Albums of the year 2019

Drawing up a list of my favourite records from throughout the year is one of the most enjoyable aspects to the blog and 2019 has been a good year with lots of great records and new discoveries.

This year I’ve narrowed it down 13 and to be fair, there is very little between them, such is the high quality!

Aside from the list of 13 below, I spent a lot of time listening to Skepta’s 2016 album Konnichiwa, Skream’s 2006 self-titled debut, two records released in December 2018 – Dan Amor’s Afonydd a Drysau & Curly Castro’s Tosh – and an absolute ton of Lonnie Donegan.

And as ever, if there is a record that you loved this year and isn’t included here, feel free to leave a recommendation below.

Without further ado, here are my favourite records from 2019. Enjoy!

13. Fold – ‘We’re The Ones’

Leeds-based Hip-Hop/Trip Hop outfit Fold returned with the follow-up to their superb 2015 self-titled debut. Unsurprisingly, and thankfully,
We’re The Ones follows a similar opus; pitting an enviable creativity with a powerful social consciousness to create something thoroughly powerful, unique and irresistible. It brings a message of empowerment, unity and equality, as well as addressing a slew of social issues. Importantly, they deliver their message without overlooking the importance of music’s need to move and groove. We’re The Ones is clever and compelling, the tracks are intelligent and thoughtful, while also seductive and infectious. As they say themselves; “this album is dedicated to those who care about others.”

Listen in full here

12. FIDLAR – ‘Almost Free’

For album number three, LA garage punks FIDLAR presented an eclectic evolution of their sound as scuzzy guitars and overdriven riffs combine with whopper choruses and no-fucks-given lyrics. Lyrically they have developed further, grown up somewhat, as the album tackles weightier subject matter, while not losing the monster riffs, fizzing hooks and frank lyrics that we’ve come to love. A blistering collection of eclectic tunes, Almost Free is the sound of FIDLAR reinvigorated.

Listen in full here.    

11. Mesa Luna – ‘Lash’

Vancouver’s Mesa Luna – the one-man dream-pop project of multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer, Justice McLellan – released his long-awaited debut LP Lash this year. It is an absorbing record, one of seductive grooves, lush tones and dreamy, blissed-out vibes, that sit perfectly alongside bouts of introspective searching, yearning emotion and a doleful, melancholic air. From the shimmering synth-filled gallop of ‘Dispel’, hymn like euphoric anthem of hope and defiance of ‘Woronoco’, absorbing swagger and irresistible grooves of ‘Don’t Let Go’ and warm layers of subtle euphoria, elegant chimes and fluttering keyboards of ‘Church Garden’ – it is a transfixing and blissful sound. bound together by beautiful textures, lush synths and hypnotic grooves.

Listen in full here

10. Czarface – ‘Czarface Meets Ghostface’

Comic book-themed hip-hop collective Czarface – Wu-Tang’s Inspectah Deck, and Boston duo 7L & Esoteric – burst back into action with their Ghostface Killah collaboration. There is so much to love here; it is a labour of love, unapologetic old-school hip-hop built around those clattering boom-bap beats, rugged production and bursting with colourful pop-culture references (old and contemporary) and as is their way, woven through with a self-contained narrative inspired by superhero comics. Magnificent, escapist fun, and like the others in the Czarface series, worthy of a place is any record collection.

Listen in full here.

09. Sorcha Richardson – ‘First Prize Bravery’

First Prize Bravery is the long-awaited debut from Dubliner Sorcha Richardson who’s wonderfully crafted blend of folk, indie and pop, and fine electronic flourishes, does not disappoint. Written between a spell in New York and subsequent return to Dublin, it is introspective, personal and at times emotional, as it flits between wistful and playful with seamless ease. Every song strikes a different chord but most importantly of all, each is utterly relatable. From the deftly crafted, beautiful and intimate piano-driven of ‘Honey’, to charming, infectious and buoyant reverb-soaked ‘Don’t Talk About It’, or the hazy synths, jagged guitars of ‘Oh Oscillator’ – the one constant is Richardson’s innate vivid storytelling. Each and every lyric helps paint a picture with stark imagery, made all the more potent by Richardson’s lush, soothing vocal. A stunning record, and an exemplary example of the all-consuming power of stellar songwriting. 

Listen in full here.

08. Simen Mitlid – ‘Neutral’

Simen Mitlid is a Norwegian singer-songwriter hailing from the woodlands of Os with a precocious talent for lush, Nordic indie-folk. Mitlid demonstrated this on his wonderfully charming 2017 debut LP, Everything is the Same, and he repeated the trick with 2019 album Neutral – albeit a wee bit more chipper and delivered with a pep in its step. These are charming, beautiful and warm folk songs with intricate arrangements that feel both intimate and vast; melancholic, yet marked by an understated optimism – and the album is a delight. Opener ‘Tell Me Everything’ – a beautiful, bright and colourful folk song buoyed by a perky mood – sets the tone for the rest of the album to follow, which it dutifully does. ‘Saturdays’ is a tender ballad brimming with hope and ‘Football’ is equally charming and buoyed by a heartwarming sense of love – on this occasion regaling the difficulties of loving the sport you cannot play. As always, as beautiful and elegant as the backdrop is, it is Mitlid’s hushed voice, imbued with warmth, that is wholly irresistible.

Listen in full here.  

07. Junior Brother – ‘Pull The Right Rope’

Junior Brother (aka Ronan Kealy) is a Kerry artist who writes and performs visceral folky takes on life in rural Ireland. Primarily armed with his acoustic guitar and a tambourine, and revitalising sharp twang of his strong accent, Junior Brother is a storyteller beyond repute. Something borne out across his bristling yet enchanting debut Pull the Right Rope. Weaving guitar stabs and tambourine cracks, Kealy’s yelped, jittery tales of parochial unease are universally potent. Told with raw, bristling emotion and aching honesty, these vivid tales feel rousing, defiant and insurrectionary, while making your hairs stand on end at the same time. A stunning debut that rewards and reveals more with each and every listen.

Listen in full here

06. Gruff Rhys – ‘Pang!’

Gruff Rhys rarely, if ever really puts a foot wrong and with Pang! he has produced his brightest, catchiest and most carefree records to date. Yes, this is quite the claim when you consider his work with Super Furry Animals and many solo and side-projects but Pang! is an irresistible masterpiece from start to finish. Sung in Welsh and produced by South African artist Muzi, Pang! embraces an internationalist array of sounds; there are tropicalia-infused guitar licks, steel drums, parps of brass, flourishes of jazzy trumpet, snatch of Zulu and layers of looped electronics. This cultural and musical melting pot brings a summery optimism and  bright and infectious charm which augments the wistful melodicism, intimacy and psychedelic warmth. While ostensibly a work of leftfield proportions, it is a whirlwind of beautifully approachable, colourful pop brimming with undeniably addicting melodies and hooks. This is pure odd-ball pop perfection.

Listen in full here

05. Pip Blom – ‘Boat’ 

In her namesake four-piece band, Amsterdam native Pip Blom – ably assisted by Darek Mercks on bass, Gini Cameron on drums and brother Tender on guitar – craft catchy-as-can-be fuzzed-up guitar-pop.Their debut LP, Boat is a wonderful plucky record, packed with a positive yet punchy energy. Crunching guitars and fizzing riffs are drenched in layers of warm fuzz and distortion while infectious rhythms and catchy choruses keep you hooked. This is scuzzy rough-around-the-edges indie wrapped in a sweet, highly infectious packing as Blom’s honest, self-aware and sharp lyrics are delivered with aplomb amid the perfect amount of fuzz, pop allure and raw aggression. Ultimately it revels in Blom’s canny knack for a killer chorus, ear for melody and bursts of kinetic energy, leaving us with an plucky debut stacked with tunes that will be fizzing around your head for days and days.

Listen in full here

04. Cotton Wolf – ‘Ofni’

Cardiff duo Cotton Wolf – Llion Robertson & Seb Goldfinch – returned with their second album ‘Ofni’ this year. It followed spellbinding 2017 debut Life In Analogue, one of the year’s finest, and picks up where they left off.

Set against a thematic backdrop of social uncertainty, the album’s darker material is simultaneously imbued with anxious paranoia and a hopeful positivity. The pair embrace faster tempos, rhythmic pulse and purer electronic sounds, alongside hypnotic, abstract and melodic ideas that so marked to their previous work. Opening trifecta of ‘Chrysalis’, ‘Locus’ and ‘Prism’ indicate this aforementioned change of pace and carve out their very own world of euphoria sweat-drenched electro clubs, while title track ‘Ofni’ is more cut from a more familiar cloth. Featuring Adwaith’s Hollie Singer, who’s exquisite, ethereal vocal is set to a well whisked blend of lush electronics, warm tones, hypnotic beats and stabs of synth, and undulating ripples of ethereal escapism. Ofni is a mesmerising album, one that even manages to exceed the lofty brilliance of its predecessor; it is a gorgeous marriage of epic euphoria, ethereal electronica and frosty, crisp elegance – it is spine-tingling musical cinematography at its very finest.

Listen in full here

03. Clinic – ‘Wheeltappers and Shunters’

Liverpool four-piece Clinic returned with a first new record in seven – far too long – years but  the good news is that the absence stood them in good stead and Wheeltappers and Shunters is quite possibly the group’s finest record.

Having spent most of the past two decades in a peculiar world of their own, they continue to explore a sound on the margins, offering up a grimy, very Clinic take on psychedelia; and it never gets old. While there is solace to found in the familiarity of sound, it is impossible to dodge the sinister aura that stalks the record with intent. Ade Blackburn whispers eerie refrains, dead-eyed, with an ominous, vacant air of menace amid a sense of the otherworldly and rising tide of claustrophobia. Clinic’s intrinsic surrealness, frenzied energy and jarring arrangements is counterbalanced by moments of melodic allure, even sweetness, making it somehow infectious yet wholly unsettling and chilling. Wheeltappers and Shunters is a record of complementing contradictions; claustrophobic yet layered and expansive, sinister and frenzied yet melodic and irresistible – a magnificent album, quite possibly Clinic’s finest.

Listen in full here

02. Cate Le Bon – ‘Reward’

We’re no strangers to the mercurial talents of Cate Le Bon but on her fifth album, Reward, we find the Welsh artist is at her very best. Up to this point, Le Bon’s music has been hard to categorise – unique, peculiar and shaped by oddity, hard guitar lines and jarring arrangements – but Reward is her softest work yet. While there have always been moments of melodic sweetness marking her work, she has delved deeper into its recesses and unlocked something a little bit different. It pushes and pulls between feelings of solitude and isolation; sometimes floating in a languidly hypnotic meditative zen state while starkly contrasting chills are never far away – this is the essence of this truly captivating and moving record. This is Le Bon’s finest and most personal album to date, and it revels the more elaborate and eccentric the music becomes. Reward is an apt title, with a little time, it fully reveals itself, leaving an indelible mark on the soul in the process. 

Listen in full here.

01. Carwyn Ellis & Rio 18 – ‘Joia!’

It’s not often we’re presented Welsh language album recorded in Brazil, with a Brazilian rhythm section but that is the story with Joia!.

Welsh pop maestro Carwyn Ellis (Colorama / Bendith) became hooked on Brazilian pop while touring Brazil with the Pretenders, Chrissie Hynde then put him in touch with the Brazilian producer Kassin, who in turn introduced him to a group of great musicians in Rio and Carwyn Ellis & Rio 18 was born. Combined they have created a rare thing of beauty, a coming together of cultures, with the resulting melting pot a fabulous triumph informed by tropicália and bossa nova, but with a psychedelic flavour. It’s a unique record, that sounds fresh, new and alive, something patently clear from the opener ‘Unman’ as the sounds of Rio’s bustling street life spills through alongside the sunny vibes, seductive Brazilian grooves and colourful psych twists – a rich vein of glorious that runs throughout this incredible album. On paper, Joia! seems like a bonkers idea but in reality it is a stunning record that is unique yet universal in its appeal.

Listen in full here

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.