In search of the sound: The best albums of 2019
Picking your favorite albums of any given year is a wholeheartedly subjective endeavor. You’re drawn to what immediately captures your attention — whatever that song, record or genre may be.
And, to that point, you find yourself sharing your musical discoveries with anyone who will listen to the sounds that have tugged at your restless heart and provoked thought in your wandering soul throughout the days, weeks and months on the calendar.
Below are some key releases that have serendipitously found their way into my life — artists and melodies that illuminate truth and compassion within. Hopefully, the perceptive lyrics and mesmerizing tones of these albums will do the same for you.
Durand Jones & The Indications: ‘American Love Call’
Initially coming together while students at Indiana University, the soul/R&B group has been overtaking stages across the country and around the world in the last few years. Though first impressions of the band lean toward Motown and beloved 1960s horn section ensembles, Jones & Co. have conjured a presence that finds itself at a unique crossroads of timeless vocal stylings and innovative musicianship — the word “nostalgia” never once entering the conversation.
Key tracks: “Don’t You Know,” “Morning in America”
Lana Del Ray: ‘Normal Fucking Rockwell’
Arguably the finest release of the last 12 months, the California pop star has offered up a modern-day masterpiece. With the mind of a poet and the sultry attitude of a jazz lounge singer, Del Ray has set herself apart from the rest of the Hollywood music elite by making the statement of her career. Simply put, she has broken the sugary, plastic mold of what a pop act can do — artistically and commercially.
Key tracks: “Mariners Apartment Complex,” “Cinnamon Girl”
Cara Louise: ‘Fragile Heart’
Hailing from St. Louis, the Americana/indie songbird brings forth an impressive five-song EP of sorrow and splendor. It’s a captivating mix of engaging lyrical prose, shoe-gaze guitar licks and orchestral string arrangements. The selections pull the listener out of a current state of being and transports you into this sense of time and place, leaving you in a perpetual state of deep thought about nothing and everything.
Key track: “Turn Tears Into Rain,” “Nothing to Prove”
Ian Noe: ‘Between the Country’
The surprise folk breakthrough of recent memory, the Kentucky singer-songwriter falls into the same rich, vibrant vein of Bert Jansch, Jim Croce and John Prine. Noe’s tunes are heartfelt, mischievous and rugged, an uplifting sense of self where all seems possible, just so long as you never forget where you came from, where you are, and where you want to go.
Key track: “Letters to Madeline,” “Irene (Ravin’ Bomb)”
Tom Pearo: ‘I Am a Mountain’
The Vermont guitarist has transcended into a sonic guru, one of meditative forces through free-flowing sound and intrinsic contemplation. Though the EP is only two songs, the opening track “I Am a Mountain” clocks in around 39 minutes. It’s a rollicking instrumental opus, one which takes the listener on a cosmic journey to once again find the single voice that matters most — their own.
Key track: “I Am a Mountain,” “Ascension”
Mannequin Pussy: ‘Patience’
A seamless, yet raucous, blend of 1990s indie-rock and modern pop sensibilities, “Patience” has broken the Philadelphia act into the Nashville and New York City mainstream. Think of it as if Dinosaur Jr. was fronted by a millennial who isn’t afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve, even if the makeup is smeared from tears shed in the face of heartache and mistakes each of us have experienced in our own quest for compassion.
Key track: “Drunk II,” “Who You Are”
Tyler Childers: ‘Country Squire’
The fiery backwoods Kentucky troubadour has taken the 21st century country music torch previously held by Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price and added more gasoline to the flame. Where Childers debut album “Purgatory” was filled with radio gems, this sophomore release is a complete statement, a melodic novel about the trials and tribulations of Southern Appalachia — hell, of any corner of the country and of the human condition.
Key track: “House Fire,” “All Your’n”