best music albums songs of 2019
By Bonnie Stiernberg / December 13, 2019 9:01 am

By now, you’ve no doubt been exposed to the annual onslaught of year-end “best of” lists as well as plenty of roundups of the best songs and albums of the past decade as the aughts come to a close. And if you’re anything like us, you probably believe that spending hours arguing with strangers online about whether Vampire Weekend made the 35th best record of the 2010s or the 34th is inherently dumb.

Art is of course subjective, and while there’s absolutely value in reflecting on which albums and songs had the most impact in any given year, ranking them feels a little silly. With that in mind, we’re focusing instead on our personal favorites. We’ve compiled the 100 songs we loved the most in 2019 into one big Spotify playlist below, along with a rundown of the albums from this year that worked their way into heavy rotation in the InsideHook office, in no particular order. Happy listening!

I Need A New War by Craig Finn

Well-arranged and produced to perfection, Finn’s third solo album is his best effort by far that doesn’t involve his Hold Steady bandmates. The shady characters that populate Finn’s songs are alive and well, but so are the catchy riffs, so there isn’t the same sense of bleakness that is present on some of his other works. — Evan Bleier

Heard It in a Past Life by Maggie Rogers

According to Maggie Rogers, she has a habit of blacking out when crazy shit happens in her life. In that context (and that context only) she’s had a tough couple years. There was the Pharell video that started it all. The SNL performance, which she reportedly refuses to watch, preferring to preserve it as an IRL memory. And now, a Grammy nom for “Best New Artist.” After a couple years of EPs and singles (and many years before that of mixing, SoundCloud, and gigs in NYU bars), the millennial/Gen-Zer put it all together on Heard It in a Past Life, with an assortment of bouncy folk tracks (riffing on love, crossroads, hikes) that will infect you with that rare, once-a-month, “I could clean the whole house right now” kind of energy. — Tanner Garrity

Cuz I Love You by Lizzo

It may sound a little crazy to imply that anything Lizzo did in 2019 didn’t receive the proper amount of attention given the truly massive year she had, but in some ways, her excellent LP Cuz I Love You was overshadowed by the belated breakout success of older singles like “Truth Hurts” and “Good As Hell.” But Cuz I Love You — her third full-length and first for Atlantic Records — is an achievement in its own right, from feel-good hits like “Juice” to soulful jams like the title track and “Jerome.” Front to back, it’s full of body positivity and self-love (“I’m my own soulmate,” she proudly declares), so in a way it makes sense that it’s the album that made her a star; the rest of the world is just catching up when it comes to recognizing how great she is. — Bonnie Stiernberg

Igor by Tyler, the Creator

Here’s a weird comparison, but please bear with me: Tyler, the Creator pulled off something that reminded me of Sonic Youth in 2019. Like the ’80s alt-rock gods, Tyler started his career making a lot of noise, causing chaos and generally pissing off people who didn’t really understand what Odd Future was doing. It took about five or six albums for each, but sooner or later, they both created albums that redefined their sound and showed their growth. Sonic Youth gave the world “Teen Age Riot” and other classics on Daydream Nation; Tyler, the Creator has gone from rap bad boy to something of a synth-hop auteur with Igor. A weird album that works and works damn well, it defines the sort of weird, mixed up times we live in. — Jason Diamond

Norman Fucking Rockwell! by Lana Del Rey

Norman Fucking Rockwell! is Lana Del Rey at her best. It’s simultaneously an ode to California and the many ways in which the state and its people, have hurt her and caused her heartbreak. But more importantly, it’s a great album to cry to. Del Rey has long been heralded (by her fans at least) as the ultimate Sad Girl, and this album confirms that sentiment. On “Happiness is a Butterfly,” she wonders “What’s the worst that could happen to a girl that’s already hurt?” as she considers potentially dating a serial killer. But to prevent listeners from completely spiraling, Del Rey manages to pepper the album with witty and easily quotable lyrics like, “Goddamn man-child, you fucked me so good that I almost said ‘I love you,'” or “Your poetry’s bad and you blame the news.” — Lee Cutlip

Lover by Taylor Swift

As I have drunkenly shouted at anyone in my office who is willing to even pretend to be listening, I feel like Lover marks an important development in Taylor Swift’s career. 1989 and Reputation (and honestly even much of Red) were obvious departures from her more country-pop-leaning earlier stuff, and while those records were somewhat spotty, that era saw TS trying on new sounds and new personas, coming into her own as a woman and an artist with a very specific point of view. Despite featuring all sorts of interesting arrangements and sounds, Lover seems like a full-circle moment in that it feels more songwritery than those last couple records did. And if you won’t listen to the record, at least check out her recent NPR Tiny Desk Concert, which I am rarely not watching . — Mike Conklin

Purple Mountains by Purple Mountains

Following a 10-year hiatus and the dismantling of his legendary indie-rock ensemble Silver Jews, singer-songwriter David Berman released the eponymous album Purple Mountains in July 2019. Less than a month later he took his own life. The album is essentially a suicide note that remains true to the Jews signature sound: post-country western ballads that combine endlessly quotable lyricism with sentimental, bleak and decidedly corny subject matter. Over the course of 10 tracks, Berman paints an intimate self portrait of a broken man that teeters between brutal honesty and wry hilarity. Longtime fans will hum along with teary eyes, and newcomers will find a raw introduction to an alt-rock legend. — Mike Falco

Magdalene by FKA Twigs

As a self-styled pretentious asshole, hearing that one of my favorite artists has made their most accessible album is traditionally a red flag for me. I thought Tame Impala’s beloved Currents was their meh-est album to date; I tried in vain to love Grimes’s bombastic Art Angels but found myself yearning for the twitchy, lo-fi pop ballads of her earlier releases. But while Twigs’s new album undeniably signals a move toward more melodic, radio-friendly tunes, it does so without unnecessary pomp or sheen. With production from a diverse collection of producers (including ambient god Nicolas Jaar), Magdalene is a vehicle for FKA Twigs to showcase her dynamic vocal range, which recalls everything from the gossamer melancholia of Kate Bush (“sad day”) to Fiona Apple at her most snarling and defiant (“fallen alien”). — Walker Loetscher

The Highwomen by The Highwomen

The debut album from this country supergroup — which consists of Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby — is one of those rare collaborations that manages to exceed the sum of its parts. It’s a nearly flawless record, from the stunning harmonies on “Crowded Table” and Carlile’s impressive vocals on same-sex love song “If She Ever Leaves Me” to the meditations on gender and motherhood like “Redesigning Women” and “My Name Can’t Be Mama.” And while women remain grossly underrepresented on country radio, The Highwomen feels revolutionary — a bold rejection of the genre’s sexism. — Bonnie Stiernberg

Father of the Bride by Vampire Weekend

In the weeks leading up to the release of Father of the Bride, the first new Vampire Weekend album in six years and the follow-up to the damn-near-perfect Modern Vampires of the City, the buzz was that the once buttoned-up Ivy Leaguers known for their love of Afro-Caribbean rhythms had turned into … a jam band. This was largely because of the very obviously Dead-inspired guitar solo in “Harmony Hall,” and while there is a distinct looseness that looms over the whole album, the truth is that Father of the Bride doesn’t really adhere to any one style. In fact, it kind of defies the very ideas of style and genre: it’s the sound of a band — and Ezra Koenig specifically — handpicking elements from countless disparate influences and, forgive the old rock crit cliché here, combining them in a way that is wholly unique. — Mike Conklin

I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This by Jeff Goldblum & The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra

Jeff Goldblum sells out shows with his jazz group The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra because he’s Jeff Goldblum. But with their first album The Capitol Studios Sessions, he proved his chops on the keys, if relying heavily on tricks like the recreation of the club atmosphere (they brought in a live audience) and his trademark eccentric banter. This time, the music takes precedence over personality — which includes even better guests, from Sharon Van Etten to Fiona Apple. This is not a boundary-pushing, convention-smashing endeavor, but it’s a throw-on-literally-whenever jazz album that you’ll be thankful for this holiday and beyond. — Alex Lauer

Czarface Meets Ghostface by Czarface and Ghostface Killah

After collaborating with MF Doom on 2018’s Czarface Meets Metal Face, the collective of 7L, Esoteric and Inspectah Deck partner up with Deck’s fellow Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah for this collection of comic book-inspired hip-hop. Chock full o’ samples instead of nuts,  this is not a classic record by any means, but fans of Esoteric and Ghostface will enjoy the clever lyrics and 7L’s banging drum tracks. — Evan Bleier

Raw Honey by Drugdealer 

My hope is that everybody lives long enough to realize that Steely Dan is actually really good and the last decade of indie bands (from Grizzly Bear to Ariel Pink) borrowing from Fagan and Becker is a great thing. This album, moody and chill, is like a lazy day trying to sober up while on a yacht out at sea. It’s a good vibe, man. — Jason Diamond

Wasteland, Baby! by Hozier

Four years after Andrew John Hozier-Byrne released his first album (Hozier), the Irishman began dropping music again. For those who’d faithfully played his first offerings for years, then turned to YouTube for his Van Morrison covers, then slowly considered the fact that that might’ve just been it (and sort of made our peace with it), Wasteland, Baby! was a sudden, blissful sock in the jaw. I promptly saw Hozier four times over the last 15 months — twice in New York, once in Boston and once in his home country of Ireland, at a rugby stadium in Cork. Hozier’s self-imposed “hermiting” led to a jaded, roaring, apocalyptic record; his strange coyote’s howl of voice mixes with Gospel choirs and twanging guitars as he sings about everything from atomic bombs to carnivorous birds. — Tanner Garrity

Closer to Grey by Chromatics

Chromatics fans have waited seven long years for the Los Angeles synth-pop outfit to release the follow-up to their acclaimed third studio album, Kill for Love. There have been many false starts in the years since, with an LP called Dear Tommy going so far as to get an official announcement back in 2018. But then frontman Johnny Jewel had a near-death experience, pulled the album and secluded himself from the public eye, popping up only sporadically to work on films (Drive) and TV shows (Twin Peaks) that dovetailed with the band’s dark, surrealist aesthetic. Then, in October of this year, Chromatics announced an album called Closer to Grey, which they then released just 24 hours later. The 12 tracks represent a seamless continuation of the group’s dark, nostalgic Italo disco sound, with singer Ruth Radelet’s dreamy vocals backed by Jewel’s distinctive ‘80s-bred synth production. — Walker Loetscher

Quiet Signs by Jessica Pratt

Quiet Signs pours out of a fuzzy eight track like morning mist into a golden psychedelic dawn. Carried by understated guitar riffs and sparsely laid keyboard and flute tracks, Pratt’s nymphonic voice cradles you through the the album like a mug of green tea in the wake of a psilocybin vacation. It’s weird. It’s beautiful. At times it’s medieval. An album so strange and precious that you’ll only pull it out for special occasions. — Mike Falco

Clarity by Kim Petras

When German-born popstar Kim Petras dropped her first full-length project, Clarity, in June, it confirmed to the rest of the world what her growing fanbase has known since she debuted with the sparkling sugar baby anthem “I Don’t Want it at All,” two years ago: there’s nothing wrong with big, bubbly, unapologetically bubblegummy pop. As Pitchfork’s Jamieson Cox wrote in July, Kim Petras isn’t trying to reinvent pop music; “Instead, she takes the genre as it’s being expressed this very moment and renders it brighter, bolder, and more aggressive.” In other words, she makes fun, glittery music that always sounds the way the first sip of alcohol on an empty stomach feels. It’s music of energy and anticipation and willful irresponsibility and escapism. When Kim Petras sings “Shorty in the bathroom and she’s asking ‘where the coke at?’/I spent 20 thousand just to leave it on a coat rack,” you believe, for a moment, that you too could afford to lose thousands on misplaced blow and just kind of shrug and keep partying. That’s a thing I want to believe sometimes. — Kayla Kibbe

VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR by HEALTH

This was a sneaky good year for the titans of the ’90s industrial sound. Trent Reznor popped up on Lil Nas X and Watchmen, Marilyn Manson found a niche within hip-hop, and that aggressively buzzsaw, dystopian Grimes track (“We Appreciate Power”) somehow got airplay. Industrial is … back? A mix of machines and metal-ish licks, the genre seemingly died in the late ’90s (while cousins in synth-pop and EDM thrived), but bands like The Soft Moon and LA’s HEALTH have returned some heft and gloomy dynamics to electronic music. Helping the latter band is vocalist Jake Duzsik, whose spacey vibe makes harsh electro-bangers like “Slaves of Fear” go down easy. — Kirk Miller

Travelin’ Thru, 1967-1969 by Bob Dylan (featuring Johnny Cash)

Part of the ongoing Bootleg Series, this three-disc set is highlighted by the collaborations between Cash and Dylan which were recorded in 1969 just after the latter finished recording Nashville Skyline. The recordings are loose and far from perfect, but it’s pretty great to hear Dylan and Cash trading verses on tunes like “I Still Miss Someone” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” — even if they don’t always nail the lyrics. — Evan Bleier

I Am Easy to Find by The National

Fans who think they know what to expect from a National record will be surprised to hear just how many female voices can be heard alongside Matt Berninger’s melancholy baritone on I Am Easy To Find. The album, co-produced by director Mike Mills (who also is responsible for its accompanying short film starring Alicia Vikander) features contributions from Gail Ann Dorsey, Lisa Hannigan, Kate Stables, Mina Tindle, Eve Owen, Sharon Van Etten and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. It’s an ambitious departure, but it’s still very much a National record, and it’s absolutely worth multiple listens. — Bonnie Stiernberg