Tag Archives: 2019

The Top Five Albums of 2019 – Nikhil’s List

31 Dec

There was a lot of music in 2019 that caught my ear, but surprisingly for me, when it came to putting together a list, things came together quite easily. There are just some albums in particular that I want you to hear.

5. Ariana Grande – thank u, next

This album is my choice for the biggest surprise of the year. For someone as big, as established and as much of a star as Ariana Grande to take so large a step forward is startling but that is just what she did.

Key to this is the title track. “thank u, next” could have easily come off poorly, but she handles it with a grace and maturity that really mark the growth that we see here. Her voice was always strong, but here it’s sincere as well and that lets her keep a powerful song fully under control.

For all of the headlines of that centerpiece, the rest of the album is just chock-full of ideas and well-executed ones at that. She’s kittenish in “make up” and sneering in “bloodline”, fun in “NASA” and imperial in “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.” The music goes from hard to soft and back again and does it with flair. Her voice is nothing short of stellar.

Ariana has done a lot over her career to reinvent pop, but this is the album that guns for the top. It’s fun, it’s exciting and it looks effortless doing so, just like Ariana Grande herself.

Read our full review here.

4. Jamilia Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!

From a no-caps album, now we pick up a full caps one and the difference is clear. Where Ariana was free-flowing and so honest, this album is clearly the product of immense thought, but is no less sincere for that.

Jamilia Woods takes a panorama of black excellence and uses it as a lens through which to examine current events and herself and makes spectacular music in the process.

It’s just such a smart album. There are some arrestingly clever lines here. I love the starkness of “Are you mad? / Yes, I’m mad” and the cleverness with which it is twisted in the magnificent “BASQUIAT.” It’s even preceded by the equally noteworthy “MUDDY,” which has a beautifully dirty blues-rock riff reminiscent of its namesake.

LEGACY! LEGACY! does a lot and does it all with awe-inspiring levels of quality and an astonishing coherence as well. This is an unquestionably ambitious album and one that pulls off that ambition dazzlingly.

Read our full review here.

3. Tyler, the Creator – IGOR

Continuing the theme of all-caps records, we have Tyler, the Creator with IGOR. With 2017’s Flower Boy, it seemed like Tyler had found his voice and IGOR continues that clarity. He has matured and that maturity has brought focus to his always prodigious talent.

The uniqueness that defined him is as strong as ever, but he’s somehow more versatile now as well. He can go hard in “NEW MAGIC WAND” or soft in “GONE GONE / THANK YOU” with equal ease and he’s still able to drop thought-provoking beats and unexpected sounds in at every point.

This is the best version of Tyler, the Creator that we could have hoped for and the realization of all of his promise. This is scintillating, singular music and quite easily one of the best albums of the year.

Read our full review here.

4. Kanye West – JESUS IS KING

There are some Kanye albums, like Yeezus or MBDTF where you know that they will be the album of the year as soon as they come out. JESUS IS KING isn’t that kind of album. I would have been shocked to see it place this high when I reviewed it.

And yet, on coming back to it, it’s just better than the other albums on this list. Listening to “Closed On Sunday” after a while, it just hits you that this is really strong music. It’s no surprise that going back to gospel would work well for Kanye, but to his credit, he’s done a lot more than just the gospel beats of his early work or even the heavy gospel of “Ultralight Beam.”

He committed here to the idea of Christian music. This is not the most sophisticated take on religion, but it is honest and personal and true and so manages more real commentary than any amount of sophistry. Talking about fighting with his father or the quickness of Christian disdain for who he is are topics that many would avoid, but that’s not what a Kanye album does.

It’s in the music that the most interesting ideas emerge though. The choir playing against hard bars in “Use This Gospel” and then the following Kenny G solo that goes back into the beat is the kind of thing that you would just never see anywhere else. The military-grade choir in “Selah” is undeniable. Even in terms of rapping, Kanye has taken a step forward. Something like “Follow God” showcases things that he just could not do before.

JESUS IS KING is a new stage in Kanye’s career and while it may not be as immediately promising as his first set of albums or as groundbreaking as 808s or Yeezus, it’s still fascinating music and some of the best of the year.

Read our full review here.

1. FKA Twigs – MAGDALENE

With MAGDALENE, one finds oneself immediately reaching for superlatives. Gorgeous, intricate, a masterpiece all come to mind and are all apt. There’s just so much of note here.

First of all, the production is stellar. There are just so many small details here. There are little sounds everywhere, little evocative fragments that build out a cathedral for her voice to fill. It’s ethereal as always, but so very strong. There’s an intensity here that almost scalds as it enervates.

FKA Twigs was always one of those talented artists, one of those who seems an effortless polyglot in musical languages and even in dance. She does so many things so well, it just feels unfair when it all comes together this well. This is the greatest work yet of an extraordinary artist and a comfortable pick for the album of this year.

Read our full review here.

The Top Five Albums of 2019

31 Dec

Another year of great music closes out today. Read on to see our editor’s picks for the best albums of the year – and be sure to let us know if you agree!

5. Peter Cat Recording Company – Bismillah

Delhi’s own Peter Cat Recording Company has been a mainstay of Indian music for a while now, but it’s with new album Bismillah – and a new record label – that they have started receiving the praise they deserve. Bismillah is, in its way, a slice of Indian life, from the glitz and glamor to the corruption and chaos, set to a dizzying array of musical styles. The album is packed with biting criticism of Modi’s India; the band personally encouraged Delhiites earlier this year to vote for an opposition party, on a music video release note no less. But even beyond the political, Bismillah is truly, wholly Indian.

Read our full review here.

4. slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain

Some art – whether it’s movies, music, and so on – truly captures the ethos of a specific place, time and people to a tee; a zeitgeist, in short. For 2019’s United Kingdom, roiling through a nation-splitting Brexit crisis, that zeitgeist is the debut album from a 25-year-old Northampton rapper, called, succinctly, Nothing Great About Britain. The album is intense, personal, and nearly flawless – a perfect slice-of-life from the wrong side of the tracks of today’s UK.

Read our full review here.

3. Fontaines DC – Dogrel

Dogrel, the debut album from Irish band Fontaines DC, is a middle-finger to those who think rock – and punk rock in particular – is dead. Over a tight, 40-minute runtime, the lads take us through Dublin life like only locals can. There’s anti-British sentiment (“He spits out, ‘Brits out’, only smokes Carrolls”); Irish legends (“With a face like sin and a heart like a James Joyce novel”); tales of cabbie woes – and that’s all on just one song. Dogrel is almost a perfect package from start to finish, and we are heartened to hear that there’s already more incoming from Fontaines DC.

Read our full review here.

2. Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt 2

2019 may have officially been the Year of the Pig, but for us it was the year of Foals. With two astounding, back-to-back albums over the course of seven months, the Oxford lads knocked it out of the park this year. Although Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt 1 had some great hits – “Exits” being chief among them – Foals really stuck their landing with Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt 2. The entire double album is built around the idea of an apocalypse: the emotions and the music that would come out in that not-so-far-away scenario. One thing’s for sure: when that day comes, we’ll be sure to have this record handy to soundtrack us there.

Read our full review here.

1. Ariana Grande – thank u, next

At this point, Ariana Grande is pretty much pop’s reigning queen. More importantly, she rules for all the right reasons. It’s an understatement to say that she has the voice for it; but she also offers a playful and positive view of the world despite the tragedies in her life. Like any savvy pop star, she of course sells the idea of herself to her legions of fans – the high ponytail, the thigh-high boots, the oversized sweatshirts – but unlike many others, she sells something else too: self-love. Amazingly, that self-love seems to come from within – not manufactured by some marketing execs over at her record label. With thank u, next, Ariana Grande finally takes over as her authentic, spirited, wholesome self – and turns out, a lot of people dig it. Oh, and it helps that the music is just pop gold, too.

Read our full review here.

-NP

Burna Boy – African Giant

23 Dec

This is undoubtedly the catchiest album that I’ve heard all year. Burna Boy just has that ear for it that you cannot replicate. This is an album that puts you in undeniable motion.

The combination of African sounds and the Nigerian patois that run through it mix cleanly with the just-as-prominent modern pop and rap sounds to make something at once of the future and deeply connected to its roots.

In particular, “Anybody” and “Wetin Man Go Do” pull all of the pieces together perfectly. It’s a sound that’s excitingly novel in all that it brings to the table and again, it’s just very catchy.

It’s a fun album. “Killin Dem” is compulsive and “Omo” is infectious. This is, more than anything, the reason to try it out. “Secret” has the kind of chorus that sticks in your ears long after you’ve pressed pause.

It is hopefully also the sign of Burna Boy’s emergence. This is an album with impressive features. Unfortunately, neither Future nor YG show up that well. Both are just out of place on this and that dissonance is hard to break from. Jorja Smith is excellent though. “Gum Body” has a great verse from her as well as a stand-out chorus and an absolutely wonderful little sax lick in the middle. Similarly, “Secret” has a fantastic chorus and the features help an already great track stand out.

The album does lose pace somewhere around the middle and a few sounds drag for too long, but this is still the most enjoyable album that I’ve heard all year. Also, it has a fascinating aside about colonialism in Nigeria and that kind of thing automatically bumps an album up a rung.

Raphael Saadiq – Jimmy Lee

13 Dec

This album is not shy about its strengths. Right from the strong but sincere “Sinners Prayer” and its bluesy groove, you know that you’re getting into something good. By the time you get into the Prince-like “The World Is Drunk” and excellent neo-R&B of “Something Keeps Calling”, there’s no doubt left.

It finishes with fully the same strength. “Glory To The Veins” is the standout track with a dark, pulsating beat and Saadiq shows expert restraint with his voice here. For all of that though, it just grooves. “Rikers Island” moves well and the redux adds some needed profundity in an album which, while very heartfelt, is not quite original in its lyrics.

However, the album itself is just a little muddied. There are great moments in there, like the chorus of “Something Keeps Calling” or the little bit of playful piano in “Glory To The Veins”, but the whole fades a little easily, a fault exacerbated by the weak middle.

It’s still no doubt a very good, if not quite great, album. There are faults, but if you’re looking to see present-day R&B at its best, this is where you should start.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen

8 Dec

It’s immediately apparent that this is the album after the death of Nick Cave’s son. The melancholy is beautiful and everywhere. It’s much more of an ambient album than is standard for him and, if anything, benefits from the move outside. It does however also suffer a little from what becomes a slightly unvarying sound as a result though.

However, the grief comes through poignantly throughout. In particular, the retelling of the Buddhist parable of the house that knows no death in “Hollywood” is heart-rending. It’s a touching, beautiful album and one that you will not leave unmoved.

Earl Sweatshirt – FEET OF CLAY

28 Nov

Earl Sweatshirt has built a solid pocket of rap for himself. He makes muddy, complex, punishing rap in a way that no one else even really attempts. FEET OF CLAY however may have taken it too far.

His muttered, submerged raps are as awe-inspiring as ever. He puts together sounds and words in a way that’s simultaneously muddy and evocative, like scrying in a swamp. It’s singular and cohesive and often somewhat punishing as a result. He has such complex bars with lyricism as unique as it is skilled.

The punishment was always sort of the point, but this is the one where it feels a little unjustified. The album is just too dense and lacks the reward of a “Chum” or a “Grief” to really pay off the effort. If you’re an Earl Sweatshirt fan, then you already know that you should give this album a couple of spins, but if not, this is not the place to jump in.

FKA Twigs – MAGDALENE

18 Nov

FKA Twigs has long made some of the most interesting pop out there, but MAGDALENE is a full step above her earlier work. It’s easily her best album to date and one of the best albums of the year. She’s sharper, she’s more cohesive and this album just bangs.

There are the obvious parts, “holy terrain” works very well with the Future feature. The trap beat plays nicely against her voice and Future is perfectly understated. The heart of the album is in the thousands of little moments. There’s a beautiful vocal fragment to end “mary magdalene” and the pulsations of “fallen alien” are consuming and intense.

The album even works in the much slower “mirrored heart” and it fits expertly. The feedback in it adds a surprising heft and her lyrics are cutting. Coming as this album did, after a major break-up and a major surgery, it could have easily been a sledgehammer of an album, but her restraint makes the moments that reference the turmoil all the more powerful. Her finesse here is astonishing.

There are a few missteps in “home with you” and “daybed”, which just don’t do enough, but there is much more of note, like the beautiful and clever “sad day”. This is an album from an absurdly talented artist at the height of her powers and an album you don’t want to miss.

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