Dallas Musicians and Music Critics Tell Us Their Favorite Releases of 2019

Acid Carousel's Another Everything was one of writer Daniel Rodrigue's choices for top album of 2019.
Acid Carousel's Another Everything was one of writer Daniel Rodrigue's choices for top album of 2019. Exploredinary

We’re just mere days from bidding this year and decade adieu. It’s tempting to prematurely publish a "Best Albums of 2019" list at the end of November or beginning of December, but every once in a while, some quality releases are missed because they are released right at the cusp of the new year. Bad Bunny’s X100Pre dropped on Christmas Eve last year, and three days prior was the release of 21 Savage’s I Am > I Was. As you can probably imagine, these albums weren’t included on the lists of music publications like Pitchfork or AV Club.

As for us? Well, this seems like the most appropriate time to drop such lists. And rather than creating one list that speaks for the publication, it seems even more appropriate to aggregate the “Best of 2019” lists of various tastemakers in town. So we did just that.

Daniel Rodrigue, writer

Acid Carousel – Another Everything
After 2017’s album Higher Than the Beatles! told fans all they needed to know about the Denton psych-rock outfit, Another Everything proved an even more ambitious introduction to the band’s evolving sound as the 21-track double-LP concept album that unfolds as a two-part psych-rock opera isn’t afraid to conjure and then channel Acid Carousel’s influences.

Angel Du$t – Pretty Buff
Baltimore hardcore punk rockers confused a lot of fans when the group seemingly mellowed out, (mostly) unplugged and turned more power pop than punk pop or punk rock. But forget the genre tags, because the album’s a fun listen that’s unapologetically catchy and finds Angel Du$t back with more accessible singalong-able vocals accompanied by acoustic jingle-jangle strums or a soaring saxophone, creating a fresh new sound for them that seems straight out of a college radio station in the ‘90s.

Black Taffy – Elder Mantis
I wish I had this back in college. Donovan Jones crafted a beautiful, atmospheric album that spins worlds to life in the listener’s mind, like a Fantasia for the ears. Every drum beat, harp string, pop or crackle seems as if orchestrated by an occult hand conjuring new sonic worlds to life.

John Calvin Abney – Safe Passage
It’s John Calvin Abney’s warm voice and sincere delivery paired with his unique lyrical sensibilities that’ll warm all but the most cynical of critics' hearts, and with Safe Passage he’s delivered a remarkable album sure to win over more fans and critics alike.

E.B. the Younger – To Each His Own
Both sides of this platter have been on the turntable a lot this year, as Eric Pulido (of Midlake and supergroup BNQT) recorded his debut solo album, which was released under his enigmatic alias E.B. the Younger.

clipping. – There Existed an Addiction to Blood
After hearing “Blood of the Fang” on KUZU weeks after its release, I ended up devouring the intense listen that is “There Existed An Addiction to Blood.” The Sub Pop-signed experimental/industrial hip-hop act returns with a their third full-length, and like past releases, the skillfully crafted and delivered lyrics by frontman Daveed Diggs take the listener to some dark corners of reality.

Danny Brown – uknowwhatimsayin¿
Danny Brown’s fifth full-length packs singles “Dirty Laundry,” “Best Life” and then there’s “3 Tearz” featuring Run the Jewels, just one of a few noteworthy guest spots on the album.

Pinkish Black – Concept Unification
As Daron Beck and Jon Teague return with the pair’s fourth, and finest, album, the Fort Worth-based duo continue to chart new ground with inimitable heavy psychedelic-drone-doom metal tracks that defy easy genre labeling.

Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains

I recommend listening to the album before you finish reading this. Writer, poet and singer-songwriter David Berman delivered some of his most memorable heartbreaking tracks, releasing "All My Happiness Is Gone," "Darkness and Cold," “I Loved Being My Mother’s Son” and "Margaritas at the Mall" less than a month prior to taking his own life at 52.

Torche – Admission
After 15 years, and a recent lineup change-up, Torche returned with their shoegaze-y brand of stoner-sludge-doom metal to seemingly unanimous positive reviews. “Admission” seemed destined to please longtime fans, while garnering Torche a slew of new ones.

Local Pick: Lorelei K – Lightbender  and The Bralettes – Cheers!

The intimate “diary” album by Lorelei K, the experimental pop alter ego of Denton’s Dahlia Knowles, works because you can hear the raw lightning-in-a-bottle emotion captured on the tracks.

Thanks to the Oak Cliff trio’s catchy brand of bubblegum punk and the memorable tracks on Cheers! The Bralettes just won a Dallas Observer Music Award for Best Pop Act. Paulina Costilla (guitars and vocals) backed by drummer Andy Cantu and bassist Molly Hernandez know how to write catchy ear worms that leave their fans wanting more.
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Jack White shows another side of his art with The Raconteurs. The band's album Help Us Stranger was picked by writer Roderick Pullum as one of the year's best.
Mike Brooks

Roderick Pullum, writer

The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger
The perpetual Midas touch of rock music icon Jack White continues on his latest collaborative project Help Us Stranger. "Thoughts and Prayers" has been in my listening rotation the most. However, "Bored and Razed" is worthy of being skipped — and I've done so each time I've listened to this album.

Tyler the Creator – IGOR
The career arch of Odd Future co-founder Tyler the Creator has been a pleasure to witness. With Igor, he managed to create an ambitious symphony of alternative hip-hop proving yet again that conformity is not a prerequisite to succeed as a musician. Igor is for this decade what Andre 3000's Love Below was for the aughts and it should be recognized as one of the best albums released in the last 10 years regardless of genre.

Freddie Gibbs and Madlib – Bandana

Bandana is a rap-ballad filled with gritty, authentic street tales that speak to the soul of the Gary, Indiana, neighborhoods where Gibbs grew up. Providing instrumentals for this album was Gibbs' frequent collaborator Madlib and, as usual, the result was quality hip-hop.

Kanye West – Jesus is King
The widespread criticism of this album made for one of those times when the internet and all of its outrage mongers perched on virtual soapboxes needed to shut the hell up. Jesus is King was another genius musical offering from Mr. West and if you really understand his work then you know this was simply an extension of the type of music Kanye has always made. All praises be to the Chi-Town savior Yeezus Ye Saint - Pablo The Great.

J. Cole – Revenge of the Dreamers III
Within hip-hop culture rap crews speak ad-nauseam about how their team is creating a "movement." The sonics and lyrical performances featured on Revenge of the Dreamers III sets a standard for what a true movement sounds like. Track after track, listeners are pleasantly bombarded with exceptional verses and production. It's a testament to J. Cole's continued growth and influence. Rapper JID shines among his peers and the album features the radio hit "Middle Child."

Anderson .Paak – Ventura
One of the best things about modern day urban music is the freedom artists have to display their talents as lyricists through rap and as vocalists via R&B. Anderson .Paak is one of the best all-around talents within both genres and Ventura is a soulful odyssey that helps to solidify his status as such.

Solange – When I Get Home
Solange dove deep into her creative bag to make this beautiful construct of abstract melodies and hypnotic vocals. When I Get Home is urban psychedelic music, built with pure R&B as its foundation — adorned with classic elements of Houston's signature chopped & screwed hip-hop sound. While her older sister Beyoncé reigns supreme as a global icon, Solange has blazed her own path and achieved individual success. She emits — dare I say — a Badu-like matriarchal aura that represents the essence of Houston.

Gary Clark Jr. – This Land
Austin native Gary Clark Jr. is widely considered one of, if not, the best guitarist alive. The volatile political climate and racial tension in America was at the heart of what inspired his latest album This Land. Clark Jr. harnessed those feelings of unrest and created a 17-track album that fulfilled his desire for musical activism without sacrificing quality. Whether you're liberal, conservative or indifferent This Land provides a listening experience anyone can enjoy.

2Chainz – Rap or Go to the League
Tauheed Epps, the rapper better known as 2 Chainz, formerly known as Tity Boi, was also a former high school basketball star whose talents earned him a scholarship to Alabama State University. Similarities exist between the artistry and culture that drives hip-hop and the sport of basketball. 2 Chainz utilized his experience in both worlds as inspiration for this album.

ScHoolboy Q – CrasH Talk
Dark, ominous tones, trunk-rattling bass, grimy west coast trap music — with lyrics and clever wordplay to satisfy the palette of any East Coast hip-hop purist: That's what Schoolboy Q has always delivered from day one, and he achieves this again on CrasH Talk.

Local Pick: Rakim Al-Jabbaar – Underground God

The painstaking effort invested by Rakim Al-Jabbaar and executive producer Mousequake to create Underground God should not go without mention. Several iterations and mixes were brought forward and presented to a small circle of individuals within the DFW hip-hop community. All elements were debated and discussed in open-round table format before the duo decided what would be included in the final product. The introspective tone and vulnerability displayed by Al-Jabbaar on this album is a window for fans to learn about the events that shaped him as an artist. "Hometown Hero," "KOS," "The Lost Nazarene," "Way Up High," "Trill God," "Immortals" and "No Love" stand out on an album that can be consumed without skipping tracks. Underground God is an album that may take DFW hip-hop fans a while before they fully appreciate the greatness within, but ultimately it should be in the conversation as one of the best albums released by any musician from Dallas-Fort Worth.
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Apparently, Blink 182 was, and still is, pretty good.
Mike Brooks

Chelsey Norris, writer

Bayside – Interrobang
Bayside is one of my favorite bands, so it’s no surprise that their eighth studio album tops my list for releases this year. Each song on Interrobang showcases the band’s signature guitar-driven emo rock in all the best ways and proves that Bayside has earned their place among the best in the genre. I’ve had this one on repeat since October.

Grayscale – Nella Vita
Grayscale’s sophomore LP shows a marked transition from their raw pop-punk sound. The Philadelphia natives dug deep to explore heavy topics like addiction and suicide, resulting in a complex, mature and cohesive record.

Blink-182 – Nine
I can’t say that I was looking forward to this album being released, but it pleasantly surprised me. Despite the liberal use of auto-tune, we can see the vestiges of the real Blink-182 that we all know and love.

Songs That Saved My Life, Vol. 2 (various artists)
The second Songs The Saved My Life compilation highlights some of the biggest names in the scene right now, including Silverstein, Mayday Parade and State Champs, alongside some promising up-and-comers like Doll Skin, Sharptooth and With Confidence performing tracks from the '90s and early 2000s. And it’s all for a good cause too; Hopeless Records’ nonprofit organization Sub City, which has raised over $2.5 million for mental health and suicide prevention charities.

Point North – Retrograde
I discovered Point North earlier this year when I was covering As It Is’ Great Depression tour for the Observer. This marked the band’s first tour ever, which made their polished performance all the more impressive. “Gasoline” is the first single off their EP Retrograde, and I had it stuck in my head for weeks after that show.

I The Mighty – Unplugged

I The Mighty stripped down four of their most popular songs for Unplugged. “Pet Names” is a personal favorite, and the acoustic version on this record solidified that sentiment for me.

Selfish Things – Logos
The debut full-length release from Selfish Things was highly anticipated since the band has been around and touring since 2016, but had only teased fans with singles and EPs. Logos is an impressive debut, featuring DFW’s own Andy Leo (Crown the Empire), Underoath’s Spencer Chamberlain and William Ryan Key (formerly of Yellowcard).

Emarosa – Peach Club
Emarosa used to be hardcore or “screamo,” if you will, back in the day, but you would never know that after listening to their sixth studio album. Peach Club is the culmination of a transition that’s been building over several years and lineup changes, but I am here for it. “Cautious” is my personal favorite, but every single track will have you singing along.

Seaway – Fresh Produce
Fresh Produce delivered a mixed bag for fans of the Canadian pop-punkers. It includes a handful of new songs among reimagined versions of their most popular tracks, including “Lula on the Beach,” as well as a couple of covers, each one more fun than the last.

Our Last Night – Let Light Overcome
Our Last Night got their start on YouTube, where they posted metal-inspired covers of popular songs, most notably Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” But the band’s original material is great in its own right, which they prove with their fifth studio album. I recommend checking out “Demons” and “Bury the Hatchet.”

Local Pick: Mother Freud – Mother Freud
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Kelly Dearmore's local pick of the year goes to the Ottoman Turks.
Alex Mayes

Kelly Dearmore, writer

Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow

Released early in the year, Van Etten's latest contains what is perhaps my co-favorite song of the year in "Seventeen."

Chris Knight – Almost Daylight
This is what a grizzled Kentucky farmer sounds like after a fifth of bourbon and a night spent reading Larry Brown and Walt Whitman.

Raphael Saadiq – Jimmy Lee
With his most autobiographical album yet, Saadiq proves no one does full-band soul better than he does.

Mike and the Moonrise – Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold

The Austin-based honky-tonk crew recorded this in London's famed Abbey Road studio with members of the London Symphony for the year's most lush, ambitious Texas country record.

Sturgill Simpson –
Sound and Fury
Simpson once said his twangy Waylon Jennings-esque voice meant anything he would ever sing would sound like country music, but this scuzzy psych-rock explosion proves otherwise.

Charly Bliss – Young Enough
If Charly Bliss had been around in the '90s, the Eva Hendricks-led band would be every bit as dominant as Garbage and No Doubt were with their own unique spins on radio-ready alt-rock.

Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center

Indie warbler prince Conor Oberst can be pretty polarizing, but we can all agree on how much better Phoebe Bridgers makes anything she's involved with. This addictive record has my other co-favorite song of the year in "Dylan Thomas."

Randy Rogers Band – Hellbent
Sometimes being reliable can easily lead to being a tad predictable. After a couple of decades, the Randy Rogers band continue to mix things up and prove why there's no better country band from Texas with its Tom Petty-loving latest record.

Russian Circles – Blood Year
While other post-rock and post-metal bands land higher on festival posters, Chicago's Russian Circles just keeps churning out one cinematically majestic, ear-pounding album after another.

Anderson .Paak – Ventura
Never predictable, always engaging and imminently challenging, .Paak's live band vibes breathe a singular life force into every song in a way simply no other current star in hip-hop can.

Local Pick: Ottoman Turks – Ottoman Turks

Prior to finally releasing its debut record, the Ottoman Turks had been together for many years and had almost broken up at least once. It's a great thing the Nathan Mongol Wells-led outfit didn't call it quits. The album is a killer representation of the group's high-energy twang punk style and it serves as a forever moment of what the band does best — tearing shit up.
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Angel Olsen is probably smiling because Sean Kirkpatrick loves her album.
Mike Brooks

Sean Kirkpatrick (musician, Nervous Curtains)

billy woods – Hiding Places
Over Kenny Segal’s spacious and animated beats, New York underground MC Billy Woods navigates an absurdist tour of late capitalist dread through the post-colonial, war-ravaged ruins while Public Enemy’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” is referenced and repurposed as a denial of treatment from your crappy health insurer.

Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains
While his music is a longtime companion to my darker days, David Berman’s death by suicide and the loss of multiple friends made Berman’s swan song a beautiful and darkly comic album of mourning in 2019; “Margaritas at the Mall” is the ultimate metaphor for the meaninglessness of existence.

Budos Band – V

The masters of instrumental Afro-funk have now fully assimilated '70s hard rock into their repertoire; V is a victory lap of infectious horns and undeniable rhythm tracks.

RAKTA – Falha Comum
Two women lead echo-drenched chants and screams over hypnotic post-punk krautrock that conjures magic and upheaval in the turbulent country of Brazil, where clown-fascist Jair Bolsanaro presides over extrajudicial murder and the burning of the Amazon.

INTER ARMA – Sulphur English
Inter Arma is possibly the only worthy heir to the throne of Neurosis, and this masterpiece weaves doom, death metal, psychedelia, folk, and classic rock into the band's most brutal and beautiful opus yet.

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana
These two are hitting unbelievable career peaks, and it’s a gift from the gods of hip-hop to have them teaming up and bringing along Killer Mike, Pusha T and Anderson .Paak for features.

Big Brave – A Gaze Among Them
I saw Big Brave open for Sunn O))) at Granada and I was mesmerized by the heavy guitar drones and spellbinding drums and vocals. This record didn’t leave my turntable for weeks after that show.

Combo Chimbita – Ahomale
Thanks to Bandcamp’s impeccable, non-PR-influenced editorial coverage, I discovered artists from numerous genres and countries of origin this year. This group mixes cumbia, dub, electronics and psych rock, and Dallas was lucky enough to get a fiery show from them at RBC.

Snapped Ankles – Stunning Luxury
Another Bandcamp discovery, this band of London dance punks with homemade synthesizers and scrappy guitars pose as expensively-dressed property developers to infiltrate enemy ranks and save their artist warehouse district from gentrification.

Angel Olsen – All Mirrors
I've been a fan of her last few albums, but now she's bringing the goth drama to her amazing songs and vocals with these soaring Scott Walker strings and dark synths.

Local Pick: Black Taffy – Elder Mantis

New age tape harps warble and hiss with gauzy cinema strings over chopped and screwed beats and deep bass vibrations; Donovan Jones and producer Alex Bhore create one of the most original and inviting sounds, not just locally, but anywhere.
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Lorelei K's new album is not only Ava Boehme's local pick, but a top-10 pick, period.
Armand Kohandani

Ava Boehme (musician, Starfruit)

Blood Orange – Angel’s Pulse
I listened to this mixtape at least five times the day it came out. Dev Hynes is a true great.

Caroline Polachek – Pang

Immaculate control of her voice; superhuman, and the songs pop off.

Solange – When I Get Home

A self-proclaimed world creator, she did just that with this album/film.

Lily & Horn Horse & Banny Grove –
4 Partners Road
 A song split between two innovative pop duos from opposite coasts. Tender melodies and lyrics, with such unabashed honesty and playfulness.

William Austin Clay – Return to Pop Island

Punchy prog pop self-care dance jams for the greater good.

Lily & Horn Horse – Graviton Driver Demo
They’re so good, it makes me mad. This isn’t an official release yet — they were selling burned CDs on tour — but it’s so good I had to talk about it.

100 gecs – 1000 gecs

It’s like if SOPHIE produced Sum 41, or if she hijacked their consciousnesses and made them into fucking awesome cyborgs who then downloaded all pop music of the millennium so far and spit it out into one 23-minute album.

Reliant K2 – Reliant K2

These song are hazardously angular and hit hard as fuck, fronted by a vicious trans femme. I played at their album release/farewell show and literally couldn’t see them play because of the amount of people who came to see them. The mosh pit looked fun from the internet though.

Lorelei K – Lightbender
One of the most powerful artists in North Texas, and my dear friend. I’m proud to have sung on a few of these songs. This album plays like a fairy tale and weighs a ton, definitely my favorite local release this year.

Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
"Titanic" is such a perfect word to represent the sound of this album. It’s so big, with the feeling of being lost in a sea.

Local Pick: Lorelei K – Lightbender
DJ Wanz Dover is one of the tastemakers looking back at the year in music.
Jason Janik

Wanz Dover (musician, Blixaboy)

Animistic Beliefs – Mindset:Reset
Exploring equal parts electro and cold wave-ish aesthetic, Animistic Beliefs make a huge splash with their dazzling debut long player. It’s raw, refined and cyberpunk all at the same time.

Moodymann – Sinner

One of epicenters of Detroit house music blessed us with a new album continuing to straddle the line between house music, R&B, and funk. It works perfectly  in any of those noted genres. Moodymann gets extra points for the most clever use of a Prince sample in song that is recognizable and still too short to get him trouble.

Rod Modell – Captagon
Modell has made his mar over the years with his blissed-out dub techno excursions with Deepchord and Echospace. For his latest effort, under his own name, he merges that bliss with 140-plus rave stylings. The result are bangers that work just as well on a raging dance floor as in the chill out room. He turns typical rave tropes on their heads with conflicting elements of tempo and bliss.

Plant43 – Three Dimensions

If robots had a poetic soul, they might sound like the latest effort from the always consistent Plant43. Another entry into his catalog of some of the finest electro being made today.

ERP – Ex Moon
ERP, aka Convextion, returns with a new album of perfectly crafted electro that manages to still dwell within deeper romantic territories, but with a bit more straight up 808 fueled punch. If Cocteau Twins made instrumental electro funk it might sound like this — and that is a good thing.

Ellen Allien – Allientronic
Ellen has gone through a lot of phases in her albums over the years— swirling from the club to the indie pop. On her latest effort she asserts her dominance as the "Queen of Berlin Techno" with a collection of tunes that are perfect late-night dance floor fodder, which still work as a concept album in its own right. Her best album in a long line of great albums from sizable discography.

Hieroglyphic Being – Synth Expressionism/Rhythmic Cubism

If Sun Ra or Albert Ayler had opted to take on techno instead of jazz it might sound like this album: The sound of computer generated avant-garde jazz excursions; robotic in nature, but with a very human soul.

808 State – Transmission Suite
808 State pulled of a hat trick with their first album album in over a decade by mining the analog fueled ground they pioneered in the early '90s to create something wholly new, different and forward-thinking and exploring every flavor from electro, breakbeat techno, proto-industrial — and a few genderless concoctions. Truly inspiring to hear these guys closing out four decades of electronic music on this high of a note.

Karenn – Grapefruit Regret
After a decade of leading the charge for modern-age after-hours analog live techno, Karenn have finally delivered their first full-length album. Slightly more refined and tempo-varied than their string of rough and ready 12 inches, the album has no shortage of late-night beaters with industrial grit and techno subversion.

Nomadico – Gentefication
In an era of gentrified techno flooding the beatport charts, the latest effort from Underground Resistance's protege plants a flag for techno authenticity. The raw-funky-soulful sound of Detroit is infused in the DNA of this album. At the same time, every track explores a different take without sacrificing the cohesion of the whole.

Local Pick: Cygnus – Machine Funk
Dallas' very own electro prodigy came back with his eighth full-length album (not counting his eight EPs), Machine Funk, on the seminal Spanish label Fundamental; an imaginary soundtrack to the Barry Windsor Smith's Machine Man four-issue limited series from the early '80s. Much like his subject matter, Cygnus is more than just a machine. Over the course of this three-vinyl excursion, Cygnus explores the inner soul of robot music, bringing an organic quality to music that is inherently not human. The release is unfortunately vinyl and import only.
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Garrett Gravley was born and grew up in Dallas. He mostly writes about music, but veers into arts and culture, local news and politics. He is a graduate of the University of North Texas and has written for the Dallas Observer since October 2018.