Retro albums of 2019: A look at artists’ dynamic sounds

Richard Chen/Staff

The year 2019 brought incredible breakthroughs for artists as many grew in sounds, stories and symphonies. As an avid music listener, I want to talk about some of my favorite albums of 2019 within different genres to showcase the ever-changing and impressionistic artists of today.

amo by Bring Me the Horizon (rock)

The various dark and mechanical intermission tracks on this album make for the most experimental peaks the band has ever done. The tracks are on a genre-bending thrill ride from rock to electropop, losing their way in processed vocals and unfamiliar styles to create a universal existential disillusion. This experimentation reflects the band’s growth and offers new fans a chance to see what else they can do.

Fear Inoculum by Tool (metal/rock)

Tool’s first album in 13 years, after creative, personal and legal issues, opens like a grievous European symphony drawn in electronic tones — what sounds like the chiming of a hammered dulcimer enters a tag team with kit drums, heavy electric guitar and bass. The overall tone and auditory palette of each song is a journey unto itself, resulting in extremely long track lengths and multimovement pieces in which passages linger and breathe for minutes at a time. You get what is expected of an album more than a decade in the making: a more mature and sometimes exciting collection that feels both overworked and undercooked. Above all, Fear Inoculum pays homage to Tool itself, a long-delayed encore that has fans racing back to the arena.

IGOR by Tyler, the Creator (hip-hop/funk)

IGOR sounds like the work of a perfectionist giving shape to his more radical ideas. Throughout the album, Tyler goes through the undulations of denial and acceptance of his broken romantic relationship. He spends considerable energy hoping to help his beloved find satisfaction, however, even if that means a future without him. IGOR may be unsettled but it never feels restless. As Tyler grapples with uncertainty and unfulfillment within his lyrics and mixture of unfamiliar sounds, he delivers an album that feels like it is suspended in midair.  

i,i by Bon Iver (folk/indie)  

All the familiar elements of Iver are here: impressionist swells of sound, impenetrable-yet-tender lyrics, mesmerizing studio tricks, all buoyed by the supple baritone the band is known for. Through the use of acoustic guitar, horns and piano, the prominence returns alongside jittery electronics and synths, elements that deliver the mood in a new way. There’s no more hiding on i,i. These songs don’t swallow you whole with grandeur; they look outward, leaving some room for the rest of the world.

Mirrorland by EarthGang (hip-hop/rap)

The scope of Mirrorland is wide enough to capture the inexhaustible magic of Atlanta, Georgia. The ideas sprawled about are mostly in service of songcraft, adding color and texture to EarthGang’s vibrant visions of an Atlanta rap fantasia. Mirrorland swings from funk-rap to trap so quickly that it reveals how these styles trace back to the same roots. The shifts are anchored by the two rappers, who dictate the flow with their larger-than-life styles and flamboyant execution. The album advances because of its holism, the sense that its songs make up an entire picture. 

Norman Fucking Rockwell by Lana Del Rey (pop/R&B)

Lana Del Rey sings exquisitely about freedom, transformation and the wreckage of being alive in Norman Fucking Rockwell. Through the retro haze of the impeccable album, Del Rey dismantles the fantasy of the American dream by revising American myths and exposing the horrible reality of a country running on a broken system, but one that we are still surviving. Norman Fucking Rockwell plunges into this deeper meaning in which Del Rey is not the “‘50s-obsessed glamour-puss persona” anymore but a fragile melody of our beloved country.

Titanic Rising by Weyes Blood (alternative/indie)

Natalie Mering always finds serenity. Throughout her fourth record as Weyes Blood, tides are surging, trees are falling, the internet is ruining romance, capitalism is pushing workers to the brink of exhaustion and reality is breaking her heart. Titanic Rising approaches these modern-day problems through a distinctly sentimental lens. Mering has referred to herself as a “nostalgic futurist,” and here she leans into that title by examining the strange ways technology has shaped modern romance through earnest lyrics and golden, gigantic arrangements of 1970s pop songwriters.

Contact Gisselle Reyes at [email protected].