Solange, Skepta, Slayyyter more: the best albums of 2019.
This year gave us a number of iconic musical moments, whether it be the resurrection of the original Sugababes lineup on DJ Spoony’s Garage Classical compilation album, Stormzy’s headline slot at Glastonbury, or even Lil Nas X snatching Mariah Carey’s world record for the most weeks spent at number one. Of course we can’t forget thriving in our own Hot Girl Summers, wanting to all take-up poledancing after FKA Twigs returned, and of course Ms. Swift putting Scooter Braun on blast – it’s been a lot, but amongst it all we’ve been blessed with several multi-track classics that are well worthy of note.
It’s not like anyone asked for a definitive ranking of the years best albums, but here we are delivering it anyway, from Skepta to Slayyyter, here’s the best of this years bunch.
10. Little Simz – GREY Area
A grey area is a space undefined, not yet clarified, somewhere budding with mystery and without boundaries, an apt home for Little Simz while many try to pinpoint her distinct sound, but no boiling down would ever suffice in this fruitless task. The North-Londoners mix of jazz, neo-soul, hip-hop has never clamoured for definition, nor needed one, and the story doesn’t change with her latest album, which is an entirely new strain of Simz’s addictive, catchy and experimental formula altogether. Opening track “Offence” captures that cool aloofness held by the protagonist of a spy movie, it’s rumbling bass and classical twists make it a perfect track to accompany a confident strut out of the tube when you’re a few minutes late to work, but not late enough to warrant a run. “Selfish”, featuring Cleo Soul is a lighter transcendental number, the audio inducing sways from the most robust and rigid listener. “Flowers” continues this river rafting journey around Simz’s psyche as the listener bobs around in subtle yet boppy production and neverending side-streams of lyrical genius again, and again, and again. We’re simply head over heels for her.
9. Slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain
He just gets it, whatever the elusive ‘it’ in all of our lives is, Slowthai knows. There’s something so exciting and enduring about an artist who has every facet of their sound so sorted, and aside from all his ridiculously good tunes, he even makes sexy boxers! Electrifying and “REWINDDDD” worthy performances (I’m sure you all saw that video of him spitting into someone’s mouth) have come to define his dynamic oeuvre, and this, of course, feeds straight into the aptly titled Nothing Great About Britain. Unafraid to get candid on the British political landscape, family, and his upbringing in Northampton, Nothing Great About Britain is a collection of hype-inducing, bass-heavy smash hits showcasing the rapper’s ability to change the softest spit into the deadliest delivery of rapid-fire bars that will take you out verse by verse in a matter of milliseconds. As if things could possibly get better, a bonus CD also includes the best of his riveting singles, a kind reminder that he has been great, and always will be.
8. Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
Mering’s spectacular fourth studio album Titanic Rising came out earlier this year to rave reviews, building further upon the spectacular world of melancholic 70’s nostalgia she’s sustained throughout the decade. She describes the ethos of the album, which is as expansive as it is breathtakingly melodic, as having a “lack of dominion over nature” and this sentiment is echoed in the albums ethereal artwork, shot by underwater photographer Brett Stanley. The submerged bedroom was built by a team that included Merling herself, “It was a pretty involved process, with a lot of failures,” she explains in the Winter Issue of Wonderland. Whether it be the monumental sadness of “Movies” or the dreamy instrumentation at the forefront of the album’s title track, its Blood’s effortless bridging of so many different genres which makes this project so special, so refined, and so replay worthy.
7. Swim Deep – Emerald Classics
Definitely the Indie heroes of anyone’s school and college days, Swim Deep made a very welcome return to the music scene after releasing Emerald Classics back in October, evidencing the bands’ ability to put the feel-good in their tracks is (thankfully) still well intact. The album begins with “To Feel Good”, which they accompanied with a beautifully cinematic video, and mixes confessional political admissions with a hearty choir and cheery guitars. “Happy As Larrie” is another high point, an outpouring of emotion that samples a haunting Brian Eno tune, respun with synth-heavy optimism. “You don’t have to swim forever, cause everything’s gonna be ok..” lead singer Austin croons in the track, whether it’s an olive branch to previous band members, or a nudge of reassurance for a 6-year-old struggling with their swimming lessons, this one is a total heartstring tugger. “Top of the Pops” and “Never Stop Pinching Myself” reference the best indie-pop and psychedelic moments from their previous albums, while the rest of the album dabbles in electro, soul and more indie-splendor. We couldn’t be more grateful that the boys are back, and hope it’s not another four years before we get some more tunes out of our favourite Brums.
6. Charli XCX – Charli
Charli XCX is another talent who has had a crazy decade, juggling commercial success with her quest to pioneer the future of pop sure is no easy feat, especially when you’re battling ever-hungry fans and leaked projects, but she did it. After abandoning the traditional ‘album’ format to usurp label semantics for her last two feature-filled releases, Charli ushered in a new wave of pop with the help of producing juggernaut SOPHIE and PC Music godfathers A.G. Cook and Danny L Harle. These genre-bending experiments positioned Charli at the forefront of alternative pop, quickly garnering a loyal base of gays, girls and dance music fiends. After what was meant to be her third album (and entire Google Drive) leaked in 2017, Charli went back to the drawing board. Albeit slightly defeated, she released the scrapped era’s fan favourites as singles and took things in a different direction.
Charli, the album, is an elevation of this whole journey, a maturity of the sound she explored with the Vroom Vroom EP and Pop 2, which at its heart possesses a fascinatingly dark and loving core. Inviting longtime friends such as Brooke Candy and Sky Ferreira along for the ride, other groundbreaking newcomers such as Troye Sivan and Christine and the Queens also took catchy spins in the passenger seat. The 100-year difference between the boppy “1999” and the more austere “2099” make it clear Charli has vested interest in exploring where pop is going, and how she can lead the charge to take it there. Name another artist who could clear a mind-melting track like “Shake It”, featuring the creme de la creme of LGBT musical talent on an album. You can’t, can you? Totally in her lane of robo-rave experimentation, and well willing to embrace the new, it’s fairly clear the only pop girl surviving the impending AI revolution (bar Grimes and Elon Musk) is Charli. Who knows, maybe she’ll even orchestrate it?
5. Skepta – Ignorance Is Bliss
After steering Grime to heights no one dared thought possible, pushing through the decimation of pirate radio, the Met Police’s crushing of club nights attached to the genre with their discriminatory 696 forms and the more recent criminalisation of drill, Skepta’s latest album Ignorance Is Bliss seeks to unite the grimy sound of a pre-gentrified London with a prophetic look at where Grime is yet to go. Gone are the days of radio-friendly Timbaland and Max Martin produced bubblegum pop, times are bleaker now, and Skepta isn’t overlooking it. The past is still important, with the genres classic early-noughties sound paid huge homage in “You Wish” and “Gangsta”, newer styles like road rap have also been incorporated into the genre canon on “Animal Instinct”.
If you can survive the spine chilling iPhone alarm introduction of “No Sleep”, the pay-off is certainly worth it, and “Love Me Not” is another standout driven wholly by exciting flows, features from the likes of Cheb Rabi and B Live, and a delicious “Murder on the Dancefloor” sample – what a hero. “Pure Water” as a closing track shows Skepta at his most fun, changing a standard nursery rhyme melody beyond recognition with sharp electronic zaps and unforgettable lines like “big batty make the mandem say jheeze”, we can only expect the Tottenham-native to elevate things to uncharted heights in the next decade to come.
4. Slayyyter – Slayyyter
It wouldn’t be a far stretch to call Slayyyter’s meteoric rise to the top of the pop hierarchy a highlight of the decade (at least for me anyway), I’m sure anyone on gay twitter could recall exactly where they were during their first listen of BFF (featuring the explicit vocal expertise of rap legend and producer Ayesha Erotica) back in 2018. A listen to her short but action-packed discography is a crash course into the 2000’s, kind of like snorting up all the words and celebrity mug shots out of a post-2007 tabloid and slipping on a skin-tight Juicy Couture tracksuit. After releasing a string of buzzworthy singles over the last two years, including covers of Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me” and Britney Spears’ “Everytime”, her self-titled debut album/mixtape/Bible continued to capture the explosive and sexy brilliance of Y2K pop.
Switching easily between flirty hyper-pop earworm “Mine”, which upon its teasing nearly blew up stan twitter, candy-coloured love songs like “Touch My Body” and “Tattoo”, to the darker more ballad-y sounds of “Ghosttt” and “Alone” with careful ease, Slayyyter shows she’s no one trick pony, certainly a force to be reckoned with. Fans have likened the album to Britney Spears’ Blackout, with the supreme levels of taste, talent and vocal ability to match. With S2 (Slayyyter 2) already in the works, we can only hope for even more pop classics from the St Louis native, and maybe a move to the psychedelic… who knows?
3. Kano – Hoodies All Summer
This years follow up to 2016’s Made In The Manor has had the whole Wonderland office Budu-bop-bopping still since its release. Enlisting the likes of D Double E, Ghetts, Kojo Funds and Popcaan to help with the effort, Hoodies All Summer sees Kano still delivering his uniquely biting bars, enunciating each and every syllable with such care so as to literally smack your earlobes. This untouchable vocal prowess emanates throughout, perhaps most poignantly on “Teardrops”, the track where the title lends its name in a slow and classic break from the unremitting power of Kano’s verse. “Good Youtes Walk Amongst All Evil” even manages to make a jarring church bell grimy, and, actually listenable as he drills in line after line amongst the standalone chiming.
“Got My Brandy, Got My Beats” featuring Lil Silva again bridges this mixing of classical instrumentation with a distinctly London sound, resurrecting Garage in an ever-building beat broken up by Silva’s blissful chorus lines and grand pianos. And amongst all of this creative genius, he still found time to deliver a stellar performance in the third season of Top Boy, give him all the awards. Grammy’s, Oscar’s, Pride of Britain’s, Olympic Gold’s, he deserves them all.
2. Solange – When I Come Home
I’m sure this comes as a surprise to no one, it’s as if anything (and everything) she touches turns to pure gold. Solange’s latest funk-driven record sees her at her most experimental, and her most free. It’s as if she made the album to immediately take it on the road, and share it in through an immersive performance curated with expert precision and drama. Anyone lucky enough to experience the whole spectacle themselves would attest to this for certain. I mean, the artwork alone is reason enough to put Solange at the top of the list, every element of the project so thought out in a way that leads to something greater, all part of a bigger plan for something only a true visionary could capture. The music is not to be overlooked of course, as the singer even shared a documentary detailing her creative process, letting us in on the jam sessions that created the free-flowing album.
Very few songs pack the short, action-packed brilliance of “Binz”, an ass-shaking anthem for the masses with all the feel-good indulgence of a noughties pop classic, rethought for the next decade to push things forward. After all, Solange is a pusher, she pushes people, herself the hardest of all. “Stay Flo” also captures this groovy and unforgettable pattern of spontaneous lyrics and rich production, with other tracks such as “Jerrod” and “My Skin My Logo” navigating funkier, slower or dreamier territories dispersed between story-telling interludes to really structure the journey. This dedication to her craft and finding her niche in the experimental has paid off in spade loads, keeping fans totally on their toes at all times, patiently awaiting what she has next in-store.
1. Hatchie – Keepsake
It’s maybe impossible to extract the greatness of an album like this and put it into words, but we must try. Anthem after anthem of classic dream pop, an infinitely divine core and an innate way of relating to every mood/season/emotion that soundtracked the best of my summer, Keepsake is as explosive as debuts can get. Every summer bus ride, stroll down Broadway Market, or drunken trek home from the pub had one of Keepsake’s ten tracks humming along in the background, each maintaining the Aussie singers signature soothing vocals with twinkly synths and grueling admissions on love, while still managing to bring something totally different to each other.
Exceptional bridges in songs like “Without A Blush” or “Secret” will have you suddenly cranking up your volume to full, before the chorus bursts into a sweet, reverberating melody, leaving you sweaty, breathless and semi-paralysed even after your 100th listen. Tracks like “Obsessed” emit echoey mixtape like feelings of nostalgia from the outset, whereas “Unwanted Guest” takes time on the hazy journey to pop serenity before sending you headfirst into a pit of harmonious bass and unintelligible vocals. “Stay With Me”, however, is the albums sonic masterpiece. Chock-full of gut-punching emotion and wailing synths, the track aches with longing and retrospect, the colossal final chorus would jerk a tear out of the driest of eyes. Final track “Keep” ushers out the beauty and pain of the record with one long rapturous guitar chord, without a doubt cementing Hatchie as the most promising newcomer to the Dream Pop Hall Of Fame.