By CALIFORNIA ROCKER STAFF
The California Rocker Best Albums of 2019 list includes pure California gold as new sounds in music dominated the year. New entries into the music world and strong collections by veteran rockers shared the spotlight in 2019.
Besides good music, the albums selected to the California Rocker Best Albums of 2019 list represent innovation, bold attitude, and a fresh outlook.
A melodic and wistful style emerged this year from women like Weyes Blood and Lana Del Rey, and true musicians like Kevin Armstrong and California punkers Chip and Tony Kinman showed remarkable range.
Europeans, Australians On the Rise
Europeans and Australians dominated in 2019. Armstrong from the UK released Run, a masterpiece that transcends genres. In an adjacent world is the debut album from Swedish band The Polaroids. A new sound on our radar this year comes from Invisible Eyes, which gets its adventurous outlook from founder and former world-travelling aid worker Dan Harper. Australian bands Pond and The Teskey Brothers captured hearts in 2019, with Pond delivering the dreamy message album, Tasmania, and the Teskeys hitting all the right bluesy notes on their new release.
California Rockers and Classics
Californians The Flesh Eaters kicked off 2019 with the great album, I Used To Be Pretty. The Schizophonics laid down their physical sound with People in the Sky, and Plague Vendor, Weyes Blood and Lana Del Rey also honored the California Scene. Lana Del Rey pays homage to a range of artists on Norman Fucking Rockwell and calls them on stage when she performs. Plague Vendor also brought it home for the California kids with punk music and attitude.
While there are some classics in the group, there are also some soon-to-be-classics in the mix. Filthy Friends put out a super new release with Emerald Valley, and albums from Kirin J. Callinan, Alice Merton, Tove Lo and the Mowgli’s showed a high degree of artistic and sweeping sounds as well as true music professionalism.
From among the veteran rockers, Gary Clark Jr. and Whitesnake delivered appealing new music based on completely different experiences to say the least. The East Coast also represented with new entries from Bruce Springsteen and Nils Lofgren.
The Flesh Eaters – I Used To Be Pretty
The Flesh Eaters are a California supergroup comprised of Chris D, Dave Alvin, John Doe, Bill Bateman, Steve Berlin, and DJ Bonebrake. In other words, basically the guys who created the California post-punk sound in the first place. The album I Used To Be Pretty is a collection of some the types of tunes we need to hear more.
Kevin Armstrong – Run
Kevin Armstrong, sideman to the likes of David Bowie and Iggy Pop released an album that showed his musical diversity and remarkable musical talents. But more than being a sideman, Armstrong is an insightful songwriter and creator of diverse sounds. California Rocker reviewed the record – read the review here: California Rocker Review – Kevin Armstrong – Run
The Polaroids – Whatever Makes a Profit
The Polaroids from Sweden took everyone by surprise this year with an amazing record that brings out the best of punk and pop. “We really like the music of the 1980s,” said frontman Philip Gätje, who said the band is influenced by a range of punk and pop musicians.
Invisible Eyes – Searching for Crows
Dan Harper has an amazing story, the UK musician is a former world aid worker who recorded music in the furthest, most remote outposts of the planet. Car batteries and makeshift settings fit Invisible Eyes and the music is good old-fashioned, rough punk. Review: Searching for Crows.
Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
The California musician and local LA favorite weighed in in 2019 with a fantastic work Titanic Rising that captures the emotions and thoughts everyone wants to say but can’t. It’s a great ride through the ups and downs of life in 2019.
Plague Vendor – By Night
This band is unbelievable. The music is pure punk and when you go see Plague Vendor live it’s best to hang on tight. Plague Vendor has been touring up a storm bringing its message of raucous punk and great music to the masses. The 2019 year was a breakout year for our treasured local LA favorites.
Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell
It’s amazing how far Lana Del Rey has come in only a few years. The poetry and emotion that accompanies her work blend to create a truly innovative sound. With Norman Fucking Rockwell, Lana Del Rey touches on the feelings shared by an evolving humankind. While some work is a mirror of the greats, at least she brings those she admires on stage with her while on tour.
The Regrettes – How Do You Love?
The Regrettes have released a record that lets the listeners have some fun. If there were a female Green Day, this band is it. Lead singer Lydia has been through a lot — even got shoved off a stage — but has rebounded nicely to prove that good people do win out in the end. Read the Dan MacIntosh Review here.
Chip and Tony – Sounds Like Music
The two brothers Chip and Tony Kinman were never ones to let an opportunity go by. The Carlsbad, Calif.-born and bred high schoolers created a “cowpunk” sound that caught on and along the way made a mark on the SoCal scene. Yes they took a different route and Sounds Like Music documents the journey.
Kirin Callinan – Return to Center
Kirin Callinan is dramatic and innovative and this Australian has a following that includes a range of artists and moviemakers. The album “Return to Center” is a work that underscores the talent of this always-surprising musician. Read the Review here.
Schizophonics – People in the Sky
The Schizophonics are red hot with the release of People in the Sky and the sound is a throwback to 1960s sound with aggressive drumming, bass and guitar. But once you see the band you’re hooked as Pat Beers jumps all over the stage like James Brown possessed. It’s one of the best new bands of the decade and these hard-working musicians are making it big with big gigs coming up.
Mowgli’s – American Feelings
The Mowgli’s American Feelings is an EP but the release brings back all the trademark sounds of this Venice band.
Tove Lo – Sunshine Kitty
Tove Lo assembled a diverse collection of new sounds and songs with Sunshine Kitty, a great collection of songs that experience the human condition in all its strengths and weaknesses. The demure Tove Lo captures hearts and minds with an emotion-evoking and a fun collection for lovers of digital experimentation and innovative beats.
Alice Merton – Mint
The Canadian-German musician led off 2019 with a surprisingly strong record that covers a range of deep feelings. The single “No Roots” with its demanding and evocative nature, caught on like wildfire.
Filthy Friends – Emerald Valley
This band is so underrated it’s a crime. The album Emerald Valley by Filthy Friends takes punk and post-punk sound to a new realm. It’s like Suburban Lawns meets The Motels with the aggressive throwback style of Jefferson Airplane.
Gary Clark Jr. – This Land
It’s not one of the most upbeat records for this talented blues player, but Gary Clark Jr. lays it all out there – the good and the bad aspects of today in This Land. The album has something for everyone with style ranging from his trademark whining blues guitar to reggae. This Land is a winner that hits all the right notes for music lovers.
Whitesnake – Flesh and Blood
Whitesnake has had one helluva 2019 with kickass album Flesh and Blood and the tour to promote it.
The kings of classic rock music released a good one with Flesh and Blood. In a time when political correctness has taken over the world, so it seems, count on Whitesnake to release songs with titles like “Shut Up and Kiss Me” and “Trouble Is Your Middle Name.” Flesh and Blood is a treasure for rock fans.
Guided by Voices – Sweating The Plague
Sweating the Plague is a special album among all the Guided by Voices records. There are songs on this one that blow bands half their age out of the water. This one is worth a listen with a good bottle of your favorite beverage close at hand.
LCD Soundsystem – Electric Lady Sessions
LCD Soundsystem never disappoints and this latest is among the band’s best.
Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
Bruce Springsteen said he wanted to do an album that pays homage to California pop, but we call it pure Americana. The songs on Western Stars bring out the best of the balladeer’s road-wise wanderings and represent a style he wanted to visit for many years. It may have been influenced by others, but at its heart Western Stars is pure Springsteen.
Nils Lofgren – Blue With Lou
Blue With Lou is half Nils Lofgren and half Lou Reed and blends the work of two of the best songwriters around. Lofgren has enjoyed a fantastic career and takes some of the unfinished collaborations with him and Lou and puts them at the forefront.
The Teskey Brothers – Run Home Slow
These Teskey Brothers are great, bringing a modern twist to some classic-sounding bluesy songs. The Teskey Brothers are Australian blues rockers who have a great presence on the live stage and put out some strong music. Vastly under-appreciated, this band deserves the attention of music lovers around the world.
POND – Tasmania
POND’s Tasmania is a good record for those who share a passion for the Earth and saving indigenous culture. The record touches on the same issues in Australia that we have right here in the U.S., namely the concern for people to treat the Earth and each other with more love.
Foals Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2
Foals consistently hits it out of the park. The band is comprised of Yannis Philippakis on vocals, guitar, bass and keyboards; Jimmy Smith on guitar and keyboards; Jack Bevan on drums and Edwin Congreave on keyboards, synthesizers and bass. Foals is pure gold.
Cage The Elephant – Social Cues
Social Cues hits all the right notes for Cage The Elephant fans and new listeners alike. Hits like “Ready To Let Go,” “Social Cues” and “Broken Boy” truly deliver. Cage The Elephant is the rock band for the ages. During a brief chat with them, they gave advice for those on the way up: Keep playing gigs even though there may only three or four people in the room, because that’s how they started out, too.
Slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain
Slowthai is one of the most innovative rappers out there. Somehow he takes the issues that people the world over have in common and adds an urgent delivery. There is a diverse sound within this genre that Slothai makes his own.
These guys are out of their minds but they released a high-class album with Malibu Slime. The sound is a blend of hardcore and demented kiddie show and in punk style, it’s fast and loud. If you head out to see this band live, be prepared for a colorful show … that you will take home with you. Experience them live at one of their gigs in LA for full appreciation.
Iggy Pop – Free
One thing about Iggy Pop: He likes to take risks. Iggy is at a stage of his life where he wants to record what he wants to, and he can. Iggy is finally getting to reap the rewards of a remarkable career that has brought him worldwide renown for his alternative style. But the punk innovator has taken an elegant departure with Free, working with younger musicians and connecting to his jazzy best. He’s also a great curator of the new sound and has been running a radio show on BBC6 on Fridays for the last five years.
Liam Gallagher – Why Me? Why Not.
Attitude and clothing choices aside, there’s no doubt Liam Gallagher has the heart of the fans. He released a fun pop record late in the year. Why Me? Why Not. is one for listeners who truly enjoy catchy and memorable songs. This music is appealing to a broad range of listeners and is one of our favorite records of the year.
Yungblud – The Underrated Youth
Not only is The Underrated Youth appealing with its fun and upbeat tunes, Yungblud puts on a great, energy-filled show and is worth the money to watch. Yungblud gets the attention of the youngest fans (of which there are plenty) but this kind of music can also be heard on a range of sync opportunities.
Lacuna Coil – Black Anima
An Italian metal band? This is one of the best sounds around regardless of the country of origin. Black Anima is one of the band’s best and makes our list for its innovation and cool sound.
The “live in the moment” attitude of Lacuna Coil takes over with this new album. “You have to grab your life and go on,” they say. “Make your life the best you can.” While everything aspires to be polished and perfect, nothing is perfect in life and you have to do the best you can, band members Andrea Ferro and Cristina Scabbia say.
The Euphoriants – The Euphoriants
This album came as a surprise and The Euphoriants have released one of the best records of the year of purely on original sound founded on solid rock history. This self-titled album The Euphoriants capitalizes on some familiar sounds, incorporating some of the world’s best mentors like The Beatles, The Police and David Bowie. We love the songs, the style and the fun approach of this record.
Mini Mansions – Guy Walks Into a Bar …
With its generally good-natured attitude towards life, Mini Mansions brings a unique sound to the scene. There’s a new energy and the guys are 100 percent in the present at their shows. We were fortunate enough to check them out in 2019. The music is reminiscent of the good time music of the 1910 Fruitgum Company that had a string of hits in the 1970s, mixed with the high-class sensibilities of David Byrne.
Two Door Cinema Club – False Alarm
With a retro 1980s digital vibe, the music is indescribably good. It’s dance, it’s slick and the songs are catchy. Think preppy Depeche Mode meets Todd Rundgren. Particularly fun are “Satisfaction Guaranteed – Mokoomba,” “So Many People,” which takes on a Tame Impala meets LaRoux sound and the upbeat synth-rock tune “Talk.”
Summer Salt – Honeyweed
Summer Salt, an innovative group out of Texas did a sneak attack just as we were finalizing the California Rocker Best Albums of 2019 list. Summer Salt came on the radar this year big time with this elegant Bossa Nova-style EP, Honeyweed. The guys will embark on a sold-out tour in 2020.
Wallows – Nothing Happens
The Wallows record Nothing Happens hit a spot in listeners’ hearts with its upbeat and catchy songs like “Treacherous Doctor,” a quasi reggae pop tune; stilted rocker “Scrawny,” and straight ahead melody “What You Like.” This is an underrated group that is one of our favorites. Wallows is the band to watch in 2020.