It is time to take a breath, because the rollercoaster that was the year of 2019 is successfully over. Funny how quickly, time flies and we are all excited to hop into the next decade. We wouldn’t want to start with the whole “new year, new me” storyline, because that it just too cliché.
Hopefully, you had the chance to succeed in every field you had set goals in and even if you did not get the desired results, there is plenty of time to continue your path and fulfil your newest wishes in this new year and decade.
As we all know, the end of every year comes with our annual ‘Albums of the Year’ list, presenting our album picks that added the most colour in the complex mosaic of the music scene. 2019 has been the breakout year for many uprising artists with mind-blowing sounds and thrilling new music, and we’re always happy to highlight the ones that stand out from the mainstream.
The emerging forces that led many artists were bedroom pop and electronica cloudy hip hop. The strong breakthrough revelations of 2019 were led by the dark whispering vocals of Billie Eilish and Lizzo’s badass rapping skills. Both broke out of the scene almost out of nowhere, and managed to be nominated in various categories at the Grammys.
Also, this was Taylor Swift’s year, and it paid her with the award of not just the artist of the year, but also of the whole decade at the American Music Awards. With a total of 29 awards in her pocket, she managed to surpass Michael Jackson’s record of 24.
Names like Tyler the Creator, Stormzy and the Brockhampton collective became main additions of the most listened to playlists on music streaming platforms, highlighting that you do not only have to produce commercial pop music to reach a wider range of listeners.
Thanks to Tereza Bittnerova and Zoe Eskitzopoulou for editorialising our list for us this year and bringing it to life. The first part of our ‘Albums of 2019’ list highlights the best albums of the year, from #50 to #31 – check them out here – we continue our countdown from #30 to #21 below.
30. Bill Callahan – Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest
Bill Callahan may have been unusually quiet over the past few years, but the singer-songwriter has made up for it with his massive 20-tracks double album Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest. His dreamy baritone perfectly intertwined with the sound of his guitar takes us on a journey of the life observations of his recent years.
For a first time in very long, Bill Callahan seems somewhat content, even happy, stating that “it feels good to be writing again” in one of his songs.
Telling the tales of a part of his life, he gives crushing insight into his way of dealing with the past and present of losing his mother, but also humorous stories associated with becoming a father. Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest is a proclamation of a person appreciating life.
29. Taylor Swift – Lover
With Lover, the newest album from Taylor Swift, the dark era of Reputation is well and truly over, and despite what she said on the song “Look What You Made Me Do”, that old Taylor is dead, actually old Taylor is back, but this time she has more music industry experience after all the backlash. Lessons were learnt, so she could move on.
The sound of Lover is not far away from she has presented to us before, but it gets closer to 1989 than her most previous album Reputation, but also, through the whole Lover album, there’s that late ‘80s synth pop feeling.
Most of the songs are supposedly dedicated to Swift’s boyfriend, Joe Alwyn, from showing us their hopeful ‘happily ever after’ future, to reflecting on coupling life in England, but the singer also opens up about her some personal struggles, and in a move that could be surprising for many, but Taylor also decided to speak on sexism on this album. She also stands up for the LGBTQ+ community.
Lover covers a full range of human emotion, and going with this for the album title, it encapsulates the super pop star at her peak, and also as a regular woman in love, with her ups and downs. Lover is a natural reaction for everything that happened and is still happening in Taylor Swift’s life.
The record is her most ultimate album to date, showing that she’s at her musical best when she leaves anger behind her. To sum up, not only the record itself, but also the singer’s private stories, you could just simply say: love always win. And here, it won again.
28. Jenny Lewis – On the Line
With her release of On The Line, the American singer Jenny Lewis may have introduced her best work yet. One may have been tricked by her incredibly catchy melodies, but a close listen reveals the dark tales her lyrics hide.
The upbeat sound on her second track is accompanied by the story of her heroin-addicted mother and her father leaving them as she says”I wasted my youth on a poppy” followed by a playful “du du du du“.
The topic of getting estranged and coming back together with her mother is present across On The Line, to which The Beatles‘ drummer Ringo Starr himself contributed, dealing with it by using dark humour and optimistic sounding instrumentals. The former child‘s star turned musician explores some of the difficult times of her life with captivating songwriting delivered by her great smooth vocals.
27. black midi – schlagenheim
After having met in the same performing arts school that prepared Adele and Amy Winehouse for the world, black midi is a relatively new London band, that gathered much attention with their debut album schlagenheim. Much of the reason behind that is the puzzle of their identification underneath one genre’s label as well as their youthful but brutal sound.
Considering the foursome’s influence span which varies from Talking Heads and King Crimson to Miles Davis and Frank Zappa, this record takes the experimental rock to a phantasmagoric level. The radical melodies consist of intense scratchy guitar chords and drum notes that resemble the arhythmic side of jazz. Finally, this harmonious chaos is embellished by Geordie Greep’s chimerical voice.
26. Julia Jacklin – Crushing
Up and coming Australian singer/songwriter Julia Jacklin returned with her second album Crushing this year after releasing her first album Don’t Let the Kids Win back in 2016. Her new album went on to chart in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia upon release, and it birthed her world tour, which took her on the road all around America, Europe and Australia for half of the year.
Crushing is a compilation of pain and insecurity of her previous relationship, the intoxication of the illusion of love and romantic ideals within complicated twenty-first century love.
Her music is moving, when at first her music may seem melancholic, her lyrical integrity has the ability to reach emotions which are unspoken for within the current music landscape, and which allow a voice for pain. Her album is an expression of true emotional turmoil.
This album Crushing truly touches the soul. In words of Julia Jacklin herself “you have to speak up for yourself and say what you really want” which demonstrates a true reflection of her understanding and wisdom passed on through this album.
25. Cate Le Bon – Reward
Cate Le Bon has given us her fifth studio album and it really is a Reward. Opening the album with the nostalgic sounding track “Miami”, she once again proves she is able to write an astonishing ballad and continues to do so throughout the whole record.
Moving on from her emotional vocal performance on “Daylight Matters” or saxophone focused “Sad Nudes” and “The Light”, the album closes brilliantly with the eerie synth ballad “Meet The Man”.
Combining horns and saxophone, long guitar notes and the ever present synths, a sound very familiar to her, with lyrical powers she possesses, she created a playful yet sophisticated and thoughtful collection of songs that manages to resonate in its own alienation to such extent it offers a fulfilling listen.
24. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana
Freddie Gibbs and Madlib already knew the recipe of success after their 2014 collaboration on the Piñata album and decided to stir things up again to deliver Bandana, probably the best rap album of 2019 as many declare.
Both artists are seated in the rap scene but their sounds differ completely as the first is devoted to spilling gangster bars while the second has chosen to produce experimental soul infused samples.
When the musical universe did its job and brought these two together, only art could come out of it. In this record, we listened to descriptive violent lyrical flows by Gibbs while accompanied by groovy jazz melodies. Maintaining the smooth ambiance, even the most punchy beats come along with easy listening synths, making this an accessible but truthful project.
23. Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!
Some of the titles are names that most people are familiar with such as “FRIDA” and “BALDWIN”, however she expands her list to her personal idols with “SONIA”, which is inspired by poet Sonia Sanchez.
It was 2016 when she released her debut album HEAVN supported by the likes of Chance the Rapper and The Roots, but this time she invited uprising talent as is the Chicago based rapper Saba. Woods’ leading skills, teaching work, poetic and singing pieces are proof that the Black Movement has a brave, forth-coming representative.
22. Big Thief – Two Hands
Someone could admit that the previous year was Big Thief’s creative outburst, since they released two quite contrasting albums. At the start of the year, they shared UFOF which had a spiritual substance, while Two Hands is the earthy, heart-warming follow-up, perfect for the autumn season.
Delightful melodies by pleasant guitar licks and low drum kicks create a sheltering sensation to the listener. The vulnerability of lead singer’s, Adrianne Lenker, vocals has a healing effect to the ones who feel insecure to stand on their feet. Much like the pure profile of this record, let’s not complicate things more and just declare that this is probably the best folk rock album of the year.
21. Aldous Harding – Designer
New Zealand native Aldous Harding has released her third studio record Designer. Compared to her previous album Party from 2014, Designer seems to be much calmer and more careful. The instrumentation is often delicate, with the presence of soft guitar picking, brass instruments, strings and flutes, purposefully giving more space to Hardings‘ beautiful voice.
She is able to change up her vocal style song from song, going from melancholic deep notes to freedom resounding head vocals, even within one song, as can be heard on “Zoo Eyes”. From restraining her voice, telling a story of uncertainty on “Treasure” to letting go on “Designer”, the album becomes a precisely crafted musical poetry.
Click HERE for a full list of our Top 50 Albums of 2019!