Though Kanye West hovered over 2019 like a sentient burial shroud, other artists took a less self-hagiographic approach to their projects and personas. This has been a year of longing, unease, and collective reaches toward a more hopeful future. So perhaps fittingly, our three music writers’ picks on this best-albums list shift between total doom and quiet optimism.
FKA Twigs, Magdalene
FKA Twigs’s electronic operas progress at the pace of dying embers, include passages of trash-compactor noise, and are so, so sad. None of those factors would seem to suggest the sort of cultural phenomenon that creates stans and gossip and memes. Yet search FKA Twigs on Twitter and you find a trove of joy: guys blubbering to their girlfriends about Twigs’s live show, or folks celebrating Twigs’s cathartic pole dancing. Twigs sings that she’s a “fallen alien,” and that she’s “never seen a hero like me in a sci-fi,” but Magdalene makes one idiosyncratic woman’s lamentation into a shared, almost uplifting spectacle. The key is that she knows how tension can be its own entertainment, and sobs a kind of relief. — Spencer Kornhaber
Listen to: “Home With You”
Burna Boy, African Giant
The Nigerian singer Burna Boy isn’t particularly modest, and his fourth studio album expands on his bravado. Beginning with its title track, African Giant shows off the growth and savvy of a singer who’s tapped into his own musical potential—and into his continent’s. The record adds to the repertoire of Afro-fusion songs that Burna has become known for—sultry, reggae-driven party odes such as “Pull Up,” the Jorja Smith–assisted “Gum Body,” and “On the Low.” But it also incorporates weighty storytelling, including spoken interludes about Nigeria’s colonial history, and a song on which the Beninese musical legend Angélique Kidjo sings alongside Damian Marley. On “Different,” the trio address political corruption, violence, and educational folly. As obnoxious as Burna’s self-characterization might be, it’s hard to argue with him: African Giant is at once edifying and eminently listenable. — Hannah Giorgis
Listen to: “Anybody”
Megan Thee Stallion, Fever