Name: Adam Bernard Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States About Me: Entertainment journalist with 20 years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, and B-movies. Part time ninja. Kicked cancer’s ass. My memoir, ChemBro, is out now!
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It’s that time of year again – the time when every music journalist unveils their top 10 albums of the year. For nearly two decades I’ve posted mine, but this year I’m making a slight shift in the wording, changing it to my 10 “must-hear” albums of the year.
Why the change? Well, for one thing, when a list is billed as a definitive top 10 it tends to incite arguments, and I’d rather people read this list inquisitively, than skim it looking to start a fight. The latter gets no one to listen to anything.
Second, I tend to skew in the direction of indie releases, most of which aren’t played on any radio station, so when I use the term “must-hear” I’m hoping that people who may not have heard these releases will give them a listen.
What can I say, I love exposing talent that I feel deserves more recognition.
With that explanation out of the way, here are my 10 must-hear albums of 2019!
1. Meg & Dia – Happysad
Meg & Dia were once Warped Tour faves, but the sisters went their separate ways, career-wise, with Dia branching out musically with some fantastic solo efforts, and collaborations (and spending a bit of her time talking to me in 2014 and 2017). In 2019 the sisters joined forces again and released Happysad, a pop album for grown ups. Yes, that really is a thing. There’s a maturity in the lyrics, with perspectives based on life experience, and it’s pretty much as close to pop perfection as an album can get.
2. laye – lonesome
Over the past few years the mainstream music world crowned Halsey their queen of alt-pop (I did that here back in 2015). This year they found a new heir to the throne in Billie Eilish. While this transition was going on, laye released her debut album, lonesome, which comparatively flew under the radar, but is musically right up there with the aforementioned mainstream alt-pop royalty. As a bonus, laye also showcases a soulful side on a few of the songs on lonseome, which leads me to believe that as she continues in her career her musical limitations will be few and far between.
As a music journalist I receive at least one email a week where the RIYL (recommended if you like) suggestions include Mazzy Star, and 99 times out of 100 the artist in question sounds nothing like the legendary dream pop / alt rock band. Then there’s the one time the comparison makes sense and I’m absolutely blown away by an artist’s voice, and album. In 2019, Thayer Sarrano was that artist, and Wings Alleluia was that album.
4. Ceschi – Sad, Fat Luck
You can call Ceschi a hip-hop artist, an indie rock artist, or a folk singer, because he’s all of these things wrapped up into one. He’s also an artist who courageously pours his heart and soul out onto the page when writing his lyrics. His 2019 release, Sad, Fat Luck is a deeply personal, incredibly heartfelt, unbelievably brilliant album that defies categorization, and should absolutely be heard.
5. Candy Ambulance – Traumantic
Grunge had its day in the sun (or I guess, technically, rain) back in the ‘90s, and it was a glorious time for rock music. The only place you really hear it nowadays is on classic rock radio … or at a Candy Ambulance show. The band’s 2019 album, Traumantic is a fantastic modern grunge effort with hints of indie rock, and lyrics that are direct from lead singer Caitlin Barker’s life. In terms of music it’s the rarest of rarities – it’s something that both Gen X and Gen Z will love.
If you’ve ever been to one of Anna Rose’s shows you know she puts on some of the best live performances around. With The Light Between she released one of the best singer-songwriter albums around. The blues rocker still has a few songs where she gets to kick some ass with her guitar, but the bulk of this record has a country influence, and Anna’s voice, and songwriting, is simply gorgeous.
I’ve been a fan of Chaser Eight for a while, so I’ve come to expect greatness from the band. Even with that said, when I put on Tell Me Lies I was legit blown away by the latest incarnation of the band. A few new members have helped to create an alt-rock meets classic rock sound, and it’s incredible. With killer songs, and epic guitar solos, real rock n roll is definitely in good hands.
8. The Dollyrots – Daydream Explosion
Warped Tour may be no more, but pop punk is still alive and well. Case in point – The Dollyrots released a rambunctious new album in 2019, and judging by the sound of it, they don’t plan on stopping the party anytime soon. So if you’re looking for a good time, look no further than Daydream Explosion.
It seems like every couple of years I find an artist from across the pond that takes pop in an exciting new direction. The latest is GIRLI, who I first happened upon in the middle of 2018, and who this year released her full length debut, Odd One Out. With topics that range from the difficulties of growing up, to dealing with mental health issues, she’s unafraid to tackle tough topics, and those heavier songs are nicely balanced by party tracks that can provide the soundtrack to a wild night.
10. The Nuclears – Barrage Rock
If you’ve ever heard someone rant that rock n roll isn’t what it used to be, play them The Nuclears’ Barrage Rock. Retro enough to please old school rock fans, but modern enough for current listeners, Barrage Rock is an album that can bridge the generation gap, and let us all rock out together.