Image Credit: Columbia
2019 has been a great year for music with a whole host of new releases from every genre imaginable: hip-hop re-imagined, indie redefined and pop re-purposed. It’s been a year of experimentation and this has led to perhaps the most genre-fluid year in music I can remember, where musicians are throwing together disparate styles to create something new and completely unique.
Ever since me and Jonny took over MUSE earlier this year, it’s been my job to sacrifice my Spotify account to the Nouse office and act as the de-facto DJ. This means we’ve heard an awful lot of Loyle Carner, Skepta and Kanye and we’ve pretty much had 'Ladbroke Grove' on repeat - that’s right, I’m slowly turning the office into Tiki Bar. Anyway, it wouldn’t be a fair representation of Nouse if I put this list together myself so I’ve pulled in some help from across the paper to put together our Nouse's top albums of the year in a special edition of Ask The Editors. And yes, I know there is more than 10 - I didn't want to cut anyone's pick out so deal with it.
These albums are in no particular order.
**Tyler, The Creator - *IGOR ***
IGOR is a deconstructed look at the musical textures of heartbreak. Guest artists rise out of the crackling synth, like the lingering memories of your go to break up album. The jazz rap infusions of 'When I Get Home' seem to haunt the track 'I THINK', and Ye’s raw lyrical unfoldings echo and reverberate through 'PUPPET'. 'EARFQUAKE' was the definitive single to love, loose, and groove to in 2019. An emotional labyrinth which leads you through twisting off key synth riffs and churning lovesick vocals. This densely layered pop culture pastiche effectively conveys the emotional turmoil of young love, with all its staticky recriminations and jagged soul searching. Much like the awkward contours of its makers face, defiantly looking out from the dust jacket, IGOR is an album warped by experience. And yet, it’s Frankenstein-esque musicality never escapes the control of its provocative auteur. From the first jarring chord, to the last missed beat, we find ourselves screaming - it’s alive!
Megan - Arts
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Bandana
Whenever Freddie Gibbs and Madlib join forces, sparks fly. Their 2016 project Pinata was a masterclass in underground hip-hop, blending dark lyrics and dynamic flows with chopped and skewed beats and classic Madlib sampling. Bandana takes this formula and turns everything up to 11, everything becomes amplified and intensified as the two artists push themselves further out of their comfort zones and create their most vibrant collaboration to date. Bringing together elements of trap ('Half Manne Half Cocaine'), jazz rap ('Education') and boom-bap ('Fake Names'), the duo combine old school aesthetics with modern sensibilities and with the help of some great features and stunning production, Bandana is easily one of the most vibrant and electrifying rap records of the year. This was my most listened to album in 2019.
Alex - MUSE
Weyes Blood - Titanic Rising
Titanic Rising sees Natalie Laura Mering, the focal point of Weyes Blood's creative output, continue the band's stylistic progression, distancing herself from the psychedelic folk-tinged sounds of previous projects and embracing a dreamier baroque pop sound, steeped in profound spacial ambience. The concept of the album is not one oft-seen in pop music: space and the acknowledgement of one's insignificance within such a vastness features heavily across the album, with singles 'Andromeda' and 'Movies' producing truly ethereal crescendos. Perhaps the most emotionally potent touchstone of the record is 'Picture Me Better'. At her recent show in Manchester, Mering introduced the song by saying that she had initially written the song about herself, but over time realised that it was about Sam Mehran, a musician and close-friend who took his life earlier this year. Titanic Rising is easily the most beautifully melancholic album of the year.
Charlie - Music
Loyle Carner - Not Waving But Drowning
Loyle Carner is heartfelt hip hop at its finest, delivering consistent beauty throughout this story of an album. It’s a deeply personal project and repeated listening over the year has left it deeply personal to me too. It was the first album I reviewed for MUSE, and was actually the first piece I wrote for MUSE full stop. Despite the potential inexperience I was writing with I fully stand by the following statement: “This album is simultaneously a story, a poem, and an amazing album. But most importantly for me, it’s a reflection of growth; a pencil mark on the wall for Loyle Carner and all his listeners.”
***Jonny - Editor ***
Sam Fender - Hypersonic Missiles
Fender has been called a 'Geordie Springsteen' but while you can hear echoes of his hero here and there, the energy of the album is all his own. The lyrics of 'White Privilege', if anything, have become more relevant post election: "lies on both sides of the fence left me completely bereft." Fender isn't afraid to tackle serious issues head on in his songs, whether it be the male suicide epidemic ('Dead Boys') or the fate of children in Gaza ('Hypersonic Missiles'). It's when Fender is tackling issues that matter to him that his songs are at their strongest. Small town bordeom infuses the building chorus of 'Saturday' and the roaring drums of 'That Sound'.
Annabel - Food & Drink
Bon Iver - i,i
i,i is the fourth album released by indie folk band Bon Iver and it compiles a very rich and abstract collection of songs that scream confidence and serenity, and with good reason. i,i is a step in a different direction as the band ventures into brighter, calmer, and more easy going territory. This is a perfect album to listen to when it’s that weird in-between phase of a late afternoon where you’re not really being productive anymore but it’s still too early to start getting ready to go out.
Their lyrics are nothing short of pure poetic experiments that rarely make sense. If you say you understand any of their lyrics, you’re lying. But strangely, that’s part of the beauty of this album. It forces you to feel the songs in their rawest form without concentrating on the meaning of the words and trying to find the next relatable quote that’ll be stuck in your head for the next month or so. i,i allows you to detach and simply enjoy yourself, and frankly, what more can you ask for?
Malu - Deputy MUSE
Ariana Grande - thank u, next
Spending 12 weeks in the top 10 album chart, and the title track claiming the UK's top single for 6 weeks, it would be silly to ignore Ariana Grande's most recent album on this list. Written in just two weeks, thank u next is a beat-driven, honest look at Ariana's past few years, not shying away from difficult topics like the struggles of fame on 'fake smile' or anxiety in 'breathin'. Every song has a way of making you feel empowered. This album is my late night drive soundtrack, making those dark roads into an ethereal experience as I belt out catchy bridges and hooks.
Glad I can bring the Grande to MUSE.
Lucy - Food & Drink
Mahalia - Love And Compromise
The debut album of up-and-coming artist Mahalia, is a warm and honeyed compilation of soul-pop. Interspersed with speech explaining each track, the album is reminiscent of a live-show- a truly heartfelt and personal production from the 21-year-old. Mahalia’s exploration of love beautifully captures the complex nature of relationships in the 21st century, both with others and with ourselves. Mahalia manages to inspire and empower women, much like contemporary Lizzo, but with the subtlety and natural charm of Jorja Smith. While each of the 13 songs shares a similar sense of soul, rhythm and authenticity, their influences vary radically with aspects of dance-hall (Burna Boy) to noughties R&B (He’s Mine) - this is truly an album of our genre-less generation. Love and Compromise is an album to be replayed - teaching us to love, it’s no compromise.
Eilidh - Shoot
Amber Run - Philophobia
Amber Run’s third album Philophobia (meaning the fear of love) was released at the end of September this year: a week before I went to see them live in Manchester. The album is full of eerie keyboard ballads like ‘Worship’ and ‘Affection’, alongside more upbeat electric guitar filled songs like ‘Neon Circus’ and ‘Carousel’ (two of my favourites). Their mixture of powerful vocals from lead singer Joe Koegh with the more mellow sounds of the instruments was released at the perfect time during the early autumn. Whether it’s listening to this song with my housemates in the darkening evenings or practically screaming along at their concert, this album is full of different sounds and shifts any atmosphere in the room to fit the music.
Emily - Film & TV
Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell
At first glance, Norman Fucking Rockwell is not that much different from Lana’s other, less beloved albums. It is littered with similar images, neatly unbound by time, that are present throughout her discography: the slow deconstructions of romance, the dreams about diamonds and picket-fence marriages. The same sense of tender nostalgia and fatalism sweeps across this record that is present in the rest of her work, even as her sly and slight ballads reveal that their author is no longer content with just exploring empty depictions of American touchstones. But, it succeeds where her others failed, because of its honesty and ambitions. The third track is eight and a bit minutes long – a mark of her ambition – and her voice and lyrics create an assured, wallowing atmosphere. There are some beautiful moments: the quiet longing of 'Love Song', the mocking of the idea of her as pop’s sad girl in 'Mariner’s Apartment Complex', the way her voice breaks in 'Bartender'. It’s not quite the 'Next Best American Record', as one of her song titles suggests, but it is proof Lana came closer than anyone else did to making one this year.
Fenella - Music
Leonard Cohen - Thanks For The Dance
It's been one heck of a year. But in the midst of the ever expanding hellscape of late-capitalism, this beauty of an LP appeared. Made up of vocal recordings from the sessions of Cohen's last album before his passing, You Want it Darker, the project was led by his son Adam. The album makes for a wonderful addenda to the life and work of Cohen, featuring minimal arrangements around his inimitable, drawling spoken word poetry. Lyrically, Cohen is compelling as ever, turning a phrase with a strange blend of nonchalance and care. 'I got my shit together, / Meeting Christ and reading Marx', he says on the opening track 'Happens to the Heart'. Like one long mournful yet comforting lullaby, the songs come and go, drifting into oblivion. A must-listen, and an essential for the soul.
Sam - Music