The Best Music of 2019: An Introduction


Well, hello again! Welcome to my 20th annual blog extravaganza where I do a deep dive into the best music I encountered in the past year.

It’s not exactly fashionable to claim the past year has been great, as people seem to prefer the performative misery of how their life sucks for whatever reason, trite or serious, but I am happy to declare that my 2019 was the BEST. The wedding went off without a hitch, and it was exactly the party my wife and I wanted. We had a lovely honeymoon too, staying a few days at the Drake Hotel on Queen West in Toronto, where we had stayed a few years earlier for the Polaris Music Prize gala. Toronto has really grown on me over the past decade (though I’ll never be a Leafs fan, no matter what!) so every time we visit it feels comfier. It was an unusual choice for a honeymoon – we were met with more than a few dumbfounded expressions when we said where we were going – but that’s us, we prefer to do our own thing and not follow the herd.

Professionally things are cruising along: I have a good workplace with fabulous benefits, plus there is a very good chance my wife and I will be able to do some serious traveling in 2020, which is very exciting. I’m still carefully managing my music journamalism workload, and I continue to be in a very good place. Along with my regular work at Decibel, this past summer I also wrote a very fun piece about the history of Canadian heavy metal for the CBC. I always try to do at least one substantial piece every year, and this one was extremely rewarding.

One significant change I made in 2019 was to start edging away from Twitter. I was able to use Twitter as a tool to not only engage with people but to advance my writing career, but the more the platform evolved, the more people’s behaviour evolved, and by 2015 it became my worst anxiety and panic trigger. Before I knew it, my politeness would devolve into snark, which would devolve into rudeness. Not cool, and definitely not a reflection of me in real life. I still use it to follow current events, but I must be ultra careful to not get sucked into that information silo, all that toxicity. I will reply to the odd comment, but I have refrained from posting any actual content of my own. I hope to keep that up, but I haven’t decided whether I will plug this blog on Twitter.

As for the music of 2019, this was seriously the best year for new music I have encountered in many years. My top 20 is extremely strong from top to bottom, and it took me ages to figure out what I felt was the very best of a super impressive list. As for live music, I am seeing far fewer metal concerts, partially because the ones I wanted to see (Ghost, Amorphis, Amon Amarth, Sabaton, Cannibal Corpse) have all skipped my city. Part of it is economics, as bands don’t want to spend the money crossing the Canadian prairies, part of it is bands outgrowing the 1,000 capacity venues and my city’s lack of a larger hall that isn’t a hockey arena, and part of it is the market in this city, which isn’t exactly a metal hotbed. Still, I saw loads of great shows, the best of which was Iron Maiden in Edmonton. It was the best-staged concert I have ever seen, the best Maiden show I have ever seen an absolute bucket list show that I was so grateful to share with my wife, who had never seen the band before (she left thoroughly impressed). It was great seeing Monster Truck for the umpteenth time, Alice in Chains for the first time (so great!), Metric with July Talk, Volbeat with Godsmack, my beloved Judas Priest, Blue Oyster Cult (a show for the aged, for the ages), The Roots, Def Leppard, Five Alarm Funk, Rob Zombie with Marilyn Manson, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sleep, Pup with Charly Bliss. Now that’s a good year’s worth of live music!

As per usual, the format for this year-end countdown remains unchanged since 2001: two days of reissues/live albums/compilations, one day of new albums that deserve honourable mentions, and then the big top 20 albums and singles countdown, to be posted daily until December 24, when my Album of the Year and Single of the Year will be revealed. If I have enough energy, I will post a couple of Best-of-the-decade lists between xmas and New Year’s, one metal list and one all-genre list. I have a lot to say about metal in the 2010s, so I hope I can do it.

Lastly, I say this every year, and I sincerely mean it every time: if I introduce you to one new favourite record in the next few weeks, then I’ve done my job. This is the best time of the year, because I get to spend 24 days writing about music that I’m passionate about. I hope you enjoy it.

Impeach Trump. Yes to the carbon tax. No to pipelines. Death to fascism, the Catholic Church, white privilege, social conservatism, heteronormativity, patriarchies, and black metal. Go Habs. Up the Irons. Enjoy life.

My top ten albums of 2018:

  1. Ghost, Prequelle
  2. Christine and the Queens, Chris
  3. Sleep, The Sciences
  4. Robyn, Honey
  5. Gwenno, Le Kov
  6. Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth
  7. Hubert Lenoir, Darlène
  8. CHVRCHES, Love is Dead
  9. Voivod, The Wake
  10. Judas Priest, Firepower

Past albums of the year (uh, please bear in mind I was sixteen when I started this):

1986: Iron Maiden – Somewhere In Time
1987: Def Leppard – Hysteria
1988: Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime
1989: Voivod – Nothingface
1990: Megadeth – Rust In Peace, Led Zeppelin Box Set (tie)
1991: Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger
1992: R.E.M. – Automatic For The People
1993: Nirvana – In Utero
1994: Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
1995: Elastica – Elastica
1996: Pulp – Different Class
1997: Bob Dylan – Time Out Of Mind
1998: Monster Magnet – Powertrip
1999: Metallica – S & M
2000: Yo La Tengo – …And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out
2001: Bob Dylan – Love And Theft, The Langley Schools Music Project – Innocence & Despair (tie)
2002: The Streets – Original Pirate Material
2003: Manitoba – Up in Flames
2004: Arcade Fire – Funeral
2005: Opeth – Ghost Reveries
2006: Mastodon – Blood Mountain
2007: Alcest – Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde
2008: Fucked Up – The Chemistry of Common Life
2009: Fever Ray – Fever Ray
2010: Best Coast – Crazy For You
2011: Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
2012: Rush – Clockwork Angels
2013: Paramore – Paramore
2014: fka twigs – LP1
2015: Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls
2016: Kaytranada – 99.9%
2017: Zola Jesus – Okovi
2018: Ghost – Prequelle