Maluma, Lizzo, Ariana Grande, Dababy, Billie Eilish and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend
Maluma, Lizzo, Ariana Grande, Dababy, Billie Eilish and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend
Getty; Design by Ritika Karnik

The 50 Best Albums of 2019 (So Far): Staff Picks

Has it felt like a slow year on the albums front? Probably not if you're mainly a top 40 listener, since arguably the three biggest LPs of the year so far have come from pop stars -- one established, one practically brand new and one somewhere in between. But in most other genres (and perhaps hip-hop in particular), 2019 seems to be unfolding a little more gradually than last year, where the event albums hit early and often and we could scarcely get through an entire weekend in June without the drop of some mega-release. 

In any event, the relative still of the year in musical longform has just given us more opportunity to reconnect with old favs and discover new ones -- Americana and indie rock acts enjoying quiet breakouts, international pop acts making waves far beyond their home continent, and plenty of much-acclaimed (and/or much-hyped) new rappers who might be responsible for the blockbuster releases of next year and beyond. In no order but alphabetical, here are our 50 favorite albums of the year so far -- and we're keeping our calendars clear for the rest of 2019 just in case. 

Aldous Harding, Designer

The centerpiece of Designer, the third album by New Zealand singer-songwriter Aldous Harding, is "The Barrel," an achingly beautiful pop song with inscrutable metaphors and unexpected horn flourishes. Nothing else this year sounds quite like it, and that includes the rest of Designer, on which Harding stretches the limits of psychedelic folk to evoke Nick Drake ("Designer"), Yo La Tengo ("Weight of the Planets") and Vashti Bunyan ("Treasure"), among others. The reference points are clear, but Harding uses them to create something accessible and impressively unique. -- JASON LIPSHUTZ

Ariana Grande, Thank U, Next

Part of what helps cement Thank U, Next in pop history -- yes, all time, not just 2019 -- is the speed at which it followed 2018’s Sweetener, having dropped within just six months. It doesn’t hurt that is also broke a ton of records, including biggest debut of the year thus far and largest streaming week ever for any album by a woman. But in terms of its staying power? We can thank the confident and exuberant energy that explodes out of the album’s biggest hits, like its title track and the *NSYNC-referencing “Break Up With Your Boyfriend, I’m Bored.” And yet on the flip side, Thank U, Next also shows one of our biggest pop stars at her most vulnerable, including a song so raw she can’t perform it live. Can you imagine? -- LYNDSEY HAVENS

Backstreet Boys, DNA

Before the Jonas Brothers exploded with their reunion in early March, Backstreet Boys lit the match on the boy-band nostalgia fuse with DNA, their first album in nearly six years. The 12-track LP combines country melodies (“No Place,” “Just Like You Like It”), dance production (“Nobody Else,” “Is It Just Me”), and sensual lyrics (“Passionate,” “New Love”) for BSB’s most boundary-pushing set yet. The group’s keenness for paving their own lane in today’s musical landscape paid off: The pounding lead single “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” earned BSB their first Pop Songs top 20 hit since 2005, and the album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 -- proving they’re still major players in the pop game 26 years in. -- TAYLOR WEATHERBY

Better Oblivion Community Center, Better Oblivion Community Center

Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst’s joint album, released in January, was largely a surprise. But it comes as no shock that the two indie rockers proved a natural fit alongside one another on the tender, glistening project, which softens both artists' edges while also bringing out their best qualities (Bridgers' aching intimacy; Oberst’s sly introspection). Across 10 tracks, the album wrings out some of the most biting one-liners of their careers -- “that ghost is just a kid in a sheet,” “chasing love like an ambulance” -- while single “Dylan Thomas” provides a surprisingly rollicking singalong. The whole thing is dusted with a hopeful glimmer, where as soloists, there would normally be gloom. In 2019, it’s just the sort of connection we’re all searching for. -- TATIANA CIRISANO

Beyoncé, HOMECOMING: The Live Album

Pop stars aren't often known for delivering essential live albums, but then again, Beyoncé is not your average pop star. It may be hyperbolic to say Homecoming -- the live set capturing Beyoncé's historic celebration of black womanhood, at Coachella, of all places -- is her best album yet, but what's truly crazy is that you certainly could make a convincing argument. With players from HBCUs adding new flavor to her hits and deep cuts, Beyoncé's relentless rhythms are refracted through the martial rigor of a marching band, resulting in a groove that's buttoned-up but never lets up. -- JOE LYNCH

Big Thief, U.F.O.F.

A couple of things have changed for folk-rock quartet Big Thief on their third album, U.F.O.F. It's the band's first LP since most members moved from Brooklyn, their first on 4AD and the first to feature the group on the cover. The album also finds the band at its quietest: While Big Thief have never cranked up to an 11, most of these songs barely reach a 5. The most important bit of Big Thief’s identity has stayed the same, though, with frontwoman Adrianne Lenker remaining the core singer, songwriter and heartbeat of the band, her whispering voice and illustrative storytelling front and center. On the folksy “Cattails,” you can feel the wind coming through the windows as Lenker sings, “Going back home to the Great Lakes/ Where the cattail sways/ With the lonesome loon/ Riding that train in late June.” -- CHRISTINE WERTHMAN

Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

It’s no longer accurate to say that Billie Eilish is having a moment: With her genre-bending, record-breaking debut album, co-written and produced by her brother FINNEAS, the 17-year-old singing prodigy crossed over to the realm of full-blown star -- both present and future. Here, Eilish draws equally from pop, trap and punk to construct a haunting dance-floor lucid dream that is at turns wicked (the snarling hit “Bad Guy”), gorgeous (piano ballad “Listen Before I Go”) and sarcastic (the self-explanatory “Wish You Were Gay”). Along the way, her lyrics greet uncomfortable topics -- like suicide and depression -- with honesty and grace. That she's achieved this kind of meteoric success while bucking the traditional pop formula speaks volumes, both for her bold talent and for the lawless, ruthlessly creative energy of today’s pop landscape. -- T.C.

Brooks & Dunn, Reboot

Legendary country duo Brooks & Dunn enlisted the help of the genre's rising talent for April's inventive duets project, Reboot. The 12-track album had the duo teaming up with Luke Combs, Kane Brown, Thomas Rhett, Kacey Musgraves and Jon Pardi, among others, as each act put their own spin on reimagined versions of Brooks & Dunn’s greatest hits. While Musgraves reinterprets “Neon Moon” as a captivating disco number (with the help of a vocoder), Pardi sticks to the familiar standard with his delivery on “My Next Broken Heart.” Breathing new life into the duo’s past, Reboot gave the newest Country Music Hall of Fame inductees a welcomed career resurgence. -- ANNIE REUTER

BTS, Map of the Soul: Persona

"Boy With Luv" was the one they brought to SNL, the award shows, and the charts, becoming their biggest Hot 100 hit yet thanks to its irresistible groove, knockout chorus and inspired Halsey cameo. But it's just one of many looks the band offers on their varied and dynamic new seven-track set, which also includes a breezy (and brassy) Ed Sheeran co-write ("Make It Right"), panoramic Tears For Fears-style new wave ("Mikrokosmos"), and bombastic rap-rock that's an English translation away from being mistakable for something from Kid Rock's Devil Without a Cause ("Intro: Persona"). Even as BTS' popularity continues to shoot higher, it's the width of their sonic expansion that continues to really impress about their development. -- ANDREW UNTERBERGER

Cage the Elephant, Social Cues

If you’ve ever seen Cage the Elephant's restless, manic live show, you know subtlety is not singer Matt Schultz’s jam. But the group’s fifth album, Social Cues, pulls back the reins on that explosiveness -- just the right amount. A chronicle of surviving both a romantic break-up and ear-popping career pressure, it explodes out of the gate with the Devo-like nu-wave alienation sprint “Broken Boy” and the Bowie-adjacent title track, before settling into a mostly minor-key ride that adds a subtle new shade to the band's already-Technicolor palette, a fresh, vital addition to the canon of classic heartbreak albums. Plus, amid the darkness and doubt, there’s always the soul-swelling ray of sunshine “Love’s the Only Way,” Schultz singing the timeless sentiment, “I can see the sunshine, breaking through the skyline/ I can feel the warmth it brings/ I can’t help but stop and think/ There’s gotta be a place/ Love’s the only way.” -- GIL KAUFMAN

 

Carly Rae Jepsen, Dedicated

If nothing else, years after scoring a Hot 100 No. 1 single and then recording one of Pop Twitter's most-worshipped albums of the decade, Carly Rae Jepsen is an artist facing a number of different expectations. Her fourth studio set Dedicated shows that she is well aware of those hopes, and is eager to reward her her fans for their patience with new spins on the ecstatic bops that they've been aching for. From her signature synth-pop bangers like "Now That I Found You" and "Julien," to more funk-inspired creations like "Right Words Wrong Time" and "Everything He Needs," Jepsen continues to deliver the shimmering, earnest pop music that both made her a star and a fan favorite. -- STEPHEN DAW

Charly Bliss, Young Enough

On their sophomore album, indie rock's leading power-poppers sound like the band they wanted to be all along. Charly Bliss shelved an early, grungy version of what would become 2017's Guppy, switched producers, and spent almost two years fine-tuning their debut, searching for a polished, streamlined sound befitting their killer melodic instincts. But where Guppy was work in progress, Young Enough is a masterstroke: frontwoman Eva Hendricks’ pressure-cooked lyrics propelling bubbly hooks over the edge like a pot left too long on the stove. Lorde’s 2017 opus Melodrama was cited as a key influence; a lofty target, sure, but well-earned when you can feel the luminous wonder of Lorde's “Perfect Places” in “Camera” or the propulsive energy of “Green Light” in Young Enough opener “Blown to Bits.” -- CHRIS PAYNE

DaBaby, Baby on Baby

That impossibly wide grin on the cover of Baby on Baby is the expression of a young man packing a debut set so loaded with potential hits that one of them was absolutely bound to blow. That ended up being "Suge" -- a one-man call-and-response with a hook and booming beat whose undeniable simplicity submits it as an instant West Coast classic, despite DaBaby hailing from Charlotte -- but it could've been the yeehawing sway of "Pony," the frisky Offset tag-team of "Baby Sitter," and of course, the meme-spawning singalong of "Goin Baby." "I'm like the Tupac of the new shit," he declares: TBD on that, but all eyes are definitely on Jonathan Lyndale Kirk in 2019. -- A.U.

DJ Muggs and Mach-Hommy, Tuez-Les Tous

An oppressive, antisocial experience, Mach-Hommy’s first major foray into the aboveground streaming economy is, ironically, a collaboration. Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs handles production on every song; the other near-constant is the title, which translates to “kill them all” -- the phrase, or some variation, appears all over the album. “I need 93 million miles of personal space,” Mach announces at the jump over a menacing minor-key piano loop, and with each verse the Haitian-American artist who hails from New Jersey bristles at the faintest brush with humanity. “You got hope and I got sticks in the closet” he raps on the standout “Piotr,” a summary of his uncompromising worldview. -- ROSS SCARANO

Gary Clark Jr., This Land

Although the title track to Gary Clark Jr.’s third studio album bears no sonic resemblance to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” it makes sense that the guitar virtuoso shares his songwriting credit with the folk icon. Read the complete lyrics to Guthrie’s song and it becomes clear that the songs are kindred spirits: Both speak for the disenfranchised, but Clark’s “This Land” is a lot less polite and a lot more personal. Written in response to an encounter with a racist neighbor “in the middle of Trump country,” Clark defiantly spits “Fuck you, I’m America’s son/ This is where I come from,” making this firestorm of an anthem worthy of the Great American Songbook. The rest of the set also marks significant growth for Clark as a songwriter and artist, as his influences -- Jimi Hendrix, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and Prince -- continue to surface in his work, but the blues he lays down with his Epiphone Casino are irrefutably his. -- FRANK DIGIACOMO

Helado Negro, This Is How You Smile

Miami-born to Ecuadorian parents, New York-based artist Roberto Carlos Lange (who goes by the moniker Helado Negro), opens This Is How You Smile with an echoing hum in "Running," as if calling for the spirits of an adjacent mystical realm. The sublime synth-folk sound of the album traverses through a terrain of unreciprocated desires and restlessness, while a strong will to preserve love and joy remains at the core of the message. Weaving his present reality as a son of immigrants with childhood memories, Lange's vocals are stimulated by the power and warmth of keyboard pulsations and the subtle percussion of a vibraphone. -- PAMELA BUSTIOS

Holly Herndon, PROTO

If Dr. Holly Herndon's Proto isn't the definitive album of 2019, it may inherit the title during any given year in the upcoming decade. A true album of the future, Proto blends the vocals of a choir with that of Spawn, the “AI baby” that Herndon has been raising for the last two years. Beginning with “Birth” and closing with “Last Gasp,” the album is primed to provoke questions (or concerns, depending on your perspective) of our relationship to technology and perhaps, our own mortality. Herndon’s outlook is positive, and if artificial intelligence continues to yield artistic collaborations as hauntingly beautiful as Proto, we’re all for it too. -- ERIC FRANKENBERG

Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy!

With the constant barrage of new music flooding the mainstream, music can feel like a permanent present. On LEGACY! LEGACY!, Chicago soul singer Jamila Woods makes sure to pay homage to the cultural leaders that left behind, well, a defining legacy-- including artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, poet Sonia Sanchez, jazz great Miles Davis and many more. Taking note from her undergrad education (she was a double major at Brown University in Africana Studies and Theater and Performance Studies), her love for poetry and her activism, Woods sings in each person’s perspective -- marrying political history with the urgent timeliness of her own generation. -- BIANCA GRACIE

Jenny Lewis, On the Line

“You have to make a choice to be happy, or try to be,” posited singer/songwriter Jenny Lewis in a Pitchfork interview from March. The buoyant pop-rock of fourth solo album On the Line certainly sounds like Lewis is floating in that direction -- even if its lyrical content often gives her balloon string a tug back toward earth. Bolstered by cuts like “Wasted Youth,” the veteran indie rocker’s storytelling excellence is on full display in her first full-length since 2014’s The Voyager. Bonus points for a Don Quixote reference, too. -- JOSH GLICKSMAN

J.S. Ondara, Tales of America

One of the year’s best folk records is courtesy of a Kenyan-born 26-year-old who moved to America six years ago and taught himself guitar. (The power of Bob Dylan!) But what’s even more impressive about Tales of America, J.S. Ondara’s debut LP, is how it so deftly captures concepts of the American dream, of love and of loss, of the struggles all face in a country still relatively new to the writer of its songs. Atop it all: Ondara’s voice, in particular haunting, ethereal falsetto he’ll break out from time to time. -- KEVIN RUTHERFORD

Juice WRLD, Death Race For Love

It might be true that Juice WRLD's second album is primarily the soundtrack to teenagers yelling at their mothers to stay out of their room, but pop culture will always have a place for such angst accompaniment -- and considering some of the options we were looking at a generation ago, we could do a lot worse. Death Race For Love is undeniably overstuffed but rarely less than highly listenable, and while the most crowd-pleasing cuts ("Fast," "Hear Me Calling," "Robbery") all come in the first half, the most interesting fare is saved for the back end. That includes the challenging two-parter "The Bees Knees," the surprisingly coherent Young Thug mic-swapper "ON GOD," and the Pharcyde-recycling closer "Make Believe" -- showing this burgeoning Generation Z isn't totally shutting the door on the older generation. -- A.U.

Kany Garcia, Contra El Viento

Just a year ago, the Puerto Rican singer/songwriter released the beautiful, intimate Soy Yo, nominated for a Latin Grammy. But follow-up Contra el viento (Against the Wind) is a step above even that acclaimed release, integrating commentary from nearly a dozen Latin women -- from her mother to Sofía Vergara -- as the framework for a deep dive into the full range of a personal evolution, going from loss and disillusionment to self-awareness, rebirth and finally, love again. With lush arrangements and beautifully crafted lyrics that preach empowerment but recognize vulnerability, Contra el Viento strikes a credible balance between the political and the personal. -- LEILA COBO

Karol G, Ocean

Karol G’s Ocean album reveals her personal secrets and experiences from the last two years. The Latin Grammy winning singer’s sophomore album opens with the softer title cut, before giving way to 15 tracks that fuse a wide array of contemporary sounds from reggaeton to pop. The album features collaborations with Damian Marley, J Balvin, Simone & Simaria, Nicky Jam, Maluma, Yandel, Danay Suarez, and Karol's boyfriend Anuel AA. “Basically, when you listen to my album, you won’t hear Karol G. You’ll [hear] Carolina, the person,” Karol G previously told Billboard. The set debuted at No. 2 on Top Latin Albums -- the highest charting album by a female artist in 2019. -- SUZETTE FERNANDEZ

Kehlani, While We Wait

Following up 2017's SweetSexySavage seemed like an almost impossible task for Kehlani. And yet, with her While We Wait mixtape, the star managed to do just that, delivering some of her freshest songwriting to date. Each of the nine songs on While We Wait flow into one another, with smooth jams like "Morning Glory" and "Feels" showing off a gentler, more contemplative side of the star's already impressive range. While none of her new tracks hit quite as hard as past songs like "Distraction" or "CRZY," we are here for this new, ethereal phase in Kehlani's already-stunning career. -- S.D.

Kevin Abstract, Arizona Baby

It would’ve been easy for Kevin Abstract to take a second to relax after nabbing his first Billboard 200 No. 1 album in October as part of hip-hop collective BROCKHAMPTON. Instead, the 22-year-old Texas native opted to release a solo project just seven months later, resulting in the emotionally raw Arizona Baby. The 11-track album sees the LGBTQ artist discussing everything from his sexuality to his upbringing in Corpus Christi to former BROCKHAMPTON member Ameer Vann. The album's lyrics ultimately reveal the mixed emotions behind the toothy grin on the set's cover, but at least Abstract’s successes over the past year have given him plenty reason to smile broadly. -- J.G.

Khalid, Free Spirit

By his own account, Khalid was "young, dumb and broke" when he wrote and recorded his 2017 debut album, American Teen. He was still young, but far from dumb or broke, when he wrote and recorded his sophomore album, which entered the Billboard 200 at No. 1 in April. Two songs from the album, the warm and mellow "Better" and the punchier "Talk," have already become top 10 hits on the Hot 100, marking his first two solo trips to the chart's highest tier. After years in which hip-hop was so dominant it seemed to crowd out out non-rap-based R&B, it's nice to see broadly appealing pop-soul make a comeback. Khalid, 21, is an old soul; Free Spirit may end up a modern classic. -- PAUL GREIN

Lizzo, Cuz I Love You

Brilliantly brash, unapologetic and utterly irresistible, Lizzo's personality is clear from one listen to her major label debut Cuz I Love You. But it's not just attitude that makes this one of the year's best -- rarely do you find an artist this comfortable presiding over so much stylistic breadth. From the gritty old-school soul of "Jerome" to the minimalist, Missy Elliott-assisted "Tempo" to the bouncy funk-pop of "Juice" to the gospel trap of "Heaven Help Me," Lizzo is unflappable. Case in point: the Minneapolis Sound-drenched "Crybaby," which is easily the most confident-sounding song about breaking down and crying of 2019. -- J. Lynch

Logic, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Following an underwhelming No. 56 peak on the Billboard 200 with his Supermarket soundtrack in April, Logic bounced back with Confessions, which debuted at No. 1 earlier this month. The chart peak showed that the 29-year-old rapper isn’t losing steam, and his furious flow on all 16 tracks further solidifies that. Whether he’s keeping up with Eminem on “Homicide,” giving his dad a cameo on “BOBBY,” or staying woke on the album’s title track, Logic brings several dimensions on his latest LP -- not to mention several all-star collaborators, including G-Eazy, Wiz Khalifa, Gucci Mane, YBN Cordae and even Will Smith. -- T.W.

LUCKI, Freewave 3

"How fast can it go? Let's see," Chicago MC Lucki asks on "Let's See," one of the catchiest tracks from his Freewave 3 album. But if the lyric suggests build-up, excitement and forward momentum -- particularly on a set that motors through 15 tracks in 29 minutes -- the delivery suggests just the opposite: he sounds tired, inert, unimpressed. A 23-year-old with a long record of struggle against addiction, the rapper literally born Lucki appears exhausted from the fight; when he flatly declares "percs don't make me sleep" on "Geek Monster," he makes Future's relationship with the pills sound healthy. Meanwhile, the beats on Freewave 3 are pretty but vacant, calm enough to be comforting without providing any true support for Lucki's casually devastating confessions. Call it lost-soul music: wavy, but definitely not free. -- A.U.

Maddie Ross, Never Have I Ever

A few months after Ariana Grande used 2000s teen flicks as a comedic concept for the landmark “thank u, next” video, L.A. newcomer Maddie Ross took a winking nostalgia for the likes of Bring It On and Mean Girls and flipped it into an entire awesome album. Ross’ debut is a ten-track joyride through the pop-rock touchstones of early aughts -- Avril Lavigne’s Let Go, Ashlee Simpson’s Autobiography, Crazy Town’s “Butterfly” (her own admission) -- set to her personal rom com storyline: you’re the new kid at school, you surreptitiously meet the popular girl, you freak out, fall in love… then come out to your friends and family. Written and produced alongside her real-life partner Wolfy, Ross’ centerstage queerness is the crucial tweak to the ‘00s formula. -- C.P.

Maggie Rogers, Heard It in a Past Life

“I came to a place at the end of the year where I realized I’ve been trying to do [music] for a lot of lifetimes, and this life is the one that lines up," Maggie Rogers told Billboard earlier this year. "The universe was going to make it happen whether I was ready or not.” In some ways that epitomizes the singer-songwriter's much-anticipated debut LP. After a video of her presenting her single "Alaska" to Pharrell went viral (while still an NYU student, no less), Rogers was launched into stardom with only a handful of songs to her name. Three years later, we have the full album, which mixes classic folk sounds with pop and dance production (plus a touch of rock), and explores Rogers' musical journey and path to self-discovery while punching self-doubt square in the face. It's a joy to listen to and makes it clear that we'll be seeing her around for years to come. -- XANDER ZELLNER

Maluma, 11:11

Exactly one year after the release of his previous album F.A.M.E, Colombian singer Maluma released his fourth album 11:11, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart. Across the 16-track set, Maluma shows a musical growth by having cleaner lyrics (it only has three explicit tracks), and romantic songs such as “No Se Me Quita" (with Ricky Martin) and "11PM," which also keeps his urban roots. The set's expanded range is reflected in its variety of collaborators, which includes Ozuna, Ty Dolla $ign and of course Madonna, which helped 11:11 earn the second-biggest streaming debut week for a Latin album released in 2019. -- S.F.

Maren Morris, GIRL

Maren Morris’ sophomore album GIRL lived up to its expectations. The Texas native blends country, pop and R&B influences throughout, especially on standout collaborations with Brothers Osborne (“All My Favorite People”) and Brandi Carlile (“Common”). While the stirring “A Song for Everything” and soulful “Good Woman” showcase Morris’ vulnerable songwriting, her fun side is demonstrated, too, on the infectious “The Feels” and empowering “Flavor” where she boldly asserts: “I’m cooking up my own flavor/ Even if it ain’t your style.” The project, all co-written by the singer, marked the largest streaming week for a country album by a woman, with 23.96 million streams in its first week. -- A.R.

Megan Thee Stallion, Fever

After showing how she controls the game like a real pimp on last year’s Tina Snow, Megan Thee Stallion decided to switch her ice-cold grills for itty-bitty daisy dukes on May’s sweltering Fever. The project is the introduction to a new alter-ego -- the booty-shaking Hot Girl Meg -- that is the embodiment of confident young women who don’t take shit from anyone. Even the two sole male artists featured on the project (DaBaby and Juicy J) aren’t safe, as Megan spits lyrical daggers about finessing foolish men. The Houston rapper is completely self-aware, transforming into her own hype woman as she dots each lyric with an array of boastful ad libs. -- B.G.

Nilüfer Yanya, Miss Universe

The debut from British singer-songwriter Nilüfer Yanya is a confident opening statement about having nothing quite figured out. Yanya explores the corners of her psyche and surrounding world on Miss Universe, with a charming curiosity marked by sharp, straightforward songwriting, a refreshing willingness to take on a variety of genres and a palette of distorted guitars that jostle and slice with precision. However, her crowning achievement is the personal-yet-universal message rendered from the self-assured voice, whose only certainty is uncertainty. Yanya may not view herself as pageant material yet, but she’s an easy frontrunner for the people's champion. -- BRYAN KRESS

Nina Nesbitt, The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change

Nina Nesbitt fans, lovingly known as Nesbians, patiently waited five years for the Scottish singer-songwriter to follow up her 2014 debut album Peroxide. It was worth the wait: Released in February, The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change is a triumph, with Nesbitt displaying her skills as a smart pop writer and masterful vocalist throughout a tight 13 tracks. "Somebody Special" and "Loyal to Me" are undeniable earworms, ballads “Colder” and “The Best You Had” will have you in the feels, and the nostalgic “Last December” proved potent enough to make it onto the personal Apple Music playlist of one Taylor Swift -- someone who knows a little something about wistful December songs. -- GAB GINSBERG

Orville Peck, Pony

With the tip of a scarlet cowboy hat and the cascading shimmer of his fringed mask, Orville Peck captivated listeners with Pony, his debut LP. The queer cowboy’s aesthetic invokes the slow and twangy romance of Chris Isaak, while nudging close to Lana Del Rey’s neo-Americana lounge act, and he borrows from doo-wop as much as he does country and indie on “Dead of Night,” the album’s dreamy lead single. Though Peck is notoriously mysterious and refuses to shed light on the man behind the mask, Pony makes for a compelling introduction to this self-anointed country star.-- HILARY HUGHES

P!nk, Hurts 2B Human

There’s one thing you can’t deny about P!nk, after nearly 20 years in the business, the girl still knows how to hustle. On her eight studio album -- released while she's still touring behind 2017's Beautiful Trauma -- the 38-year-old singer-songwriter acknowledges the struggles of humanity but refuses to be a victim, effortlessly swinging back and forth (like in her signature live high-flying trapeze acts) between the despair and delirium of everyday life. P!nk enlists Khalid to help ponder the meaning of our existence on the title track, admits she doesn’t quite like the current President on “Can We Pretend” and even opens up about the difficulties of marriage on “Love Me Anyway." But the girl who once dreamed of being an Olympic gymnast doesn’t stay down for long, soaring to new heights on “We Could Have It All” and “Courage,” and convincing anyone in earshot on “Hustle” that she’ll be doing the hurting, while waving her middle-finger in the air. -- DANICA DANIEL

Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats, Anger Management

As might be suggested by its cover -- a mouth screaming out of the artist's forehead -- Rico Nasty and Kenny Beats' Anger Management isn't really all that interested in checking its aggression. For most of its 18 minutes, you can practically hear the spit soaking Rico's microphone as she shouts in her throaty rasp about being "higher than a bitch that's addicted to sky diving" and "so supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." But as aggressive as her rhyming is, her swagger is decidedly casual, thanks in large part to her lockstep chemistry with producer Kenny Beats, who provides her with the grinding beats for her to level cities over, and then steps back and lets her flex over the "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" beat for a track -- because why not. "None of these bitches cold as me," Rico insists, and you're probably better off not getting close enough to test her on that. -- A.U.

Sadat Baby, Bartier Bounty

Sada Baby raps like he's undoubtedly going to ascend to super stardom someday, and also like he's never going to rap again. There's a breathlessness to most of his bars that conveys an almost absurd urgency, but a confidence that sells the Detroit native as a roaring, slightly unhinged new genre breakout. The best moments on Bartier Bounty allow the MC to lay waste to the piano-led productions that he favors, whether he's threatening to "Shoot him up midrange like DeRozan" on "Lunch Room," or bellow "I just wanna do a lot of drugs!" at the beginning of "LLYG Mista." Sada Baby is not a role model, but his latest opus is so intoxicating, it's hard not to want more. -- J. Lipshutz

Sharon Van Etten, Remind Me Tomorrow

In the five years since 2014’s Are We There, Sharon Van Etten’s many personal and professional adventures include the birth of her first child, her return to school to study psychology and the launch of her acting career (on Netflix’s The OA). She wrote the shape-shifting Remind Me Tomorrow over the course of this seismic period that had her shedding her folkier skin in favor of the triumphant, nostalgic (“Seventeen”) and synth-laden (“Comeback Kid”) affirmations of a heroine in her brave new world. Change is good, but change as interpreted and belted out by Van Etten at her most curious and confident is even better. -- H.H.

Sigrid, Sucker Punch

When Sigrid first surfaced in 2017, the ensuing praise focused on how much the Norwegian singer-songwriter evoked prior pop greats: She’s the new Lorde, the second coming of Robyn, the winner of the same BBC music prize that Adele claimed a decade earlier. The comparisons were compliments, sure, and there was some truth to them -- but all that hype may have distracted from the diversity of talents Sigrid displays on debut LP Sucker Punch. From massive festival-ready jams to folksy singer-songwriter coffee breaks, she both honors classic pop templates (consider “Sight of You” a modern-day version of ABBA’s “Super Trouper”) and openly experiments on them (the cartoonish sound-effects on “Business Dinners” are as strangely alluring as anything out of the PC Music universe) with songwriting and production ideas that have only gotten more original. Two years ago, she was an exciting new discovery; now the thrill comes from watching her discover herself. -- NOLAN FEENEY

Sir Babygirl, Crush on Me

"I can't wait to lose all my friends in one night!" Sir Babygirl proclaims on "Haunted House," the manic centerpiece to debut album Crush on Me. It's an appropriate climax for the set: giddy and nerve-wracking and impossibly fun in the midst of total chaos. Sir Babygirl's songs are as wildly spiked musically as they are emotionally -- a blithely confrontational mix of bedroom indie rock and futuristic turbo-pop with all levels in the red, anchored by an aptitude for melody and hooks that keeps the Ferris Wheel from flying into space. "I'm not trying to project too much into the future," the new DIY hero coos on the title-track outro, a love song to herself. "But I do have a good feeling about this one." Hard same. -- A.U.

Slowthai, Nothing Great About Britain

After a three-year stream of steady single releases, Bajan-Irish rapper Slowthai unleashed his debut LP Nothing Great About Britain on May 17. The album, as the title suggests, is political in nature, with laser focus pointed at British leaders who maintain the stark separations of class and social status. With a presence that is at once singular and chameleonic, Slowthai guides Nothing Great About Britain from introspective (“Northampton’s Child”) to straight-up punk (“Doorman”) to, um, gorgeous (“Gorgeous”), all the while telling his own story as one of many. His growing cult of fans continues to gather alongside him, inching Slowthai’s utopia of upheaval and equality towards reality. -- E.F.

Solange, When I Get Home

Prince once wrote “there’s joy in repetition.” Solange’s When I Get Home asserts that there’s strength, too. A collection of jam sessions, song sketches and moods that drift away as quickly as they take, the album’s guide posts are her Houston birthplace, its slang and people, and repetition -- of chords, of words, certain structures of language and sound. “This album is really about the things that I had to do to reinforce these beliefs into my body,” she explained during the rollout. A cousin to Frank Ocean’s equivocal Endless, When I Get Home benefits from time spent, so that you learn to love particular passages like they were hooks, a variation in phrasing you get to know like the back of your hand. Like Wayne said, “repetition is the father of learning.” -- R.S.

The Tallest Man on Earth, I Love You. It's a Fever Dream.

Some of the melancholy present on 2015's Dark Bird Is Home, Kristian Matsson’s previous album as The Tallest Man on Earth, persists on its 2019 follow-up. I Love You. It's a Fever Dream. finds Matsson multiple years removed from divorce, but still spinning songs that feel plaintively lonely, such as opener “Hotel Bar” (“Who do we turn to when the day is done?/ Will there be people in the bar?”). But it's also hopeful, the sound of a man moving forward -- and by doing so, reckoning a bit with the sounds of his past, particularly the delicately plucked folk on which he made his name. -- K.R.

Toro y Moi, Outer Peace

From the blaring opening moments of Toro y Moi’s sixth album Outer Peace, synth-pop polymath Chaz Bear appears to be on an endless pursuit to catch up with a modern world that’s too distracted and moving too fast. The chase flows like a marathon DJ set driven by the effervescent, sweat-drenched pulse of '90s dance music, which transports Bear from the hushed psych-up affirmations on “Laws of the Universe” to the triumphant self-realized declaration on “Who I Am.” Though the dense, synthetic sounds make an unlikely salve for disassociation, it offers palpable proof of Chaz’s living, beating heart. -- B.K.

Tyler, the Creator, IGOR

With his fifth album IGOR, Tyler, the Creator finally strikes a perfect balance between Tyler, the Teen Troll of his Odd Future days and the rich, rewarding paradox of Tyler, the Adult Artist. Look no further than highlight "I Think," where he gets vulnerable while considering the psychological strain of romance while the words "fuck, skate" repeat in the background -- set against a gorgeous mélange of early N.E.R.D. and '70s Stevie Wonder. The fact that IGOR's star guest roster -- which includes Kanye West, Solange, Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert -- is uncredited speaks to the fact that Tyler the Creator is perhaps more confident, both musically and lyrically, when he lowers his shield to reveal the insecurities that fuel the anger. -- J. Lynch

Vampire Weekend, Father of the Bride

In the six years between Vampire Weekend’s third and fourth albums, Rostam Batmanglij left the band and Ezra Koenig became a West Coast dad. Perhaps these are the reasons that the latest album, Father of the Bride, co-produced by Koenig and Ariel Rechtshaid, sounds the way it does: looser, lighter, less urgent. It is also more jammy than anything the band has put forth before, but this is not a Phish record; rather, the group used the extra space as room to wander and explore with purpose. Amid the contentment and relaxation, a creeping anxiety prevails, adding a much-needed tension to the blissful chill: “I thought that I was free from all that questioning, but every time a problem ends, another one begins,” Koenig sings on lead single "Harmony Hall." “I don’t want to live like this, but I don’t want to die.” Funny thing about moments of contentment: They leave you with plenty of time for existential dread. -- C.W.

Y La Bamba, Mujeres

Indie folk-pop band Y La Bamba, fronted by Mexican-American singer-songwriter Luz Elena Mendoza, unapologetically tackles vulnerabilities, womanhood and empathy for one another on Mujeres, the Portland ensemble's fifth studio album. Mendoza's vocals pounce over life intricacies in a Latin-tinged 14-track set which extols traditional Mexican music and the storytelling of American folk. The self-produced album gives a voice to those who are struggling to be heard, who lack self-validation and are deprived of choice -- anchored by nimble storytelling. -- P.B.


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