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2019 Year in Review- Ending the decade with our favorite albums from an amazing year

With another decade coming to a close, the final year was once again filled with incredible music spanning every genre. Choosing nine of our favorite albums from 2019 was a tough order- a testament to how many amazing bands and musicians touched our lives this year. Check out Taylor and Olivia’s favorites of 2019!

Olivia- 2019: A year of pop

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Jonas Brothers- Happiness Begins

2019 was a year of reunions and it’s still a little stunning that the Jonas Brothers returned with an album as good as Happiness Begins. It combines the best elements of what made the band so huge all those years ago with inspirations from Joe and Nick’s respective solo projects. Happiness Begins is a cohesive masterpiece that takes fans on a nostalgic journey of three brothers finding their way back to each other, while also looking forward with as much optimism as anyone could muster this year. No matter what you think you know about the JoBros, this album should be in your rotation.

Badflower- OK, I’m Sick

This band is undoubtedly one of the most interesting groups in alt-rock right now. OK, I’m Sick is visceral, wild and weird, touching on everything from xanax dependence to killing the president. Josh Katz is simultaneously cocky and cowed as he wails his way through each progressively darker track. Of course, having seen this band live, we already know that their fanbase is only continuing to grow with those who respond to the raw emotion these guys exude in their music.  

The Maine- You Are OK

We’ve been saying it all year, but in 2019, we were okay. This has been The Maine’s (and 8123’s) biggest shining moment yet, with You Are OK leading the charge instead of capping it off. We could wax poetic about this band and their impact forever- and we have- but this album is a triumph and a culmination of all the amazing things The Maine continues to work towards.

MIKA- My Name is Michael Holbrook

MIKA has been crafting soaring power pop for years without ever truly finding a strong footing in the United States. His European fanbase has been clued in to what we’re missing, however, and My Name is Michael Holbrook is just another in a long succession of stellar albums. Known for his glass-shattering falsetto, MIKA uses his vocal power and impressive life experience to create his most honest, introspective album yet. He really introduces his audience to the man behind the stage name- all while keeping his signature jaunty flair. 

The Weeks- Two Moons

Two Moons was a rather unexpected addition to this list, but after seeing The Weeks captivate The Rebel Lounge this fall, this album hasn’t left the Spotify rotation. These Southern boys have put their own spin on a country and blues sound that makes audiences of all ages and backgrounds want to move their feet. The Weeks are on the verge of massive alt-rock crossover success and you’ll want to have Two Moons in your favorite albums catalog before that happens. 

Red Hearse- Red Hearse

Literally everything Jack Antonoff touches turns to gold. Red Hearse came out of seemingly nowhere with an album of pure, unfiltered perfection- not one track out of place. Antonoff, Sounwave and Sam Dew came together to create an album that is, at its core, R&B bliss. Forget the mixed reviews and listen to this album over and over again, letting these three musical powerhouses bless your ears.  

The Rocket Summer- Sweet Shivers

Bryce Avary has a way of coming back into fans’ lives just when we miss him the most. Sweet Shivers is the result of two years of experimenting with sound and the final product is fun, open and emotional. While he loves to play with effects in his music, Avary is a no-frills lyricist and it is this transparency that allows Sweet Shivers to touch hearts with every listen. 

Watsky- COMPLAINT

Watsky dropped his latest album at the very beginning of 2019 and it hasn’t left our ears since. He’s still one of the most lyrically and vocally dexterous rappers in the game and Complaint takes that up a notch, with a sprinkling of new sounds and effects for Watsky to play with. He’s comedic and contemplative in turns, chasing girls, reminiscing and creating a safe space for his ever-growing fanbase to really be themselves within his words. 

Harry Styles- Fine Line

We had to wait to publish this list just for the addition of Harry Styles’ latest album and it did not let us down. Fine Line, in Styles’ words, is all about sadness and sex and is the perfect closer to 2019. Styles seems older than his 25 years in these songs as he laments the journey towards the end of a long relationship. He expands upon the sounds of his influences, adding more old-school guitars and soaring vocals for an album that hides a new surprise with every song. 

 

Taylor- 2019: A year of eclectic faves

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Maggie Rogers: Heard it in a Past Life

Accidental pop star Maggie Rogers came out swinging when she released her highly anticipated debut album in January, already an early contender for album of the year. Her origin story—procrastinating her music class project, writing “Alaska” at the last minute, and leaving Pharell speechless with the track—has made its rounds, but it’s important to understand how the breakout single contrasts with the rest of the album. Rogers spent more than a year musing on her rise to fame and writing about that loss of control, and now that she’s on the other side she delivers her material like it’s a battle cry. Her breathy layered vocals give way to powerful falsetto as electronic production adds depth, particularly on standout tracks “Say It” and “The Knife.” And though the lack of cohesiveness can feel like a rookie move, it might just be the finishing touch on the story of her experience: a little all over the place and quicker than anticipated. 

Billie Eilish: WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?

In many ways, 2019 was the Year of Billie Eilish. The young artist brought Gen Z pop to the mainstream while also redirecting the genre away from the formulaic bubblegum favored for the past few decades. Her delicate vocals float over electro-trap, just as detached as she is both from reality and from the spotlight, and the clash is just one of many ways the whole album induces anxiety. If they say art is supposed to make you uncomfortable, WHERE DO WE GO is a masterpiece—many of its tracks are a calculated downward spiral that’s soon out of control and haunts you for the rest of the year. Sprinkled throughout are nods to Eilish’s past work as a crooner (“Ocean Eyes” is the key here) but there’s no time to get too comfortable. She pivots with reckless abandon to voice warps and bass drops that aren’t so much drops as massive canyons. The whole thing is a trip, leaving you either momentarily detached or deep inside your head. There’s no in between. 

Badflower: OK, I’M SICK

Badflower’s debut album feels like years’ worth of pent up energy being channeled into an anxious 55-minute sprint from rage and mania to suicidal depression and back again before anyone can fully process what’s going on. Tackling the full spectrum of raw human emotion, the band doesn’t shy away from heavy topics and does so with a dose of gritty rock n’ roll. “x ANA x” is the chaotic opener and sets the tone of both the album and of a Badflower live set, and the anger rips through lead vocalist Josh Katz and might take you by surprise if you didn’t expect it from his looks. There’s plenty to be irate about, whether it’s drugs or the president (standout track “Die” speaks for itself) but there are very few ear-splitting shrieks. Instead, Katz peppers screams throughout heartbreaking lyrics over spooky melodies. It’s a raucous mess but musically tight, executed beautifully front to back. 

MISSIO: The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man    

An early streaming link for The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man found its way to the Atlas inbox a few weeks before its official release, and it was apparent that this album was something special. The Austin-based duo has leaned into making deeply personal music about battling their demons, and their “MISSIO Mafia” of fans formed on the basis of taking solace in not having to battle alone. Though not everyone can relate to the depression and addiction the duo is open about across their catalog, single “I See You” validates every struggle and delivers comfort. The songwriting is this album’s strong point, an anomaly in electronic music but the duo’s self proclaimed most important aspect of music making. And, even better, they didn’t give up the chaotic beats (“Audi A4”) or the off-kilter arrangements that make “Dizzy” such an aptly named track. It’s a fun ride, and it closes on a high note with the reminder that there’s “Esperanza en la Oscuridad,” hope in the darkness. 

The Maine: You Are OK

Atlas got an early listen of You Are OK in March and continue to be blown away by this addition to the catalog of by a band called The Maine. If there was a way for an entire album to be an anthem, this is it. Instrumentally and vocally there is a feeling of non-pretentious grandeur, a sense of excruciating but worthwhile growth, a further construction upon the last decade of foundation the band has built. On You Are OK, The Maine turn inward and dig deep—it’s their journey, but they want to take us along with them. The quintet finally fully embraced themes surrounding mental health, about how they made it out the other side and are ready to welcome us there. By the end of closer “Flowers on the Grave,” we, too, will be healed. We will be golden, the chosen color of this album cycle. As a new fan of the Arizona locals, this was the perfect introduction to the world of 8123. Everything before was just a prequel. 

Jagwar Twin: Subject to Flooding 

Roy English, the brain behind Jagwar Twin, is far from a novice in the music industry but has never gotten a chance like this to let his genius—and his crazy wide vocal range—shine. Alt radio single “Loser” is the only song from his debut that ever saw the light of day, and sure, it’s a good song that’s easy to listen to, but it doesn’t showcase the album as a whole. English’s voice lends itself to a variety of styles like cinematic R&B track “Good Day” or dark electro-influenced anthem “Superhuman”, which means it’s hard to get bored with Subject to Flooding. It’s an album that can be consumed in order or on shuffle without a major difference in the experience, but English has noted that variety is the beauty of alternative music. The introspection in the lyrics ties everything together; the result is a creative and inclusive space for everyone.

K.Flay: Solutions

Fifteen years after her debut, K.Flay has plenty to celebrate. She’s finally seeing commercial success, and there’s no doubt it has something to do with Solutions. The album combines the best of all her defining traits: her wise cracks, shit talking, Midwest hip hop, abrasive guitar riffs, and bombastic bass that built her fan base over the years. Her sound has always been hard to define, but that’s the fun of it; at heart, she’s still the Suburban Rap Queen (an early EP title) who records songs on her laptop. Now she’s just evolved and has pulled more elements into her music. Solutions has zero filler and zero filter, with K.Flay’s signature rasp delivering commentary on self-acceptance, friendship, life changes, and the other joyous elements of being human. On the Solutions Tour, she kept a notebook at the merch table so fans could share their stories in it, and it’s already an exciting prospect to think of how it’ll manifest in her next project now that she’s got the art of the album dialed in. 

half•alive: Now, Not Yet

The cover art of Now, Not Yet is a good jumping off point: it’s a bold color palette featuring two headless figures dancing. Similarly, the album is a bold and bright collection of dance-able tracks and gets just a little weird. The Long Beach trio initially garnered attention with single “Still Feel” and its choreographed music video, which was praised for its creativity and cinematography, which makes sense because their songs are best experienced live. Josh Taylor, Brett Kramer, and J Tyler Johnson dress in the primary colors and onstage dancers create a human kaleidoscope. What comes as a shock to casual listeners is that the album is a gentle exploration into the ups and downs of being a religious person in 2019, though it can pass as introspection. And there’s so much else going on in the slick production, catchy hooks, and synth-y goodness that you can’t even be mad you’re listening to Christian music.     

Matt Maeson: Bank on the Funeral

Matt Maeson’s voice can reach all the down to the depths of your soul and elicit a response, no matter how heartless you claim to be, and that’s a special kind of magic. Each note is dripping with raw emotion and hooks you into following along in the story that’s clearly not the product of an easy life. There’s a reason Maeson’s past releases are about death. He’s had plenty of struggles with addictive tendencies and life-altering mistakes, and Bank on the Funeral chronicles his equally difficult rise from the ashes. He’s still scratching and clawing his way back to the surface and is begging for forgiveness—from others and from himself. This reflection on his life so far is a gorgeous flow from song to song with aching vulnerability, and it’ll catch in your throat and stick with you. Maybe come prepared with tissues. 

 

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