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Let’s be real with each other for a minute: There is too much music every year for anyone to listen to even 1/10th of all of it. Things fall through the cracks for any number of reasons — apathy, preconceptions, literally not hearing about an album — and every year, we try to stand at the bottom of those cracks and catch some albums you should re-evaluate, as you head out into the great beyond of 2020. So, here are overlooked albums from 2019 you need to spend time with before the year is over.
In an impressive debut effort, Berhana takes the listener on a guided flight with HAN, an alternate universe Pan Am that serves as a decidedly more polished version of Madlib’s Flight to Brazil concept. What you get is the most cohesive project Berhana has ever released. It is a multi-genre effort that seamlessly spans funk, dance, R&B, and rock (especially in a particularly impressive three-track run with “HN 004,” “Health Food,” and “G2G.”) A substantial amount of HAN was recorded in Japan — which you can hear both in the production and in the lyrical content of the record. Ranking as one of the grooviest albums of the year, HAN is a soundtrack that perfectly accompanies any activity — but especially travel. —Alex Berenson
You can buy the Vinyl Me, Please edition of this album right here.
In which indie rock’s king of sleaze drops the character of his two previous albums and makes an album devoted to his new girlfriend, delivering warped tales of love, ass-eating, and debauchery in Miami. It feels like the response to Miami Memory was muted, and that’s understandable: People are cynical toward other people’s new loves. But here Cameron takes great strides with his songwriting, delivering his best album yet. —Andrew Winistorfer
The first time I heard Elizabeth sing “I want you in every way. You don’t treat me nicely and I’m scared I’m gonna stay,” on “I Want You,” I doubled over, both physically and emotionally. In 2018, the frontwoman of Australian rock outlet Totally Mild released Her, an album that brilliantly unpacks the bittersweet, socially convoluted journey of domesticity and the lack of a blueprint for it within the context of queerness. Her debut solo album, The Wonderful World of Nature, is its crushingly honest divorce counterpart. In a world that’s lacking many queer divorce albums at all, to hear one as honest and mind-bogglingly raw as this is a transformative treasure everyone should experience. —Amileah Sutliff
Robert Ellis recasts himself from an alt-country guitar-slinging troubadour to a white-suited, top-hatted barroom pianist making an album full of jaunty stompers about growing up and growing sober (“Topo Chico” and “Nobody Smokes Anymore”) and acerbic, affecting love songs (“Fucking Crazy” and “Passive Aggressive”). Seeing him tear down a set at SXSW was one of my live music highlights of 2019, and this record is a perfect companion for all the turns 365 days can throw at you. —AW
I was blessed enough to stumble upon a Grip listening session during A3C. I spent approximately 40 minutes engulfed in sub bass, storytelling, and every angle on a bullet. I knew nothing of Grip, and was immediately sold by not only the dexterity of his voice, or the intense attention to detail, but the way he sequenced the narrative into a comprehensive worldview. These are the consequences of poverty, capitalism, and generational curses. And if Big Rube’s on it, you know it’s certified. What a pleasant surprise, give OG Grip the flowers he deserved from this. —Michael Penn II
The 20-year-old Kingfish plays the blues like he was unfrozen from 1972, sent here via an Alligator Records experiment to play juke joint blues guitar like the Beatles, and disco, and rap, and everything else, never happened. His debut album is like a lost Albert Collins record, which is to say it’s the best new blues album released this year by a mile, in a year when not a lot of notable blues albums came out. Put this on when the weariness of existence gets to be too much, where Kingfish will pick you up. —AW
Zed Kenzo’s been a Midwest underground staple for the better half of a decade, and Baby Swag makes for their most focused, raucous drop yet. They’ve siphoned all their glow into a raging 15 minutes that’s punk, best rapper, and queer as hell. Kenzo’s a limitless talent, as evidenced by the way their bars bob and weave with no sonic choice insurmountable for them. Peep how anthemic “Fresh” is, and how unstoppable they are on “Immortal.” It’s only a matter of time before they reap everything they deserve, and I cannot wait for the day I gleefully risk my life in their moshpit. —MPII
A couple years ago, Cate Le Bon largely isolated herself to Lake District of Cumbria, England, to carry out her days building furniture and writing Reward, a trippy lowkey wonderland of an album that sounds like the exploratory chaos that goes on inside your head during a period of content isolation. Filled with what my partner aptly dubbed as “dinky-donkey melodies,” Le Bon’s daring arrangements reveal themselves as more convoluted and absurd with each new listen, and you begin to become addicted to the sensation of both your head quietly bopping and your heart racing at the same time, before you’ve even noticed. —AS
On top of having one of the most gorgeous rap videos I’ve seen all year, Maxo slid from out the creases and gave us a poignant piece to coast through. Maxo raps like the most reliable homie in your clique, the one who’d give you his shirt and invite you to his mama’s table. This album feels like a winding road through ideas of lineage, growth, and self-worth in a crazy world. It all sounds like a gorgeous dream, and Maxo walks with us like an old friend, gentle in delivery and colossal in impact. This album deserved so much more. —MPII
It’s difficult to find an MC as unstoppably consistent as Quelle Chris. He’s not the easiest listen, and he shouldn’t be! Especially not on an album of this caliber, weaving our obsessions with violence into a patchwork of resilience. Everyone gets sprayed up, no one’s safe, so what do we do now? Make no mistake, Quelle wedges the darkest truths into the smoothest cadences, rattling off memories and reflections as he wades through a mess none of us will exit unscathed. He’s effortless and thoughtful, and the next shooter to respect should one cross that line. (We mean with these raps.) —MPII
An album about falling in love that sounds just as warm-all-over, electric and tingly as falling in love itself? (And queer love at that?) We’re here for it. Sticky sweet autotune pop fuses itself with downtempo, foggy R&B for songs that sound like leaving your new, promising lover’s house after one of those nights trying not to smile so big on public transportation and look like a total idiot. In love or not, forevher was 2019’s great reminder that falling in love — or at least music that sounds like it — can be a salve for any emotion, at least for a bit. —AS
You can get the Vinyl Me, Please edition of this album right here.
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