SCM Music’s Top 50 Albums of 2019

WHEN THIS year started I really did wonder if 2019 could live up to the standards set by 2018, 2017, and the other years this decade. While it might have taken a couple of months to warm up, the output of music this year has been brilliant. There’s certainly been some surprises, with some bands and artists topping their previous work, or coming out with unexpected smash hits.

Our best of list can be found below, along with a Spotify playlist of all those featured. Here’s to 2020!

 

50. RapsodyEve

Jamla/Roc Nation

With each track name representing a woman who has inspired her, Eve is just as empowering, if not more so, than the rest of Rapsody’s discography. Marlanna Evans’ rhymes are as sharp as they have ever been, and coupled with the stellar production on this album, makes for a great listen. Special shout out goes to the track ‘Cleo’ which tastefully and cleverly samples Phil Collins.

 

 

 

49. Nick Cave & The Bad SeedsGhosteen

Ghosteen/Bad Seed

Much like the rest of his recent discography, Ghosteen is another difficult listen from Nick Cave. Rather than set songs, Ghosteen creates an atmosphere, with Cave lamenting mournfully over each instrumental. While there’s still themes of death and loss here, there’s also a smattering of hope. Something that was difficult to find on 2016’s Skeleton Tree.

 

 

 

48. Swansleaving meaning

Young God/Mute

After the epic trilogy of The Seer, To Be Kind and The Glowing Man, leaving meaning is Michael Gira’s attempt to move on. While there are still shades of his past work here, it’s also a refreshingly organic listen. The record utilises elements of Jazz and Acoustic Folk, something not unusual to the group, but something that sets leaving meaning apart as a new chapter.

 

 

 

47. The Chemical BrothersNo Geography

Virgin EMI/Astralwerks

No Geography is easily the best Chemical Brothers album to be released in the last 10 years. It subtly comments on the political landscape of the moment, while The Chems released singles ‘Got to Keep On’ and ‘Bango’, two disgustingly catchy songs. The heavy contributions from Norwegian singer Aurora give the tracks a robotic, avant garde feel, while still retaining their groove.

 

 

 

46. Anderson.PaakVentura

12 Tone/Aftermath

While Oxnard felt like a muted release from Paak, Ventura is the sound of the summer that we needed. This is arguably Paak’s best album, maybe even more so than Malibu – rich in funky and soulful textures. There’s even a few surprises on here; a choice Mac Demarco sample and clips from A Bronx Tale give this album a little edge.

 

 

 

45. Sleater-KinneyThe Center Won’t Hold

Mom + Pop

The final(?) album from the classic Sleater-Kinney line up was a surprise to me. Having never really been a fan of their usual sound, the production from St. Vincent on this album really turned me around on this. The sharp electronic beats, coupled with the band’s brash, Post-Grunge sounds makes for an extremely unique and exciting album. A must listen especially for old and new fans alike.

 

 

 

44. Sampa the GreatThe Return

Ninja Tune

Spanning 19 tracks, The Return covers a range of genres and influences. From old school rap to funk and soul music. After a slew of mixtapes and singles, it’s about time we saw Sampa the Great spread her wings on this formidable release. Highlights include lead single ‘Final Form’, which effortlessly twists samples in with Sampa’s unique vocal tone.

 

 

 

43. Mount Eerie & Julie DorianLost Wisdom Pt. 2

P.W. Elverum + Sun

While slightly less insular and contemplative as Phil Elverum’s more recent releases, Lost Wisdom Pt. 2 is still as personal as one might expect. Julie Dorian does a wonderful job of easing the intensity of Elverum’s songwriting and providing more of a Indie Folk vibe to the album. On this whole though, this is one for the hardcore Mount Eerie fans.

 

 

 

42. Denzel CurryZUU

PH/Loma Vista

After the bombastic TA13OO, ZUU is a slightly shorter, more pop-centric affair. Not that this is a bad thing, as Curry gives us some of his best performances to date. Highlights include the brilliant ‘Wish’, as well as the title track, a song that shows Curry giving one of his finest recorded performance, alive with energy. Curry’s fans will love this, but Hip-Hop heads who haven’t heard this should get on it.

 

 

 

41. Grace LightmanSilver Eater

Handsome Dad Records

Silver Eater is an amalgamation of different genres and styles, with Lightman drifting effortlessly from Indie to Electropop, with elements of Baroque Pop. Lightman’s Dadaist lyrics complement her Pop sensibilities and Kate Bush-like voice. The album peaks with the pulsating ‘Aztec Level’ and ‘Repair Repair’, a track that oozes late-noughties Indietronica vibes.

 

 

 

40. King Gizzard and the Lizard WizardFishing for Fishies

Flightless

King Gizzard’s first album of 2019 prominently features a strong inspiration of Boogie Rock, Blues Music and elements of their trademark psychedelic sound. When KG&TLW get going, they really get going; track such as ‘Plastic Boogie’, ‘Cyboogie’ and the title track all give a killer groove while preaching an environmental message that sits well in 2019.

 

 

 

39. Right Hand Left HandZone Rogue

Bubblewrap Collective

The new album from Math Rock/Post Rock duo Right Hand Left Hand might be the finest thing they’ve released to date. With lead single ‘Prora’ the group wrote about Nazi holiday destinations over a riveting off-kilter beat. While on ‘Chacabuco’, they pair with Estron’s Tali Källström to produce one of their most exciting, powerful and intriguing songs yet. Don’t let this record pass you by.

 

 

 

38. Dorian ElectraFlamboyant

Self-Released

Dorian Electra’s first full-length studio album is of course influenced by the work that has come before them. SOPHIE, Charli XCX and the PC Music Camp. But Dorian Electra does a fantastic job of creating their own sound, with sassy, sexy, future Pop numbers such as ‘Career Boy’, ‘Man to Man’ and the title track. This is a great album, and definitely an artist to watch out for in the future.

 

 

 

37. BitwBitw

Klep Dim Trep

Bitw help continue the twee-Indie Pop/Rock sound that has embedded itself into Welsh music over the last few decades. Their self-titled record is a homage to this sound, with some stellar song writing from front man Gruff ab Arwel. Sonically astounding, Bitw is an album that’s destined to become a cult favourite, and will be long look backed on as a triumph of Welsh language music.

 

 

 

36. James BlakeAssume Form

Polydor

Featuring contributions from Rosalía, Andre 3000, Travis Scott, Moses Sumney and Metro Boomin’, Assume Form is a much for solid release from James Blake after 2016’s patchy The Colour in Anything. Blake opens himself up more than ever on this album, speaking of love, emotions and vulnerability. It’s an insightful and beautiful journey into the head of the London-born, American-based musician.

 

 

 

35. Stealing SheepBig Wows

Heavenly Recordings

Stealing Sheep’s transition to Pop is complete with Big Wows. From ‘Show Love’ to ‘True Colours’, the group’s angelic vocals, tight and shimmering instrumentals this is a wonderfully enjoyable album. That’s without even touching on the song ‘Jokin’ Me’, a fantastic composition that stands out, not only as one of the finest tracks of the year, but one of the finest tracks of the decade.

 

 

 

34. Richard Dawson2020

Weird World

Richard Dawson embodies the avant-garde Folk music that he releases on his records. 2020 is a worthy follow up to records such as Peasant and The Magic Bridge. 2020 speaks frankly and honestly about the world we live in now, in brutal fashion. Dawson’s use of his regional accent and local terms makes this album all the more real, and, in may ways, morbidly fascinating.

 

 

 

33. TJ RobertsBest New Reissue

Libertino Records

The re-release of Tom Robert’s debut album truly is the Best New Reissue. With shades of Thee Oh Sees, Elliott Smith and more, TJ Roberts and co. lay out a series of loveable, catchy Indie rock songs. Highlights include the tender ‘The Party’, frantic ‘Midnight Stores’ and ‘Couch’. For those of you who are into fuzzed out, chill Rock with a hint of psych, don’t let this pass you by.

 

 

 

32. Girl RayGirl

Moshi Moshi

After their stunning Indie debut in 2017, Girl Ray switch up their direction, creating a shimmering Pop album inspired by the likes of Ariana Grande. The result is some of the group’s best material to date; ‘Show Me More’, ‘Girl’ and ‘Friend Like That’ to name just a few. It’s great to see Girl Ray trying something new, moving out of their comfort zone and coming out with some great music as a result!

 

 

 

31. ThreatmanticsShadow on Your Heart

Ffatbyrg Records

The third album from Cardiff’s Threatmantics may just be their best to date. Shadow on Your Heart is a mash of Folk music, Prog, Alternative and a hint of Noise Rock. the group have developed a knack for creating a great hook, and this is most evident on tracks ‘First Things’ and the title track. But the deeper cuts are also excellent; from the menacing ‘Little Johnny’ to the heavy ‘Dangos Dy Ddannedd’.

 

 

 

30. Sunn O)))Life Metal

Southern Lord

Life Metal is another monolithic record from Drone-Metal group Sunn O))). Clocking in at four tracks and over an hour in length, Sunn O))) once again blend their signature sound with the unexpected; beautifully whispered vocals, light electronics and percussion, amongst other instrumentation. If you’re after some good old drone music this Winter look no further.

 

 

 

29. FoalsEverything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt. 1

Transgressive

The best thing Foals have released since 2010’s Total Life Forever, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt. 1 has elements of dance-punk and the heavier side of alternative rock. It’s the best parts of what Foals have done over the last 10 years, with lyrics relating to the impending climate crisis. It’s a great album that potentially showed a return to form. It’s a shame Pt. 2 was so disappointing.

 

 

 

28. Lingua IgnotaCaligula

Profound Lore

One of the most harrowing releases from the last year, Caligula is often as sparse and empty as a desert. But at other times hits the listener with a climactic, terrifying amount of noise and sound. Caligula is by no means an easy listen and will not be for everyone. But it’s an experience, and what Lingua Ignota does on this record is unlike anything else out right now.

 

 

 

27. KEYSBring Me the Head of Jerry Garcia

Libertino Records

The fifth album from KEYS is a fresh, beautifully written mash up of classic Rock, Psychedelic music and Welsh Indie. The beauty of the songs comes from the simplicity, with tracks such as ‘Bad Penny’ and ‘Black & White’ becoming immediate ear worms. Elsewhere ‘Pussyfooting/(Gareth Bale) Killed My Scene’ is a storming opener with a nice nod to their local scene.

 

 

 

26. Lightning BoltSonic Citadel

Thrill Jockey

In the genre of Noise Rock is can often be difficult to shake up your sound and deliver something fresh and new. With Sonic Citadel, Lightning Bolt manage to both maintain hints of their finest work, while also introducing some elements that have been unheard in past releases from the duo. Not only that, but also some of their loudest songs; ‘Big Banger’, of course, taking that title.

 

 

 

25. BaronessGold & Grey

Abraxam Hymns

There’s plenty on Gold & Grey that shows Baroness doing what they do best; great Hard Rock. But Baroness being Baroness, it wouldn’t be the same if they didn’t throw some surprises in there. As a result, expect to hear elements of Folk, Indie, and Electronic music all over this record, creating a patchwork of different sounds. A must for any Baroness fan.

 

 

 

24. Sarathy KorwarMore Arriving

The Leaf Label

More Arriving sees Korwar collaborate with a range of musicians and artists to create a tapestry of Spoken Word, Rap, Folk, Jazz and Experimental music. As the title would suggest, More Arriving is created about immigrants, by immigrants. Giving personal accounts of their experiences, and how they are perceived, More Arriving is a intriguing and important listen, perhaps peaking with it’s closer ‘Pravasis’.

 

 

 

23. WilcoOde to Joy

dBpm

After the whimsy and humour of Schmilco, Wilco go totally the other way with Ode to Joy. Ode to Joy is melancholic, yet beautiful. Foreboding, yet at peace. It stinks of despair at the modern age, like Jeff Tweedy has finally given up all hope of a peaceful world, at the dawn of the 2020s. Of course, not a happy listening experience, but a great one nonetheless.

 

 

 

22. Shannon LayAugust

Sub Pop

With a sound reminiscent of artists like Bert Jansch, but with an aesthetic that could have landed in a Wes Anderson film, Shannon Lay’s August is a classic whimsical Folk record. Her use of horns and strings adds extra nostalgia to already wonderfully crafted songs. This is an album for anyone who likes both old-school Folk, and bands of the modern age, such as Fleet Foxes.

 

 

 

21. The Comet is ComingTrust in the Life Force of the Deep Mystery

Impulse!

While I’ve respected the music of The Comet is Coming in the past, it was with this, their second album, where the group really produced something mesmerising and noteworthy. Trust in the Life Force of the Deep Mystery is a sharp, clear, monumental record that shows just a taste of what’s going on right now in the UK Jazz scene.

 

 

 

 

20. Silent ForumEverything Solved at Once

Libertino Records

Oozing with 80’s Jangle Pop sounds, vocal hooks and frantic guitar tones, the long-awaited debut album from Cardiff/London act Silent Forum is a triumph. Richard Wiggins striking vocal performance and self derogatory lyrics lead the way while the band give a strong, tight and striking performance. From the absolutely stonking ‘How I Faked the Moon Landing’ to the critical ‘A Pop Act’ to the tender ‘Safety in Numbers’, Silent Forum should be proud of what they’ve created here.

 

 

19. HatchieKeepsake

Heavenly Recordings/Double Double Whammy/Ivy League

Another standout Dream Pop album from the likes of Heavenly and Ivy League, Keepsake is an lovesick, nostalgic record where Harriette Pilbeam pours her heart out. With clear inspiration from contemporaries Alvvays and legends My Bloody Valentine, Keepsake definitely does not stand in the shadow of either of these artists. Instead, it stands on the border between Shoegaze and Indie Pop, creating it’s own niche within genres. Really though, this is just a collection of well written, enjoyable songs that will suit almost anyone.

 

 

18. Better Oblivion Community CenterBetter Oblivion Community Center

Dead Oceans

Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst working together in a new project may have been the best thing either of them could have done. Their off-kilter lyrics and traditional Folk Rock inspirations come together in a collection of really lovely, heart-warming songs that will please fans of both artists. The finest moments come with the harmonies of ‘Didn’t Know What I Was In For’, the isolationism of ‘My City’ and, of course, the anthemic ‘Dylan Thomas’.  While some might criticise a lack of ambition in this album, that doesn’t stop the songwriting skills of both parties really shining through on this collection of songs.

 

17. False AdvertisingBrainfreeze

Alcopop! Records

I’d be a liar if I said I was the biggest fan of Pop Punk, or extensions of the genre. However, when the songs are are good as their are on False Advertising’s first album for Alcopop records, I’d be a fool to miss out. Brainfreeze is an incredibly well written record, full of the kind of hooks that would have made this band huge in the 90s. But enough deeper cuts and left-field choices to please album snobs. Opening track ‘Influenza’ is an instant classic of the genre, while tracks ‘We’ve Heard This All Before’, ‘You Said’ and closer ‘So Long’ False Advertising flexing their songwriting muscle and giving us some of the best Rock songs of the year. If you’ve slept on this record, make sure to check it out.

 

16. Ariana Grandethank u, next

Republic

I really thought that Ariana had given us her best record with 2018’s Sweetener, but my was I wrong. Thank u, next is a triumph of a Pop album, with hit after hit on this thing. From the iconic title track to ‘NASA’, ‘7 rings’, ‘ghostin’ ‘needy’ and ‘bad idea’ to name just a few of the brilliant tracks on this thing. Where Sweetener began then themes of heartbreak and distress, thank u, next picks up the baton. There are some moments of genuine beauty on this record, as well as some of the most heart achingly painful songs to be released this year. Ariana has really pulled out all the stops on this thing to create what could possibly be her magnum opus. I’m not sure how she’ll be able to top this, but hey, I’ve been wrong before. Prove me wrong again Ariana!

15. Xiu XiuGirl With Basket of Fruit

Polyvinyl

After the shimmering Forget from 2017, Xiu Xiu do a fine job of not following this coherently at all with Girl With Basket of Fruit. Going in totally the opposite direction, this record is high intensity, avant-garde, and at times incredibly garish. Much like Caligula and Life Metal, Girl With Basket of Fruit is by far an easy listen. But as Jamie Stewart delivers a beat poetry mantra over an erratic instrumental, it’s impossible not to be pulled into this incredible soundscape. While the title track has a pulsating, hypnotic groove, ‘Mary Turner, Mary Turner’ is perhaps the most disturbing song on the record, telling the story of a woman being lynched, over these hard hitting electronic drums and horrifying strings. Then we have ‘Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy’ which is the closest thing to a radio hit that Xiu Xiu give us on this record. Hell, even this song is disturbing as fuck.

14. Gruff RhysPang!

Rough Trade

Gruff Rhys’ solo material has always jumped around and changed. Perhaps the two records of his that hold any semblance is 2014’s excellent American Interior, and last years Babelsberg. With Pang! Gruff branches into a Hip Hop type sound, combining it perfectly with crisp acoustic guitar, light Welsh language vocals and plucky horns. Gruff’s work with South African DJ Muzi really brings out a new side to the singer, and thus creates, what I would argue is Gruff’s best solo material to date. ‘Bae Bae Bae’ is perhaps the most notable of these tracks. It’s combination of cut and paste guitar and Gruff’s notably subdued performance is a real ear work. Other highlights include ‘Ara Deg (ddaw’r awen)’, which features some light percussion and some computerised string additions. It’s great to see Gruff moving into a field he’s previously stayed on the fringes of, and shows that he’s still producing, wonderful, colourful and eclectic music.

13. Michael KiwanukaKiwanuka

Polydor/Interscope

In the past I’ve never really given Michael Kiwanuka my time. But when this record was released, word began to spread that the singer had given us something different. There’s certainly some truth there; Kiwanuka is definitely more of a striking statement then it’s predecessors. Michael not only produces some absolutely killer instrumentals on this record, but also dabbles in some politically charged lyrics, notably on tracks ‘I’ve Been Dazed’ and ‘Living in Denial’.  There’s something timeless about the songs on this record; and with great production by Danger Mouse, they all sound crisp, sharp and fully-formed. Michael’s mantra is clear from the off, Kiwanuka goes hard and barely lets up over the course of the these 14 tracks (including a couple of interlude tracks). If, like me, you’ve glossed over, or palmed off, Michael Kiwanuka, it might be time to give him a shot.

12. Julia JacklinCrushing

Polyvinyl/Transgressive/Liberation

You’ll be hard pressed to find an album that is emotionally harder to listen to than Julia Jacklin’s Crushing. Despite the artist’s ecstatic expression on the cover, this is a very downbeat album. Opener ‘Body’ speaks of a woman breaking bonds of a relationship and reclaiming her own form. ‘When the Family Flies In’ speaks of the support the narrator receives in a serious situation from those close to her. ‘Pressure to Party’ is the most upbeat track on the record, but ironically speaks about the reluctance to have a good time and enjoy one’s self when not feeling the vibes. ‘Good Guy’ is perhaps one of the most striking tracks here. It reads as a person so obsessed with their own conscience that they require reassurance from the person they have hurt that they’re a good human being.  Crushing is an album that will no doubt, unfortunately, resonate with so many people out there. It’s an album of hurt and heartbreak. Insecurity and mental health. It’s by no means an easy listen, but very much worth your time.

11. JPEGMAFIAAll My Heroes Are Cornballs

EQT Recordings

Peggy could have quite easily duplicated his excellent Veteran with his latest album. Thankfully, he’s an artist that’s willing and able to take risks with his music, and lo, All My Heroes Are Cornballs was born. There are elements of this record that will be familiar territory; the beats are still erratic, if longer, and Peggy’s trademark wit is still evident through his lyrics (“Y’all deal look somethin’ like Brexit’). But there are elements to this album that see Peggy changing his style. Most notably, the amount of singing on this record is way up from Veteran, and in doing this, Peggy creates a vibe akin to artists like Brockhampton. There’s moments of genuine wonder on this record, including, but not limited to, Peggy covering TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’. Mirroring this, there’s ambient, light instrumentals that appear across the record, notably on tracks ‘Beta Male Strategies’ and ‘Rap Grow Old & Die x No Child Left Behind’. It’s great to see that JPEGMafia is ready to continue to change up hi sound and create new and exciting records.

10. Penelope IslesUntil the Tide Creeps In

Bella Union

Not to generalise, but I’ve often found the quality of Indie Pop albums to be somewhat patchy. This is most definitely not the case on Penelope Isles debut full length album. There’s a beautiful naivety to this record, heard on tracks such as ‘Round’, ‘Chlorine’ and ‘Underwater Record Store’ featuring a choir of softly spoken voices. Then of course there is the closer ‘Through the Garden’, a brillaint coda to this already wonderful record. The group do more than just churn out wide-eyed soft rock, something that is seen so much on the Indie circuit. They craft dreamy soundscapes, filled with an array of instrumentation, soft, unique vocal performances and hypnotic arrangements. There’s so much to love about this record, and with every listen another layer of intrigue and wonder is uncovered through the crisp production from band member Jack Wolter. If you’re an Indie Rock, or Indie Pop fan and this record has slipped you by, for the love of God go back and give this your time. I promise you won’t regret it.

9. Angel OlsenAll Mirrors

Jagjaguwar

After Burn Your Fire For No Witness, maybe the Rock influenced My Woman was a bit of light emotional relief. But just when you thought it was safe – Angel Olsen hits us with another tearjerker. All Mirrors is an album that, should you be in the appropriate state of mind, will leave you in an emotional wreck. Opener ‘Lark’ shows Angel give a stunning performance, showing the power of her vocals. After this we launch into the title track, an Electro Pop track that twists itself into a colossal ballad where Angel once again gets to flex her vocal muscle. Elsewhere in the tracklisting we have ‘New Love Cassette’, another track which utilises a heavy synth and electronic drum base, with Angel serenading the listener with hushed vocals, accompanied by some cinematic strings. Then we have the closer ‘Chance’, a song that plays out like an old Jazz standard, with Angel giving a breathtaking performance akin to that of Billie Holiday or Nina Simone. A stunning closer to a stunning album.

8. Cate Le BonReward

Mexican Summer

While Mug Museum was a triumph, Crab Day left much to be desired. On Reward, Cate expands on what she had previously built on her last album, creating an avant-garde eccentric record that was inspired by building furniture and playing piano. The result is easily Cate’s most adventurous album to date. There’s synths and saxophones all over this thing, along with Cate’s signature bass lines and downbeat vocals. The latter of these provide a certain amount of dark humour, especially on songs such as ‘Sad Nudes’ or ‘Mother’s Mother’s Magazines’. And, while it seemed unlikely she would have won it, it was great to see her get a nod in this years Mercury Prize shortlist. While, in my opinion, this isn’t the best Cate Le Bon album (Mug Museum will forever hold that honour in my heart) it is a brilliant charming record, full of oddball traits and left-field musical decisions. Much like viewing a Gilbert and George work of art, or a David Lynch film, Reward is standout in how it so openly embraces the left-field and avant-garde.

7. Hot ChipA Bath Full of Ecstasy

Domino

I’ve often found the work of Hot Chip to be rather hit and miss, but with A Bath Full of Ecstasy, the group pulled off a stunning Dance record, which, much like it’s cover, is radiant and colourful. Some of the best Hot Chip songs of all time feature on this record; the uplifting and wonderful opener ‘Melody of Love’, ‘Spell’, which takes elements of classic Hot Chip and turns it up to 11, and of course the complete ear worm that is ‘Hungry Child’. It’s great to see that the four years away have done wonders for the London based band, and that nearly every track on this record could be a single. Their work with Katy Perry and co-producers Cassius can be heard all over this record, giving a new lease of life to the band’s music, and lending themselves to some of the more Pop influenced tracks. I personally feel that this album has been somewhat overlooked by the mainstream music press, so I would implore you to give A Bath Full of Ecstasy a listen, and bathe in it’s glorious sounds.

6. The Murder CapitalWhen I Have Fears

Human Season

Perhaps since the rapid rise of Idles (or perhaps even earlier) the trend of emotionally-aware Post Punk music has made itself known to the mainstream. Dublin’s The Murder Capital epitomise this statement perfectly. Their debut album, When I Have Fears, forgoes any twinkly eyed humour from the aforementioned Bristol band, instead crafting haunting and emotionally charged songs. These songs follow a blueprint set out by such artists as Shame, Joy Division and Savages, lyrically pulling from such topics as mental health, artist Francesca Woodman and the gentrification of their native city. But alongside these topics come incredibly tight, raucous punk instrumentals (brilliantly produced by the legendary Flood), with infectious yet simplistic hooks. Don’t see be surprised when you see these guys live to see half the room moshing and the other half balling their eyes out, especially when it comes to the beautiful and brutal ‘Don’t Cling to Life’. Absolutely astounding.

5. Tyler, the CreatorIgor

A Boy is a Gun/Columbia

After the success of Flower Boy, no one expected Tyler to go in this direction. Pitched vocals, lo-fi production and one of the best break-up albums of the last 10 years, Igor is an absolute triumph. From radio-hit ‘Earfquake’ to the pulsating ‘I Think’ to the melancholy ‘Puppet’ what Tyler does here is magical, riveting and brilliant. He tells a story, constructs a narrative, pulls together a cast of guest stars, all effortlessly weaved into the instrumentals. Solange, Kanye West, Playboi Carti, Santigold, Slowthai, Lil Uzi Verts and more all have cameos on this album. Although, admittedly, a few are weaved so tightly into the fold it’s hard to pick them out. But really Tyler if the focal point here. If the ensemble is large, it’s Tyler who is the director, producer, screenwriter and leading star in this blockbuster production. Igor has received some backlash due to the incredibly different production style, but really this is an album that shows the rapper maturing, taking the reigns of his musical direction and entering his prime.

4. Marika HackmanAny Human Friend

Sub Pop

On the subject of sort-of-break-up albums, Marika Hackman came through this year with an absolute stonker of a record. If you look this record up on Wikipedia, it’s listed as “Indie Rock”. This is frankly bullshit. Any Human Friend is a Pop album through and through. With tracks such as ‘The One’, ‘I’m Not Where You Are’ and the hilariously named ‘Hand Solo’ all featuring, how could this not be a Pop album? Marika manages to incorporate sly sexual descriptions, casual swear words, digs at her ex and double entendres into her lyrics without so much as batting an eyelid. There are few artists out there that can craft a song about masturbation without coming (pun intended) across as corny or cheap. Marika Hackman is one of those artists. It’s truly a fantastic album, from an artist whose output I previously have found somewhat lacklustre. But with Any Human Friend, Marika comes through with the album she was destined to write. Please don’t let this pass you by.

3. Weyes BloodTitanic Rising

Sub Pop

Natalie Mering’s past output has definitely shown promise. Back in 2016, I listed Front Row Seat to Earth as an honourable mentions, and ‘Generation Why’ still holds it’s own as one of the finest Baroque Pop songs of the last decade. But with Titanic Rising, Natalie conjured a magical, beautiful, daring record. From the beautifully shimmering lead single ‘Andromeda’, it was clear that something special was coming from Weyes Blood. ‘Movies’ is an uplifting and (aptly) cinematic song, where Natalie speaks of her love of the format. ‘Picture Me Better’ is a soul-shattering song from the point of view of a person writing a letter to their ex-lover. ‘Everyday’ is an incredibly Beatles-esque number, with Natalie singing of the pains of online dating. There’s something retro about the production and sound of this album; Natalie has always spoken of her love of older artists. But with lyrical matter touching on love, technology and the end of the world, it’s an incredibly relevant album for the dawn of the 2020s.

2. Big ThiefU.F.O.F.

4AD

While many publications favour Big Thief’s second record of 2019, Two Hands, for me, U.F.O.F. is a creative peak for the group. Whereas previous releases have felt a little safe, this record shows Big Thief crafting a larger than life record, with unsettling instrumentals and absolutely gorgeous vocal performances from Adrianne Lenker. It feels like a record destined for cult stardom, with songs that call upon Radiohead, Mount Eerie, Elliott Smith, Joni Mitchell and more. Opener ‘Contact’ is beautifully terrifying. ‘Cattails’ feels like a song decades old, but that still sounds incredibly fresh. ‘Century’ recalls classic 70s soft rock, with a silky smooth bassline. It’s an album that taps into something you didn’t know was even their. Recalls memories you didn’t even know you had. Takes to a place and time you don’t even remember visiting. Maybe this is a one-off for Big Thief, but the results are truly astounding, and U.F.O.F. is easily one of the finest Indie Folk releases, not only of 2019, but of the entire decade.

1. Little SimzGrey Area

Age 101

Little Simz finally hits her stride on her third studio album. Grey Area is an album that picks her out of the pack of British Grime and Hip Hop, setting her aside with stunning songwriting and stellar lyrics. Simz delivers an album that touches on both the personal and the comical; from the (well earned) bragging of ‘Boss’ to the vicious ‘Venom’ and the reflective ‘Selfish’. The instrumentation is hard hitting and organic, with a refreshing blend of strings, drums, bass and synths with the occasional smattering of guest vocalists. But the best thing about this record is the song-writing. This is an all-killer, no-filler record, with Simz and producer Inflo crafting a superb collection of tracks that don’t outstay their welcome, connect the artist to the listener and bridge the gap between classic London Grime and American influenced Hip Hop. There’s a reason artists like Kendrick Lamar have been giving her so much props, and Grey Area cements Little Simz place in UK Hip Hop history.

 

 

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