2019 belongs to women. I wasn’t planning to start this piece with such a bold statement but this is how this year has felt. I was trying to go for a selection of the year’s best records when I realized that almost of all my selections had something in common: they are from female artists or bands led by women. Nothing intentional on my side, and, of course, I can also think of plenty of records by male artists I’ve massively enjoyed this year. For instance, we included 2019 albums by Purple Mountains and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds among the saddest albums of all time recently. Yet, it feels like the narrative of the year has been carried by women.
It’s not my intention to link all of these artists to one another simply because of the fact that they share the same gender. Reverse the situation and you have something like The 10 Best Male Records Of The Year. Absurd, right? But I do feel like championing all those women out there who have created a cultural momentum that all of us can enjoy.
I don’t want to get into the top 10 without mentioning all of the artists who have released incredible albums this year: Billie Eilish (duh!), Jessica Pratt, Charli XCX, Lingua Ignota, Caroline Polachek, Nilüfer Yanya, Jamila Woods, Vivian Girls, King Princess, Hana Vu, Karen O, Sleater-Kinney, Jenny Lewis, Matana Roberts, Erika de Casier, Cate Le Bon, Brittany Howard, Jenny Hval, Kim Gordon, Mica Levi, Ariana Grande, Sharon Van Etten, Hatchie, Faye Webster, Kim Petras, Caterina Barbieri, Carla dal Forno, Julia Jacklin, Nivhek, Kali Malone, Octo Octa, Carly Rae Jepsen, Bat For Lashes, Kedr Livanskiy, Kelsey Lu, Rico Nasty, Pharmakon, Sudan Archives, Eartheater, Loraine James and, of course, the one and only Lizzo (bye b**ch!).
I’m going to need to catch my breath after saying all those names one after another, and I have a feeling I’ve forgotten some names. What a year.
With no further ado, here are the ten records I’ve enjoyed the most in 2019 in alphabetical order:
If Charli XCX kicked off this year’s masterful Charli with a song called “Next Level Charli,” then I think it’s fair to extrapolate that to Aldous Harding by saying that Designer is next level Aldous. The New Zealand singer-songwriter has carved out a niche for herself. In Designer, she offers beautiful melodies that wrap songs about moving on (“Fixture Picture”), not falling for the same love traps over and over again (“The Barrel”) and even… I don’t think I can unpack everything that’s going on in “Zoo Eyes” (but apparently a Genius user did.)
Designer is not emotional in the sense of Celine Dion at the end of the nineties, this is a nuanced record full of unforgettable lines and whose acoustic instrumentation gets it right: enhancing the lyrics, but never distracting from them. Less extravagant than Party? Sure! Even more enjoyable? 100%
For the last few months of 2019, my relationship status has been: “In a stable relationship with All Mirrors.” After releasing two of my favorite albums of the decade, Burn Your Fire For No Witness and My Woman, Angel Olsen manages to outdo herself with a record of sheer intensity and unparalleled emotional candor.
All Mirrors is Angel Olsen on steroids, pushing her compositions to the next level thanks to the heavy presence of synthesizers and a full-blown string section. But don’t get lost on the production value of All Mirrors. Angel Olsen remains one of the greatest storytellers of her generation, and All Mirrors is the most emotionally demanding album of the year.
I don’t know the answer to why I prefer U.F.O.F over Two Hands, but it’s most likely because we’ve spent more time together at this point. What a year Big Thief has had. Releasing two of the best albums of the year under any accounts is no easy task, but they’ve delivered. They’ve delivered big.
After Masterpiece and Capacity, we were confident in their power, but U.F.O.F. turned the band fronted by Adrianne Lenker into a class of their own. The evocative power of these compositions will give you the goosebumps, I guarantee it. After having this record in heavy rotation on my turntable for the whole year, I still struggle to pick a single highlight. Songs like “Contact,” “Cattails,” and “Jenni” all feel immense for different reasons. Don’t listen to me anyore, go and listen to this album and pick your own moment of spiritual connection with Big Thief.
Am I the only one who thinks that the debut of Clairo sharing a title with the breakthrough album of Jon Hopkins is intriguing? Clairo took the world by storm via Youtube a couple of years ago (“Pretty Girl” amounts to 44 million views as I write this piece.) Very impressive for someone that young releasing a video recorded in her room. Don’t take me wrong, “Pretty Girl” is an incredible song but nothing could prevent us from how polished and impactful Immunity feels.
The debut album by Clairo has several charms to disarm those approaching it with prejudice. In a time where we think we know each other simply by checking social media constantly, Clairo opens a real window into her world. And, sorry for the cheesiness, what’s there is beautiful. Kicking off an album with a song of the emotional depth of “Alewife” is a leap of faith for any artist. Clairo is definitely out of the screen and her more fleshed-out version doesn’t only feel more real, it feels better.
Five years after LP1, FKA Twigs finally delivered the follow-up to her iconic debut album. Sometimes such a big gap in between albums can mean trouble, whether creatively of personally. FKA Twigs experienced both during the years in between, and yet the recollection of her heartbreak has given us her most blistering beautiful work yet.
In just nine songs (sorry to interrupt myself, but I’m loving how in 2019 we went back to the short album,) FKA Twigs manages to showcase everything that an album can be in 2019. Less encumbered by her producers than in LP1, MAGDALENE feels like a journey to the guts of heartache, loneliness and the aftermath of an intimate tragedy. All processed through the filter of her unique vision as an artist. I’m going to contradict myself, but the production delivered by Nicolas Jaar in most of these songs feels organic and mysterious. Listen to it right now if you feel emotionally prepared.
PROTO is the most forward-thinking and visionary album of 2019. Holly Herndon developed a singing artificial intelligence baby named Spawn with programmer and musician Jules LaPlace. Then, Herndon used Spawn to its full capabilities as a vocalist for this project. The results are mesmerizing. A record in the intersection of world-town folklore and the possibilities that technology might offer for music in the coming years. This might have resulted in an “experimental album” of sorts, but what Holly Herndon has created in collaboration with her team is music that resonates beyond the avant-garde scene and that opens up endless new ways for the artists of the future.
The evolution of Lana del Rey through this decade deserves a case study. She emerged out of nowhere at the beginning of the decade by defining herself as the “gangster Nancy Sinatra” in her official first album, Born To Die, which showcased the best and worst of her singular universe. Fast forward seven years and three more albums and we have received Norman Fucking Rockwell!.
Universally acclaimed as her best album yet and for a good reason: NFR! is an instant classic. As she told Bazaar in an interview this year, “…there’s not really any big bangers on it.” Norman Fucking Rockwell! is over that notion of an album carried by three or four big singles and a bunch of fillers which has become routine over the years. This album is so thematically rich, its creativity so unriddled, its songs so universal and so intrinsically linked to Lana del Rey as an artist. Lana took the risks and Lana will finally receive her long-overdue round of applause for her fifth album. And I couldn’t agree more.
A year cannot go by without some last-minute discovery. 2019 hasn’t been the exception and One Life has instantly become one of my favorite albums of the year. I guess it’s not a huge surprise taking into account how hard I raved about the PAN compilation Mono No Aware back in 2017. In just five tracks and 28 minutes, Malibu has delivered the best ambient record of 2019. What’s really satisfying about this album is finally seeing that universe contained in the first track. Five tracks that fall somewhere between the delicate maritime sounds of Grouper, the beautiful orchestration of Stars Of The Lid, and the endless bliss of Brian Eno‘s ambient tracks. It’s that good, I promise.
Solange has changed forever the way an album is presented. She already did it with A Seat At The Table back in 2016, an album that subverted all preconceptions of how modern Soul and R&B should (and could) sound, including all those wonderful visuals which accompanied each of the songs. When I Get Home is less groundbreaking in that aspect and yet, it’s the album where Solange keeps exploring her own vision of the world and sharing it in every possible way. With all the songs flowing into each other, When I Get Home is an album that is meant to be listened to in full every single time. It’s not because that’s what you have to do, it’s because it’s what you’re going to feel like doing as soon as you put your hands on When I Get Home.
I’ve been following Weyes Blood from the very beginning (yes, I’m one of those privileged folks who have seen her perform in a small venue.) It’s been nice to see how she keeps figuring out how to keep growing without losing what made her glow from the very beginning. Titanic Rising, her third LP, feels like her biggest statement yet. The production on this one is stunning and Natalie Mering proves song after song that she’s currently on top of her game. But don’t let me persuade you that this is one of the records of the year, just listen to “Andromeda” or “Movies” and try to think of another artist with a similar sound in 2019.