By Matthew Prudham and Tom Hutchinson
In Part Two of the best picks from 2019’s deluge of new albums,we go from 10-1, with the likes of Black Midi, SWMRS, Tyler, The Creator and Little Simz in contention for top spots.
10. Kim Gordon – No Home Record
Menacing, fragmented guitar collides with Gordon’s iconic voice in a riot of frenzied noise rock on her first solo album. Heavy, industrial beats are given an unlikely home below quick witted, sometimes unsettling commentary from a musician who’s never been afraid to engage in popular debate. Consumerism is a key theme on the album, typified on “Get Yr Life Back”, as memories of a lover are blurred and overruled by their “dark chocolate cocoa butter scent”. The record is completely unrelaxing, a jarring journey that hardly stops for breath, but one that is infinitely listenable. TH
For fans of: Sonic Youth, Stooges, IDLES
Best Track: “Air BnB”
9. Snapped Ankles – Stunning Luxury
Angular synths tower like skyscrapers, collapsing and folding inwards, sending unpredictable melodies scattering below.
Snapped Ankles propel themselves into the ultra-modern on Stunning Luxury, crashing out of the foliage of their wilderness inspired debut and landing sprawled on confusing city pavements. Angular synths tower like skyscrapers, collapsing and folding inwards, sending unpredictable melodies scattering below. Relentless basslines hold the structures together whilst shimmering guitars flit like swooping pigeons. The album offers the band’s unflinching take on capitalism and consumerism, ridiculing the race to be back home in time for an Amazon parcel on “Delivery Van” and mocking gentrification on “Rechargeable”. Building on its predecessor, without any loss of madness and interest, ‘Stunning Luxury’ is a fantastic piece of dance-punk craziness. TH
Best Track :“Tailpipe”.
For Fans Of: The Fall, Neu!, Oh Sees.
8. Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Parts 1+2
Foals reached finally the status they had deserved for their relentless with 2015’s “What Went Down giving them headline status at Reading and Leeds and sub-headlining Glastonbury. Yet, the Oxford group did not lie on their laurels, and released two albums in the space of less than twelve months. Originally planned to be a single release, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost was instead split into two parts, the first focusing on more experimental and electronic music, the second on raw, rock energy. Nonetheless, the theme of urgency surrounding climate change pertains throughout: “On the Luna” reminds listeners that “we had it all but we didn’t stop to think about it”; “Like Lightning” comments that “I’ve seen that sky collapse”; and “Exits” shouts “there’s no birds left to fly”. With the space to develop both sides of their music, the dance becomes more dizzying than ever in “In Degrees” and “Sunday”, with loops and synths blossoming. The rock, meanwhile, becomes both heavier – there’s a few screams from Yannis in “Black Bull – and more progressive – the closing song of the whole project, “Neptune”, lasts over ten minutes, full of delicate lyricism, symphonic guitar solos and atmospheric ambience. Having finally given themselves the opportunity to combine the two parts of their music prevalent throughout their career, Foals produce a project (the correct way to address a separately-released double album perhaps) defiant in more ways than one. MP
The losing song of the whole project, “Neptune”, lasts over ten minutes, full of delicate lyricism, symphonic guitar solos and atmospheric ambience.
For fans of: Pink Floyd, Hot Chip, Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Best Track: “In Degrees”
7. SWMRS – Berkeley’s On Fire
We know all about the legends of Bay Area pop-punk – Green Day – and how they can fashion masterpieces at their most necessary times (American Idiot came after a notable slump in sales, notability and critical reception in 2004). The descendants to their throne – literally in the case of Billie Joe Armstrong’s son Joey Armstrong on drums – are markedly taking a different direction. Berkeley’s on Fire is a breathless record full of political ammunition against Milo Yannopoulos (the title track speaks of “confusing this freedom of speech with swastikas” ) and Vladimir Putin (the angsty “Lose Lose Lose” requests him to “stop fucking up my shit ‘cause I know I can fuck it up faster”). But it is also so much more than that, branching out their pop-punk spirit encapsulated on their 2016 debut Drive North to lo-fi bedroom pop (“IKEA Date”), surf (“Bad Allergies”) and the drum machines and trips of grime (“Lose Lose Lose”). Meanwhile, there’s still time for anthemic harmonic choruses on “Trashbag Baby”, crunching guitar riffs in “Lonely Ghosts” and plenty of distortion in “Hellboy”. Still under the radar in the UK, the band are selling out large halls in the USA – it’s time to get on the bandwagon, as we’re in for a good ride. MP
For Fans Of: The Amazons, Biffy Clyro, Wolf Alice
Best Track: “Lose, Lose, Lose”
6. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
Vampire Weekend’s sonic universe has always been diverse – from exhilarating afro-pop (“A-Punk”, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”) and guitar-driven anthems (“Cousins”, “Diane Young”) to drowsy ballads (“Obvious Bicycle, “Horchata”) and scenic electro (“White Sky”, SBRKT collaboration “New Dorp. New York”). This message is reinforced even harder on Father of the Bride. We have a trilogy of collaborations with Danielle Haim (the first, ninth, and fifteenth tracks of the double album), injections of funk from Steve Lacy (“Sunflower”, “Flower Moon”), and even “Sympathy”, a cut which reminds me of New Order during their “Power, Corruption, and Lies” cycle. After the departure of Rostam Batmanglij, the songwriting focus has been mainly positioned on Ezra Koenig, and this is notable in the reflective lyrics and tempered harmonies – but we still receive our dose of funk bass, Wurlizter, and pedal steel guitar. The band’s universe may have expanded necessarily after Rostam’s departure, but the fruits of labour are fresher than ever. MP
For Fans of: Arcade Fire, Bombay Bicycle Club, Blur
Best Track: “Sympathy”
After the departure of Rostam Batmanglij, the songwriting focus has been mainly positioned on Ezra Koenig, and this is notable in the reflective lyrics and tempered harmonies – but we still receive our dose of funk bass, Wurlizter, and pedal steel guitar.
5. Fontaines D.C. – Dogrel
On the other side of the Irish Sea, a storm has been brewing – and that storm is Fontaines D.C. Fontaines D.C. are perhaps the biggest breakout band of the year, with a deserved hype that surrounds and precedes their every move. Tickets for the band’s recent Newcastle gig were like gold-dust, and those lucky enough to score one would undoubtably have been treated to one of the hottest live shows around. Dogrel is a sardonic, angry record, but also one that is scenic and artistic. The lyrics from Grian Chatten are poetic, spawned on the literature of Joyce, Heaney and Yeats, but delivered in such a way that they send a shiver down your spine. Meanwhile, the guitars are bristling with Britpop energy – the start of “Boys in the Better Land” recalls Blur’s “Parklife” – but can also churn out distortion and discord to their hearts content, as in the anxious but riveting “Big and snarly “Hurricane Laughter”. We are taken on a tour of perceptions of contemporary Irish society, from the resonance of the Troubles (“Liberty Belle”) to inner-city Dublin (“Dublin City Sky”). It’s a record which is adamant in both its belief and disbelief in society and culture, especially the prevalence of a seeming disparity between Ireland and Britain, excellently addressed in “Boys in the Better Land”. You can truly lose yourself in this record, its musings are amplified, not dampened, by the busy instrumentals surrounding it. The band are already darlings of the music press and fans alike, and are a must-listen if you’ve not already checked them out. MP/TH
Best Track: “Boys in the Better Land”
For Fans of: Goat Girl, The Blinders, The Fall
4. Black Midi – Schlagenheim
. The vocal delivery is undeniably unique, at times terrifying, and sits uncomfortably next to the truly wild and unforgiving guitars and drums.
Schlagenheim’s cover art pretty much sums up this album’s content, a scrapheap of noisy, industrial objects scraping against other, strewn together in a chaotic, metallic mess. Slowly however, the complex rhythms and jarring instrumentals are demystified, allowing a clear sight into the record’s futuristic, and compelling core. Tracks like “Speedway” and “953” are uncompromising and progressive, and sound like the genesis of a new musical exploration. The vocal delivery is undeniably unique, at times terrifying, and sits uncomfortably next to the truly wild and unforgiving guitars and drums. If the album at first feels impenetrable, the band’s performance of “bmbmbm” at the Mercury Prize awards is a great place to start, with the group at their shocking and unhinged best. TH
Best Track: “953”
For Fans Of: Swans, Sonic Youth, Shellac
3. Little Simz – Grey Area
From the opening drum break of “Offence” to the closing trumpets on “Flowers”, Grey Area possesses a rare, inescapable magnetism that threatens to pull you in and never let go. Clocking in at a snappy 35 minutes, the album serves up a relentless stream of brilliant and varied tracks, each sporting flawless instrumentals and pounding, witty verses. Second track “Boss” is a highlight, with Simz’s voice squawking through a cranked megaphone above a battering bassline, whilst ‘Selfish’ presents reflective lyrics and an addictive feature from Cleo Sol. Other guests on the record include reggae star Chronixx and Swedish favourites Little Dragon. Michael Kiwanuka’s appearance on the album’s closer is a beautiful addition with the two artists reflecting on the lost greats of the “27 Club”. Little Simz’s third album follows on from her trailblazing effort Stillness in Wonderland but comes with a refreshed focus and coherence that should place Grey Area amongst the greatest British hip-hop records of the decade. TH
Best Track: “Therapy”
For Fans Of – Kendrick Lamar, Lauryn Hill, Tyler The Creator
2. Tyler, The Creator – IGOR
Nonetheless, Tyler proves himself as the antithesis of the trends in hip-hop – angsty moshpits are swapped out for reflective dancing alone late at night, as soul harmonies, lo-fi synth instrumentals and slower tempos prevail.
IGOR is the crowning glory of an impressive year for Tyler, the Creator. He sold out his first dates back in the UK almost instantly, and police had to be called due to the demand for seeing him perform an impromptu free show in London. No wonder due to the artistic quality intrinsic in his musicianship – IGOR delights in its unusualness. Tyler calls out his haters, yes, but in a relaxed, balladic way in “I THINK”; psychedelia is the prevailing mood in his moody retrospective on gun laws in America (“A BOY IS A GUN”) – we can feel his anger in the almost defeatist tone of this cut. Yet, there are still parts which abound with the usual energy – “IGOR’S THEME” delights in gospel choir-backed choruses; “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE” crafts a deep synth bass and vocal “Woahs” accompanying Tyler’s verses mooting on breakups; and “PUPPET” is a rare cut where the accompaniments are stripped bare at the start, allowing Tyler’s words to be clear in their bite. Nonetheless, Tyler proves himself as the antithesis of the trends in hip-hop – angsty moshpits are swapped out for reflective dancing alone late at night, as soul harmonies, lo-fi synth instrumentals and slower tempos prevail. MP
Best track: “EARFQUAKE”
For fans of: Gorillaz, Frank Ocean, Little Simz
1. Slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain
Nothing Great about Britain is a cataclysmic melting point of punk and hip-hop that exposes Slowthai as one of the most exciting artists operating in the UK today. The album is incredibly relevant and the recent promise of five more years of Boris Johnson-headed conservatism only increases its cultural importance. With hilarious bars and vicious attack, Slowthai deconstructs the ruptured country in which he grew up in a way that is fiercely entertaining. It’s not all political, though, as he reflects on his mum’s upbringing in deep personal detail in “Northampton’s Child” and compares his love towards a girl “like a crackhead loves crack” (“Crack”). “Doorman” might be the biggest banger of the year, underpinned by a snarling riff and delivered on a spinning, psychedelic platter. The sound universe that Slowthai creates is expansive; this is achieved not only through collaborations with Mura Masa (“Doorman”), Slaves (“Missing”) and Skepta (“Inglorious”), but through clever sampling, skits and instrumentals. The energy of his raucous live shows in not lost on the album either, stellar production ensuring the album stays as wild-eyed as its creator. Through its kaleidoscopic genre shifting, poetic verses and magnanimous spirit, this is unquestionably a work of art deserving of album of the year. MP/TH
Nothing Great About Britain is incredibly relevant and the recent promise of five more years of Boris Johnson-headed conservatism only increases its cultural importance.
Best Track: “Doorman”
For Fans Of: Ocean Wisdom, IDLES, The Streets
Image Credit: Incase from California, USA via Wikimedia and Creative Commons.