Burt and Button’s Favorite Albums of 2019


(Graphic by David Onwukeme | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Kate Button and Oakley Burt


For a playlist featuring the albums listed in this article, click here. For more music recommendations from the Daily Utah Chronicle, click here.

As 2019 comes to an end, it’s time to look back on the albums that defined the year — including our personal favorites. We’re both die-hard music fans, and we’re always counting down the days until new music is released. With over 600 albums released this year, here are our personal top five favorites.


Burt’s Favorites

Ariana Grande performs on the “Dangerous Woman” tour (Courtesy Flickr)

5. “Thank U, Next” by Ariana Grande

In the aftermath of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller’s death and a called-off engagement to Pete Davidson, Ariana Grande spent two weeks writing and recording “Thank U, Next.” This iconic album is a celebration of healing and growth as a woman and newfound confidence as an artist. I may not have been much of a fan before, but this album certainly changed that. Over 12 songs, Grande focuses on lust, love and pain — blending pop, hip-hop and trap genres to create her boldest album yet. It feels authentic, beautifully self-expressive and relatable. I’m looking forward to what Grande will produce next. 


4. “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go” by Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish’s debut album was the most unexpected album I listened to this year. At 17, Eilish, along with her brother Finneas O’Connell, has produced a downright gothic, eccentric and at times creepy album — and I love it. I was instantly drawn to the darker content in this album — inspired by her nightmares and lucid dreams, it’s full of blood, gore, demons and addiction while simultaneously touching on the teenage experience. Eilish comes across as irreverent and angsty, but it’s just a front for fears of those close to her leaving or dying. With this album, she has cemented herself as a rising pop star with a bright future ahead. 


3. “Igor” by Tyler, The Creator

I’ve been a fan of Tyler, The Creator since the days of his hip hop collective Odd Future. Throughout the years, I’ve watched him evolve from rapping about rape and murder to producing more sincere and self-reflective work. “Igor” is his most emotionally expressive album, and my favorite one. On “Igor,” Tyler is grappling with the demise of a relationship and a rollercoaster of emotions consuming him. It’s not a typical breakup album using slow-moving instrumental melodies — instead “Igor” is Tyler’s idea of what relationships sound like. He explores the messiness of love, anger, anxiety and sadness over 12 tracks that are synth-heavy, psychedelic and electrically charged.


2. “Fine Line” by Harry Styles

Harry Styles performs in Nashville. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

It may be odd to include this album since it just came out, but it’s one of my favorite and arguably best albums of the year. With “Fine Line,” Styles has found his niche in the ’70s era, crafting his sound from amazing artists like David Bowie, John Lennon, Fleetwood Mac and Joni Mitchell — some of my favorite artists. It’s got that fun, hippie Laurel Canyon vibe sprinkled in, but it will break your heart in two as the album revolves around Styles’ latest breakup. He doesn’t hold back his emotions this time around — he tackles his romantic grief and shortcomings as a partner, finding clarity in the end. This album shows his growth and maturity as an artist, and I, for one, am excited for more “Fine Line” listening in 2020. 


1. “Norman F*****g Rockwell!” Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey’s sixth studio album “Norman F*****g Rockwell!” takes home the award for my favorite album of the year. “NFR!” is Del Rey’s best album yet, showcasing her ability to adapt to the ever-changing music industry. With “NFR!” her growth as a songwriter is clear, as she pens complex lyrics discussing modern societal issues while weaving in the past through references of The Beach Boys, Laurel Canyon and classic ’60s Hollywood. It was her nostalgic references that made me fall in love with the album. Listening to it is a cinematic experience that leaves me feeling as though I have been transported to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood every time. It’s a beautifully crafted album that deserves the Grammy for Album of the Year.


Button’s Favorites

5. “Nothing Happens” by Wallows

“Nothing Happens,” the debut album of the Los Angeles-based indie rock group Wallows, features punchy, carefree and light tracks that almost mask the deeper emotional significance. While the instrumentals offer an avenue of escape through California-esque chord progressions and upbeat nature, the muted vocals call attention to heartbreak, loneliness and a confrontation of adulthood. After the release of this album in March, I frequently found myself returning to this album, and I often put “Remember When” in my Spotify queue. Offering a take at nostalgia, this song captures the air surrounding a relationship that has since run its course. Overall, “Nothing Happens” is a successful debut album that showcases a unique blend of bedroom pop, California rock and indie punk. 


4. “Apollo XXI” by Steve Lacy

For the second debut album on this list, “Apollo XXI” represents Steve Lacy’s first full-length album as a solo artist. The creation of a debut album allowed this alternative R&B artist to both explore and confront themes of love and sexuality. The nine minutes of “Like Me” are necessary to showcase Lacy’s anxieties surrounding coming out as bisexual. Immediately followed by “Playground” in the album’s tracklist, Lacy effortlessly moves between introspection and more lighthearted pop-funk. Near the conclusion of the album, “Love 2 Fast” solidifies the album’s discourse on modern love and young angst — after all, Lacy is barely 21, yet he provides remarkably relatable and honest lyrics that only gain more impact through captivating guitar licks and lo-fi hip-hop beats.


3. “Lately EP” by Still Woozy

Yes, this is a list of my favorite albums, but I am a staunch supporter of EPs, and I believe they can almost be just as significant as full-length albums in an artist’s growth and in a complete discography. Still Woozy’s “Lately EP” is just one example of an extremely successful EP, and even with just five tracks, Sven Gamsky’s combinations of acoustic and electric elements captivate his strong songwriting skills alongside intricately layered and enchanting production elements. Solely from garage recordings, the “Lately EP” invites listeners into Gamsky’s discourses on relationships that lean into dreamland. From the haze of sitting out in the sun for too long in “Ipanema” to the carefree road trip of “Foolsong,” Still Woozy’s EP demonstrates an elegant approach to music that provides an escape from the stressors of everyday life.  


2. “LLC (4-Track Demos)” by Deal Casino

Deal Casino performs at Champagne Jam in 2018. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

In March, I went to a concert at Kilby Court — one of my favorite SLC venues — and one of the opening acts happened to be Deal Casino, an independent alternative rock band from Asbury Park, NJ. From the first song they played, I knew I had to listen more, and the demo version of their “LLC” album released in April was incredibly groundbreaking. With the stripped-down version of the “LLC” album from 2018, the bass and guitar elements feel more authentic and the lyrics stand out and demand attention from the listener. The demo version of “French Blonde” is my favorite song from 2019, and the Deal Casino cover of The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” feels refreshing despite a more heartbroken tone.  I’m also a sucker for album demos and stripped-down tracks, so this album truly hit home. From a “drop of bleach in the waterlines” to people who “cuff their jeans even though it’s getting cold,” Deal Casino offers an enchanting and unique view on everyday life through the filter of brutally honest lyrics and irresistible hooks. 


1. “Social Cues” by Cage the Elephant

Now, as my choice for top favorite album of the year, I had to stay true to my heart as I chose the 2019 release from my favorite band. Given the fact that I embarked on an eight-hour-long road trip to see Cage the Elephant play live in Denver, and since I could probably talk as long — if not longer — analyzing their discography, “Social Cues” felt like a fitting choice. Complete with a track featuring Beck—another one of my all-time favorite artists — this work from Cage the Elephant harkens back to some of their more grunge and alternative rock elements, but the album simultaneously explores new and more gentle themes as the tracklist confronts love and loss. Between the explosive and gritty opening of “Broken Boy” to the apologetic and forgiving closing with “Goodbye,” the album offers a transformative listening experience. At the album’s midpoint, “Ready to Let Go” feels the most similar to the iconic Cage the Elephant sound I’ve grown to expect, but the album’s experimentation and willingness to explore influences from other genres — mainly blues, jazz and R&B — is exciting. As a whole, “Social Cues” provides a cohesive experience that simultaneously flows through the various stages of relationships as it experiments with new genres. In the context of 2019, I can’t think of a more fitting album for the sheer madness that surrounded the year. 


From both of our lists of favorite albums, it is clear to see that 2019 was an incredible year for music. From major artists and record labels to the smaller breakout independent musicians, this year featured amazing new works that allowed us to explore emerging genres while also returning to old favorites. From the hundreds of albums that were written, produced and released this year, our list of 10 favorites merely scratches the surface. But we hope that through our top picks you can find some new artists or albums to add to your listening lists. Cheers to 2019, and we can’t wait to see what 2020 holds in store!


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