The Best Debut Albums Of 2019
Who made a big noise — or cast an intoxicating spell — with a debut album in 2019? There are many more answers to that rhetorical than we could compile here. And let's state for the record that while Lil Nas X might have had the biggest breakout year, that was on the strength of an unignorable single, much more than his mixed-bag debut EP. (Anyway, "Old Town Road," technically a 2018 release, gets its due elsewhere in this year-end package.) With no further preamble, here are 14 arresting albums by artists who broke through the din.
In 2017, Bon Iver went full vocoder, and suddenly a new generation's earthy, elusive singer-songwriter was articulating emotional rawness with an electronic sheen. 1000 Gecs is this idea made manifold, that for 21st-century living, the manipulated voice, the glitchy pastiche and the nonsensical wail of pop culture gibberish are the truest, most authentic representations of the modern condition. Challenging and addicting. —Cyrena Touros
Die For My Bitch
The days of the volatile, anomalous character in hip-hop seem to have faded — once, rappers like Eminem and O.D.B. could be counted on to deliver an unexpected and peculiar bag of tricks on the mic. Enter 18-year-old Baby Keem, a relative newcomer, although he's enjoyed early success with songwriting and production credits on a few TDE albums. Die For My Bitch opens with an angry voicemail — presumably from one of the ladies beating him up on the album cover. From there we're on a ride that seamlessly shifts from rage to romance and back again, as Keem experiments with singing and different vocal approaches, spurting out quirky one liners and infectious hooks with no shortage of confidence. —Bobby Carter
Bouncing around from Washington D.C. to North Carolina to Atlanta and spending much of her childhood by herself, Baby Rose has gained a perspective and wisdom usually reserved for someone much older (she's 25). To wit, her coping mechanisms for heartbreak are relatively simple — just some tequila, her friends and a mic. —Sidney Madden
When she was a teen, the Northumberland-born Jade Bird played in Welsh bars, learning to project above the suds-soaked noise. She transfers that skill to her own music — grounded in contemporary folk and classic country, her songs bounce with the energy of punk, especially the shining defiance of riot grrrl. "I get no jooooooy!" Bird shouts on one of her self-titled debut's standout cuts, throwing off the shackles of her own overactive mind. In truth, she rolls in joy, swims in it, as she faces the struggles of being a young woman in a time of flux. —Ann Powers
Wagner and Strauss
It's been a year of debuts for the young Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen, who sang her very first performances at Germany's Bayreuth this summer and New York's Metropolitan Opera last month. That's an amazing turn of events considering the 32-year-old singer had never seen a staged opera just 10 years ago. Her debut album, of lyrical and dramatic arias and songs by Wagner and Richard Strauss, released in June, offers a tantalizing glimpse of what this voice – with its Grand Canyon expanse and laser-like top notes – must really be like in person. —Tom Huizenga
Angel Bat Dawid
"Black is really beautiful and we must be proud of it," Chicago based clarinetist, composer and pianist Angel Bat Dawid frequently writes on her social media channels. Her spiritually vibrant debut album, The Oracle, is a masterpiece, rich with dense improvisation and Afrocentric themes. Recorded with a free app and the built-in microphone on her cell phone, the raw audio quality of Bat Dawid's hauntingly resonant clarinet is a wide window into her soul. Not wanting to specify genre, Bat Dawid told NPR, "My music is great black music. I'm a great black woman. I'm just being Angel and this is the expression of me. I'm a black woman in America, so through the album you're gonna hear all of the things that come with that." —Suraya Mohamed
Lucky Daye's Painted depicts a man immersed and present within the gantlet of emotions a relationship brings. Producer D'Mile, who has collaborated with a who's-who list of hip-hop and R&B artists, has finally found his muse in the New Orleans singer-songwriter. Together, they crafted a project that authentically toes the line between contemporary and present-day soul. "What you hear on the album is all we recorded at the time," Daye told me earlier this year, as we sat outside of his tour bus. "I knew we had everything we needed in those songs." —Bobby Carter
Beware of the Dogs
"Of course I support men's rights – men's rights to shut the f*** up!" This meme made the rounds this year; consider it the leading philosophy of the opening chapter of the Stella Donnelly songbook. Tight hooks, laugh-out-loud one-liners, and a sunny delivery that belies the Australian pop-rocker's unforgiving message. As another meme commands: Men can't behave? "Then perish." —Cyrena Touros
When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Disquiet is a drug for Billie Eilish, and not just in the coolly rendered horror show of a song like "Bury a Friend." A teenaged pop iconoclast pulling style from myriad directions — SoundCloud-rap dystopia, Lana Del Ray melancholia, the dynamic waveforms of EDM — she's a genuine phenom with an aversion to all forms of grandiosity, including the hype around her. But her first full-length album, made with her older brother, Finneas, debuted at No. 1, and has yielded six Grammy nominations; hype is now among the stubborn facts for Eilish to slyly subvert. —Nate Chinen
Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram
Until Christone "Kingfish" Ingram showed up, the blues was pretty much resting peacefully in the corner of the antique store, crammed in next to rusty Nehi soda signs and RCA Nipper figurines. On his blazing Kingfish (Alligator), this Clarksdale, Miss. native smacks the form to life, by singing like an ornery road-weary elder (he turns 21 in January), and playing guitar leads with a dramatic, searing tone and sure-handed authority. And that's just in the studio; he's even scarier live. —Tom Moon
Like his countryman Glen Hansard, Irish singer-songwriter Dermot Kennedy is a former busker with a carefully calibrated mix of weary nuance and grand, rafter-rattling intensity. On Without Fear, Kennedy finds room for glorious, 10-mile-wide anthems ("Moments Passed," "Lost") and dialed-back ballads that allow him to wrap his sandy rasp around exquisitely intense expressions of youthful yearning. —Stephen Thompson
For the last several years, a young vibraphonist named Joel Ross has been the talk of New York jazz circles — the sort of musician who seems to summon the full sweep of the post-bop tradition while tilting decisively toward the future. With KingMaker, his tautly self-assured Blue Note debut, Ross made it official. It's a statement of arrival for his serious-minded peer group, and a good answer to jazz's evergreen rhetorical question: Who got next? —Nate Chinen
Walk Through Fire
The best kind of newcomer is one who's lived a little somewhere else. Yolanda Quartey honed her talent as part of the adventurous dance music scene in her hometown of Bristol, England, all the while dreaming of a very different kind of beat — the swing and sway of country music. When she made it to Nashville a couple of years ago, she immediately won over the Americana music community, dazzling with her radiant vocal tone and brilliance at modernizing country soul. Produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, Yola's solo debut evokes the sophistication of classic albums like Dusty in Memphis without pinning Yola to the past: this spirit could not be confined. —Ann Powers
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