2019 has been a difficult year for the music album as a collection of songs connected by some sort of consistent narrative. Physical album sales continued to decline while music streaming services keep gaining market share with Spotify remaining the most important player, no pun intended. But while streaming platforms are very convenient to use and have arguably made music more accessible than ever before, their emphasis on songs, playlists and single track recommender systems disincentives listening to albums from first track to last.
Survey data suggests that less than 20 % of the time spent listening to streamed music is dedicated to albums, according to Musicbiz (pdf). The average listener across all age groups spends 54 % of his and her time listening to single tracks and 28 % to playlists. Among the playlists, platform-generated ones are about three times as popular as those curated by friends, radio stations or the good old fashioned music blog. Needless to say that only a fraction of the streaming industries’ revenue growth ends up in the pockets of musicians.
There are bright spots though. While revenues from digital album and CD sales keep going down, vinyl record sales were up 13 % in 2019, the RIAA reports, offsetting the decline of all other physical formats. Platforms like Bandcamp are on the forefront of this trend and continue to flourish, putting the artists and independent labels at the center of their business. More than 5 million albums can be bought on the platform, both physically and digitally, and 80-85 % of the revenue stream, no pun intended, goes straight to the artists – paid out transparently, on a daily basis. Pretty smooth.
Bandcamp is showcasing the incredible diversity of their catalogue in a record store and performance place in Oakland, California, that opened in February 2019, and which Team Poule strongly encourages you to visit. Their cozy and bright corner space on 19th and Broadway holds a curated vinyl selection from their online store that is updated every day and sports relaxing listening booths to make your way through the maybe 100 records on display quite comfortably.
It wasn’t all grey in 2019 then, but good music, at least for Team Poule, was to be discovered in places outside the streaming platforms and machine-made playlists. It might be idealistic or old-fashioned, but at Poule headquarters, the album, the classic long player, still counts: the LP that has a coherent theme, is a document of the artist’s time, and is under no circumstances to be listened to on shuffle.
So, after consulting the major media outlets, and looking past the great headline making albums by Weyes Blood, Thom Yorke, Little Simz, Helado Negro, Toro Y Moi, Chromatics, Julia Jacklin, Big Thief, Nick Cave, Lana del Rey, Men I Trust, Bon Iver, Nilüfer Yanya, Angel Olsen, and more, here goes Team Poule’s definitive list of 10 or so of our favorite albums that saw the light of day in 2019 and were somewhat overlooked – in no particular order.
Faye Webster – Atlanta Millionaires Club / Atlanta, Georgia / Secretly Canadian / 31 mins
Listening to the brilliant Atlanta Millionaires Club and its pure tiki vibes that come wrapped in a perfect summer afternoon drowsiness and Grande Bellezza is as pleasing as swiping through the perfectly arranged Ace Hotel Palm Springs Instagram account. A fine production from horns to keys and her lush vocals take you back to hours spent by the pool, palm tree aesthetics, and food being served under plastic domes. Her third solo album was one of the finest records of 2019.
Maria Usbeck – Envejeciendo / Brooklyn, New York / Cascine / 27 mins
Her second album Envejeciendo picks up right where the debut left off. Flawless dreamy Spanish/English synth pop that is just a joy to listen to, be it on your Sunday couch or cruising down your local coastline, windows down, wheels chasing the white lines.
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