Yes, 2019 was a crap year. In the same way the word “impeachment” lost its bite, music seemed to lose its edge, exemplified by the purportedly cool collaboration of Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus on “Old Town Road” (it wasn’t) and the trumpeted decade-in-the-making return of The Jonas Brothers, “Happiness Begins” (it didn’t). Everything began to resemble a callous cash grab, not a heartfelt, well-phrased composition.
There were moments where you had to wonder exactly why a song was written. Lana Del Rey’s “Norman F———g Rockwell!” felt like idiotic diary entries from a self-absorbed socialite set to lugubrious music, finally marking the end of her tired schtick. The good news? A new generation was there to pick up the reflective pen, led by the genuinely disturbed-sounding Billie Eilish. But true believers, don’t despair! Here are 10 antidotes to complacency guaranteed to start 2020 right.
10) Bones UK, “Bones UK”
Londoners Rosie Bones and Carmen Vandenberg comprise one the heaviest punk-metal duos around, every bit as ferocious as their upcoming tour mates Royal Blood. A Grammy nomination this year adds more fuel to their fire.
9) Caroline Polachek, “Pang”
Nothing in this artist’s catalog with her old duo Chairlift could prepare listeners for this sweeping, genre-jumping, 14-track experience. Her vision is truly that panoramic.
8) Hayden Thorpe, “Diviner”
While not as adventurous as Peter Gabriel’s first post-Genesis foray, Wild Beasts frontman Hayden Thorpe’s initial solo disc is nonetheless stunning, and fraught with his signature emotive falsetto. He has a very promising future indeed.
7) Station, “Stained Glass”
Remember the glory days of Blackie Lawless and his theatrical juggernaut W.A.S.P.? New York group Station does, and it’s got the powerchords — and over-the-top vocals — to prove it.
6) Bruce Springsteen, “Western Stars”
Given the scathing anti-Bush “Magic,” fans probably expected a fiery Trump-eviscerating litany this time around. Instead, Bruce dodged politics entirely on this Laurel Canyon-lush exercise in restraint, with just the right hint of menace in “Wayfarer” and “Hitch Hikin’.”
5) Keane, “Cause and Effect”
Only a musician like Tim Rice-Oxley could transform the breakup of his marriage and a DUI arrest into one of the sunniest, most uplifting albums of the year. Like Jeff Lynne, he simply chimes despite himself.
4) Rod Stewart, “You’re in My Heart-With the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra”
Who’da thunk it? That Rod the Mod reconnecting with his own past classics in full symphonic style would turn out to be one of the most feel-good moments of 2019? Buy the bonus-track edition for the full panacea effect.
3) Mattiel, “Satis Factory”
Mattiel Brown was once too shy to sing. Now — with support from fans like Jack White — she’s rattling the rafters with her amazing, bullhorn-velocity voice. A huge star in the making here.
2) Amyl and The Sniffers, “Amyl and The Sniffers”
Amy Taylor may not be Wendy O. Williams reincarnated. But boy, does this feral punk Aussie come Plasmatically close. She’s happily keeping the chaotic-chorded flame alive.
1) Sam Fender, “Hypersonic Missiles”
Some years, one record is so far ahead of the pack, no competitor can touch it. This year it’s the truly dumbfounding debut from Britain’s brilliant Sam Fender. Every single song here is earworm-memorable, and sung with a devout conviction you seldom hear these days. Don’t Spotify it — buy a physical copy. You’ll play it over and over again.