At the end of the year, every cultural magazine under the sun tells you what the best albums and songs of the year have been, what you should have been listening to. And they nearly always contain the exact same artists and the exact same genres. OK, we get that everyone is meant to like R&B and pop; if you haven’t got Yungblud or Billie Eilish in there you don’t even have ears. It’s even worse this year: all those DECADE end lists. As if we need reminding of the shit that’s gone down since the first half of Obama’s presidency.
I’m not going to tell you that these are the best albums of 2019. Some of them aren’t even 2019. They are just my favourites, the ones I haven’t been able to stop listening to, the ones I discovered this year. Some of them reached number 1 in their home country, some of them are criminally underrated. You can like them, you can dislike them. They’re in no particular order either: how can you compare a rock album to pure EDM?
Bring Me The Horizon – amo
BMTH polarised their fans with their sixth album, ‘amo’. The band seem to have pre-empted this, and perhaps also in response to criticism for softening their music on previous album ‘That’s The Spirit’, they penned ‘heavy metal’, a song which calls these ‘fans’ out. Indeed, parts of the album can’t even be called rock – ‘nihilist blues’ is pure synthpop, containing the futuristic robot production and vocals of Grimes. Still, it got them to the top of the UK album charts for the first time, and earned them their first ever Grammy nomination (with good reason). Who’s laughing now?
My top songs: ‘wonderful life’, ‘nihilist blues’ (featuring Grimes)
Tove Lo – Sunshine Kitty
Nothing new was attempted by Tove Lo’s fourth album – still the same chilled synthpop vibes, still the lyrics about sex, drugs and love. Why change a winning formula? One big difference about ‘Sunshine Kitty’ is that it came at a time of happiness for Tove, having found a long-term relationship. It seems a natural progression to her career, and slots neatly into her discography, directly following 2017’s ‘Blue Lips’. Lead single ‘Glad He’s Gone’ was nominated for a Grammy for Best Music Video, and it completely deserves it. If you love Tove Lo (like me), you’ll love this album.
My top songs: ‘Sweettalk My Heart’, ‘Are U Gonna Tell Her?’ (featuring MC Zaac)
Becky Hill – Get To Know
Having taken part in The Voice way back in 2012, it feels like Becky Hill has been around for a lifetime, yet this is her first official album. ‘Get To Know’ is more of a compilation album containing her greatest hits, along with four new songs. It’s easy to forget how much she’s actually done throughout her career so far: she’s the only ‘The Voice UK’ contestant to score a #1 single, providing vocals on ‘Gecko (Overdrive)’ by Oliver Heldens, and had big hits with Sigala on ‘Wish You Well’ and Wilkinson on ‘Afterglow’ (2013 feels a billion years ago, was it even this decade?). The new material is also worth a listen; if this is anything to go by, the best EDM vocalist around is about to have a big 2020.
My top songs: ‘Changing’, ‘Lose Control’ (with MEDUZA & Goodboys)
Charli XCX – Charli
Remember 2013-14, when Charli XCX provided the vocals on smashes like Icona Pop’s ‘I Love It’, Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’ and The Fault In Our Stars’ ‘Boom Clap’? If you’ve missed the last five years of her career (which, unless you’ve been looking, isn’t that difficult), let me bring you up to speed. She binned ‘XCX World’ (her planned third album) after it leaked in 2016, broke from her former label, started working with PC Music, dropped two brilliant mixtapes in a year, returned to the charts with Troye Sivan last year on ‘1999’, created her own Pride festival, created a band and has her own Netflix show…. along with touring both alone and with Taylor Swift. Somehow in the middle of this she’s managed to write some of the biggest songs of recent times (‘Senorita’ by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello), feature on endless singles and drop one of the best albums of 2019. She seamlessly switches between pop princess, android from the future and a vulnerable person existing in the modern world across 15 tracks. This also became her highest charting album in the UK (and it deserves it). And when you’ve heard this one, check out the flawless ‘Pop 2’.
My top songs: ‘White Mercedes’, ‘Shake It’ (featuring Big Freedia, CupcakKe, Brooke Candy, Pabllo Vittar)
Lindsey Stirling – Artemis
Despite having over 12 million YouTube subscribers, it’s hard to find anyone who knows who Lindsey Stirling is outside of the USA. Having shot to fame on America’s Got Talent in 2010 as an exceptional violinist, she was told she would never make it. Yet her willingness to experiment with genres ranging from dubstep to rock, all while combining with her incredible violin skills meant that she created a niche and a loyal fanbase, which saw ‘Shatter Me’, her 2014 album, reach #2 on the Billboard charts. While there’s nothing unique about ‘Artemis’ (apart from how unique her sound is), it is music on a different level to anything pop can produce. If you’d told me before I found her back in 2017 that I would soon be dancing to classical instruments… I would have said you were mad.
My Top Songs: ‘The Upside’ (featuring Elle King), ‘Love Goes On And On’ (featuring Amy Lee)
Mitski – Be The Cowboy (2018)
Not technically a 2019 album, but I discovered ‘Be The Cowboy’ in June, back when I was obsessed with the second season of ‘Killing Eve’. Maybe that’s why I can just see Villanelle destroying the evils of society with this album as the soundtrack? Mitski’s fifth album is her most mature piece of work yet, moving on from the more physical themes of ‘Puberty 2’ to the more abstract themes displayed here. The intriguing compositions of the songs may be jarring at first – at times, vocals don’t seem to care for the beat, and the shortness of the songs may seem strange if you’re used to 3:30 pop – but it makes for one very memorable album. The best part of the album (apart from all of it) is probably the glitch sound featured in ‘Geyser’.
My top songs: ‘Why Didn’t You Stop Me’, ‘Geyser’
Dream State – Primrose Path
This post-hardcore band from Wales has built up a strong fanbase through extensive touring over the last couple of years, meaning that buy the time ‘Primrose Path’, their debut album, dropped, they were able to make an impact. Acclaimed by critics, the album takes you on a journey, pointing out that although so many things in the world are shit, there is still good, and the light is coming at the end of the tunnel. I’d also recommend going to watch this band live if you have a chance; their energy is unlike anyone else I’ve seen.
My top songs: Primrose, Twenty Letters
Iggy Azalea – Wicked Lips EP
Iggy Azalea gets far too much grief from the internet. Following the stardom she achieved in 2014, she was never able to capitalise on it fully, and arguably lost the hyped-up “battle” with Nicki Minaj (although why they were ever compared is beyond me). After leaving her label and dropping a few singles, she released ‘In My Defense’ back in July, her first album in 5 years. I’d argue that this EP is even better. The lead single, LOLA, is infectious, and features the vocals of Alice Chater, who surely is going to make it big in 2020. You should definitely stream the four new songs – she certainly deserves it, seeing as she has to now personally send out the deliveries of physical copies and merchandise (and openly discusses it with fans on Twitter). Maybe, one day, she can return to the top, where she belongs.
My top songs: ‘Lola’ (featuring Alice Chater), ‘The Girls’ (featuring Pabllo Vittar)
Marina – Love & Fear
Following the success of ‘Froot’ it was rumoured that Marina didn’t want to release any more music. But, following an international hit, ‘Baby’, she dispelled all of those rumours in 2019, when she announced the release of two eight-track EPs, which would form her fourth studio album. Having dropped ‘The Diamonds’ from her stage name, ‘Love + Fear’ feels like an interesting, minimalistic pop album. While it still has danceable qualities, its stripped back production enables it to have a more personal touch. While much of it feels quite samey, there are some standout moments – in particular, the parts where her work with Clean Bandit influenced her. ‘Karma’ sounds exactly like a Clean Bandit song (back before they sold out on their last album). Worth a listen.
My top songs: ‘Karma’, ‘Superstar’
Trevor Something – Ultraparanoia (2018)
I discovered Trevor Something in late December last year, after hearing his brilliant version of Depeche Mode’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’. Although his music may be too electronic for many people (full-on synthwave), I love the combination of moody vocals and dark synths, wrapped in groovy neon beats. ‘Ultraparanoia’ is probably his best work; although seeing as the anonymous American producer tends to release a new album of music every year along with at least one EP, this could well be beaten.
My top songs: ‘A I N I Y’, ‘Overdose’