Staff Picks: Staph's Top 10 Albums of 2019

Another year has passed us by and it hasn’t been long since I have listed my top picks of the year past. The start of a new year beckoned the start of my Spotify playlist for albums released in 2019. New year, new albums, right? I was excited to see what was to come, although there was a small problem. The beginning of the year was anti-climactic, I just couldn’t find anything that caught my interest. Maybe I was a little busier this year and I had not been looking as far and wide as I normally do but I was a bit disappointed in the beginning. Sure some albums caught my eye but they weren’t exactly albums that I obsessed over. So this forced me to branch out a bit more as you might notice. That’s not to say that it’s a negative marker of the year but as the Punk Ambassador I try to showcase bands related to the genre. Needless to say, this story does have a point. My excitement came back halfway through the year when bands that I eagerly anticipated releases from finally began to drop their albums. So here it is once again in all its glory. My top album picks of albums released in 2019.

This list is in no particular order and uses a combination of music players to showcase the albums.

Finally, you may be asking yourself, “But what about the local bands?!” I purposefully did not include them in this list because that is going to be its own list.

1. Le Butcherettes “bi/MENTAL”

I’ll admit that I would not have given bi/MENTAL a fair chance had it not been for the music drought I experienced at the start of the year. I had this band on my radar but had not listened to them previously because I for some reason had the impression that they were too obscure for me. Eventually, I found out that the track “mother/HOLDS” includes guest vocals from punk icon extraordinaire Alice Bag so I finally hit play and gave it a few listen throughs. It took a few spins before it finally all clicked and suddenly I realized my music drought would not be as unpleasant as I imagined. I played this album over and over again, I honestly surprised myself with how obsessed I became with it. This band became an acquired taste for me and I learned to appreciate the flavor. So if you’re looking for something a little outside the box then look no further. The garage rock indie tone packaged with eclectic synth/keys noises and the occasional obscure vocals makes for a great treat that is different from what I normally spin. There are tracks with guest vocals from Jello Biafra, Alice Bag, and one song in Spanish titled “la/SANDIA” which is my favorite track on bi/MENTAL. 

Sounds like: Indie, Garage, Punk Rock

My Favorite Tracks: “la/SANDIA,” “nothing/BUT TROUBLE,” and “mother/HOLDS (featuring Alice Bag)”

2. Haybaby “They Get There”

Halfway through the year, I had a major life change. I moved out of the beloved house that I had been living in since 2013 (RIP Glamurrr Palace). I was initially bummed about this change in my life but at the same time, I was excited about what was to come. Luckily, I was able to move into a wonderful house with wonderful people. During that move, this album dropped with what seemed like out of nowhere. I had not seen much activity from this band for the past few years so I was ecstatic when I saw the singer posting about it on Facebook. They Get There eventually became my moving tunes while I dove into the piles of boxes and chaos that became my life. Haybaby continues to provide their twangy guitars and post-punk bass lines with emotionally inspiring lyrics of the everyday turmoils of loss. The track, “Home” was the first song that caught my ear because it resonated with what felt like my current situation. This album took me through a whirl of emotions as slowly but surely I attempted to put together the pieces of my life. 

Sounds like: Indie, Emo, Punk

My Favorite Tracks: “My Mother Tells Me,” “Animosity,” and “You Got It, Steve!”

3. Frank Turner “No Man’s Land”

Frank Turner took it back to his roots with this one. Overall, you could consider this a rock album but many tracks ended up being heavily acoustic-based and reminiscent of his earlier stuff similar to Campfire Punkrock. Turner wrote this album about thirteen not so well known women in history, except for “Rosemary Jane,” which was inspired by Turner’s mom. So not only did Turner find the time to write and record this album but he also released a podcast series to accompany the album that goes into much more detail about each song. You can check out the Podcast series No Man’s Land here. I will admit that this series got me into podcasts so I’m currently going through that phase in my life if anyone wants to recommend anything to me! Turner has a remarkable ability to re-do his own songs and come up with new renditions of them. He did this for the track “Silent Key” which originally appeared on Positive Songs for Negative People. Turner typically sings about love and relationships and while this wasn’t exactly the theme of this album, he does a great job crafting the stories and narratives of these forgotten historical figures.

Sounds like: Acoustic, Folk, Punk Rock

My Favorite Tracks: “Sister Rosetta,” “I Believed You, William Blake,” and “The Lioness”

4. Flexing “Modern Discipline” 

This album is a mood for the current state of affairs in this country. The opening track, “A Dedication” brings to mind the beat of a marching army with the hard-hitting heavy percussion introduction. From there the album asks it’s listeners to ponder how we got to where we are and what we plan to do about it. It’s a call to action and evokes the question, “What side of history do you want to be remembered on?” This is not the type of album that you can have on as background music, trust me I tried on my first listen through. It commands attention and I initially had to drop everything that I was doing at the time to give it my full attention. That’s what makes this album so riveting, as the narratives unfold, the listener becomes invested and eager to find out how the story ends. This is not a concept album nonetheless, I highly recommend listening in chronological order. 

Sounds like: Harcore Post-Punk

My Favorite Tracks: “Fine Print,” “Harsh Femme,” and “A Display of Force”

5. The Menzingers “Hello Exile”

Hello Exile, I embraced you with open arms as I proceeded to press play on this long-anticipated album. Prior to the release of this album, The Menzingers released several singles that gave us eager fans a small taste of what was to come. These songs actually did not make it onto this album but they stood well enough in their own right to have been compiled into an EP (one can always hope). Us eager and loyal fans waited patiently and I am glad to say that it was not in vain. Hello Exile demonstrates the growth of this band as musicians. They’ve come a long way from the sounds of punk rock, flirting with the sounds of indie but staying comfortably melodic enough to remain in their roots. I appreciate the way that this band taps into my emotions almost as if they are in my thoughts. This album dropped about two days before my ten-year high school reunion which I attended and let’s just say I’m not going to the next one. I’m coming to the end of my late twenties so the themes of feeling older and the loss that comes with that had me doing all kinds of self-reflection. I’m still self-reflecting but this album helps me put a few things of my life into perspective and continues to assist with streamlining my thoughts. When I listen to this album I find myself contemplating casual thoughts about life, engaging in quick hums, and screaming at the top of my lungs to the catchy sing-along choruses. Ultimately, this album reminds me that I’m enjoying the last fleeting years of my twenties.

Sounds like: Melodic Punk

My Favorite Tracks: “Strangers Forever,” “High School Friend,” and “Farewell Youth”

6. FEA “No Novelties”

FEA stands for Fuck Em’ All, this album is on Joan Jett’s label Blackheart Records, and it was produced by the one and only Alice Bag! If that wasn’t enough, this badass Chicana punk band hails from Texas and features former members of Girl in a Coma. Their music has themes of feminism mixed with a twinge of Spanish and this is all done in a Lunachickseque blend of humor. I felt like I waited over a year for this one to come out and it made it just in time to be on this list. Also, this band is on Iggy Pop’s radar so they couldn’t get any cooler than having so many nods and recommendations from absolute legends. 

Sounds like: Chicana Punk

My Favorite Tracks: “Pelo Suelto,” “Girl Band,” and “Let Me Down”

7. Tiger Army “Retrofuture”

Ever since Music From Regions Beyond, I either hear people say they despise the new sound or love it. I’m one of those people who absolutely loves everything Tiger Army has released since then (admittedly I might even say I like it more than their older stuff). This album is no exception. Tiger Army is another band that continues to impress me as musicians, they are not afraid to experiment with the boundaries of their genre and see how far they can push it. Retrofuture is appropriately titled as it contains songs that fans of pre and post Music From Regions Beyond will appreciate. Tracks such as “Eyes of the Night” and “Death Card” give a nod to their psychobilly roots and are the sped-up tracks on the album. Nonetheless, Tiger Army are masters of their craft and showcase their talents on some of the slowed-down songs. In classic Tiger Army style, they start the album with their trademark introduction instrumental song, but “Night Flower” is also an instrumental song that appears closer to the end of the album. I admit that I typically skip the instrumental tracks but this one hits the right amount of surf and rockabilly making it pleasantly sweet to listen to. Of course, it would not be a Tiger Army album if they did not include a song about the moon which they pay homage to in “Mi Amor La Luna.”

Sounds like: Psychobilly light, Surf, and Oldies

My Favorite Tracks: “Valentina,” “The Past Will Always Be,” and “Mi Amor La Luna”

8. Subhumans “Crisis Point”

Imagine everything that has happened in your life in the past ten years or so. I graduated from high school and moved to Santa Barbara ten years ago, I pretty much started a whole new life for myself. Well in that time Subhumans did not write any new music, their last release was actually 2007’s Internal Riot. That being said, it took them over a decade to come out of their writing hiatus to release Crisis Point. For me, Subhumans albums are characteristically driven by the bass guitar. In fact, when I was in Highschool I heard the song “British Disease” and decided right then and there that I was going to learn how to play bass. It’s almost as if their songs are led by the bassist and everyone else is just following along to the ripping lines. Crisis Point is no different in this sense. Overall, the album follows the classic Subhumans sound. They aren’t setting out to redefine their genre but rather they have a message to pass along and they are going to do it in the way that they know best. Using kick-ass bass lines, classic punk drum beats, in your face political lyrics, and content that makes you question your everyday surroundings. The Subhumans did not reinvent the wheel with this album but I love the Subhumans sound and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. With the way everything has been, it just goes to show that even the Subhumans had to come out of their hiatus because staying quiet is not an option. 

Sounds like: Punk

My Favorite Tracks: “99%,” “Poison,” and “Thought Is Free”

9. Make War “Get it Together”

Here’s another album that slid into my playlists this year. This one found it’s way into my life when I was listening to one of those premade playlists that Spotify is constantly recommending. Sometimes those playlists are not that great but in this case, it really hit the mark. I’ve also seen this band on many flyers including The Fest so I finally gave them a chance and I am glad I did. They sing songs about mundane corporate jobs, current political issues, and coming into your thirties. All these thoughts and more are constantly on my mind nowadays, it’s nice to connect with the music and not to feel so alone. Finally, I love that they incorporate Spanish into some of their songs.

Sounds like: Melodic, Pop-Punk

My Favorite Tracks: “No Mas,” “American Futbol,” and “Oh, Brother”

10. Bridge City Sinners “Here’s to the Devil”

This one came across my plate as I was writing this up. I initially had another album in this spot but I swapped it out after I realized how obsessed I became with this album. Here’s to the Devil came at a time in my life when I lost a friend. I was listening to a lot of folk-punk to help cope with the situation and I stumbled across their Bridge City Session for the song, “Ashes.” The song deals with the loss of loved ones, I was mesmerized by the video and immediately started seeking out more. To my luck, they released an album in 2019 with enough time for me to find and include on this list. Here’s to the Devil is a testament to raw emotion, beautiful harmonies, and the sweetest voice in folk-punk.  

Sounds like: Folk-Punk, Bluegrass

My Favorite Tracks: “Ashes,” “Song of the Siren,” and “Witches’ Wrath”

And so there it is, the albums that I played constantly, yelled at the top of my lungs when no one was home, and cried along with on an occasion or two.

Yes I am aware that there were a lot of great albums this year so I am going to make a few notable mentions below:

  • Lizzo “Cuz I love You”
  • Off With Their Heads “Be Good”
  • Mobina Galore “Don’t Worry”
  • Western Settings “Another Year”