Cy’s 100 Favorite Albums of 2019
100. Norah Jones – Begin Again
Norah Jones is one of those singers that always brings delight to whomever listens to her. There’s an ease to her sound, a gorgeous bit of texture (like velvet) that caresses the ear. As with a few artists on this list, I haven’t kept up with her like I should have when I first heard her and knew she was something special. I’m pleasantly surprised to see that she’s released an EP that’s as pure as anything I’ve heard from her in the past. Easy like Sunday morning, to borrow a phrase. Begin Again is a lovely piece of work from the songstress.
99. SOMA – SEIREN
I’m so happy SOMA released a whole album this year. As with SAAY last year, I’ve been waiting for this moment for SOMA. The album isn’t anything we’re not used to from her: subtle, sensual, moody R&B with heavy hints of neo-soul. She’s 100 percent in her pocket with SEIREN, the album being both what we’d expect from her and an extension of what we know. Lovely work that’s both soothing and highly intoxicating.
98. TECHNOIR – AlieNation
Funk, pure and simple. Alienation crackles with real electricity. It’s a shame the duo only decided to gift us an EP that’s only four songs long because the damn thing is just full of fire, with stores of gasoline in wooden barrels at the side just aching to explode!
97. Nuz – Island Songs
This is a bit of a different side for Nuz. In the past his music erred more on the neo-soul end of the spectrum. Island Songs is heavy with boding. Yet it’s steady, calm. The music breathes. There’s so much atmosphere with this album. I’m actually taken aback to realize. Of course, adding Kim Oki to the list of collaborators doesn’t hurt. This is really a gorgeous piece of music. Measured. Tempered. Unhurried and bountiful in its depth and longing.
96. Lion Babe – Cosmic Wind
There’s so much ferociousness in the duo of Jillian Hervey and Lucas Goodman, the singer and producer who make up the Soul/funk outfit Lion Babe. Hervey has a glorious voice. It really does sound like triumph. There’s softness at the edges, but the meat of her vocal is thick with experience, tragedy, love, and passion. For his part, Goodman’s production is so smooth, so incredibly spot-on and in step with his vocalist muse that it’s hard to imagine a more compatible duo. Indeed, Cosmic Wind is that sort of interstellar magic that blends all the beautiful things of culture and opulence. Creates music that just makes the listener feel good.
95. MIKNNA – Escape
MIKNNA reminds me a bit of k-os, in terms of using ambient/jazz composition to house his delivery. While at times he seems to want to try to overpower the music—instead of becoming part of the music—the overall collaboration between music and MC is really fantastic. An interesting piece of music that certainly caught my attention early on in 2019. Funky, laidback. Music that really does make you feel both wavy and relaxed.
94. Koffee – Rapture
I’ve not listened to much contemporary reggae. But if Koffee’s Rapture is any indication, the newest Jamaica is quite exciting. Political, culturally relevant. It’s got powerful lyricism wrapped up in contemporary reggae conventions (which include influence to current trends in hip hop and R&B). Really well-executed piece of work.
93. Tender – Fear of Falling Asleep
Tender is a stunning cross between Peace Orchestra and Sneaker Pimps: the softness of Peace Orchestra mixed with the sharp tongue of Sneaker Pimps. I dig it! I dig it heavy! I get some Massive Attack a la Mezzanine in there as well. It’s just moody, twisted, gnarled, and sexy. Explosively expressive.
92. Junoflo – Statues
Okay, so Junoflo has officially leveled the hell up! His flow is just DANGEROUS! The amount of power behind his lyricism is staggering. The way he delivers each bar… the boy seems like he’s got a point to prove, and he’s doing it with vicious precision and fearlessness. The production on the album is absolutely perfect for him. He has an ability to adapt easily to the music that supports him. This shows in the diversity of the actual production types. A damn good effort from the young MC. Plus it was amazing to hear BoA on a track with him. Our boy’s growing up so fast!
91. Punchnello – [ordinary.]
The first two tracks had me worried ’Nello would go the route of most rappers who want a little more shine: mostly singing and attempting to soften the gruffness inherent in hip hop for a wider audience. However, Swerve allayed my fears. [ordinary.] is a NASTY piece of music that just gets more gnarly as it continues. By the time we reach Absinthe ’Nello is in full-out SCALP mode, coming for throats like a wolf who’s just found his midday meal. Never let it be said that Punchnello was afraid of getting down in the gutter and really flinging bars at you!
90. Taemin – WANT
There’s an understated sensuality here, a maturity that he continues to cultivate with every single release. Taemin continues to surprise me with every album. He’s taken great care to create in himself a truly sensual, open artist and man. He’s succeeding, absolutely. The late-’90s house elements of this album endear themselves to me as a fan of House and all its subgenres. It’s understated, unhurried, and while not a complete departure from SHINee, it sets itself apart in tone and execution. Incredible piece of work.
89. POLYP – Eternal Lifecycle
Chill, smooth, moving. This is the type of music that really nestles into the body and gives it the urge to relax. It’s also just incredibly lovely to listen to. POLYP gives us a beautiful piece of alternative rock (as in rock music that doesn’t hide its jazz influences and can err on the side of emotional and thoughtful as opposed to blusteringly loud and gruff).
88. ROMderful – Press L To Continue
Let’s start from the most obvious thing: ROMderful is an incredibly gifted producer. His music is unique and nuanced in terms of the way he molds synthetic and live instrumentation. He manages to strike an interesting balance between cold precision and the spontaneity of human emotion. That being said, I’m not sure if I’m 100 percent sold on him as a lyricist. There are moments where I feel his earnestness more than others (tracks Make Me Feel, RealLovE?, 1 Missed Call, and I Know). But mostly his lyrics are indicative of his youth, thus there’s a disconnect for me personal. However, that doesn’t in any way take away from the masterfully intricate crafting of his music. It really is a beautiful piece of work that shows real emotional intuitiveness. There’s also some truly gorgeous harmony work throughout the album.
87. Biig Piig – No Place for Patience Vol. 3
Okay, this is another reason why Instagram is sometimes a godsend. Biig Piig just blessed me out of nowhere! The vibe on this album takes me back to Jamiroquai at their height, smooth acid jazz and smoky vocals that really just reach inside my soul. I love being shocked like this!
86. Kevin Abstract – ARIZONA BABY
This is probably one of the more surprising albums on this list for me. I’d not listened exclusively to Kevin Abstract (only knowing of him through another group fave, Brockhampton). However, it dawns on me I should’ve been paying much better attention. His lyricism is a huge reason why Brockhampton made such a big impression on me in the first place. This is a man who wears his demons openly and unapologetically.
Kevin is of a generation of rappers who have come under the gun from old- and new-school rappers alike for being open about both their sexuality and their vulnerabilities. To them I say get the fuck over yourselves! These men and women who live in their truth have done nothing to deserve your ire or your scorn. They’re really just trying to live their lives and express their art in the same way you do and have as much of a right to do so. Kevin Abstract deserves praise for his deft storytelling, raw honesty, and his ability to use lyricism as a weapon. While there are moments when the album does seem a bit sluggish, by and large it’s a brilliant expression of his inner thoughts in as honest a way as he can muster.
85. Natasha Kmeto – Verse/Versus EP
Damn is her voice hypnotic. Fills up a space but isn’t overpowering for the sake of sheer power. Emotional. Heady. Earthy. Naturally gorgeous. This is a powerful musical statement packed into four songs. A pleasant surprise. I can always count on Soundcloud to bring me something truly remarkable when I least expected it.
84. People Under the Stairs – Sincerely, The P
I feel like the world’s biggest fool for just now hearing about People Under the Stairs. Especially on the eve of their 20th anniversary they’ve decided to call it quits. It always happens this way. I always end up coming to something just as it’s about to end or transition to something different. Be that as it may, I did get to them before they vanished from sight completely. I’m truly humbled that I have. Hip hop this pure and devoid of ruffles and tricks deserves so much more respect, certainly more appreciation that it gets in this era of people who get into the genre to make easy money (a list that unfortunately increases every second with every album the regular listening public buys). PUTS is for people who truly love and appreciate hip hop and music in and of itself. I wish them nothing but the best, and thank them for keeping hip hop alive in their hearts and the hearts of true fans of the genre.
83. Lusine – Retrace EP
Simple but utterly enchanting electronica. The addition of one of my favorite electronica artists lately, CIFIKA, is just extra chocolate syrup atop my electronica sundae, and my heart is so happy about it! Lovely, lush, simplistic without being formulaic. Just a wonderful piece of music that slides in and out of your day.
82. Beyoncé – The Lion King: The Gift
I appreciate that Beyoncé took it upon herself to give The Lion King a soundtrack that honored the Africa it has tried twice to represent in full and semi animation. Her voice is fuller. There seems to be a truer sense of self in this work. Though it seems this was mostly a Beyoncé album than an actual album representing the ever-expansive versatility and artistry found on the darkest (and most beautiful) continent, she did at least tread the path of most non-African artists who find themselves wanting to dip their toe in Africa’s waters. I respect that there is some real artistry in this album, something that continues to blossom the older the R&B star gets. In those moments, there seems to be even more earnestness when forcing herself to dig within for ancient roots that we as Black Americans are always trying (oftentimes in vain) to reconnect with. Beautiful and respectfully rendered, if not a bit lacking in parts.
81. Backstreet Boys – DNA
I have to be honest. When I first ventured to listen to this album, I was nervous. Were they as amazing as I’d always remembered them being? Was my adulation of the group nothing more than the whims of teeny-bopper infatuation? When my brother later admitted he listened to their older work and finally understood musically why I went crazy for them, I felt validated. But nothing has validated my love of the quintet more than their release this year.
DNA proves why for my money they were the best of the bunch. The first post-New Edition/NKOTB boy band that excited me. Because their vocals were always the benchmark of their brilliance. None of that fire has gone anywhere. This is pop music, pure and unfettered. At the helm of it: their voices. Tight harmonies, the boldness to throw in an a cappella to remind people who they are. I’ve never been prouder to be a die-hard BSB fan, always and forever.