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KRUI Staff Picks 2019

After a long year and countless albums we listened to both on air and off, the KRUI staff is ready to pick their favorite album and song of the year. A variety of staffers in both the Online Content and Music staffs were asked about their favorite music of the year and it ranged. From pop to alternative to punk, the KRUI picks have been as dynamic as ever. But as always, we combine to create the KRUI Sound Alternative KRUI 89.7 in Iowa City is known for. KRUI will see you again in the new decade, for more fun in 2020.

Brendan McDonough

Favorite Album: uknowhatimsayin? by Danny Brown

I will always remember the first time I saw Danny Brown live at Pitchfork in 2014, its probably going to be one of the recollections I have on my deathbed. I remember a shoeless man, wearing nothing but a vest made of some kind of animal skins (I didn’t ask), offering me an Aquafina bottle full of a mystery liquor (I also didn’t ask, nor drink it), saying that he drove all the way from Mobile, Alabama just to see Danny perform. Crowd members were inhaling a rainbow assortment of every pill under the sun, and chasing those with cups, flasks and water bottles of their booze of choice. Once the show began, a nonstop mosh-pit lasting the length of his set broke out. Danny’s performance was electric even without a near-lethal dose of substances, and much of his stage energy, and comically emphasized inflections is mirrored on uknowhatimsayin? A far-cry from his critically successful Atrocity Exhibition, his latest release is a reprise of Danny’s XXX days. Produced by Q-Tip and featuring JPEGMAFIA, Flying Lotus, and Killer Mike, among others, unknowhatimsayin is the most enthralling hip hop release of 2019.

Favorite Song: “Jesus is the One (I Got Depression)” by Zach Fox and Kenny Beats

“Free Palestine. Free Tay K.” Twitter comedian Zack Fox took the rap world by storm this summer with this surprise Kenny Beats freestyle collaboration. Coming from The Cave YouTube series, in which Kenny Beats creates tracks tailored to the requests of rappers, who subsequently showcase their freestyle abilities. Adorned with a Lincoln-esque stovepipe hat, stripping naked halfway through recording, and causing the entire booth to break out in raucous laughter, Fox delivered the shows most entertaining performances to date, and delivered the track Jesus Is the One (I Got Depression). A slap-in-the-face trap beat, with Fox rapping about mental illness, thousand island dressing, and of course Jesus, Jesus is hands down the funniest song of the year and a rallying cry for chronically depressed millenials.

Elisabeth Oster

Favorite Album: Sandman by Trudy and the Romance

I can confidently say that this album sounds like nothing I’ve ever listened to before, as Trudy and the Romance’s sound takes influence from such a wide, impressive range of influences across genres and decades. Self-described as “50s mutant pop,” the band’s 2019 debut album provides a dreamy escape with its strong doo-wop sound and creative use of call and response. Although each track easily stands alone, its cohesive form is where the album truly shines, with short musical interludes and a subtle, interwoven story. Sandman’s twelve tracks chronicle fictional leader singer Little Johnny, his band The Original Doo-Wop Spaceman, and the protagonist’s heartbreak. Stand-out tracks include “That’s Not Me”—a diversion that feels fit for a 50s prom slow dance—and “The Original Doo-Wop Spaceman”—a piece that flirts with jangly 60s pop while still maintaining the overarching cosmic vibe of the album. For me, this album is a master class in engineering an album that works as a conglomeration, rather than crumbling to the rising trend of charting singles. Trudy and the Romance have a story to tell and a unique sound to share with the world; each album track is representative of this refreshing, focused vision that I hope they continue to explore past their first musical outing. 

Favorite Song: Ocean by Fruit Bats

This song encapsulated and enveloped this summer for me, and for good reason—its 3-minute runtime distinctly feels like carefree summer days and open car windows bottled up in wistful lyrics and sun-soaked guitar chords. Fruit Bats, whose only consistent member is Eric D. Johnson, has consistently put out 70s influenced albums for the past twenty years with a vocal delivery reminiscent of Neil Young and Supertramp. “Ocean,” a track off Johnson’s excellent Gold Past Life release, doesn’t have a chorus or hook to speak of, but each verse builds on masterful, vivid descriptions of the natural world and the people who open our eyes to such wonders. It’s a nostalgic and tender song, worth a listen for the atmosphere it conjures up. As I am a naturally indecisive person, I am also attaching a runner-up song into consideration: “Chartreuse,” by underrated DIY artist Worn-Tin, is a psychedelic masterpiece released earlier this year on his album Cycles—an alluring track that is a purely fun listen. 

Jaden Amjadi

Favorite Album: All My Heroes Are Cornballs by JPEGMAFIA

This has got to be my favorite album of the year, it’s one I find myself returning to a lot. The production contrasts between lots of smooth, wavy synths and odder, more abrasive sounds. Peggy’s bars are both humorous and confrontational. Songs will switch styles without warning, keeping listeners on their toes. Some really strong melodies are still delivered, like on “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot” or “Free the Frail”. It really feels like a rap album representative of the Internet Age.

Favorite Song: Everyday by Weyes Blood

This song is glorious. The piano chords and percussion in the first verse are playful and sweet, providing an excellent base for the smooth vocals. The melodies, whether they be on the chorus or the verse or the bridge, are irresistible. The lyrics are a bit somber, but leave room for hope. The choir vocals, strings, and guitar which come in as the track builds are executed so well, and by the time the track is over, it’s felt like a real journey while being approachable and catchy all the while. Amazing song.

Sarah Bridgeport

Favorite Album: When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? By Billie Eilish

From this year (which felt like a century) my favorite album was When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? by Billie Eilish. As soon as I realized the album had come out, I sat in my bedroom and listened through the whole thing. “Listen Before I Go” was my favorite song from the album, it was so visual and tragic. Overall, I adored the tone of the album, it has such a distinctive voice. 

Favorite Song: “Kiki’s Song” by Mree

My favorite song of the year has to be “Kiki’s Song” by Mree. It’s a song that’s told like a story, and it’s from the point of view of Kiki from the Studio Ghibli movie Kiki’s Delivery Service. It’s enchanting and makes what I consider to be the ultimate homage by using parts of the melody from Kiki’s theme in the movie. This is a song I hum when I’m in a good mood, and sometimes I hum it to put me in a good mood.

Grace Wachholz

Favorite Album: Immunity by Clairo

Immunity by Clairo is my favorite album of year because it is Clairo’s first true album and she really breaks out of the ‘bedroom pop’ genre she’s always been known for. It’s so cool to see how she’s grown as an artist. I’ve been a fan since her early music so I’ve watched her style change through the years. Immunity consists of eleven tracks that are much more intimate and mature than her past music. The album has been considered one of the best albums of the year on many charts and for very good reason.

Favorite Song: “Never Cared” by boy pablo & Jimi Somewhere

“Never Cared” by boy pablo & Jimi Somewhere is my favorite song of the year because the song reminds me of this past summer. I definitely had this song on repeat for a while then, which made it my top Spotify track of the year! It has a different style than boy pablo’s other music and I like how the he was able to experiment with Jimi Somewhere. I also got to see boy pablo in concert this past August and it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. The band’s personality carries into their music and they’re always a fun band to listen to.

Emma Caparula

Favorite Album: IGOR by Tyler the Creator

Since I was around 15 years old, I have been a massive Tyler, the Creator fan. Back then – in 2013 – he had released two albums, Goblin and Wolf, both of which feature aggressive rapping and unsettlingly angry lyrics. Four years later, with the release of album Flower Boy, a massive shift in Tyler’s style occurred; low-key instrumentals accompanied emotional lyrics about Tyler’s sexuality and relationship issues. This past may, Tyler released his latest album, IGOR, incorporating elements of both Flower Boy and his past albums to produce an incredibly unique and passionate project. IGOR tells a love story; Tyler falls for someone, but the object of his affection is still involved with their previous partner. He desperately wants to be the only person in their life, as he states in New Magic Wand with the line, “This 60/40 isn’t workin.’ I want a hundred of your time, you’re mine.” Eventually, Tyler accepts that his needs will never be met, and the relationship falls apart. IGOR’s mixture of jazz, pop, rap, and hip-hop makes for a vivacious experience capable of appealing to a wide range of listeners; and what’s more, he produced the entire thing solo.

Favorite Line: ..maybe it’s just a dream that I can’t seem to wake up from; my love’s gone.

Favorite Song: “home with you” by FKA Twigs

I listened to FKA twigs’ home with you on a whim the day it was released. Although I had previously listened to bits and pieces of her first album, they never peaked my interest; hearing home with you was a completely different story. Immediately, her enchanting whispers and the haunting electronic accompaniment drew me in. When the song transitioned into a combination of melancholy vocals and gorgeous piano-playing, it struck a chord with me, and I was sure home with you would be one of my all-time favorite songs.
Favorite Line: I didn’t know that you were lonely; if you’d have just told me, I’d be home with you.

Lauren Arzbaecher

Favorite Album: Jade Bird by Jade Bird

Though I had heard some of her singles before, what really drew me to Jade Bird’s music was her performance at Hinterland Music Festival this summer. I had gone to report on the festival as a whole, and she was one of the early performers of the day. Needless to say her engaging stage presence and upbeat songs kept me listening for months after the festival. For a UK artist, her slight twang and focus on the acoustic guitar seem to fit right into the ever-changing atmosphere of American modern country music. This debut album sits comfortably between country-folk and indie-pop, and each song exudes a sincere soulfulness. The lyrics focus mainly on love and all the ways it can affect us, some gems being “Lottery,” “Good At It,” and the raucously fun “Uh Huh.” The 22 year old artist has set a high bar with this heartfelt debut, and she is just getting started.

Favorite Song: “DAVE (turn the music down)” by Juice

Juice is a group that is rather genre-fluid, but tends to settle somewhere between r&b and funk. DAVE (turn the music down)” diverges into rap, yet still keeps the band’s signature sound with a funky beat that gives the song a unique aura. Like a good amount of music this past year, the lyrics allude to political and social issues, but don’t take themselves that seriously. The songs links rap, psychedelic rock, hip-hop, and funk all in one fascinating combination that is so much fun to listen to. 

Ella Heckman

Favorite Album: The Juice: Vol. I by Emotional Oranges

My favorite album this year was Emotional Oranges’ The Juice: Vol. I. by far, for its unique and tightly plotted R&B funk wave sound. It was a standout for me as the artist’s debut album with a cohesive but unique sound across every track. There wasn’t a single song on the album that didn’t belong and didn’t slap.

Favorite Song: “No Plan” by Hozier

This was my favorite song this year because its bluesy rock sound combined with lyrics conflicted with both hope and fear set the tone for my year. From Hozier’s album, Wasteland, Baby!, No Plan is a patch of solace among the “screaming, heaving, f*ckery of the world” that draws from the rich traditions of blues and rock pioneered by black artists.

Jake Bisson

Favorite Album: There Existed An Addiction to Blood by clipping

My AOTY is There Existed An Addiction to Blood by clipping. It’s a horror-themed noise rap album that near-flawlessly progresses like listening to a horror movie. One of my favorite songs is ‘Run for Your Life,’ which uses an incredible sample of a car driving past blaring beats that match up with the rhythm of the song. At the same time, the lyrics tell a story that incorporates the car itself into the dark atmosphere it builds. It’s one of the most masterfully produced albums I’ve heard in general and has earned itself lots of spins on my show (As Loud As Possible).

Favorite Song: “Dream Catcher Part II” by State Faults

This song is fast and aggressive screamo loaded with emotional vocals and blistering riffs. The mix of rawness and emotion in State Faults’ music has made them one of my favorite bands to come out of punk and metal this year. Their sound reminds me of one of my personal favorite music scenes, the early 2000’s East Coast screamo of bands like Orchid, pageninetynine, and City of Caterpillar.

Luke Bonner

Favorite Album: Father of the Bride by Vampire Weekend

While it’s not surprising to anyone, Vampire Weekend is still a great band. After some recent flagship 2000’s indie bands faltered (cough Arcade Fire), I was wary coming into the new Vampire Weeekend album. However, I had truly nothing to fear. Ezra Koening and crew showed they still have all their old magic and new tricks up their sleeves. Tracks like “This Life” had the classic Vampire Weekend sound I was looking for, but others like “Sympathy” and “Spring Snow” were new territory. The duets with Danielle Haim and stellar lyrics throughout kept this one spinning all Spring, Summer, and Fall for me. Not to mention, Vampire Weekend put on the best live show I saw all year.

Favorite Song: “Cellophane” by FKA Twigs

Where do I start? This might be my favorite song of the year but it is hard to listen to. Releasing this in the Spring, Twigs really got ahead of the Winter sadness because this song is a potent encapsulation of despair and longing. Written after a breakup with star Robert Pattinson, FKA Twigs delves deep into the pain after one loses someone close to them. The self-despair and questioning is all over the song with the line, “Didn’t I do it for you?” resonating. The music video is also essential and by far my favorite video of the year. Who knew pole dancing was so beautiful and evocative?

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