Remember that old Springsteen song "57 Channels and Nothing On?" That's kind of what music feels like in 2019. Every week, it seems like we're inundated with new releases, all of which seem essential, and most of which flash by in an instant. It could be due to streaming driving down quality and making it harder for truly original stuff to shine. It could be that we're on the cusp of a new sound breaking through.
At the very least, a few excellent records came out this year, and we're highlighting our favorites right here. Check out the best albums of 2019 so far.
Tyler, The Creator — IGOR
Flower Boy may have turned him into a pop sensation, but it's this ambitious breakup album that proves Tyler, The Creator is one of the great talents of this decade. With lush, varied production, a well-told concept and story, and guest spots that feel natural and supportive (rather than the shoehorned features on most rap albums), IGOR is the masterwork of a mature artist who finally seems comfortable in his own skin. It's that rare thing: an emotionally complex piece of art that you could put on at a party without complaints.
Bill Callahan — Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest
Whether he's bringing eloquence to a comic book story ("The Ballad of the Hulk") or just writing a song about writing a song ("Writing"), Bill Callahan always puts his best foot forward. The singer-songwriter packs his long-awaited first album in six years full of gorgeous guitar melodies and light percussion, while his lyrics remain as evocative as ever as he shows off his knack for storytelling. At 20 songs, Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest is a long record — Callahan seemingly packed in every idea he had over the last half-decade — but one that doesn't wear out its welcome, thanks to its gentle mood and tales of blissful domesticity.
Placid Angles — First Blue Sky
Placid Angles, a side project of Detroit producer John Beltran, released one album 22 years ago and nothing since. This year, with the help of U.K. house DJ Lone's label Magicwire, Beltran revived the moniker with the album First Blue Sky, an absolutely gorgeous LP with a nostalgic sound mixing classic '90s breaks and beats with soaring synth chords ("Vent") and funky, U.K. rave-influenced melodies ("Bad Minds"). It's one of the most unique dance records of the year, a timeless-sounding record that surely will improve with age.
Rico Nasty and Kenny Beats — Anger Management
It may be only 20 minutes long, but Rico Nasty and Kenny Beats' collab tape is the most ferocious hip-hop release you'll hear all year. The two are a match made in heaven that sounds like it came from hell, combining Kenny's fantastic, bold production with Rico's unhinged persona and features from EarthGang and Baauer for a cathartic blast of rap energy. It's no wonder Rico made this year's XXL Freshman Class — after a record like Anger Management, it's impossible to deny that she's one of the most powerful rising voices in rap.
black midi — Schlagenheim
It's been years since we last heard a rock album that sounds like no other rock album that came before it, since we've had guitar music that sounds new, brave, and forward-thinking. And now, black midi are here. Their debut album, Schlagenhein, is bizarre, artsy, inscrutable, invigorating, and astonishing. It smashes together math rock, post-punk, noise rock, and post-hardcore into a beautiful, jagged heap of sound. It's one of a few records I've ever listened to that I don't want to immediately replay, not because I dislike it, but because I want to stow it away like a sacred, powerful object, to take out only on special occasions so as not to dilute its magic. This must've been what it felt like to hear Talking Heads '77 ... in '77.
Freddie Gibbs and Madlib — Bandana
Injury Reserve — Injury Reserve
Sunn O))) — Life Metal
Toro y Moi — Outer Peace
Xiu Xiu — Girl With Basket of Fruit
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