Sure maybe this list seems late, but alternatively I would suggest that everyone else was just early. Just one month ago when some outlets were starting to put our their end of 2019 lists I wrote this article about why I love list season and about wanting to bring Natural Music back to its former glory. In just a months time I’ve managed to recruit an incredible team of contributors from across the globe, redesign this website from scratch, and put together all of this incredible year end content [see Top 100 Songs - 2019, Top Electronic - 2019, Top Sets/Mixes - 2019]. With that being said, we’re always looking for writers, designers or anyone with a passion for music to join the team.
But I know you’re not here for a long winding intro, you’re here for the music, so I present to you the Top 100 Albums of 2019, according to the Natural Music team. This is not to say that these albums are necessarily the best, technically or however else you may wish to construe that word, but it does mean that they’re the ones that we enjoyed the most, and we hope you will too. The list is numbered, but don't put too much thought into, it’s all subjective.
Listen to selections from this list on our Spotify playlist or Apple Music playlist (and share them with your friends!)
Kim Gordon has always pushed the limits of sound. While Sonic Youth may have found popularity in the ‘90s, they were the exception that became the rule. They would ultimately prove too violent and dissonant for the common consumer, but luck was on their side. No Home Record proves, once and for all, that it was never about luck. Years removed from the perfection of the band that made her a household name, Kim Gordon continues to push sonic boundaries, this time with a combination of blasting guitars, and perhaps more interestingly, chaotically distorted vocals and a mad array of synths that assault the senses. More than any other rock record this year, it forces you to question what you liked about music, and shows you something brilliantly new. [Drew Pitt]
Back in 2013, Jai Paul had his self-titled, work-in-progress project leaked to the internet prior to its official release. This was devastating for him; he said the whole thing was "very difficult to deal with" and it had caused him to seclude himself from releasing music for many years. Finally, after working through the troubles he had with the event, he decided to release the project officially in 2019. The result is the near identical release (with minor sample differences), Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones). This is certainly a highlight from this year. We at Natural Music loved the summery, sample-packed sound palette. In the world of indietronica this certainly feels like a peak into the future; the unconventional incorporation of sounds from other genres such as wonky, synth funk, and UK bass is unlike anything we've heard before. Our favorite tracks include “Str8 Outta Mumbai,” “Zion Wolf Theme,” and “BTSTU”. Let us know what you thought. [Zane]
On Outer Peace, Toro y Moi creates an experience capable of transporting listeners to a sonic wonderland that could have been created by aliens who managed to pick up house music over their interstellar transmissions. The bouncy, squelching dance party features somber moments of introspection woven throughout as respites from the chaos.
The album’s title suggests a performative calm, as if attaining inner peace is a box to be checked for social capital. In an age when meditation and retreats are sold as tools to improve performance in the capitalist landscape, Toro y Moi wonders if this is the best we can do. His lyrics pine for a peace that cannot be reached in a society that values achievement over contentment. [Jake C]
This album dropped early in the year and has consistently remained the most refreshing album. Each song oozes with personality and collectively wears a psychedelic uniform. Whether it’s the buttery smooth guitars and steady drums pulsating through the track “Nina” or the almost danceable “Fall Down”, Crumb’s Jinx is a no-brainer for this year-end list. A complimentary standout is the music video for “Nina” because it is surreal and dreamlike, which captures the mood of this song and album perfectly. A few other standout tracks include “Faces” and “Ghostride.” [Erick]
Renowned jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding’s seventh album, 12 Little Spells, is a unique, experimental masterpiece. While she has been creating inventive alternative jazz for years, Spalding showcases a whole new level of genius in this project. Her arrangements combine genres such as jazz, funk, progressive rock, classical, and hip hop into an incredibly complex sound. The songs are dynamic and exciting with quiet, peaceful moments weaving between theatrical symphonies of sounds, at times dissonant and uncomfortable. Spalding draws inspiration from human biology to discuss a myriad of themes in her poetry. Sometimes rather stream-of-consciousness in style, she flows in and out of meditative trances and builds beautiful, playful lyrics into the music seamlessly. 12 Little Spells is a groovy, ethereal, psychedelic, bizarre melting pot of sounds. This album is not easy listening––its great creativity demands your attention, but proves extremely worthwhile. [Eileen]
At only 23, Little Simz can be considered a veteran in the rap game. Before the release of her 2019 album, Grey Area, Simz impressed the culture with several critically acclaimed projects, and praises from some of her influences including Kendrick Lamar, Lauryn Hill and Gorillaz. Grey Area, is undoubtedly the pivotal point in her career so far. It’s the epitome of a true and honest rap album in 2019.
The soundscape through Grey Area is stark. It’s traditional boom-bap sound is loud and bold with slight variations from track to track that include a myriad of different instruments and jazz embellishments. Lyrically, the album is potent, thoughtful and focused, without abandoning the attitude and competitive spirit that the genre embraces. Any MC would certainly think twice before sending a diss to Simz after hearing tracks like “Offence” and “Boss”. Although these tracks show Simz at her most confident, tracks like “Sherbert Sunset” show her at her most vulnerable and heartfelt. Grey Area is as engaging and consistent as it gets. Little Simz doesn’t miss a beat, and the listener will forget that the skip button ever existed. [Jacob H]
"Part of For You and I explores the complexities of being in a queer relationship in London, and the ups and downs that come with that. “I’m in love and wanted to share that in some way. I wanted to make songs that reflect layers of my relationship. Reflected in the song titles and mood of songs like So Scared and Hand Drops she says "A lot of the time I’m really scared in displaying any kind of affection in public…This album is more about feeling than about using certain production skills.” Of her process, James says she aimed to make something that wasn’t overthought. For You and I is rhythmically free flowing and sprawling, with melodies that evolve into rippling keys. It feels like a live jam session with a jazz mentality, contrasting the delicate and abrasive."
Band member Clay Parton describes Duster as “experimental depressed music”, and this past years release of their self-titled album proved just that. Duster’s self-titled album was their first album in 19 years and haven’t skipped a beat. The “slowcore” legends newest addition to their discography brings new darkness unseen in their previous albums along with their classic key hallmarks that fans waited 19 years for. Standout tracks include the dark “Ghost World”, and “Letting Go”. For any fan of lofi, indie rock, this long-awaited album delivers something any music listener can enjoy. [Mac]
Caterina Barbieri is an Italian composer who explores themes related to machine intelligence and object oriented perception in sound through a focus on minimalism.
The album revolves around the creative use of complex sequencing techniques and pattern-based operations to explore the artefacts of human perception and memory processes by ultimately inducing a sense of ecstasy and contemplation. Computation is turned from being a formal, automatic writing technique into a creative, psychedelic practice to generate temporal hallucinations. A state of trance and wonder where the perception of time is distorted and challenged. [bandcamp]
The Comet is Coming is a jazz-fusion group headed by saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings (also known for his musicianship in Sons of Kemet). The group’s most recent album is immense in scope. The band takes sounds from krautrock, neo-psychedelic, new age, hip-hop, electronica, and much more, with jazz at the center of it all. It’s a roller coaster ride that traverses through an ominous, dystopian future towards a heavenly dream realm, and back again. It’s easily one of the most thrilling, pulsating and electrifying records of 2019, catapulting jazz onward to 2020 in a big way. [Jacob H]
The music of Adam Wiltzie probably had more of an impact on me in the past year than any other artist’s music. 2019 was the year I declared A Winged Victory for the Sullen's self-titled project my favorite album of all time, the year “Stars of the Lid's” eloquent drones won me over, the year “Dead Texan's” one-off release served as a perfect soundtrack to many a morning commute. The common denominator is no accident. Adam Wiltzie is a mastermind of swelling mood pieces and long-form ambient compositions, and this moniker of his, a duo with pianist and film scorer Dustin O'Halloran, so beautifully walks the line between minimal ambient and resplendent modern classical. I'll admit that I will love literally anything these two put out. I'll also admit that this is not as good as their first record and maybe not even as good as their second record, but the beauty and emotion to unpack is omnipresent nonetheless. Moving between subdued drone, climactic strings, and piano sketches, the pacing is as good as it gets for an album of this genre; just as you're ready for the meditative drone to subside (to be honest, I never am), a quaint two-minute piano piece hits your ear. And tell me "Aqualung, Motherfucker" isn't the hardest song title this year. [Nick Delgaudio]
I haven’t been this obsessed with a hip-hop act across the pond since The Streets’ “Original Pirate Material.” Slowthai gave us a modern classic with his debut album. Slowthai can not only deliver compelling narratives about living in modern Britain, but he also discusses serious matters ranging from distrust of authority with such charisma that I couldn’t help but bop my head while he raps “Authorities that I can't hear / You can't come in, no pigs in here.” [Erick] Slowthai also delivers on a variety of different flows and style on his debut with success. For example, “Doorman” is a straight up hard-hitting bop while “Toaster” feels more introspective. A few other standout tracks include “Nothing Great About Britain”, “Inglorious”, and “Crack.” [Erick]
Metal is painfully under recognized in the music critic community. Often the genre can only attain some sort of acclaim when it combines its base elements with other more palatable genres, a la Deafheaven. Liturgy is an outlier even in this sense; there is nothing about this record that is even close to approachable. The dissonant shifts in tone are challenging enough for even the most seasoned metalheads, and Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s shrill, piercing screams add yet another sharp edge to this record. But the structures of each song are so unique, so completely inspired that any sense of ugliness melts away, and all you are left with is pure transcendental bliss. [Drew Pitt]
All My Heroes Are Cornballs is one of the most interesting hip hop releases of the year which expands on JPEGMAFIA's experimental, sampling-based glitch hop style first developed on his 2018 release, Veteran. In regards to internet-era hip hop, JPEGMAFIA is at the head of the game, making humorous references to Twitter, waifus, beta males, and the like. The production here is very impressive, with many of the beats being reduced to noisy sound collages. Some of our favorite tracks include Jesus Forgive Me I Am a Thot, Beta Male Strategies, and Free The Frail. Anyone following the world of hip hop today should definitely keep their eye on JPEGMAFIA; we certainly are excited for the future of his career given that he's so early into it. [Zane]
Stereolab, Broadcast, and now Vanishing Twin. Murky, aqueous synths cloud a soundscape through which occasional string swells, frequent percussive miscellanea, and the crystalline voice of singer Cathy Lucas break. Strong motorik drumming a la Can provides firm scaffolding for whimsical, plucky synths that wouldn’t sound out of place as the soundtrack to a UFO landing in a dense tropical jungle. What’s that supposed to mean? Your guess is as good as mine. But there’s a sense of wonder and exploration to Vanishing Twin’s take on psychedelia; it sees the band reconciling their experimental impulses with their knack for pop songwriting and will leave listeners eager to find where the music takes them next. [Ryan Cody]
Chances are that Cherry Glazerr has been on your radar for some time now. The upstart brat-punk outfit founded by Clementine Creevy has toured with beach punk darlings like Best Coast and Wavves for years now, but with Stuffed and Ready they truly step into their own and establish themselves as one of the most exciting rock acts. Stuffed and Ready is at once more polished and more vicious than any album the band has previously released. On “Daddi,” a searing, scathing indictment of the controlling nature of men in relationships, Creevy practically spits out the lyrics, “Don’t hold my hand, don’t be my man.” The record is possessed by a deep and powerful sincerity, and the sharp edged guitars only make the message cut deeper. [Drew Pitt]
In the years since its explosion, Vaporwave has been decried by some critics as a formulaic fad. Mannequin Challenge demonstrates otherwise. While the pitch-shifted soul samples sidechained to a 4-on-the-floor kick are still prominently featured, Saint Pepsi breaks the mold by finding other ways to revitalize and add motion to his sampled material. The album is incredibly dynamic; excellent transitions seamlessly weave together the albums most emotionally charged moments. On Mr. Wonderful, pt. 2, the guitar riff is swept into a filter before being released alongside a sped-up breakbeat, followed by distorted 808s, trap drums and an atmospheric synth, showcasing Saint Pepsi’s expanded sonic palette and new-found confidence. [Jake C]
When you've been making records for over a decade, your decisions (lineup changes, genre shifts, album lengths etc.) seem significantly less contrived and moreso just happenstance. A sort of ambivalence sets in, an inner voice preaching that the record being made isn't for anyone in particular so let's just see what happens. As a result, we get an album that differs in theme, in tone from their earlier records, but one that feels like a continuation of the direction they were already heading. On their eighth record titled Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared, we see Deerhunter move away from the introspective, and towards the external. Blending an easily dismissable combination of pop-laden hooks and ever relevant, depressing modern affairs. [Nick Delgaudio]
Read the full review here.
A fun and energetic disco-vaporwave fusion that encourages everyone to groove all night long. The Avalanches meets future funk. [Alek]
Zel has always been just about the most interesting rapper of his “class.” While others like XXXTentacion were dragged down by scandals and mediocre releases, Denzel has managed to come through with sincerity and an ear for boundary-pushing sounds. ZUU, while short compared to the wildly ambitious TA1300 of 2018, manages to outstrip it in nearly every regard. The melodies are tight, the rhythms more readily bounce, and not even “PERCZ” touches the aggression of “P.A.T.” Perhaps the most exciting thing of all is that Curry has claimed ZUU is only a precursor to his next project. If that is true, we may soon be talking about him in best of his generation conversations, rather than best of the South, if we aren’t already. [Drew Pitt]
The Caretaker released the first out of six "stages" of Everywhere at the End of Time back in 2016. This monstrous, 6+ hour ambient project is conceptually focused on exploring dementia/ Alzheimer's and its symptoms through auditory representation. This year marks the release of Everywhere at the End of Time - Stage 6, the last stage which concludes the multi-year project as a whole. This stage is conceptually the deepest and most advanced stage of the disease, and this is noticed immediately upon listening. The cohesive 1920-era British Dance Band tracks from the earlier stages have been completely decomposed into four, 20 minute long tracks consisting of seas of noisy dark ambient soundscapes. Samples of old turntable music confusingly flicker in and out of the waves of noise which form a very hazy and incoherent listening experience. This final stage seems to place you in the headspace of someone who's lost all memory processing functionality; the perfect ending to this groundbreaking conceptual project. [Zane]
A mixtape from RAP, which is the duo comprised of Guy Gormley and Thomas Bush. See also Enchante - Mind In Camden 2 another incredible dub techno release from Guy Gormley. [Alek]
In 2019, many established acts offered up extremely candid and personal works. Case in point, Sharon Van Etten’s Remind Me Tomorrow offers the listener a smorgasbord of relatable songs that feel nostalgic but modern at the same time. She does this by traveling through time during the 40 minutes of the album. She sings about her teenage years to her current life as a student, mother, and musician. This is Sharon Van Etten at her best, both lyrically and musically. “Jupiter 4” is everything and as a singular piece stands out as one of the best tracks this year and is on repeat. [Erick]
SASAMI’s self-titled debut album is a 40-minute rollercoaster of emotionally rich lyrics combined with powerful synth tones over a reverb-heavy guitar. Exactly what we hope for in a dream-pop album. After years as Cherry Glazerr’s synth marvel, Sasami Ashworth parts ways to reveal she can shimmer all on her own. With her exceptional ability to alternate between paces and far expanding musical talent, Sasami takes us on an expressive excursion through her past, present, and future troubles. Though at times she appears optimistic, more often we feel her overbearing sadness which results in beautifully melancholy lyrics. But, for what she doesn’t say with words, she expresses through cascading shoegaze guitar riffs and mind-bending synth sounds that leave us floating around her self-manifested void. [Jerrod]
Where A Seat at the Table featured full, voluminous arrangements for acoustic instruments, When I Get Home is a string of sparse arrangements featuring electric piano, Herbie Hancock style synth, sampled drums and the occasional electric bass. At times, she hits vocal runs that would make Whitney Houston proud, other times she chants hooks with supreme confidence. The features from Playboi Carti and Gucci Mane are welcome surprises. Carti gives a signature verse on “Almeida” while Gucci gives indolent adlibs on “My Skin My Logo”. This album is endlessly entertaining, with a diverse but coherent library of sounds creating a unique sonic environment where Solange’s voice shepherds the listener from track to track. [Jake C]
Though the title may be just as obscure as his previous album, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) gives us something a bit easier to digest. His fourth album, i,i is full of risks that land beautifully. We are presented with his impeccable blend of electronics and acoustics while his voice remains the centerpiece. Layers on layers of synth combined with layers on layers of vocals give us the texture and authenticity that has made Bon Iver one of the most important artists today. Combine this with poetic, soul enchanting lyrics sung by Justin’s unique voice, and we have an album that has landed on our top albums of the year. While some tracks such as Marion gives us a similar wilderness-drenched folk-like taste to his debut album For Emma, Forever Ago, other tracks like Jelmore push us to redefine the essence of Bon Iver. [Jerrod]
For nearly four minutes, Pale Bloom is nothing more than an austere, contemplative thread of piano playing. Right hand melodies accompanied by left hand chords, lying firmly in a harmonic minor tonality but also lingering on chromatic chords and emphasising Baroque-style suspensions, it feels like being privy to one of an individual’s most vulnerable moments, an island of solace abstracted from the irritating maximalist rush that characterises our historical epoch. Gradually, Davachi builds up from this foundation: reversed piano tones enter into haunted dialogue with the patient human ostinati, a countertenor singer weaves around the piano in graceful, multitracked counterpoint, an organ steps in to lay down a swirling, cryptic drone. The album’s final section ends the sombre reverie; it is much more fragmented and discordant, using strings to deconstruct those patient drones bare and then explore the infinite combinations of sound facilitated in the process, like an arsenal of contemplation and mystery. [Paul]
When most people look towards the future they see a cold, metal landscape that teeters ever closer to a post-human world. PROTO presents an alternative to this terrifying prospect with a brilliant combination of AI and humanity. The album was developed in conjunction with the AI program “Spawn,” which Herndon created for the express purpose of crafting this album, blending humanity and technology into a sonic soup that bristles with optimism for the future. Should the fear of dystopia ever bear down upon you, PROTO is the album to assuage any apprehension of the future. [Drew Pitt]
Considering the gruesome medieval atmospheres of Richard Dawson’s 2017 breakout album Peasant, this bracingly modern-sounding follow-up initially seemed somewhat surprising. But Newcastle’s best songwriter has been doing this for a while, and the temporal framing of his music has always been secondary to the universal themes contained within his winding narratives. 2020 features some of Dawson’s most moving, brutally effective songwriting to date, veering from the deeply introspective to the caustically political so seamlessly that he makes the distinction seem arbitrary. The most strangely compelling personal narrative on the record is “Black Triangle,” wherein a man’s life deteriorates into obsession after he spots a UFO in an Aldi car park. On the other hand, album centrepiece “Fulfillment Centre” is impossible to depoliticise, a quietly desperate ten-minute epic depicting the steady dehumanisation of a worker in an Amazon warehouse. 2020 is folk music at its most authentic, a state-of-the-nation manifesto hiding in a series of humble vignettes. [Paul]
After Tyler's 2017 release, Flower Boy, it was clear he was making a stylistic 180 from his previous works to head into a new era. Igor was given to us as Tyler's follow up, and matching the bar he set on Flower Boy was no easy task. Igor is a very impressive record composed of a satisfying blend of genres: neo-soul, experimental hip-hop, neo-psychedelia, and synth funk. There is an overbearing personality that takes you through the mind of a heartbroken Tyler, with polarizing emotions ranging from longing sincerity to jealousy and bitterness. Tyler has also begun to successfully experiment with singing rather than rapping, something he's previously expressed a desire to pursue. Tyler has once again proven his skills as a producer, songwriter, singer and creative mind. Igor builds on the bones of Flower Boy but is also a welcome detour from one of the most prolific and important artists of our generation. [Zane]
Inspired by the lush, poppy sounds of 80s bands such as Prefab Sprout, the Cure, and Cocteau Twins—as well as the ecstatic guitarwork of contemporary Vancouver band Weed—Anak Ko sounds dazzlingly tactile, and firmly present. The result is a refreshingly precise sound. On the subtly explosive “Superbike,” Duterte aimed for the genius combination of “Cocteau Twins and Alanis Morissette”—“letting loose,” she says, over swirling shoegaze. “Night Time Drive” is a restless road song, but one with a sense of contentedness and composure, which “basically encapsulated my entire life for the past two years,” she says—always moving, but “accepting it, being a little stronger from it.” (She sings, memorably, of “shoplifting at the Whole Foods.”) Duterte focused more on bass this time: “I just wanted to make a more groovy record,” she notes. [bandcamp]
Charli XCX’s belated third album is a messy, maximalist triumph of a pop album, folding in the singer’s love of shiny experimental pop alongside soaring, inviting melodies and a brashly charismatic attitude. A love of pop music throughout all of its eras radiates through the album’s fifteen songs, from the melodramatic gated drums and gauzy synths of “Cross You Out” (featuring a star turn from the enigmatic Sky Ferreira), to ‘90s house-pop on the propulsive “1999,” all the way to ultra-futuristic, noisy crunches on “Click,” aided by the 100 Gecs maestro Dylan Brady. The album is often sentimental and lovelorn, featuring a generous selection of tearstained ballads in its second half. The revolving door of pop provocateurs du jour of the first half give way to a masterclass in bruised vulnerability from Charli alone. Still, Charli is always pop music in its truest sense, as thrilling and silly as it is heartbroken and nostalgic. [Paul]
Thom Yorke’s third album is undoubtedly his most polished solo project to date. Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich draw from experiences in their own live performances, and influences like Four Tet and Flying Lotus, to establish a refined sound in ANIMA. The resulting robotic, pulsing beats and looming synths manage to remain human underneath Yorke’s emotionally raw and anxious lyrics. He explores insomnia, anxiety, loss and technological dystopia through 9 tracks which are simultaneously restless and sleepy, panic-inducing and calm. The standout track “Dawn Chorus” best exemplifies his lyricism in this project: simple, beautiful, and brutal. ANIMA allows listeners to delve into uncomfortable personal and social anxieties through the lens of wandering, sleep-deprived dance music. [Eileen]
Let the Sun Talk is a 32-minute deep dive into a lo-fi, alternative rap stream of consciousness from MAVI, a newcomer to the scene. The poetic debut from the Howard University student ripples through bars that speak to pro-Black experiences, self-love, and community values. Primarily, it is a think-piece on overcoming adversity through the strength of wisdom and thoughtfulness, subtly disguised in classic boom-bap worthy hip-hop loops. These soulful interludes and fuzzy monologues create a textured sound woven together by MAVI’s philosophical lyrics and slinky flow. With a cosign from Earl Sweatshirt, MAVI is situated to continue schooling us all in 2020 and beyond. [Morgan]
Given the prolific nature of each member of clipping. one could be forgiven for believing that the Hugo award nominated Splendor & Misery was their swan song. Luckily for us, clipping. and its respective members are possessed with a burning creative spirit. There Existed an Addiction to Blood is a gory, terrifying and campy send up of the Horrorcore rap subgenre that works on every level. Each beat crackles with fury while Diggs’ detached rapping style removes him from the picture, placing the listener in the front seat. It’s the perfect antidote to the candy-coated hip-hop of today. Just make sure to bring earplugs and a puke bucket. [Drew Pitt]
Internet chatter broiled over following a blistering 2018 Iceland Airwaves hostel performance of “bmbmbm” recorded live by KEXP. Such hype proved to be only a tease of what black midi would soon deliver in their debut album, Schlagenheim. A blitzkrieg of disorienting, mathematical noise rock seamlessly transitions through segments of acoustic bits, and emotive melodic passages with varying intensity. While lyrics seem to touch on themes of contemporary decay, interpretation remains harder to nail down than its progressive time signatures. With no shortage of instrumental flux, listeners will find this record a delightfully challenging listen. [Morgan]
On Trinity, Alexandra Drewchin, A.K.A. Eartheater, explores forms of water in its variable earthly states - solid, liquid, and gas. Backed by progressive production work from the likes of Acemo, Color Plus and Tony Seltzer, the album is a momentous current of dance-forward, sensual art-pop swimming in glitchy, yet sophisticated, trap-inspired components. The often gritty and industrial backtracking, which mimics assorted aquatic conditions, brings a textured depth to her trademark glassy, echoing vocals. Both experimental and approachable, Trinity successfully bridges classically inspired sonic archetypes with eerie cadence and contemporary electronic elements. It’s a lush and masterful collection of music that will wade listeners into the dark, melodic abyss. [Morgan]
The 6th album from Roberto Carlos Lange (Helado Negro) was received by fans hoping it would satisfy us with his typical manner of love-drenched lyrics and soft, sparkling melodies. Well, we got that, and so much more. This is How You Smile is undoubtedly Helado Negro’s best album yet. It’s riddled with a juxtaposition of lyrics, symbolic and straightforward, that makes us long for something more, all the same. Roberto’s peaceful voice floats effortlessly along with his serene musical composition consisting of solid drums, piano, and guitar. Along with this all succeeding our expectations, he also experiments with electronics throughout the album and does so gracefully. To say this masterpiece by Helado Negro is phenomenal would be a drastic understatement. [Jerrod]
Despite being one of the defining musical developments of the 2010s, PC Music has never actually given us a great album until now. Hannah Diamond’s long-awaited debut feels like a total vindication of everything the hyperreal pop movement stands for. Reflections perfects the PC Music vision: pop music pared down to its barest essentials and then made shiny and beautiful. Shy, for example, is one of those PC songs where the giant synth chords seem to wiggle and dance in midair, a few impeccably placed drum fills elevating the song into one of the most joyful Hannah Diamond experiences to date. Yet, Reflections isn’t Hannah and A.G. Cook on PC autopilot - the opening title track eschews the sawtooth endorphins entirely, in favour of Diamond’s hushed voice accompanied by soft mallet simulacra and cloudy syntheses of real and artificial voices. A belated artificial triumph from a true pop pioneer. [Paul]
Few can simply nail it on the first try. However, the debut album, Dogrel, from post-punk band, FONTAINES D.C. champions in their boisterous guitar riffs, and deeply conceptual songwriting. Hailing from Dublin, the album serves as a righteous middle finger towards gentrification and upper class dominance. They assume the role of hometown heroes celebrating working class sensibilities. The album is poignant, eccentric, and celebratory - a winning combination for a band at any stage of existence. [Morgan]
There is no pain like the loss of a child. Every parent believes from the moment their child is born that they will pass from this earth long before their children. Funerals are for the elderly after all, and while all passings are tragedies in their own way, the loss of a youth is particularly potent. There are those that believe suffering is necessary for great art, a vile idea that is unfortunately reinforced by the hundreds of artists who have gone on to take their lives or produce their best work after a tragedy. Ghosteen does nothing to dispel this myth, but recontextualizes it in a heart shattering way. This record is true agony, but hope whispers in its walls, the aching, longing strings and angelic choruses serve as reminders that “peace will come.” Though it may take forever. [Drew Pitt]
With two spectacular albums only six months apart, Big Thief proves themselves to be prolific, yet stunning all at once. With exceptions such as Picasso or Van Gogh, typically excessive quantity lacks quality. This is also not the case for Big Thief as their third album lands in our top 10 of the year. Adrienne Lenker’s unique vocals, lyrics, and guitar twang give us a daring, yet dazzling stab at folk-rock that hits us right where it hurts. Previously she howled to the past speaking of deep sorrow. Now she searches onward. With a mix of upbeat folk jams and ballads rooted in anguish, U.F.O.F. is a soul-crushing journey that is just too good to abandon. Though their debut album, Masterpiece was only released three years ago, we already have everything we need to say they’re at the top of their class. [Jerrod]
Three years after Jenny Hval unleashed an authentic experimental album that left us speechless, she does it again with even more experimentation and expertise that glistens through. The Practice of Love is her 7th album and experience shows. From her diversity of sound with tracks such as Accident, a Gothic pop tune, to Ordinary, and its dream-pop melody, Jenny dares us to ride the wave she’s created, though she knows we’ll never catch it. Deep, textured synths under tenacious lyrics give way to the album’s powerful and brutally honest theme of distaste for the present state of our so-called “human nature.” As bold as it is beautiful, The Practice of Love can be expected to pave the way for future artists attempting to walk in the glass slippers of Jenny Hval. [Jerrod]
Building up a persona and diving into a character is hard enough in the context of a movie role. Some take the commitment too far. It killed Heath Ledger. It's even more farfetched to imagine a character that extends beyond a single movie role: a decade's worth of songs, live performances, and interviews. It reads as an impossible feat in a culture where every tiny slip-up is broadcasted to the world as a reason to shun and move on -- but Elizabeth Woolridge Grant has nailed it. Lana Del Ray has stood as a perfectly imperfect icon: never feeling stilted, successfully dodging a whirlwind of fast-paced media trends, and truly living in the character to the point where the very presence of an ulterior persona is in question. This isn't her best record because she's changed her sound and given in to the culture, but rather the other way around. It took a few years of shitshow America, and the ever changing zeitgeist to reach a place where we're finally ready for what she can offer at her best -- and she happened to deliver her most polished effort right when we needed it. Working with Jack Antonoff, who seems to know how to bring the best out of female cultural icons (Lorde, Taylor Swift, St. Vincent), every track, every lyric, every production choice feels incredibly organic. Nothing feels forced, and I'm finally OK with a 70-minute lust filled, retro art-pop character study. Because it's just that perfect. [Nick]
A masterful feat of eccentricity, House of Sugar is a treasure chest in indie-rock experimentalism. There’s much to glean from (Sandy) Alex G’s restrained yet robust songwriting, with each fresh-eared listen providing a deeper take on Alex Giannascoli’s ability to create music that is mysterious, dreadful, and unequivocally beautiful. The album comfortably jumps from rustic, folk-like sensibilities to heavily affected vocals layered in dark, synth heavy tracks like “Near,” and the moody, atmospheric, electronic-driven “Project 2.” Arguably his most prolific and exciting record to date, House of Sugar is as adventurous as it is emotionally striking. [Morgan]
On PANG, the soft yet ever so powerful voice of Caroline Polachek shines over an assortment of tracks from sparkling pop tunes to eloquent experimental ballads rich of nostalgia. Caroline’s voice takes center stage in this debut album that took us by surprise in October. Her lyrics embody a vast combination of dreams for unrealistic outcomes, to the familiar existence of unrequited love. Tracks like Insomnia guide us through the harsh reality of her anguish soaked insomnia, all over deep synths abundant in melody. Caroline’s gift of experimentation, along with her angelic voice, gives us an authentic sound we are eager to pursue. [Jerrod]
Earlier this year, when I told my friend to listen to the new Cate Le Bon album, he didn’t like it at all. I told him half-jokingly that he probably wasn’t depressed enough. There’s a real loneliness to the Welsh musician’s fifth album, despite it being her most sonically extroverted album to date. The opening cut, “Miami,” yawns with space, Le Bon sketching out a minimal lyrical scene of modern discontent and lovesickness, occasionally harmonizing with the deep tenor saxophones in melancholy, wordless sighs. Lead singles, “Daylight Matters” and “The Light,” both adhere to pop structures, but are also based around bittersweet major seventh chords and a strange feeling of loss, made all the more upsetting by their vagueness. Still, songs such as “Mother’s Mother’s Magazines” and “Magnificent Gestures” balance the album by retaining the playful post-punk spirit that has made Cate Le Bon such a favourite in the British music scene. [Paul]
Angel Olsen’s fourth album, All Mirrors is one of the most intimate showcases of an artist’s evolution this decade. All Mirrors is, as the title suggests, an introspective and sincere album that draws from the intimacy of orchestral composition. Olsen changed up her sound and added another classic album to this sub-genre. There’s a strong bleeding and beating heart hanging onto every word of her lyrics, and the orchestral approach complements this beautifully. While every track carries its own relatable message, from heartbreak to self-growth, a few stand out tracks are “Spring” and the title track “All Mirrors.” [Erick]
“I never thought heartbreak could be so all-encompassing. I never thought that my body could stop working to the point that I couldn't express myself physically in the ways that I have always loved and found so much solace.” Through this press release and the heart-wrenching single “Cellophane,” FKA twigs cued listeners in to just how vulnerable her long-awaited sophomore album would be. Following uterine surgeries and a breakup, Twigs obsessively dove into pole dancing and martial arts as a way to reconnect and rebuild from intense physical and emotional pain––she brought this level of intensity and practice to MAGDALENE as well. Twigs and multiple co-producers created 9 tracks which range from incredibly complex and bouncy electronic beats, to simple, repeated hooks. Every sound on this album is delicate and intentional. Lyrically, she explores her own heartbreak, wrath, healing, and strength through the lens of the biblical story of Mary Magdalene. She manages to compress a millennia of women’s rage and emotional fatigue into tracks like “Mary Magdalene” and “Fallen Alien.” Her signature voice is more open and stronger than ever, often echoing the theme through gothic, medieval-sounding melodies. MAGDALENE is a deeply feminine, dramatic avant-garde album which pushes the boundaries of music. Anyone who appreciates artistry and tireless perfectionism will enjoy this album, but it helps if you are heartbroken. [Eileen]
Natalie Mering’s fourth album as Weyes Blood is one of the greatest albums of the decade. Titanic Rising is an art pop album which draws liberally from the 70s, essentially adding another classic into the lush, melancholically orchestrated pop canon that we tend to assume reached its natural end a long time ago. There’s a confidence to its compositional and songwriting approach that radiates pastel colours, pillowy clouds of ennui which sound decidedly not-of-this-time. Of course, music in the 2010s has been no stranger to ennui, but the ennui of Titanic Rising feels of a different origin. It’s the ennui of a world that is still enchanted, or where the possibility of enchantment and wide-eyed wonder is still very real. From “Something to Believe,” a crisis of faithlessness and meaninglessness, to the elegiac climate change paeon “Wild Time,” Titanic Rising encodes the very soul of the contemporary human subject into an album of timeless grace and craftsmanship. [Paul]