Part two is here! Just like last time, I’m talking about some of my favorites albums and EP’s from 2019, in no particular order or ranking. (If you missed Part 1, you can check it out here.) Keep reading, or listen to the audio above to learn about some of my Gems of 2019. You can also listen on Podbean, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.
Jamila Woods conjures some of history’s most influential and inspired artists of color on her latest album, LEGACY! LEGACY! Its song titles invoke jazz pioneers Miles Davis and Sun Ra, artistic rebels Jean-Michel Basquiat and Frida Kahlo, activist/actor/singer Eartha Kitt, and a number of writers including James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston (Woods is also a poet). The album pays homage to these artists’ work and their impact on today, with some help from a handful of collaborators like Saba and Nitty Scott, who delivers a searing verse on “SONIA.” Woods strikes a beautiful balance between past and present, honoring the work of those who came before her, while asserting herself as a powerful, graceful, and multi-faceted artist.
As the title would suggest, Breakup Season is a collection of heart-wrenchingly honest songs about difficult life transitions. Breakup Season is an album to cry along to, but in more ways than one. The album’s emo-influenced rock songs narrate the weight of carrying emotional baggage, failing to move on after a relationship’s end, and falling victim to persistent crying spells. But the album is also an ode to Future Teen’s air-tight bond. They’ve seen each other through the pain and loss, and let us ride it out with them.
Ahem are a ray of sunshine packed into earnest and explosive rock. I’ve been a fan of the trio since they emerged from an underground bunker in 2016 with their first EP, Just Wanna Be, and I am so happy that 2019 gave us the gift of their first full-length album. On the cover of Try Again (designed by Alexis Politz) sits a Magic 8-Ball against a background of bubblegum pink as inviting as the band’s warm and fuzzy Midwestern sound. Try Again reminds me that life isn’t a straight and narrow path — and while hard, it’s more fun that way.
Dua Saleh first discovered performing through poetry. The Sudan-born artist spent their high school and college years in St. Paul, MN writing and performing spoken word. Now, Dua is using their affinity with words to craft mesmerizing, fluid songs. Dua worked with Minneapolis producer Psymun to create slinky, genre-defying songs for their debut EP Nūr (which means “the light” in Arabic). Listening to Dua’s music feels like glimpsing something from the future — their voice floats over sultry beats and metronomic clicks, sounding like nothing I’ve ever heard before.
Listening to Charly Bliss feels like scraping your knees on the messy, winding road to adulthood. The band’s songs sound like a time capsule in what it’s like to be young and alive in 2019. All year I have been blasting “Capacity,” a power pop anthem and an important reminder that success and happiness shouldn’t come at the cost of stretching yourself thin, and that sometimes “doing nothing is delicious.” Young Enough seamlessly marries synth hooks with the band’s characteristically choppy guitars — and as if that wasn’t already enough, Charly Bliss ended 2019 on a high note with the release of the EP Supermoon.
Tacocat gave me the jangly, surf-punk anthems that I needed to make it through this year. This Mess Is a Place talks about the struggles, both mundane and existential, that we face today: slogging through a 9-to-5, feeling powerless and disillusioned. But Tacocat have a charming way of finding pockets of joy in the middle of the mess, turning our greatest fears into rainbow-colored punk songs to dance to.
When Carly Rae Jepsen sets out to write an album, she means business. When planning for Dedicated, she wrote over 200 songs, only 15 of which made it onto the album. But even within the span of 15 songs, Jepsen captures the many nuances of love. Her love songs aren’t blind declarations of passion — they’re webs of complicated and often conflicting emotions, which is what keeps drawing me back to her music. The lines between fantasy and reality blur in “Julien.” In “Too Much,” Jepsen feels her emotions so strongly that they become almost self-destructive. She hides her feelings because she can’t risk getting hurt again in “Happy Not Knowing.” But Jepsen doesn’t get weighed down by heartache — she shimmies along to the beat of ‘80s synths and bright percussion, welcoming us all into her sunny and complex pop.
The title of CHAI’s latest album isn’t so much a reference to the musical genre as it is to CHAI’s rebellious, joy-filled attitude. The Japanese band has been challenging traditional conceptions of beauty and gender roles since their 2017 debut, and on PUNK, CHAI bring us more of their infectiously bubbly energy through songs that blend elements of disco, funk, and techno. On the album’s last song, “Future,” the band sings, “We don’t stop! / We have dreams! / We have a lot of friends!” CHAI teach us that with a bit of courage and smiley energy, anyone can be a punk. And with big dreams and friends to fall back on, anything is possible.