatus) with a new track and a special mix for Soundspace. The mix is an immersive experience, a slowly building arc of melodic techno that draws you in, lifts you up, and leaves you with a comforting glow from the journey you just took. Dance music will continuously evolve. Sounds that are old feel new again as styles regain influence – and if downtempo, euphoric, trance-like vibes are where we’re headed, I’ll see you on the dance floor.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Lightwave <8:19>
BREWHOUSE PICK: Pile – Green and Gray <2019>
Boston’s DIY phenomenon Pile has been described at different times as post-punk, post-rock, art-rock, indie, noise-rock, post-hardcore, folk/americana – each are accurate to some degree, but never fully capturing Pile’s weirdness when listed individually. They continue to tour relentlessly, sleeping on floors even on the heels of their seventh full-length album, Green and Gray. It’s a politically-charged, personal, and self-reflective album, pensive and existential while maintaining a sly sense of humor about the increasingly complex and bizarre world we live in.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Lord of Calendars <4:47>