The 50 Best Albums Of 2019 So Far

Music has always been a vast universe to explore, and that sense of the unconquerable infinite has only intensified in an age of on-demand streaming and easily accessible recording equipment. The flow of new sounds is so constant, so voluminous, and so diverse that no one could ever claim to have a handle on all of it, not even those of us who listen all day every day. So in a sense attempting to sum up the best music in a given timeframe is a fool’s errand.

But unless you’re a walking caricature, best-of lists aren’t really about putting a definitive stamp on a given time period. They’re about celebrating music we love, sharing that zeal with others, helping people filter through the endless options. They’re about passion, debate, appreciation. They are scrapbooks that become time capsules, points of view that become points of entry.

As we reach the midpoint of 2019, the perspectives that comprise the Stereogum staff have come together once again to toast the music that excited us this year so far. Together we’ve selected 50 albums we heartily endorse — some unanimously, others individually but with a conviction that demanded inclusion, most somewhere in between. Anything you find below has already blown somebody away. Probably several somebodies.

Every full-length with a release date between 1/1 and 6/30 was eligible for inclusion. So yes, some of our picks haven’t even come out yet. We look forward to you hearing those ones, just as we look forward to learning which records have been rocking your world in the first half of 2019. Because what is the point of a community like this one if not encountering, enjoying, and enthusing about all this beautiful sound? —Chris DeVille

Hot Chip - A Bath Full Of Ecstasy

50 Hot Chip – A Bath Full Of Ecstasy (Domino)

Every Hot Chip album sounds like Hot Chip, but every Hot Chip album also sounds a little different. This time, you will hear quintessentially Hot Chip melodies in “Hungry Child” and “Spell,” but you’ll also get the psychedelic reverie of the album’s final act. You’ll get processed and altered vocals, and layers of synths that sound like the multicolor, water-dappled album cover. Hot Chip are craftsmen, and A Bath Full Of Ecstasy comes with the expected arsenal of infectious choruses. But there’s probably never been an iteration of this band that’s been quite so euphoric, trippy, and lush at once. It might just be the best iteration of Hot Chip yet. —Ryan Leas

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Wand - Laughing Matter

49 Wand – Laughing Matter (Drag City)

In film and literature, wands are powerful instruments capable of deadly violence and redemptive transformation alike. The LA psych band Wand once erred toward the former power; on early records they were garage-pop wizards jolting listeners with lysergic lightning bolts. Lately they’ve shifted toward the latter, undergoing a Cinderella-like metamorphosis from skuzzy to pristine. Laughing Matter still finds them bashing away sometimes, but in service of a sprawling new vision, one that intersects with Radiohead and Yo La Tengo en route to the great unknown. Let it whisk you away and see if you don’t end up believing in magic. —Chris

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Inter Arma - Sulphur English

48 Inter Arma – Sulphur English (Relapse)

Hearing Inter Arma is like standing on the precipice of a deep canyon or staring into the sky on a cloudless night: the only proper response is awe. The Richmond band makes grand monuments out of sludge. They transform brutalist dirge-metal into weirdly beautiful 13-minute epics. They move fluidly between fragility and all-consuming carnage. On Sulphur English, Inter Arma redirect the proggy excursions of their recent records, still using all their chops but deploying them in service of something sadder and bleaker and heavier. And if you’re in the right state of mind for it, the album sounds like the void, opening up to pull you in. —Tom Breihan

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Skepta - Ignorance Is Bliss

47 Skepta – Ignorance Is Bliss (Boy Better Know)

Skepta won a Mercury Prize on the strength of loud, brash bangers like “Shutdown” and “That’s Not Me.” Ignorance Is Bliss has a bit of that, but primarily it offers something darker, slower, more paranoid. Even as Skepta walls himself off from a world that wants a piece of him, he’s becoming increasingly adventurous sonically. He continues to rap like the nimblest sledgehammer, but he’s decimating beats that wander ever farther from the colorfully aggressive production that rendered him a grime superhero. His presence on the mic is so commanding that hypnotic digital ice sculptures like “Greaze Mode” end up feeling larger-than-life, too. —Chris

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Sada Baby - Bartier Bounty

46 Sada Baby – Bartier Bounty (Asylum)

Those of us outside the Detroit metro area first encountered deranged rap libertine Sada Baby in the video for “Bloxk Party,” his 2018 collaboration with fellow Detroit underground standout Drego. In that clip, Sada Baby is a human hurricane of wild bugshit charisma. And that charisma turns out to be sustainable. Bartier Bounty is a full hour of profoundly satisfying low-budget street-rap ignorance, a marathon of drug deals and blowjobs delivered with joy and urgency and creativity. Sada Baby clearly relishes the simple act of rapping, and almost every line on Bartier Bounty hits like a rush of adrenaline. —Tom

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Dead Heat - Certain Death

45 Dead Heat – Certain Death (Edgewood)

The Oxnard band Dead Heat are so committed to the crossover sound — the mid-’80s moment where hardcore and thrash metal fused into a single brutal skate-beast — that they end their debut album with a cover of “Trapped,” a 1986 anthem from Long Island crossover pioneers the Crumbsuckers. Throughout the album, Dead Heat absolutely nail that sound: out-of-control tempos, triumphantly wheedling guitar solos, impassioned war-grunt vocals, convulsive mosh-part breakdowns. Yet Dead Heat never sound like retro revivalists; their anger is too pure and immediate and cleansing. And really, has the world ever needed angry music more? —Tom

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Spencer Radcliffe And Everyone Else - Hot Spring

44 Spencer Radcliffe And Everyone Else – Hot Spring (Run For Cover)

Spencer Radcliffe is one of the most gifted young musicians we have. There’s a lax surety to everything that the Chicago songwriter creates and Hot Spring, his second full-length album with his backing band Everyone Else, finds him more confident than ever. He uses that band to even greater ends, building on his weary personal introspection to make pastoral sighs and sweeping yawns that reflect on the immensity of life and the little time we have left. —James Rettig

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Maren Morris - GIRL

43 Maren Morris – GIRL (Columbia Nashville)

A year after crossing over with an invitation to “meet me in the middle,” one of pop-country’s leading lights retreats to home turf and continues to be master of her domain. GIRL reminds us just how broad that terrain is, aesthetically and otherwise. Though its foundation is a batch of genre-flouting love songs rivaling Golden Hour‘s beauty and sophistication, it also has solidarity anthems for women, easygoing down-home folks, and humanity at large, plus one about music’s power to intwine itself with our memories. On that tune she intones, “There’s a song for everything.” At this rate someday there will be a Maren Morris song for everything. —Chris

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Fury - Failed Entertainment

42 Fury – Failed Entertainment (Run For Cover)

Hardcore doesn’t allow much room for growth. Move even one step in pretty much any direction and — boom! — you’re playing something other than hardcore: post-hardcore, grindcore, melodic hardcore, deathcore, math-rock, noise, emo, screamo, blackgaze, shoegaze … It’s no coincidence that virtually all the genre’s best albums came out between like 1986 and 1989. Fury’s Failed Entertainment is a hardcore album, no modifiers required. It sounds like a product of the classic era, and had it been released during that era, it would be regarded as a classic now. The fact that it was released now makes it somehow more extraordinary still. It doesn’t fetishize nostalgia or pander to purists; instead, it finds new life in sounds that have long since been treated like museum pieces, building upward rather than wandering outward. Hardcore’s “best” will always rest in a distant past, but whatever, whenever: Hardcore doesn’t get any better than this. —Michael Nelson

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Cherry Glazerr - Stuffed & Ready

41 Cherry Glazerr – Stuffed & Ready (Secretly Canadian)

The title of Cherry Glazerr’s third album, Stuffed & Ready, is as unsettling as it is apt. “Stuffed” is a good way to describe Clementine Creevy’s claustrophobic world, running on exhaustion and ambition. Beholden to the patriarchy, she’s stuffed like a voiceless doll on songs like “Wasted Nun” and “Daddi.” Elsewhere, her brain is filled to the brim and overwhelmed, but she finds motivation in that anxiety, howling alongside thorny melodies. She’s ready to fight for her sanity. —Julia Gray

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Sigrid - Sucker Punch

40 Sigrid – Sucker Punch (Island)

Sigrid doesn’t care for the minimalism that most pop artists her age are gunning for right now. Her debut full-length, Sucker Punch, lives up to its title; its hooks are huge, the production is bright and shiny, and Sigrid’s voice towers above her slight frame. The 22-year-old Norwegian sings about crushes and heartbreak as if they were life-or-death scenarios. On the disco-inspired “Strangers” she likens a nascent relationship to a cinematic spectacle, while the jaunty string arrangements on “Don’t Feel Like Crying” find her triumphantly moving on after a breakup as she sings: “Wallowing in it would be such a waste/ That isn’t gonna fix it anyway.” Sucker Punch comes across as an unrelenting pep-talk, with Sigrid’s youthful optimism buoyed by a single question: Why waste a moment? —Gabriela Tully Claymore

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James Blake - Assume Form

39 James Blake – Assume Form (Polydor)

Before being inducted into the pop mainstream, James Blake was known for his minimal, moody compositions and heady downtempo. His vision was nervy and self-contained. But on Assume Form, he welcomes outside influence and newfound clarity. It’s a star-studded (Travis Scott, Rosalía, André 3000) collaborative effort, a love letter to his partner and muse. His most accessible work to date also happens to be his most contemplative. Introspection is steeped in slick textures, revealing Blake’s electronic heartbeat. —Julia

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Hatchie - Keepsake

38 Hatchie – Keepsake (Double Double Whammy/Heavenly)

Not many artists arrive as fully-formed as Hatchie did with last year’s Sugar & Spice EP. Full of laser-focused hooks and perfectly-calibrated bursts of Technicolor guitars and synths, it set up a whole lot of anticipation for a full-length debut. Keepsake, in response, almost inverts what came before. The melodies are still stunning, but the songs are both subtler and more muscular; heaving synth lines underpin melodies that slowly bloom and reveal themselves. Keepsake is more nocturnal, more longing, spacier — it shows us, already, a different version of Hatchie than we expected, but one that is even more exciting than we first thought. —Ryan

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Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow

37 Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow (Jagjaguwar)

In the five years since 2014’s Are We There, Sharon Van Etten has scored movies, acted in television, gone back to school, and become a mother. Those things are all a part of her new album Remind Me Tomorrow, but none of them define it. Instead, its biggest change is the presence of indie-world superproducer John Congleton, who bathes Van Etten’s songs in a dark electronic menace. Buzzing synths and chilly drum machines underscore the sense that even as you get older and achieve some form of domestic bliss, those old anxieties never quite leave you. “I don’t know how it ends,” she sings on closing track “Stay,” but it’s worth finding out. —Peter Helman

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Judiciary - Surface Noise

36 Judiciary – Surface Noise (Closed Casket Activities)

The ’80s musical style called “crossover” combined the speed and dexterity of thrash with the brute force and street wisdom of hardcore, bringing together previously partisan-divided subcultures who nonetheless shared immense political and societal dissatisfaction (and an affinity for active mosh pits). Its seminal acts had names like Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, Nuclear Assault, and Stormtroopers Of Death. It was potent shit for angry kids, by angry kids, a mass catharsis all around. Crossover’s initial lifespan was short; it quickly evolved (or dissolved) into MTV-aspirant groove-purveyors like Pantera and Biohazard. But nothing ever really dies, and the past few years have seen a crossover revival that frankly surpasses the first wave in every meaningful capacity. Judiciary’s Surface Noise may represent its current high water mark. The Texas band combines the best, gnarliest, nastiest elements of thrash and hardcore, flexing woodshed-sharpened technical chops and curbstomp-hard slams in fully diagrammed and hugely dynamic songs with titles like “Social Crusade,” “Pure Fury,” and “War (Time Is Nigh).” These are brutal times, people, and this is the score. —Michael

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Truth Club - Not An Exit

35 Truth Club – Not An Exit (Tiny Engines)

Truth Club’s debut album opens with a hopeful mantra — “I know there is a place that is right for us” — repeated over a plaintive guitar until the harmonies become pleas. Not An Exit pulses with controlled catharsis as the Raleigh band dwells in disorientation, feeling uncomfortable under your skin and lost in your hometown. “Inside my head is inside my head no matter where I am,” Travis Harrington sighs. “There’s not an exit.” —Julia

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34 CHAI – PUNK (Burger/Heavenly)

CHAI’s name is brief and emphatic, like one of the many exclamations the Japanese band chants throughout their songs. On their sophomore album, PUNK, they spin a dizzy confectionary of sing-along hooks, glittery breakdowns, and an incisive message that celebrates inclusivity and positivity. Through songs about modern beauty standards and never giving up, they create a rebellion that is absolutely infectious. —James

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Cate Le Bon - Reward

33 Cate Le Bon – Reward (Mexican Summer)

Cate Le Bon hid herself away in Cumbria’s Lake District while making her fifth album, Reward, learning how to build furniture by day and writing songs late into the night. The avant-pop artist turned her gaze towards loneliness and what it means and how it feels, the thin line between solitude and isolation. The songs on Reward are level-headed, but they prickle with anxiety, momentary lapses of doubt in yourself that translate to pop perfection. —James

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Kevin Abstract - ARIZONA BABY

32 Kevin Abstract – ARIZONA BABY (Question Everything/RCA)

Kevin Abstract stans a legend. After hearing Lana Del Rey’s “Venice Bitch,” the Brockhampton ringleader was so taken that he enlisted producer Jack Antonoff to work on his new album alongside the boy band/rap collective’s resident beatsmith Romil Hemnani. The result is his most varied and polished collection of songs yet and maybe also his most personal, channeling years spent growing up as a queer black man in the deep South and the stressors of his new life in the spotlight into horn-laden bangers and tender guitar ballads alike. We can stan a legend too, Kevin. —Peter

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Strand Of Oaks - Eraserland

31 Strand Of Oaks – Eraserland (Dead Oceans)

After 2017’s Hard Love, Tim Showalter was adrift. Questioning the life he’d chosen, he fell into a deep depression. Then, Eraserland happened. Encouraged (and later accompanied) by his friends in My Morning Jacket, Showalter secluded himself on the Jersey Shore during winter; an odd place to find your voice again, but it worked. Eraserland is simultaneously Showalter’s most expansive Oaks collection, and one of his most emotive. From the stargazing refrains of opener “Weird Ways” to the turmoil and resolve of closer “Forever Chords,” Eraserland features some of the strongest songs in the Oaks canon — proving that, following heartbreak and hedonism, rebirth might be the most powerful muse. —Ryan

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Patio - Essentials

30 Patio – Essentials (Fire Talk)

For the last few years, Patio have been watching the most recent wave of New York City punk from the sidelines, opening for them and learning their lessons and absorbing its best elements. Now that they’re at the forefront, they’re coming for blood. The title of Essentials, their debut album, is no joke: Every track is a must-listen, a heady mix of pressing urgency and warm melodies and cutting observations about life as we know it. They’re all seesaws, wheeling back and forth between placid contentment and fiery rage. —James

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Stella Donnelly - Beware Of The Dogs

29 Stella Donnelly – Beware Of The Dogs (Secretly Canadian)

Stella Donnelly delivers her first full-length, Beware Of The Dogs, with a sarcastic smile. The Australian singer-songwriter wields punchlines to process embarrassing impulses and painful moments. It’s an exercise in vulnerability and perspective, playing out like the sharp inner monologue of someone struck by trauma and the sheer awkwardness of being alive. “Your personality traits don’t count if you put your dick in someone’s face,” she intones over a peppy guitar on the album opener “Old Man.” Laid-back guitars and flitting synths make her reflections sound like lucid daydreams, situated within a harsh reality. —Julia

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The National - I Am Easy Find

28 The National – I Am Easy To Find (4AD)

After the four-and-a-half-year wait between Trouble Will Find Me and Sleep Well Beast, there was little evidence we should expect a new National album in 2019. And yet: Spurred on by their collaboration with director Mike Mills and a host of new voices prominent across I Am Easy To Find, the National instead briskly returned with one of their most intricate and vibrant releases to date. Often locating more brightness and peace than its predecessor, I Am Easy To Find feels like an answer and an ending to one era of the National, a capstone for one decade of indie world domination that leaves the door open for the band to continue evolving into the next. —Ryan

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Denzel Curry - ZUU

27 Denzel Curry – ZUU (Loma Vista)

Less than a year after his ambitious, heavy TA13OO, Denzel Curry is already back, this time with the lean, brutally efficient, relentlessly catchy ZUU. That’s not to suggest ZUU is a slighter sequel. Songs like “RICKY” act as tributes to Curry’s family and where he came from. “SHAKE 88” represents the album’s consistent intensity. “BIRDZ” and “P.A.T.” have bleak, unsettling production. Referencing his Florida roots throughout, Curry’s given us a more immediate album that also continues his story, with highlights like “RICKY” and “WISH” conjuring up his home state but demanding to be played loud everywhere else, too. —Ryan

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Nilüfer Yanya - Miss Universe

26 Nilüfer Yanya – Miss Universe (ATO)

Nilüfer Yanya’s Miss Universe opens with a dispatch from a faux hotline called WWAY HEALTH. It promises to absolve callers of their earthly problems, a so-good-it-must-be-evil invention of Yanya’s. She is not interested in doing what’s “easy,” and her album is all about honoring life’s complexities. On “In Your Head” she sings, “I can’t tell if I’m paranoid or if it’s all in my head,” over springy guitars, her voice rattling around in an echo chamber. Anxiety thrums beneath the surface of these songs, but Yanya is so technically skilled that even when her performance gets especially frenzied, she catches herself before she loses total control. —Gabriela

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Megan Thee Stallion - Fever

25 Megan Thee Stallion – Fever (300/1501 Certified Ent.)

Megan Thee Stallion’s confidence is so huge you can see it from space. The young Houston rap star hasn’t been in the public eye for that long, but she’s arrived fully-formed, a force of colossal charisma and ice-blooded take-no-shit intensity. Megan is a second-generation rapper, and she has a hard-earned grasp of rap fundamentals, an ability to fully live within the raunchy mercenary persona that she’s crafted for herself. On her first full-length since going national, she offers up 40 minutes of unrelenting twerk music and gloriously nasty punchlines: “I’ll knock the shit out that bitch like a enema.” A star is born. —Tom

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Bill Callahan - Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest

24 Bill Callahan – Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest (Drag City)

When we last checked in with Bill Callahan on 2013’s Dream River, he was falling in love. On Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest he’s gone full-on “married with kids,” and the result is a Callahan album unlike any we’ve heard before. His witticisms are still there, as is his long-lingering preoccupation with death and the unknown, but he’s also worried about the quotidian struggles of the day-to-day that come with raising a family and trying on the role of parent for the very first time. “It feels good to be writing again/ Clear water flows from my pen,” he sings. It’s good to have him back. —Gabriela

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PUP - Morbid Stuff

23 PUP – Morbid Stuff (Rise)

In 2015, emo icons the Get Up Kids announced a reunion tour — their first since the “emo revival” made such propositions financially viable — with support from the Canadian band PUP, whose music owed an obvious debut to the headliners. Earlier this year, the Get Up Kids released Problems, their first album since 2011, and we interviewed them, talking about the new record and the environment into which it was being released. This quote is pulled from that interview, courtesy of the Get Up Kids’ primary songwriter Matt Pryor: “[In 2015] we had PUP opening for us and they’ve blown up. That new PUP record is so good. I used to have this moment listening to records when I was younger and I’d think, ‘well fuck, I’m never gonna write anything this good. There’s just no point.’ I had that when I listened to the new PUP record. It made me jealous as a songwriter. We’d be opening for them at this point — they’re taking the world by storm.” There can be no higher praise. And, existential insecurities aside, Pryor is 100% right: That new PUP record is so good. They’re taking the world by storm. —Michael

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Jamila Woods - LEGACY! LEGACY!

22 Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY! (Jagjaguwar/Closed Sessions)

To make her second full-length album, Jamila Woods turned to her foremothers and fathers. Each song on LEGACY! LEGACY! is named for a different artist of color, all of whom are treated as ancestors. “Zora” references Zora Neale Hurston’s essay “How It Feels To Be Colored Me,” while “Giovanni” pulls inspiration directly from Nikki Giovanni’s poem “Ego Tripping.” Woods’ witty and political lyricism delights in a steady stream of references, exemplifying the notion that no art is created in a vacuum. Sun Ra, Frida Kahlo, Miles Davis, James Baldwin — all of these creators have shaped our popular imagination. LEGACY! LEGACY! builds on the canon. —Gabriela

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Baroness - Gold & Grey

21 Baroness – Gold & Grey (Abraxan Hymns)

Since the start, Baroness have made huge music, but they’ve consistently grown: larger, stronger, further. In 2012, they released their first double-LP, the third album of their career, Yellow & Green. Since then, they’ve become an almost entirely different band, turning over three-quarters of their lineup, working closely with a new producer (Dave Fridmann) after years spent with their last (John Congleton), and relocating from Savannah, Georgia to Philadelphia. And even taking into account all these factors, no one could have anticipated or even imagined Gold & Grey. Baroness’ second double-LP — their fifth album overall — dwarfs its predecessor(s) by orders of magnitude. It levels up everywhere and adds dimensions never before hinted at in the band’s work. These are new depths, new heights, new textures, new colors. Gold & Grey is Baroness’ Daydream Nation, their Dark Side, their “Zep 4.” Yes, these are outrageous comparisons — they are obviously outrageous — but what else fits? Baroness were big at the beginning, but this is so much bigger. —Michael

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Girlpool - What Chaos Is Imaginary

20 Girlpool – What Chaos Is Imaginary (Anti-)

Meet the new Girlpool, not quite the same as the old Girlpool. The songs they made their name on were beautifully simple — one guitar, one bass, and two voices merging into one. Since those early days, they’ve added drums and more layered instrumentation, turning their music from skeletal punk to ’90s-indebted indie rock, and What Chaos Is Imaginary continues that process of maturation. After coming out as trans, Cleo Tucker underwent hormone therapy, and his new range is a whispery tenor. Now, instead of joining as one, Tucker and Harmony Tividad’s voices complement each other. People evolve, friendships evolve, and so do bands; the new Girlpool might be the best Girlpool yet. —Peter

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Empath - Active Listening: Night On Earth

19 Empath – Active Listening: Night On Earth (Get Better)

Empath’s music is messy and chaotic, a smear of searing noise and sparkling pop hooks. Active Listening: Night On Earth is everything you’d want from a band’s debut album: forceful and confident, a rousing fulfillment of the promise that the Philadelphia crew showed when they started making music out of their basement only a few short years ago. It’s an adrenaline rush that somehow feels completely zen, like the stars expanding and crashing down on you in a fit of spectacular beauty. —James

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Solange - When I Get Home

18 Solange – When I Get Home (Columbia)

When I Get Home is the type of album you need to sit with; it reveals itself to you in waves. The compositions are arid, wide-open swaths of sound. And as much as this album sounds like a dreamscape, it’s firmly rooted in Solange’s personal history, particularly her upbringing in Houston. On “Almeda,” she honors Southern black culture and marvels at the resilience of her people: “Black faith still can’t be washed away/ Not even in that Florida water.” It is a love letter to the city that withstood Hurricane Harvey, an assertion that home will always be there waiting. —Gabriela

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Hand Habits - placeholder

17 Hand Habits – placeholder (Saddle Creek)

Meg Duffy makes the most confident music about uncertainty you’ve ever heard. On placeholder, their second full-length under the name Hand Habits, they slowly tease through life’s complexities and ambiguities — fraught relationships with lovers, the places we come from, our own constantly shifting identities — and how all of those things define us. But even at their most anxious, these meditations hit like a gentle rain, threaded through comfortable, comforting folk-rock songs driven by understatedly virtuosic guitar playing. Life may be uncertain, but Duffy’s talent isn’t. —Peter

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billy woods & Kenny Segal - Hiding Places

16 billy woods & Kenny Segal – Hiding Places (Backwoodz Studioz)

Brookyn’s billy woods does not ride beats. He raps in quick, concussive bursts, his burly bray ungainly and dangerous like a couch you’re trying to maneuver down a narrow flight of stairs. In that delivery, woods offers dark commentary on a world that seems to be working overtime to find new ways to dehumanize the poor and the black. Hiding Places is an album full of bleak humor: “The news is all mergers, state murders, the indictment of public servants.” But woods isn’t a slam poet. In his own way, he’s a great rapper. And the dark, fluttering synth-beats of LA producer Kenny Segal lend apocalyptic cinematic force to woods’ weighty musings. —Tom

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Ariana Grande - thank u, next

15 Ariana Grande – thank u, next (Republic)

Ariana Grande deals in bops and ballads, ready to switch from trap beats to Broadway-level theatrics in a single breath. This pop persona is the honest product of her Disney-adjacent beginnings, her evolution into one of the most sought-after megastars in music, and her raw lived experience. Written in the throes of new love, her 2018 album Sweetener flaunted a mix of fun flexes and sentimental narratives. 2019’s thank u, next finds Grande in the midst of a breakup, picking up the pieces and coping with confidence and club music. Even the sad songs could inspire a twerk. —Julia

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Better Oblivion Community Center - Better Oblivion Community Center

14 Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center (Dead Oceans)

Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst’s debut album as Better Oblivion Community Center moves like a scrapbook in flux, filled with vivid memories and photos still developing. These bittersweet snapshots document an immediate world, jaded by the bigger picture. You’re not going to cure cancer by running in a charity marathon, they lament on the first track. The big moment on “Dylan Thomas” comes with realizing “that ghost is just a kid in a sheet.” Both songwriters have always honed this keen eye for telling moments in their respective songwriting careers, exaggerating the everyday to contemplate nothingness. —Julia

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13 Billie Eilish – WHEN WE ALL GO TO SLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? (Darkroom/Interscope)

None of it seems possible. It seems made-up. A sneering slackjawed 17-year-old girl grows up in an artsy Los Angeles family. She dresses like Kevin Smith circa Clerks, if that had somehow become a Milan runway look. She and her brother Finneas (himself only 21) make music that sounds like Lana Del Rey and Lorde records being fed through a SoundCloud-rap wood-chipper. They develop a whole rabid-teenager online following before adults have any idea what’s happening, and they record an entire major-label debut album at home. Said album, which has a title that Fiona Apple might find pretentious, goes on to debut at #1. People accuse Billie Eilish of being an industry plant, but no record label is smart enough to make someone like her up. And in any case, nobody can teach the level of weirdo panache that she shows on her first album. She seems too perfect a story to be true, and yet she’s a genuine phenom. —Tom

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Brutus - Nest

12 Brutus – Nest (Sargent House)

Words don’t do it justice. They can’t. Words can’t capture Nest, the second album from Belgian post-metal power trio Brutus. For instance: Nest feels like a primal howl, a raging fire, a force of nature. Describe it in those terms, though, and you’ve inadvertently erased the entire process — the discipline, the dedication, the painstaking, life-encompassing labor — required to create a work of art that feels like this. Another example: The focal point of Brutus is drummer/singer Stefanie Mannaerts, whose face-scorching performances throughout the entirety of Nest suggest a superhuman talent, an Olympian greatness, an unknowable brilliance. Reduce Brutus to Mannaerts alone, though, and you’ve failed to understand the essential contributions of her co-workers — bassist Peter Mulders, guitarist Stijn Vanhoegaerden, and producer Jesse Gander — all here in the room alongside Mannaerts, everyone in precisely perfect balance with everyone else, each component supporting, propelling, and elevating both its counterparts and the whole. When you listen to Nest, you hear a golden-glowing lightning-wielding storm-goddess deity laying waste to Zoroastrian hell realms. —Michael

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Control Top - Covert Contracts

11 Control Top – Covert Contracts (Get Better)

“Who’s the bull in the china shop now?!?” That’s Ali Carter, leader of the Philadelphia punk trio Control Top, on “Unapologetic.” On that song, and on every other song from their debut album, Control Top answer that question with ferocious emphasis. Control Top play with fervid intensity, zipping through revved-up jitter-punk hooks and splintered-surf guitar riffs like some ideal-world combination of Bratmobile and Agent Orange. And Carter howls and snarls and sneers with gleeful rage, or rageful glee. It’s an urgent, full-throated debut, the kind of album that makes you feel like you’ve got lightning in your veins. Hopefully, we’ll get more like it. This china shop could use a few more bulls. —Tom

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Weyes Blood - Titanic Rising

10 Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising (Sub Pop)

The title says it all. Titanic Rising searches for the fading glimmers of hope in a dying world, seeking the bright spot on the horizon before it fades. For Natalie Mering, that hope can only really be found in the people we give ourselves over to without reservation. “Love is calling/ It’s time to give to you/ Something you can hold onto/ I dare you to try,” she urges on “Andromeda.” Weyes Blood’s brand of pop music is ’70s-inspired maximalism, and the production on this album is Mering’s most accomplished to date. It feels big enough to cradle us during the end times. —Gabriela

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Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats - Anger Management

9 Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats – Anger Management (Sugar Trap/Atlantic)

Rico Nasty cannot be contained. That’s why she’s great. The Maryland rapper delivers her words in a crackling yawp, screaming and snarly and popping right off the beat. She brings choas. And in Kenny Beats, she has found a producer who understands that chaos, and who mirrors it with chaos of his own. Kenny, formerly half of the festival-sized EDM duo LOUDPVCK, specializes in blown-out, lo-fi fury — bursts of frantic speaker-wrecking bass, frenetic synth-zips, drums that sound like they’re exploding all around you. So he and Rico are an ideal pairing, the two of them pushing each other to new levels of mouth-foaming insanity. Anger Management thrashes hard for 19 minutes, and then it ends, which is perfect. The title is a joke; nothing here is being managed. —Tom

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Black Midi - Schlagenheim

8 Black Midi – Schlagenheim (Rough Trade)

Black Midi are named after a genre of Japanese music that’s impossible to actually play, digital compositions so full of notes that their scores look almost black. The London quartet doesn’t actually make black MIDI, but their music feels equally impossible in its excess, a swirling hyperactive complexity that defies expectations at every turn. The songs on their debut album Schlagenheim pull apart and reassemble themselves into strange new shapes in real time, nervy post-punk riffs exploding into dissonant noise and then constricting into precise math-rock grooves. Hang on and enjoy the ride. —Peter

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Mannequin Pussy - Patience

7 Mannequin Pussy – Patience (Epitaph)

Three years ago Mannequin Pussy came barreling out of Philadelphia with Romantic, an album that blitzed through 11 tracks in 17 minutes. That’s one reason Patience feels massive at 26 minutes. Others: Marisa Dabice’s lyrics barrage you with blunt-force honesty. She delivers them with artful passion, veering from whispers to wails to walloping screams as the moment demands. Her bandmates match that versatility by riding a sliding scale between pop-punk and hardcore with the fearless ferocity of an X Games athlete. Super-producer Will Yip blows the whole thing up to IMAX proportions. No actual patience is necessary because the rewards are ample and immediate. —Chris

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Holly Herndon - PROTO

6 Holly Herndon – PROTO (4AD)

Holly Herndon doesn’t want us to be scared of technology. She wants us to strategically embrace its potential, challenge our tech lords, and regain control. At the hands of a choral ensemble and an AI baby named Spawn, PROTO simulates a ritualistic banding together. The entities interact and feed off of each other. Their voices grow indistinguishable — glitching, breathing, singing — and create something refreshingly human. —Julia

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Jessica Pratt - Quiet Signs

5 Jessica Pratt – Quiet Signs (Mexican Summer)

Jessica Pratt makes it look easy. Her new album, Quiet Signs, sweeps in like an evening breeze, and though her uncanny melodies unfurl like riddles, this collection of songs inspires a sense of calm. Following 2015’s haunted and solitary On Your Own Love Again, Quiet Signs finds Pratt in a warmer place. On the romantic “Here My Love,” Pratt marvels at the fragility of a fledgling romance, and she honors a newfound independence on “Silent Song.” When sadness creeps in, it does so in subtle shades, rounding out Pratt’s vision into a fauvist landscape all her own. —Gabriela

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Fontaines D.C. - Dogrel

4 Fontaines D.C. – Dogrel (Partisan)

“My childhood was small/ But I’m gonna be big.” That’s how Dublin post-punk band Fontaines D.C. introduce themselves on their debut album Dogrel, and even if it’s not meant to be taken seriously, they’re right. They are gonna be big, and they deserve it. With frontman Grian Chatten barking out half-sung poetry in his thick brogue, Fontaines D.C. paint a vivid portrait of their city in all its romance and its squalor, its “ready-steady violence” and its “bruised and beat-open sky,” chasing the dreamers and the drunks through the back alleys of rock history. “Is it too real for ya?” Chatten asks, the question punctuated by bursts of frantic guitar. Well, is it? —Peter

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Charly Bliss - Young Enough

3 Charly Bliss – Young Enough (Barsuk)

“We’re young enough to believe it should hurt this much.” That line, on the title track from Charly Bliss’ sophomore album, is a sterling bit of of songwriting from Eva Grace Hendricks and the whole band, a pitch-perfect encapsulation of the intoxicating mix of naïveté, hopefulness, and crushing reality that the New York band has turned into sparkling pop-rock songs since their debut. They double down on that magic on Young Enough, leaning into the pop side of the equation to cushion songs about the loss of innocence and growing up, all of the pain and wild ecstasy all of the time. —James

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Big Thief - U.F.O.F.

2 Big Thief – U.F.O.F. (4AD)

Everyone always seems to talk about Big Thief in mystical terms. There’s a reason for this: It feels like we have to reach for the unknowable to explain this band. It should be simple enough, a folk-rock group with some pretty melodies over acoustic guitars. But the music on U.F.O.F. is stranger, more elusive than that. The album is dominated by mysteries — like the way Adrianne Lenker’s melody in “Cattails” sounds like an ancient folk composition and a rambling highway tune at once. This is music that takes you places you think you know, as if from a past life, but don’t quite recognize. That’s how people talk about Big Thief, and they are right: These aren’t songs, they’re spells. —Ryan

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Vampire Weekend - Father Of The Bride

1 Vampire Weekend – Father Of The Bride (Spring Snow/Columbia)

Father Of The Bride opens with “Hold You Now,” a sun-bleached and Valencia-filtered country-rock duet, with Ezra Koenig singing alongside Danielle Haim, both vocalists affecting light Nashville twangs. It sounds nothing like anything on Vampire Weekend’s first three albums. However, it does sound like one of those early-’70s Gram Parsons-Emmylou Harris songs, specifically “$1,000 Wedding,”…one of the saddest songs in history even though nobody is quite sure what transpires in it.”

Just like “$1,000 Wedding,” Vampire Weekend’s fourth album never tells you what is transpiring at any given moment during any one of its 18 tracks. It asks you to look at scenes from different perspectives, to understand them. The songs don’t merely allow for multiple interpretations, they require them. Father Of The Bride is also a work of Nabokovian complexity, and every detail is intentional: the cover art, its title, the fact that its title is a reference to the 1991 remake Father Of The Bride as opposed to the original movie from 1950. What if you don’t care? It doesn’t matter. The music is outrageously rich no matter how you listen, and the whole thing ends the same either way. As Steve Lacy murmurs in the opening moments of side-three freakout “Sympathy”: “It’s not that serious.”

Father Of The Bride transcends its references and maybe even its influences. It draws from giants — Grateful Dead, Haruomi Hosono, Hans Zimmer — and stands every inch as tall. And like its ancestors, Father Of The Bride is built for the ages. As long as there are people around to hear it, people will be listening to it, hearing more, louder and clearer with every passing day. It will never sound better, though, than it does right now. —Michael

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Listen to selections from the top 50 albums in this Spotify playlist.

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