WSUM Exec Team’s Favorite Albums of 2019

Zoey Knox: Traffic Director

  1. Big Thief – Two Hands
  2. Whitney – Forever Turned Around
  3. Angel Olsen – All Mirrors
  4. Sudan Archives – Athena
  5. Sleater-Kinney – The Center Won’t Hold
  6. Lucy Dacus – 2019
  7. Shura – forevher
  8. Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!
  9. Bon Iver – i,i
  10. Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center

Honorable Mentions: Black Pumas – Black Pumas, CHAI – Punk, Orville Peck – Pony, Stella Donnelly – Beware the Dogs

If you’ve walked by the Traffic Desk at WSUM some time in the past three months, you’ve probably heard me talking about Big Thief. My favorite melancholy music makers put out their second album of 2019, Two Hands, on October 11. This beautifully tender album captures Big Thief’s connection to the natural world through heart-wrenching lyrics, colorful imagery and carefully crafted instrumentation. I was most taken by the lullaby quality of opener “Rock and Sing” and “Two Hands’” driving melody. On standout track “Not,” the band builds a world around the listener, then smashes it open and shreds for the last three minutes of the song. Long live Big Thief. 

Jack Snedgar: Traffic Director

  1. Black Midi – Schlagenheim
  2. Origami Angel – Somewhere City
  3. WeatherdayCome In
  4. Glass Beach- The first glass beach album
  5. Tyler, the Creator – IGOR
  6. PUP – Morbid Stuff
  7. Future Teens – Breakup Season
  8. Chris Farren – Born Hot
  9. JPEGMAFIA – All My Heroes are Cornballs
  10. 1000 Geccs – 100 Geccs

Honorable Mentions: Otoboke Beaver – Itekoma Hits, Frail Body – A Brief Memoriam

There’s not much left of the 90s post-hardcore sound. Labels closed down, groups disbanded, and band members settled down. As a fan of the grimey, raw, and once bleeding edge scene, there haven’t been many bands to emulate, let alone transfigure, this sound. That is, until Black Midi. Their dizzying blend of math rock, noise, post-punk, and a healthy dose of pretentiousness melt together into what I’d call “post-post-hardcore.” And dude, does it pop-off.

Izzi Bavis: Administrative Specialist

  1. Martha – Love Keeps Kicking
  2. EARTHGANG – Mirrorland
  3. Tyler, the Creator – IGOR
  4. Stella Donnelly – Beware of the Dogs
  5. JPEGMAFIA – All My Heroes Are Cornballs
  6. Solange – When I Get Home
  7. CHAI – Punk
  8. Dababy – Kirk
  9. Danny Brown – uknowwhatimsayin¿
  10. Chaka Khan – Hello Happiness

Martha embodies all the angst and growth I felt this past year. Each track is short and full of energy, a contrast to the long winded jazz records I usually listen to. The emotions in each song is hidden behind the drums, the guitar riffs and forceful vocals. On my favorite track, “Into This,” Martha beautifully describes what it is like to receive mixed signals from someone you have feelings for. The line “My heart flutters then it sinks / you only want to kiss me when you’ve had a drink” stands out to me, it explains the yearning and sadness without being overly descriptive. I think that is one of the reasons this album stood out to me, it’s not terribly long and it’s easy to listen to but if you lift up the curtain it has meaningful messages. On the track “Wrestlemania VIII,” the shortest track on the album, the lines “they say absence makes the heart grow fonder / when we first met it felt like we’d been friends for so much longer” are echoed at the end of the song. It’s easy to dismiss shorter songs, especially when it has so much repetition and little variance, but “Wrestlemania VIII” speaks on another emotional experience: meeting someone you have a strong emotional connection with and then having to leave. In under two minutes, Martha accurately describes long distance relationships and feelings of intimacy. That’s not easy to do with such a short amount of time. I love this album, it’s quick and to the point and is a reminder of where I started in 2019 and how I’ve grown. If you like Wallows, Car Seat Headrest or Drugdealer, take a listen. 

Daniel Palmeter: Assistant Tech Director

  1. Malibu Ken – Malibu Ken
  2. Lightning Bolt – Sonic Citadel
  3. Oh Sees – Face Stabber
  4. Bon Iver – i,i
  5. Xiu Xiu – Girl With Basket of Fruit
  6. Black Midi – Schlagenhein
  7. HAHA! Fun! Fun! Fun! HAHA! – Ultraviolet Snake Energy
  8. Kate Bollinger – I Don’t Wanna Lose
  9. (Sandy) Alex G – House of Sugar
  10. 100 gecs1000 gecs

Honorable Mentions: Avey Tare – Cows on Hourglass Pond, Sunn 0))) – Life Metal, Tyler, the Creator – IGOR, JPEGMAFIA – All My Heroes Are Cornballs, Swans – leaving meaning.

As a duo comprised of two of underground music’s most notable weirdos, there’s nothing quite like Malibu Ken. On their first collaboration in over a decade, this record sees Tobacco of Black Moth Super Rainbow and rapper Aesop Rock deliver ten tracks filled with each of their idiosyncratic styles. Tobacco lays down the beats with analog synthesizers and tons of effects while Aesop Rock raps about Ricky Kasso, his unclean car, and just about everything in between. And despite being experimental and crude, it still remains a digestible record with catchy hooks that get stuck in my head. Plus, it’s got a disgusting album cover—bonus points in my book.

Sean Horvath: Traffic Director

  1. Billie Marten – Feeding Seahorses by Hand
  2. Girl Band – The Talkies
  3. Men I Trust – Oncle Jazz
  4. Nivhek – After its Own Death/Walking in a Spiral Towards the House
  5. Kate Bollinger – I Don’t Wanna Lose
  6. (Sandy) Alex G – House of Sugar
  7. Earl Sweatshirt – Feet of Clay
  8. Abbie Ozard – Growing Pains
  9. Eerie Wanda – Pet Town
  10. The Comet is Coming – Trust in the Life-force of the Deep Mystery

Feeding Seahorses by Hand is an album that does something that very few others have; it had me completely enthralled for months on end without necessarily doing anything new. Nothing about Billie Marten’s latest project goes beyond the confines of the indie folk genre, It hits all the beats and sounds that the albums that inspired her did. What this album did to earn its spot on the top of my list, was make absolutely no mistakes. Everything is executed PERFECTLY, there isn’t a second on the record where I’m not fully captivated. It is one of the most concisely intimate musical experiences I’ve heard in a long time.

Jocelyn Ostrowski: Web Manager

  1. Charli XCX – Charli
  2. (Sandy) Alex G – House of Sugar
  3. Freddie Gibbs – Bandana
  4. FKA Twigs – Magdalene
  5. Xiu Xiu – Girl With Basket of Fruit
  6. Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated
  7. SAULT – 5
  8. Denzel Curry – ZUU
  9. Danny Brown – Uknowhatimsayin¿
  10. Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising

I was honestly worried about my super-high expectations for CHARLI, given its critically acclaimed predecessor, Pop 2, and the AMAZING singles that Charli XCX dropped in preparation for the album (especially “Gone,” which is my favorite song of the year). But thankfully, Charli absolutely outdid herself with a perfect blend of experimental and mainstream pop. Like Pop 2, Charli is packed with perfectly executed pop songs as well as noisy, distorted, futuristic bubblegum bass. “Shake It” featuring Big Freeda, Pablo Vitar, Brooke Candy, and cupcakKe is an absolute BANGER and the second major highlight of the album after Gone. Catch me bumping this album EVERY DAY. All hail Charli XCX, an absolute pop queen.

Alice Alexeeva: Station Manager

  1. JPEGMAFIA – All of My Heroes are Cornballs
  2. KAYTRANADA – BUBBA
  3. Earl Sweatshirt – Feet of Clay
  4. Black Midi – Schlagenheim
  5. Little Simz – Grey Area
  6. Young Nudy – Sli’merre
  7. Danny Brown, Uknowhatimsayin¿
  8. Slowthai, Nothing Great About Britain
  9. XIU XIU, Girl With Basket of Fruit
  10. Combo Chimbita, Ahomale

Honorable Mentions: HOMESHAKE – Helium, Steve Lacy – Apollo XXI, Shinichiro Yokota – I Know You Like It, Flying Lotus – Flamagra, 100 gecs – 1000 gecs, Freddie Gibbs – Bandana, Pivot Gang – You Can’t Sit with Us

JPEGMAFIA continues to impress with his newest album All My Heroes Are Cornballs, an album that is much more approachable than Veteran (2018) but retains (maybe even furthers) Peggy’s production complexity, social commentary, and general chaos. With it, we get more softness from featured artists’ vocals such as Helena Deland on the track “Free The Frail.” Overall, the album is diverse yet coherent and showcases Peggy as a musical renaissance man.

Olivia Chavez: Traffic Director

  1. The Maine – You Are OK
  2. Waterparks – FANDOM
  3. Grayscale – Nella Vita
  4. ROAM – Smile Wide
  5. Heart Attack Man – Fake Blood
  6. TWIN XL – How To Talk To Strangers
  7. Seaway – Fresh Produce
  8. SWMRS – Berkeley’s On Fire
  9. The Happy Alright – Thank You Very Much
  10. Sleep On It – Pride & Disaster

The Maine have somehow outdone themselves again. You Are OK is the band’s 7th album and their most ambitious yet, and somehow every song is still executed brilliantly. The Maine embody the core of the modern pop punk genre and this album perfectly demonstrates that while also extending beyond it. Most of the record incorporates orchestral elements and experimental sounds underneath the lyrics discussing  hopelessness, love, pain, and the feeling of finding hope again. The album has everything from traditional pop punk songs to hard-hitting experimental rock songs and it ends with a song that is a 9 minute and 23 second reflection on the album itself and the growth that allowed it to come to fruition. I went back and forth on what my top album of the year would be and in the end, I could not choose anything but this album. The Maine have entered a beautiful new era and their most impressive one yet, all while reminding their listeners that even if you are not okay now, you will be soon.

Teresa Yen: Program Director

  1. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell
  2. Fletcher – you ruined new york city for me
  3. Silver Sphere – yikes!
  4. Sigrid – Sucker Punch
  5. Maggie Rogers – Heard it in a Past Life
  6. Clairo – Immunity
  7. mxmtoon – The Masquerade
  8. Sasha Sloane – Self Portrait
  9. BOL4 – Puberty Book I: Bom
  10. Dodie – Human

Honorable mentions: Bon Iver – i,i , Katie, 24 °C – Log, Lee Hi, Chung Ha – Flourishing, IU – Love Poem

Lana Del Rey came back this year with “Norman Fucking Rockwell” and sad girls all around the world went crazy. While people criticize her for romanticizing toxic relationships and claims that her music sets women back decades, Lana’s music unapologetically sings of the actual toxicity and vulnerability of being in a relationship. In an era where women are expected to be “strong and independent,” it almost seems wrong to be sad and emotional, and we are forced to hide our tears and stand back up. Instead of asking us to quickly get over our heartbreaks, Lana’s sings of the depressing moments that one goes through, and it’s almost like she’s telling you that it’s perfectly ok to feel sad and down, and you’re not alone. 

Ben Farrell: Music Director

  1. Helado Negro – this is how you smile
  2. Baby Smoove – Purple Heart
  3. Young Thug – So Much Fun
  4. Show Me The Body – Dog Whistle
  5. Juan Wauters – La Onda de Juan Pablo
  6. Issam Hajali – Mousalat Ila Jacad Al Ard (reissue)
  7. Various Artists – Helium Remixes
  8. Men I Trust – Oncle Jazz
  9. Headie One and RV – Drillers and Trappers II
  10. Lomelda – M for Empathy

2019 was a decent year in music. Every month or so, a record came out that the warranted (in my relatively unimportant opinion) a couple of listens. But in my case, nothing REALLY stuck (except for, of course, the record about which I’m writing). Usually when I select my album of the year, the criteria most important in my choice is a project’s ability to shift the music industry’s culture. In my opinion, we didn’t have a project of that sort in 2019. With that in mind, my album of the year’s substantive achievement was in its ability to convey feeling deeply, and with intensity.

Helado Negro’s This Is How You Smile, released on March 8th by RVNG Intl, is a masterclass in emotive songwriting. Standing on the crossroads between ambient electronic and indie folk, this record is best understood as an ethereal tour through love, and life, and the very persona matter of Roberto Carlos Lange’s (Held Negro’s real name) Latinx identity. Sparingly-used synthesizers, floating guitar riffs and Lange’s sleepy vocals construct a soft edged sonic cloud, which, every time I listen, I have no desire to leave.

Another of Smile’s most impressive qualities is the seeming continuity between its music and lyrics, a hallmark of great songwriting. Shifting seamlessly between Spanish and English, Lange seems to exhibit the duality of his own being as a LatinX American. This duality is, while complex and intricate, is overwhelmingly natural and honest. Loves past bubble up organically. They seem to be a part of the fabric of his existence. Sliding in and out of focus, these recollections deliver his emotions. Somehow, Lange seems to package the heart filling joy of love and the soul-rending tragedy of that love’s end into a single moment.

I’ll finish up my short review in Lange’s words rather than my own, with two lines from my favorite track, Two Lucky, that exhibit the qualities I tried to describe here.