Raven + Crow’s Best Albums of 2019

Things happened in 2019 and we are going to rank them

If there is one thing that Troy and Katie might more know about than design or music, it is sandwiches. We’ve learned this over time. And we’ll get to the best ones of the year in a minute. But while the idea of another calendar year is a fairly arbitrary construct that is more or less in synch with the satellite we are on orbiting around the sun (for more on this consult The Space Issue of Whalebone Magazine), it is a good time for reflection. So many publications might take the easy way out and send you top ten or best-of lists before the year is out when nothing really is happening in December. Whalebone and Troy thought it would be so much more interesting to wait until we were well into 2020 and could listen to this soundtrack of 2019 as the background to impeachment proceedings.

Let’s listen

When do you start thinking about a year end list?

Troy: Pretty much no one releases albums in Nov–Dec, or at least those don’t make year-end lists if they do. One album that I knew right at the beginning of last year that’d likely make our year-end list was Maggie Roger‘s debut, which came out mid-January 2019. That’s another thing that can be tricky—releasing a new album so early in the year, critics forget about it. But even after all the hype surrounding her, it was a stupendous release, super-impressive debut, and anything but a disappointment. I’m guessing Billie Eilish will get the Grammy for best new artist—and we totally dig her and her debut album too—but Maggie Rogers is the hands-down winner in both those categories for us.

Another early release that I know we’ve already discussed with you is Rina Mushonga‘s sophomore album, In A Galaxy. That was a complete random find for us but it’s one of my favorite albums of the year, maybe my absolute favorite.

On that point though of the absolute best album, it’s really tough with 2019—so many of these could be my favorite release on any given day. The debut full-length from The Japanese House is most definitely up there—she’s phenomenal and only getting more phenomenal, seemingly.

Does seeing an artist perform affect how you view their album?

Troy: How an artist performs live inevitably affects how you feel about them and their work. In this case, though, I feel like I try to keep those feelings at bay as much as possible and judge an album as whole, singularly as much as we can. It’s not possible to be entirely objective, but we have to try with these kind of lists, I think. I remember when The XX first came on the scene, the common opinion was that the album was great, but they were terrible live. This was back when they were a four piece playing CMJ and other smaller fests and I think they just hadn’t figured out how to translate what they did in the studio to the stage.

Realizing now, too, that I’ve been lucky enough to see most of the artists on this live, which just makes me want to make an effort to see the remaining ones in 2020. PS—Little Simz puts on a good fucking show.

Who’s a stalwart for you on this list?

Troy:  The National, they’re one of longtime our  favorite bands and I know they got the Grammy for it, but their last release, 2018’s Sleep Well Beast, just did not do it for us, which was kind of a shock. So going in, my hopes for 2019’s I Am Easy to Find, weren’t super high, but we both love it. I think it’s a healthy departure for them, the bringing in of additional vocalists on every single track rather than relying so singly on Matt Berninger’s baritone and the multi-media concept from writer + director Mike Mills that sparked the whole album concept. I know some people think the album’s on the boring or understated side, but I think it’s their best work to date.

And speaking of subtly beautiful albums that represent departures for longtime favorites, Altid Sammen from Danish band, Efterkland, is so achingly quiet and introspectively sparse, it invites the listener to lean in to it, and when you do, you’re so wonderfully rewarded. This is also the band’s first album that’s entirely in their native language, which just makes it feel more personal, whether you know what they’re saying or not.

OK, music is one thing. But other things surely happened this year. Lighting round. Favorite movie of the year?

Troy:  Well, we’re way behind on watching other people’s screeners…I mean, getting to the theater, so we’re not cinematic experts of late in the least, but we did make it out for Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and really enjoyed it. Part of that’s watching a movie about our home of LA from LA (actually, from a theater featured briefly in it), but it was just a really fun film. But we really want to see Parasite ASAP. And The Farewell. And, like, every other movie that came out last year.

Favorite sandwich?

Troy: The vegan fried chick’n sandwich from Eat Love, who just moved from a food truck set-up to a new brick-and-mortar down in Fountain Valley this past fall. Plus Lynn + Enrique who started Eat Love are, like, the nicest people in the world and their story is so great. But really, that sandwich is fucking delicious. Runner up is Zoë Food Party’s all-handmade pitas. Or the handmade burger from Word of Mouth Food Truck. We like sandwiches, man.

We like sandwiches, man.

Best restaurant opening?

Troy: Our favorite restaurant opening of 2019 is also our least favorite restaurant closing of 2019—vegan-friendly slice + draft spot, California Sun in Silver Lake, which was the shit until it split. It’s tough out there, folks. So we’ll instead go with Highland Park’s new all-vegan German beer garden, Hinterhof (backyard in German). That place is also very awesome. And Eat Love, obvs.

Favorite beach?

Troy: We sadly don’t get out enough to them, but that is a resolution. Huntington Dog Beach is our most frequented and likely favorite though. I hear there are some good dog-friendly ones up the coast a bit that we’re aiming to visit sooner than later though.

Favorite client or project you worked on in 2019?

Troy: That’s tough. Some projects we’re psyched about still aren’t fully public, so we can’t talk about them yet, but we did some work for Planned Parenthood + NRDC, both of which are organizations we really love, so that was great. And we did a lot for a continuation of a rebrand we did for a local nonprofit that’s dear to us, The Hollywood Orchard, in the form of event work, illustration work, and merch. Then we were excited to work with Moby again on some merch and other things for his restaurant, Little Pine. Oh, then we started doing these custom ‘animal aura’ prints for people—I do the illustration work then Katie talks with the client about their current or former companion animal and does a hand-watercolor based on that. Those are pretty fun, so if anyone wants one done, hit us up in 2020.

Being an increasingly random and stream of consciousness conversation between Whalebone Magazine and Troy Farmer about the series of monthly mixtapes from his Brooklyn-born, Los Angeles-based creative agency, raven + crow studio. Thanks for listening.