Closing the book on 2019 with EE’s favorite songs of the year. All 30 of them are in the Spotify playlist below and while unranked, I’ll say this: “Not” by Big Thief and the harmonious collab we never saw coming in “Studie” by Teebs & Panda Bear, are the two songs that’ll stay with me the longest from this year.
The playlist checks in at 121 minutes and it’s a journey through the songs that marked 2019 for me. From Flying Lotus putting a bow on Denzel Curry’s “Black Balloons” trilogy and Priests’ fierce “The Seduction of Kansas” to Spellling’s post-Castlevania vibes on “Under The Sun” and Pop Smoke’s Brooklyn drill pomp meets North London swagger on the “Welcome To The Party” Skepta remix. Press play, enjoy. Peace.
Ranking the best albums of the year shouldn’t have to be about consensus. Heck, I’ve been making this yearly list for over 12 years and while I’ve sometimes fallen victim to the pitfalls of slotting and naming certain albums on the list because of the prevailing critical belief about their greatness, that approach is now effectively out the window.
What you’ll find in Everything Ecstatic’s Top 60 Albums of 2019 list, is a direct reflection of the best music I listened to and enjoyed the most this year; whether it’s by a mainstream artist, or someone you may have never heard of before. The latter, is what I think has made EE’s Albums list great for so long. ‘Cause at the end of the day, this site is about discovery and enthusiasm for said discoveries (of course). Stylistically, it’s always gonna be all over the map, from jazz to hip-hop to indie, electronic and beyond…from all over the globe.
Lastly, I’ll say this: I’m glad that I waited until 12/23 to release these picks, because the more days we have to listen to the insane amount of tunes that are getting released throughout the year, then the less likely it is to miss something you absolutely needed in your life (Jamila Woods’ incredible Legacy! Legacy! for example, would not have made its way onto the list, let alone into the Top 10 if this list was finalized in early December. )
So with that, here’s Everything Ecstatic’s Top 60 Albums of the Year, along with a Spotify playlist of them all at the bottom of the post. Follow @EcstaticBlog us on Twitter and like the EE Facebook page to get music shouts on the regular and to stay up on the EE live events series.
Click the Albums of the Year tab at the top of the web page to re-visit more than a decade of EE year-end lists.
Stellar Spins (60-51)
60. Arthur Russell – Iowa Dream
59. Kedr Livanskiy – Your Need
58. Rosie Tucker – Never Not Never Not Never Not
57. Hand Habits – placeholder
56. Hot Chip – A Bathful of Ecstasy
55. Skepta – Ignorance Is Bliss
54. San Fermin – The Cormorant 1
53. Bedouine – Bird Songs of a Killjoy
52. Nate Mercereau – Joy Techniques
51. Jordan Rakei – Origin
The Top 50
50. Black Belt Eagle Scout – At The Party With My Brown Friends
49. Mndsgn – Snaxx
48. Billie Eilish – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
Malci’s songs feel more like spasms. The Chicago rapper jerks from phrase to phrase with little regard for structure or pattern; the thrill of a track like “When They Get Me” comes when the ear captures — sometimes a beat too late — the precise moment when the meandering shifts into the miraculous.
“I rap in all capitals,” Malci spits midway through the 90-second sprint that highlights his latest album, Papaya, but I’ll be a contrarian and say, well, not quite. He tosses capitals and other cases about these tracks with the free-associative abandon of a rapper who trusts his producer (i.e. himself) to do the necessary clean-up. The gyre widens, but the center somehow holds.
That’s thanks to a collection of beats that lean on a collage of field recordings and round, wet synths to build a base that can withstand Malci’s sputtering vocal solos. The results often skew jazzy, though I don’t get the sense of an ensemble playing in hard-earned lockstep. Papaya is the product of a singular vision. Its lived-in messiness is its own and, like the growling dog on the album cover, it perpetually threatens to claw through the fence.
Growing up stateside, the only music from the Philippines I knew was my Grandmother’s lullabies. But digging through my Dad’s records one summer I came across a gem: The Soul Jugglers. Made up of local musicians and African-American US troops stationed in Subic, these dudes had so muchswag. An undeniably smooth Pinoy funk band, if it wasn’t for their Tagalog lyrics, The Soul Jugglers could pass for Motown proper. They strung together the kind of sound only Shaft could walk out to if he was a perm-haired manong in 1970s Metro Manila.
That record helped crack a history and heritage that wasn’t really talked about at home. The Soul Jugglers were among other Philippine bands that found creating music as respite during Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law. They defined the music eras through experimentation and surged into new sonic territories. There was joy to be found on those stages and studios, even when the world outside was deprived of it.
Lexi Papilion isn’t the type to beat around the bushes. Following in the rich tradition of artists who wear their influences perhaps too proudly on their album sleeves, the LA artist went with Punk Adjacent for the title of her debut solo album as Bloodboy. The “adjacent” is what you’ll want to pay attention to, as Bloodboy is most interesting when carving around the margins of what she’s signaled the listener to expect. A case-in-point: Standout track “Can’t Go Home With You Tonight”. At first blush, it’s a mid-tempo pop ballad adjacent to many things you’ve probably heard before, but Papilion’s emotive vocal performance pushes this one into special territory.
The production doesn’t hurt, either. Producer Taylor Locke (Cullen Omori, Geographer) steers Papilion’s howling chorus into red-line territory, generating just enough fuzz to clear the cobwebs off lyrics that lean into the lust-meets-disgust phase of a doomed romance. In the hands of a lesser talent it could all come across as a bit pathetic; instead, somehow, I’m left with the image of Papilion staring down the sea with two middle fingers in the air. It’s not quite punk (or even punk adjacent), but it scratches the same stubborn itch.
I took a jaunt up to Washington for the first time in damn near a decade last week. And despite multiple trips to Seattle in the past, I’d never seen a proper concert in the city before. This is no longer the case, and a couple of these five tracks that marked my trip related back to those live music experiences. Here they are, along with two new discoveries and one absolute classic that tell the story of a memorable trip to the PNW.
Nicola Cruz – “Criançada” (feat. Castello Branco)
We arrived on a Wednesday and made our way that evening to the tightly-packed yet still comfortable Nectar Lounge in Seattle’s Fremont District. Nicola is one of the few producers I’ll make a point to not miss when he comes through for a DJ set and I was happy to make up for the SF set I’d be missing with this Seattle tour stop. “Criançada,” with it’s Brazilian rhythms and vocals by Castello Branco, is a total standout on the incredible cultural journey that is Siku. Nobody infuses indigenous South American music into electronic production quite like the French/Ecuadorian Cruz and more than anything, this is type of music I want to have playing at a club when I’m catching up with friends, drinking and dancing the night away.
Jennifer Lee is best known as the eclectic, storytelling beat producer and performer, TOKiMONSTA. Though her latest effort, through her Young Art Records imprint, reinforces the LA artist as a benevolent music lover and curator at her core. Much like a TOKiMONSTA composition, the Young Art Sound II comp is an all-inclusive reflection of the rich diversity emerging throughout electronic music, from B. Lewis’ fuzzy, R&B-tinged trap, to the festival-friendly, EDM-lite of Blackbird Blackbird. Even in a seemingly saturated electro market, Lee believes, there are genuine gems to be unearthed.
One of these jewels is New Orleans singer Ambré, featured on “Strange Froot,” one of the two tracks TOKi herself produces on the 16-track comp. On the first TOKiMONSTA music released since 2017’s Grammy-nominated album Lune Rouge, Lee foregoes lushness for simplicity, and places her collaborator (and Kehlani’s 2015 tour opener!) at the song’s forefront. Ambré’s airy lead vocal floats over sparse, calming drums and elegant strings give way to dreamy, layered guitars for a blissful, romantic moment. As Ambré’s own moonlit ruminations fade, “Strange Froot” leaves room to ponder on what sonic tales Lee’s TOKiMONSTA has left to tell, waiting to be uncovered.
TOKiMONSTA takes Young Art Sound II on tour, starting on June 7. Peep “Strange Froot” below.