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Alex Gilbert writesCHIRP Radio Best of 2019: Alex Gilbert

CHIRP Radio Best of 2019

Throughout December, CHIRP Radio presents its volunteers’ top albums of 2019. Our next list is from DJ Alex Gilbert.

There was A LOT of great music released in 2019, so whittling it down to 10 albums was a tough task, but ultimately these selections all found their way onto the list because they spoke to me in one way or another; they introduced me to something new, they told a genuinely compelling story, they were honest and raw and full of emotion, or they simply just made me want to dance and sing over and over again.


#1   Twelve Nudes by Ezra Furman (Bella Union)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Ezra Furman Twelve NudesThis is a punk album through and through; it's full of anger and frustration, and rightfully so. But it also has its softer moments of longing and desire, providing a welcome contrast and a beautiful vulnerability. Though regardless of delivery, each song comes across in a way where you don’t doubt Ezra’s sincerity in the slightest. He wants you to hear his voice, listen to what he has to say, and commiserate; we’re all different, but we’re all in this together.



#2   Before You Begin by Sequoyah Murray (Thrill Jockey)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Sequoyah Murray Before You BeginThis debut full-length release from a new Atlanta-based artist is hard to classify. A wide variety of inspirations are evident, from the avant garde compositions of Arthur Russell to his hometown’s strong hip-hop and rap history. Sequoyah is only 22, but you'd never know that from his mature, eclectic compositions and the impressive vocal range he exhibits on this album. Seeing him perform live only added to my admiration, which was already high with the knowledge that he composed, played, and produced the album almost entirely by himself. I have a strong feeling there’s a lot more amazing music yet to come from this talented artist.



#3   Legacy! Legacy! by Jamila Woods (Jagjaguwar)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Jamila Woods Legacy! Legacy!Jamila isn’t new to the Chicago music scene, having previously collaborated with Chance the Rapper and Donnie Tumpet (among others), but this sophomore album brings her name to a much wider audience. As a poet and community organizer, she’s long been spreading awareness and arts education at a local level, but with this music she’s writing songs about her heroes, all artists of color, and honoring the past on a larger level, one that speaks directly to some and provides much-needed education to others. It’s an album full of emotion, frustration, and honesty, in a time when it’s really needed.



#4   Cuz I Love You by Lizzo (Nice Life/Atlantic)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Lizzo Cuz I Love YouThis album has been on repeat for me since it dropped. From the infectious earworm-of-the-year “Juice” to the lesser-played soulful break-up track “Jerome”, I couldn’t get enough of Lizzo’s amazing voice, her catchy beats, and her effervescent laughter, with which you can’t help but smile when hearing. Oh yeah, and add to that her classically-trained flute skills and you have one unique, unforgettable pop star. (Note: If you haven’t yet seen Lizzo’s NPR Tiny Desk Concert, do yourself a favor and go check it out now.)



#5   There Will Be No Intermission by Amanda Palmer (8ft.)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Amanda Palmer There Will Be No IntermissionI can’t think of a single artist I know that connects with her audience as well as Amanda Palmer, and she continues that with her new, extremely autobiographical album. Her first solo studio album in over six years has Amanda laying all her cards on the table, writing about internal struggles, monumental losses, appreciating little victories, and, in many ways, contemplating life and death and what it means to be human. She writes and performs in a way that’s sometimes overwhelmingly personal, but somehow almost always finds a way to make it universally relatable. We can empathize with her, and even if we cried a bit along the way, we’re really glad we stuck around for the whole ride.



#6   Omoiyari by Kishi Bashi (Joyful Noise)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Kishi Bashi OmoiyariI love Kishi Bashi for a lot of reasons: his beautiful voice, his impressive violin skills, and his lush, loop-driven soundscapes topping the list. And it’s very rewarding to see him take these skills and release what is his most serious (and relevant) work to date. Along with a forthcoming documentary film, this album is influenced by his research into the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, as well as how that parallels current events today, including treatment of minorities and broader actions of bigotry and fear. As with a number of the other releases on this list, this is an album with something important to say, so let’s listen.



#7   Where Future Unfolds by Damon Locks/Black Monument Ensemble (International Anthem)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Damon Locks/Black Monument Ensemble Where Future UnfoldsAnother Chicago artist releasing fantastic new music is Damon Locks, this time with his 15-member collective Black Monument Ensemble. The album showcases a combination of hip-hop, jazz, electro, gospel, and beat poetry, with politically charged lyrics and historic sound bites steering the message to one of urgent activism. As Phillip Mlynar of Pitchfork so aptly said, “the result is uplifting activist jazz for tumultuous times.”



#8   Iowa Dream by Arthur Russell (Audika)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Arthur Russell Iowa DreamThe latest posthumous release from Audika Records, home to the estate and archive of Arthur Russell, is one of his most accessible yet. Assembled from countless hours of demos and re-recordings of the same compositions, it’s rewarding to hear “completed” versions of these songs released, listening to Arthur sing about hope and love and self-defeat, unabashed melancholy and passionate longing. This is an all-around wonderful collection of songs to add to Russell’s already impressive musical legacy.



#9   Two Hands by Big Thief (4AD)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Big Thief Two HandsThis is the album on the list I’ve listened to the least (so far), but one that’s grown on me very quickly. Maybe it’s Adrianne Lenker’s beautifully off-kilter vocals, or the raw imperfections of the recording sessions, but the stripped-down realness of the album drew me in immediately, and my appreciation has grown with each subsequent listen. Even more impressively, this release dropped just five months after their previous LP, which was a very strong piece in its own right. Definitely worth another listen.



#10   Grey Area by Little Simz (AGE 101)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon

Little Simz Grey AreaThis was my first exposure to Little Simz, whose third LP is one of the strongest rap albums to come out this year. Each song is unique and stands on its own, not befalling the problem of several tracks sounding the same, an issue that can often happen to musicians in the genre. Replacing some sampling with live instrumentation only adds to the songs, providing more depth and energy. At 25, she shows immense talent, and I’m really looking forward to what her next release gives us.


Honorable Mentions:

“Crushing” - Julia Jacklin • “Pony” - Orville Peck • “Remind Me Tomorrow” - Sharon Van Etten • “Blood” - Kelsey Lu • “Jimmy Lee” - Raphael Saadiq • “Jaime” - Brittany Howard • “Green Balloon” - Tank & the Bangas




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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year

Topics: best of 2019

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