Cy’s 100 Favorite Albums of 2019
40. Ziarra – Heart
Sensual, full love songs. Ziarra is fearless in her love expressions, and it’s a breath of fresh air. Her voice isn’t forced or attempting to be more than what it is. There’s softness around the edges, but it’s steeped in something deeper, more from the gut. And it’s all love. As it should be. Beautiful piece of music.
39. Cavalier – Ephemera
Cavalier has slowly become one of my favorite producers in the past few years. His attention to detail, the way he weaves narratives into the smallest sounds… He’s a master of creative aural stimulation. Every sound, nook and cranny of his music has purpose and that purpose bleeds through with grace, class, snarkiness, and incomparable technical efficiency.
38. Kyle Dion – Suga
I’ve been waiting for years for Kyle Dion to finally release a long-form piece of work. Suga is the R&B album I didn’t realize I needed. This is no-holds-barred soul music with heavy doses of traditional R&B. His voice wraps effortlessly around the crisp, spot-on composition and production. It’s work that’s from the heart, music that’s 100 percent soul without frills or gimmicks. Another example how to hearken back to genre-specific conventions of our elders without falling prey to derivative stereotypes. Gorgeous work! Thank you, Mr. Dion!
37. S.O.L. Collective – Reveries
This is everything I could’ve dreamed for when I first found out about this collaborative album. It features one of my favorite musicians, the incomparable Stuart Zender, as well as some of his mates in magic, Ollie Clark and James Larter. It’s smooth, lush, grand in scope, yet so gentle to the senses one doesn’t even know their mind is blown before they wake up from the aforementioned reverie a new person. Gorgeous piece of work!
36. Shafiq Husayn – The Loop
Home. Earth. Love. Spirit. Soul. These are the things that I think of, that I thought of and felt, as this album played. Shafiq Husayn has a gift for igniting the fires of heritage in his listeners. It’s impassioned music that’s straight from the heart and left me spellbound. It’s just so inherently gorgeous. Simple. Nothing over-the-top, but everything all at once. Lovely. Utterly beautiful.
35. Big Phony – The Silent Motto
Good lord. The emotional weight, the simplicity, the intimacy of this piece. It takes me back to the album that made me fall head over heels for Big Phony in the first place: Bobby. It’s majestic in its simplicity, yet it’s undeniably rich in its lyrical scope. Bobby has conceived of one of his most brilliant musical creations to date, and all that in just four songs. I’ve missed this man and his music beyond measure. The Silent Motto’s grandness lay in how quiet it actually is. Without knowing it (I think), he’s created a work of heartbreakingly beautiful and haunting art.
Stream on Bandcamp
34. Melissa Etheridge – The Medicine Show
YAS, AUNTIE MELISSA! YAS!!! This woman has been a staple in my musical background since the ’90s. Lemme tell you somethin’… she ain’t leavin’ any time soon! Her voice is as powerful, as intoxicating, as rough, rugged, and full of true from the gut blues-rock as it’s ever been. Oh, how I’ve missed her! Bow down, prima donnas. Melissa Etheridge, the absolute queen of hard sangin’, is BACK!
33. Santana – Africa Speaks
Buika and Santana is the most important collaboration of the year, no questions asked. Two of my favorite things: Concha Buika with anybody and music that celebrates the Motherland. There’s nothing quite as fulfilling as hearing music that shows respect and adoration for the birthplace of humanity, that celebrates its diversity and unending growth. The beauty and wonder of the continent are all on display here. Carlos Santana understands and glorifies this. Asking Buika to be his only collaborative voice was a stroke of sheer genius. I love this album!
32. Freddie Gibbs X Madlib – Bandana
I was an absolute fool to wait so long in the year to listen to this album. To be honest, once I heard my #1 pick, it was kind of hard for me to go back to this one. However, Bandana… I just don’t even know what to say. From first bar to last it goes in. The bars are nasty. The wordplay. The delivery. It’s all so damn effortless. Honestly, whenever you have an album with either Freddie Gibbs or Madlib on it in any capacity you don’t even have to listen to the album to know it’s about to be reckless. This collaboration album is really a gift to hip hop. We should all be praising them for blessing us with it.
31. Trillivm – Decolonizing House Music
If anything was going to get House music out of its more sterile confines, this album that proclaims to take it out of the hands of the colonizers would be the one to do it. People forget House’s origins in the musty warehouses of the black Midwest, understanding it to be purely of European design. In fact, it was hip hop’s decidedly more sexually fluid younger cousin. Much of the beats were constructs of break beats and rhythms in Caribbean families. Thank everything for Trillivm and all those of his ilk. We need more artists like this to reawaken the raw bombasity of a genre that has been as close to me as soul music and R&B.
30. H.E.R. – I Used to Know Her
H.E.R. is an absolute blessing. The culmination of the Used to Know Her EPs last year was a gift to fans of the singer-songwriter. So mature is her vision, it’s hard to believe she’s just broken into her 20s. She’s got a depth of spirit and soul that ought to make the loudest advocates of the They Don’t Make Music Like They Used To movement sit back and sigh with at least relief. I Used To Know Her hits right in the chest, sends so much emotional weight to the core of the listener, one can’t help but fall in love even as they cry from the relatability of heartache and self-discovery.
29. Angélique Kidjo – Célia
Angélique Kidjo’s tribute to the legendary Célia Cruz is done with such care, such love. The spirit of Célia runs all through this piece. It’s not just the fact that this is a tribute album. It’s that Kidjo is so fervently passionate about the music, the culture, she’s integrated her own roots form Benin with the Afro-Latinx roots of Cuba and gave life to the already vigorously magical sound of Célia Cruz. With Célia, Kidjo has awoken the flavor of the late singer’s work for those who might not have known her work before. I loved every second of this!
28. Beck – Hyperspace
The album emerges from the speakers like the dawn: beautiful, mysterious, expectant, full of promise, anxious unknowns. Beck has really quietly built an empire of sound. While many proclaim after over 25 years to still not understand his brilliance, he’s cultivating his art at the highest degree. Art for the sake of art? Sign me up for this! I will never not be in love with this man’s work. Despite my spotty attention to him, I’ve always known him to be a surprising artist. He never, ever disappoints.
27. Golden (fka G.Soul) – Hate Everything
It’s like everyone in my Top 5 Korean artists had a meeting and decided my emotions needed to be ravaged in the last few months of the year! Obviously it’s a gorgeous piece of music. It’s fitting he rebranded himself as “Golden.” That voice is undeniable. Hate Everything takes every ounce of the man’s soul and displays it much in the same way you’d reveal all your deepest hurts on the road to getting them fixed. Does it impact me like Circles did? No. Is it still one of the most impressive R&B offerings from South Korea? 150 percent YES!
26. Lim Kim – Generasian
Well, damn! Snatch my wig, then! This chick really just decided to scalp everyone this year, didn’t she? That confidence? That bravado! That fearlessness. What have I always said? I love me a woman with a big-ass mouth! Lim Kim does it with skill, lyricism, and an authenticity that bleeds through her music. Multidimensional and rabid with the pen. I… I think I’m in love…?
25. Mortimer – Fight the Fight
Powerful in its gentleness. Soul-stirring love music. Love. It’s more than the superficial emotion people give it credit for. It’s also peace, thoughtfulness, open arms, honesty. Mortimer engenders all of these things. All the things that makes the Jamaican gospel music so enriching to the soul. It’s honest, thoughtful, open, peaceful music that gives the heart hope and the mind so much to consider. Beautiful.
24. FKA twigs – MAGDALENE
FKA twigs is an anomaly in an industry that wishes so desperately to define everything in all the usual ways: trends, stereotypes, skin color. Someone defined her music as “21st century R&B.” Yes, there is rhythm. There is blues, the kind of pure heartache and need that drives the soul to reach But to place such a simple classification on what FKA twigs does is not only shortsighted, it’s insulting. Almost trite. To the staunch and unimaginative, black artists fall into one of three categories: hip hop/rap, jazz, and R&B (with a drop of blues in there for the truly adventurous). Perhaps a mixture of two or all three. But never truly stepping out of the bounds. It all falls under the umbrella of pop if it sells enough.
However, FKA twigs’s music is at once none of these and every single one. Hers is the sound of angels in battle for the Divine’s attention. It’s the culmination of stars being born right next to those breathing their last breath. No doubt she was given the label of “R&B” because it’s easier to place her there (especially when she collaborates with rappers) than to try to puzzle through her witchcraft. She produces a schism in the system. Something that separates the daring from the lambs. Thus MAGDALENE is a holy experience suffused with enough sin and mystery to tell the story of Jesus’s closest confidante next to Paul with no irony and more soul than people tend to give my people actual credit for.
23. Robert Glasper – F*ck Yo Feelings
Okay… WHO EVEN ALLOWED ROBERT GLASPER?!?! Listen, it’s not just his sense of humor on display here. He absolutely takes something that could’ve very well been nothing more than parody and created something iconic. Whatever your thoughts going into this mixtape, I guarantee it won’t be anything you expect. Proper contemporary jazz. Jazz of the times: the traditional tenants of the genre with the grit of the hip hop generation and the elegance of singin’ ass SANGERS! F*ck Yo Feelings, indeed! However you feel is absolutely irrelevant. This is ART!
22. Jidenna – 85 to Africa
This is absolutely one of the most well-laid hip hop albums this year. It’s unbelievably black. Something that’s definitely ramped up in recent years. I can’t do anything but applaud artists like Jidenna who embrace their blackness (and indeed the roots of his Nigerian family), including the ugliness that comes with being born with and living in a hue of skin that seems to be reprehensible to pretty much anyone of a fairer complexion. Jidenna holds nothing back, expressing himself clearly and fearlessly. It was really a beautiful experience.
21. Lapalux – Amnioverse
Thank all the angels in the firmament! Lapalux is back! Finding out he was releasing another full-length album yanked the same reaction out of me when I heard Michael Kiwanuka had an album coming out. Tears of absolute, overwhelming joy! Before I discovered Clarence Clarity and Iglooghost, there was Lapalux. Though their musical trajectories are slightly different, they have that same off-kilter soundscape. Something that’s both gorgeous and painfully unsettling. With Amnioverse, Lapalux dips listeners in florescent hues, the pinks and purples of the album cover. It’s a journey, something to experience with both hands and feet. If you’re a glutton for joy and chaos, Lapalux!