soundtrack of 2019

After listening to 51,738 minutes of music in 2019, these are the albums that truly got me through the year:

Surf Curse, Heaven Surrounds You

The California-based duo of Nick Rattigan and Jacob Rubek abandon their juvenile muses of song writing and fitting song titles (“I’m Not Making Out With You” and “Forever Dumb”) for a matured, 37-minute album inspired by their favorite cult classic films.

Rattigan shines both vocally and on percussion, particularly on “Safe” and “Trust,” while Rubeck’s vocals make “Midnight Cowboy” and “Memory” two of the best tracks on the album.

While Rattigan and Rubeck’s musical styles couldn’t be more different with their respective side projects—Rattigan’s downtrodden, introspective Current Joys and Rubeck’s synth-powered, melancholy Gap Girls—the two come together seamlessly in this grown-up version of Surf Curse that dabbles with themes of solitude, loneliness and longing.

The Highwomen, ST

While Brandi Carlile’s 2018 release By The Way I Forgive You propelled her into the country music scene, her recent collaboration with Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires called The Highwomen (a riff off of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson’s The Highwaymen formed in 1985) solidified her prominence and influence in the genre.

The quartet’s intention was to highlight female voices in the country music industry and their songwriting brings clarity to the balancing act that is often required (and concealed) to upkeep society’s traditional views of the ideal woman. The four sing about “running the world while we’re cleaning up the kitchen,” envisioning family dinners around a crowded table and being someone’s lucky penny as opposed to their loose change.

Of the 12 songs, the opening track is the most intimate and powerful. “Highwomen” invites Yola’s soulful vocals to tell four female narratives: a Central American immigrant, a Salem witch, a Southern freedom rider and a female preacher. The ending lines of “We are the highwomen / sing of stories still untold / we carry the sons you can only hold” creates an image of unity amongst women of every origin, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, leaving nothing but chills for those listening—female or otherwise.

Vagabon, ST

Singer/songwriter Laetitia Tamko trades her low-fi indie rock recordings of her first release, Infinite Worlds, for a collection of synth and electric instrumentation of self-titled album, Vagabon. The 10-track album pairs sonic variety with consistent thematic tones of female empowerment and honesty.

The catchiest track “Water Me Down” aligns closest with pop while “Every Woman” harks more closely to Vagabon’s indie rock background. Her vulnerable songwriting style pairs with her striking, baritone vocals powerfully with confessional lines like “I know I’m a mess,”while lines like “All the women I meet are tired / they just kick up their feet prior” challenge taboo themes of womanhood.

Written and produced by Tamko herself, the album enlightens listeners to the realities of the female condition.

And The Kids, When This Life Is Over

And The Kids present existential dread to the tune of a whimsical love for life on their 2019 release. 

Declarations like “Life is a bastard / life wants to kill you” made by lead singer Hannah Mohan in “Champagne Ladies” is as light-hearted as it is cathartic and genuine, not to mention the crunchy guitar riff paired with the xylophone’s twinkly accents make for an addictive track that I couldn’t get enough of.

The album’s production accentuates the lyricism as the percussion, drums, vocals and (occasional) wooden flute are beautifully interwoven to create a powerfully atmospheric rock album. My appreciation of And The Kids’ grew as I saw them live while on tour with Boston three-piece Vundabar this past fall, and they’re easily a band I would hope to see again.

Field Medic, Fade Into The Dawn

Folk and lo-fi are two genres not so easily mixed, however Kevin Patrick does so with ease and his latest 30-minute release is a highlight of his personal library. 

The album’s production is considerably more “put together” than his previous releases (or should I say, as “clean” as possible to still be considered lo-fi) and while less instrumentally experimental than 2017’s Songs From The Sunroom, Fade Into The Dawn experiments with mood and tone.

While the upbeat opener “used 2 be romantic” or “tournament horseshoe” may be perfect for an afternoon, autumn drive, the introspective “hello moon” and “mood ring baby” are ideal for laying on the floor and counting a ceiling fan’s rotations. All this to say that each track takes hold of the listener by the emotions and drags them gently through feelings they didn’t know they had.

The lyrical honesty of lines like “I need a cigarette / those f*ckers talked over my whole set” or “a kitty named Joni named after my hero” remind the listener of the human component behind the songwriting, making Patrick out to be an old friend and Fade Into The Dawn an unexpected letter in your rusty mailbox.

Whitney, Forever Turned Around

Coming three years after their endearing premier Light Upon The Lake, the Chicago duo of Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek have created their strongest album yet, both in energy and production.

While Elrich’s distinct soft vocals could easily sooth one to a deep sleep, the uplifting instrumentation of Forever Turned Around keeps listeners pleasantly awake while likely looping the tracks back-to-back for hours.

I also can’t help but compare this album to Neil Young’s 1969 self-titled release for more reasons than one, with all compliments due to both artists. In full, the tone of both albums set themselves up for the perfect sunny afternoon montage (Whitney’s being a little less sappy than Young’s) while the interplay of guitars, trumpets and orchestral components create intensified interest while each song flows into the next.

Additionally, the commonality of instrumentals is a successful stylistic choice on both records, as Whitney’s “Rhododendron” breaks the album cleanly in two and Young’s “The Emperor of Wyoming” is a perfect intro to his debut.

Sharon Van Etten, Remind Me Tomorrow

Van Etten breaks free of her folk-rock roots in place of Cure-like goth rock with her surprising January release. 

I don’t think anyone expected her recent lyrical and instrumental darkness, but she approaches the new style with grace and confidence. The most powerful track is the drum-led “Comeback Kid,” complete with synth and baritone vocals to amplify the simplistic lyricism.

Even still, this experimental approach doesn’t sacrifice her values and authenticity as a songwriter, as the vulnerability of the opening track “I Told You Everything” harks back to the intimacy of 2014’s album Are We There.

Remind Me Tomorrow proves Van Etten’s strengths and flexibilities as a songwriter, denouncing any expectation of predictability that haunt most artists of our time.

Tyler The Creator, Igor

Tyler the Creator not only created a new album, but with it, a new persona. While longtime fans know this technique to not be a new one (first done with 2011’s Goblin) Igor is less of a tempting devil-on-your shoulder exuding intrusive thoughts than he is an alter ego—possibly one that’s more honest than the rapper himself. 

Igor is the most emotional album in Tyler’s discography, as well as the most genre-nonconforming. Themes of loss, heartbreak and regret poke through the high energy tempos and digital audio with lines like “Don’t leave / it’s my fault” repeated throughout “Earfquake.” Similar to the likes of the late Mac Miller’s Swimming, Tyler singing voice also gains attention on this record.

“NEW MAGIC WAND” and “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU” represent the two ends of the tone spectrum throughout the album: the former channeling the dark, intrusive qualities of Goblin while the latter serves as an upbeat anthem of gratitude.

Honorable mentions

Chance The Rapper, Big Day; Turnover, Altogether; Better Oblivion Community Center, ST; Julia Jacklin, Crushing; Our Girl, Live From St. Pancras; Ariana Grande, thank u next; Luna Lake, ST