This year I was inspired by James Acaster’s “Perfect Sound Whatever” - a book-length love letter to music released in 2016. Truly, music is one of my loves, and James’ experiment made me sit back and think about the albums which have made 2019 a great year for me and for music. The criteria was simple: was it released in 2019, was it album, and did I love it?
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I hate when listicles hide the entire list from you. Fortunately I don't need to put any ads in front of you. Sorry for not building tension, but 2019 has been quite long enough already. Anyway, here’s a complete list of the albums for you. You can click on any of them to go through to the album on Spotify, who are not paying me but definitely could if they wanted to.
This year in particular I really gelled with Singer Songwriters, Grime, Hip Hop, Alt Rock, and Pop. Altough I would love you to go and listen to all 21 albums I listed above, I understand that you probably will not. These are the albums that I keep recommending to people if I find out they like a certain genre or artist.
I found myself returning to Kennedy’s sound a lot over this year, more than a lot of other artists. I found something in his vocal and production qualities (in this album, and the preceding EPs) that clicked with me, and what I wanted from music this year. He will likely be one of the artists I associate most closely with the second 12 months of living in London.
Hoodies All Summer
This album is full of beautiful little lyrical and instrumental intricacies, which make this an album I have enjoyed more with re-listening. Unlike a some of the other figures in the grime scene, Kano uses this album to build an image of a troubled society and people - not just his insular social circles. He gives you a look into what drives and scares him as an artist and young black man, without playing on sympathy or othering anybody. This is a very good album for people who like grime.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
This is Logic turning his attention to social media and fame, an increasingly cliché topic at this point. Despite that, this is such a well executed album, bridling concept-album and character-acting. Logic gives us a variety of points of view, and 6ix produces beats across trap, boom-bap, modern hip hop, and Eminem features in one of the songs. I love this album.
The Band CAMINO
2019 was the first year since about 2008 where I seriously invested in alt rock - this nostalgia probably affected my nomination. This album reminds me of the energy of youth, and the simple joy of music which makes me want to move. An album which can pick me up almost instantly deserves to be recognised as a fantastic contribution to music in 2019.
The musical variety in this album is what makes it so noteworthy for me. It is very rare to see such a well-known band release something so conceptual and experimental AND for you not to think “What are they doing?”. This album is held together thematically, but musically and culturally it stretches so far. I love it, it is very human and extremely honest. Coldplay do not need any more recognition or commercial success, but I think people should listen to this album.
If you want to know more about each album, below is a full list of all the albums, sorted by release date, alongside a little description about why I loved each one.
Little Simz, January 3rd
2015 was hard for me in a lot of ways, but it’s also the year I discovered Little Simz. With GREY area, Simz continues to push her sound to something really unique and mature, something further from the easily-identifiable Hip Hop or Grime of her last projects. I’ve loved watching as her sound evolves, and this Mercury Prize nominated album sees Simz get the recognition for the king that she is.
Watsky, January 11th
From his roots in slam poetry, through hip hop, Watsky’s musical exploration has continued to grow and expand. Watsky’s previous albums have drawn from classic rock, classic hip hop, and classical music, and COMPLAINT adds a mix of 2019’s autotune and pop into the mix. This 3-act albums has a nice narrative running through it without being preachy, which means there’s always something in there for me: catharsis or fun. I’ve loved watching Watsky’s music and this album is another step forward for him.
DAWN, January 25th
I discovered this album very late into the year, when I was asking people about their favourite albums of the year. This pop and R&B fusion album is made by a woman who knows herself and her power. I cannot sit still to this one.
thank u, next
Ariana Grande, February 8th
Grande took five months to create and release this album, and the quality does not suffer to the rawness. Grande has made something beautiful about love but it does not feel forced or cliché, the emotional range is admirable - as is her vocal range. This album can ground you or elevate you, and I recommend it to everyone.
Dave, March 8th
Dave’s debut studio album is storytelling and talent, and stays true to the essence of London-born Grime. He’s honest about being scared, but hyped up on being one of the most notable up-and-coming voices on the scene. He was 20 when the album was released and I cannot believe this album came from someone so young.
Cuz I love you
Lizzo, April 19th
This girl opens the album powerfully and then sustains that energy for the entire album and I love her for it. This is an album I’ve gone to whenever I felt down or sad, but want to feel better. Her RnB/Hip Hop/Soul backings backings are classic without being forced, and they really let her shine, while still bringing the 2019 energy of being “100% that bitch” .
SYML, May 3rd
I discovered this breakout album from SYML in a dance class. The landscape of the album is incredible, from power pieces to love letters and insecurities - it stands up if you listen to the lyrics or ignore them. I’m excited to see where this artist goes.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Logic, May 10th
Like every other Logic album, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind tells a story. This time he’s criticising the pop culture and celebrity, which is served alongside a big helping of self-awareness. This isn’t a particularly new story, and not as interesting as that album where he’s on a spaceship, but the flow of one track into the next is masterful, the characters he presents are varied, and the sheer magnitude of the features he brings, like Eminem and Will Smith, mean that I have listened to this album probably more than any other this year.
The Book of Traps and Lessons
Kate Tempest, June 14th
Unlike Tempest’s first two albums, this one doesn’t contain such a strong narrative through-line to guide the pieces. This album is less obviously conceptual and I really had to learn to love it, but do I love it. Tempest makes me feel less alone, she understands why being human is hard, why loving is difficult, and how seeing strangers as “other” can be damaging. If you do not know Tempest’s work, this is not the album to start on, but I am so supportive of her explorations
NF, July 26th
NF’s defiance of being a “Christian Rapper” is what makes me love his music. His fourth studio album has seen him reach long-overdue international acclaim. His flow close to flawless, the production and beats are cinematic and superb, it’s someone who knows his sound at the top of his game. In places it plays too heavily into the self-hatred, but this level of honesty is the direction I want to see hip hop move in.
Penny and Sparrow, August 2nd
I have a soft spot for folk - it’s a gentle and beautiful but often very story-telling focused. I discovered Penny and Sparrow this year, and really enjoyed the variation in this album - each track has a different sound, and it’s nice seeing them explore different sounds and energies.
Now, Not Yet
half alive, August 9th
I think my housemate introduced Half Alive to me (thanks Claire). This synth-filled joyous ride is the first studio album the band. It’s unpretentious music that you could listen to in the car with your parents, but could also dance around to in your living room when you’re alone.
Stranger Things 3 (OST)
Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein, August 23rd
This is the only original soundtrack on this list, and that’s because nothing else I have seen this year has made me go “I ABSOLUTELY REQUIRE THIS MUSIC”. It’s creepy, dark, dramatic, and synthy. I can work to this music and get completely lost in it despite the occasional inevitable jump scares.
The band CAMINO, August 23rd
Another artist which Spotify handed me by algorithm, the band CAMINO have put out a young and clean sound which I have really loved this year. This short album is just a lot of fun, and it makes me feel good to listen to it.
Hoodies All Summer
Kano, August 30th
Kano’s sound stays unmistakably London, and increasingly political - he’s bringing the urgency of street violence to the forefront of this album. It never feels preachy, it’s a smooth and well produced album that makes you want to move and drink rum from plastic cups in the park.
Pride & Disaster
Sleep on it, September 13th
Without any regret, I have held onto my love of Pop Punk. It is the sound of youthful energy and melodrama. This album is a rarity in 2019, making me feel like I was cycling back from the park at age 17, after drinking Smirnoff Ice and kissing girls I shouldn’t and not kissing girls I wanted to. But the album isn’t tied back or restrained, it does not play on nostalgia. Bring me my skinny jeans and vans, this is the soundtrack to my regression.
Danish String Quartet, September 13th
The Danish String Quartet have produced some phenomenal music, taking from well known classical and contemporary composers, as well as traditional and folk pieces. Unlike some of their other work, I have to be in the right mood for this piece Alfred’s Schnittke’s String Quartet No. 3 is dramatic and demands your attention, but the drama unfolds deliberately. The technical skill of these musicians is beyond doubt, and I love to hear it.
Blink 182, September 20th
Blink 182’s self-titled album was, I think, the first physical album I was ever gifted. I loved it, obviously. NINE is a much cleaner and polished sound to some of their more punk-themed albums, but the band don’t lose some of the sadder or gritty aspects of their lyrics. They bring in influences from hip hop, invoking certain aspects of Panic!. Another album that brought me the energy and hope of youth.
Dermot Kennedy, October 4th
Dermot Kennedy popped into an algorithmic playlist from Spotify in 2018, and I followed his raw vocals since. This album sounds like falling in love to me - with the power and rawness that comes with that. The album definitely doesn’t have the artistic variation of a couple of others in my list, but this has been on heavy rotation for months
Nils Frahm, October 18th
As someone who dances and makes dance, Nils Frahm has brought me a lot of inspiration. This entire album brings a lot of different kinds of energy, with rhythms and landscapes constructed and disassembled in front of you. I love his signature electronic sound. This album fits perfectly when you want to feel faceless and without identity in the big city, it taps into something primal in the human brain, without the drama of a soundtrack or the mellowness of electronic ambient.
Coldplay, November 22nd
I truly did not expect to love this album as much as I have. It has so clearly been produced by some very talented musicians with the explicit aim of making art. It draws on gospel, choral, acoustic, orchestral, and pop to make an album which somehow still ties together and makes me feel beautiful.