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The List: Stereoboard's Best Albums Of 2019

Monday, 16 December 2019 Written by Stereoboard

That's 2019 almost cooked, folks. In a few weeks we'll start a new decade, find new favourites, new heroes and new villains. So, for one last time in the 2010s let's take a look back at 12 months in music to celebrate the records that made us cheer, laugh, cry and marvel.

 

FKA TWIGS // MAGDALENE

FKA Twigs has always been known for her intricate electronic production and delicately beautiful voice. On her second full-length record, Tahliah Barnett took these qualities to stunning new heights. ‘Magdalene’ comprised nine tracks that ranged from tender to joyful to bitter, all centred on the loose theme of feminine power. Standout songs included the achingly sad lead single Cellophane, cryptic yet mesmerizing opener Thousand Eyes, and title track Magdalene, whose lyrics underpin the whole project. For fans of R&B, electronica, indie-rock and any other genre you can name, this album was a constant delight. // Ben Gladman

Listen: Home With You


 

BIG THIEF // U.F.O.F. & TWO HANDS

Unlike Foals, Big Thief proved it was possible to release two good (nay, exceptional) albums in under a year. ‘U.F.O.F’ was a collection of intricate studies and surprising time signatures that give way to tension and trepidation, immediately calmed by a sun-dappled palette and comforting delicate folk. Their second, ‘Two Hands’ reconsidered the process. Live vocal takes from the heavenly Adrienne Lenker danced easily in conversation with an impenetrable rhythm section and controlled guitar lines. As a result, Big Thief won 2020 with two complex, striking and magnificent albums. // Helen Payne

Listen: Century // Forgotten Eyes


 

NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS // GHOSTEEN

Nick Cave’s 40 year career has produced a catalogue of dark, southern gothic music, often meditating on mortality, despair, religion and libido. On 'Ghosteen', there is also additional, troubling context. Cave’s 15-year-old son died in 2015 near Beachy Head, England, and the musician’s subsequent grief at the tragedy was covered in the documentary film One More Time with Feeling and 2016 album ‘Skeleton Tree’. As such, ‘Ghosteen’ is representative of a latter stage of that grief; 11 tracks of slow, mournful fury; emotions that are at war with each-other; brokenness that cannot be fixed. It is immersive, immense and completely unforgettable. This is an album that openly and honestly admits there is no silver lining. No lessons learnt. Nothing. It is also absolutely brilliant. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Ghosteen


 

LIZZO // CUZ I LOVE YOU

Lizzo is a star. She’s always known it, and thanks to ‘Cuz I Love You’ we do too. Whether she’s showing off her pipes on ballads like the title track, indulging her soul influences on Jerome and Crybaby, channeling ‘80s funk with Juice, or rapping alongside Missy Elliott on Tempo, Lizzo is unapologetically herself. The lion’s share of the lyrics are dedicated to love, relationships and sex, but female empowerment underpins everything and is addressed head on with Like A Girl. Prefer your powerhouse vocalists to have style and substance? Lizzo is 100% that bitch. // Laura Johnson

Listen: Juice


 

THE MENZINGERS // HELLO EXILE

Philly punks the Menzingers spent more time writing and recording ‘Hello Exile’ than they did putting together their previous five full lengths, including their acclaimed 2017 offering ‘After The Party’. The result found the quartet dialling back the angst for a more mellow, mature approach, with the inclusion of more prominent classic rock, alt-country and Americana influences dotted across the record’s 12 tracks. Those flecks have always been there, among the stories of denim, diners and road trips, but this time around the band brought them to the forefront. If ‘After The Party’ was the Menzingers facing down the aging process, ‘Hello Exile’ is them embracing it, and celebrating where we go once our 20s are over. // Jon Stickler

Listen: America (You’re Freaking Me Out)


 

DANNY BROWN // UKNOWWHATIMSAYIN¿

Bouncing from the claustrophobic, metallic confines of 2016’s ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ into the waiting arms of exec producer Q-Tip was the latest in a long line of left field moves from Danny Brown. But on ‘uknowhatimsayin¿’ the Detroit rapper once again proved that he could bend any surroundings to his weird will, inhabiting warmer instrumentals with his usual blend of bug-eyed delivery and a rap classicist’s taste for vivid, multifaceted imagery. There are few funnier rappers, few more idiosyncratic writers, and few more compelling performers, currently doing the rounds. // Huw Baines

Listen: Best Life


 

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN // WESTERN STARS

A rootsy piece of exquisite blue collar cinema awash with vintage pop sensibilities, ‘Western Stars’ is a joyously reflective, achingly nostalgic and intensely personal singer-songwriter record buoyed by the kind of magnificent orchestral arrangements you might find in an epic John Ford picture.  Meditating on the sweet ‘n’ sour consequences of life’s complex choices, anyone who’s read Springsteen’s autobiography will hear his own battle between commitment and freedom, the open road and domesticity, family and a solitary existence, in every character-driven song. Musically and thematically watertight, ‘Western Stars’ epitomises why the album remains the ultimate form of musical expression. // Simon Ramsay

Listen: Western Stars


 

EMPLOYED TO SERVE // ETERNAL FORWARD MOTION

“Keep politics out of metal” has been a statement yelled with annoyingly frequency this year, and ‘Eternal Forward Motion’ proves why that is balderdash. The third album by Woking’s hardcore heroes Employed to Serve, it’s a candid examination of the millennial condition in 2019. Increasing mental health issues, rising house prices, the inability to afford to start a family—these are all huge yet under-discussed topics within its crosshairs. And it examines them through the lens of crusty, immediate metalcore. ‘Eternal Forward Motion’ is consistently angry and brash, but only because Employed to Serve genuinely want the best for this fucked up generation. // Matt Mills

Listen: Eternal Forward Motion


 

ANGEL OLSEN // ALL MIRRORS

Cloaked in a smoky haze of pop grandeur, Angel Olsen's ‘All Mirrors’ is a dramatic opus bobbing in an ocean of seductive sounds. It is hard to believe the record was originally envisioned as an acoustic affair (which we will eventually hear) given the widescreen finished article. Dripping in a glossy vintage aesthetic that tracks its history through soul, jazz and classic pop, ‘All Mirrors’ is packed with sonic behemoths from the pulsing dreamscape of New Love Cassette to the heavenly crescendos of Lark. As the record slows in its contemplative second half we are left to appreciate the intricate details and deft touch Olsen has graced it with, creating a timeless and entrancing document of creative endeavour. // Craig Howieson

Listen: All Mirrors


 

MICHAEL KIWANUKA // KIWANUKA

Michael Kiwanuka’s self-titled third album is more than just an album, it’s a statement. Brimming with references to identity, race and determination, ‘Kiwanuka’ is a compelling journey from confusion and self-doubt towards clarity and self-affirmation. His previous two albums were worthy Mercury nominations but this tops both; from the haunting simplicity of piano-led gems like the Piano Joints to the fuzzy, psychedelic guitar ear candy of Final Days, there isn’t a dull moment. An essential piece of kit for any music collection, ‘Kiwanuka’ also takes the word inspirational to a different level. // Graeme Marsh

Listen: Hero


 

VAMPIRE WEEKEND // FATHER OF THE BRIDE

Vampire Weekend have released so many perfect pop songs over the years that each new drop has the world holding its breath in anticipation of genius or fear of a misstep. ‘Father of the Bride’ exceeded all expectations. A multifaceted exploration of wide and wonderful inspirations, producers including Ariel Rechtshaid took the reins on this LP and amplified the boundless potential of a philosophical and funny band. Married In A Gold Rush is simply impossible to listen to once without looping it to enjoy over and over. // Milly McMahon

Listen: This Life


 

CATE LE BON // REWARD

Before recording her newest album, Cate Le Bon relocated from L.A. to the Lake District, a move that is evident from the first patient notes of ‘Reward’. Through its often abstract and surreal lyrics, snatches of loneliness emerge. Le Bon presides over all of it with a serene sense of control. Each song contains slow yet inventive arrangements that evolve over time, and Le Bon’s voice rarely strains or screeches. When she does wear her heart on her sleeve, such as on Daylight Matters, the effect is devastating: “I love you but you’re not here. I love you but you’ve gone.” // Ben Gladman

Listen: Daylight Matters


 

THE NATIONAL // I AM EASY TO FIND

The National broke out of their catalogue of middle-aged, anxiety-fuelled records on their latest, ‘I Am Easy To Find’. While keeping to similar instrumental themes—luxurious waves of strings, fidgety guitar solos and snippets of electronica—the group also employed a choir of female vocalists to create an entire cinematic universe. The dulcet tones of Kate Stables, Mina Tindle, Sharon Van Etten, Lisa Hannigan, the Brooklyn Youth Choir and more joined the grumbly baritone of Matt Berninger to depict a bildungsroman of a woman from birth to death. The layers of ‘I Am Easy to Find’, meanwhile, only became more vivid when accompanied by the LP’s equally powerful short film. // Helen Payne

Listen: You Had Your Soul With You


 

TYLER, THE CREATOR // IGOR

On Tyler, The Creator’s fifth album, the artistic polymath and Odd Future co-founder leaned into chunky synths and drum-loops, painting a robust musical landscape of nebulous digital patterns and rapid-fire, emotionally-charged lyrics. It was a further move away from the gritty production that made his name in the early 2010s, and demonstrated an artist able to convey a high degree of pathos within the boundaries of fun, bouncy hip hop. There was also some real production nous at play with tracks that emerge and disappear unannounced. This sudden approach to ending tracks—also favoured by Kendrick Lamar and (fellow Odd Future alumnus) Frank Ocean—gave the album a thrown-together feel that made it seem far more careless than it was in reality. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: I Think


 

SLEATER KINNEY // THE CENTER WON’T HOLD

There’s no getting away from it, ‘The Center Won’t Hold’ was a polarising record. Drummer Janet Weiss left Sleater-Kinney the month before it arrived, which led to a much closer inspection of the album than if she’d stayed. The fact St. Vincent was producing also led to speculation of undue influence. All we know for sure is that Sleater-Kinney are a band incapable of standing still, just like they always have been. The new record may have seen Weiss’s robust playing pulled back to allow Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein’s electronic, genre-bending experimentation to take the lead, but it was a necessary stylistic move from a band committed to testing their limits. // Laura Johnson

Listen: Can I Go On


 

BARONESS // GOLD & GREY

Baroness made a triumphant return with ‘Gold & Grey’, the fifth and perhaps final release in their string of color-themed albums, once again turning out a sound completely different to what’s expected while maintaining their identity from the first note to the last. Since their debut ‘Red’ arrived in 2007, the band have gathered the attention of those wanting metal that spans sludge, stoner, prog, and alt-rock, exploring new ground with every release, free from genre boundaries. As the title suggests, ‘Gold & Grey’ is a record built on dualism, where intricate melodies clash with crunchy, distorted riffs, while subtle, emotional ballads follow miniature rock epics. It also came wrapped in another killer cover painting from frontman John Baizley. // Jon Stickler

Listen: Borderlines


 

KIM GORDON // NO HOME RECORD

From the ‘Kim Gordon at home’, OK! Magazine falseness of the promo photos through to a textural battle between traditional instrumentation and hulking electronics, the Sonic Youth legend’s solo bow was designed to set the listener back on their heels. Arriving the best part of 40 years into a career that helped reshape alternative music forever, ‘No Home Record’ found Gordon using her accumulated cultural capital to challenge our expectations at each turn. Whether she was delivering anti-consumerist polemics (the essential Air BnB) or smashing the place up with a bullish bassline (the unhinged Murdered Out) it remained visceral and thrilling. // Huw Baines

Listen: Sketch Artist


 

FAT WHITE FAMILY // SERFS UP!

Fat White Family’s third studio album amounted to a vibrant and esoteric melange of sounds and influences, bringing together post-punk, reggae, garage-rock and more. It’s a fun, considered and detailed record from a band of high skill. Frontman Lias Saoudi bounced back with vim, bringing dingy grunge crooning on Kim’s Sunsets and Rock Fishes alongside more spidery, anarchic singing on tracks like Fringe Runner and I Believe In Something Better. Since the band debuted in 2011, Saoudi has developed a reputation as one of the most thrilling live performers in the U.K., and ‘Serf’s Up!’ gave him plenty to play with while maintaining a degree of tonal focus absent on Fat White Family’s previous two albums. Marvellous stuff. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Tastes Good With The Money


 

LITTLE SIMZ // GREY AREA

Prophetic hip hop lyricist Little Simz has been refining her craft diligently since the drop of her first mixtape in 2010. With the release of her third album ‘Grey Area’ this year, the outspoken, politicised artist solidified her place at the forefront of contemporary rap. Expressing herself with searing intelligence, the best moments on this monster record were powerfully provocative. From the roiling bassline and skittering percussion of the opener Offence through the neo-soul inflections of Selfish, Simz underlined her versatility without losing one breath of fire. // Milly McMahon

Listen: Selfish


 

JIMMY EAT WORLD // SURVIVING

For anyone who feared Jimmy Eat World had spent their last creative dollars over a decade ago, ‘Surviving’ proved the foursome could still splash the cash when the mood takes them. Having quit drinking and conquered his demons, frontman Jim Adkins sounded like a man reborn on a series of anthemic tracks that, by essentially soundtracking his personal renaissance, boasted a fire and focus we haven’t heard from the band since ‘Futures.’ Integrating sharp new stylistic moves into their classic cocktail of rough ‘n’ ready guitars, killer melodic hooks and infectious emoting, ‘Surviving’ was a huge return to form. // Simon Ramsay

Listen: All The Way (Stay)


 

THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS // NO GEOGRAPHY

In the 1990s the Chemical Brothers popularised a particular brand of big beat electronica that ran adjacent to the pompously termed Intelligent Dance Music movement. Their ninth studio album boldly revisited this sound, updating it thematically while combining many of the compositional elements brilliantly. The result was probably their best album since 2002’s ‘Come With Us’. On ‘No Geography’ Messrs. Rowlands and Simons deployed tried and tested production techniques with fresh eyes and ears. With tracks moving into each other as though it were a mixtape, the record is packed with familiar, frenetic synth flares and sci-fi samples that feel both ridiculous and engaging. It’s wild rave music made with conscience and craft, and it feels truly relevant in a way that their previous three albums did not. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Got To Keep On


 

GIRL BAND // THE TALKIES

On their long-awaited second album, Girl Band channelled the dystopian chaos of the intervening years since 2015’s ‘Holding Hands With Jamie’ into an audible, panic-stricken document of decaying sounds. Doubling down on the abrasive atonality of their debut, they pushed their noise-rock ethics to new extremes of disorientation. Guitars crashed like steel through glass, bass grooved with a monstrous lurch and frontman Dara Kiely’s vocals wildly zigzagged from convulsive shrieks to languishing musings, refusing to be constrained. A terrifying yet exhilarating listen and quite unlike anything else released this year; Girl Band again proved themselves as masters of brutal brilliance. // Craig Howieson

Listen: Shoulderblades


 

MIRANDA LAMBERT // WILDCARD

This isn't Miranda Lambert's first rodeo, in fact, it's her seventh. Using her incredible voice and sass to deliver intimate truths, ‘Wildcard’ balanced the workings of Lambert’s personal life with some good old fashioned shitkicking country tunes. This ride is raucous, raw and real. Combining the softer side of her reflective journey with rebellious self-discovery, learned and earned through heartbreak and newfound love, ‘Wildcard’ is a country album that is capable of appealing to everyone. // Milly McMahon

Listen: It All Comes Out In The Wash


 

STRAND OF OAKS // ERASERLAND

Timothy Showalter, the mastermind behind Philadelphia-based Strand Of Oaks, endured some troubling times after the release of his previous album ‘Hard Love’, as depression took hold. My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel helped spark a revival in his mindset, musically at least, and Broemel’s band subsequently joined forces with Showalter to excellent effect for yet another superb Strand of Oaks collection. Look no further than opener Weird Ways for an avenue into the action, with My Morning Jacket’s members gradually jumping aboard a monster track capable of thrilling anyone. What follows is simply stunning: consistent, exciting and intriguing rock music. // Graeme Marsh

Listen: Ruby


 

ANDERSON .PAAK // VENTURA

Anderson .Paak’s ‘Ventura’ is a rich, energetic return to groovy modern soul, reining in the edgier hip hop tones seen on 2018’s 'Oxnard'. And while the Californian’s music sometimes feels derivative, it gives space to a singer and musical character of fabulous poise and endeavour. ‘Ventura’ is an album of highly detailed and varied composition, with breezy arrangements and fantastic, thoughtful lyricism. Let’s hope there is plenty more like it in the tank. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Make It Better


 

CHARLI XCX // CHARLI

This year Charli XCX successfully transitioned from chart-topping pop star to subversive dance-pop artist with ‘Charli’. Executive produced by PC Music impresario A. G. Cook, the record exponentially evolved her music. Recruiting a star-studded roster of collaborators including Haim, Troye Sivan, Christine and the Queens, Sky Ferreira, Kim Petras, Tommy Cash, Lizzo, Clairo and Yaeji to help expand on the scope of her pop aesthetic, the off-kilter, glitch-heavy atmospheres cultivated on ‘Charli’ were a solar system away from her earlier age of Icona Pop I Love It fame. // Milly McMahon

Listen: Gone


 

STELLA DONNELLY // BEWARE OF THE DOGS

The analogy that “the bark is worse than the bite” does not hold for Stella Donnelly’s debut album. ‘Beware Of The Dogs’ is the opposite: its sickly sweet, pristinely produced pop songs tackle themes like rape culture, sexual misconduct and inequality. Acerbic and witty, Donnelly isn’t scared of teaching terrible people how to behave, and has no problem telling inappropriate uncles to fuck off and to stop putting their dicks in people’s faces. Although the best bits are the more sincere, vulnerable moments, it’s easy to enjoy the confidence and bitter sarcasm on ‘Beware Of The Dogs’: “My mum’s still a punk and you’re still shit.” // Helen Payne

Listen: Tricks


 

THOM YORKE // ANIMA

Thom Yorke’s third solo album is easily his most accomplished to date and arguably his best work since Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’. One of the reasons for that is the uniqueness of the sound. Most Yorke fans will have arrived there via Radiohead, so his focus on experimental electronica, production innovation and ethereal, fugal melody patterns marks him out from the band (and anyone else for that matter). The fact that it hangs together so well is truly remarkable. There are a few limitations—there is an unpleasant bite in the way Yorke borrows from the vernacular, and often it can feel like he is taking the piss out of the words and phrases he’s employing—but more generally, the album is superb. Now 50, Yorke is operating at a level of imagination and innovation that leaves many of his peers looking nailed to the floor. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Last I Heard (…He Was Circling The Drain)


 

BAT FOR LASHES // LOST GIRLS

Natasha Khan is a storyteller well versed in using female protagonists as vehicles for her narratives. We were introduced to Pearl on 2009’s ‘Two Suns’, and who can forget Laura from 2012’s ‘The Haunted Man’? In 2016, meanwhile, she pushed the concept envelope even further with ‘The Bride’. Khan has a gift for being able to capture the listener in a moment and she did it again triumphantly on ‘Lost Girls’. Thanks to ‘80s-soaked synths, overblown beats, bewitching vocal lines and a buttload of reverb, we were transported back to that neon decade and were soon raising hell in Los Angeles alongside Nikki Pink, Jasmine and their biker gang. Ride or die, baby. // Laura Johnson

Listen: Kids In The Dark


 

BATTLES // JUICE B CRYPTS

Across almost 20 years Battles have established themselves as the premier group in absurdist avant-garde math rock. ‘Juice B Crypts’ takes this musical philosophy to its outer edges, smashing time signatures and tonalities together in a Technicolor morass of joyous hedonism that verges on full prog. While the appearance of Jon Anderson from Yes informs and elevates an album that was probably already Battles’ best work, one challenge might be that the absurdism never fully lets go; that you are battered into a kind of spiritual nihilism by music which is intensely intelligent without being emotionally engaging. But this is the oeuvre in which the album operates, of Brooklyn warehouses, of SNES sound effects and of wild experimentation. Terrific. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: A Loop So Nice… / They Played It Twice


 

SHEER MAG // A DISTANT CALL

The second album from the world’s best rock ‘n’ roll band™ tidied up a few rough edges from their full length debut ‘Need to Feel Your Love’ and introduced fresh moves to their repertoire. Not since their early 7”s have they produced riffs this sharp, hooks this cool and lyrics this politically incisive. With songs like Silver Line also trading in breezy, AM radio-ready atmospherics and Tina Halladay stripping paint at 10 paces with career-best vocal performances, ‘A Distant Call’ is the complete package. Retro? Yes. Vital? Yes. This ain’t an exercise in glib nostalgia. // Huw Baines

Listen: Harder To Blame


 

ELBOW // GIANTS OF ALL SIZES

Proving that even romantic old northern dogs can learn new tricks, Elbow’s eighth record found them raging at the state of our fractured nation over nine beautifully bleak laments. Essentially a collection of mesmerising sonic paintings that underscored Guy Garvey’s bewildered poetry, from monster riffs to Ennio Morricone strings, sublime percussive strokes to ethereal soundscapes, the technicolour detail on each visually evocative song was breathtaking. Thought provoking, heart-wrenching and with a sliver of salvation towards the end, it’s a record that perfectly captures the UK’s fluttering pulse as we head into a potentially (even more) turbulent new decade. // Simon Ramsay

Listen: Empires


 

THE HOLD STEADY & CRAIG FINN // THRASHING THRU THE PASSION & I NEED A NEW WAR

On ‘Thrashing Thru The Passion’, the Hold Steady picked up exactly where they left off: blazing through a blitz of hooky, sweat-soaked anthems. Confusion in the Marketplace, with its familiar swagger and bleary-eyed, shout-along chorus, was reminder enough of just how good it is to have them back. But 2019 also saw frontman Craig Finn release his third in a trilogy of solo albums: the gorgeous ‘I Need A New War’. Turning his gaze away from the hedonistic and cinematic scope of the Hold Steady, Finn continued to focus on the vulnerable and hidden details of existence; the daily battles common to us all. His carefully crafted Americana continued to show an unending empathy and curious fascination with the human condition. // Craig Howieson

Listen: Denver Haircut // Blankets


 

COMMON HOLLY // WHEN I SAY TO YOU BLACK LIGHTNING

Common Holly is one of the most original artists to rise and rise through the ranks in 2019. Harnessing her dynamic creative flair with an edge of turmoil, channelling hurt and happiness, the Montreal songwriter conjured incredible emotion on her sophomore LP 'When l Say To You Back Lightning'. Arranging arresting instrumentals and stirring lyrics to transport the listener to an overwhelming place of deep feeling, this is a brilliantly accomplished and honest album. // Milly McMahon

Listen: Central Booking


 

SHARON VAN ETTEN // REMIND ME TOMORROW

As its title suggests, ‘Remind Me Tomorrow’ is the product of an awfully busy life. The huge production and intelligent songs on Sharon Van Etten’s fifth LP were sculpted alongside the competing tasks of raising a child, acting roles, being an artist, studying psychology and the creation of a film score. However, her chaotic life doesn’t take away from any of the time put into this record, which lands as some of her richest, and most full-bodied work to date. With clear influences from Bruce Springsteen and Nick Cave at times, Van Etten has created her own realm of mature pop that, with alluring and addictive melodies, insists on being more present. // Helen Payne

Listen: Comeback Kid


 

VAGABON // VAGABON

Vagabon’s second album is wonderful—a soft and sprawling lo-fi treatise to self discovery, melding elegant arrangements with a highly distinctive voice. Highlights include Full Moon In Gemini, which features tidy synth drums and strings that swell gently beneath beautifully mannered vocals, alongside the brilliant Flood, where sung phrases emerge from the back of the throat, giving the lyrics a slightly tubular quality. The track itself is a low rising epic, somewhere between the trip hop of Morcheeba and the neo soul of Toro Y Moi. It lands lands incredibly convincingly. Vagabon has sacrificed the indie rock sound of her first album ‘Infinite Worlds’ in favour of a record that pays lip service to the genre de jour, electronica. The result is occasionally a little genteel, but ultimately soothing and hypnotic. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Every Woman


 

JENNY LEWIS // ON THE LINE

Is Jenny Lewis the coolest person on this list? Maybe. The erstwhile Rilo Kiley vocalist’s latest investigation into the form and meaning of west coast pop produced another batch of killer songs packed with vivid details, ne’er do wells and questionable decisions. Even with rock luminaries like Ringo Starr and Benmont Tench among the album’s ringers, Lewis is its star: permanently arch, funny and quick with a nimble melody or crushing turn of phrase. Paired with 2014’s ‘The Voyager’, ‘On The Line’ completed a one-two punch for fans of classy, grown up pop. // Huw Baines

Listen: Rabbit Hole


 

CHANCE THE RAPPER // THE BIG DAY

Celebratory Christianity was a major undercurrent in mainstream music this year. Alongside the launch of Kanye West’s Sunday Service, Yeezy superfan Chance The Rapper also stepped up the religious content of his music with the release of 'The Big Day.' His first full length, released following a hefty slew of critically acclaimed mixtapes, trumpeted Chance’s marriage to his childhood sweetheart with joy-filled, epiphanous material, folding his Technicolor rap palette into interesting new shapes. // Milly McMahon

Listen: Hot Shower


 

BROCKHAMPTON // GINGER

The musical genealogy of ‘Ginger’ is complex. Half its songs are essentially R&B ballads that— traced far enough back—take their cue from melodic vocal groups such as Bone, Thugs-n-Harmony and P.M Dawn. Elsewhere, more poppy rap tracks such as opener, NO HALO and IF YOU PRAY RIGHT bring things closer to the urban white-boy grooves of NSync and Macklemore. While the album lacks the distinctive sludginess of  the collective’s early work, it is a highly enjoyable and varied rap album. The economics of major label hip hop in 2019 demand a heavy pipeline of music from artists—often to the detriment of overall quality, so the fact that there has been a full year since their previous album is noteworthy. This is a legit collective with a panoply of different styles, backgrounds and world-views, and the result is a record of high quality and intrigue. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: No Halo


 

CARLY RAE JEPSEN // DEDICATED

The discerning pop fan’s favourite underdog only went and did it again. Four years along the line from ‘E•MO•TION’, Jepsen turned in another slate of undeniable earworms with ‘Dedicated’, an album that rode a wave of positivity and fun to a spot among the feelgood hits of the summer. Jepsen’s peppy outlook was balanced by razor sharp hooks and unfailingly clever structural elements like Want You In My Room’s rolling thunder charge through a pre-chorus, chorus, an even bigger bit of the chorus, and an eventual reset. One for the romantics, one for the pop nerds, something for everyone. // Huw Baines

Listen: Want You In My Room


 

SINKANE // DÉPAYSÉ

‘Dépaysé’ is a fantastical showcase of Afro-infused, psychedelic indie-rock which demonstrates vaunting musical ambition, political awareness and immense talent in arrangement and composition. The follow up to 2017’s ‘Life & Livin’ It’, the album finds Sinkane (aka Ahmed Gallab) with a renewed sense of ethical focus, here telling the story of an immigrant’s journey to the West, and the reception he gets there. Each of the nine tracks are excellent. The best is probably the fanfare-like Everybody, which hits many of the same superb marks seen on biggest hit to date, U’Huh. “On Judgement Day I’ll look God in the eye,” he preaches. “And I’ll ask why.” It's music that manages to convey very personal observations in a way that is relatable and detailed. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Everybody


 

EZRA FURMAN // TWELVE NUDES

The meticulous production present on 2016’s ‘Perpetual Motion People’ and its 2018 follow up ‘Transangelic Exodus’ was scrapped in favour of balls to the wall punk and unfiltered rock ‘n’ roll on ‘Twelve Nudes’, recalling the vitriol of the classic ‘Day Of The Dog’ cut I Wanna Destroy Myself. Fuelled by booze and cigarettes, Furman and band opted for a more organic songwriting and recording process, with gut instinct taking the place of overthinking. The result was a set of tracks that were as lyrically sharp as they were musically visceral. As Furman himself admitted: “Desperate times make for desperate songs.” // Laura Johnson

Listen: I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend


 

CALEXICO AND IRON & WINE // YEARS TO BURN

Coming back together following a 14-year break, Calexico and Iron & Wine returned to the studio to collaborate on the short-form album ‘Years To Burn’. An instant classic, the record’s therapeutic synergy resonated from the pairing’s modern folk aesthetic. Evolving with a freeing, experimental authenticity, the chemistry contained in ‘Years To Burn’ is electric. If this is all we get from Calexico and Iron & Wine for another 14 years, we may just cope until the next instalment. // Milly McMahon

Listen: Father Mountain


 

WEYES BLOOD // TITANIC RISING

Few albums released in 2019 came close to the quiet majesty presented by Natalie Mering’s latest outing as Weyes Blood. ‘Titanic Rising’ is an exercise in whip-smart pop craft, channelling ‘70s singer-songwriter greats like Karen Carpenter and Randy Newman alongside an entirely prescient study of modern day alienation. Her voice is a wonder, delivering some skyscraping melodies while playing off a rich backdrop of keys and strings. This is a rare thing: a beautiful record in an objective sense, beyond taste, beyond trends, beyond past landmarks. // Huw Baines

Listen: Everyday


 

BRITTANY HOWARD // JAIME

You’ll know the voice of Brittany Howard from her impressive performances with Alabama Shakes. On her debut solo album, Howard explored life experiences and core values that were shaped by her sister, the titular ‘Jaime’, who passed away when they were both young children. Issues like family, death, childhood, race, religion and alcohol were all dealt with under a sky filled with psychedelic tangents, experimental gospel, calm folk, jazz fragments and even elements of grunge. We still got the same excitement as with an Alabama Shakes record, but felt it more deeply than ever. // Helen Payne

Listen: He Loves Me


 

SHURA // FOREVHER

Shura’s ‘forevher’ is a washy reverie of auto-tuned dream-pop mixed down with neo-soul arrangements that recall Nao and Yo La Tengo, introducing us to a singer who has fallen head-over-heels in love since her impressive 2016 debut, ‘Nothing’s Real’. The album may be too front-loaded, and the overall sound is so highly synthetic that one can ignore it quite easily, but the easy listening flava is sort-of-the-point of neo-soul, so it’s fair to say that the record works very well on its own terms. The integrity of Shura’s songwriting and point of view give 'forehver' a distinctiveness and intellectual rigour that make it tremendously appealing. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: religion (u can lay your hands on me)


 

NILÜFER YANYA // MISS UNIVERSE

London guitarist and songwriter Nilüfer Yanya’s debut sprinted into the world off the back of some enviable hype and delivered a varied, exciting spin on indie-rock that cribbed from neo soul at every turn. With Yanya’s drawl roughing up some superb hooks and her playing centred around sinuous lead lines and clipped riffs, the LP’s songs worked perfectly in isolation just as they sparked to life when sequenced among weird samples and dystopian skits as a whole. In Your Head, a sparkling pop-rock song that set the tone, is among the best tracks of 2019. // Huw Baines

Listen: In Your Head


 

SOLANGE // WHEN I GET HOME

"Do you realise how magnificent you are? The God that created you is a divine architect that created the moon, the sun, the stars, Jupiter, Mars, Pluto, Venus. We are not only sexual beings, we are the walking embodiment of God-consciousness," sound out the lyrics on Solange’s We Deal With The Freak’n. An unparalleled songwriter and artist, her music now stands alongside is the work of icons Erykah Badu, Janelle Monáe, and of course Beyoncé. Since the release of 'A Seat at the Table', Solange's confidence has expanded alongside her talent, and her reputation has solidified. Anyone ahead of the curve keeps Solange's smooth voice and rhythmic melodies at the top of their playlists. // Milly McMahon

Listen: Binz


 

JENNY HVAL // THE PRACTICE OF LOVE 

Jenny Hval’s previous offering, ‘Blood Bitch’ was a pointedly vexing record about menstruation and vampirism which won the Phonofile Nordic Music Prize—essentially the Mercury Music Prize for Scandinavia—in 2016. Her new one was a concept album about love, inspired by Valie Export’s 1985 crime-drama film of the same name. It melded avant-garde soundscapes and shimmering electronica with great skill and a high degree of artistic freedom. If there was a criticism of ‘The Practice of Love’, it was that none of the tracks were absolute bangers that grabbed you by the guts and didn’t let go. But some of that might be to do a creative practice that eschews the safety of formulaic composition in favour of more freeform art. When it landed, it was truly remarkable. // Jacob Brookman

Listen: Accident


 

BRYCE DESSNER // EL CHAN

It’s not often that you see a classical record make its way onto an Album of the Year list, but Bryce Dessner’s flitting between indie-rock guitarist and contemporary composer is seamless. With the help of pianists Katia and Marielle Labèque and the Orchestre de Paris, the National’s prolific multi-instrumentalist outdid himself by turning in a grand statement of tension, soul, drama and mythology, dotted with explosions of color. ‘El Chan’ comprises segments of abstract piano, swelling orchestras and even a guitar-based movement, and is the perfect gateway drug for indie nerds to dip their toe into the classical realm. // Helen Payne

Listen: Minimalist Dream House Quartet Katia & Marielle Labèque, Bryce Dessner, David Chalmin


 



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