By A.J. Harris
The things that entertain us, the movies, books, and music, can be just simple time-wasters or guilty pleasures. Or they can mean something, and effect us in ways we couldn’t foresee. Here are some of the best albums of 2019.
5. Bon Iver – i,i
Taking elements from his previous three albums, weirdo troubadour Justin Vernon has made an album about finding happiness in the act of returning to the familiar. But i,i is no simple retread of previous sounds and motifs, but ventures off on its own, in hopeful and heartbreaking directions. But underneath it all, Vernon just wants to find a sense of peace and beauty, and these songs go a long way to accomplishing those feelings, especially on tracks like “RABi”, where Vernon reminds us all that there’s a beautiful world out there, and we need only to go outside and look around.
4. Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go
Many people have dismissed Billie Eilish as Lorde 2.0 – a teen pop old soul, singing about things beyond her 18 years (17 when she made this). This classification is a mistake. Eilish brings both stunning maturity and youthful brattiness to these songs, and sounds like no one else making music today in the process. Her voice is often warped and delivered in a sinister whisper, while the music sounds slow, deep, and irresistible. The whole album sounds like it was recorded for a cotillion held at the bottom of the ocean, and Eilish would like us all to be there.
3. Taylor Swift – Lover
Let’s just get something out of the way right from the start: Lover contains one of the worst songs of the past year (the excrutiating “ME!”), and yet the album as a whole is not only Swift’s most adventurous and heartfelt work, but her best as well. Pop’s reigning queen has made a career out of mining her own emotional depths, but never in such an assured way. But despite the overtones of love, loss, acceptance, and betrayal that exist in all of her work, she looks back in order to look forward. The music has a synth-heavy sheen over it all, like each song was made to dance to at the prom in 1986. The highlight of the album is “It’s Nice To Have A Friend”, which is so weird and unexpected that it borders on genius. Overall, even non-Swifties have to see the worth that Swift has created.
2. Wilco – Ode To Joy
Wilco has always been the Midwest’s most adventurous band, and they take that mantle to new heights on Ode To Joy. The album is filled with quietly intense moments that give way to wild experimentation, the two things that Wilco does best, and all of it anchored by Jeff Tweedy’s just-getting-over-a-cold vocals and some reliable guitar virtuosity from Nels Cline. But there is a restraint that flows underneath it all, especially in songs like key track “Before Us”, which sounds like if the Rolling Stones made a more subtle version of “Moonlight Mile”. Wilco has made a career out of reinvention, seemingly becoming a new band with each new album, but on Ode to Joy, it’s like they’ve finally found their sweet spot.
1. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
In a year full of fantastic music, no album was more buoyant, self-assured, or downright listenable than Father of The Bride, the fourth album from these East Coast Paul Simon fans. Vampire Weekend have made three previous albums full of wit and ironic suburban angst: music made by privileged youths who felt apart from their privilege. But here it’s like they have grown up, and moved on from their days in the Ivy League. The music is looser, and borrows heavily from so many genres that they create one of their own. Notable among an album full of notable songs is the Spanish-clap tango of “Sympathy” and sunny-optimism of “Married in a Gold Rush”. These lads have left their Graceland trappings and boat shoes behind, and look towards a bright, unfettered future.
A.J. Harris can be reached at email@example.com