We asked our panel of public radio writers one question: What is your favorite album of 2019 so far? There were so many ways to answer: we've heard albums that feel germane to our time, that allowed us to escape, that reconfigured a beloved artist's roots or that signaled the next wave of sound. But ultimately, what we have here are the No. 1s as picked by some of the biggest ears in the country, the albums that we just can't stop listening to, even when time, algorithms and unending news cycles demand otherwise.
So you won't find a ranked list, or any reason to wonder about behind-the-scenes jostling for higher spots — there will be plenty of time for spirited debate in December. In the meantime, it's time to find your new favorite album.
Aldous Harding is a remarkably expressive songwriter and performer. Her lyrics often resemble dramatic portrait paintings with poetic imagery, but with clear-headed vision. Producer John Parish helps keep the music clear of effects and that allows Aldous Harding's vocal nuance to remain front and center, right where it belongs. —Bob Boilen
After experimenting on last year's LP, Oxnard, Anderson .Paak returns to his regularly scheduled soulfulness on Ventura. From the bars to the features, everything feels natural and less forced, proving we just need to let .Paak cook. —Bobby Carter
Celia Cruz always emphasized Cuba's African heritage, even when it wasn't popular. West African vocalist Angélique Kidjo digs deep into that DNA for Celia, a musical gift for wannabe musicologists, as well as folks who just want to get their Cuban dance groove on and celebrate everyone's favorite Cuban aunt. —Felix Conteras
Homecoming: The Live Album
Recorded over two weekends at Coachella last year, Beyonceé's live album connects intellectually and socially, with fresh takes on some of her biggest hits. Plus, "Before I Let Go" offers a new dance challenge. Let the Beyhive rejoice! —Maya Eaglin
Big Thief's third full-length is at once as timidly vulnerable as rustling blades of grass and as powerfully raw as a river tearing over stones. Brilliant musicianship abounds, but Adrianne Lenker's surreal lyrical world of love and loss steals the show, with "hound dogs crowing at the stars above" and moths "crying... through fruit bats' eyes." —Paul Georgoulis
When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Combined with the production talents of her brother Finneas O'Connell, Billie Eilish takes on the airs of the Brothers Grimm, rewriting pop fairy tales into biting, bouncing cautionary electro-stories with moody loops and skittering synth. In this storybook, Billie Eilish is the anti-hero for whom we've been waiting. —Joni Deutsch, WFAE
Bruce Springsteen's Western Stars takes us beyond the boardwalk and the dust bowl — heading to the sonic space where Nashville and Southern California met in the 1960s and '70s. The cinematic feel of the album has a starring role, too, with a lush soundtrack of strings, horns and pedal steel. —Sarah Wardrop, WFUV
Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen once looked like a prototypical one-hit wonder, with an inescapable breakthrough track ("Call Me Maybe") that exuded frothy novelty. Seven years later, she's putting out albums like Dedicated, a 15-song dynamo that seems to roll about a dozen hits deep. Every song here works, whether it's about lost love ("Julien"), found love ("Now That I Found You") or self-love ("Party for One"). —Stephen Thompson
Caroline Shaw / Attaca Quartet
How many ways can you pluck a violin – or a viola, or cello? A lot, as it turns out, in the Attacca Quartet's terrific album of music by Pulitzer winner Caroline Shaw. A violinist herself, Shaw reimagines language for the classical string quartet with inspiration from old masters and plenty of pizzicato. —Tom Huizenga
Dogrel is the remarkable debut from a young Dublin band that bonded over their love for poetry and verse over pints at the local pub. Fontaines D.C. makes the mundane transcendent and the discrete universal, delivered with sensitivity and the gritty grime you want out of a great rock band. —Kevin Cole, KEXP
What It Is
Previous entries from Hayes Carll have represented a sliding scale of exuberance and introspection. What It Is mines both emotions and way more. There is love and gratitude, coltish uproar and canny sensibility. The album was co-produced by Allison Moorer, with whom he just tied the knot. —Jessie Scott, WMOT Roots Radio
Heather Woods Broderick
Is inner clarity achievable when everyone's broadcasting all the time? That's one of the questions Heather Woods Broderick, longtime compatriot of Sharon Van Etten and others, explores on this pensive, expansively orchestrated gem. Songs confronting past and present life choices unspool with a wise, becalmed grace – making introspection seem not simply alluring, but necessary. —Tom Moon
This Is How You Smile
Titled after a Jamaica Kincaid story, Helado Negro's sixth album is a worn instruction manual for moving through the world with hope. "Brown won't go / Brown just glows," Reberto Carlos Lange notes, among other lessons learned the hard way. He fills the space between words with memories of sounds, blips of consciousness in the slow waking up to oneself. —Stefanie Fernández
How would a computer-generated being respond when networked into that most deeply human art form, group singing? Sometimes, on PROTO, the answer feels spiritual, sometimes uncannily sensual; sometimes it feels like science fiction. Holly Herndon's work goes deep by challenging the assumption that those categories are different. Herndon's music shows us that's where we already are. —Ann Powers