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The Best Music of 2019

Vampire Weekend, Rapsody, the Real Vocal String Quartet, Brookfield Duece, Y La Bamba, Big Thief and more highlight our annual list of notable recordings.

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The only punk worth listening to these days is riddled with anxiety and depression, probably a reflection of the times we find ourselves in. To that end, Pup may have released the cream of the crop for anxiety punk with its latest record Morbid Stuff. The Canadian four piece go all-in by entertaining their darkest thoughts in catchy shout-along punk songs: "I was bored as fuck/Sitting around and thinking all this morbid stuff/Like if anyone I've slept with is dead." They didn't invent the happy sad juxtaposition recipe in punk rock, but this album will make you forget about all past contenders, especially with those gang vocals shouting out every ounce of darkness in cathartic fashion. The record is furious with emotions, anger being at the top of the list. But there's something so joyous about releasing your anger at the top of your lungs. — AC

Rapsody

Eve

2019 would not have been 2019 without Rapsody's Eve. Since dropping this summer, The North Carolina native's inescapable album infiltrated every club, car, and play-lists of heads all over the country, and with good reason. Along with her proven mastery of lyricism and wordplay blazing over tracks mostly produced by the legendary 9th Wonder, and with cameos from D'Angelo, Rza, Queen Latifah, and others, Eve was also a concept album focusing on powerful black women throughout history. Beginning with Eve (which gains resonance in context), Oprah (Winfrey), Nina (Simone), and (Pharaoh) Hatshepsut are paid tribute with hard-hitting, thought-provoking tracks that flow seamlessly together, but all could stand-alone. With Eve, Rapsody showed herself to be a class act who can create a classic album. Cop it. — DSM

Real Vocal String Quartet

Culture Kin

The idea behind Berkeley violinist Irene Sazer's Real Vocal String Quartet was to showcase a bevy of brilliant and stylistically polyglot young women string players who were also accomplished singers. The project's latest incarnation doesn't so much abandon that concept as radically expand it. The RVSQ's new album Culture Kin is a dauntingly ambitious international project featuring Sazer's new RSVQ bandmates Sumaia Jackson (five-string violin), David Tangney (cello), and Sam Shuhan (bass) in collaboration with musicians hailing from San Francisco's far-flung sister cities. The often breathtaking pieces feature Brazilian percussionist Roberta Valente, Cote D'Ivoire vocalist Fely Tchaco, Barcelona cellist Marta Roma, Sicily's Laura Inserra on the metallic Hang drum, and Irish vocalist Máirtín de Cógáin. Each track offers a tantalizing glimpse at a promising new musical realm. — AG

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Skip The Needle

We Ain't Never Going Back

Many have miscategorized Skip The Needle's music as "funk" or "punk." This has been a problem for women who rock since The Runaways, Heart, and many others, who have made amazing rock records only see them eclipsed by the likes of Jon Bon Jovi. Add being a queer person of color, and the mainstream's impulse to re-define and re-categorize amps up to the nth degree. The group's debut album, We Ain't Never Going Back, shatters these categorizations as each track is a proclamation of space, history, and a call for liberation. Both Skip The Needle and its debut album are amalgams of influences that pay homage to rock and roll even as it expands its parameters. Expect more from this hard-hitting band in 2020. — DSM

Vampire Weekend

Father of the Bride

Father of the Bride shouldn't work. Lead singer/primary songwriter Ezra Koenig channels his inner Graceland and other boomer guilty pleasure records into a masterpiece of a record that sounds uncomfortably sincere while also straddling lots of tongue in cheek musical shenanigans at the same time. Vampire Weekend has always taken influences that can best be boiled down to "Caribbean" and crafted indie-pop magic from them. But Father of the Bride, the group's fourth LP, is its most overtly "world beat" record, and one that expresses pure joy at times, while also marinating in sadness. On the wistful "Harmony Hall," you'll find yourself bopping along to the song's carefree groove, while Koenig sings "I don't want to live like this/but I don't want to die," a reference to a 2013 Vampire Weekend song "Finger Back," and overall relatable, if not totally a downer of a thought. — AC

Y La Bamba

Mujeres

Y La Bamba, the project of Portland based musician Luz Elena, has always been a moving target. Though in general, she's used the moniker to express her inner world, while also exploring her Latinx heritage and create pictures that embody her mystical, spiritual view of the world. 2016's "Libre" is the best example here, where she sings in English and Spanish, and echoes deep bliss and wonderment, all while connecting to the traditional elements of Mexican music. Mujeres is her quietest, most internal and most musically diverse record. It also feels like her most stripped down, rawest expression of herself, with no tricks pulled. Stylistically, she explores everything from post-punk to experimental ramblings to electronic music. Her singing is oddly hushed. She explores complex feelings of what it means to be Latinx in the United States in 2019, as well as her difficult family relationships. Nothing is off limits. — AC

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