Best albums of 2019: Mike Usinger tags Big Thief, Higher Brothers, Lana Del Rey, Wormwitch, and Billie Eilish

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      Dear iPod Classic 160GB with the clickwheel: I am profoundly sorry for almost totally abandoning you this past 12 months. According to my Apple Music account metrics for 2019, this is what I was listening to on the iPhone X while you were gathering dust on top of the fridge.

      When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

      Imagine being a teenager in 2019, a time when the world is a shit-blizzard of right-wing lunacy, devastating climate change, and being entirely unable to get over the 30-followers hump on Instagram. It’s no shocker that Billie Eilish has become the patron saint of disaffected youth around the globe, her subterranean electro-pop suggesting that there’s nothing wrong with being vaguely terrified and endlessly traumatized by life.


      At his recent Conversation With show at New Westminster’s Massey Theatre, Nick Cave told the audience that, in this phase of his career, every new record is so different that fans need to decide if they still love his work. As an exorcism of the grief and the demons that enveloped him after the accidental death of his son in 2015, Ghosteen isn’t an easy record to unpack—until, that is, one accepts the idea that sometimes there’s deep beauty in unimaginable tragedy.


      With the departure of long-time collaborators Joshua Wells and Amber Webber, Stephen McBean went into Destroyer with the challenge of not only preserving Black Mountain’s legacy, but building on it. Trippy, heavy, and ambitious in the most fantastically retro of ways, this double-fuzzed triumph makes a good case that Black Mountain 2.0 is the most unlikely of beasts: an upgrade.

      Help Us Stranger

      After a decadelong hiatus, the Raconteurs return to action with a record that’s all red-line bombast and turbo-charged rawness. Along with often underrated singer-guitarist Brendan Benson, modern-day icon Jack White serves notice that, despite all evidence to the contrary, rock ’n’ roll isn’t as dead as it sometimes seems.

      Norman Fucking Rockwell!

      There was no better opening to a record this year than the title track’s piano-and-cinematic-strings-accompanied “Goddamn man-child/You fucked me so good that I almost said ‘I love you.’ ” Impossibly, that was just the start of the brilliance on Norman Fucking Rockwell!, a record that announced Del Rey as a superstar who’s every bit as complicated as the times we live in. Hands down the greatest record of the year.

      Satis Factory

      Mattiel has roots in grime-dipped garage rawk, but her brilliance is in the way she’s able to transcend the limitations of the genre. Satis Factory leaves you wondering who she’s more enamoured with: the White Stripes, the Rolling Stones, Nancy Sinatra, or the Velvet Underground, with the probable answer a four-way tie for first.

      Five Stars

      Coming straight outta China, where exercising one’s freedom of speech can be a life-threatening decision, the Higher Brothers boldly embrace 21st-century American hip-hop and then warp it into their own new and shiny thing. As a window onto a culture most westerners never see, it’s fascinating. As a banger, it’s essential.

      Heaven That Dwells Within

      Had Wormwitch come together in a more traditional metal stronghold—the Bay Area, Sheffield, or Finnish church country—the Vancouver three-piece would currently be a with-a-bullet contender for world domination. Majestic as the Final Fantasy guitar wizardry, spawn-of-Tolkien lyrics, and black-mass choir flourishes might be, Heaven That Dwells Within’s major power is its unswerving devotion to undiluted old-school black-, death-, and punk-edged steel. Horns up.

      U.F.O.F./Two Hands

      After putting out an instant Top 10 shoo-in at the beginning of the year with U.F.O.F., Big Thief promptly doubled down in the fall with Two Hands, both records swinging from lazy-river country to Texas-sunset psych to dissonant no-wave. When you make your best-of-this-year mix tape, start with “Not” and finish things off with “Cattails”, both of which prove that, despite all evidence to the contrary, 2019 really wasn’t that bad.