The 50 best albums of 2019 – from Tyler, the Creator’s IGOR to Weyes Blood’s Titanic Rising

Over the past 12 months, pop artists have toppled the genre’s boundaries; British rap is more socially conscious than ever; and rock has made a tentative comeback. Here are The Independent’s 50 favourite albums this year

Friday 20 December 2019 09:34

If the 2010s was the decade where the boundaries of “genre” began to collapse, 2019 was the year we saw our first, truly “genreless” artist. Billie Eilish, a 17-year-old who grew up with every song in the world at her fingertips, is part of a generation moving towards a time where, perhaps, singular terms such as “rock”, “folk” and even “pop” will feel positively archaic.

That’s not quite the case yet, though this has certainly been an innovative year for music. Weyes Blood, Muna, Marika Hackman and Aldous Harding have stretched and contorted pop like it’s a plaything. Kano, Skepta, Little Simz and Stormzy have further advanced the British rap scene, and electronic music has evolved and deepened thanks to Hot Chip, James Blake and Floating Points.

There may have been a slight move away from the explicitly political outpourings of the past few years, but 2019 has not been short of socially conscious music. From Sam Fender’s dissection of disillusionment and neglect in northern towns to Dave’s exploration of black youth and masculinity, a number of thoughtful, nuanced records have looked inwards in order to look out.

Here are the 50 best albums of the year – click through the gallery or scroll down to read:

(Reviews by: Alexandra Pollard, Roisin O’Connor, Helen Brown, Jazz Monroe, Mark Beaumont, Patrick Smith, Elisa Bray and Ian McQuaid)

50) Kim Gordon – No Home Record

The debut solo album of the art-punk pioneer was never going to be predictable easy-listening. No Home Record channels the dissonance and avant-garde vibe of New York’s experimental no-wave movement in a nine-song, genre-defiant collection that jumps between industrial, minimal electro-rock and abrasive art-punk. Uniting the tracks is their creator’s restlessly questing, non-conformist spirit. It’s great to have her back. (EB)

Read the full review here, and the interview here

49) Nilüfer​ Yanya – Miss Universe

Nilüfer Yanya isn’t down with the “wellness” industry. On her debut album, Miss Universe, the singer-songwriter makes this perfectly clear, tearing into all those “improve yourself” schemes littered across social media and parcelling up that angst as cerebral, skewed alt-rock. ​Synths and saxophone play their part on the smoother, more soulful “Paradise” and “Baby Blu”. Listen to the driving groove of “Heat Rises”, meanwhile, and you’ll be instantly reminded of Kelis and Andre 3000’s “Millionaire”. That said, Yanya is very much her own artist: original and bold. (PS)

Read the full review here, and the interview here

48) The Black Keys – Let’s Rock

Five years since their last album, the Ohioan duo have gone back to basics. Gone are the subtle inflections and lacquered psychedelia of Turn Blue; Let’s Rock is all about simple hooks and nagging choruses, “an homage”, in the words of drummer Patrick Carney, “to the electric guitar”. Get past the terrible title, and you’ll be rewarded with a viscerally entertaining album that never lingers for more than four minutes per song. If this is genre pastiche, it’s genre pastiche done with skill and savvy. (PS)

Read the full review

47) Bat for LashesLost Girls

Musically, Lost Girls couldn’t be more Eighties if it were playing a Commodore 64 while eating Angel Delight. Like Stranger Things, everything about it is unashamedly nostalgic: the power drums, the moody atmospherics, the arpeggiated synths. Close your eyes and you can practically see Jason Patric on the Santa Cruz boardwalk in The Lost Boys​. Yes, nostalgia is a fairly generic formula. But listened to as a whole, the album positively thrums with sonic invention, managing to feel both fresh and full of intrigue. Khan once again demonstrates a knack for uncanny storytelling. (PS)

Read the full review here, and the interview here

46) Collard – Unholy

On his debut album, the 24-year-old mixes sultry jams that recall the electronic funk of MGMT with nods to the greats: Prince, James Brown, Led Zeppelin and Marvin Gaye. Throughout, Collard exhibits his extraordinary voice, which swoops to a devilishly low murmur or soars to an ecstatic falsetto. On the lustful “Hell Song” he sings “less is more… but more is good”. You’re inclined to agree with him. (RO)

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Read the full review here

45) Angel Olsen – All Mirrors

Angel Olsen’s fourth album is about ‘losing empathy, trust, love for destructive people’ and ‘owning up to your darkest side’

When the Missouri singer broke out in 2014, she became known for her lo-fi, introspective sound and the staggering range and power of her voice. On All Mirrors, she dials things up even further than 2016’s Sixties-leaning My Woman, and turns her focus outwards – it is an album, she says, “about losing empathy, trust, love for destructive people” and “owning up to your darkest side”. It is also balletic and haywire, refusing to follow traditional rules of song structure. Listening to it feels like accidentally pressing play on two songs at once, and finding the combination strangely inebriating. (AP)

Read the full review here

44) LizzoCuz I Love You

This is a polished, playful album, though it has a DIY edge to it: “S**t, f**k, I didn’t know it was ending right there,” she chuckles in the final few moments of “Like a Girl”. “Girl, run this s**t back,” she says after a vivacious flute solo on “Tempo” – a song featuring a guest verse from Missy Elliott, the person who, Lizzo said on Twitter, “made this chubby, weird, black girl believe that ANYTHING was possible”. (AP)

Read the full review here

43) Skepta – Ignorance is Bliss

There’s no attempt to chase someone else’s wave here; no token drill, afro-swing or trap beats to satisfy playlist algorithms. Instead, his cold grime sonics are rendered down to their no-frills essentials – brutalist blocks of sad angular melodies and hard, spacious drums. The result is a quintessentially London record, as dark and moody as it is brash and innovative. “We used to do young and stupid,” Skepta concludes on “Gangsta”. “Now we do grown.” (IM)

Read the full review here

42) Ariana Grande – Thank U, Next

It lacks a centrepiece to match the arresting depth and space of Sweetener’s “God Is A Woman”, but Grande handles its shifting moods and cast of producers (including pop machines Max Martin and Tommy Brown) with engaging class and momentum. One minute you’re skanking along to the party brass of “Bloodline”; the next floating into the semi-detached, heartbreak of “Ghostin’”, which appears to address Grande’s guilt at being with Pete Davidson while pining for Mac Miller. She sings of the late rapper as a “wingless angel” with feather-light high notes that will drop the sternest jaw. (HB)

Read the full review here

41) Ezra Furman – Twelve Nudes

The Chicago-born singer’s ninth album is a furious reaction to the social and political events of 2018 – over 11 breathless tracks, he turns that anger into a howl of resistance. Each song feels personal yet relatable – the deep-rooted despair felt on “Trauma” at the sight of wealthy bullies rising to power is a universal one, as is the sense of liberation in just letting go on “What Can You Do But Rock n Roll”. Twelve Nudes is Furman’s most urgent and cathartic record. (RO)

Read the full review here, and the interview here

40) YBN Cordae The Lost Boy

On his studio debut, YBN shows off his versatility, but not to the point that it distracts from the underlying message of each song. You have the menacing “Broke as F***”, where the beats and stark piano hook contrast with Cordae’s rags-to-riches rap. Aged 21 (now 22), the North Carolina artist flecks songs such as the Anderson .Paak-featuring “RNP” with an endearing kind of nonchalance; over the woozy, psychedelic soul of opener “Wintertime”, meanwhile, he wonders how Coretta Scott King felt upon learning Martin Luther had cheated on her. It’s by no means a perfect album in the grand sense of the term, but it is a perfect demonstration of everything Cordae is capable of. (RO)

39) Big ThiefUFOF

Big Thief’s frontwoman Adrianne Lenker has an uncanny ability to make you feel like you’re in on a secret. Her whispering, spectral delivery and deeply personal lyrics are the key to this. Even on the band’s third album UFOF, with an audience that has grown exponentially in the past few years, the songs are still immensely intimate affairs. The album’s deathly intrigue is drawn from her own personal traumas, which she successfully spins into something that feels universal. But you don’t come away from this record feeling downcast. It’s more a reminder of how fleeting yet beautiful life is, and an appeal to make the most of it. (RO)

Read the full review here

38) Jenny Lewis – On the Line

Here, Lewis does what she does best: adds the glossy sparkle of Hollywood and a sunny Californian sheen to melancholy and nostalgia, with her most luxuriantly orchestrated album yet. Even when she’s singing, “I’ve wasted my youth”, it’s in that sweet voice, with carefree “doo doo doo doo doo doos”, and at a pace that’s so upbeat that it masks the sentiment. It’s a bittersweet mourning of her past. (EB)

Read the review here, and the interview here

37) Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

Few people have had as big a year as Billie Eilish. The first – and currently only – artist born in the Noughties to have a US number one single, she also released her double platinum debut album, the innovative and multifarious, if irksomely titled, When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? There are some missteps – “Wish You Were Gay” being one of them – but for the most part this is an album as full of charm and bite as Eilish herself. And with a melody that ducks and dives in between the beat like a bank robber dodging lasers, the dark, dank pop-trap masterpiece “Bad Guy” is surely a contender for song of the year. (AP)

36) AJ Tracey – AJ Tracey

AJ Tracey’s variety and the scale of his ambition on this album is breathtaking. Fans will be surprised to discover he sings almost as much as he raps, in pleasingly gruff tones. Each track is a standout, none more so than “Ladbroke Grove”, a hat-tip to classic garage in which Tracey switches up his flow to emulate a Nineties MC. It’s a thrilling work. (RO)

Read the review here, and the interview here

35) Caroline Polachek – Pang

The former Chairlift frontwoman’s solo debut (at least, her first under her own name) is an eccentric, experimental delight – PC music by way of classical pop. The product of a divorce and a series of adrenal rushes that she refers to as “pangs”, the album is musically agile and often lyrically stark: “Sometimes I wonder/ Do I love you too much? Then I tell myself ‘Caroline, shut up’”, she sings on “Caroline Shut Up”. Polachek’s voice is her secret weapon – so jolting and elastic she had to prove it wasn’t autotuned in an astonishing Twitter video. (AP)

34) Sturgill Simpson – Sound & Fury

Simpson recently said he wanted Sound & Fury to “hit like a Wu-Tang record”, so each intro is like a one-two punch loaded with brilliant hooks. Then there’s the rollicking “A Good Look” and “Last Man Standing” – it’s pure rock and roll: sleazy, slick and lots of fun. Sound & Fury marks another milestone for a remarkable artist. (RO)

Read the full review here

33) Fontaines DC – Dogrel

Of all the excellent bands to emerge out of Dublin’s booming music scene over the past few years, Fontaines DC are the best of them. Perhaps it’s the fact that they’re technically outsiders, having grown up on the borders of the city (or in their guitarist Carlos O’Connell’s case, between there and Spain). Frontman Grian Chatten eschews punk’s tradition of prizing shock value over songcraft and instead offers searing, literary observations of a city with which he has a love/hate relationship. (RO)

32) Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride

Already subject to manic shifts in style and tempo, this hour-long LP roams in lounge pants from Deadhead jams to Zombies-catchy hooks, infectiously kitsch prog, highlife samples and – on “Sunflower” – a scat breakdown. An unfashionable record, then, and that may be its best asset. With such low stakes and barely any emotional intensity, Father of the Bride won’t cement Vampire Weekend’s legacy. But after a highly strung decade on the indie-rock A-list, it gives them room to breathe. (JM)

Read the full review here

31) FKA twigs – MAGDALENE

“Making this album has allowed me, for the first time, to find compassion when I have been at my most ungraceful, confused and fractured,” FKA twigs writes in the album’s press notes. “I stopped judging myself, and at that moment found hope in MAGDALENE.” At times, MAGDALENE is just as ungraceful, confused and fractured as its creator was – a rush of baroque electronics, industrial noise, opera, synths, autotune and precarious falsetto. The follow-up to 2014’s LP1 is the sound of a woman teetering on the brink of collapse, gathering herself, and then erupting into a kind of defiance. (AP)

Read the full review here

30) Bill Callahan – Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest

Bill Callahan returns after six years with this homely, career-best album in which he sings of his own contentment. “The panic room is now a nursery,” he observes on “Son of the Sea”. Death still looms – often in the form of a black dog that follows Callahan around various tracks – but its inevitability seems more of a comfort than something to be feared: “Everybody must walk the lonesome valley,” he sings firmly. “Yeah, they must walk it by themselves.” (RO)

29) Shura – Forevher

Arriving three years after the release of her debut, Nothing’s Real, Shura’s excellent second record is camp and theatrical, pivoting between a big, poppy sensibility and a minimalist, lo-fi one – sometimes on the same track. Lead single “Religion (U Can Lay Your Hands On Me)” is a slinky shoulder roll of a song, laden with passionate blasphemy: “I wanna consecrate your body, turn the water to wine, I know you’re thinking about kissing, too.” It’s laced, too, with piano – an instrument she’d always been “allergic to” before this record – and opulent orchestral strings. (AP)

Read the interview

28) Cage the ElephantSocial Cues

On Cage the Elephant’s fifth album, Social Cues, frontman Matt Shultz reacts to the breakdown of his marriage and the loss of three close friends. He undergoes a kind of Jekyll and Hyde transition through the 13 tracks, the result of which is the band’s best work to date. Single “Ready to Let Go” is by far the most explicit – a moody swamp-rock jam where Shultz comes to terms with his impending divorce. He bares his soul on Social Cues, and apparently shakes off a few demons in the process. (RO)

Read the full review here, and the interview here

27) Brittany Howard Jaime

Howard listened to Brazilian artist Jorge Ben – “where there’s literally, like, 18 different things happening in the song” – while she was making the album, and it shows. “13th Century Metal” builds like an alarm, while “Baby” is scatty and scattered, like something off The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Sometimes, there is one instrument too many, but usually the components crash together well. (AP)

Read the full review here, and the interview here

26) Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow

Written during her recent pregnancy and the birth of her first child, Remind Me Tomorrow shows Van Etten dimming her spotlight on toxicity and instead casting a warm glow behind the record’s psychic overview. As well as expectations of confessional singers, she subverts folk music’s focus on bare-bones songwriting. But the daintiest composition, “Stay”, is her most perfectly realised yet, over music box chimes and heel-clicking percussion she coos: “You won’t let me go astray/ You will let me find my way.” After years of making peace with drift and uncertainty, she’s never sounded more sure of anything. (JM)

Read the full review here

25) Floating Points – Crush

Inspired by the improvisations he was creating while on tour with The xx in 2017, Sam Shepherd found himself making “some of the most obtuse and aggressive music I’ve ever made”. This newfound drive can be heard in singles such as “LesAlpx”, a mind-melting track that climbs breathlessly towards its summit with a pounding bass beat and high, whistling chirps that punctuate the tension. It’s an insight into his brilliant mind and – such is the sheer variety of the album – a way to inspire one’s own imagination. (RO)

Read the full review here

24) Stormzy – Heavy is the Head

There are three themes that run through the record: Stormzy’s defiance in the face of doubt; the pressure of high expectations; and his efforts to lift others up as his success continues to grow. He reminds himself constantly of who he is beneath the gloss that fame has brought: he’s “Rachael’s Little Brother”, “Big Michael”, a guy who likes to watch Avengers and Game of Thrones. All of his best traits are present and correct: sincerity, a smooth flow and forensic-like analysis of societal ills, laced with pathos and humour. The lasting impression is of an artist whose only way is up. (RO)

Read the full review here

23) Marika Hackman – Any Human Friend

A blunt, bold album on which Hackman’s beatific voice sits atop methodically messy instrumentals. Songs such as “All Night” are so candidly carnal it feels inappropriate to listen to them in public; notes of riot grrrl, pop and rock come together throughout the record to create something that is, at times, quite striking. (AP)

Read the full review here

22) Solange – When I Get Home

The decade’s second great Solange album churns several deformed, jazzy aesthetics – including Brainfeeder’s gloopy electro-funk and the concoctions of DJ Screw – into a lustrous cloud of R&B. The result hints at Seventies soul voyagers like Stevie Wonder yet retains its future-shock, celebrating Houston futurism without pandering to fans of its explicitly political predecessor. (JM)

See our albums of the decade here

21) Cate Le Bon – Reward

For her fifth studio album, Cate Le Bon went to live in a secluded cottage in the Lake District, where she sang to an empty house and took lessons in wood-carving. Yet her compositions on Reward are lush, warm and whimsical; opener “Miami” is resplendent with stately horns and percussion that reminds you of childhood. There’s a fantastic sense of space, too, spun from diaphanous arrangements such as “The Light”, where she meanders delightfully from a clear, lilting call to a deep vocal rumble. It’s an album by an artist intent on readdressing her relationship with her own existence. (RO)

20) Sam Fender – Hypersonic Missiles

Sam Fender

Fender drew plenty of early comparisons to Bruce Springsteen – on Hypersonic Missiles they’re entirely warranted, as much for the instrumentation as the lyricism and his vignettes of working-class struggle. There are sax solos (more than one), and pounding rhythms that make you want to jump in a car and drive down a highway at sunset, and blistering electric guitars next to classic troubadour acoustics. He has Springsteen’s rousing holler, and the early indications of someone who could be the voice of a generation – not because he wants to be, but because he sees things and understands. (RO)

Read the full review here, and the interview here

19) Taylor SwiftLover

Swift’s sixth album Reputation was camp and melodramatic, killing off “the old Taylor” and waging war on anyone and everyone who dared to criticise her. It was sincerity veiled as self-parody, insecurity veiled as breeziness – and all the better for that uneasy paradox. But Lover, her new, seventh album, feels like a partial resurrection of the Swift of old: moony romance and earnest earworms abound. It’s the sound of a singer excited to be earnest again. Taylor Swift is dead. Long live Taylor Swift. (AP)

Read the full review here

18) Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka

Kiwanuka’s self-titled third record is an introspective mix of psychey soul, blues, rock and funk, which skips and strolls and swaggers through its 13 tracks – but it is not simply an exercise in nostalgia. Its influences span decades; Gil Scott-Heron, Fela Kuti, Kendrick Lamar and Bobby Womack are all recalled. “I’m not going to have an alter ego, or become Sasha Fierce or Ziggy Stardust,” he sings, “I can just be Michael Kiwanuka.” With an album this good, it’s hard to argue with that. (AP)

Read the full review here, and the interview here

17) Kano – Hoodies All Summer

On his sixth album, Kano’s powers of observation are at their peak. Home has always been at the heart of his music, so he maintains the close-quarters perspective of his 2005 debut Home Sweet Home; the swaggering confidence of that record, though, is replaced by a more thoughtful gravitas. He’s an elder statesman of grime, and you can almost see his furrowed brow and shake of his head on “Trouble”, while the frenetic “Class of Deja”, starring fellow veterans D Double E and Ghetts, reminds the listener how he lit the path for future generations. (RO)

16) Hot Chip – A Bath Full of Ecstasy

Lyrically, the band offer up some of their most poignant phrases to date on this – their seventh and best record. Second single “Hungry Child”, a trance-y floor-filler, contains the plaintive, “Dreaming never felt so bad/ Lonely never felt so wrong before” while, over the shuffling beats of “Echo”, Alexis Taylor sings of leaving your regrets behind while seeming to understand the effort required to achieve this. For all its glimmering synths and the robotic pathos of Taylor’s idiosyncratic vocals, this is a record with both heart and soul. (RO)

Read the full review here, and the interview here

15) MUNA – Saves the World

Pop trio MUNA

Saves the World should see MUNA joining the ranks of those who have brazenly borrowed their sound. Lead single “Number One Fan” banishes intrusive thoughts – “Nobody likes me and I’m gonna die” – just in time for a lavish, self-celebratory chorus, one part earnest, one part tongue-in-cheek. Elsewhere, they are downright defeatist, lamenting the inevitable pull back to a recent ex (“Stayaway”) or reflecting on a lover’s similarity to an adulterous father (“Taken”). “Hands Off”, meanwhile, toys with temptation before slamming the door shut. It is fierce and forthright. (AP)

Read the full review here

14) Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind

It’s easy to see why fans immediately drew comparisons between this record and Slipknot’s seminal 2001 album Iowa. While the latter was even heavier (it would be difficult if not impossible to outdo), the sheer ambition on We Are Not Your Kind is just as staggering. If anything, the dynamic created by placing a bigger emphasis on melody allows you to consider everything without being engulfed by noise. Critics may question how relevant Slipknot are in 2019. The pummelling force of We Are Not Your Kind should be enough to silence them – this may be one of the band’s most personal records, but the rage they capture is universally felt. (RO)

Read the full review here, and the interview here

13) RapsodyEve

Each song is titled after a black woman Rapsody admires: Serena Williams, Sojourner Truth, Maya Angelou, Aaliyah, Oprah Winfrey… and for each one she explores these women’s traits, successes and strife. As on her 2017 album Laila’s Wisdom, Eve conveys Rapsody’s natural feel for funk – “Michelle” (Obama) bounces in on a jaunty piano riff – but other tracks, such as “Afeni”, are pure soul. Nina Simone said an artist’s duty, “as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times”. This is precisely what Rapsody has done, in the most resonant way possible. (RO)

Read the full review here

12) Julia Jacklin – Crushing

There’s a deeper sense of personal connection to anchor Julia Jacklin’s lyrical and melodic smarts. That snare drum on “Pressure to Party” keeps a relentless, nerve-snapping pulse throughout, while “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” nails a depth of intimacy while acknowledging relationship ennui. Grunge-rinsed, feminist-flipped, upcycled Fifties guitar an’ all: Crushing is a triumph. (HB)

Read the full review here, and the interview here

11) Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1

Philippakis’s voice is shrouded in the smoke from society’s wreckage. Lead single “Exits”, six scintillating minutes of Eighties “sledgehammer” pop that lumbers into view like a heavy artillery vehicle covered in sequins, concerns the one percenters building underground cities to escape global warming. “Syrups” has Yannis howling a passionate post-apocalyptic vision of robot invasions and sand-clogged towns over a corroded Gorillaz dub that builds to a motoric charge as global panic sets in. An inspired album of scorched earth music. (MB)

Read the full review here, and the interview here

10) Dave – Psychodrama

A talented pianist as well as a rapper and singer, Dave often spits over discordant chords to amplify the urgency of his chosen subject, or else raps in gruff, assertive tones across an emotional sequence that complements his stoic intensity. On “Environment”, he talks about the conflict between what people see of his apparently glamorous life, and the reality behind the scenes where the blood and sweat is drawn out of him. He’s put everything into this album. (RO)

Read the full review here

9) Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising

Weyes Blood, whose real name is Natalie Mering, accompanies her instrumental idiosyncrasies with strong, luscious melodies and unfussy lyrics. “No one’s ever gonna give you a trophy for all the pain and the things you’ve been through,” she sings on “Mirror Forever”. “No one knows but you.” And then there’s that voice – at once warm and haunting, controlled and untethered. It’s no wonder she’s lent it to the likes of Perfume Genius, Drugdealer and Ariel Pink: it adds a touch of profundity to everything it meets. (AP)

Read the full review here

8) James BlakeAssume Form

The warm splashes of piano that washed over single “Don’t Miss It” also break through the anxious rattle of dance beats on the album’s eponymous opener, the singer so regularly reviewed as “vaporous” promises to “leave the ether, assume form” and “be touchable, be reachable”. His own sharpest critic, he winks at the journalists who’ve called him glacial as he drops from remote, icy falsetto into a richly grained, deeper tone to ask: “Doesn’t it seem much warmer?” (HB)

Read the full review here

7) Nick CaveGhosteen

Following the traumatised chaos of 2016’s Skeleton Tree, Ghosteen is a warm cloud of ambient solace – a sonic evocation of the communion he has experienced through his newly porous relationship with his audience. He sounds buoyed, not weakened, by exposing his wounds. (HB)

Read the full review here

6) Tyler, the Creator – IGOR

The production here is superb. Tyler has never been one for traditional song structure, but on IGOR, which is undoubtedly a break-up album, he’s like the Minotaur – luring you through a maze that twists and turns around seemingly impossible corners, drawing you into the thrilling unknown. Its lack of resolution at the close – surely the most torturous element of a great love lost – makes it all the more powerful. (RO)

Read the full review here

5) Big Thief – Two Hands

Big Thief

The indie-rock band describe their second album in the space of five months as the “earth twin” to its predecessor, UFOF. Indeed, they sound utterly grounded – to each other, and to their surroundings in the arid Chihuahuan Desert of Texas, near the Mexico border. In contrast to her fragile performance on UFOF, here Adrianne Lenker sings in lusty whoops and calls on “Forgotten Eyes”, while “Not”, the record’s dark, brooding soul, caterwauls with feedback screeches and a merciless, two-minute guitar solo that leaves you simultaneously devastated and enthralled. (RO)

Read the full review here, and the interview here

4) Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars

Bruce Springsteen seems to have told almost every tale in the grand old storybook of American mythologies, except perhaps one: a wide-eyed Californian dreamer finds the Golden State turns sour and flees back east, to some romantic speck of a town, to pine and rehabilitate. It’s the classic pop plotline of Bacharach and David’s “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”, and it’s a tale Springsteen taps repeatedly here, on his sumptuous, cinematic 19th album, which is nothing short of a late-period masterpiece. (MB)

Read the full review here

3) Little Simz – GREY Area

Few albums in 2019 have been as eclectic, or had as singular a vision, as Simz’s GREY Area. She flips between two tones: formidable and reflective. On tracks such as “Offence” and “Boss” she drips with venom; delivering lines in a low, deadly buzz over killer bass hooks and punk distortion. On “Selfish” and “Flowers” she’s softer – allowing herself to be vulnerable because she knows she doesn’t have to ditch all sentiment to compete with her male peers. She’s better because she embraces every facet of herself, and offers it to the listener in as clear a statement as possible. (RO)

Read the full review here, and the interview here

2) Lana Del ReyNorman F***ing Rockwell!

Lana Del Rey has always been obsessed with the past. Hers is a sound rooted in nostalgia, a paean to everything she was born too late to live through: old Hollywood, Sinatra, beat poetry, Sylvia Plath and Fifties Americana. At her best, she mines something fresh from it all. At her worst, she wallows in it. Her new album Norman F**king Rockwell!, named after a 20th-century American artist, does both. “We were so obsessed with writing the next best American record,” she sings. This comes pretty damn close. (AP)

Read the review here

1) Aldous Harding – Designer

Aldous Harding

When Aldous Harding performed in London this month, an enamoured fan cried out that they loved her. “I appreciate that,” she replied softly. “But, I’m busy.” The response is Harding to a T – wry, weird, introspective, focused. Her spectacular, singular third album, Designer, is all of those things. Taking the left-field folk that made her name and splashing post-psych pop and jittery orchestral flourishes onto the canvas, the New Zealander harbours secrets while beckoning you in.

“It’s better to live with melody and have an honest time/ Isn’t that right?” she asks on “Fixture Picture”, before wearily concluding that “you can’t be pure and in love”. On “Zoo Eyes”, on which her voice plummets to its lowest register, she asks two questions in succession, as if they’re of equal import: “What am I doing in Dubai in the prime of my life? Do you love me?” It is an exquisite, enigmatic record. (AP)

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