Albums of the Year 2019

Albums of the Year 2019

It’s obligatory, isn’t it? An Albums of the Year list. So, here’s fifty albums (yes, 50) we’ve had in our ears over the last 12 months.

Albums of the Year graphic

We present this as a list of albums we’ve loved and think are well worth your time – we hope you discover something new or are reminded of something you need to hear again, and that you’ll want to return to these musical worlds time and again over the years to come. Our list is un-numbered – we believe music is not a competition and the subjective personal ‘favourite’ can change as often as the weather; with mood, with season, with context.

Undoubtedly there are things missing because we haven’t heard them yet, or they haven’t sat long enough with us to show their final form – this list is a moment in time not definitive scripture. It makes very visible the boundaries of our listening habits being drawn from indie / alternative / electronic genres for the most-part and lacking on rap, hip hop, jazz, and a multitude of other styles which surely are worthy of mention too. It’s a lack of diversity we’ll be actively challenging in 2020 (please help us by sending music our way).

Even within our own limits of listening it isn’t hyperbole to say 2019 has been a vintage year for the album (we’ve not included reissues or EPs in this list – only full length new releases), which gives even more pause for thought knowing the longer form is holding its own when we’re living in the digitally-driven Age of the Song.

Dip in and leave a comment below, or on social media so we can all talk about music we love and discover even more to fall for.

Albums of the Year 2019 – Top 10

Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something – Oh Really, What’s That Then? (Trapped Animal)

Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something Oh, Really What's That Then? album cover

For a debut album this is an astonishingly realised piece which has as much in common with Bowie as it does Blondie. But there are surprising touch points too – classic rock, folk, classic pop – and underpinning it all an introspection, which steers away from performative buts hits open honesty consistently throughout.

We said: “A fascinating collection, coherent even in the confusion conjured deliberately in the melodies and riffs, and a debut which – no cliché intended – from an artist who’s given us so much and yet is so early on in their development. Such is the way of things that this album will be taken firmly to heart by the lucky ones who find it, and Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something loved with awe for the craft they’re honing and the boldness throughout these songs.”

Read our full review of Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something here.
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Mark Morriss – Look Up (Reckless Yes)

Mark Morriss Look Up album cover

Getting a full release after successfully crowdfunding recording a couple of years back Look Up is full of surprising and delightful detail whether you’re familiar with Mark Morriss’ output with The Bluetones or not. Bringing together influences from County to Classic Pop, and ’70s sci-fi to angular new wave the wry and intelligent lyricism shines from these hugely melodic and carefully constructed songs.

We said: “While the colour may be draining in daily life Morriss has constructed a vibrant album to sing-a-long to, to play loud, and which happens to establish him as a maturing songwriter from who we should be excited to hear more.”

Read our full review of Mark Morriss here.
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The Leaf Library – The World Is A Bell (WIAIWYA)

The Leaf Library The World is a Bell album cover

We fell in love with the quiet melancholic sound of The Leaf Library on their debut, and so we’ve been waiting eagerly for the second album from them. Again, a season of sensations awaits in this ambitious and wonderfully realised work.

We said: “An album of immense melodic warmth as well as cool clarity there is little better than sinking into it, cocoon yourself in its sound and the images they conjure, let each detail curl fascinating and ephemeral before dissipating into the next. When the world seem so abrasive this is an album with the edges softened but its substance intact.”

Read our full review of The Leaf Library here.
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Domiciles – This Is Not A Zen Garden (Last Night From Glasgow)

Domiciles This Is Not A Zen Garden cover

Another fully and carefully realised debut full of the nuance which would be more expected of artists who’ve been honing their craft longer. This is an album which gives much and isn’t afraid to mix grungy ’90s guitar spin outs with fizzing bright spots of digital sounds. This is an album which owns you completely from the opening bar.

We said: “An understated release from which you will find no escape, nor the motivation to leave behind; to listen is to become. You’ll feel familiar with little refrains, you’ll want to dig beneath a surface listen, you’ll want to sit alone and be encompassed as it throbs directly into your mind and you’ll long to hear it live and loud enough to crumble your insides. ”

Read our full review of Domiciles here.
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WaqWaq Kingdom – Essaka Hoisa (Phantom Limb)

Waq Waq Kingdom album cover

An album of fascinating and incredible depths which is brilliantly hard to describe and yet makes you want to tell everyone you meet just how urgent it is that they listen to this. This is a global record mixing Japanese folk, polyrhythms, Trap beats, and techno.

There’s sugar-sweet vocals rotted out by building beats, a cartoon-like playfulness which never strays toward childishness. This is brilliantly layered, and laser-focused. It absolutely shouldn’t be out of your regular rotation for long as it seamlessly shifts between being intimate enough to slide directly into your ears, and bold enough to blast from the biggest system you can find.

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Haiku Salut – The General (Secret Name)

Haiku Salut The General album coverConsistently one of our favourite bands for their inventive and boundary-pushing work, time spent with the music of Haiku Salut is always time well spent. And this album is a perfect step in their journey; a soundtrack but one which is able to stand alone, and which reflects deep emotions without the need for words.

We said (pre-Popoptica): “For a band consistently creating experimental yet deeply melodic music Haiku Salut’s score for The General is yet another success. Not only do they find new ways to immerse the audience into this cinema classic, but in doing so have shown themselves to be among the most artful composers of the moment.”

Pre-Popoptica editor Sarah Lay reviewed this release from Haiku Salut for Loud and Quiet – read that review here.
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Self Esteem – Compliments Please (Fiction Records)

Self Esteem Compliments Please album cover art

Quite simply a brilliant pop album. The solo debut from Rebecca Taylor of Slow Club under the Self Esteem moniker is an accomplished record of the pleasure of independence. This is an album which wants from no-one – self-validation for Taylor musically and lyrically – and which maps out a grand ambition for her career from here.

There is plenty to go at musically with unfettered blends in each song make this a complex listen as a whole. From psychedelic soul to subtle electronica, sparse instrumentation to vocal army, there is little bitterness and much empowerment in the brilliance on display here.

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Pom Poko – Birthday (Bella Union)

Pom Poko Birthday album coverDespite being out since March this was a late discovery for our list, but it was love at first listen.

A debut album which sets a line between math-rock precision and art-rock experimentalism and holds it all together with some intricate yet effortless playing, and a sense that genre is a concept with which this band hold no truck.

This is a record of tremendous levels of fun, and incredible musical mastery – your heart will beat faster, your breathing get shallow, with the overwhelming excitement generated. Listen now, thank us later.

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Upset – Upset (Lauren Records)

Upset self titled album cover

I make no secret of my deep love of Upset (read my love letter to EP ’76 here) and this latest release is full of the bubblegum-garage-pop fuzz and open hearts which are the basis of my reasons why. Here they are again, with an album which makes me want to pick up a guitar and simultaneously feel in my very soul the knowledge I could never hope to emulate them, and be very ok with all that.

Across this long-player are wonderful rumble and punch rhythm, eye-rolling bubblegum vocals, and fiercely vulnerable lyrics, all coming together to make a raw-around the edges but masterfully constructed punk-pop record. Catchy, soaring songs which come from a place of friendship no matter what the subject – this is the band I dream of being in but am more than satisfied with keeping it playing on repeat.

Read our review of their previous release here.
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Broken Chanter – Broken Chanter (LNFG)

Broken Chanter album cover

Alt-pop songwriting of the finest order from Scotland’s David MacGregor, once of Kid Canaveral and now crafting incisive yet tender tracks under the solo moniker of Broken Chanter. While this is a quiet album, a slow-burner if you will, it’s one which deserves and captures your attention and has the feel on one which you’ll catch up with over the years, as easy and connected as lifelong friends.

We said: “MacGregor’s time with Kid Canaveral appears in flashes throughout the album, more than anything though this feels like an album which is possible because of the life already lived but made by the space which has been given in creating it. It can be picked apart, broken down and elements carefully catalogued and assigned, but it is so much greater when listened to as a whole.”

Read our full review of Broken Chanter here.
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Albums of the Year 2019 – 11 – 30

Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising (SubPop)

“No one’s ever gonna give you a trophy/For all the pain and things you’ve been through/No one knows but you.” At times blunt the third album from Natalie Mering holds a perfect mix of optimism in the face of dystopian reality, and nostalgia for a future which hasn’t yet come to pass. Growing from ’70s avant-garde and classic pop, this album sits deliberately a little off-centre, with a whimsical quality which is anything but weak and facing firmly into the future while keeping one hand on a musical past.

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Kim Gordon – No Home Record (Matador Records)

Economic yet sort of trashy in the best possible way, the first solo record from Kim Gordon brings in the scuzzy sound you’d expect but some experimental touches too. Taking on the worst of modernity with ferocity and vulnerability, this is an album of destruction in a time which pushes healing.

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Katie Dey – solipsisters (Run For Cover Records)

This third album from Katie Dey is a more cohesive set of songs sonically, referencing the sea melodically and lyrically this is experimental bedroom pop but incredibly relatable in tone, and comforting in sound. Even the most connected among us are isolated now, and Dey tackles this dichotomy while pushing her voice, her words, and music forward. If you’ve not already discovered Dey, now is the time.

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Martha – Love Keeps Kicking (Big Scary Monsters)

Martha have always been brilliant at building togetherness and solidarity for those who feel most outside and isolated, be it through identity, disenfranchised by politic, or some other uncategorised form of weird ness. On third album Love Keeps Kicking, their urgency and catchy punk-pop is as vibrant as ever, their self-aware but never self-indulgent lyricism a joy even in the hardest moments.

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Francis Lung – A Dream is U (Memphis Industries)

Proving indie can still be interesting the debut solo album of Wu Lyf’s bassist Tom McLung is a fascinating listen. Far from the post-rock and mystery of his former band he describes this cohesive yet borderless release best himself as, “a kaleidoscopic dreamscape recorded in full audial Technicolor, swimming with strings, harmonies, silver saxophones and merry-go-round guitars.”

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Jenny Hval – The Practice of Love (Sacred Bones)

Compared to the visceral subjects of previous records the seventh album from Hval has a gentleness of tone and theme, an effortless sense to the sound. Exploring another aspect of being human, and the connections between us and place, Hval describes The Practice of Love as an album which, “charts its own particular geography, a landscape in which multiple voices engage and disperse, and the question of connectedness—or lack thereof—hangs suspended in the architecture of every song.”

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BCUC (Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness) – The Healing (Buda Musique)

Channelling energy in a positive way the Soweto collective release their third album, the conclusion of a trilogy, with their strongest record yet in The Healing. Polyrhythms, and socially conscious words, choral harmony and flashes of everything from Jazz to Punk – it’s all here and with an immediacy and urgency from which opting out is off the menu. Tune in, and follow the groove.

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Bis – Slight Disconnects (Last Night From Glasgow)

The fifth studio album from the electro-pop trio and their first full album of new material since 2001 was a sonic whirlwind with disco at its centre, and whipping post-rock and electro in its wake. Still making what they do sound futuristic decades after they first thrilled us with it, they showed with Slight Disconnects how important they still are to the scene.

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Kate Tempest – The Book of Traps and Lessons (American Recordings/Fiction)

An at times bleak reflection on the times we live in, and the imbalance between the forces which govern us personally and politically, the third album from Tempest has her team up with Rick Rubin and strip back the sound which defined her earlier work to really let her phenomenally incisive and poetic lyricism come to the fore.

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Miyha – World’s Biggest Crush (Heavy Meadow Records)

Always a sucker for sugar-rush garage-pop the debut from Miyha has scuzzy undertones, and the blend of rejection and hope which tip the record musically and emotionally toward the sort of chaos you long to escape and never want to leave behind.

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Föllakzoid – i (Sacred Bones)

There is an unsettling tone to the fourth album from Föllakzoid; literally from the ambient drone which then plays out with a menacing theme. There are moments on this album where you want something more to happen, and this anticipation adds to the unsettled tone – like waiting for the drop you know is coming on a rollercoaster – but you have to be patient and wait for the band to make discoveries through their dissection of their sound.

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Suggested Friends – Turtle Taxi (Fika)

We said: “You can hum these tunes and dance along and hear the joke but not what was suffered, as with the very best pop music, but it’s when you let yourself really feel as much as hear what’s going on that this album becomes really great within a busy genre.”
Read our full review of Suggested Friends here.
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Jessica Pratt – Quiet Signs (City Slang)

Intricate and intimate the third album from Jessica Pratt again focuses heavily on a coupling of finger-picking and distinctive vocal, yet from the sparse ingredients comes a rich recipe in which to indulge. The confidence which exudes across this collection brings this together into not just a great record, but a work of note by a key songwriter of our time.

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Angel Olsen – All Mirrors (Jagjaguwar)

An off-kilter record where just as you think you have the sound pegged there’s a twist, a turn, a darkening or a blinding flash and you’re discombobulated but fascinated by the sound again. The album title may well conjure one of those fairground attractions of old, where you approach yourself from all sides at once, and lose yourself in the hall of mirrors unable to tell which is you and which is reflection, which was the way you came from and where you are meant to go. Despite the misdirection, and the jagged sonic path, this is an album and an artist in which you can trust to see you right.

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Hurtling – Future From Here (Onomatopoeia Records)

We said: “The band say their sound is made of loud guitars, intricate basslines, and driving drums and in doing so has done most of my work for me. It’s a concise but accurate summary of the noises being made here, but doesn’t quite go far enough in expressing how well they’ve combined it all, and how striking this album really is.”

Read our review of Hurtling here.
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Sister John – Sister John (Last Night From Glasgow)

A timeless quality pervades throughout the second album from Sister John, with classic poetic songwriting the foundation on which layers of vocal and melody are built, nudging at everything from The Velvet Underground to The Band. While we might have been trained in recent times to crave instant gratification the mastery of song and confidence as a band growing between this group’s albums is a joy which reminds us the best comes to those who wait.

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Vanishing Twin – The Age of Immunology (Fire Records)

Going deeper into their own mythology and blending high and low art seamlessly, this is an album which stands at odds with society right now and melodically presents as much challenge as it does entertainment. They may not push an agenda at you, more of an objective observer than an active participant in their own narrative, and they may seem indifferent to whether you enjoy their trip but none of that makes a difference as Vanishing Twin continue to be one of the more brilliantly explorative acts around right now.

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Maija Sofia – Bath Time (Trapped Animal)

A concept album of sorts, Bath Time tells the stories of women through history, giving voice to those who history has otherwise removed agency from. Novelist Jean Rhys, artist model and muse Elizabeth Siddell, victim of patriarchal possession Bridget Cleary, and more have their tales told through a mix of trad folk and freak-folk which comes together around Sofia’s voice to make an album of dark and hazy dreampop.

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Cloth – Cloth (Last Night From Glasgow)

A beautifully sparse yet inventive album, with detail which starts subtly, and stays haunting yet ever-so-slightly more corporeal with each listen. A band with huge promise given the accomplished nature of this first offering.

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Salad – The Salad Way (Three Bean Records)

We said: “The variety here is staggering without becoming overwhelming. Personal, intelligent, creative and fun; The Salad Way is bold return which may undeservedly slip under the radar of those who write off any artist associated with Britpop.”

Read our full review of Salad here.
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Albums of the Year 2019 – longlist

Musically 2019 has been a vintage year and despite the Age of the Song being firmly upon us, streaming driving people to individual tracks and demanding instant satisfaction from those, and the vinyl resurgence being driven by reissues of classic albums new releases have been abundant and satisfying in equal measure. Beyond our favourites there’s been a whole host of albums we’ve loved spending time with – or want to spend more with in the coming months.

  • Desperate Journalist – In Search of the Miraculous (Fierce Panda)
  • Mammoth Penguins – There’s No Fight We Can’t Both Win (Fika)
  • Peace Tape – Abstract Works (Reckless Yes / Komponist)
  • Rustin Man – Drift Code (Domino Recording Company)
  • Piney Gir – You Are Here (STRS)
  • Aldous Harding – Designer (4AD)
  • Sleeper – The Modern Age (Gorsky Records)
  • Deux Furieuses – Your War is My War (X Mile)
  • Lloyd Cole – Guesswork (earMUSIC)
  • Tropical Fuck Storm – Braindrops (Flightless)
  • Miyha – World’s Biggest Crush (Heavy Meadow Records)
  • Umbilica – Where the Land Meets the Ocean (self-released)
  • The Twilight Sad – It Won’t Be Like This All The Time (Rock Action)
  • Sweet Williams – Where Does The Time Come From (Gringo)
  • Julia Jacklin – Crushing (Polyvinyl Recording Co.)
  • Christians and Lions – Young Familiar (self-release)
  • Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow (Jagjaguwar)
  • Marika Hackman – Any Human Friend (SubPop)
  • ((MARIA)) – Lepidoptera (self-release)
  • The Staches – This Lake Is Pointless (Bongo Joe)

Let us know in the comments, on Twitter or Facebook what your own albums of the year list for 2019 is sounding like and what you’ve enjoyed or discovered from our list.

If you have enjoyed reading this piece on Popoptica you can buy us a virtual coffee via Ko-fi – every donation helps us to do what we do. We’d love it if you shared on social media too – and do join the conversation with us on Twitter and Facebook.

Disclaimer: This feature is written by Sarah Lay who as well as being editor of Popoptica is co-founder at independent record label Reckless Yes, which has releases included in this list (but we wouldn’t release or write about the records if we didn’t absolutely love them). 

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Sarah Lay

Sarah Lay is editor of Popoptica.
A long-standing music journalist she's also co-founder of independent record label Reckless Yes, an author of novels, and when not messing around with words and music, a digital strategist.
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