Every year I debate whether or not I’m going to post my end of year list. This year I came the closest to skipping it for a couple reasons—I didn’t want to bother ranking a whole lot of albums and I couldn’t even settle on which album was my #1. But after a lot of procrastination, I’ve decided to solve the first problem by limiting my list to just ten albums for the first time. As for the second issue… I’m still undecided as I write this introduction.
There were clearly two albums that defined my year. Any year they release an album, PUP and Mike Krol will be in contention for the top spot.
As of December 16th, my Last.fm profile says the artists I listened to the most in 2019 were:
- PUP (1,087)
- Mike Krol (1,018)
- LVL UP (630)
- Pkew Pkew Pkew (599)
- Blushh (525)
It’s worth noting here that LVL UP and Blushh didn’t even release records in 2019. Blushh released a couple singles this year, but they don’t even have a full-length album in their career yet. It will be one of my most early anticipated full-lengths when it finally drops. LVL UP actually split up recently and this year saw one of their many spin-off bands make my Top 10 (The Glow).
PUP and Mike Krol were also the two artists I went to see live this year. I’ve corresponded with Steve Sladkowski (lead guitarist of PUP) for quite a few years because of a mutual appreciation of baseball nerdery. This led to Steve inviting my daughter and I to come to a PUP show in Boston to meet the band and hang out. It was a rather amazing experience for both my daughter and I.
This year, I saw Mike Krol for the first time in March… and then for the second time in August.
This man, let me tell you… he’s an absolute sweetheart. He’s just the nicest guy you’re ever going to meet in the music industry. I saw him play with Allison Crutchfield’s band Swearin’. Allison and Mike are now engaged and I’m so happy for them.
An honorable mention goes to New Hampshire band Notches. They opened up the Mike Krol/Swearin’ show and it was the first time I’d seen them (after wanting to for quite some time). They were magnificent. They just dropped their new LP this month. With a bit more time to sit with it, perhaps it could have made this list. Alas, it came just a bit too late.
Before I ramble any further, here are the ten records that did make the list. Make no mistake—the first two are 1a. and 1b. The tie-breaker was the number of listens.
PUP – Morbid Stuff PUP’s self-titled debut was the best album of 2014 (depending on whether or not you consider the release date to be 2013 or 2014). Their follow-up, The Dream Is Over, was the best album of 2016 (and perhaps of the entire decade). They keep their streak alive with Morbid Stuff, an ever-so-slightly more accessible take on their unique sound—which is a brilliant combination of loud punk rock and technical ability.
Mike Krol – Power Chords Back in 2015, I chose Mike’s album Turkey as #2, finishing behind Beach Slang. In retrospect, I’d probably give that the #1 spot. Maybe I’m doing that to Mike again, giving him the #2 spot this year. This year there was just so much more of Mike… more songs, longer songs, more touring (heck, I saw him in Massachusetts and New Hampshire). I can’t tell you how hard it is not to make both of these albums #1.
Great Grandpa – Four of Arrows Oh man, did this one have an effect on me that I wasn’t expecting. In 2017, I named Great Grandpa’s debut album (Plastic Cough) my third favorite record of the year. As much as I liked them, I did not see this record coming. While this one also ranks #3, these albums are miles from each other. I implore you to listen to this.
Black Surf – Make Friends (EP) Black Surf, some UK friends of mine who dropped my favorite EP of 2016, released the best EP of 2019 and then announced they were “saying goodbye for a minute”. Here’s hoping this break is temporary because this EP represents a maturation of an already well-refined sound.
Pkew Pkew Pkew – Optimal Lifestyles How in the world do you follow up their 2017 self-titled debut? PKEWx3 simply sings catchy punk songs about getting drunk. Can it evolve? Should it evolve? They definitely experimented more on this record. I’m not sure all if it worked, but so much of it did. This album is more “all over the place” than their debut, but that might be the most Pkew Pkew Pkew thing about it.
Bleached – Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough? I named Bleached’s 2017 EP Can You Deal? as my top EP that year. Their earlier stuff hadn’t resonated with me, but they had potential. This record puts it all together. They alternate between 70s/80s-esque punk and power pop—and it’s a great combination.
The Glow – Am I It is always sad when a tremendous band like LVL UP splits. Don’t get me wrong—I’m still sad. But we now have three new bands that have come out of LVL UP. Nick Corbo has Spirit Was (who released a couple singles in 2018), Dave Benton dropped an excellent album last year with Trace Mountains, and this year Mike Caridi dropped this record as The Glow. I love it all.
Charly Bliss – Young Enough I loved 2017’s Guppy, a great modern take on the Letters to Cleo sound. Young Enough is very different—much less straight-forward power pop and a lot more experimentation with their instrumentation. It doesn’t always align with my tastes, but I applaud their ambition on this one. Their live performances continue to be an absolute treat and they seem like such amazing people.
Chastity – Home Made Satan When I first came across Chastity, they were a spooky and odd opener for PUP in 2016. Their early EPs and singles had potential, though. Then they blew my socks off with their 2018 debut Death Lust. Home Made Satan came along pretty quickly afterward is isn’t nearly as heavy, but maintains their position as a band you can’t keep your eyes (or ears) off.
Potty Mouth – SNAFU Potty Mouth went six years between full-length albums, which seems crazy for a band as young as they are. Their first full-length didn’t resonate with me but their 2015 EP absolutely did in a big way. That made this album much-anticipated for the last four years. I was so happy to see it arrive and enjoyed it quite a bit. Straight-forward power pop with a punk angle… I like it.