The 2019 Uproxx Music Critics Poll

UPROXX rates the top 50 albums of 2019

As Grayson Haver Currin points out in his essay released along with the 2019 Uproxx Music Critics Poll, there is more music released on a daily basis than it is even possible to listen to. And for the more than 200 critics who participated in our second annual poll, this resulted in more than 600 albums chosen as part of their top ten. Voters submitted their favorite records of the year, with ten points given to their top choice, nine to their runner-up, and so on. Explore the complete list of votes and critics in the menu to the upper right, and be sure to check out the full slate of accompanying essays and features dropping over the next couple of days. Thanks to everyone that participated, highlighting a diverse music community with eclectic tastes.

01

Norman F*cking Rockwell!

— Lana Del Rey

Unamused but never fully disengaged, Lana Del Rey stormed into the middle of 2019 with a softly raging album that took the world by surprise. While plenty of fans have insisted since “Video Games” that Lana had a masterpiece in her, subsequent releases have been good, and even great, but never had the year-defining force that Norman F*cking Rockwell does. A self-assured, introverted beach philosopher with a heart of gold, and the go-to crooner for soundtracking marquee movies, Lana has so often been fascinated by singing stories of the past. On Rockwell though, she belts and sighs about the state of union, Kanye West, and the ever-present ache of falling for a man child. While we all live in a world ruled by those, Lana’s sharp observations offer a welcome balm. “F*ck It, I Love You” is the most worthy antidote for despair, and happiness has delicate wings, but no matter how strange and slippery hope is, with Lana, we have it.

Caitlin White

02

Anticipation was high in advance of this 17-year-old phenom’s debut album, given that 2017’s Don’t Smile At Me EP — which includes five songs that were certified platinum — already made her a streaming superstar. Impressively, Eilish became an even bigger pop act in 2019, thanks to an album of remarkably assured goth-pop that hit hardest when Eilish whispered softest.

Steven Hyden

03

Igor

— Tyler The Creator

Earlier this year, Tyler The Creator called his 2011 Goblin album “trash.” The statement exemplified a musical evolution that’s pleasantly apparent on IGOR, his Grammy-nominated opus. Tyler crafted a soundscape that fuses hip-hop with R&B, electronic music, and other genres. He offsets his boundary-pushing sonics with lyrics that reflect on everyday qualms such as heartbreak, outgrowing one’s past, and staying afloat during life’s trials.

Andre Gee

04

Purple Mountains

— Purple Mountains

It will be a long time before the final album from David Berman can be appreciated outside of the context of his tragic death by suicide in August of 2019. Lyrically, the album is often a bleak and unsparing portrait of a difficult man beset by loneliness. And yet Purple Mountains also is frequently hilarious and bounces along with some of the most winning melodies that Berman ever wrote. It’s a wrenching listen, but also deeply rewarding and, even now, incredibly engaging.

Steven Hyden

05

Father Of The Bride

— Vampire Weekend

As one of the defining bands of indie-pop in the aughts and early ’10s, Vampire Weekend faced a genuine dilemma with Father Of The Bride, their first album in six years: How do we retain what people liked about us, while also moving forward? The solution was to spread out, embrace laid-back jams, and rely upon Ezra Koenig’s ability to write witty, novelistic songs about falling in love and starting a family in an era of apparent social collapse.

Steven Hyden

06

All Mirrors

— Angel Olsen

Angel Olsen didn’t need to build to this. Dating back to her more spare early work, including the underappreciated Half Way Home, Olsen’s inimitable voice and penchant for tapping into traditions ranging from girl groups to busted-radio country have been enough to earn her a spot among the great songwriters of her generation. But as Olsen wraps a decade on the musical map, it will be the restlessness to keep pushing herself, as she has on this gorgeously ambitious effort, that her legacy can rest on. Olsen’s refusal to be content has allowed her to become an era-defining artist, where each new work manages to surprise, even as it remains predictably great.

Philip Cosores

07

Titanic Rising

— Weyes Blood

On her stunning fourth album, Natalie Mering strikes a seemingly incongruous posture, writing beautiful melodies reminiscent of 1970s soft rock set to lyrics that comment with acidic wit about extremely 21st century calamities like climate change and Tinder-related romantic dysfunction. Then again, did listening to The Carpenters make any more sense during the height of the Vietnam War? Each generation needs its own barbed lullabies.

Steven Hyden

08

Remind Me Tomorrow

— Sharon Van Etten

As one of the most beloved singer-songwriters of the 2010s, Sharon Van Etten had established a well-honed persona, as a person who writes personal songs and sings them with the intimacy of a private conversation. But on Remind Me Tomorrow, she boldly explodes that paradigm, embracing new wave stylishness and arena-rock bluster on songs that manage to still hit the emotional bull’s eye while also rocking like never before.

Steven Hyden

09

On The Line

— Jenny Lewis

Jenny Lewis has written as many great indie-rock songs as anyone in the past 20 years, whether with Rilo Kiley or during her own prodigious solo career. But her fourth solo record, On The Line, felt like a culmination of a great career. Backed by an all-star cast that includes Beck, Benmont Tench, and Ringo Starr, Lewis was given the “venerable icon” treatment she’s always deserved, and she responded with a low-key but typically powerful collection of songs centered on her cutting wordplay and timeless swagger.

Steven Hyden

10

Magdalene

— FKA Twigs

On a fascinating, bittersweet second album, Magdalene, FKA Twigs muses on loves both alive and dead, weaving a tale of twisted hearts and miscommunication through her strangely mesmerizing trip-hop. Melodramatic and inflected with strange, subtle religious allusions, Twigs proves that she is an enigma who extends far beyond just her incredible skill as a dancer.

Caitlin White

11

Lover

— Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s Lover arrived after much speculation and a very public disagreement with her former record label, Big Machine Records. The 18-track album shed her edgy Reputation era to opt for sunny themes, bright synths, and uplifting ballads. Peppered with snapping beats and tastefully-arranged acoustic numbers, Lover calls back to Taylor’s early days as a musician with subtle country twang while adding a stylistic shift thanks to collaborator/producer Jack Antonoff. Swift pulls listeners in with revved-up pop anthems like “I Think He Knows” while tender and intimate narratives like “The Archer” reveal genuine emotion. Lover is a celebration of Taylor’s success as the centerpiece of modern pop, once again proving her detractors wrong.

Carolyn Droke

12

Ghosteen

— Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds

Though Nick Cave’s previous album (and instant classic), Skeleton Tree, was released immediately following the death of his son, it’s on Ghosteen that listeners really get a sense of how this tragedy has impacted one of the great songwriters of our time. Cave is his usual eloquent, graceful self, using space and ambiance in ways that underscore themes of grief and healing. Mostly, Ghosteen is a reminder of Cave’s role as a shepherd, and how listeners are in good hands when he’s guiding the flock, making the most complex of emotional circumstances feel manageable, and survivable.

Philip Cosores

13

Thank U, Next (2019)

— Ariana Grande

Even though it’s only been out for the span of a few months, it’s already hard to imagine modern pop music without Thank U, Next. Born out of tempestuous personal circumstances and spiked with a heady dose of hip-hop, this succinct, emotional song cycle bounces between lust, grief, self-love, and female friendship with equal grace. Cementing Ariana as one of the foremost divas of our time, Thank U, Next is a distillation of feminine desire, heartache, and rap swagger that’s nearly perfect and universally appealing.

Caitlin White

14

When I Get Home

— Solange

When I Get Home is Solange’s classic way of bringing Houston culture to those who dare to take a moment to listen. Between spoken words, jazz sensations, and DJ Screw’s influence, Solo takes the H’s lifestyle and delivers it in a way that is outside of expectancy.

Cherise Johnson

15

Cuz I Love You

— Lizzo

First an artist is ignored, running on empty and vying for a break. Then, they become loved, ubiquitous, and triumphant. And finally, they’re hated — deemed too popular or the wrong person to occupy the lofty realm of superstar. So, it’s a testament to Lizzo’s unstoppable force that the back half of this year saw her fighting off greedy former collaborators and mean-spirited snipes from critics, peers, and foes alike. Cuz I Love You rises above all this, telling the heartfelt story of a star-in-the-making, a fat, Black diva with a voice that won’t quit and enough self-love for the fans, the fakes, and yes, even the haters. Never before has a DNA test had such an impact on the pop charts.

Caitlin White

16

U.F.O.F.

— Big Thief

Perhaps no up-and-coming indie band was talked about more in 2019 than Big Thief, who not only released the staggeringly good U.F.O.F. in May, but followed it up just a few months later with a second LP called Two Hands. Now freshly nominated for a Grammy, U.F.O.F. shows a band at the peak of their powers and refusing to slow down their creative process.

Zac Gelfand

17

Bandana

— Freddie Gibbs And Madlib

In 2014, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib linked up to create one of the best albums of the 2010s with Cocaine Pinata. Then they did it again five years later. The MadGibbs pairing is one of hip-hop’s most trustworthy. In a climate where boundary-pushing and genre-blending are arbiters of rap genius, Gibbs makes a claim for the best rapper alive by simply ripping a suite of soulful Madlib beats to shreds. It’s classic. It’s refreshing. It’s one of the best albums of the year.

Andre Gee

18

Jaime

— Brittany Howard

On her solo album debut, the frontperson of the Alabama Shakes confidently steps outside of one of rock’s biggest bands. On her own, Howard whips up a heady mix of funk, blues, and psychedelia, retaining the overpowering thunder of her blues-rock vocals while venturing into dramatically more adventurous sonic terrain. While the Shakes are typically classified as Americana, Howard transcends any reductive labels on her own.

Steven Hyden

19

The Highwomen

— The Highwomen

Supergroups come and supergroups go, but acts of bravery last forever. In a corner of the music industry that repeatedly attempts to tell women they somehow aren’t talented enough, worthy enough, or important enough to receive the support and resources men are constantly given, The Highwomen take matters in their own hands, setting the record right forever. Maren Morris, Natalie Hemby, Amanda Shires, and Brandi Carlile redesign the role of women in country music across an album of uplifting, sly, and downright inspiring songs that enlist the likes of newcomer Yola and icon Sheryl Crow. The original Highwaymen notwithstanding, this crew might be the most important collaboration in country music.

Caitlin White

20

I,I

— Bon Iver

Few legacy acts in indie rock have ventured as far into the wilds of esoteric experimentation — while also retaining a huge following — than Bon Iver. But on the group’s fourth album, Justin Vernon found a happy middle ground between the electro-rock freakouts of 2016’s 22, A Million and the more approachable anthems of his earlier work, coming up with one of the most satisfying albums of the group’s excellent catalogue.

Steven Hyden

21

Young Enough

— Charly Bliss

Charly Bliss made a huge leap in the two years between their (very good) bubblegum indie-pop debut Guppy and their sophomore LP. Young Enough finds the New York quartet taking risks, incorporating synths into the songs and ramping up the hooks to make them scientifically inescapable. It’s a record so wonderfully paced and curated that it’s hard to play A&R and find a song that it could do without.

Zac Gelfand

22
Charli

Charli

— Charli XCX

Icona Pop’s “I Love It” established Charli XCX as a pre-eminent pop songwriter, and since then, she has set out to prove herself as a bona fide pop star. On her self-titled new album, Charli shows off her versatility and her ability get the best out of her many collaborators, while also firmly placing herself at the center. The album title couldn’t be more fitting.

Derrick Rossignol

23

I Am Easy To Find

— The National

The National have always been more than the five dudes that appear in most press photos, and their latest album underscores the reach of the band. Using a host of outside vocalists, complete lyrical writes on select songs from Carin Besser and Mike Mills, and a short film accompanying the release, I Am Easy To Find functions as an testament to restlessness and creative longing. The National are determined to reach new heights, and are willing to allow others to help push them along.

Philip Cosores

24

No Home Record

— Kim Gordon

In the years since Sonic Youth’s dissolution, Kim Gordon has been focusing musically on Body/Head, her experimental noise collaboration with Bill Nace. It would seem though that she had some fuel left in the tank for Sonic Youth’s (occasional) melodic approach, and No Home Record allows her to put all the pieces together on one nine-track effort. From the modern industrial sounds of album opener “Sketch Artist” to the nineties-influenced alternative rock frenzy of “Hungry Baby,” we see the full spectrum of Gordon’s songwriting strengths.

Zac Gelfand

25

Legacy! Legacy!

— Jamila Woods

Chicago singer-songwriter Jamila Woods has come a long way since her early-career Chance The Rapper collaborations. She dropped her second album, Legacy! Legacy!, this year, and it’s the sound of an artist realizing her potential. The drawback to this record is that it gives Woods the unenviable task of trying to top an all-timer in the neo-soul realm.

Derrick Rossignol

26

Better Oblivion Community Center

— Better Oblivion Community Center

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of Phoebe Bridgers at Uproxx. And on Better Oblivion Community Center, like Boygenius before it, she proves to be as dialed in as a collaborator as she is running the show. Conor Oberst is revitalized in her presence while she crafts tunes that are more spirited and playful than anything she’s released as a solo artist. Oberst and Bridgers are essentially a dream team, bringing out the best in each other, while reminding their fans why they are great in the first place.

Philip Cosores

27
Basking In The Glow

Basking In The Glow

— Oso Oso

There were a handful of true gems on Oso Oso’s sophomore album The Yunahon Mixtape. But it would seem that third time’s the charm for New York emo project, with Basking In The Glow checking off almost every box for individuals who like straight-on melodic rock music with a bit of an alternative/punk flair. Tracks like “Priority Change” and “Impossible Game” are just a few examples of Jade Lilitri’s knack for navigating intimate but massive stories in a short amount of time.

Zac Gelfand

28

Morbid Stuff

— Pup

These surly Canadians broke through in 2016 with The Dream Is Over, a punk-rock gut-punch set inside a burning house fueled by crippling millennial ennui. It’s not exactly accurate to say that they matured on Morbid Stuff , but Pup’s ability to apply knowing gallows humor to the vagaries of late capitalism and imploding global democracies steers the album clear of despair.

Steven Hyden

29

Heard It In A Past Life

— Maggie Rogers

Maggie Rogers soared to fame with a viral video of Pharell’s reaction to a demo of “Alaska” but Heard It In A Past Life proves she’s a mainstay. With her folk background, Rogers fuses traditional influences with the energy of modern dance music. A strong bassline opens the album, entrancing listeners with her unwavering vocals. Much of the record opts for subtle, palpitating beats which propels Rogers’ therapeutic voice to the center of each track.

Carolyn Droke

30
1000 GECS

1000 Gecs

— 100 Gecs

Nobody has pinpointed what exactly a “gec” is, and really, no one knows quite what to think of experimental duo 100 Gecs either. No matter what your position on the group, it’s clear that their debut album is fascinating and unlike much else happening right now. Through all the abrasiveness and unexpected turns, there are moments when it’s undeniably catchy. Anybody who has heard “Money Machine” and claims they don’t remember the hook is lying.

Derrick Rossignol

31
Two Hands

Two Hands

— Big Thief

I don’t know what’s more wild: That Big Thief managed to take their quietly revolutionary songwriting to unexpected heights in 2019, making an album that reshaped an already great band into one with limitless potential? Or, that they did it twice.

Philip Cosores

32

Wildcard

— Miranda Lambert

Faithfully trashy, fitfully romantic, and unabashedly country, Miranda Lambert never fails to deliver songs that are both wildly inventive and lovingly traditionalist. On Wildcard, her seventh full-length album, Lambert is “Way Too Pretty For Prison” (for a tongue-in-cheek duet with Maren Morris), back to “Settling Down,” yet still “Pretty Bitchin’” — taking silly shots at genre tropes and taking stock of a career that has managed to rise above the particular pitfalls that often plague women in country. On album standout “Mess With My Head,” she’s as fiery as ever, thinking back on a man who did her wrong, and in closer “Dark Bars,” she’s still thirsty for the nightlife, even if, in reality, she’s happily yoked with a new partner. But you never know what’s just around the corner with this left-field superstar, or what ace might be lurking in her stacked deck.

Caitlin White

33

Patience

— Mannequin Pussy

Marisa Dabice has one of the great voices in contemporary punk. Not only does she have the rare ability to howl in tune, but she can convey both aggressive, near-violent strength and severe, broken-down-sobbing weakness simultaneously. On the third Mannequin Pussy album Patience, Dabice pushes her vocals forcefully in both directions on a record that’s reminiscent of a bygone alt-rock world, in which artfully glossy art-punk albums were still considered pop.

Steven Hyden

34
Crushing

Crushing

— Julia Jacklin

In just the first few notes, Australian songwriter Julia Jacklin’s Crushing is gripping. “Body,” the album’s opening track, pulls the listener in for the long haul with a promise of hauntingly intimate ballads and honest anecdotes. With a twinge of folk, the record gradually gains confidence, resulting in a sophomore effort that delivers a brooding re-discovery of the self, woven with the emotional complexity of reclaiming one’s own body.

Carolyn Droke

35

Dedicated

— Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae Jepsen proved she’s come a long way since her breakout single, “Call Me Maybe,” with Dedicated. Jepsen leaves her lovelorn reputation behind in exchange for confident bops and dance-ready hits like “Want You In My Room”. The disco-tinged sound of Dedicated calls back to an early era of ‘80s pop while adding a modern twist with layered production and punchy deliveries, firmly establishing herself in her own pop lane.

Carolyn Droke

36

So Much Fun

— Young Thug

An album that lives up to its title, Young Thug’s first-ever Billboard No. 1 is a showcases the Atlanta trap surrealist’s scintillating way with words over a scaled-back musical palette that lets his voice take center stage. It also shows off just how influential Thug has been to the modern generation of warbling wordsmiths with features from Lil Baby, Gunna, Lil Keed, and Lil Uzi Vert, with yet another one of J. Cole’s standout 2019 guest verses thrown in for good measure. Thug’s career accomplishments are far too long to list here, but we can add “one of the best hip-hop albums of 2019” to his impressive resume.

Aaron Williams

37
SOUND AND FURY

Sound And Fury

— Sturgill Simpson

The crankiest, funniest, grooviest, synth-ist, and least country-sounding country record of the year. By decamping with his crack band to Michigan to groove on Kurosawa films and emulate the horndog blooze-pop of ZZ Top’s ’80s masterwork Eliminator, Simpson managed to draw a defiant line in the sand in favor of art over commerce, all while having an absolute blast. He didn’t thumb his nose at the Nashville establishment as much as disregard its existence altogether.

Steven Hyden

38

Pang

— Caroline Polachek

Technically, Pang is Caroline Polachek’s third solo album, but the other two were released under her other moniker, Ramona Lisa, so this record still has the feeling of a debut, especially considering it’s her first release since the peaceful dissolution of her old band, Chairlift. Full of breathy vocals and wonder-filled production, Polachek spits out glitchy, off-kilter pop about failing relationships and flailing crushes with the precision of a mainstream star, even if she can never quite ditch her indie roots.

Caitlin White

39

Eve (2019)

— Rapsody

Rapsody’s Eve is a cohesive hip-hop masterpiece celebrating the lives of Black women who have been tremendously influential throughout the years. Rapsody carefully and accurately portrays the sound of each song to the persona of each woman it’s named after. “Aaliyah” sounds like the late R&B singer and “Cleo” sounds just as rambunctious as Queen Latifah, and the North Carolina MC makes it work in a collection that somehow holds a candle to legendary subjects it evokes.

Cherise Johnson

40

Ode To Joy

— Wilco

At this point, Jeff Tweedy has earned the right to rest on his laurels. If Wilco never recorded another album, they’d still be one of the great American bands of the last 25 years. And yet the beauty of Ode To Joy is that these veterans still feel compelled to push themselves. While the music is superficially quiet, this muted beauty seethes with rage about a world that is seemingly ambivalent about its own destruction.

Steven Hyden

41

Zuu

— Denzel Curry

A paean to the South Florida native’s hometown of Carol City, Zuu showcases Curry’s wordplay at its most blunt, painting stark images of a rough upbringing that nevertheless taught just enough of life’s hard lessons to make him a star. “Birdz” reflects the rags-to-riches tale of two generations thanks to a stellar appearance from Rick Ross, while “Wish” invokes a sunny, seaside drive through the city, a shot of brightness among the dark, bruising beats. “Speedboat” is as clear a bridge between the two as the ones that crisscross Miami’s waterways.

Aaron Williams

42
PONY

Pony

— Orville Peck

Orville Peck’s noir country has turned more than a few heads this year — and not just because of his fringed mask and classic crooner vocals. Peck’s identity may be concealed for now, but the clever, dramatic songwriting of his debut, Pony, comes through clear as day. As a queer cowboy with a surrealist streak, Peck already let us know about his love for Dolly Parton and RuPaul, but even without that info, his flair for the dramatic and a penchant for manic, freewheeling melodies catapults him up into the same category as those two entertainers. Whether you love country or hate it, Pony is a lowkey but still wild ride.

Caitlin White

43

Lux Prima

— Karen O And Danger Mouse

Karen O and Danger Mouse aren’t exactly two artists that seem like natural fits for collaboration, but Lux Prima argues that this marriage was a long time coming. More polished and refined than most of Karen O’s solo work, while not settling for the radio-ready production style that has typified Danger Mouse’s last decade, Lux Prima is an example of two artists bringing out the best of each other, while maintaining their own celebrated identities.

Philip Cosores

44

Grey Area

— Little Simz

Little Simz’ Grey Area is one of the year’s most candid, vulnerable works. The talented 25-year-old from the UK explores gun violence on “Wounds,” and her status as a woman in rap on the freewheeling “Venom.” Those qualms alone justify the mental health issues that she explores through the rest of the 10-song soundscape produced by Inflo.

Andre Gee

45

Schlagenheim

— Black Midi

The UK group Black Midi started as a mystery and have since become an alternative math-rock phenomenon. Most of their music couldn’t rightfully be described as easily digestible, but listeners able to get past the chaotic edges will find a core that’s, well, just as chaotic, but also infinitely listenable, and filled with dextrous songwriting and performances.

Derrick Rossignol

46

While I’m Livin’

— Tanya Tucker

Few artists can boast twenty-five albums to their name, even fewer are landing top spots on a year-end list at that late a stage in their career. But Tanya Tucker is a rarity, always has been, always will be, and several critics even consider this entry to be her best work to date. On While I’m Livin’, the 61-year-old country icon got an assist from acolytes Brandi Carlile, who wrote the majority of the songs that aren’t covers, and Shooter Jennings, who co-produced the record.While I’m Livin’ showcases an artist who has been a star since she was thirteen, and shows absolutely no sign of stopping now.

Caitlin White

47

Dogrel

— Fontaines D.C.

The debut album from Ireland’s very own Fontaines DC was one of the most talked about releases earlier this year. The earnest post-punk drive of every song, along with the poetic lyrics delivered through seething reckless abandon from frontperson Grian Chatten, was something that somehow felt not only unique, but also vital. We’ve seen several iterations of bands that both sort of look and sort of sound like Fontaines DC, but this quintet’s ability to break through the noise is what makes them stand out.

Zac Gelfand

48

Western Stars

— Bruce Springsteen

At this point in his career, Bruce Springsteen is a universally adored icon and the rare boomer-era artist who continues to garner respect from millennials and Generation Z. But while his classic material remains a touchstone, his recent work has sometimes seemed a little forgettable. Not so with Western Stars, his best album in more than a decade, an evocative song cycle about broken men trying to reinvent themselves in the American West, set to luminous pocket symphonies.

Steven Hyden

49
House Of Sugar

House Of Sugar

— (Sandy) Alex G

While (Sandy) Alex G recorded most of his early material with very basic equipment, usually in his bedroom, his recent projects have seen him moving in a more psychedelic and experimental direction. On House Of Sugar, his ninth full-length release in as many years, the prolific singer-songwriter takes as big of a jump into unconventional territory as ever, taking grand risks that pay off in the form of unexpected ear worm sections.

Zac Gelfand

50

The Lost Boy

— YBN Cordae

An album that surprised all but a few of the YBN clique’s sharpest observers, Cordae harnessed the strength of his old soul and youthful energy to craft a crystal-clear, nostalgic window into his family, influences, and early life. At times heartbreaking, confessional, and vulnerable, as on tracks like “Bad Idea” and “Thanksgiving,” The Lost Boy can also be rowdy, confrontational, and keenly self-aware on “RNP,” “Broke As F*ck,” and “We Gon Make It.” Cordae think he’s lost, but he knows exactly who he is and where he’s been. Wherever he’s going, he’ll be great when he gets there.

Aaron Williams

Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.