40. Julia Jacklin – Crushing
Origin: Sydney, Australia
The Gist: I once heard a Japanese woman say that feelings linger in the ends of one’s hair. For Julia Jacklin, those forlorn feelings linger in the hushed instrumentation of her plaintive sophomore LP, Crushing. Naked, defenseless, and proud, the Melbourne-bred songwriter casts a doleful look at romance gone sour, all the while tracing her own fleshy, tender outline in the mirror.
Why It Rules: 2019 is wrought with breakup albums — the kind replete with larger-than-life motivational bops urging us to mutter an indignant “good riddance” and take a goddamn spinning class. Crushing is not one of these records. Instead, Jacklin asks us to slow down, stand up, and assess a complete and messy exploration of grief, vulnerability, and emotional recovery. Without hope or agenda, the Australian songstress leads listeners through moments of sorrow, setback, and comfort inherent in the duality of her album’s title, guaranteed to touch even the most recalcitrant audience among us. –Irene Monokandilos
Essential Tracks: “Body”, “Pressure to Party”, and “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You”
39. Leonard Cohen – Thanks for the Dance
Origin: Westmount, Quebec, Canada
The Gist: Leonard Cohen wrote and spoke poignantly about growing old, even when he understood that death might soon be knocking at his own door. Like Bowie before him that year, we took 2016’s You Want It Darker to be the poet and crooner’s final gift to us, a project that took him nearly right up to that final encounter to complete. Little did we know that Cohen had already laid down vocals for one last record, what would become, with the help of his son’s arrangements, 2019’s Thanks for the Dance.
Why It Rules: Any reticence about Cohen not living long enough to supervise the album’s completion quickly fades away when we hear a somber guitar plucking joined by the master’s unmistakable voice on opening track “Happens to the Heart”. Poetic meditations like “There’s a mist of summer kisses where I tried to double park” remind us of how effortlessly Cohen could combine nature and concrete, sentiment and calculation, the sacred and the profane. To hear Cohen in such fine form suggests that while he may have been done dancing, he surely wanted the band to play on. –Matt Melis
Essential Tracks: “Happens to the Heart”, “The Night of Santiago”, and “Listen to the Hummingbird”
38. Jenny Lewis – On the Line
Origin: San Fernando Valley California
The Gist: It can be hard to define Jenny Lewis. Ex-child star, former Rilo Kiley leader, indie rock darling, etc. However, with On the Line, Lewis bares it all while pointing to her LA upbringing, handing out casual epiphanies on mental health, benders, and ill-fated relationships, soaking it all in folk rock and, four studio albums in, showing she’s the best person to define herself.
Why It Rules: On the Line is Hollywood glamour spiked with strife as told by someone who knows how to navigate those hills. Even when driving in a red Porsche convertible, each moment is painfully relatable. According to Lewis, “Life is a disco,” and she’s “had it with trippers and drama queens.” From opening track “Heads Gonna Roll”, where Lewis claims, “You think you’re going to heaven/ And you think I’m going to hell,” it’s easy to see the entire album is based around the conflict of good and evil. But by the time Lewis reiterates, “Your demons got reason to fight” in “Hollywood Lawn”, it’s obvious all the characters are just playing a part, and there aren’t always distinct differences between the good guys and the bad ones. –Erica Campbell
Essential Tracks: “Hollywood Lawn”, “Heads Gonna Roll”, and “Red Bull & Hennessy”
37. Sturgill Simpson – Sound & Fury
Origin: Jackson, Kentucky
The Gist: Three years after breaking through to crossover success with the Grammy-winning A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson was no longer interested in simply being outlaw country’s heir apparent. Instead, he gave Nashville the finger and gave us Sound & Fury, a collection of neo-blues and boogie rock that finds Simpson reflecting on his newfound fame while chafing at the expectations (both generic and commercial) that accompany success. Oh, the record also acts as the soundtrack to Simpson’s own dystopian Netflix anime series, because the future is nothing if not buck wild.
Why It Rules: If songs like “Sing Along” and “A Good Look” sound like they were recorded at a seedy motel by a fame-wary dude who just turned 40, that’s because they were; the majority of Sound & Fury came together at the McGuire Motor Inn (current Yelp rating: one star) 30 miles north of Detroit, a proximity to the Motor City also reflected in sleazy rock nods to everyone from Bob Seger to The Black Keys. Pair that with the tense “Make Art Not Friends” (the song LCD Soundsystem would’ve made if they’d been from Murfreesboro instead of Brooklyn) and gas-powered honky-tonk rave-up “Last Man Standing”, and you get a record that, like its creator, contains multitudes. –Tyler Clark
Essential Tracks: “Sing Along”, “Make Art Not Friends”, and “Last Man Standing”
36. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Ancestral Recall
Origin: New Orleans, Louisiana
The Gist: Jazz trumpeter and producer Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah released his new album, Ancestral Recall, back in March, the artist’s first solo release since 2017’s The Centennial Trilogy. Several guests join Scott this time around, including poet and songwriter Saul Williams, to help him see his latest vision realized.
Why It Rules: Like fellow Consequence favorite Kamasi Washington, Scott’s music has crossed over not only to make jazz accessible to audiences long ignorant of the genre, but also to bring new voices and stories to the forefront of popular music. On Ancestral Recall, Scott employs various cultural rhythms and styles with guest vocalists to, in his words, attempt to “decolonize sound.” By finding commonalities and embracing differences, the album carries the important mantra that all sounds and expression are valid. –Regan Bexler
Essential Tracks: “I Own the Night” (feat. Saul Williams), “The Shared Stories of Rivals (KEITA)” (feat. Saul Williams), and “Songs She Never Heard” (feat. Logan Richardson)
35. Jay Som – Anak Ko
Origin: Walnut Creek, California
The Gist: After stunning with 2017’s Everybody Works, singer-songwriter and producer Melina Duterte approached her follow-up with an expanded creative vision. Her latest album under her Jay Som moniker includes not only more poignant aspects pulled from her personal life as a daughter of Filipino immigrants — Anak Ko means “my child” in Tagalog — but also the contribution of outside guests, such as members of Vagabon and Chastity Belt.
Why It Rules: Rather than hole up in a corner in a bout of super self-reflection, Duterte did possibly one of the most scary things a young adult can do: She put herself out there. The Los Angeles-based artist manifests her own version of maturity on Anak Ko, one marked by a willingness to be open and vulnerable, both emotionally and in the studio. That growth shows up throughout the record — from the ease with which Duterte seamlessly dives into lo-fi, bedroom pop, and alt-rock to the mindful way she grapples with heartache and anxiety. –Lake Schatz
Essential Tracks: “Superbike”, “Nighttime Drive”, and “Tenderness”
34. Denzel Curry – ZUU
Origin: Carol City, Florida
The Gist: At just 24, Billie Eilish’s tourmate is a survivor and elder statesman who ushered in rap’s Soundcloud era. And with this tribute to his home city, all guests Miami-only, the man prone to covering Rage Against the Machine stumbles into his first classic album.
Why It Rules: Denzel Curry chooses brain-melting beats (the M.I.A.-worthy “Birdz,” the Death Grips-worthy “P.A.T.”), shouts perfect hooks (the Plies-inspired “Shake 88”, the uncouth parental advice of “Ricky”), and even croons “Speedboat”, an unforgettable elegy for the fallen XXXTentaction, whom many of us would rather forget. ZUU is an almost seamless amalgam of ‘90s West Coast rap, classic Miami bass, and Soundcloud-era warping, with the hardly soft Curry a more solid and responsible mind than most every one of those signifiers will conjure up for you. And from little means other than comic-genius inflection changes, the interlude “Yoo” mounts an astounding case for bringing back the rap skit. –Dan Weiss
Essential Tracks: “Speedboat”, “Ricky”, and “Birdz”
33. The Highwomen – The Highwomen
Origin: Nashville, Tennessee
The Gist: For decades, it seemed the only artists getting airtime on country radio were guys named Luke who were entirely indecipherable from one another. And the homogeneousness was always someone else’s fault: the audience wouldn’t listen, the labels wouldn’t sign ‘em, etc. But the results were the same: Womens’ voices in country music were systematically stifled before they even had a chance.
Then came The Highwomen. The brainchild of fiddler extraordinaire Amanda Shires, the band is comprised of Grammy-winning Brandi Carlile, legendary songwriter Natalie Hemby, and pop princess Maren Morris. The group’s inception wasn’t some stunt to garner attention: In fact, each of the women put their flourishing solo careers on partial hold to create the record and perform it because they believed whole-heartedly in the project’s mission.
Why It Rules: The Highwomen’s debut album is not home to the kind of half-baked, vaguely feminist anthems often used as vapid rallying cries but actually conveying nothing (see: “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten). Instead, it delves deeply into the pains and triumphs that encompass the experience of being a woman in country music. Whether they’re singing the first gay country song or relishing in the pure joy of a honky tonk, each of the four powerhouse women exude authenticity in their tellings of love, loss, fear, frustration, and exhaustion. Throughout the 12 songs, it becomes clear that The Highwomen aren’t just itching for a seat at the table: They’re making space for others, all while simultaneously trying to get home to feed their babies (and, mind you, continuing the human race). –Lucy Shanker
Essential Tracks: “If She Ever Leaves Me”, “Old Soul”, and “Crowded Table”
32. BTS – Map of the Soul: Persona
Origin: Seoul, South Korea
The Gist: To say “K-pop finally arrived in America in 2019” wouldn’t be entirely fair to fans who have been on to the sound for years. With sold-out stadium tours, chart dominance, and much-ballyhooed Coachella appearances from the biggest names in the genre, however, there’s no denying that this was the year K-pop took over. Leading the charge has been BTS, whose sixth EP, Map of the Soul: Persona, has smashed records and become an undeniable staple for pop music fans.
Why It Rules: BTS is everything that’s great about K-pop, and Persona is the perfect introduction for new converts. The collection features hip-hop bangers like “Intro: Persona”, pop juggernauts like the Halsey collaboration “Boy with Luv”, and R&B jams like “Make It Right”. What’s more, if you’re willing to dig deep into translation, you’ll discover that these tracks are loaded with insightful, personal lyricism and themes. For a long while, the uninitiated’s perception was that the K-pop industry was only churning out flashy audio merchandise for the masses; with this series of undeniable hits, BTS have proven it’s far more than that. This is K-pop at its absolute best, a case study arguing in favor of the genre’s new international acclaim. The septet is the biggest band in the world right now, and impeccable efforts like this just add shine to their crowns. –Ben Kaye
Essential Tracks: “Boy with Luv” feat. Halsey, “Intro: Persona”, and “Dionysus”
31. Anderson .Paak – Ventura
Origin: Oxnard, California
The Gist: There are a few standout things that make Anderson .Paak so captivating: his drum solos, his ability to infuse jazz, rap, funk, and rock into his music without one overpowering the other nor chaos ensuring, and the way he manages to infuse exuberant joy and magnetic energy into his songs. As .Paak soared off the success of 2016 smash Malibu, which heavily relied on the power of the above list, fans eagerly awaited his next release, hoping it would equally encapsulate that same sultry talent. Oxnard, released at the end of 2018, had none of these things. While it did feature production credit from Dr. Dre and massive guest appearances from the likes of Snoop Dogg, J. Cole, and Dre himself, it also took what we loved about .Paak, funneled money into it, and reduced him to a few mediocre rap verses. So less than six months later, when .Paak decided to release another album, Ventura, fans were wary.
Why It Rules: Ventura was exactly what the people were waiting for. Instead of the lackluster rapping we got on Oxnard, the follow-up sees .Paak at his most soulful (read: best) and as confident as ever. The drum solos are back, and in place of the grandiose features that washed him out are ones that anchor him to the melodies. Sure, there are big names — Smokey Robinson is on a track, for God’s sake — but more so, each of the guests feels seamlessly interwoven between the strong appearances of .Paak himself. Ventura not only made up for Oxnard; it wiped it from the collective consciousness. –Lucy Shanker
Essential Tracks: “Come Home (feat. André 3000)”, “Make It Better (feat. Smokey Robinson)”, and “Winners Circle”