Check these out before you make your year-end lists.
2019 will almost definitely go down in history as the year of Billie Eilish, Lizzo, and Lil Nas X.
These newcomers were so omnipresent throughout the year that it's almost hard to associate 2019 with any other artist. But don't be fooled—the year came with plenty of underground and independent releases that deserve their time to shine, too.
While there were countless underrated albums this year, we've rounded up just 20 to listen to just in time before you make your year-end lists.
Empath, Active Listening: Night on Earth
On their debut full-length album, Active Listening: Night on Earth, Philly noise-pop quartet Empath deliver microdoses of breakneck adrenaline in their buzzing synths, thrashing drums, and the vocals of lead singer Catherine Elicson, whose conversational yells surmount all the bustle. Their music is unkempt and unhinged, but each track is tethered in their own addictive melodies. The album isn't meant to be easily digestible; it's meant to drown out the world.
Helado Negro, This Is How You Smile
On Roberto Carlos Lange's sixth album as Helado Negro, anxiety, love, and power—or lack thereof—all culminate into a sublime, soothing piece of work. While Lange's musical foundation is subtle electronica, this album also employs dashes of acoustic guitar and a Latin flair, though no element is overbearing. Gentle and intimate, This Is How You Smile gives space for your worries, while also offering a giant sigh of relief.
Mannequin Pussy, Patience
Marisa Dabice is heartbroken and furious, but on her punk band Mannequin Pussy's third album, she's making progress in moving on. Patience doesn't wallow in the pain of her abusive relationships: It offers a catharsis, one that admits "yeah, this sucks," before willfully moving on. Patience is broad and expansive, spotlighting Dabice's seamless belting of choruses as much as her enraged growls. It'll make you want to cry as much as it'll make you want to set your ex's stuff on fire.
PUP, Morbid Stuff
So many pop-punk bands luxuriate in their own sorrows that, when groups like PUP offer counterarguments like "Just 'cause you're sad again, it doesn't make you special at all," it feels like a harsh kick to the shin. PUP are clearly depressed and angry, though as Morbid Stuff exemplifies, not without an analytical lens. They're aware of their problems, which is the first step to healing from them; Morbid Stuff invites you to do the same, with a tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation and some of the year's most massive hooks.
Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising
Judging only by the grandiose compositions of Weyes Blood's music, you might not guess that her fourth record, Titanic Rising, is largely an ode to an impending downfall. The album is stunning, intricate, and majestic, but not without singer-songwriter Natalie Mering's convoluted, almost apocalyptic concerns on her own metaphorical sinking ship. Like peak cinema, it is both gut-wrenching and brilliant.
Control Top, Covert Contracts
In case you haven't heard, the current political climate isn't so great. Like their most notable punk forebears, the twisted depths of government and society are of Control Top's highest concerns, and Covert Contracts covers a lot of ground; capitalism sucks, the patriarchy sucks, and there are crooks on both "the left and the right." There's truth in it all, but at least with Control Top's noisy, kinetic instrumentation and singer Ali Carter's sneering proclamations, the band creates an open space for these complaints.
Charly Bliss, Young Enough
Young Enough embodies a joyful, euphoric purge of pain, led by the songwriting and inimitable vocals of Eva Hendricks. She channels betrayal and anxiety into ecstatic power-pop; it shimmers and bursts with ginormous melodies, but always remains grounded in reality.
Japanese disco-punk band Chai embody cuteness on their own terms. The Nagoya quartet dismiss the beauty standards of their home country on their second album, PUNK, while lacing blasts of bubblegum pop and electronic samples into their bombastic drums and driving guitar riffs. Empowerment is the new black, and with Chai, earnestly loving yourself has never sounded so much fun.
black midi, Schlagenheim
black midi aren't for everyone, but that's OK, because they don't want to be. Their debut LP, Schlagenheim, is an opus of the young London guitar band's idiosyncratic, suspenseful, and overblown brand of indie rock. Driven by mathy, knotty drums and Geordie Greep's theatrically peculiar voice, above all, black midi are weird—but not weird enough to detract from their sheer talent.
Slowthai, Nothing Great About Britain
Newsflash: The United States isn't the only country with issues. Just listen to Slowthai, the distinctive, edgy Northampton rapper who assures us that Britain isn't just screwed up: There's nothing great about it at all. He calls out Queen Elizabeth by name, denoting the harsh lines between the elite and poor, furiously pleading for a resolution between his gritted teeth. By album's end, we have to consider: Maybe there's not much great about Britain after all, besides Slowthai himself.
Faye Webster, Atlanta Millionaires Club
Though the title of her debut album might call to mind the high-profile rappers she photographs (Offset and Lil Yachty among them), Faye Webster crafts R&B with a sweet southern flair. Her music is introverted and simplistic, mixing modern jazz and soul with classic country elements like slide guitar. Her featherlight vocals exude a sense of loneliness throughout, as though she feels like a fish out of water in her own home; but as the listener, she helps you feel less alone.
Florist, Emily Alone
It's an easy crutch to call female singer-songwriters vulnerable, as if writing from the depths of one's expansive emotions is a revolutionary task for someone as small-brained as a woman. But Emily Sprague, the leader of the band Florist, is truly vulnerable to a shocking degree. As you might guess, she wrote and performed Emily Alone all by herself. The acoustic folk she created in her solitude—albeit small—is breathtaking and arresting. She might be singing about herself, but it's chilling how deeply the listener can relate.
Kelsey Lu, Blood
Kelsey Lu is not only a cello master, she's an innovator. She implements her main instrument throughout her debut LP, Blood, as a vehicle for her melodies, one that makes her chamber-pop feel both rooted in traditional foundations and soaring with modern textures. The project is exquisite, weaving classical orchestration into contemporary R&B, disco, and pop, until the result is uniquely Lu.
Black Belt Eagle Scout, At the Party With My Brown Friends
From the get-go, Katherine Paul wants you to know that she's an indigenous queer woman eager to make waves. That identity might not be explicitly stated in her second album, At the Party With My Brown Friends, but the theme of resistance underscores her songwriting: She demands to be seen, but not tokenized. At the Party is soft and exquisite, but not without putting up a fight.
Oso Oso, Basking in the Glow
Whatever wave of emo revival we're on these days—seriously, I've lost count—Jade Lilitri is steering the ship. Under his Oso Oso moniker, the Long Island singer-songwriter crafts emo-tinged pop-punk that's undeniably catchy. His choruses soar as he contemplates what it means to be happy while navigating his newfound success. When he proclaims "now I know what I want" on high-flyer "A Morning Song," you can't deny he really means it.
Club Night, What Life
It's easy to compare Oakland quintet Club Night to a plethora of predecessors, though they're not limited to one vein of indie rock. They can evoke the poppy ecstasy of groups like Los Campesinos! and Ponytail as much as they call to mind emo pioneers like Cap'n Jazz and the Promise Ring—often in the same song. Because of their wide-spanning influences and the unique way they blend them, Club Night are tricky to put in a box; if anything, they exist in a box entirely their own.
Jamila Woods, LEGACY! LEGACY!
Reference points comprise much of Jamila Woods' LEGACY! LEGACY!, but not without careful consideration. Each track on the Chicago singer-songwriter-poet's second album is named after a notable artist of color who's inspired her somehow in her deeply introspective, yet highly political R&B. Woods straddles the line between a tumultuous past and an unwritten future, her vocals are airy, but never compromising her rage.
Little Simz, GREY Area
Being in your 20's is a confusing time. UK rapper Little Simz makes this era of uncertainty the thesis of her album GREY Area, her razor-sharp, rapid-fire delivery invoking a similar sense of thoughts spilling over and over. Backed by unassuming production, GREY Area feels like watching Little Simz working through a 300-piece jigsaw puzzle on her own, if observing such a task could be so thrilling.
Sudan Archives, Athena
Athena is a character referenced so often that her meaning can often dissipate in the saturation. But Sudan Archives' new album, Athena, reinvigorates this meaning, exhibiting just as much strength and tenacity as it does sheer beauty. Hip-hop production, pop-leaning melodies, and grand violin parts (courtesy of Sudan Archives, herself) amount to a project worthy of its namesake.
MIKE, Tears of Joy
Bronx rapper MIKE doesn't make bangers. Tears of Joy is an ode to his late mother; accordingly, the 20-song album is incredibly evocative and poignant. MIKE's twisted samples, deep vocals, and home-spun quality evoke alt-rap torchbearers like Earl Sweatshirt. But as somber as the project is, there's still a relieving sense of healing as MIKE spits about his own grief.
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As reprehensible as Jake Paul is as a person, he is innocent in this case
Update 8/6/2020: On Wednesday the FBI raided Jake Paul's home in Calabasas, California in connection with the Scottsdale mall riot. The home is reportedly owned by Paul's friend Arman Izadi, who was also present at charged with misdemeanor crimes following the mall incident.
It's unclear what the basis for the raid was, but the Scottsdale police have turned over riot investigation to the FBI, who are believed to have removed multiple firearms from the Calabasas mansion.
Because it turns out celebrities exist even before we hear about them.
So many celebrities seem to build their entire lives around careers in entertainment.
Good for them. They knew what they wanted to do, and they were actually lucky and talented enough to be successful. But for a lot of these people, it's hard to imagine how they would function in the world without their celebrity status. That's why people freak out when they find out that Taylor Swift can cook. She not only eats people food, she actually knows how to prepare it! Do you think she even washes her own dishes?!
But there is another class of celebrity. People who had full, interesting, and often insane lives before anyone had ever heard of them. People like...
Christopher Walken: Lion Tamer<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDI5NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNzk1NTM1NH0.gB-0fl12hr7J3svFb1dpkBQ-PWSosPnLaQQKxqB-MB8/img.jpg?width=980" id="dbe98" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e99b1bc39579d90f78d4d6de9523f551" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Christopher Walken" /><p>Christopher Walken is known for the intense, contained energy of his performances and... the un<em>ique</em>... cadence... and <em>em</em>phasis of his speech. But long before he was a living, breathing caricature of himself, he had a very different approach to show business. His time as a <a href="https://ew.com/article/2014/12/02/christopher-walken-captain-hook-dancing/" target="_blank">cabaret dancer</a> shouldn't surprise anyone who's seen the way he moves in the music video for Fatboy Slim's "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCDIYvFmgW8" target="_blank">Weapon of Choice</a>," but the fact that Walken was working as a lion tamer in a circus at the age of 16 is completely insane. Of course he downplays it, saying that Sheba the lion was "Very nice. She'd come and bump your leg. Like a house cat," but he was still bossing around a giant predatory cat as a teenager.</p>
Julia Child: Inventor<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDI0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMTE4MTA2N30.lfQiI4CMgFK3oJYLW1bPvgOy3rZgL8daEMkgYM4Uukk/img.jpg?width=980" id="c5ab9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a75cf85333b55f0a9399231cd3206a9d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Julia Child" /><p>You may know Julia Child for her famous cookbook <em></em><em>Mastering the Art of French Cooking</em>, or for her long-running public television show <em>The French Chef</em>. At the very least, maybe you've seen her portrayed by Meryl Streep in 2009's <em>Julie and Julia</em>. She was an early icon of TV cooking, making it approachable and fun, and her recipes remain popular more than 15 years after her death. But before anyone knew her for her cooking, she was working for the Office of Strategic Services—a forerunner to the CIA—helping to fight Nazis by... inventing <a href="https://www.cia.gov/news-information/featured-story-archive/2015-featured-story-archive/shark-repellent.html" target="_blank">shark repellent</a>.</p><p>The effort was sparked during World War II in response to sharks attacks on military personnel who were waiting for rescue after ships and planes went down. Child was a member of the team that developed pellets to be included in soldier's rescue kits, with an odor that would keep sharks at bay. There's no telling how many lives those pellets may have saved, but apparently they went on to be used with underwater explosives targeting German submarines—so sharks wouldn't accidentally set them off—and even in space equipment that NASA designed for ocean retrieval.</p>
James Lipton: Pimp<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDI2Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxODM5ODY4N30.THakQRuLoFrZdysNOoONBwt5WbIFd6kqKmZMo99tMOo/img.jpg?width=980" id="cb82f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="61c045a63ca5f3a8df7ae6a17197995c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="james lipton" /><p>James Lipton is not quite as famous as some of the people he's interviewed—<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inside_the_Actors_Studio#Guests" target="_blank">basically every celebrity ever</a>—but he hosted <em>Inside the Actor's Studio</em> for 22 years on <em>Bravo</em>, and had an amazing turn as <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwXGPar9kHc" target="_blank">Warden Stefan Gentles</a> on <em>Arrested Development</em>. In his youth though, Lipton had a very different career in post-war Paris. At the time, there was little work available in France, and many women resorted to sex work to get by. Lipton was friends with one such woman, and when he was running out of money and told her that he had to return to the US, she offered him a job. Soon he was <a href="https://parade.com/17599/dotsonrader/inside-the-actors-studio-host-james-lipton-on-his-favorite-interview-and-pimping-in-paris/" target="_blank">working in a bordello as a "mec,"</a> which he differentiates from the American conception of a pimp, "The French <em>mecs</em> didn't exploit women. They represented them, like agents. And they took a cut. That's how I lived." So... not easy, but necessary.</p>
Jerry Springer: Mayor of Cincinnati<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDI4My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDEzNTkzNX0.h_k9FJugum9ZI55hpU49JC4180Bbzz5-vuHgIGGI3FM/img.jpg?width=980" id="6d534" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f8a8e61f6254ac8be70c23550346ec0d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Jerry Springer" /><p>On the other side of the sex work equation was a young Jerry Springer. Long before he was exposing strangers' dirty laundry to the delight of a hooting studio audience, he was starring in his own <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/assessment/1998/03/jerry_springer.html" target="_blank">personal scandal in Ohio politics</a>. He had already served as an adviser to Robert Kennedy, and had a failed run for Congress before he was elected to Cincinnati's City Council in 1971. At just 27 years old, he may not have been ready for a life in politics, and a few years later he was forced to step down after being caught in a prostitution probe, paying for sex work with personal checks.</p><p>Surprisingly, Springer was able to come back from that scandal with a series of honest, apologetic ads that resulted in him resuming his seat on the city council and eventually serving a term as Mayor. He even ran for governor in 1982, before beginning a career as a local news anchor and coining his catchphrase "Take care of yourselves, and each other." At the time he was known for delivering thoughtful editorials, and became so popular that he was given a daytime TV show that slowly transformed, in its chase for ratings, to the pure trash that eventually made him famous.</p>
Audrey Hepburn: Member of the Dutch Resistance<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDIzNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjAwODQ4M30.ZrhreORH5cpZ_Rsj09lVySaxzaLoFNE-DHHM9xbQFRE/img.jpg?width=980" id="6f2ab" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd21bb87307e5bb726ce9b73a7494189" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>The original manic pixie dream girl of <em>Breakfast at Tiffany's</em> was always known for her frail beauty, but when she was a growing up in <a href="https://time.com/5582729/audrey-hepburn-world-war-ii/" target="_blank">Nazi-occupied Holland</a>, some of that frailty was probably the result of malnutrition. Despite this, she was a talented ballet dancer, and frequently performed in secretive events known as "black nights," raising money for Dutch resistance fighters. Hepburn was just 15 in 1944, but because she was fluent in English, she was also tasked with delivering food and messages to allied pilots who were shot down by the Nazis. She helped them reach safety, and her youth and apparent innocence kept her safe from Nazi suspicions.</p>
Samuel L. Jackson: Militant Black Activist<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDIyMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTM1NDg0MX0.KsU1niylFVF0S_9u2v8qX5ircpmJ5Q8S7hf-TejhooA/img.jpg?width=980" id="e89bc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="23b27d5f9a6ec18ed4b6660985d7b342" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Samuel L. Jackson" /><p>Samuel L. Jackson is one of the biggest movie stars of all time. Collectively his films have grossed <a href="https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/how-samuel-l-jackson-became-hollywoods-bankable-star-1174613" target="_blank">nearly six billion dollars</a>—more than any other actor. But back in the late 1960s, his prospects didn't look so bright. As a young student at Morehouse College, <a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20081229063210/http://www.parade.com:80/articles/editions/2005/edition_01-09-2005/featured_0" target="_blank">Jackson joined the Black Power movement</a> following the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Jackson has said that he was in a "radical faction" of the movement: "We were buying guns, getting ready for armed struggle." He found the experience empowering, although it led to his expulsion from college after he and other activists held the school's board of trustees hostage in a dispute over the schools' curriculum and the demographics of its governing board.</p><p>It was his mother's influence that eventually pushed Jackson in another direction. She put him on a plane to Los Angeles and told him not to come back. "The FBI had been to the house and told her that if I didn't get out of Atlanta, there was a good possibility I'd be dead within a year. She freaked out." Jackson spent a couple years doing social work in LA before eventually returning to Morehouse to study drama. "I decided that theater would now be my politics." It was a bold choice for someone who had struggled with a stutter, though by that point Jackson had discovered the <a href="https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2019/06/samuel-l-jackson-shaft-motherfucker-stutter" target="_blank">therapeutic benefits</a> of shouting "motherf*cker."</p>
Jewel: Survivalist<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDI4Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjUwNjI0MH0.Y8mEiH18k9U4GVzE8UYOKLqZZtuor1EtrdQvVEzsoGk/img.jpg?width=980" id="d96e6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="eb8e0d81489c72d42600fe7436636728" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Jewel" /><p>Jewel Kilcher grew up in a saddle barn in the remote town of Homer, Alaska. While she was a singer from a young age—<a href="https://www.npr.org/2015/09/12/439764172/in-lumberjack-joints-and-coffee-shops-jewel-found-her-voice" target="_blank">performing with her father for lumberjacks</a> in local bars—<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewel_(singer)#Early_life" target="_blank">her early life was hardly glamorou</a>s. They had no running water, a coal stove for heat, and largely had to fend for themselves: "we mainly lived off of what we could kill or can. We picked berries and made jam. We caught fish to freeze and had gardens and cattle to live on. I rode horses every day in the summer beneath the Alaskan midnight sun." It may have been this childhood that prepared her to live out of her car at the age of 19 as she was launching her career in Southern California.</p>
Christopher Lee: Secret Agent<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDI4OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTg3MzM5M30.qKjkKyFCwktkOV9Fnf0W73uppSV3ko6xJ9ImPYEXRcI/img.jpg?width=980" id="4ac25" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="600db2000efa3054e51be73b94c640b4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Christopher Lee" /><p>You probably remember Christopher Lee for his portrayal of Saruman in the <em>Lord of the Rings</em> films, but did you know that he also played a crucial role <a href=""Have you any idea what kind of noise happens when somebody’s stabbed in the back? Because I do.”" target="_blank">advising Peter Jackson</a> on the realism of a scene in <em>The Return of the King</em>. Specifically, Lee provided his firsthand knowledge of the sound a person makes when they've just been stabbed. Jackson was directing Lee's reaction in a scene in which Saruman is ambushed, prompting Lee to respond, "Have you any idea what kind of noise happens when somebody's stabbed in the back? Because I do."</p><p>Lee would most likely have gained that knowledge during World War II, when he was a member of the British Army's <a href="https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/02/09/christopher-lee/" target="_blank">Long Range Desert Patrol</a>, fighting Axis forces on the North African Front. He then went on to join the Special Operations Executive, an elite organization involved in espionage and assassination. Most of their work is still classified.</p>
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