Much Staff Picks: Our Favourite Albums Of 2019

Mon, December, 23 by MUCH

With another year in the books, we’re commemorating the end of 2019 (and the decade) the best way we know how—by recounting all the albums that defined the past 12 months for us. From pop favourites to soundtracks to compilation albums, here’s what we had on repeat in 2019.

Dedicated, Carly Rae Jepsen

2015’s Emotion cemented Carly Rae Jepsen’s status as pop royalty and found her shrugging off any remaining suspicion that she was nothing more than a one-hit wonder. Four years later, Jepsen returned with Dedicated, this time a self-assured pop artist with nothing left to prove. Dedicated is packed with what fans have come to know and love her for: silky synths, ’80s-tinged anthems, and love songs with lyrics so saccharine you’ll be heartbroken over a whirlwind romance you never even had. Love—it’s what she knows best, but strangely enough it’s still what she’s been spending all this time trying to figure out. Even after all her ruminations on love, a topic so exhausted by pop culture, she explores it from new perspectives, finding ways to make it seem like we’re experiencing it for the very first time.

If her 2011 breakout hit “Call Me Maybe” presented a shy suggestion (Call her! Just kidding…unless?), then the tracks on Dedicated are pointed commands. The coy girl next door has been replaced with a woman unafraid to own her sexuality. She’ll be your girl. She’s everything you need. She wants you in her room. On the bed and on the floor.

Even four albums later, she still hasn’t run out of ways to sing about love, in both its physical and sentimental expressions: how it can be bashful one second and brazen the next, how it can be simultaneously not enough and too much. Love in all its forms eludes easy definition—but it sure as hell won’t stop her from trying.

–Celina Torrijos, Producer

 

Various Artists, Rocketman: Music from the Motion Picture

Once again, Spotify Wrapped has made my favourite album of the year embarrassingly clear—last year it was Charlie Puth’s Voicenotes, and this year it’s Rocketman: Music from the Motion Picture.

Part of me worries that this is a cop-out pick—I was already a huge Elton John fan before watching Rocketman and was therefore obviously predisposed to enjoy its music. However, producer Giles Martin did a fantastic job of transforming and recontextualizing the John tunes we all know and love, allowing fans like myself to rediscover old favourites and develop new ones. Because of this soundtrack, “Crocodile Rock” has, in my mind, turned into a track about youthful optimism and the promise of success. Rocketman’s stripped-down, emotionally raw version of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is now about how to respond to the perceived betrayal of a friend.  And, most importantly. “Honky Cat” is now the ultra-catchy flirtatious dance track I never expected and definitely didn’t know I needed.

I’d argue that this album has at least one or two tracks for everyone, even non-John fans. In fact, this might be blasphemous to say, but over the past six months I’ve come to enjoy some of Rocketman’s covers even more than the originals (sorry, Elton). Plus I can’t deny that this soundtrack has turned me into a full-fledged Taron Egerton stan.

–Sara Cristiano, Producer

 

Maggie Rogers, Heard It In A Past Life

When my older sister first made me listen to “Alaska” in 2016, I immediately knew I was listening to an artist that I would…love for a long time (and yes, I do love her new single, “Love You for a Long Time”).

The morning her debut album finally dropped, the first words out of my mouth were “Hey Google, play Maggie Rogers’ Heard It in a Past Life.” When my boyfriend was like, “Good morning,” I shushed him and immediately locked myself in the bathroom to be fully immersed in Maggie’s world.

My immediate favourites were “Say It,” “Past Life,” “Fallingwater,” and “Retrograde”—but the entire album quickly became the anthem to my just-surpassed-being-30-remembering-all-of-my-wild-20s life. The album takes you through the turbulent emotions of heartbreak (we’ve all been there) and ends with the triumphant revelation that letting go, although difficult, can be a really empowering feeling.

–Hilary Allan, Producer

 

MUNA, Saves the World

This album is as unapologetic as the title suggests. MUNA, the three-lead pop band, has built themselves on the brand of shamelessly wallowing in sadness and making it catchy. Their oozing, moody synths, powerful vocals, and masterful drum tracks get feet tapping and hearts breaking. Their song writing has a unique story-telling quality that delivers gut-wrenching yet unpretentious lyrics. If you like dancing and also crying, I suggest you get acquainted.

A beautiful progression from their first album, Saves the World examines a terrifying new stage of grief: that maybe you might just be okay. Thematically, the album introduces some maturity to heartbreak by acknowledging that pain and healing can co-exist, sometimes forever. Musically, MUNA is still delivering the sad-but-rad crying bops (“Navy Blue”) and gorgeous slow-build ballads (“Never”), but they level up with some surprising acoustic moments (“Good News (YaYa Song)”) and frank autobiographical tracks (“Taken”, “It’s Gonna Be Okay Baby”). The album’s true accomplishment is “Stayaway”—lead singer Katie Gavin flexes her mind-boggling vocals over the track’s vivid story-telling, rendering it a true heartbreaker that you can still somehow head-bang to. This album’s thesis statement is that you can be flawed and still want better for yourself, and this definition of self-love is so radical it could save the world.

–Rachel Kelly, Web Co-ordinator

 

Caroline Shaw / Attacca Quartet, Orange

The expressively agile Attacca Quartet and Pulitzer-winning composer Caroline Shaw have put down familiar ideas in peculiar and often unfamiliar contexts. The result is irresistible. Established chord patterns and harmonic sequences suddenly veer off in unexpected directions in “Entr’acte,” while “Punctum” plays out a series of alternative solutions to a harmonic puzzle that eventually reveals itself in the form of a quote from JS Bach’s chorale masterpiece, “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden.” Throbbing patterns refuse to lie still in “Valencia,” containing within them the seeds of a mechanism that doggedly pushes the music forwards. Shaw further accentuates the strange and unfamiliar through her colourful treatment of timbre, vividly heard in “Limestone & Felt“ in an astonishing performance by the Attacca Quartet, who are luminous throughout.

While such abrupt twists and turns often create surface-level tensions, continuity is achieved through a series of connecting threads formed around terraced or layered variations. Orange readily draws on natural metaphors associated with fruits, gardens, and landscapes, thus emphasizing the music’s organic qualities. The overriding image one gains is that of the composer as a honeybee, flitting from one flower to the next, hiving musical nectar to make sounds most strange and sweet.

Also delicious: Angel Olsen’s All Mirrors, Brittany Howard’s Jaime, Aldous Harding’s Designer, and Weyes Blood’s Titanic Rising

–Tyson Parker, Head Of Artist & Music Industry

 

City and Colour, A Pill for Loneliness

This is by far my favourite full album of the last year. It’s classic Dallas Green in that it’s deep, dark and sad…but that’s the charm here. This man can write feelings like no other. He tugs at heartstrings, forces you to reflect—but most of all, he allows you to get lost in his music for a few minutes at a time.

I was lucky enough to have been in a room back in May when Dallas himself introduced a few tracks to a small audience. Those moments are usually cringe-worthy, but it wasn’t this time around. He was genuinely excited to share the new music and to hear and see the reactions in the room. I think he knew he had a beauty album under his belt.

The first track he played was “Astronaut,” which had me locked after the first note. It’s a driving track, it’s a headphones on the subway track, and it’s a long-run-through-the-woods kind of track. It’s deep, but it doesn’t need to be if you don’t want it to be. It feels like a floaty relaxing vibe coupled with beautiful guitar solos that make me smile. Perhaps the pill in question is a gummy bear. A perfect mix if you ask me (and legal now in Canada).

Stand-out tracks include “Difficult Love,”  “Strangers,” “Mountain of Madness,” and the opening track “Living in Lightening.”

Gregg Stewart, Associate Director, Music Strategy

 

Revenge of the Dreamer III – J. Cole / Dreamville

This was sort of a no-brainer for me—mainly because this album features one of my favourite artists of the last decade, J. Cole, and two of my favourite artists to come out in the last couple of years, JID and EARTHGANG (FYI, EARTHGANG’s Mirrorland is my runner up album of the year).

But, really ROTD3 was a bit of a re-introduction to Dreamville’s roster, and they come out strong, both lyrically and conceptually. Listen to “LamboTruck” by Cozz featuring TDE’s Reason and Childish Major and you’ll see exactly what I mean. The most seasoned artists in the camp besides Cole himself, EARTHGANG and JID, are both heavy stand-outs on all the tracks they’re featured in (another PSA: go check out their individual Atlanta-based group Spillage Village, too). Through listening you’ll also understand why artists like Bas and Dreamville’s resident soul singer Ari Lennox have all amassed niche followings.

All and all, it’s hard not to listen to ROTD3 and not be awed by the talent on the label. On top of that, the album has the Grammy nom for Best Hip-Hop Album to back up all the high praise. In a way, it’s sort of like having multiple albums of the year, because you would be hard-pressed to listen to the entire album without pausing to branch off into all the other great individual projects from Dreamville—JID’s Dicaprio 2, Bas’ Milky Way, Ari Lennox’s Shea Butter Baby, and of course J. Cole—anything he’s done is worth a listen.

–Vernon Ayiku, Programming Assistant

 

Twin Peaks, Lookout Low

Twin Peaks was the least suspecting band to land on my top five Spotify Artists of 2019, since I hadn’t actually heard of the Chicago-based band until late August.

My top four (Kacey Musgraves, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, and Maggie Rogers) were 2019 repeats, but Twin Peaks rounded out my final year of the decade with the September release of their indie rock album Lookout Low. Fitting, because before I was a devoted pop listener, I was most likely to be found at the highest point of your local mosh pit. I guess Spotify was right to call me “Genre Fluid.”

Lookout Low features a selection of tracks you’d be surprised to discover came from one band. This is a result of each member taking turns on lead vocals. This approach has led the band to produce an album which features dance tracks, epic love songs and punk rock melodies for the ages. “Dance Through It” was my 2019 “Shake It Off,” and “Ferry Song” had me falling in love. It’s safe to say that for me, emo rock will always have my ear.

–Cherylann Nesbitt, Producer/Editor

 

Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

This may seem like the obvious choice, but the proof is in the Spotify Wrapped playlist. Whether walking down the street to “Bad Guy” or taking a bath to “When the Party’s Over,” Billie always makes me feel some kind of way. This album was collaboration with her brother and best friend, Finneas O’Connell. The off-cut moments of them laughing combined with unique sound samples like sharpening knives is what makes this album so addicting. The level of individuality is a true breath of fresh air—especially considering the entire thing was written and produced in their childhood home.

Eilish sings with a dark detached undertone that comes together with captivating beats while belting out lyrics about climate change and night terrors. This album is an example of how Eilish and Finneas are carving their own path in the music industry.

–Giulia Gucciardi, Intern

 

Other staff favourites:

Neila Karassik – Senior Producer: Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising 
Cassidy Allan – Social Producer: Robyn, Honey
Alyssa Petru – Much Studios: Harry Styles, Fine Line
David Baker – Video Co-ordinator: Black Mountain, Destroyer
Karen Hui – Video Co-ordinator: Chungha, Flourishing
Dan Carruthers – Marketing Co-ordinator: The Beaches, The Professional and Adam Baldwin No Rest For The Wicked (Two EPs in lieu of one full length—it’s not cheating)