Bill’s Indie Basement: Best of 2019
Another year has passed and what do I have to show for it? A whole bunch of great music if nothing else. Like last year, I’ve picked 40 of my favorites from the past 12 months and ranked them as best as I could, though I did a lot of juggling below the Top 10 right up until writing this. Your mileage may, and probably does, vary but I hope that you find something you didn’t know about on this list. My Best of 2019 list goes in ascending order, be warned.
There’s a playlist at the bottom, with a song from every album except — SPOILER ALERT –The Pernice Brothers (which isn’t on Spotify) so I substituted JARV IS’ “Must I Evolve?” instead.
Need more? Check out BrooklynVegan’s Top 50 Albums of 2019.
BILL’S INDIE BASEMENT – FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2019
1. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains
It may be forever impossible for some of us to separate the songs on this album from the tragic events after its release, but David Berman left the world with 10 amazing new songs that we’re better off for having in our lives. Purple Mountains was my #1 of 2019 from the first time I heard it.
Finest moment: the beautiful and rather hopeful “Snow is Falling in Manhattan” which deserves to be a wintertime classic.
2. Aldous Harding – Designer
It’s been a long time since a record hit me like Aldous Harding‘s Designer — maybe since Destroyer’s Kaputt — where it was an instant connection that has stuck for months. Full of gorgeous and weird songs lifted by perfect production and Aldous’ acrobatic voice, Designer is a beautiful puzzle that I’ll never solve but continually go back to.
Finest moment: for sheer mystery (“What am I doing in Dubai?” “All sound is bees”) and for dreamy beauty, head straight to “Zoo Eyes,” but “The Barrel” is a close second.
3. Robert Forster – Inferno
Forty years into his career, the former Go-Between makes his best-ever solo record that also rivals the highs of his old band. May we all age so gracefully.
Finest moment: “Inferno (Brisbane in the Summertime)” finds Forester at his feistiest and owes more than a little to Mott the Hoople.
4. Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
In 1976, Karen Carpenter was calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, and in 2019 Natalie Mering replied with this utterly transfixing, timeless work of otherworldly soft rock magic.
Finest moment: the woozy keyboards in “Andromeda” lift me off the floor every time.
5. Vanishing Twin – Age of Immunology
Mixing krautrock, tropicalia, baroque psych and other sounds, the transportive second album from London-based multicultural group Vanishing Twin may draw comparisons to Stereolab and Broadcast, but nobody else could have made it but them.
Finest moment: “Cryonic Suspension May Save Your Life” drops you in the deep end of Vanishing Twin’s island lair, but “Magician’s Success” is the bloopy pop hit.
6. Cate Le Bon – Reward
Achingly sad and powerful fifth album from this Welsh iconoclast is not quite like any other record she’s made before, powered by piano and a sense of loss. Sometimes it’s OK to wallow. This is my favorite album of her’s since Mug Museum and on that and Reward she was also learning a skill at the same time (pottery and furniture-making, respectively). May I suggest plumbing next?
Finest moment: “Home to You” is one of the best examples of Cate’s secret weapon (her sighing “ahhs”).
7. Ty Segall – First Taste
A wider arsenal of instrumentation — like mandolin and a second drummer — adds serious oomph to what might be Ty Segall’s best album yet. (Ask again in 10 years.) First Taste rips with zero guitars.
Finest moment: epic album closer “Lone Cowboys” rocks out with bouzouki and saxophones.
8. Jeanines – Jeanines
This Brooklyn duo has crafted an instant indiepop classic; probably the best record of its kind (jangly, hooky, twee but not cloying) since Veronica Falls’ debut album. It’s basically all hooks.
Finest moment: this is an entire album of singles, but “Winter in the Dark” is 1:36 of slashing minor chord melody perfection.
9. Mick Trouble – …Here’s the Mick Trouble LP
Jed Smith gets two slots in my Top 10. He’s in Jeanines (see above) and here he is under his Mick Trouble pseudonym making amazing fake British indiepop a la Television Personalities. A smashing simulation that is great on its own.
Finest moment: “Bloody Blighty” is a good representation of what Mick’s all about but “Similar Kicks” feels like it could’ve actually been a hit in 1979 (in England).
10. Modern Nature – How to Live
Featuring Jack Cooper of Ultimate Painting and Will Young of Beak>, Modern Nature make Magic Hour drone pop on their fantastic debut album, with Jack’s voice rarely going above a whisper and the album’s hypnotic grooves politely inviting you in.
Finest moment: Slithery and dark, “Paradam” shows Modern Nature’s understated mastery of mood.
11. PAT (Jacolby Satterwhite & Nick Weiss) – Love Will Find a Way Home
Visual artist Jacolby Satterwhite created, with help from Teengirl Fantasy’s Nick Weiss, a truly unique record that’s both a tribute to his late mother (all vocals are from cassettes she recorded) and ’90s club music (trip-hop, techno and ambient house in particular). Not enough people heard this amazing album.
Finest moment: “We Are in Hell When We Hurt Each Other” is a pitch-black banger that Massive Attack would kill for.
12. The Hecks – My Star
Chicago band The Hecks trojan horse’d a great pop album inside an art-punk wrapper. My Star may take a couple listens to unravel in your brain, but by then its hooks are in you.
Finest moment: The verses of “So 4 Real” bounce off the walls with nervous energy, while the chorus soars.
13. Snapped Ankles – Stunning Luxury
While UK motorik dance-rock/psych combo Snapped Ankles are rightly known primarily for their frenzied live shows (and dressing as shrubbery), Stunning Luxury manages to capture their infectious arborous onstage energy on tape.
Finest moment: “Rechargeable” is like a lost early LCD Soundsystem single, danceable post-punk with a pile-driver beat and batteries at full power.
14. Moon Duo – Stars Are the Light
Inspired by rave and disco, Moon Duo deliver a record unlike any they’ve made before, giving their two-chord motorik psych sound a club-friendly dayglo makeover. Their best record yet.
Finest moment: The album’s title track is Moon Duo at their new blissful best, but “Lost Heads” throws in a little of their old guitar chug for its catchiest song.
15. Pernice Brothers – Spread the Feeling
The first Pernice Brothers album in nine years finds Joe Pernice at the top of his jangly, melodic game. If you love classic guitar pop songwriting, few do it better and I hope it won’t be another nine years till we get more.
Finest moment: “The Devil and the Jin” has melody and harmonies worthy of Big Star, plus backing vocals from Neko Case.
16. Ladytron – Ladytron
The icy synthpop quartet returned after seven years with their best record since Witching Hour. Like a bullet train through a snowstorm, this is the Ladytron you remember.
Finest moment: “Horrorscope” is manic and alive in a way that you might not expect from a band entering their 20th year together.
17. Le SuperHomard – Meadow Lane Park
Echoing Stereolab and The Cardigans — harpsichords! pizzicato strings! arpeggiated synths! — this French band’s full-length debut is a technicolor blast of springtime.
Finest moment: “Paper Girl” absolutely soars.
18. Lloyd Cole – Guesswork
The master of literate janglepop discovers synthesizers and makes his best album in ages. Guesswork is sleek, sophisticated and pure Lloyd Cole.
Finest moment: “Night Sweats” is a well-drawn portrait of a middle-aged “complicated motherfucker” set to the lushest production.
19. Sleaford Mods – Eton Alive
Loaded with bangers (and mash), Eton Alive has all the stuff you want from the Mods (British slang, nonstop profanity, puns, put-downs, anger) but with better beats and some pop hooks too. Their most enjoyable since Divide & Exit.
Finest moment: With it’s “wub-wub” synths and “Who Knew?” chorus, “Kebab Spider” is their best single to date.
20. International Teachers of Pop – International Teachers of Pop
Members of Moonlandingz and The Soundcarriers team for deliciously wicked synthpop disco that’s part Pet Shop Boys, part ABBA and is perhaps, in their own words, “the third most important outsider pop album to come out of Sheffield since Dare and Different Class.”
Finest moment: “The Ballad of Remedy Nilsson” references Serge Gainsbourg and Harry Nilsson and has a chorus worthy of ABBA.
21. Chromatics – Closer to Grey
Who needs Dear Tommy? Johnny Jewel and Ruth Radelet slide that long-delayed record aside and show they are still masters of mood. Few nail eerie nostalgia quite like Chromatics and they’ve done it again here with 12 songs that also find them gently pushing their distinctive sound in new directions.
Finest moment: Jazzy disco number “You’re No Good” is among the most upbeat songs Chromatics have ever released and is a real testament to both Radelet’s voice and Jewell’s production skills.
22. Rocketship – Thanks to You
West Coast indiepop cult group Rocketship re-emerged out of nowhere with their first album in 13 years. Blending shoegaze, jazzy indiepop and electronic beats and drones, it’s the biggest, best surprise of 2019.
Finest moment: Opening track “Under Streetlights Shadows” is like if The Cardigans and The Field Mice merged — jazzy but shy and with a little fantastic guitar solo that comes out of nowhere.
23. Girl Ray – Girl
UK trio’s terrific second album pulls off the difficult trick of almost total reinvention (from twee/folk/indie to modern pop that recalls Tom Tom Club, Sade and Bananarama) while still sounding like themselves.
Finest moment: The key to Girl Ray’s transformation is Poppy Harrington’s breathy voice works so well in sultry pop mode, as exemplified on “Friend Like That.”
24. Shana Cleveland – Night of the Worm Moon
Songs about aliens and bugs have never sounded more gorgeous than on the La Luz frontwoman Shana Cleveland’s mesmerizing psych-folk solo debut.
Finest moment: “Face of the Sun” has just a touch of La Luz’s surfy vibe, while Shana spins spiderwebs of guitar and honeyed harmonies.
25. Wand – Laughing Matter
Wand fully leave the garage behind and head to the stratosphere on this sprawling, proggy personal gamechanger of a record. Laughing Matter rocks, with no shortage of ocean-sized hooks and swooning moments. Why aren’t Wand massive?
Finest moment: Play “Scarecrow” for the Radiohead fan in your life, but “Rio Grande,” which stays mellow while drenched in beatific guitarwork, is Wand at their most gorgeously impressive.
26. Sacred Paws – Run Around the Sun
As much as I like Shopping and Trash Kit, for me Sacred Paws is Rachel Aggs’ best band. Run Around the Sun is joyous, danceable indie rock with a dose of Ghana High Life that you will have to work hard to dislike.
Finest moment: Run Around the Sun is loaded with bouncy charmers, but “Brush Your Hair” might shine the brightest.
27. Olden Yolk – Living Theatre
Quilt may be on hiatus but guitarist/singer Shane Butler continues to make entrancing baroque, folky, krautrock-y psych with Caity Shaffer as Olden Yolk. Their second album, Living Theatre improves on their debut in every way with nuances unveiling themselves on repeat listens.
Finest moment: “Grand Palais” really shows of the inventive percussive side of Olden Yolk and with its syncopated beat could almost be a Madchester dance jam.
28. Kelley Stoltz – My Regime
I’m pretty sure Kelley Stoltz is incapable of making a bad record, as he proves pretty much every year. My Regime, which mixes ’60s pop, ’80s post-punk and more, is another gem from one of the most underrated artists of the last 20 years.
Finest moment: The glistening guitars and muted bass on “Sister” is mellow gold.
29. Swervedriver – Future Ruins
Nearly 30 years into their existence, you know what you’re gonna get with OG shoegazers Swervedriver — thick, overdriven guitars that still manage to chime, soaring choruses, and frontman Adam Franklin’s mellow vocal style — but Future Ruins really delivers the goods.
Finest moment: “Drone Lover” is everything Swerverdiver do great in four minutes.
30. Whitney – Forever Turned Around
Whitney make what I call Sunday Morning Music. Gentle, warm and melodic, their particular strain of SMM is buoyed by strings, horns, twangy guitars and Julien Ehrlich’s lonesome faletto. Their second album has more of a melancholy air than their debut, but is just as captivating.
Finest moment: The whole album swoons, but on album-opener “Giving Up,” the beauty is almost overwhelming.
31. CHAI – PUNK
Uncategorizable Japanese band CHAI have their cake and eat it too on their second album which satirizes and criticizes the “kawaii” concept of ultra cute-ness, while doing it in a way that screams KAWAII in all caps. Throwing post-punk, prog, disco, pop and anything else within reach into the blender, PUNK is subversive in all the right ways.
Finest moment: “Fashionista” is seriously funky, but I love the gonzo cheerleader music that is “We Are Chai.”
32. Piroshka – Brickbat
Featuring members of Lush, Elastica, Modern English and Moose, Piroshka bristle at being called a supergroup, but their debut album is super indeed and a fabulous extension of the ’90s UK shoegaze and indie they made then.
Finest moment: “Village of the Damned” is a dreamy dream of Lush and Moose as one band.
33. Ride – This is Not a Safe Place
On their second album since reforming, Ride reignite the spark that wasn’t quite lit on 2017’s The Weather Diaries. This is Not a Safe Place is confident, adventurous and sounds like Ride, but is also clearly a 2019 Creation.
Finest moment: Ride tried unsuccessfully to go full-on Britpop in the mid-’90s, but “Clouds of Saint Marie” cracks it with an anthemic strain of dreampop.
34. DOOMSQUAD – Let Yourself Be Seen
This arty Toronto trio party for your right to fight on their inventive, fun and funky third album that falls somewhere between ’80s no wave, ’90s house, and ’00s-era DFA but presenting a very 2019 anxiety-ridden lyrical view.
Finest moment: “The General Hum” is the album in a nutshell, with frontman Trevor Blumas asking “Is there a place for spirit anymore?” over an infectious post-punk/house hybrid backing track.
35. Kirin J Callinan – Return to Center
Kirin covers PiL, Momus, Randy Newman and more as only he could…entirely on equipment and instruments purchased at Guitar Center which were then returned, taking advantage of the chain’s 14-day return policy. Return to Center transcends its many high concepts, and Kirin makes these other people’s songs his own.
Finest moment: His version of Momus’ “The Homosexual” realizes the promise that the original only hinted it.
36. Marble Arch – Children of the Slump
If this album from Parisian dreampop band Marble Arch had come out on Captured Tracks in 2010, it would now probably be regarded as one of the label’s best-ever releases. As is, it’s one of this year’s best, darkly romantic and catchy as hell.
Finest moment: “Gold” pulls you along with a great, judiciously used New Order-esque guitar hook. Right when you’re lulled by washes of ethereal synths and hushed harmonies, in comes that riff again.
37. Metronomy – Metronomy Forever
Metronomy let it all hang out — dancepop, indie guitar rock, twisted instrumentals, ridiculous songs about sex emojis — on their best, most fun record since The English Riviera.
Finest moment: With its “honey/money” rhyme scheme chorus (sung in a wild falsetto), “Sex Emoji” is the sweet spot in the Brilliant/Stupid Venn diagram.
38. Anemone – Beat My Distance
Montreal’s Anemone pull from different eras and genres — ’60s sunshine pop and yé-yé, krautrock, ’90s Madchester — into a sound that is distinctively theirs and, as bandleader Chloé Soldevila puts it, captures “the feeling of driving endlessly on a sunny day with a lover, the feeling of dancing and forgetting about everything while feeling high on life.”
Finest moment: Chloé’s description is literally brought to life on “Endless Drive” which starts sweet and pretty, but then steers into uncharted territory with vintage drum machines, clattering percussion and layer upon layer of sunshine psychedelics.
39. Tropical Fuck Storm – Braindrops
More amazing, phantasmagoric, world’s end rock n’ roll from Australia’s Tropical Fuck Storm who continue to be on fire since forming just two years ago from the ashes of The Drones. Has there ever been an album that sounds so much like its cover art looks? Probably, but not in 2019.
Finest moment: “Who’s My Eugene?” is a bizarro world R&B smash that sets fears of romantic intimacy against the relationship between Brian Wilson and his infamous psychiatrist/manager/songwriting partner, Dr Eugene Landy.
40. Mega Bog – Dolphine
Erin Birgy, who records as Mega Bog, doesn’t really sound like the Weyes Blood and Cate Le Bon records that are also on this list, but she orbits around the same planet, albeit further out, making equally bewitching music that magically mixes ethereal pop, spectral folk, psych rock, jazz and more into something totally unique
Finest moment: “I Hear You Listening (To the Bug on My Wall)” takes many wonderful, surprising twists and turns over the course of three and a half minutes.
30 More 2019 Albums I listened to a Lot (in No Real Order)
The Specials – Encore
Gruff Rhys – Pang!
Corridor – Junior
Bill Callahan – Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest
The Flaming Lips – King’s Mouth: Music and Songs
Black Marble – Bigger Than Life
Solange – When I Get Home
Fat White Family – Serfs Up!
Eddy Current Suppression Ring – All in Good Time
Nilüfer Yanya – Miss Universe
The Brian Jonestown Massacre – S/T
Omni – Networker
Pye Corner Audio – Hollow Earth
Stephen Malkmus – Groove Denied
Death and Vanilla – Are You A Dreamer?
Uranium Club – The Cosmo Cleaners
Monster Rally – Adventures on the Floating Island
Possible Humans – Everybody Split
Penelope Isles – Until the Tide Creeps In
Pip Blom – Boat
French Vanilla – How Am I Not Myself?
School of Language – 45
Patience – Dizzy Spells
Automelodi – Mirages au futur verre-brise
Stealing Sheep – Big Wows
Sonny & The Sunsets – Hairdressers from Heaven
Patio – Essentials
Rose Elinor Dougall – A New Illusion
Dark Tea – S/T
The Stroppies – Whoosh
EPs and Singles I Loved
JARV IS… “Must I Evolve?”
Charlotte Adigéry – Zandoli
Pottery – No. 1
Dry Cleaning – Boundary Road Snacks And Drinks EP & Sweet Princess EP
The Vacant Lots – Exit
Beak> – Life Goes On
Absolutely Free – Geneva Freeport
The World – Reddish
Munya – Blue Pine
Charlotte Gainsbourg – Take 2