Not sure why, but in 2019 I spent a lot of time with a relatively few new albums, so apologies to the stuff I didn’t listen to enough. Here’s an idiosyncratic best-of, the albums I listened to all year (in more or less chronological order), with a “rest-of”—albums I liked almost as much, or loved for a couple of weeks but left behind for whatever reason.
Park Hye Jin (above)
If U Want It (clipp.art)
In January I wrote that If U Want It “sounds like something I’ll be coming back to all winter.” South Korean DJ Park Hye Jin’s five pithy songs cover dub, tropical house, industrial electronica, and wistful minimalism. She’s a canny com-
poser and a charismatic vocalist, and hey, I’m still coming back.
Quiet Signs (Kemado)
Jessica Pratt weaves another web of dusky psych-folk. The spirit of Arthur Lee pervades the modal chords and underlying spookiness, but Pratt’s got a voice of her own—a restrained but expressive sigh that floats above her songs like a halo of insects over a pond, and mesmerizes in the same way.
The Loop (Nature Sounds)
A secret weapon of L.A.’s hip-hop scene busts out this 75-minute monster that channels P-Funk and trots out a battalion of A-listers: Erykah Badu, Thundercat, Flying Lotus, Anderson .Paak, Robert Glasper—and Bilal, whose showcase “Between Us” is a louche charmer. The Loop is a giddy ramble, an all-day party.
Crumb’s bedroom indie comes off like a weird dream, slightly unsettling but ultimately unthreatening. Lila Ramani’s sad-ghost vocals manage to be dark and whimsical at the same time, and the Tufts grads find a variety of grooves, from the elongated “M.R.” to the funky, almost krauty “Nina.”
Tomeka Reid Quartet
Old New (Cuneiform)
Avant-jazz cellist Tomeka Reid has played with experimental pop duo Ohmme and folky guitar wizard James Elkington, so it shouldn’t surprise that melody cuts through on Old New. Her meticulous yet loose compositions are punctuated by the gnarly solos of mindbending guitarist Mary Halvorson, and the quartet’s interplay is wondrous.
Walk Through Fire
Stately soul with enough grace to counteract the potentially distracting retro flourishes of producer Dan Auerbach. Yola can belt, but it’s her sense of dynamics that leads to goosebumps, as on “Faraway Look,” rightly nominated for multiple Grammys.
Psychedelic Backfire I & II
A pair of insane prog-jazz albums from this Norwegian trio, recorded live. Dungen guitarist Reine Fisk shows up on volume II, as the band fearlessly shifts from Eno to Mahavishnu to Deep Purple—and that’s just on “You Are the Sunshine Of My Life.”
This tour-de-force finds Howard an assured voice in settings from avant soul to country rock. She’s also a compelling songwriter and inventive guitarist, and has a knack for making big statements sound down-to-earth. Coming to the Pavilion on April 17.
When I Get Home (Columbia)
Prismatic soft-soul featuring “Stay Flo,” one of 2019’s best tracks. Classic Stevie vibes hang over the whole thing, but Solange rises to the pretension.
A Song for Paul (Colemine)
Blunted ’70s-ish soul-jazz that just wants to hang out, and earns its keep.
Homeboy Sandman, Dusty (Mello)
and Chali 2Na & Krafty Kutz
Adventures of a Reluctant Superhero (Manphibian)
A pair of vets from Queens and L.A. turn in joyous albums that are reminiscent of rap’s “golden age” but feel fresh and inspired.