There are many ways to look at (or assemble) Top 10 lists. Many versions – and from a variety of publications – arrive at about the same time, sometimes with little difference between them. The 10 albums below are hardly revolutionary compared to other lists out there.
Listen to “Ozarks at Large”
Listen to author Kevin Kinder talk about these albums alongside KUAF “Ozarks at Large” host Kyle Kellams, who shares his own list, in an upcoming edition of the program. The chat can be heard during the noon and 7 p.m. editions of “Ozarks at Large” on Dec. 31. You can also listen online.
So let me tell you a bit about how I make mine. Albums that move me over the course of the year get added to a list I keep in my head. If they make me question something, if there’s a beautiful lyrical turn, or perhaps they are just really fun, they make the rough cut.
Towards the end of the year, I cycle through about 20 or 25 of those albums over and over again. A few rise to the top. A few always fall away. And aside from those at the very top, I might have a different bottom half of this list if I re-sorted it tomorrow.
Which means what follows is a best attempt at a best-of list. I hope something here that moves you, too.
10. Lana Del Rey – “Norman F****** Rockwell”
She’s passionate. She’s angry. She’s provocative. And sometimes all these things at once. Lana Del Rey’s “Norman F****** Rockwell” is her most grown-up album to date, even if she did take the childish approach to calling out a critic who dared to say that there was still room for growth. It is indeed Lana’s most sophisticated and challenging work. I’m not sure how an album can be so sweet and devastating at the same time, but here we are with “NFR.”
9. Michael Kiwanuka – “Kiwanuka”
The British singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka remains more popular in his home country. And perhaps his new self-titled album isn’t as flashy as his 2016 breakthrough “Love & Hate.” But this killer combination of observational talents that translate to subtle lyricism, his guitar chops and his soulful voice make him one of music’s biggest triple threats.
8. Clairo – “Immunity”
Claire Cottrill – who performs under the name Clairo – is only 21. But her work belies her years. Her full-length debut, “Immunity,” is a low-fi, pop-ish album that is vulnerable and fresh. Songs like “Alewife” and “Bags” are pure songcraft and will stick with you.
7. Big Thief – “Two Hands”
Big Thief actually released to albums worthy of best-of-list consideration. I think “Two Hands” is better than “U.F.O.F.,” if only by a slim margin. Both are worth a listen. In particular, “Two Hands” conveys the band’s creative peak with a batch of songs that emote sadness, frustration and an underlying strength.
6. Fontaines DC – “Dogrel”
My penchant for including Western European punk on my best of list continues unabated. The latest entrant is a debut album from a Dublin-based group called Fontaines DC that roars and struts its way through 40 minutes of rock ‘n’ roll. There’s a touch of sophistication present, too – the five band mates bonded over poetry at the Irish university where they met, and that’s demonstrated in the lyrical quality present in this album.
5. Lizzo – “Cuz I Love You”
This album ranks No. 1 on the most-played list in our household. It’s not quite that high on this list, but it’s good. Lizzo obviously had a tremendous year, going from relative unknown to closing out the year as the musical act for “Saturday Night Live,” opposite Eddie Murphy, no less. She’s known for the fast-paced, self-assured raps like “Truth Hurts” but this album rises to heights because it also includes songs such as the smooth soul of “Jerome,” which shows her versatility and musical chops.
4. Deerhunter – “Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared”
A January release, Deerhunter’s “Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared” was the first to make me pause. As the title alludes to, this is a bleak album, but fitting of a bleak year. Deerhunter forges its way ahead through sonic exploration and a healthy dose of science fiction.
3. Weyes Blood – “Titanic Rising”
I listened to this album several times before it stuck. But when it did, I couldn’t stop. Weyes Blood is the project of American songwriter Natalie Mering. She too is a prodigy, and the album comes at you in waves. There’s a level of depth just below the pop surface here that makes it an important contribution to 2019.
2. Purple Mountains – “Purple Mountains”
Speaking of bleak … the first album from Purple Mountains is a dark, depressive affair. It was hardly frontman David Berman’s first album, though – he was a member of the influential indie band Silver Jews. Songs like “All My Happiness is Gone” are heartbreakingly good. And it should break your heart to know that Berman never got to perform these songs live or further develop this project. Berman committed suicide less than two months after releasing the “Purple Mountains” record. It remains as a final testament/tribute to his songwriting and poetic skill and his troubled but talented soul.
1. Angel Olsen – “All Mirrors”
We’ve been able to watch Angel Olsen grow into herself in the last few years. Fayetteville got a front-row seat to that – she performed here in 2014 not long after her debut. Her newest album, “All Mirrors” abandons her rootsier folk rock of the past and moves towards a more synth pop direction without stealing from her charm or introspection. This is the kind of brilliant album a songwriter growing into form can create. Where she goes from here is to be determined, obviously, but she’s landed in a great spot this time.