Reviewing music is weird in 2019. There’s still an invested cost in buying a game or going to a movie, but you can hear any new album with a single click or voice command. What you can’t do very easily, though, is know the best music you’re missing out on, as hard as Spotify might try. But, we’re here to help! These are the albums we enjoyed the most in 2019, and why. And then all you have to do is click Play! Let’s go!
Editor’s Note: The albums we have suggested may contain some explicit language or themes.
Billie Eilish – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP WHERE DO WE GO?: The review written earlier this year covers many of the reasons why this is one of the best albums of 2019. Billie Eilish has changed pop music forever and inspired many young artists to break the mold. Her music has the sound of Top 40 pop music, but the lyrics are reminiscent of an early 2000s emo band. “Don’t you know I’m no good for you? / I’ve learned to lose you, can’t afford to / Tore my shirt to stop you bleeding / But nothin’ ever stops you leaving” It’s an oddly beautiful combination. She is not only musically inspirational; she’s personable and genuine with her fans! She greets each one as if they were an old friend with a hug and a big smile.
This album was massive on the charts in 2019, and each single and music video released gave it more staying power. It even ended as number 53 on Billboards Top 200 albums of the year! While some of the content may not be suitable for the younger ones (under 12 years), Billie Eilish’s music is popular with the young and old alike. Her music is new, fresh, emotional, and fun. I’m sure the best is yet to come for Billie, but as for 2019, pop music didn’t get much better than this album.
As I Lay Dying – Shaped By Fire: Featuring the long-awaited and controversial return of lead singer, Tim Lambesis, Shaped By Fire is a powerhouse album from the Christian metal band As I Lay Dying. When Tim was sentenced to jail for soliciting the murder of his estranged wife, all hope of another AILD album seemed lost. The band members went on to release other music, but although it was good, it didn’t feel the same. When Tim was released from jail, he made a public statement regarding his faith, drug and alcohol use, and him seeking forgiveness. Fans were torn between wanting to believe he was genuinely repentant and feeling too betrayed to give him another chance. With his actions, Tim had hurt his band and his fans deeply and knew it would be an uphill battle. However, when Shaped By Fire single “My Own Grave” dropped, the Christian metal world spun on its side. And in a good way.
Staying true to their roots with the melodic guitar, fast and punchy drums, gritty vocals, and the bass drives the whole thing. The lyrics reflect a faith that worked out through trials by fire and redemption sought from God and man alike. “The lies, the weight / Deceit, decay / The lies, the weight / It’s clear I lost my way” The band had come back, forgave Tim, and made new as the Bible says, and they were ready to get back to work. This album is solid lyrically and instrumentally and comes highly recommended for metal fans.
Emarosa – Peach Club: One of the biggest challenges a band can face is trying to replace a vocalist. When Emarosa removed Johnny Craig over drug abuse problems and replaced him with Bradley Wathen, they put out two albums that were… alright. Despite his behavior, Craig is one of the most talented vocalists of our generation, and it always felt like Wathen was living in his shadow, on the losing side of every inevitable comparison to previous albums. Finally, with Peach Club, they have escaped the shadow of their past by completely changing genres.
When I heard that Emarosa’s new album was a pop album instead of post-hardcore, I wasn’t sure what to think. But the album is incredible, and it sounds like they’ve discovered their true identity. As they’ve said in interviews, they’re all big fans of pop music. Wathen even sometimes calls himself “Bradley Rae Jepsen,” and the change was not only a great way to put an end to the comparisons but also to finally dig into music that they genuinely love and excel in. There’s not a single bad track on this album, and it’s my favorite Emarosa record to date.
Silent Planet – The Night God Slept Redux: While 2019 was full of releases and re-releases from long-time Christian metal bands, it was also the year that I finally discovered The Silent Planet. They are probably the best act currently on Solid State Records, for a variety of reasons. Their music is undeniably heavy but weaves in and out of talking, singing, and screaming in a way that mewithoutYou clearly inspired but could never accomplish. Their lyrics are full of citations; the singer was an English major and hit in-depth, personal, spiritual topics and hit them hard. And their live show is one of the best I’ve ever seen, having caught them with August Burns Red in the summer. While digging through their backlog, I suddenly remembered why it took so long for me to give them a fair shake.
While 2016’s Everything Was Sound and 2018’s When the End Began sound amazing, 2014’s The Night God Slept sounds awful. I mean, the songwriting is fantastic, but the recording is not. Whoever produced and mixed the record completely misunderstood the band’s sound, and it sounds like a nu-metal band from the early 2000s – basically, like banging tin cans together. Fortunately, the group must have also recognized this discrepancy because they have re-recorded the entire album from start to finish. I’m cheating a little here, as the album fully releases in January 2020, but two tracks are already available — and they finally sound like they should have all along — amazing.
Oh, Sleeper – Bloodied / Unbowed: A significant consequence of As I Lay Dying’s reunion was the end of Wovenwar, which was mostly the same band, but with Tim, Lambesis replaced by Shane Blay. With Wovenwar over, Shane Blay reunited with Micah Kinard for a new Oh, Sleeper record. The hiatus must have been good for them because they sound older, wiser, and better. The more careful songwriting and song structure make Bloodied / Unbowed sound heavier than some of their early stuff, which seems disorganized by comparison. The Lyrical content is fantastic as well, mainly after I listened to Micah Kinard explain the song meanings track by track on the Labeled podcast.
Listeners should be aware of a few swear words, although they almost feel earned: “You want to know the real me? You want to see me? / Then just know that when you turn your head /At my brokenness, be it judgement or jest /It’s the same damn thing, don’t you ever forget”. Oh, Sleeper has always been about the tension of an atheist and a Christian trying to live in creative community together, and that motif comes through louder than ever before – and that’s a good thing.
Norma Jean – All Hail / Killswitch Engage – Atonement: I’m putting these two together because they matter to me for the same reason. Ever since becoming a Christian almost twenty years ago, I’ve mostly listened to Christian metal. The key players in the genre felt so far ahead of their secular counterparts, while groups in other genres were five years behind. And many of those Christian metal bands have crossover success in secular arenas such as Warped Tour.
In the Christian metal genre, or even just metal in general, some bands are so big, and you are expected to know, even if you don’t listen to them much. Norma Jean and Killswitch Engage are two such bands. I hadn’t heard to Norma Jean since they were “Luti-Kriss” with a different vocalist, and I had never listened to Killswitch Engage. But both of these bands put out amazing releases this year, proving that they are permanent fixtures in the scene. I’d love to call these releases some of their best work, but I genuinely don’t know yet! I’m excited to find out, and I can safely say they are some of the best metal releases of 2019.
Various Artists – Death Stranding: TImefall – Though the video game itself is very divisive, the part that isn’t is the soundtrack. RCA Records partnered with Sony Interactive Entertainment to release an eight-track album called Death Stranding: Timefall, which includes music from the game. This soundtrack introduced me to artists such as Chvrches and Bring Me The Horizon that I want to start listening to more often, and most importantly, the included tracks capture the essence of Death Stranding.
The one area I feel the album lacks in there’s no Low Roar present, which is the group that players hear most of throughout the game. Their somber yet entrancing sound is ever-present throughout the world of Death Stranding, yet they seem to be missing from the album. Thankfully, there is an official playlist on Spotify that seems to fill those gaps. Despite what I feel is a notable omission, this album is an excellent collection of music that can be listened to whether you have played the game or not.
NF – The Search – To be honest, I struggled with how much I liked this album for a while. At its core, The Search is mostly the same as the previous four albums that NF has put out. His severe and dark style can sometimes feel depressing but also be just what I need at the same time. Many of his songs seem so sad and yet so powerful at the same time. For a short while, I wanted to see him try something different but decided I’d not since his style is a part of his identity and how he deals with his personal and inner struggles.
NF is easily one of my favorite lyricists in the genre, and that’s because of songs like “The Search” and “Let MeGo” which capture both spectrums of his work. The two reactions I have when listening to his work are “Yo, he destroyed that beat!” or “Hold up, I need to pause for a sec.,” and this album continues that trend. NF’s work takes me on a rollercoaster of emotions like no other artist does, and though I thought I wanted something more—I was wrong for that. The Search is his best work yet, and its been fun to watch him improve as an artist and being bold enough to stick to such a style that may not be for everyone.
Brian Altano – Revangelion – I reviewed this album back in November, and it stands out as one of the unique review processes I’ve ever experienced. Brian takes notable tracks from the Neon Genesis: Evangelion and remixes them into is own work of art. I listened to Revangelion alongside the official NGE soundtrack, and it was fun to listen to the tracks he pulled from and altered. I find myself still trying to picture the process of what it was like to create this album and take apart those original songs to get the samples.
As a disclaimer, I am a fan of the work Brian does at IGN along with his music, so writing the review was an even more formidable task. The album has made it into a few of my playlists, which doesn’t happen to everything I listen to or write about. I recommend that fans of the show check it out to see how some of their favorite tracks have been handled. What makes this recommendation much more comfortable is that it’s instrumental Hip-Hop but also has no lyrics.
Let us know your thoughts on our top albums of 2019 in the comments!