As we hurtle towards a brand new decade we thought we’d take a look back at the year’s finest records. Here we list the best 50 albums of 2019.
It’s fair to say that 2019 is a year that was full to the brim of incredible music. However, much more than that, it was a year full of discovery, a year in which music went through a moment of reflection, a year when punk explored new soulful depths and UK hip hop hit new heights.
In this comprehensive list of our favourite records from this year, there is an intoxicating mix of powerful statements, brand new voices, political leanings and personal learnings—2019 was a year of self-discovery.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the Far Out Magazine 50 best albums of 2019.
50. Beware of the Dogs – Stella Donnelly
The Aussie singer’s debut record has certainly got tongues wagging with Donelly’s captivating vocal and astute writing eye.
The record shows off her fiercely funny tone and deliberately engaging and empathetic tone is something that will certainly continue to grow—but what a debut.
49. A Beautiful Thing: IDLES Live at Le Bataclan – IDLES
Ok, we know. This record is essentially 2018’s Joy As An Act of Resistance but a) we’d love to keep that record spinning for years and years to come and b) this live album is a goosebump-giving, revitalising restoration of what it means to truly be a punk.
Worth every single second.
48. Father of the Bride – Vampire Weekend
The indie darlings returned this year with Ezra Koenig and Co. delivering another record destined to spin endlessly on the turntable of college dorm rooms the world over.
A succinct and sweet songbook of your favourite indie band ever.
47. Leaving Meaning – Swans
The ever-evolving line-up for Michael Gira’s famous band makes another step toward evolution on this record.
With collaborations from artists like The Necks and Ben Frost Gira and his group make a move away from the needlessly heavy toward the emotionally charged gravity that Swans always bring in abundance.
46. Life Metal – Sunn O)))
There is nothing wrong with being basic, despite what so many Instagram influencers may tell you. Sometimes basics are all you need, especially when you’re Steve Albini. The vintage rocker brings a heavy dose of drone metal on his latest record atop some of the fundamentals of rock, all of which work to deliver one of the strongest releases Albini has ever been a part of.
45. Why Me? Why Not? – Liam Gallagher
Liam Gallagher’s Why Me? Why Not? is largely buoyed on a set of big-hitting singles and is yet another display of LG’s growing prowess out on his own.
His legions of fans will lap up almost anything he does. but on this, and his previous, record LG is growing in wider esteem.
44. Patience – Mannequin Pussy
Punk has found its feelings of late—and it’s all the better for it. A testament to that is the third record from Philadelphia band Mannequin Pussy who with their new album Patience have delivered a spellbinding combination of ferocious chaos and cautious vulnerability.
It’s a refreshing take and has to be one of the best punk records of the year.
43. Deceiver – DIIV
From 2012’s Oshin to 2016’s Is the Is Are, DIIV have crafted an eclectic mix of euphoric tracks propelled by frenetic drums and layered guitars. Like an exuberant fantasy of the noisy and distorted, DIIV are a dreamy soul stuffed with endless charm—but being quite a whirlwind as they are, the band has had an eventful couple of years.
By channelling all the horrible interpersonal and intrapersonal crises into resurrection, Deceiver is without a doubt DIIV’s most healthy-sounding yet high-voltage album, marking their glorious return in 2019.
42. Bandana – Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
Well, let’s begin by saying nothing is going to beat REAL by these guys on Pinata from 2014, one of the cleanest, crisp and critical hip hop tracks of the last few years. Teaming up again for this year’s effort, Bandana matches Gibbs’ masterful flow with MADLIB’s supremely dynamic instrumentals and soulful hooks. These two know how to get the absolute best out of each other.
The cherry on top comes in the form of a whole host of killer cameos (Pusha T and Black Thought are the highlights). Bandana and Pinata are cut from the same cloth—Gibbs’ execution is paramount with the skilled rhyme schemes and a decent level of topical focus really rising to the top. Whereas dovetailed into this, MADLIB’s at the height of his production powers. Impactful and sleek, never in danger of taking a risk that won’t pay off—and often they do. There are few hip-hop artists who are operating on this level now and for two to be in the same booth like Gibbs’ and MADLIB, it’s a match made in heaven.
41. Eton Alive – Sleaford Mods
Sleaford Mods are great and they’re unique. They continue to get bigger and bigger and their albums continue to be relevant and enjoyable. Their mixture of digital beats and spoken-word style lyrics make them a standout act.
Their live show is something to be witnessed, with singer Jason Williamson dancing about while singing ‘stick in a five and go’ among other things. The band recently sold out their show with Viagra Boys at the Hammersmith Eventim Apollo illustrating just how big they are getting. Eton Alive is the most recent addition to their list of truly captivating albums.
40. I Am Easy To Find – The National
The National are, let’s face it, are officially the wise elders of this indie scene.
One of the only band’s left from the onslaught of noughties indie acts, the ex-Brooklynites have done that curious thing and found themselves at their most vibrant and experimental at the latter stages of their career. Their eight studio albumI Am Easy To Findmarks the band out as one of the brightest lights out there.
39. Twelve Nudes – Ezra Furman
We needn’t go into detail about our adoration of Ezra Furman—both as a human and an artist—glowing and glarings as can be, you’d be hard-pressed to find another quite like Ezra. The latest LP from Furman, Twelve Nudes, out on Bella Union, is another reminder that he is an artist unto himself and no other.
A 27-minute rip-roaring punk party, Twelve Nudes, comprised of just eleven songs, is Furman staying true to his MO and displaying every beating, pulsating organ for his audience to peruse with unwavering honesty and charm.
38. Compliments Please – Self-Esteem
Just a few years back Rebecca Taylor was drumming and strumming her way through anti-folk anthems with Slow Club.
Who would have expected such a reinvention as Taylor now finds herself on stage around the country breaking into dance routines whilst singing some of the smartest modern-pop music of 2019? All due to her debut Compliments Please.
37. What Chaos Is Imaginary – Girlpool
Cleo Tucker and Harmony Trividad’s independence when working has created artistic liminal space for the two to open themselves up even further.
That change, among others, transpires as a stunning third record from the band which marks a year or two of big changes, transitional moments, emotional fragility, and strengthening friendships. It’s a record as honest and open as you’re likely to ever hear. It’s one of the best of the year so far.
36. International Teachers of Pop – International Teachers of Pop
Class is in session and International Teachers of Pop are here with a paint-by-numbers album guaranteed to get you smiling, dancing, and shuffling all the way to a more
joyful place. The band are still new into their sound yet have managed to find themselves a niche in the mainstream world of pop, they are the authentic pop lovers and are teaching us all how to fall back in love with pop music.
35. Ma – Devendra Banhart
At the beginning of the millennium, Devendra Banhart emerged as one of the oracles of the indie generation. He delivered guru-like life lessons over the sweetest of hippie licks. Yet on subsequent releases he soon found himself wandering through the musical landscape, selecting genres and sounds at will, like the one guy wrapped in nothing but a duvet at the end of the festival finding his loot.
On Ma though, Banhart delivers one of his most comprehensive and cohesive records, using the past to build his future. As he reflects on the idea of possible fatherhood, Banhart is still giving life lessons, but now they’re more assured and far more grounding.
34. When I Get Home – Solange
The inspiration for this album is not just an artistic one. Solange announced through Twitter that making this record resulted in a form of self-therapy and, in her lyrics, the singer refers to herself and to Houston through “slang” and metaphors.
When I Get Homewas recorded in various home studios, including one in Third Ward, a social housing neighbourhood in the Texan city where Solange grew up. The outcome is curious, fascinating and at times elusive ann everything, a counterpart to the archetypal soul album. No hits or sing-alongs, but still looking for the soul in a beautiful and successful experiment.
33. IGOR – Tyler, the Creator
There’s nothing this man can’t do. The artist continues to grow his multi-faceted talents and his latest record—just one of his many hustles -shows Tyler, The Creator to be one of the most important artists around right now.
Everything you need for a great hip-hop record is here. The beats are smooth when needed yet still able to pack a punch and bring the house down. Lyrically, Tyler is again on an exploration of himself and delivering punchlines to boot. Where this differs to other rap albums is that with Tyler it feels like just one more brushstroke on an ever-evolving canvas.
32. House of Sugar – (Sandy) Alex G
The mercurial songwriter delivers an album of beautiful imagery and an astounding sense of self. Alex G continues to surprise and delight us with every release and this album may well be his best yet.
The September release remains one of the most touching moments of the esteemed singer’s career and has seen us fall even deeper in love with him.
31. Memory – Vivian Girls
Vivian Girls are commendable in how they let the music and the songs be what they are. This is not to suggest there isn’t much more going on musically than may be apparent from an initial listen. The chord changes and song structures are deceptively intricate and unexpected at times, but never to the point that it doesn’t serve the song or cloud the overall vibe.
This band seems to be one of the rare few that inspire others to want to round up their best friends and make their own music and start their own band. It is heartwarming to see them back together making music.
30. Titanic Rising – Weyes Blood
One of our favourite artists of the last few years, Natalie Mering delivers yet another reason to put her on next year’s playlist snuggly next to Joni Mitchell and The Carpenters. Her delicate and touching brand of soft rock sees her fourth record, Titanic Rising be very close to her best.
A complex record filled with multi-faceted themes of love, childhood, growing up, existential dread and the impending loom of ‘the next step’ — each one handled with the cultured hands of an artisan.
29. Reward – Cate Le Bon
When we all fell in love with Welsh songstress Cate Le Bon it was because underwriting ever she did was an honest and pure simplicity. On her fifth solo record, the singer changes that entirely.
The singer instead has added more texture, more layers and more grandeur to her musical arrangements and the record fly high as one of her best because of it. It’s an inspirational change of pace and is a guarantee of Le Bon’s continued evolution as an artist.
28. Shepherd in a Sheepskin – Bill Callahan
If you were using Bill Callahan’s music to chart his mood over the many years he’s enjoyed as an artist you could easily point to Shepherd in a Sheepskin as the record that it all changed.
While much of Callahan’s previous output pointed towards a heavy dose of alienation, on this track Callahan delicately explores the surrounding happiness he sees. Now with a wife and a son, the tone of Callahan’s work takes a different turn but is no less sumptuous or beautiful because of it.
27. Magdalene – FKA Twigs
FKA Twigs is an artist who is precise and purposeful in everything she does. Her art direction since her 2012 debut has been a holistic and deliberate pathway and continues to be at the centre of everything she does. Never straying from Twigs’ sharpened point.
Magdalene, her first new full-length record in five years, sees that careful production resonates within the music as she not only leads the way for avant-garde pop but sees herself at the very cutting edge. It’s a stark reminder that FKA Twigs is an authentic and always impressive artist.
The eighth studio album for Deerhunter sees Bradford Cox and Co. taking on America’s obsession with the past as it continues to re-hash, re-boot and re-invent some of its worst tendencies. Co-produced by Cate Le Bon, the album is a crucible of juxtaposing tones.
At once feeling hazy and lazy as well as contorted and ready to burst, Cox manages to skirt the line between the two perfectly, expertly delivering a record full of indeterminable texture. Deerhunter have their eyes firmly set on the future.
25. The Talkies – Girl Band
We couldn’t wait to hear the second album from the Irish four-piece and it truly mesmerised us. It ebbs and flows, builds and grows and is almost a sonic living organism. The more you listen to The Talkies the more you hear, tiny intricate details you missed the first time are introduced to you the more you listen.
Girl band held nothing back with this second album and weren’t afraid to break the mould. Read our full review and our interview with lead singer Dara Kiely
24. No Home Record – Kim Gordon
Kim Gordon’s first solo record sees the iconic bassist for Sonic Youth creating some of her finest work. 38 years in the music business may have seen the artist gather a range of notable influences but on No Home Record she still sticks to what she knows best — noise.
As part of the no-wave outfit, Sonic Youth Gordon was always a bonafide arms dealer in noise. The bassist allows that to permeate this record as she offers a backdrop we’re all comfortable with while letting the twisting turns of her new direction take the spotlight. This is an album that has us all wondering why it has taken nearly four decades to arrive.
23. This Is How You Smile – Helado Negro
With 10 years in the music business, you may be forgiven for thinking that Roberto Carlos Lange, AKA Helado Negro, would be a little bit long-in-the-tooth. Yet, his latest record is a triumphant and fresh take on his particular brand of sonic storytelling.
On This Is How You Smile Lange uses the framing of Jamaica Kincaid’s short story Girl to create a walking talking narrative that sees he and his brother take a trip down memory lane. Lange’s vocals are sumptuous and cultured, allowing the hazy sonic landscape of South Florida to permeate every note. It’s a wonderful album that sees Lange expertly toe the line of sounding both fresh and authentically reflective.
22. Crush – Floating Points
In Sam Shepherd’s decade of music, he has forged his own path as one of the most melodic and stripped back electronic artists around. The latest effort from him under his Floating Points moniker may have been born out of opening up the xx’s tour in the most anarchic way, but Crush is a harmonious and pounding effort.
The artist dips into his extensive catalogue of obscure music to bring together the most complete picture of Shepherd as an artist as we’ve ever seen. No longer shying away from his dancefloor credibility, Crush is proof that Shepherd, after ten years in the game, is only just beginning.
21. Tainted Lunch – Warmduscher
The latest album from Warmdusher has to be on this list as it is infectiously groovy and has you boogieing with every tune. South London always has some amazing music coming out of it, but Warmdusher are burning up the airwaves and it’s their time to shine.
Their latest tour has been getting great reviews and their London gig at the Village Underground almost rivalled seeing them at The Windmill. ‘Disco Peanuts’ is about as jazzy and groovy as it gets so if you haven’t heard it yet, go and give it a gander.
20. Serfs Up! – Fat White Family
Few were expecting Fat White Family’s Serf’s Up to land this year following Lias Saudi and Saul Adamczewski busy schedules with Moonlandingz, and Insecure Men. Such is the band’s stringent identity as anarchic art punks, even fewer were expecting it to be their tightest and most harmonious record to date.
Arriving with a barrage of bolstered tunes that spanned across the genres, the LP which arrived in the spring, is Fat White Family delivering on all that incendiary promise. The tracks have an identity and a solid structure, with ‘Tastes Good With the Money’ and ‘Fringe Runner’ marking themselves out as jewels in the crown.
Long Live Fat White Family!
19. When We Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? – Billie Eilish
On Billie Eilish’s debut record there are moments of brilliance, ‘bad guy’ for example hits, us like a steam train with an unfathomable vibe accentuated by exuberance. ‘Xanny’ offers a similar bop and ‘wish you were a gay’ provides a viewpoint we’ve yet to hear. She manages to motivate the sound with little vocal strain and relies on the beat to make her points.
Eilish is undoubtedly talented, her vocal is a soft and warming blanket even when discussing the most distressing of subjects, while the production of the album is way up in the upper echelons. Eilish is proving she will be a valuable artist for years to come.
18. Dogrel – FONTAINES D.C.
The sheer post-punk pandemonium this album caused with its spring release was cause for hopeful anticipation for a genre-defining record. Luckily, FONTAINES D.C. wasn’t going to let us down. Much more protest-full than earlier in the decade, as we now cringe at all that Biffy Clyro and The Fratellis nonsense. Urgency is at the fore of punk again and if you can play Joy Division-esque riffs like that on ‘Television Screens’ and ‘The Lotts’ circle-pit chants from your faithless armies will lap up all you’ve got.
Dogrel must be a contender for album of the year because the whole thing is 11 singles, front to back. Ripped through with structure, ferocity and eloquent delivery, production is rough around the edges and cynically simple. With supremely supported sell-out gigs attended by a fevered audience, this year alone, FONTAINES D.C should look to build on their fortune, yet it wouldn’t at all surprise me if they find a way to destruct what they’ve created and strip it all back. It took them ages to get here after all. And that would be the punk thing to do.
17. All Mirrors – Angel Olsen
It’s fair to say that Angel Olsen has been on a musical journey throughout her career. She’s traversed the dangerous peaks of synth-pop, meandered through the possible pain of rock n roll riots, and all from her warm folk basecamp—but now, with her new album All Mirrors she may well have just reached the summit.
The record, an 11-track, 48 minute-long deeply threaded and heavily textured LP, is a bold and deliberate self-reflection. A reflection naturally noted in the title but more aggressively approached in the record’s luscious interior, built on the powerful arrangements of Olsen’s orchestral backing. This is Angel Olsen at her very best, and it’s just the beginning.
16. Norman Fucking Rockwell – Lana Del Rey
With her fifth and most densely textured record to date, the mega-star Lana Del Rey proved that why she is also one of the most desired pop stars in the world right now, she’s also one of the world finest songwriters in years.
During her ever-impressive career, Del Rey has continued to propel both her music and her all-round artistic output to ever more impressive heights. With incredible tracks such as ‘Venice Bitch’ and the titular number weaved throughout, the album is pulled together like a beautiful tapestry depicting the crumbling modernity around her. Norman Fucking Rockwell is Lana Del Rey writing her name into the American songbook as one of the country’s best.
15. Nothing Great About Britain – slowthai
Ever since the first public embers of mercurial UK hip-hop artist slowthai began to glow across YouTube, the excitement surrounding the Northampton born rapper only added oxygen to his burning fire. The ‘Drug Dealer’ rapper created that initial spark with a heady mix of grime, hip hop and punk values, taking aim at anyone and everything that didn’t meet his high standards.
Making his name in the papers for his outspoken views on the country’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, slowthai confirmed that this dog can bite as well as bark on Nothing Great About Britain. The album found itself nominated for the Mercury Music prize as slowthai explored the roots of his life as well as the bleak future he sees on the horizon for his country.
slowthai’s debut is proof of his power as an artist, something that given his intelligence and humility will only continue to grow.
14. 2020 – Richard Dawson
If you ever wondered who might narrate the story of Brexit and the shitshow that followed it, then you needn’t look any further. It’s Richard Dawson and his beautifully scripted masterpiece 2020.
The album works as the plain as day perspective on a country whose politics have begun to feel closer to Cavaliers and Roundheads than Leave or Remain with every passing day. Dawson, who plays almost every instrument on the record and even goes as far as to change his vocal from time to time, is an expert storyteller.
If there’s one song to pull you into checking out this record it has to be ‘Fulfilment Centre’ a beautifully composed piece full of luscious arrangements that depict the untold woe of working for a big nameless rainforest conglomerate, in an oppressive warehouse. It’s a piece of artistry worthy of everybody’s precious time.
13. i,i – Bon Iver
Justin Vernon’s fourth album as Bon Iver has seen the artist welcome more collaborators than ever before and finds the enigmatic singer at the centre of it all, picking and choosing his most poignant pieces to deliver with the aim of a true marksman.
While his previous records have always seen Vernon use Bon Iver to build a bridge across difficult issues, either personal or those around him, this album is a more definitive piece of self-assessment. The singer finds room on the album to explore both his past and the scars he finds across his body of work, as well as the beauty of the modern mise-en-scene he finds himself in.
It’s a contoured piece of work and while the many shades of Vernon’s character are reflected across the album’s tracks it values are cemented in its simple and purposeful title, i,i.
12. ANIMA – Thom Yorke
Thom Yorke doesn’t get older he just gets better. It seems that the leading man of Radiohead can do no wrong. Whether it is writing the score for Hollywood titles or creating his own solo album, Yorke is in the peak of his powers.
No more so than on his breathtaking album Anima, which arrived earlier this year with the stamp of approval from Yorke’s longtime collaborator Nigel Godrich. The album was composed of a series of intense recording sessions and live performances where Yorke and Godrich would create a pulsating piece of work.
Arriving alongside a Paul Thomas Anderson short film the album is yet another mark of commendation for the enigmatic singer and sees him exploring the inner workings of the human landscape with a masterful touch.
11. M For Empathy – Lomelda
We’ll keep this one pretty short and sweet. Do not pay attention to any Best Albums list this year that doesn’t include Lomelda’s mesmeric release M For Empathy.
As Lomelda, the Texan Hannah Read has delivered a record that packs an emotional punch with the swiftest of shots. At only 16 minutes long the delicate intensity of Read’s work is perfectly contained into articulate and vulnerable vignettes. It’s a cotton-soft exploration of oneself through empathy for others and all delivered in circa-one-minute morsels.
10. Cuz I Love You – Lizzo
With eight Grammy nominations, a first turn at Coachella, and a second Glastonbury set under her belt, saying 2019 was Lizzo’s year would be an understatement. The Detroit-born twerking sensation and classically trained Flautist released her third album Cuz I Love You to critical acclaim back in April.
Unapologetic and outspoken, the 11-track genre-defying LP showed us there’s simply nothing Lizzo can’t do. From the very first bars of the titular track, Lizzo pulls no punches, grabbing us by the scruff of the neck to declare her love in an acapella Gospel croon before the band rolls in. The album as a whole is a rare blend of whip-sharp rap, soaring vocals and infectious melodies as Lizzo touches on all things sisterhood, empowerment and radical self-love. Standout single ‘Juice’ is a mega-watt retro bop that saw our collective self-esteem reach dizzying new heights, while Truth Hurts was the self-assured “better off without you” anthem that decreed to the world what Lizzo knew all along: She is 100% that bitch.
9. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains
The tragic beauty of Purple Mountains the self-titled record of David Berman’s last ever recording project is forever imprinted into the DNA of this release.
The singer, songwriter and poet will be forever remembered for his work with the Silver Jews, but on this album, released just a few weeks before his suicide, Berman’s songwriting skill is apparent for all to see through every song on the album.
As the shadow of Berman’s divorce hangs heavy over much of this record and even sees the singer contemplating the futility of faith with a humbling sincerity that acts as foreshadowing to his untimely demise. With the sad fact of hindsight, the levels to this record run deeper than we’d like.
8. U.F.O.F – Big Thief
The first of the Brooklyn quartet’s double-feature year, saw the band deliver easily one of the best records of their career and mark themselves out as one of the most integral artists in the indie rock world. Creating a symphony of songs that soar with authenticity and indestructible identity.
Big Thief have a way of creating music that feels immediate and tangible, pulling the most poetic moments of modern life from the plasma screen of everyday living and lays them in the audience’s hands with the nonchalance of real magic.
On U.F.O.F, Adrienne Lenker marks herself out as one of the most important songwriters in the world. She offers a wonderfully balanced set of lyrics that alongside the band’s composition and her own charming vocal creates an album brimming with beauty.
7. PSYCHODRAMA – Dave
When UK rapper Dave debuted his first record, Psychodrama not many people could’ve been expecting the new heights that he would take UK Hip Hop. The album, built upon the concept of the artist taking himself to therapy, Dave has delivered one of the most important albums of the year.
Released back in March the record features some of the Grime Royal Family with J Hus, Burna Boy, and Ruelle all finding placement. But, in truth, that where Dave stops fitting in with the conventions as he turns the tables on his audience and provides a vulnerable and veracious assessment of his life and the stark reality of being black and working class in Britain.
A three-act LP created with care and culture, Dave brings out the big guns with killer singles, such as ‘Black’ and ‘Location’ while also providing heartfelt and detailed prose set to some of the slickest beats you’ll hear this year. It’s not only a career-defining record it’s a genre-defining record.
6. Designer – Aldous Harding
New Zealander Aldous Harding returned back in April with her LP Designer and we’ve been besotted with this laid-back pop-noir masterpiece ever since. The album comes complete with a ‘best song of the year’ contender in ‘The Barrel’ and further hammers in her stake as one of the most interesting artists around right now, bringing unmatched authentic creativity.
With this, her third record, Harding creates a piece of art that is at times both extrovert and elusive. A colourful collection of complexities that only begin to become apparent as we zoom out to see the bigger picture. Genreless and definitive, the LP is a mark of Harding’s continued growth.
Designer wasn’t made for any particular audience, radio station or social channel except Harding’s own internal amphitheatres, and because of it, she’s made one of the best records of the year.
5. Any Human Friend – Marika Hackman
Former folk scene darling, Marika Hackman has quickly made her name as the whip-smart voice of a generation. With previous releases making the contradictory I’m-the-best-but-I’m-also-the-worst sentiment on Any Human Friend, which is stemmed from a scared and lonely soul, it’s oddly comforting to see it’s perhaps a universal feeling?
The record is also an unapologetic and blatantly honest manifesto that subverts cultural notions of femininity and phallocentric paradigms. Hackman sings about female masturbation in all its glory on ‘hand solo’ and jokes about dying a virgin under patriarchal law.
She does so with a calm and cultivated wit alongside an armoury of musical chops, lending her impressive ear to make alt-pop that nourishes the mind, body and soul.
4. Remind Me Tomorrow – Sharon Van Etten
After four years away it can be hard to find your voice again. It can be hard to find the same fire or wind which propelled you and your output before the break. Not so for Sharon Van Etten. She delivers an emotionally electrified alt-rock powerhouse.
An album written in stolen bits of time, between becoming a mother, between auditioning for TV roles and between general life, Van Etten is juggling the complexities of modern life. Fighting the existential dread of life with a glimmering hopefulness.
It is this combination of light and dark which permeates the LP. As while there is an over-arching theme of gloom, Van Etten’s content is remarkably gilded with joy, tenderness, and love. Remind Me Tomorrow is another huge step forward in the varied career of Sharon Van Etten. It is one she’s made with extra weight, extra light, extra happiness, and extra anxiety—it’s a step she’s made with life on her back. But most importantly, it’s a step she’s taken with the sure-footed composure of a woman determined to only leave the right footprints as she goes. It’s a wonderful piece of work that reflects the artist’s truth.
3. Schlagenheim – Black Midi
There’s nothing that gets us as music fans excited as a little bit of mystery. So when black midi began finding their name strewn across the indie blogs of the world, the fact that there were no images or social media pages for them caused quite a stir.
While a touch of the mysterious is all well and good, smoke and mirrors eventually wear thin and you better hope there’s some real structure. That’s when black midi’s Schlagenheim gets really interesting—the wiry and unbreakable structure.
An album from four fresh-faced lads from London may sound like the opening lines of the latest review for a beer-drenched indie rock troupe, but black midi are anything but. This band are deeply learned in their musical tastes and display a deep intelligence for their craft across this their debut record.
The intoxicating blend of no wave and noise reverberates across the album as the band fire a series of machine-gun-quick attacks with the heavy-hitting power of an anti-aircraft gun. If this is the first step of a long journey for black midi, we’re scared for whoever gets in their way.
2. Crushing – Julia Jacklin
“I’m not a good woman when you’re around,” sings Julia Jacklin on album opener with wonderful simpatico. It’s a mesmeric start to a troublingly sardonic second album. Crushing flashes between rock, folk, and acoustic all whilst kicking a boyfriend while he’s down or dealing with burdens of family ties. This kind of juxtaposition is not lost on this cathartic Sydney songstress.
“You can’t love somebody without using your hands,” she sings on ‘Head Alone’ is about as tactile a statement you could fit into a song. Before you know it, this feminist Me Too political tirade, gather you up with the romanticism of the lush melodies which has swept you away completely, now it is all you can ever think of. The guitar riff, like something off Eagles—’Hotel California’, on the stunningly epic ‘I Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You’ has rolled you over. A blissful break-up song with some much welcoming hubris, the refrain is like a mantra close friends would whisper in your ear on a night out, like when they know you’re about to go off the rails. We’ve all been there.
Jacklin’s stunning talent is flecked with just enough little glimmers of light from the ’70s and ’80s forgotten starlets to offer a bright future. For however much that Crushing is a ghostly reminder of our uncertain follies in the future, big or small. It highlights still just how much we are linked with the past. Culture and family intertwined. Even if with every tomorrow, it gets further away.
1. Ghosteen – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
We believe that music can save people, can inspire people, and can be a window into a person’s soul; take those three elements and blend them with care and that is exactly the album Nick cave has created. While the latest album from the mercurial Australian and his band of brothers may not please fans desperate for another slice of murder rock, what Cave delivers in Ghosteen is the work of a band who have transcended into the upper echelons of artistic expression.
With the first notes of the album it’s evident that something has changed for Cave; and how couldn’t it. The death of his son Arthur in 2015 would have challenged everything he knew and understood, dealing with the death of a child is a tragedy unimaginable. The album, therefore, works as a confessional. It is a personal and honest account of the process of dealing with grief, the only way Cave knows how with untethered honesty.
In the capable hands of Cave, Warren Ellis et al, the album is musically cultured and cultivated to deliver a perfect reflection of the continuously growing emotional power of the LP’s themes—an ethereal masterpiece built on a poetic concept. It’s a double album that sees the first half of the record’s songs act like children to the second half’s parents.
The music does not stand alone in its beauty. It is coupled with the integrity and compassion of a great artist. Ghosteen arrived in October and instead of releasing the album in the traditional way Cave settled sharing the experience as a community by premiering it live on YouTube. This shared experience allowed a global audience to connect with the record instantaneously. The comments section of the video is flooded with praise of Cave, joy for the release of a new album, but most importantly it is full of users who express their great sadness and understanding for the pain Cave is expressing.
This is again replicated in Cave’s tour from this year ‘Conversations with Nick Cave’ where he fielded a range of questions from an increasingly thankful audience. But no more so is this seen than in Cave’s Red Hand Files which sees Cave connecting directly with fans over more troublesome issues in their lives. The work with Ghosteen is mirrored in the authenticity of Cave’s character. A character that adds extra gravity to the music.
Ghosteen is a momentary glimpse into the most tragic of griefs, but from those ashes, a beauty has emerged and inspires us to be truly thankful for the complexities of human existence—and if this doesn’t, then Cave reminds us to own our feelings and to be unapologetically honest. The record of the year from the man of the year, Ghosteen is a lesson in human connection that we all need.