There I was, trying to put together a simple year-end top 10 for local music. Then I started thinking about what a strong year it was and decided to do 19 for 2019. Then I plunged into picks solicited from local writers, musicians, and presenters and said, “FINE, WE WILL DO 51 THINGS.” (There’s one to grow on for the new year.) These are just some of our favorites. We could have done dozens more. If you can’t find something to get obsessed with in this bounty of songs and videos, new takes and recaps, you might just not like music. —Brian Howe

1. Ancestral Memories: 

2. Cochonne: Cochonne  

“With all the stalking three-note bass lines, anxious guitars, and yelping incantations you could want from such a period piece, the album also has a special sauce: the mock innocence of ‘60s French yé-yé.” [review]

3. Daughter of Swords: “Fellows”  

I haven’t seen Alexandra Sauser-Monnig play with a full band yet, and I’m excited to. But I love watching her play solo. She does everything to keep me entrapped in her storytelling and songwriting, with her light guitar work and wandering vocals. Her debut solo record, Dawnbreaker, has a great mix of full-band and solo songs. The opener, “Fellows,” works these aspects into a meandering melodic journey that feels both written and improvised. It is the essence of her captivating live set at Hopscotch last year. Yes, she’s one third of Mountain Man, but “Fellows” demonstrates why we need her to keep producing and playing solo as well. —Kym Register of Loamlands

4. Drag Sounds: IV

5. FootRocket: COLONY

“We already told you about the Daft Punk meets Deee-Lite pleasures of “Lingo” when we premiered it, but that’s just the start of what FootRocket gets up to. He happens to be a freerunning enthusiast, which shows in how fluidly and lightly he flits and flips over varied electronic-music terrain.” [review]

6. Fitness Womxn: New Age Record 

Carrboro’s Fitness Womxn came out swinging from their hiatus at the tail end of the year with their new album. Dancy and dark, New Age Record is a deliberate disco of robotic rage vocals over airy, catchy-as-hell riffs and beats. 2017 release Macho City was gritty, angry, and fast, and while they kept the same general sound, their new record leaves more room for structure. But the fury still comes across, atmospheric and haunting. Each of the 11 songs is meticulous yet punk; the time they took on this record really shines. —Sarah Schmader

7. FFFOOLERY: Raleighwood

“Departing from the usual sample-laden sound his listeners have become accustomed to via his prolific work with Kooley High, FFFOOLERY brings us on a voyage through G-funk-inspired melodies and drums, shimmering lo-fi synths, and cleverly placed vocal snippets that sprinkle subtle social commentary and philosophy into the mix.” [review]

8. Jake Xerxes Fussell: Out of Sight 

This album had the uncanny ability to make me feel hopeful this year. Jake Xerxes Fussell’s interpretation of traditional folk songs is like an Appalachian hall of mirrors. The ragtime tune “Winnsboro Cotton Blues,” a laborer’s ballad from an industrial school for women in Western North Carolina, is clever and wry. Hope isn’t a straightforward thing: It might be bright and sunny, like Fussell’s deft fingerpicking, and it might hum along at a pace designed to keep you going, but it’s also always a bit subversive. On “The River St. Johns,” Fussell wails, “I’ve got fresh fish this morning, ladies / They are gilded with gold, and you may find a diamond in their mouths.” Whether you hear that old-time line as a scam or a promise, there’s something reassuring about imagery, fashioned and refashioned over time, that makes us look for good things in unexpected places. —Sarah Edwards

9. Judge Schreber’s Avian Choir: Bleed 

Raleigh musician Crowmeat Bob‘s first album as a bandleader is both an amalgamation and interrogation of his other sonic explorations to date. He stretches as a composer and arranger, cobbling together droning atonal strings, whirring cascades of horns, threatening heavy metal riffs, and the sinister march of Mike Isenberg’s drums. The album bridges an array of styles, tapping into the harrowing neuroticism of a screeching string section and the jagged edge of experimental rock to construct a wide-ranging emotional palette. Crowmeat Bob has always excelled as a collaborator and improviser, and here, on a grander, more ambitious stage, he delivers an album of symphonic proportions. —Harris Wheless

10. Gibson & Toutant: Gibson & Toutant 

Featuring Joseph O’Connell of Elephant Micah and Josephine McRobbie (disclosure: McRobbie is an INDY contributor), Gibson & Toutant conceived of this four-song jewel while playing a vintage combo organ in Queensland before recording it in Durham. A tribute to the pair’s roots in Australia and Texas, it’s a weird, artful quilt of sounds: languid and abstract, spiked with sun-baked psychedelia. It opens with the longest, most experimental track, the eight-minute “Ute Ute Ute,” which feels good-weird, like Laurie Anderson. The other three songs are equally oddball, but have more of a traditional song structure. “Modern Voodoo Art,” my favorite, is a shimmering incantation, with McRobbie crooning, “Tonight’s the night, alright.” You don’t have to fully understand what’s happening tonight to be pulled fully into the moment. —Sarah Edwards

11. GRRL: “Pay Attention”

12. Skylar Gudasz: “Wichita Lineman”

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13. Gudiya: Kya Tracks Vol. 1 

14. Hanz: “The Fly”

15. Hiss Golden Messenger: Terms of Surrender

“Terms of Surrender—M.C. Taylor’s most invigorating album since he signed with Merge Records—is alive with bright flashes of texture and melody that flirt with excess but never cross the line.” [review]

16. Joyero: Release the Dogs

“On “Alight”, the opener, it takes Stack just under ninety seconds to do the following: introduce an insistent, dubby drum-and-bass pattern, tweak its tempo, add an organ’s ebullient hum, crank up the delay, push the whole thing toward oblivion, gently pull it back from the brink, and introduce us to his voice. It’s exhilarating but controlled.” [feature]

17. Jphono1: “I’ve Let All My Hair Grow”

18. King Draft and Swank: TwoFive 2 Jersey: The Sequel  

With 9th Wonder mentoring, it’s tempting to tag these Jamla new jacks as “Little Brother’s little brothers.” There is a kinship—precise raps, ‘70s-soul samples, HBCU roots—but King Draft and Swank came into their own on TwoFive 2 Jersey: The Sequel when they veered away from conscious boom-bap and neo-soul shadow. Over brooding, low-lit tracks “69 —Charles Aaron

19. Lesthegenius: “Raleighwood Hills”

Being an independent musician in a city that’s not exactly known for its music scene can be frustrating. When Leslie Robbin-Coker, also known as Lesthegenius, teamed up with fellow local hip-hop up-and-comers Sonny Miles and Jaxson Free for “Raleighwood Hills,” they explained that frustration so calmly and effectively that they may have spoken their success into existence. Les and company weren’t the city’s impresarios before the single dropped, but through savvy placements on Spotify’s Fresh Finds playlist and Lyrical Lemonade, the trio’s work made it to the ears of Barack Obama, who publicly lauded it as one of his favorite songs of 2019. —Charles Morse

20. Lightning Born: Lightning Born

“Though its live performances have been sporadic, and its recent self-titled debut album arrives three years after the band’s formation, the quartet attracted the attention of the California label Ripple Music and its devoted, if far-flung, audience.” [feature]

21. Liquid Asset: In Laboratory 

Liquid Asset’s heavy-duty yet playful acid techno EP transports you to a supernatural rave, from the eerie, incisive loop-based madness of the opening track to the hallucinatory remix of high-speed techno artist Isabella at the end. “Moon Beams on Your Face” feels like a blissful alien abduction. Hardware techno producer Alene Marie developed her unique sound among the noise and DIY scenes of Philly and the Triangle, and she brings an experimental sensibility to dance music by hand-building her own gear. Using modified clones of Roland synthesizers, she evokes classic acid sounds while deviating into her personal mutant-dance fantasy. —Marta Núñez Pouzols

22. Little Brother: May the Lord Watch

“And just like that, the dream of a full reunion of the original trio slipped away. In a way, history repeated itself around the release of May the Lord Watch. But this time, Little Brother came away not only with a triumphant album, but with a stronger bond—as a duo, not a trio—than ever before.” [feature]

23. Loamlands: Lez Dance

24. Magic Tuber Stringband: Wayward Airs for Earthbound Vagrants 

The debut cassette by the Durham-based duo of Evan Morgan (plucked instruments) and Courtney Werner (fiddle) is a study in contrasts. Their love of The Anthology of American Folk Music goes deep, and their originals sometimes feel like revenants of the Old Weird America. But they also venture way out into the twilit, transcendental improvisations of groups like Pelt or No-Neck Blues Band. “Night Watchman’s Song” spends five minutes casting flickering late-night shadows with layers of patient, crackling violin noise before honing in on a delightful fragment of a banjo tune. The band toggles at will between these two modes, and it’s sometimes hard to tell which they do better. —Dan Ruccia

25. Mandolin Orange: “The Wolves”

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26. Karl MarXs: “Digital Romance” 

This cut from producer Karl MarXs’s sprawling album 33 N a Third seamlessly blends a multitude of instruments into an immediate feelgood head-bopper. It’s reminiscent of Zapp’s legendary ‘80s hit “Computer Love,” but instead of a funk-based groove, MarXs incorporates lo-fi hip-hop infused with jazz to create the sonic romance. —Kyesha Jennings

27. H.C. McEntire: “Houses of the Holy”

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28. Reese McHenry: No Dados

“Within a single note, Reese McHenry will employ her seemingly endless vocabulary of sounds: dips, swoops, various gradations of growls and roars, a wide vibrato she can turn on or off on cue, subtle rises before a note even starts, and on and on.” [review

29. Sonny Miles: GAMMA 

Sonny Miles kicked off his year with the release of this stellar new-age hip-hop album and capped it with a cosign on Barack Obama’s year-end list for his feature on Lesthegenius’s “Raleighwood Hills.” GAMMA is a triumphant record that blends nostalgia with innovation, the political with the personal, and joy with despondence. Landing somewhere between neo-soul, pop, and hip-hop, it’s a densely packed sonic world. Miles uses a mix of organic instrumentation and samples to add flourishes to his addictive vocal hooks. Tracks like “The Kids” and “Good Lovin’ in the West” showcase his range, depth, and limitless promise. —Grant Golden

30. The Mountain Goats: In League with Dragons

“John Darnielle is following the trajectory of many of his songs’ characters, who are scattered across about forty EPs and albums—including this year’s more sonically sophisticated In League with Dragons—and two novels: He’s facing the maddening grind of mortality, but instead of conceding to time, he’s putting in the road work for the next fight.” [feature

31. Mo’ynoq: Dreaming in a Dead Language

“With its full-length debut, Raleigh black metal band Mo’ynoq seems poised to blast beyond the “local” categorization. In many ways, Dreaming in a Dead Language feels like a summation of everything black metal in 2019 can be.” [review]

32. The Muslims: Mayo Supreme

There are so many goddamn punk bands in the Triangle, most of them straight and white and male-dominated. Thankfully, we have The Muslims, who are none of those things, and who blast through groove-heavy hardcore with necessary rage. Lyricist and front-person QADR has the wicked sense of humor of an aged satirist. “Ya Late” needs to be blasted from every car window surrounding every college campus, and “Fuck the Cistem” is a pointed call-out of Nice Guys who worm their way into artistic spaces to prey on women. This is a dark, hilarious, and important record from a band that will one day rule us all, as well it should. Al Riggs

33. Pat Junior: I Thought I Knew 

“Every kick, snare, and sub on I Thought I Knew was made in-house, with Pat laying down exceptional bars on top. He dissects his insecurities, facing them head-on and accepting responsibility, not just pointing a finger at those who have wronged him. He shows vulnerability.” [review]

34. Pie Face Girls: “Street Creep”

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35. Rapsody: Eve

Rapsody’s introspective approach on her second studio album, an ode to Black women, solidified her position in hip-hop as a bona fide emcee. Her storytelling, witty bars, and poetry not only paid homage to greats such as Nina Simone, Michelle Obama, and the late Aaliyah, but they also revealed who Rapsody is as a person and artist, as she celebrates her tomboy feminine aesthetic and directly addresses the critics and naysayers. The Grammy-worthy project features an impressive list of guest appearances, too, including Queen Latifah, D’Angelo, GZA, and J. Cole. —Kyesha Jennings

36. Al Riggs: Lavender Scare

“There are bedroom-pop auteurs that consistently make good and varied albums, and there are those that make a lot of albums. Then there’s Al Riggs. They occupy the rarer subset of bedroom-pop auteurs that do both.” [review]

37. Molly Sarlé: Karaoke Angel

“Like the musky powerhouse ballads of Rumours, Sarlé’s album has a Laurel Canyon sheen to it: gauzy and light, grounded by subtle lines of guitar, bass, and percussion. But unlike a lot of the material that came out of that era, Sarlé’s music doesn’t feel like it’s trying to do a lot of standardizing. It’s contemporary and intense and in-step with the metamorphic nature of specific feelings and moments.” [feature]

38. Secret Boyfriend: Memory Care Unit Vol. 2 

39. sister,brother: Suicide Club

Sister,brother’s 2017 debut felt like trying to chug two Red Bulls while headbanging under a hundred strobes. The live show feels much the same, with Alison Martlew solemnly ripping into her bass while ski-masked Mark Hanley loops samples, screams, and dances the crowd into a frenzy. They are uncomfortably loud, and that is the mission. At the beginning of 2019, they released Suicide Club. It has twice as many songs as the debut, each still a brief sucker punch. If first record was a mission statement, the second is a whole-ass thesis on the fast and the loud, complex and carefully designed but punk as fuck. —Sarah Schmader

40. Solar Halos: Coiled Light 

Solar Halos’ Coiled Light was one of my favorites of 2019 by far. Nora Rogers’s vocals helped me reflect on some serious life changes during runs at the river. Eddie Sanchez’s bass lines felt like the slow carving of a canyon through time, keeping me connected while doing whatever I do on the computer to keep The Pinhook running. John Crouch’s majestic, powerful drumming gave me the steady energy I needed to move boxes up and down flights of stairs last month. It’s cross-genre. Epic and pensive. Uplifting and grounded. It’s technical without being theatrical and shows the thoughtfulness and skill of three of the best musicians in the Triangle. —Kym Register  

41. Ssoft: Air Maintenance 

Air Maintenance consists of five pert, pliable house-derived tracks with nary a vocal or lo-fi affectation within earshot, yet it feels consistent with Yair Rubinstein’s chillwave work. It’s melodic, emotive, and wistful, but a little ironic about it, in the chillwave spirit—one song is called “Update No One Knows I’m Dead,” the first word neutralizing the sincerity of the rest.” [review]

42. Sun Studies: “You, Reversed” 

“Spare, saturnine acoustic folk-rock bears along Reid Johnson’s striking vocal performance, heavily draped but surprisingly mobile. His baritone has the stern majesty of Scott Walker, but it’s softened by the syrupy ache of Roy Orbison, and here, it’s clasped in a melody that you don’t realize is catchy until it’s stuck in your head.” [review]

43. TheDeeepEnd: Verano

“One of the Triangle hip-hop scene’s best-kept secrets, Deeep is one of the best independent artists in the state, right up there with the Jooselords and Pat Juniors. He writes and produces all of his own projects, and Verano shows that he has no intention of letting up in either department.” [review]

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44. Triple X Snaxxx: “Ottte”

45. Ernest Turner: My Americana

“Turner has been a fixture of Durham’s jazz scene for a decade now, playing in saxophonist Brian Horton’s band and running a weekly jam session at The Shed for the entirety of the venue’s existence. His knowledge of jazz history is deep, both intellectually and in his fingers. He’ll often sit on a couple of simple ideas, letting them iterate and evolve until he’s suddenly changed the color of the lighting.” [review]

46. Ultrabillions: Home Astronomy

In a time when high-energy, sometimes-formulaic bangers often win the day, there’s still space for aural exploration, for music that incites creativity and inspiration. Ultrabillions sits right in that vein. According to Sean Thegen, aka Ultrabillions, Home a collection of one-take recordings that represent a meditative state in his house. Free from particular genre goals, he tinkered with the parameters and sequencing of modular synths to create a thoroughly enjoyable journey through sound. —Nick Wallhausser of Raund Haus

47. Various artists: Alone in the Dark

Local label Hot Releases has been supporting unconventional artists since 2008. Around Halloween, it dropped Alone in the Dark, an engulfing compilation of deep cuts by underground experimental artists. The music ranges from abstract soundscapes to trance-inducing anarchic techno, harsh industrial noise to lo-fi dreampop. With four tracks by Triangle-based projects—Floor Model, Housefire, Binky (whose new tape will be released by the label in January), and Secret Boyfriend, the project of the label’s proprietor—it’s an introspective journey of exquisite gloom and sonic tribulations. —Marta Núñez Pouzols

48. Various artists: American Idylls

“Growing from a DIY imprint to an online retailer and, ultimately, into a physical landmark in downtown Raleigh, Sorry State Records has been an indispensable resource for local bands looking to devour new influences and spread their own songs to a wider audience. With the sprawling, forty-nine-track compilation American Idylls, it plants a flag for N.C. punk, highlighting the diverse sound and unified intensity of the scene’s current moment. [review]

49. Wye Oak: “Fortune”

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50. Young Bull: Young Bull Is Not an Individual 

This soulful five-track EP showcases the talents of each member of Young Bull while also demonstrating their strength as a trio. It positions the group as modern-day heartthrobs whose well-crafted, up-tempo, jazz-inspired R&B tracks have the power to melt the hearts of women around the world. It becomes clear that Tahmique and Christian enjoy reminiscing and/or imagining moments of infatuation with pretty women. The mature track “Voodoo” offers a charming, more intimate side, as listeners get a detailed, persuasive preview of what a romantic encounter would be like. Women love men who are confident and can identify what they want—Young Bull delivers effortlessly. —Kyesha Jennings

And one to grow on. Kate Rhudy: “Dance It Away”

The first new music from captivating Raleigh singer-songwriter Kate Rhudy since her brilliant 2017 debut LP takes a sharp turn away from acoustic serenity. With a danceable electro-pop beat, thanks to Jack Hallenbeck—an LA-based producer who’s worked with Maggie Rogers—“Dance It Away” suggests Rogers’s early work with its lilting delivery and dreamy production, though Rhudy retains her folkish charm, thanks to her soft Southern twang and fiddle flourishes. Written in the afterglow of New Year’s Day 2019, the track just dropped on New Year’s Eve. “This song is for everyone waking up and wanting to be the best version of themselves, and all the things that get in the way,” she explained in hand-written notes on Instagram. Though Rhudy describes it as “my joyous ask of myself,” the freeing sentiment is a worthy mantra for all this year. —Spencer Griffith