2019’s been a pretty busy year for music with tons of great records released in the first half of the year and many more on the way. Here are my five favorite records released up through the first six months of the year.
5. This Land- Gary Clark Jr.
Gary Clark Jr. has been one of our modern guitar gods for awhile. That much was clear on his mainstream debut, 2012’s Black and Blu, it’s even more apparent when you see him live too. Since Black and Blu, Clark has also pretty consistently flirted with other genre’s, bending his signature blues to mesh with hints of hip-hop, soul, R&B, and rock and roll. 2015’s The Story of Sonny Boy Slim saw him try to continue to expand on this with this mixed results. Now with This Land Clark Jr.’s signature sound becomes just that, his own. Songs like the title track are scathing political anecdotes that meld hip-hop and the blues like few songs have as effectively as Clark does here. Other’s like “Low Down Rolling Stone” are just straight up blues rockers that prove the genre isn’t dead as long as Clark has anything to say about it. Regardless of what genre he’s playing, everything on this record still sounds like Gary Clark Jr. he owns everything he does on and makes it his in a way he hasn’t quite done yet. This is the culmination of what he started with Black and Blu and a pretty terrific one at that.
4. Better Oblivion Community Center- Better Oblivion Community Center
Better Oblivion Community Center was one of the nicer surprises of the year. A (mostly) surprise album drop in the beginning of the year, their self titled debut unites one of indie rock’s brightest new stars in Phoebe Bridgers with one of the genres most beloved and respected stalwarts in Connor Oberst. Both Bridgers and Oberst have their own opportunities to shine here, and whenever one takes the spotlight the influence of the other is clear as day. This record is a terrific melding of two of the best songwriters working today who are clearly having a blast working together. The lead single “Dylan Thomas”, album closer “Dominos”, and opening track “I Didn’t Know What I Was In For” are the clear highlights here.
3. I am Easy to Find- The National
The most consistent band in indie rock does it again. What else can be said about the hot streak of albums The National have had since 2003’s Alligator? Everything this band touches turns to gold as they always find new and exciting ways to further develop and explore their sound without ever losing the magic and connective tissue that makes them who they are. This time it’s the addition of multiple female vocalists (who often times completely take over songs from lead singer Matt Berninger), as well as the short film of the same name produced along side the album and directed by album producer and Oscar-nominee Mike Mills which starred Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander. Like any National record the more time you spend with this one the better. Songs like “The Pull of You”, “Oblivions” and especially “Not in Kansas” reveal themselves to the listener the more time they spend with them and easily join the pantheon of great National songs. Plus, hardcore National fans finally get rewarded for their patience, as the dream of a “Rylan” studio release finally becomes reality after going through what feels like a countless number of iterations since it first premiere live back in 2011.
2. Father of the Bride- Vampire Weekend
It’s pretty hard to believe that six whole years had passed in between Vampire Weekend records. One of the most beloved indie rock bands of their generation, each of their first three albums were bonafide classics. Their latest record, Father of the Bride, is no exception and is arguably their best. Songs like “Harmony Hall” and “This Life” are quintessential Vampire Weekend, delightful tunes you won’t be able to get enough and are perfect for cranking up on a summer drive. Others like album opener “Hold You Now” and “Married in the Gold Rush” are given even more life and flourish with assistance from Danielle Haim (of Haim fame) who adds to the scope and beauty of each song she lends her voice towards. This is Vampire Weekend at the absolute top of their game with more to love and say than ever. The wait for new material was long, but no one will be able to say it wasn’t worth it.
1. Remind Me Tomorrow- Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten’s been around for awhile, and similar to Vampire Weekend also had a lengthy break in between her previous record (2014’s Are We There) and this year’s Remind Me Tomorrow. During the 5 year gap Van Etten went back to school, had a child, acted in Netflix’s The OA and even made a brief appearance in 2017’s Twin Peaks revival. Suffice it to say she’s been pretty busy, through all this she managed to make the best record of her career and the year. “Seventeen” is the best song of the year, a beautiful and personal ode to her youth in New York City. “Comeback Kid”, “You Shadow”, and “Jupiter 4” are other standouts on an album full of them. What are you waiting for, I genuinely don’t have enough great things to say about this record, run to listen to this record now!
Just missed the top five:
Manequin Pussy- Patience