I didn’t listen to as much new music as I wanted to in 2019, instead choosing to do deep dives into various discographies. Some, like The Mountain Goats, were rewarding. Others, like 311, less so. But I did manage to get through 138 new records from various genres, and I’ve listed my top 20 here. (If you want the full ranking of all 138 albums, please click here.)

20. Hibou – Halve
Dream pop has always had one foot in its shoegaze roots, but Peter Michel, performing under the moniker Hibou, seems to be more firmly planted there than most dream pop artists. While not favouring the walls of sound of My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive, Halve is drenched in reverb, with airy, muted vocals floating over its sun-drenched melodies; in addition to shoegaze, Halve owes a huge debt to ’80s pop. It’s a sound you’ve heard before, but Michel executes it better than almost anyone else.
Best tracks: “An Hour Of Vision”; “Following Divide”; “Flood”

19. Big Wreck – …but for the sun
In 2019, Big Wreck said goodbye to founding member and guitarist Brian Doherty, who passed away of cancer. His final work can be heard on Big Wreck’s fourth post-reunion album, …but for the sun, a sort of throwback to mid ’90s Canadian rock, blending roots rock stomping with massive post-grunge riffs. …but for the sun might not be an album of singles and standout tracks, but every song is at least solid, the musicianship is fantastic, and of course, the fretwork is especially great. RIP, Brian Doherty.
Best tracks: “In My Head”; “Give Us A Smile”; “The Fly And The Bowl”

18. Oso Oso – Basking in the Glow
Somewhere between Tigers Jaw and old-school Death Cab lies New York’s Oso Oso, delivering simple, unpretentious power pop-inflected indie rock. Basking in the Glow is the band’s third LP, and it’s probably their best yet. The melodies are memorable, and the sing-along potential is high.
Best tracks: “The View”; “Basking in the Glow”; “Charlie”

17. Tool – Fear Inoculum
Fear Inoculum doesn’t really have “songs”; it has compositions. There’s nothing resembling a hook in its 87-minute running time, and the only tracks shorter than 10 minutes in length are instrumental pieces.  Anyone expecting an easy listen will be left wading though psychedelic soundscapes, twisting riffs, and off-kilter rhythms. But somehow Maynard James Keenan and his bandmates manage to make it all sound pleasing to the ear, without ever leaving a dull moment on tape. It’s a much better effort than Keenan’s 2018 record with A Perfect Circle, Eat the Elephant, and it stands as an evolution of prog metal from its bombastic, over-the-top roots.
Best tracks: “Fear Inoculum”; “Pneuma”; “7empest”

16. Copeland – Blushing
After a multi-year hiatus, 2014’s Ixora felt like too much of a departure from the band’s previous work, as if it were Copeland in name only. The band’s move to programmed beats and ambient synths didn’t play to their strengths. Blushing takes those sounds, refines them, and marries them to pre-hiatus Copeland’s more rock-ish vibe to make a record that swings effortlessly between dream pop, indie rock, jazz, and electronica. I’ll always love pre-hiatus Copeland, but if this is where the band is going now, then I can learn to love post-hiatus Copeland too.
Best tracks: “As Above, So Alone”; “Colorless”; “Waltz on Water”

15. Origami Angel – Somewhere City
Following in the footsteps of upbeat math rockers like Runaway Brother and Tiny Moving Parts, Origami Angel’s debut LP is a collection of infectious, melodic, fist-pumping anthems. Like every pop punk group of the past decade, the band sounds like they could be singing about their hometown, but the titular Somewhere City is fictional, a pastiche of small-midsized-town America with a 24-hour drive-thru and a nearby amusement park. Is it sincere, or is a sly commentary on their genre brethren? I don’t know, but I find it utterly compelling.
Best tracks: “Welcome to…”; “Doctor Whomst”; “The Air Up Here”

14. Somos – Prison on a Hill
Back in August of 2019, shortly before the release of Prison on a Hill, Somos guitarist Phil Haggerty tragically passed away. That coloured some of the reception to the album, now seen as a tribute to a man who tirelessly advocated for social justice throughout his life. But Somos has always to some extent worn their politics on their sleeve, and with tracks like “The Granite Face” and “Mediterranean,” that’s truer than ever before on Prison on a Hill. Musically, the album mixes the propulsive pop punk of Temple of Plenty with the more synth-driven sounds of First Day Back, and there’s even a throwback to the band’s melodic hardcore roots with “Ammunition.” In that way, Prison on a Hill serves as a sort of retrospective of their career, and if this is their swan song, then they couldn’t have gone out on a higher note.
Best tracks: “The Granite Face”; “Mediterranean”; “Ammunition”

13. Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 2
Foals may be down a member, losing their bassist a couple of years ago, but they show no signs of letting up. The second of two albums Foals released this year contains plenty of the repetitive, hypnotic math rock riffing that captivated audiences on the band’s debut, Antidotes. But they’ve hardened their edge and taken a lot of cues from their 2015 record, What Went Down. Tracks like “Black Bull” sound like they’re about to explode at any second, and “The Runner” and “Like Lightning” up the funk quotient. It might not be Foals’ best effort, but when they can consistently churn out records at this level, I’m not sure that matters.
Best tracks: “The Runner”; “Wash Off”; “Neptune”

12. Bat For Lashes – Lost Girls
Using the ’80s pop that she claims as her inspiration as a starting point, Natasha Khan’s fifth studio album under the moniker Bat For Lashes turns down the tempo and ups the reverb and atmosphere, creating a record that sounds at once modern and like a throwback. Lyrically, it’s much brighter than the tale of grief and recovery she conveyed on The Bride, but on tracks like “The Hunger” and “Jasmine,” she displays a knack for melodic darkness. Most of the album is in minor keys, giving it a cold, wintry feel. It’s somewhat of a departure for the English singer-songwriter, but it’s no less compelling.
Best tracks: “The Hunger”; “Feel for You”; “Jasmine”

11. The Damned Things – High Crimes
Who would have guessed that a band consisting of one half of Fall Out Boy and members from a handful of other Chicago-area bands would record one of the best albums of 2019? Not me, that’s for sure. High Crimes is just a hella fun hard rock record. There are a sing-along choruses, memorable riffs, and a pervasive sense that the supergroup’s members had a great time making this music.
Best tracks: “Cells”; “Something Good”; “Invicible”

10. Charly Bliss – Young Enough
With their 2017 debut LP Guppy, Charly Bliss put themselves on the map. Their sophomore record, Young Enough, sees them roaring out of the gate with slicker production and arena-ready power pop choruses. But this is by no means a sell-out record. The band’s clever lyricism is still on full display, and nobody is going to be playing this stuff on top 40 radio. This is just power pop at its finest.
Best tracks: “Blown to Bits”; “Camera”; “Chatroom”

9. Local Natives – Violet Street
After an ill-advised detour into synthpop on 2016’s Sunlit Youth, Local Natives righted the ship on their 2019 LP, Violet Street. It doesn’t have the same percussive stomp as their earlier work, but they’ve mellowed out considerably, adopting the Laurel Canyon vibe as their own. They even experiment with some different sounds, like a full-on guitar freakout on “Megaton Mile.” Diving further into experimental folk is a much better direction for the band, and I hope they continue down this path.
Best tracks: “When Am I Gonna Lose You”; “Café Amarillo”; “Megaton Mile”

8. Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1
Is it cheating to release two albums in the same year? Probably yes, but Big Thief did the same and didn’t end up with a single album in the top 20, so it’s the not the magic bullet you might think it is. In any case, the first of two albums that Foals released this year is the superior one, calling to mind their more ambient, expressive work from Total Life Forever and Holy Fire, but pairing it with catchy dance-rock rhythms. Foals have got their sound down to a science now, and while that might mean they’re more or less out of surprises, they still know how to entertain.
Best
tracks: “White Onions”; “In Degrees”; “On the Luna”

7. Thank You Scientist – Terraformer
For so much of the past few decades, progressive rock has been considered a dead genre, especially in music criticism circles, where it’s widely derided and seen as impenetrable and pretentious. As far as I’m concerned, it’s their loss, because avoiding prog means missing out on one of the most purely fun records of 2019, Thank You Scientist’s third LP, Terraformer. More than ever, the band complements their proggy riffs and song structures with horn blasts and jazzy arrangements; Terraformer is as much a jazz record as it is a prog record, and it’s a toe-tapping, hand-clapping, foot-stomping good time.
Best tracks: “FXMLDR”; “Chromology”; “New Moon”

6. Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka
Michael Kiwanuka has always been a talented singer-songwriter, but he’s never really been a compelling one. Most of the music on his first two LPs was never going to set the world on fire. That all changed with his third record, Kiwanuka, which added blues and soul tones into his indie folk sound. There’s an emphasis on percussion and electric guitars, playing off acoustic pianos, just like a typical jazz combo. This is such a good fit for Kiwanuka, you wouldn’t believe he ever made any other kind of music.
Best tracks: “You Ain’t the Problem”; “Living In Denial”; “Hero”

5. Lemolo – Swansea
After captivating audiences with 2012’s The Kaleidoscope and 2015’s Red Right Return, it wasn’t clear where Meagan Grandall was going to take her Lemolo project. The Kaleidoscope had a bit of a rock edge, while Red Right Return was considerably more ambient. How was Swansea going to sound? As it turns out, even more ambient, with more keyboards and fewer guitars than ever before, and only mid-album cut “Rogue Wave” delivering a substantial crunch. The listener can practically drown in the atmosphere. It’s an album that’s at once overwhelming and intimate, dark and mysterious without ever tipping over the brink. I’m not sure I want Lemolo to continue further in this direction, but Swansea is perfectly balanced on the edge of a sonic precipice.
Best tracks: “South of Sound”; “High Tide”; “Rogue Wave”

4. La Dispute – Panorama
Regardless of what members of the so-called “Wave” say now, bands like Foxing, Pianos Become The Teeth, and La Dispute have left an indelible mark on post-hardcore, blending post-rock, ambient, and experimental sounds into the genre. La Dispute specialized in spoken word, and their mixture of beat poetry with post-punk riffage has set them apart from their peers. Panorama sees the band mellowing out even further as compared to Rooms of the House, opening with a dream pop intro in “Rose Quartz” and delving into jazz on mid-album cut “Rhodonite and Grief.” Bands do tend to mellow out with age, but rarely do they remain just as interesting. Panorama proves that La Dispute is in no danger of becoming boring anytime soon.
Best tracks: “Rhodonite and Grief”; “Anxiety Panorama”; “Footsteps at the Pond”

3. Perma – Fight Fair
I don’t think anyone was expecting a record from husband-and-wife duo Max Bemis and Sherri DuPree-Bemis to kick off with what could arguably be described as full-on black metal, but here we are. Fight Fair is such a bizarre album, at times sounding like a long-lost Say Anything record force-fed to Swervedriver and spat back out. It’s weirdly shoegazey, but with plenty of punk and twee pop energy. No sane record company exec would ever rubber-stamp this album, which makes it all the more impressive that it actually exists and isn’t some elaborate prank. And even more impressive? It’s actually really good! Bouncing back and forth between gentle acoustic pop and muscular alternative rock, sometimes within the span of the same song, Fight Fair never really settles into a comfortable rhythm. You never know quite what to expect with the record. On paper, the tracks are all love songs, but they sure as hell sound nothing like it. And in case you weren’t confused enough, the album concludes with “Turn Now, See,” a straight-up hardcore punk track, complete with Max’s distorted yelps. Fight Fair is a weird-ass tribute to Max and Sherri’s relationship, and I still don’t understand how it came to fruition, but I’m so, so glad it exists.
Best
tracks: “Goodbye Palace”; “To Let You In”; “Navigate”

2. American Football – American Football (LP3)
What even is “emo revival”? What once seemed like a coherent set of genre tropes that harkened back to late ’90s second-wave emo has come to encompass bands that never really were meaningfully “emo” in the first place, including post-hiatus American Football, who let’s be clear, were actually present for emo’s second wave in their pre-hiatus form. But now, 20 years after their debut LP, they’re still being classified as an “emo” band despite taking more cues from post-rock and chamber pop. Regardless, that misclassification has opened a lot of listeners’ ears up to music they otherwise wouldn’t have heard, and they’re really enjoying it. LP3 is being regarded as American Football’s best work, and I have to agree. It’s gorgeous, weird, meandering, and hypnotic, more built on soundscapes and motifs than melodies and riffs. At only eight tracks, it might seem relatively lean, but that just means there’s no filler.
Best tracks: “Silhouettes”, “Uncomfortably Numb”; “I Can’t Feel You”

1. The Twilight Sad – It Won/t Be Like This All the Time
Five studio albums into The Twilight Sad’s career, you think you know exactly what you’re going to get. Along with Frightened Rabbit and We Were Promised Jetpacks, they helped pioneer Scottish sad-rock, after all. Sure, they drew more from ambient, shoegaze, and industrial than their peers, but they had definitely settled into their own groove. Enter It Won/t Be Like This All the Time. While it would be a lie to say it’s a complete departure for the band, I don’t think anyone was expecting them to simultaneously get heavier and more electronic. Their music is more uptempo now, bordering on post-punk revival. It’s a catchier record than what one might be used to from these sad boys, but it’s quite possibly their best work yet.
Best tracks: “[10 Good Reasons for Modern Drugs]”; “VTr”; “I/m Not Here [missing face]”

And with that, I conclude my look at the best albums of 2019. Some surprises, a lot of bands I hadn’t heard of until last year, and a whole lot of good music. In fact, when putting together this blog post, I relistened to a number of the albums on my list and felt tempted to swap around their positions, realizing that I enjoyed them even more than I had originally thought. If that’s not the sign of a great record, I don’t know what is.

Here’s to more great music in 2020!