Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard that “rock is dead.” But if we are to believe its original edict of living fast, dying young, and leaving a good-looking corpse, then rock is still very much sitting pretty, mainlining a bottomless supply of embalming fluid. For all the perpetual hand-wringing over rock’s health status—Is it still relevant to anyone under the age of 35? Will we ever see another Nirvana? Do The 1975 and Twenty One Pilots count?—each year yields bountiful evidence that there’s really nothing to worry about. If dominant pop-cultural trends are waves crashing onto a beach, then rock ’n’ roll is the sand—a vast mosaic comprising infinite grains of different shades and shapes. Though it may not be able to compete with the wave for sheer attention-seizing impact, it ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.
But whereas many of the 2019 Best Rock Albums lists embrace a more liberal definition of the genre that encompasses the brittle serenades of Big Thief, the avant-yacht rock of Bon Iver, and the ambient symphonies of Nick Cave on his latest, our survey takes a more brutally reductionist tack—here, we celebrate all things noisy and/or nasty. The songs on this year-end survey span garage rock (The Schizophonics), post-punk (FONTAINES D.C.), arena-ready alt-rock (Chastity), psych (Mdou Moctar), power pop (Young Guv), post-hardcore (Fury), unruly emo (PUP), cacophonous protest music (Brittany Howard), scrappy jangle (Kiwi jr.), avant-garde dissonance (Kim Gordon), drum-machined minimalism (Sleaford Mods), and whatever the fuck you want to call black midi, but they all reinforce the idea of rock as not so much a guitar/bass/drums-driven sound as an anxious, agitated attitude and bone-shaking physical sensation.
Photo Credit: Daniel Topete