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Ten of 2019’s Best Albums

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Year-end lists are a particular thing trying to be universal. That’s where the pleasure, and frustration, lies: discovering you agree with strangers on the internet (and trying not to be smug about it), or being miffed that strangers on the internet are wrong. At best, scrolling down a list of the year’s best “____” is like thumbing through the pages of a well thought out CD binder, streaming playlist, record crate — pick your medium.

Still, choosing the “best” of anything poses a problem: it’s dumb. If a list is universally recognized as right, it’s boring. If a list is too individual and idiosyncratic, it shuts out the reader altogether. That tension powers a perpetual motion machine for barroom debate, a full employment bill for music critics.

This kind of argument is like a game: it works when everyone playing agrees on the rules. When these arguments turn sour, it often comes down to a list pitching itself as definitive and objective. We stumble into a hallway with a floor made out of papier-mâché, plenty of places to put your foot through. Does “best” mean “most important,” “most successful,” or “my favorite”? When a critic is making the judgement, there are new wrinkles: what should be declared “best” wars with what a writer imagines will be. This is why, when a publication puts out a list, I always find myself looking for lists made by individual contributors. In the publication-wide list you find consensus, the album that was “good enough” for enough people to be the “best” overall. But rarely is that choice what most held as their favorite. It is album of the year by ranked choice voting. It tells us something about the year’s music, but it’s bloodless. Instead, it’s in those individual lists where I find real gems that would otherwise pass me by.

In that spirit, I’ve produced a list that is the obvious product of one person. I’ll lay out my criteria: It is ten spots long; I had to actually listen to the album in question a lot, without this list in mind; and, I had to think the album was good enough that I’d try to get someone else to listen to it, all of it, more than once.

That leaves off plenty of great stuff. Ten isn’t that many albums. Lots of things I liked didn’t catch me at the right moment when they came out and I’m only now picking them back up again — both of Big Thief’s albums, Jaime by Brittany Howard, and Billie Eilish’s debut all fill that space. Others, I listened to a lot, but I’m not going to push them on anyone else (I won’t tell anyone they should listen to Tove Lo’s algo-robo-scando-pop unless they already want to do that; Polo G is great, but you need to want to hear someone sing-rap over a music box to get all the way there). Finally, there were things I loved this year that came out last year (Bad Bunny) or that weren’t full albums (Rosalía).

With all that said, here are ten of the best albums of the year:

10) GoldLink — Diaspora

This album reminds me of a what a thoughtful version of Drake’s More Life, one made by someone who wrote his own raps and cared about the sounds he was touring through, might sound like.

9) Burna Boy — African Giant

I’d hear a lot of these songs before the album came out, but they found an undeniably worthy vehicle here. It deserves a listen if only to stop halfway through and Google the colonial past of Unilever.

8) (Sandy) Alex G — House of Sugar

This is a tighter record than Alex G’s last, sometimes for the worse, but often for the better. I don’t know if there’s a better recommendation than Frank Ocean’s delighted response on an episode from blonded RADIO when he heard they were playing something from it.

7) Denzel Curry — ZUU

This album delivers all the good parts of listening to a bloated, 80-minute, skit-filled major label rap record from 2003, in under 30 minutes. It’s always going to be weird to listen to someone remember XXXTentacion fondly, but after seeing Denzel Curry on The Cave, I’m glad I gave this record a real chance.

6) Tyler, the Creator — IGOR

What would Kanye sound like if he were, well, a completely different person. But what if that person overcame juvenile bullshit to make interesting, thoughtful music? Maybe a Travis Scott with ideas?  This record is as good as Flower Boy, maybe better, which is high praise.

5) FKA Twigs — MAGDALENE

Happy to report that Twigs second album is exactly/nothing like what I was expecting.

4) Oso Oso — Basking in the Glow

This choice represents something about my music-listening past. It’s the kind of record I would have loved when I was thirteen but that makes me glad I’m thirty.

3) Nilüfer Yanya — Miss Universe

For the first four to five months of the year, this would have been my choice for #1. Maybe the overall conceptual arc doesn’t hang together, but it makes me very glad she’s already swinging this big.

2) Clairo — Immunity

This one is #2 because I can’t help but value pretense/ego/mess over tight, controlled excellence. Immunity is my personal favorite of the year, a wonderful gem of a record.

1) Lana Del Rey — Norman Fucking Rockwell!

Let’s get it out of the way: Lana Del Rey is not Joni Mitchell. She is somewhere in the lineage of Fiona Apple, which should be enough. This is decidedly not a perfect album, if there is such a thing, but it is a messy, intriguing document of an evolving musical persona as captivating as it is confusing. The title track is like listening to one of the voiceless women Father John Misty sings about (which, it turns out, is more interesting than listening to FJM himself). It’s a great album that works as an album, despite featuring both a nine-minute song that puns “beach” and “bitch” and a Sublime cover. It’s impressive. Lana Del Rey is not “America’s greatest songwriter,” but she is very good, and so is this album. Honestly, it might be better than Red. Who knows, I’m not a professional.

November 2019 pt. 2 — “Turkey Tunez”

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And…here’s part 2, which saw us through some solid turkey and better biscuits. These are, again, mostly songs released in the last few months. h/t to Naomi Zeichner’s show on NTS, which continues to be great. I’m still working on how to include the corrido stuff I’ve heard her play in a mix…

For now, here are these tuba-free tracks.

Tracklist:

1) “Reticent” — M.T. Hadley — Reticent
2) “Disco Shit” — 03 Greedo, Kenny Beats — Netflix & Deal
3) “In My Room” — Frank Ocean — In My Room
4) “Frío” — Omar Apollo — Frío
5) “Simmer (feat. Burna Boy)” — Mahlia — Simmer (feat. Burna Boy)
6) “drip bounce_7_24_18” — Toro y Moi — Soul Trash
7) “Corny” — Rema — Rema
8) “D & G (feat. Summer Walker)” — DaVido — A Good Time
9) “Be Honest (feat. Ms. Banks) (Cadenza & AoD Remix)” — Jorja Smith — Be Honest (feat. Ms. Banks) (Cadenza & AoD Remix)
10) “Blessed (with Tyga)” — Shenseea — Blessed (with Tyga)
11) “It Might Be Time” — Tame Impala — It Might Be Time
12) “Wet” — Bibi Bourelly — Wet
13) “A Palé — ROSALÍA — A Palé
14) “Gretel” — Alex G — House of Sugar
15) “John Redcorn” — SiR — Chasing Summer
16) “Come Thru (with Usher)” — Summer Walker — Over It

November 2019 pt. 1 — “Circa ’19 Raps”

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Part one of two, other to come later. This one is (almost) 19 rap songs from 2019.

Tracklist:

1) “Chandelier (feat. Curren$y)” — Shoreline Mafia — Party Pack. Vol 2
2) “Song 32” — Noname — Song 32
3) “Must Be” — J Hus — Must Be
4) “Maria” — 03 Greedo, Kenny Beats — Netflix & Deal
5) “Vossi Bop” — Stormzy — Vossi Bop
6) “Hot Girl Summer (feat. Nicki Minaj & Ty Dolla $ign)” — Megan Thee Stallion — Hot Girl Summer…
7) “INTRO” — DaBaby — KIRK
8) “Bad Bad Bad (feat. Lil Baby)” — Young Thug — So Much Fun
9) “SPEEDBOAT” — Denzel Curry — ZUU
10) “Whoopi” — Rapsody — Eve
11) “I THINK” — Tyler, The Creator — IGOR
12) “Speed It Up” — Gunna — Drip or Drown 2
13) “So What? – Episode 01” — Vince Staples — So What (Episode 01)
14) “Crime Pays” — Freddie Gibbs, Madlib — Bandana
15) “Cokewhite (feat. Pusha T)” — GoldLink — Diaspora
16) “Proud Of U (feat. Young Thug)” — EARTHGANG — Mirrorland
17) “DHL” — Frank Ocean — DHL
18) “EL TORO COMBO MEAL (feat. Mavi)” — Earl Sweatshirt — FEET OF CLAY

October 2019 — “Samples, etc.”

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Many of these songs are sampled somewhere else, others I just enjoyed on their own but couldn’t find a place for them previously. Hope you enjoy this decidedly not-spooky (though jazzier than usual) mix.

Tracklist:

1) “All Alone” — Mal Waldron — All Alone
2) “Off Minor – Bonus Track” — Thelonious Monk — Monk’s Music
3) “A Tu Vera” — Lola Flores — La Inimitable
4) “I Miss You” — Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes — I Miss You
5) “The Sun Ain’t Gonna to Shine Anymore” — The Walker Brothers — Portrait
6) “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” — Marvin Gaye — That Stubborn Kind Of Fellow
7) “Spontaneous (feat. Little Dragon)” — Flying Lotus — Flamagra
8) “Lifetime” — Yves Tumor — Safe In The Hands of Love
9) “SugarHouse – Live” — (Sandy) Alex G — House of Sugar
10) “Catavento” — Milton Nascimento — Travessia
11) “Free Soul” — John Klemmer — Blowin’ Gold
12) “Street Fighter Mas” — Kamasi Washington — Heaven and Earth
13) “Brother’s Keeper (feat. Pusha T)” — Anderson .Paak — Oxnard
14) “Straight Shot (feat. Cavalier, Bilal Salaam, Eldar Djangoirov & James Acaster)” — Quelle Chris — Guns

September 2019 — “vibe(zzz)”

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September 2019 vibe(zzz) cover

It’s Spring, though that’s not always obvious. Here is a mix that should work if you’re alone on a beach after Labor Day, or on a roof in the afternoon. Some inspiration from the NTS shows I listen to most months (especially Naomi Zeichner’s show, that’s the source for “Swaggu” below).

Tracklist:

1) “Dark & Handsome (feat. Toro y Moi)” — Blood Orange — Angel’s Pulse
2) “holy terrain (feat. Future)” — FKA twigs — holy terrain
3) “Phone Numbers” — Dominic Fike, Kenny Beats — Phone Numbers
4) “Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi” — ROSALÍA, Ozuna — Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi
5) “Mistaken” — Tove Lo — Sunshine Kitty
6) “Better Days” — Odunsi (The Engine) — Better Days / Wetin Day
7) “‘WHY” — KEY! — SO EMOTIONAL
8) “Be Honest (feat. Burna Boy)” — Jorja Smith — Be Honest (feat. Burna Boy)
9) “Anybody” — Burna Boy — African Giant
10) “Jealous” — Fireboy DML — Jealous
11) “Swaggu” — Yusufkanbai — Swaggu
12) “Bad Behaviour” — Mabel — High Expectations
13) “Gone” — Charli XCX, Christine and the Queens — Charli
14) “Stay High” — Brittany Howard — Jaime
15) “Free The Frail (feat. Helena Deland)” — JPEGMAFIA — All My Heroes Are Cornballs

August 2019 — “(1999) and Everything After”

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Tracklist:

1) “Everything Hits At Once” — Spoon — Girls Can Tell
2) “Naeem” — Bon Iver — i,i
3) “Drunk II” — Mannequin Pussy — Patience
4) “basking in the glow” — Oso Oso — basking in the glow
5) “Stay Useless” — Cloud Nothings — Attack on Memory
6) “This Life” — Vampire Weekend — Father of the Bride
7) “Valleys (My Love)” — Whitney — Forever Turned Around
8) “A 1000 Times” — Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam — I Had a Dream That You Were Mine
9) “Borderline” — Tame Impala — Borderline – Single
10) “Summer Girl” — HAIM — Summer Girl – Single
11) “Someday” — The Strokes — Is This It?
12) “Sofia” — Clairo — Immunity
13) “The greatest” — Lana Del Rey — Norman Fucking Rockwell

July 2019 — “SumWinter”

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July 2019 cover

This is my first mix made in Australia, and this reflects the fact that it is “winter” here — at worst 45(f)/7(c) with some rain — by offering something more in line for an Ithacan March. This was built around the inclusion of some demos (from Beyoncé, Prince, and Phil Collins) that I heard in different contexts and thought might work together. Also, as long as there’s some new(ish) Rosalía, that will always find a place here as well.

It’s also a bit longer (1:00:35) than the last few, so throw it on in the background and prepare to be occasionally surprised.

Tracklist:

1) “Dio$ No$ Libre Del Dinero” — Rosalía — Fucking Money Man
2) “Sorry (Original Demo) — Beyoncé — Lemonade
3) “Closer To You” — Clairo — Closer To You
4) “Camomile Tea” — Nina Cobham — Camomile Tea – Single
5) “He” — Jai Paul — Do You Love Her Now / He – Single
6) “Castaway (feat. Tyler, The Creator)” — Yuna — Rouge
7) “True Blue (feat. Angel Olsen)” — Mark Ronson — Late Night Feelings
8) “Sober” — Lorde — Melodrama
9) “FYM” — King Marie — The Prelude
10) “Honey” — Red Hearse — Red Hearse – Single
11) “You’re My Love” — Prince — Originals
12) “Right Side of My Neck” — Faye Webster — Atlanta Millionaires Club
13) “Hold You Now (feat. Danielle Haim)” — Vampire Weekend — Father of the Bride
14) “Camera” — Charly Bliss — Young Enough
15) “Red Bull & Hennessy” — Jenny Lewis — On The Line
16) “Doin’ Time” — Lana Del Rey — Doin’ Time – Single
17) ”I Missed Again (Demo)” — Phil Collins — Other Sides
18) “Night and Day” — Everything But The Girl – Night and Day

June 2019 pt. 1 — “After”

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The cover this month presents an actual photo taken in Ithaca in June. The mix aims to match that. As usual, some great NTS shows helped with this, in particular NY Naomi’s May/June show.

Tracklist:

1) “Loco por Llegar” — Fuego — You’re Welcome
2) “Morrow” — 070 Shake — Morrow – Single
3) “Let Me Go” — Tatiana Hazel — Let Me Go – Single
4) “Bags” — Clairo — Immunity
5) “Location (feat. Burna Boy)” — Dave — PSYCHODRAMA
6) “SOMETHING NEW (feat. Lil Baby)” — ADÉ — ALWAYS SOMETHING – EP
7) “Thinkin Bout You” — Frank Ocean — Channel ORANGE
8) “There She Go (feat. YFN Lucci)” — PnB Rock — GTTM: Goin Thru the Motions
9) “Estallar (feat. Medio Picky)” — Soy Emilia — Reconstrucción
10) “34” — Burna. Boy & DJDS — Steel & Copper – EP
11) “Ecstasy (feat. Lefty Ruggiero)” — Kenya Racaile — Ecstasy (feat. Lefty Ruggiero) – Single
12) “Juicy” — Doja Cat — Amala (Deluxe Version)
13) “Sing to Her” — Kodie Shane — Young HeartThrob
14) “Bouff Daddy” — J Hus — Common Sense
15) “Enchochado de Ti” — Don Patricio — La Dura Vida del Joven Rapero

May 2019 — “End of Mays”

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A little late, and many versions later, here is the last “May” mix I’ll be making in Ithaca.

Track-list:

1) “Aute Cuture” — ROSALÍA — Aute Cuture – Single
2) “11 PM” — Maluma — 11:11
3) “Case” — Teni — Case – Single
4) “Callaita” — Bad Bunny & Tainy — Callaita – Single
5) “Make Room” — Miraa May — Care Package – EP
6) “Attention” — Mr. Eazi & Lotto Boyz — Life Is Eazi, Vol. 2 – Lagos to London
7) “One Shot” — Mabel — Ivy to Roses
8) “Tú” — Lary Over — Tú – Single
9) “Too Late” — Jane Macgizmo — Too Late – Single
10) “Y No Le Conviene” — Jhay Cortez — Eyez on Me
11) “Otro Trago (feat. Darell)” — Sech — Sueños
12) “Contigo (feat. Geeflowllc)” — Tomasa del Real — TDR
13) “Algo Como Tú (feat. Los del Control)” — Kaydy Cain — Lo Mejor de Lo Peor
14) “Cigarette” — RAYE, Mabel & Stefflon Don — Cigarette – Single
15) “Adán y Eva” — Paulo Londra — Homerun
16) “If They Dunno” — Bey T — If They Dunno – Single
17) “Dangote” — Burna Boy — Dangote – Single
18) “Ela É do Tipo” — Kevin o Chris — Ela É do Tipo – Single

April 2019 pt. 1 — “Con altura”

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This came about because of “Con Altura,” and wishful-spring-thinking.

h/t to a few NTS shows from the past couple of weeks: SoSuperSam, Mina, and this one by Harmony Korine.

Tracklist:

1) “I Saw The Light” — Todd Rundgren — The Very Best…
2) “Teedra Moses – Still In Love (Jaël Ediit” — JAËL — Remixes and Club Edits VOL. 2
3) “Finders Keepers (feat Kojo Funds)” — Mabel — Finders Keepers (feat Kojo Funds) – Single
4) “Inside” — HoodCelebrityy — Inside – Single
5) “Baila Baila Baila” — Ozuna — Baila Baila Baila – Single
6) “HP” — Maluma — HP – Single
7) “Con Altura (feat. El Guincho)” — ROSALÍA & J Balvin — Con Altura (feat. El Guincho) – Single
8) “London (feat. Stefflon Don & Krept & Konan)” — Jeremih — Late Nights: Europe
9) “Chalice (feat. Sarkodie & Patoranking) [Africa Remix]” — Donae’o — Chalice (feat. Belly) [Remixes]
10) “Con Calma (feat. Snow)” — Daddy Yankee — Con Calma (feat. Snow) – Single
11) “Boasty (feat. Idiris Elba)” — Wiley, Stefflon Don & Sean Paul — Boasty (feat. Idiris Elba) – Single
12) “Toast” — Koffee — Rapture EP
13) “Skin Tight (feat. Efya)” — Mr. Eazi — Skin Tight (feat. Efya) – Single
14) “Drogba (Joanna)” — Afro B — Drogba (Joanna) – Single
15) “If It’s Over (feat. Charli XCX)” — MØ — Forever Neverland
16) “Girls Dem Sugar” — Beenie Man — Art and Life
17) “Peg” — Steely Dan & Tom Scott — Aja