Released just days ago, the second Stormzy record isn’t the album I expected at all. It’s such an introspective and personal album from arguably the biggest new name in UK rap in years who could easily have delivered a typical album of bangers. Of course there’s some here, Own It is an undeniable hit, but it’s on tracks like Rachaels Little Brother and Rainfall that Stormzy truly shines. Perhaps the highs aren’t as high as on his tremendous debut, but there’s plenty here I loved.
Everyday Life isn’t Coldplay’s best work, they haven’t really been on top form in a while now, but as I fan I’m really enjoying them really try and push their sound. The Kaleidescope EP from 2017 felt like their most experimental moment in years and Everyday Life really takes this even further. Church is a gorgeous mixture of eastern sound and typical Coldplay instrumentation, Guns is an acoustic led, ironic take on the current gun control problem, it’s strange to hear the band so vocal on records when they’ve usually just kept that to interviews. There’s some bad music here, certainly, but there’s also the likes of Arabesque, so for me it was a really worthwhile album.
I don’t think I’ve seen a single person in my real or social media life even mention this album from Cassadee Pope. As an unapologetic fan of country-pop this album is brilliant and provides a short sharp shot of catchy memorable songs like very few albums did this year. If The Voice UK brought us one good thing it was Becky Hill and for The Voice US, the same can be said about Cassadee Pope. I’ve Been Good, Distracted, FYI, One More Red Light and Take Me Home are should-have-been country pop smashes if I’ve ever heard one.
It’s hard to think of another group that could get away with creating an album entirely out of snippets of songs they wrote when they were teenagers, but somehow Tegan and Sara pulled it off this year. There are some of my all time favourite T&S songs on this record, I Know I’m Not The Only One is a killer hook with a raw edge that they didn’t seem to have on their last album. There’s an innocence in the songwriting here that I love, where lyrics fall easily, with no need for complicated metaphor or overthought phrasing. This is a youthful pop album performed by genre veterans, that consistently sounds like a Tegan and Sara album.
I had never even heard of Lucy Rose before 2019. One listen to No Words Left and it felt like I’d known her my entire life. There’s so much emotion and life in these songs. Treat Me Like a Woman is effortlessly smooth, I absolutely love Lucy’s vocals on tracks like this where she can soar but then bring it right back to such a small and intimate sound. The album is produced in a way that allows everything to expand and breathe out, before becoming very small again. A new discovery, but a brilliant one.
Carly Rae Jepsen is 4/4 for albums she has released since Call Me Maybe that have my best of the year lists. I often find it exhausting when certain groups of people act like all of pop music is shit compared to Carly Rae Jepsen, but every now and again I hear a song and can’t help but wonder if they are right after all. The Sound is terrific, Now THat I’ve Found You and Want You In My Room are absolute belters. Too Much is one of the year’s catchiest hooks and opener Julien is a smooth disco moment. Dedicated continues the trend of CRJ releasing pretty great pop tunes, which is a trend I hope doesn’t end any time soon.
Brittany Howard has so much soul on this album. A track like Baby just oozes that classic soul sound, but everything is so distinctive here. Jaime is such a diverse record and it feels like one of the first times we’ve been able to see Brittany Howard as a fully fledged artist, not just as the frontwoman of an great band; Alabama Shakes. The record takes us through different genres, feels personal and emotional and still allows enough bonkers moments like 13th Century Metal to happen along the way.
‘Hoodies all summer/’Cause teardrops from the sky/Only seem to fall on you and I’, Grime has been waiting for an album like Hoodies All Summer for a long time and on highlight Teardrops Kano touches on just about everything broken about Britain in 2019, which carries over the entirety of Hoodies All Summer. I loved Kano’s last album, Made in the Manor, but for me there’s something so much more important and vital about the music on this album. The juxtaposition of the verses against the high pitched vocals on Trouble is thrilling, the moment where real life knife-crime audio is heard against a choir is spectacular.
The year’s best debut country album coming from a British act is not something I would have predicted for 2019, but Yola made it happen. That powerful voice carries these songs to huge heights, Faraway Look opens the album in such a massive way. Yola delivers these songs in such a dynamic way that even people who say they dislike the genre will find something to admire here. What an amazing way to introduce yourself to the industry, a true gem in 2019.
My expectations were very high for how Maren Morris would follow up both mega-pop-hit The Middle and the outstanding debut album Hero. GIRL is a much more organic sounding record than that, full of acoustic instrumentation and less produced vocals. There’s the same energy as on Hero on Flavour, ‘Shut up and sing, well hell no I won’t’, while A Song For Everything is a gorgeous mid tempo nostalgia trip. GIRL manages to continue the massive early promise from Maren Morris, even if it doesn’t truly reach the heights of that debut classic.
Talk about people making an impact in 2019, Lizzo has to be top of the list. She’s the ‘pudding in the proof’ after all. Cuz I Love You is such a consistently enjoyable record; the VOCALS on opening title track; the self love anthem Soulmate; the disco bop of the year Juice; the feminist reclaim of throwing a ball ‘Like a girl’; every single track is essential. I actually think the album works best without adding on Truth Hurts and Boys tacked onto the end, the slinky Lingerie is a much better way to close out the record. It may not be the most thought provoking album on this list, but my god it’s one of the most fun.
Miranda Lambert is one of country music’s most dependable artists and Wildcard is no exception. This a much more traditional Miranda album, than The Weight of These Wings or last year’s Pistol Annies album Interstate Gospel, but there’s still so much to appreciate here. Few artists have such a control over their own performance on each album, here Miranda sounds especially great on the likes of How Dare You Love and the terrific closer Dark Bars. The comic timing on All Comes Out In The Wash is genius, while Bluebird is yet another stellar Miranda mid-tempo. Probably the most consistent country act of the decade, Wildcard is yet another essential record from Miranda Lambert.
Father of the Bride is bonkers. At times folksy country duets with Danielle Haim, at others Spanish handclaps offset by distorted vocals. It’s a properly enthralling listen though and Ezra takes the lead in such a unique way that every listen brings something new. At times you’ll be listening to a song like Unbearably White expecting it to be just another typical predictable Indie Alternative radio song and then wham, that loud string noise hits and you remember this is an interesting album after all. Sympathy was an early highlight of mine, but I equally love closer, Jerusalem, New York, Berlin that manages to sound like it’s about to explode into a massive dance track, but barely moves on from being a vocal only track.
I do feel bad including an album that features some of the best songs of 2017 and 2018 on it alongside just a handful of properly new tracks, but Sucker Punch delivers exactly that as a pop record. Opening title trac very nearly became my song of 2018 and here it kicks off a string of thoughtful, emotive and properly banging pop tunes. Never Mine is heart breaking, but impossibly catchy in that ‘driving in an 80s movie’ kind of way. Sight of You and Mine Right Now are out and out danceable bops, while Basic and Level Up recall the more intimate sound of some of the Raw EP from last year. The inclusion of (the still brilliant) Dynamite and Don’t Kill My Vibe may be cheating a little, but they keep the quality threshold here suitably high. A terrific long awaited debut album.
i,i is like a Bon Iver Greatest Hits album. It pulls from everything that made their first 3 albums so great, the starkness of For Emma, Forever Ago; the soundscape and massive scale of Bon Iver, Bon Iver and the distorted electronic emotion of 22, A Million. In the end this combines to become Bon Iver’s most accessible album yet, full of intricate detail and craziness at times, but stacked with memorable moments and some genuine choruses for the first time ever. Holyfields, is phenomenal, Justin sounds so so good here harmonizing with himself. Faith has this epic quality to them, while opener iMi is crafted from so many different interpolated songs and sounds that the end result sounding as polished as this is pretty stunning. i,i is yet another terrific album from a band I can’t help but feel drawn to.
MUNA happily inform the audience at every one of their shows that they are ‘The greatest band in the world’. For the 4 minutes of Pink Light on Saves The World I believe them. Their music is joyous in a way that very little else on this list can come close to, but thanks to a truly distinctive vocal and songwriting style they manage to not sound like anyone else. Number One Fan goes OFF, Stayaway is heartbreaking, It’s Gonna Be Okay Baby is devastatingly personal and yet feels so hopeful too. I wrote about how important it is to hear music written by and performed by artists who aren’t just cis-gendered straight people and this only makes Saves the World even more universal in its appeal.
MAGDALENE was not an immediate favourite of mine on first listen. Unlike her debut and the incredible EP M3LL155X where I was immediately transfixed by every track, it took a bit more work. I’m glad I put that extra effort in though as MAGDALENE is arguably FKA Twigs’ best work yet. Every song is built from a simple piano line, every song written from that starting point, which brings this sense of discovery and unexpected danger every time the instrumentation moves away from the Piano. On sad day the production is so thrilling, the vocals here and on tracks like the heartbreaking mirrored heart you can really hear the pain in her voice. Once you reach the spectacular Cellophane as the album closes it’s hard to imagine a more personal album from FKA Twigs than this. I absolutely love this album.
One of the most influential artists of the decade delivers her best album in years. Norman Fucking Rockwell manages to be a really bold and daring album that also stays perfectly true to Lana as a artist. This is classic songwriting, but written with such modern wit and edge, this is an album that opens with the line ‘God damn man child, you fucked me so good that I almost said I Love You’. It’s that control over her own artistic direction that puts NFR way ahead of the last few Lana records, the likes of Venice Bitch, Mariner’s Apartment Complex and How to dissapear being some of her all time best work.
I can honestly say that before 2019 I had barely even heard of Foals never mind listened to one of their albums. Maybe it’s because my expectations were completely different to what I ended up hearing that Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1 had such a huge impact on me, but I was obsessed with this album a long time. In Degrees is like a Euro-pop dance track, while On The Luna has this amazing awkwardness to its hook. White Onions is a storming rock moment and Exits is full of crashing energy. What makes this album special though is how every song and the album overall develops with every minute. There’s something unexpected at every corner, by the time you reach the bt where it all goes off near the end of Sunday you not only know the drill, but are fully prepared to join in with the hands in the air, 90s dance track style jumping up and down moment.
‘This is one small step for woman/One giant leap for woman-kind’ That’s what thank u, next feels like in pop music. The album where everything aligns for the biggest popstar in the world for the first time. Released just months after the enjoyable but inconsistent Sweetener, thank u, next is front to back incredible personal pop music. Here’s an album with 3 worldwide #1 hits, including one of the year’s greatest pop records break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored, but there’s at least 4 or 5 other songs that could be #1 hits here too. Bloodline is catchy as hell, NASA is a live favourite, In My Head has some of the albums best vocal moments. It’s ghostin that’s the centerpiece and emotional core though, for a woman who has gone through so much shit over the last few years, the fact she was able to write and record such a brutally honest song is unbelievable. thank u, next is to Ariana albums what Into You was to Ariana singles, the moment the music and the artist finally aligned.
The first truly great album of 2019, Heard It In A Past Life has been a constant through this year for me. There’s this unique way that Maggie Rogers constructs her songs, the way everything is layered together is unlike any other artist and as a debut album Heard It In A Past Life mangaes to capture her writing and production style so much more than the usual label led efforts we hear. Listen to Burning and it’s the way the opening drum loop and percussion melds into the guitar in the second verse building and building each time as Maggie’s performance becomes more and more frenetic. There’s moments like this across the record on Give A Little, the knockout Retrograde and a beefed up version of On and Off. Fallingwater is still a terrific pop record, while Light On is dying for a festival singalong. It’s so amazing to see a debut album capturing the essence of an artist as perfectly as this album does.
The biggest artist of the year, the biggest songwriters of the year, the biggest album of the year; all before Billie turned 18 years old last week. WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? is the album on this list that has probably been written and talked about the most elsewhere on the internet, so I’m not going to tell everyone what they already know. This is a daring, unique, exciting, catchy, unapologetically youthful, thrilling debut album from the best new artist of the last few years. With songs like you should see me in a crown, bad guy, bury a friend and I love you, Billie Eilish and Finneas have created the album that will define the next decade of pop music. In 10 years time, every end of decade list will mention this album as the moment pop music changed for good. What an album.
SOUND & FURY is not an album I would have expected to be anywhere near this list. An Americana star writing a bluesy, pop rock concept album with an accompanying Netflix anime film? Nothing about this album makes any sense, then you sit and listen to it and it’s even more shocking how good it is. I’m baffled that I seem to be the only person who has reacted so strongly to SOUND & FURY, as in my view it’s such an incredible cross genre album full of sharp songwriting. Sturgill has always been an outsider, but here he’s going in on the industry, his peers and the people who are just out to make money from him. Make Art Not Friends isn’t just a song here it’s a sentiment across most of the album; the electrifying The Good Look features the cutting opening lyric ‘The Star Of David don’t belong to the David at all/He borrowed it from Peter just so he could pay off Paul/Peter copyrighted the star and now he owns a claimBut a star is still a star by any other name’. It’s totally unique, but as a front to back album SOUND & FURY is as good as just about anything in any of the genres Sturgill jumps into across these 40 minutes.
I was already a Michael Kiwanuka fan, I think his development on second album Love & Hate with songs like Black Man in a White World and Cold Little Heart was amazing to see. KIWANUKA makes everything that came before it feel like the prelude, this is the main event. It’s a striking political album that takes a hard look at life as a black man in Britain in 2019, but it’s also so personal that every song feels like Michael is talking so openly with the listener. The way the album develops with short interludes, spoken word moments gives everything this gravitas and makes the soulful performances so much richer when they arrive. Solid Ground is especially a standout for me, where the vocal performance really comes to the forefront on KIWANUKA. Rolling, You Ain’t The Problem and Living In Denial use horns to great effect, the scuzzy guitar on these tracks making the album feel like a classic prog era record. Hero is the centepiece of the record and following the extended intro ends up as an incredible piece of composition. I love the depth of sound on every song here, it’s a painstakingly crafted album that showcases one of the greatest artists we have in Britian right now in his best light ever.
For a brief moment or two, I was debating whether to place anything from the top 4 at this spot instead (Weirdly all of them are written in All Caps), but one listen of GREY Area and I’m right back to the first moment I heard this terrific album. 10 songs, each showcasing a completely different side of Little Simz, but each bringing together every aspect of her energy as an artist perfectly. I could mention every single song on this album and you know what, I’m going to, because I can’t select a highlight at all. ‘I’m a boss in a fucking dress’ on Boss is pretty accurate; Therapy is such a vibe, recalling Blueprint era Jay-Z, which she perfectly references on Offence ‘I’m Jay-Z on a bad day, Shakespeare on my worst days’; the Little Dragon section on Pressure is phenomenal; a hook that mentions Mortal Kombat and Crash Bandicoot on 101 FM? Amazing; Selfish is smooth as hell, I love how the piano section jams along with her verses; Sherbet Sunset is an underrated deep dive into relationships; I love how Wounds builds and builds in this threatening way eventually becoming Venom which is FULL of exactly that in it’s oustanding fiery verses; leaving closer Flowers which sees Michael Kiwanuka and Little Simz reflect on their heroes who died so young. As an album, Little Simz is so self assured at every single moment. There is never a time when you think, perhaps this was so and so who pushed for this, or question why the collaborations are happening, it’s entirely organic and coming from an artist who has now established themselves as the greatest doing it in the UK. I remember seeing Little Simz perform on Jools Holland back in 2015, I was instantly a fan and was desperate for her to break through in a big way. Three albums in she has delivered a career changing and career defining album, that brings together everything that makes her special, but never in a selfish way, the music is clearly the priority for her and it shows on every second of this fantastic album. 2019 was the year of Little Simz.