The Kollection Presents: The 19 Best Albums of 2019
2019 was a stupendous year for all genres of music and for music that defies genre altogether.
The Kollection team prides itself on supporting music that we believe pushes culture forward. We also appreciate it when an artist successfully evolves and refines the sound that put them on our radar to begin with. After countless hours of discussion, intensive voting, and a series of danceability tests cross-referenced with emotions-felt-whilst-listening charts, we have landed on the 19 BEST albums of 2019.
Don’t skip out on any of these incredible listening experiences and we hope you enjoy the words from our team members that these albums spoke to the most.
The 19 Best Albums of 2019
19. Bon Iver, i,i
It’s mechanical, yet gentle. It’s robotic, yet deeply human. Bon Iver’s i,i is paradoxical, and it is beautiful. Combing electronic influences similar to those of his previous album, 22, A Million, with his highly emotive vocals, Bon Iver is sure of himself; his vocals ring with strength and sincerity. Lyrically, he is forthright and expressive, asserting himself with self-confidence and authenticity.
Bold and vulnerable, i,i humanizes electronic sounds in a way that heightens Bon Iver’s deeply emotional vocals. Electronics, instrumentals, and vocals melt together into perfect euphony, proving that the whole is greater than any of its individual parts. In an effortless melding of these three disparate forms, Bon Iver manifests the beauty in confliction. The strength and vulnerability that arise from this confliction encapsulate the perfect paradox of i,i. It is the musical equivalent of the quote, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” In his weakness, his sadness, and his struggle, Bon Iver found strength and certainty. Bon Iver reveals the oneness of his struggles and his strengths; he reveals his two, same selves, his i and his i.
18. slowthai, Nothing Great About Britain
slowthai could literally recite the entirety of the bible with his right hand over his heart and still find a way to radiate rebellion. He simply oozes controversy. He can’t help it.
More importantly, slowthai operates in a context where he can’t allow himself to stay in his place. Nothing Great About Britain offers a look into the mind of an intellectual youth facing existential crisis on the brink of Brexit, an event that we are still awaiting as of the release of this article. In addressing the faults of the country that made him, slowthai channels anti-establishment aesthetics of both UK grime and punk resulting in one of the most jarring and dynamic albums of the year.
Nothing Great About Britain feels coming-of-age as it marks the child of Northampton growing to understand the flaws around him in real-time. It’s coming-of-age in an era that’s tough to stomach. But slowthai’s slimy voice and menacing beats both convey and combat their context perfectly. He delivers cutting and off the wall flows that develop a powerful ambivalence to his home, one that was defined by his earlier rap and punk influences.
At just under an hour of filthy hymns of British back alleyways, this album isn’t for the faint of heart. Luckily for slowthai, he couldn’t be faint if he tried.
17. Lucky Daye, Painted
Lucky Daye’s Painted is one of the most prolific, realized R&B albums of the last 15 years. David Brown (aka Lucky Daye) and producer D’Mile together have managed to forge a project that encapsulates everything embodying contemporary pop/R&B while remaining commensurate with the highest degree of musicality.
In Painted, Daye takes you on a journey, painting his vision. With long but seemingly concise interludes, Daye leads the listener seamlessly into the next track subsequently going against the grain of streaming culture and keeping true to his artistry. The album is full of numerous changes in energy, touching on both melancholy and excited points in a relationship. As a listener, I found myself returning to different tracks on the album depending on my mood–something I value as a fundamental pillar of a really great album.
Lucky Daye & D’Mile’s vision has been recognized as one of the best projects of 2019 earning them four Grammy nominations: Best R&B Album, Best R&B Song, Best R&B Performance, & Best Traditional R&B Performance. We’ll let the music speak for itself.
16. RY X, Unfurl
It feels natural to note that RY X has been a traveling surfer since his youth. On this album, he continues to build a body of sound that deepens and expands into powerful orchestral crescendos that any human with a soft spot for the waves will be gladly lost in. The textured beats that carry stand out songs like “Foreign Tides” and “Bound” seem to dwell below the surface, propelling each track toward a rhythmic catharsis.
While RY’s haunting voice lays across the shimmering swells of his signature guitar, he muses, “With our eyes in salt / We can only find the meaning of a God laid open.” You can feel the honesty of a man whose music has taken him on a journey around the world, only to come full circle with piercing simplicity. They’re the sort of lyrics that make you want to be honest too, but mostly with yourself. In this way that only music can, Unfurl mirrors a resilient, surrendered faith back to the rest of us.
15. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, Bandana
Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s sophomore album together, Bandana, is a bold and eccentric record that plays to both artists’ strengths. Madlib’s trademark jazzy, off the wall production is uncompromising yet refined and controlled; Gibbs matches him with freight train-momentum on every track as he charges through the complex production with his signature wordy style. He elaborates on his Geary, Indiana roots, and connects it with the trials and tribulations that have marked his last few years. Together the juxtaposition between the west coast loop-digger production and the midwest gangster attitude creates a startlingly ominous mood.
Bandana is a perfect record for the modern-era. Gibbs is intelligent and thoughtful without the pretension that comes with contemporary ‘enlightened’ rap. Gibbs and Madlib seem to exist in a vacuum. A disdain for trend has defined both of their careers, and Bandana is a beautifully eerie masterclass in their originality.
14. Tourist, Everyday
Tourist’s sophomore album, Everyday, is a dreamy collection of soundscapes exploring how layered synth textures and chopped and seemingly nonsense vocal samples can nonetheless combine to evoke a clear emotional response in the listener. Though sometimes tinged with the same nostalgic melancholy as 2016’s U, the overall feeling of this follow-up is warm, comforting, and even hopeful. Artist William Phillips often borrows from the sounds of U, but here departs from its upbeat energy with work more suited to early morning or lazy afternoon contemplation than to dancing.
This isn’t to say that the album is entirely without that energy, as the standout track “Emily” builds into the kind of feel good groove that you’d expect to hear in a sunshine-filled festival set. Luckily for those who prefer the dancier side of Tourist, the prolific producer (who aspires to have a catalogue as deep as Fleetwood Mac) followed Everyday with his third LP, Wild, just 6 months later. We can’t wait to see what 2020 and beyond holds for the talented Englishman!
13. Dominik Eulberg, Mannigfaltig
German-born Dominik Eulberg is something of a legend in Europe, and his 2019 album Mannigfaltig is an elaborate testament to why. Eulberg’s versatility as a producer is on full display as he takes us through a range of moods, elaborately interweaving elements of techno, electronica, ambient, and more. It’s the kind of album that, while you might not fully “get it” the first time through (or the tenth), each listen will offer something new—whether the revelation of subtly sampled running water or a complete shift in a track’s meaning.
In the accompanying audio commentary, Eulberg explains his drive to create sonic expressions of the 12 animals and insects that each track is named after. As an avid ecologist and conservationist, he hopes to prompt the listener to consider nature and their surroundings as they journey through each creature’s existence. Ultimately, it’s this worthy cause and level of careful detail, emulating butterflies’ transformations and birds’ hunting habits, that elevates Eulberg to the creative tier of Four Tet or Bonobo, and Mannigfaltig to one of our top albums of 2019.
12. KAYTRANADA, Bubba
In a decade teeming with beats that often become monotonous, Canadian producer KAYTRANADA has managed to curate a unique sound – one that is instantly identifiable as his own. His attention to detail and percussion-focused rhythms have manifested a universe where R&B, soul, funk, and house music don’t just live together: they thrive. His sophomore-album BUBBA works to refine his creative spectrum; it focuses on mid-tempo grooves instead of festival set bangers. And that’s exactly the point – BUBBA deserves recognition as potential album of the year because it’s an enthralling experience from start to finish. KAYTRA cemented his individual vibe in an album that constantly screams at you to go dance, but still maintains an immense variety.
KAYTRA aimed to create a complete musical experience, one filled with seamless transitions, collaborative standouts, and steady synths. The whole album is reminiscent of an expertly curated DJ set, but the tracks are well-sequenced enough that they flow into each other while standing strong alone. “DO IT” opens with a mixture of bells and house grooves that, when combined, sound like what strolling down a Miami boulevard in 1986 might have felt like. The collaborations are vivid, with tracks like “Go DJ (ft. SiR)” enveloping his signature snapping percussion, while others such as “Gray Area (ft. Mick Jenkins)” bring an air of familiarity. “Culture (ft. Teedra Moses)” and “The Worst in Me (ft. Tinashe)” both mix smoothness with club groove and become perfect dancefloor songs. The latter, KAYTRA’s self-proclaimed favorite song on the record, demonstrates his ability to bring an energy of passion and emotion through the beat paralleled by his collaborator.
KAYTRA is capable of fusing sexy sounds with house tempos – a dangerously attractive combination. You can feel the mid-tempo, up-beat grooves right off the bat, but more importantly, you can feel KAYTRA’s confidence in BUBBA down to your core.
11. Floating Points, Crush
When looking back at the standout electronic albums of 2019, Floating Points‘ 12 track LP, Crush, is impossible to ignore. Sam Shepard is known for his intricate and thoughtful releases that explore beyond functional club music. This past June, Almost exactly two years after his last album, Shepard kicked off a slew of releases with a surprisingly drum-driven track “LesAlpx.” He followed up with the immensely club-worthy “Coorabell,” a track that didn’t make it onto the album, but got its own action this summer in the form of a secret weapon during Four Tet’s DJ sets. These new stripped-down, more explosive tracks came as a result of inspiration after opening for The xx on their 2017 tour. While Floating Points initially believed that he would be “playing music that was more melodic and slow-building,” the music he ended up playing was “some of the most obtuse and aggressive music [he’d] ever made.” After a period of only five weeks, Crush was complete, and it proved to be one of the more interesting albums released this year under the electronic umbrella. Many moments are somber and theatrical, like in the opening track “Falaise”, or during the haunting “Sea-Watch.” The album comes to life with “Last Bloom,” a melodic journey of staggering and bit-crushed breakbeats, as well as “Bias,” a relentless UK Garage stepper. Crush is turbulent and hypnotic, an album whose sound is flawlessly encapsulated by its artwork, which Shepard explained is actually a closeup shot of a soapy bubble vibrating to the frequencies of his Buchla synth. The album and its artwork are reflections of Floating Point’s surgeon-like attention to detail, which comes as less of a surprise when learning that he has a PhD in Neuroscience. Shepherd has a will to dive deep into his interests, this time diving deep enough to pull out the masterpiece that is Crush.
10. FKA twigs, MAGDALENE
FKA twigs is a fucking force of nature. With her latest album MAGDALENE, twigs confirms that she is pop’s reigning warrior and a truly meticulous creator. It’s impossible to distinguish the many artistic dimensions of twigs, as each form she takes informs the meaning of another. Have you ever seen a shimmering mermaid draw in a pirate with her delicate voice, then steal his clothes and swipe his sword? This is the energy of MAGDALENE and within it, twigs embodies everything at once.
In this layered landscape of glitchy beats and thrilling melodic escapades, twigs takes on a new form. She is still our alluring heroine, yet her power is in full focus and she’s demanding that you reckon with it. The gritty emotion unleashed in songs like “fallen alien” bares a ferocious vulnerability and, for a woman who wields a Chinese sword like it’s nothing, twigs’ heart is remarkably unsheathed. On songs like “mirrored heart” and the heartbreaking stand out “cellophane,” our beloved visionary reclaims pieces of herself in the rubble of a broken love. Twigs approaches pain and transformation like she’s already climbed the damn mountain — with relentless vigor, unabashed honesty and brilliant grace.
9. Jamila Woods, LEGACY! LEGACY!
On paper, a sophomore album in 2019 would appear to be quite the challenge for Jamila Woods. The year marked explosive rises of many talented female vocalists, plus her excellent 2017 debut HEAVN would be one tough act to follow up. But with her powerfully versatile voice and the help of twelve of her creative heroes, Jamila pulled it off and then some.
LEGACY! LEGACY! is an incredibly dynamic and encapsulating record that shows a prolific wordsmith delivering moving narratives from many different points of view. Each track is named after a creative inspiration of Woods, each an homage to a legend and its own vessel that carries her incredible voice. Throughout this beautifully self-aware project, Jamila celebrates, questions, brags, cries, and ponders, all with conviction.
It’s lazy to just call this an R&B album, as Jamila Woods’ profound words and complex instrumentals bring so much more than just some fun grooves. She brings meditations on race, politics, self-love, and what it means to be an artist. Jamila left the strongest impression on me with her opening and closing tracks, the latter being a poppy, house remix of the former. As she reprises the opening anthem to end her album, the track’s hook “I am not your typical girl. Throw away that picture in your head,” rings all the more true the second time around. Here Jamila reminds us just how striking her voice is, in case we somehow made the mistake of forgetting. From here on out, we know she’s here to stay.
8. Men I Trust, Oncle Jazz
Dream Pop trio Men I Trust’s third album came right when we needed it. After two release delays, the 24 track LP was released in September as a perfect way to cap off the summer. While eight of the songs were released as singles over the course of nearly three years, the album felt anything but stale. From the Mellotron flute solos of “Pierre” to the infectiously groovy instrumental “Slap-Pie,” the band proved they had more than a few tricks up their sleeve. Lead singer Emma Proulx’s gentle, breathy vocals are a proven weapon for the band, with standout performances on the acoustic “Pines,” and the all-around-hit “Show me How”.
While the lyrics can feel a bit naive at times, Emma could sing the ingredients of my shampoo bottle and it’d still be heavenly. What makes Oncle Jazz stand out is the band’s commitment to the smooth sound they’ve so perfectly crafted over the years. Clocking in at just over 70 minutes, the album proves that easy listening doesn’t always come from uninspired sources.
7. Anderson .Paak, Ventura
One of the hottest artists of the decade since his debut, Anderson .Paak’s 2019 outing further established his status as a modern-soul torchbearer. Rife with features from legendary acts like André 3000, Brandy, and a posthumous Nate Dogg, Ventura delivers warm sonic goodness from top to bottom. This is not to say he takes a backseat, however. In some cases, Paak outshines even his most prodigious features with the smooth, distilled blend of rapping and crooning that has become his trademark.
The Middle Eastern-tinged production on the Nate Dogg-featured “What Can We Do?” is a highlight for obvious reasons, along with the bouncing, club-friendly “Jet Black” with R&B royalty, Brandy. Drum chops have their time in the spotlight early on the opening track “Come Home”, and “Winners Circle” slow-burns before flipping the track into a soulful hip hop beat that Paak uses as a platform for his rapid-fire bars.
Lush and dense songs chock full of dazzling musicianship (as we’ve come to expect from Paak’s solo offerings) are strong support for his guests’ and his own vocals, which at times mesh so well that you’d think their voices were instruments in their own right. This Oxnard companion piece sees Paak using his classic sound that we’ve heard on previous records; yet he still manages to keep each tune interesting and entertaining, giving merit to the old saying, “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
6. Steve Lacy, Apollo XII
Apollo XII is a shot for the moon by Steve Lacy. Combining his signature low-fi bedroom pop with sounds markedly more hip-hop, the feel of the record is different from the first demo tape with seminal Lacy tracks like “Ryd” and “Dark Red.” The first Lacy full-length record is more aligned with the current trajectory of his affiliates Tyler, the Creator, Thundercat, and most notably Blood Orange.
What sets Lacy apart is the guitar. Apollo XII is still a guitar-driven record with subtle synth lines and warm, round bass tones that define the Motown sound. It gives his material a King Krule-esque edge that expands beyond the indie genre lines and breaks into Maggot Brain territory with “Love 2 Fast”. Apollo XII is a beautiful piece of atmospheric work, but it feels very safe and tame. That is until you realize this is Steve Lacy’s first full-length record under his own name. At 21 he has a long way to go, and Apollo XII sets a very high bar that will be a great joy to watch elevate. At a very early point in his career, Steve is already exuding energies of George Clinton, an inspiration and an end goal that is by no means out of reach.
5. Thom Yorke, ANIMA
Thom Yorke’s ANIMA is a beautiful mess fueled by a strategically jarring structure and flow. ANIMA is the most provocative album of 2019, especially when considering the equal parts beautiful, equal parts bizarre Netflix short that was released alongside it in collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson. While Thom Yorke’s solo work on this album exists on a plane far, far away from the Radiohead universe, the music holds a similar appeal and it goes without saying that it is not palatable to the mainstream consumer. It is difficult to explain that one of Yorke’s undeniable strengths is his ability to induce anxiety- anxiety with purpose- that leads to fleeting moments of sonic bliss.
While not a single track on the album has the slightest commercial appeal, Yorke sacrifices a singly-driven mindset to create a body of work that is meant to be consumed in order, in its entirety, and with a very open mind. Whether the sound is “for you” or not, there is a certain level of attention to detail that allows for deep analysis and new discoveries with each listen.
4. Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Norman. Fucking. Rockwell! In their late summer release, Lana Del Rey and Jack Antoff have created not just a masterpiece, but music that will undoubtedly stand the test of time. Each song bobs and weaves through classic rock references, including Led Zeppelin‘s fifth album Houses of the Holy in “The Next Best American Record”: “my baby used to dance underneath my architecture, to the Houses of the Holy, smokin’ on them cigarettes”- and borrows the title ‘Cinnamon Girl’ from Neil Young of Buffalo Springfield.
Norman Rockwell illustrated images of American life and its history, and with this album, Lana twists her perception of the so-called American Dream to a reality of being hopelessly and despairingly in love in what seems to be 1970-1990’s Los Angeles. When a piece of music can place you somewhere so specific in time and bring about feelings of such nostalgia and shared experience, you know it’s something special. With lyrics and rhythms that are packed to the brim with more emotions than one could count, Lana is no candle in the wind (“Mariners Apartment Complex”), and this album is sure to prove that.
3. Toro Y Moi, Outer Peace
At this point in Toro y Moi’s career, everything else is just a victory lap. He’s proven his ability to produce new ideas and maintain relevance time and time again. Now it’s clear he just loves to make music. These truths are more apparent than ever on Outer Peace, Chaz’s first of two albums of 2019, as it is possibly the most uplifting project of the year. Toro’s grooves, bounces and vibes move stronger than we’ve ever seen and the urgent need to dance is undeniable. The album is brief at just thirty minutes, but it’s densely packed with vibrant sounds that make for a beautifully fleeting listen.
The instrumentals that Chaz sings over are so compelling that it can become easy to miss the defining voice of the artist himself. This is due partially in part to the sheer sonic cohesion of the music. At Outer Peace’s best moments, Toro Y Moi’s voice becomes an instrument too. This renders a feel-good blend of human and electronic akin to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. But it’s important to stop and listen to the veteran voice of Toro y Moi– he has a lot to say. He brings important nuggets of wisdom as well as some collective nods to his dance predecessors, “James Murphy is spinning at my house. I met him at Coachella.” Believe me, Chaz. We hear you.
2. Tyler, the Creator, IGOR
If 2017’s Flower Boy didn’t make it clear enough, Tyler, the Creator is much more than just a rapper. In fact, seeing what Tyler has done in 2019– clothes, shoes, bikes, ice cream, and a music festival with standards so high that Drake gets booed off stage–the word ‘musician’ even sometimes takes a back seat. But any tried and true fan knows to look past the wildly eclectic career and recognize the true power and individuality of Tyler’s music. With IGOR, Tyler recognizes this as well, as his wildy focused attention to music seems to isolate the album in a vacuum despite simultaneously putting his entire career into perspective.
If IGOR offers anything at all to its listeners, it is perspective. It explains why he never shuts up about 90’s neo-soul bridges and why he won’t stop fucking dancing at his shows. It’s undeniably his opus. After a lifetime of debating his freedom with both the world and himself, it all fell into place with IGOR, the most ambitious and unrelenting project he’s ever conceived. And of course, as only fitting, it’s entirely written, arranged, and produced by Tyler Okama himself.
It’s important to remember that IGOR is at its core a dance album. Its bridges and key solos and chord progressions speak just as loudly as the lyrics. The music itself gives context when Tyler’s cryptic words fall fleeting, further speaking to the fact of how incredibly cohesive the album is. One of the fun side effects that this creates is the fact that everyone has a different favorite moment on the album. Some prefer the outro on “IGOR’S THEME,” some the keyboard breakdown on “I THINK,” some the woodblocks on “GONE, GONE.” All answers are fair, there is no clear standout.
Never in history has a breakup album felt so uplifting. I imagine that this is only possible with Tyler, the Creator, the only person on the planet who is so comfortable in his own skin. It almost feels like Tyler is happy to endure emotional hardship. That way, he grows, he learns, and he gets to make more music.
1. James Blake, Assume Form
If you compare the artists who presently define pop music to the brands owned by General Motors, then it would be appropriate to call James Blake the Tesla of the music industry. As the dark horses of pop (think Billie Eilish or Bon Iver) gradually drive the death of genre- Blake sits comfortably in his alternative throne having long forgotten the need to conform. On “I’ll Come Too” he belts, “I’ll throw my hat in the ring, I’ve got nothing to lose”–and I really do believe him. Nothing to lose, nothing to prove, so much to give. We are excited to reveal that James Blake is responsible for The Kollection’s number one album of 2019: Assume Form.
Assume Form is hyper-experimental while simultaneously flawless in sound and structure. Each note Blake miraculously hits, each feature he integrates, and each twisted narrative that fuels the album together paint a picture of his mastery that quite literally “assume[s] form” and “leave[s] the ether” across the 13 track epic. There is a scene in the 2019 Travis Scott documentary, Look Mom I Can Fly, where Blake’s otherworldly energy can be seen in the honesty of Travis’ ogling gaze that captures exactly how I feel about this album.
Travis Scott’s jaw-dropped expression is also the face I wore during the entirety of the 90-minute set that Blake played at the Hollywood Palladium in March of this year. The live version of this album is as intense a spectacle as any set I’ve ever seen – playing alongside his 2 closest childhood friends, the energy flowed between that of Eucharistic adoration in a Catholic church to a 90’s UK rave. Even a highly trained ear may react in disbelief when told that Blake’s vocal modulations are almost entirely organic on Assume Form with the obvious exception of his Yeezus-esque autotune on “Mulholland” and alongside Andre 3000 on “Where’s The Catch.” In a live setting, the disbelief only intensifies: “how is he doing that?”, “wait…what?”, and “Jesus Christ” audibly escaped my lips during the performance.
If there is one word that encapsulates this album, it is wisdom. Blake navigates the creative process with unparalleled soundness of action with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment. So- “Where’s the catch? There must, there must be a catch.” Nope- no catch here, just the album of the year.
Thank you for taking the time to read through this list that over a dozen passionate individuals worked to generate, organize, and rationalize for people like you. Our opinions are OUR opinions and as an independent publication, this means that we pick with our hearts and ears. Please send any thoughts or feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and have a lovely holiday season.