Better Oblivion Community Center
Better Oblivion Community Center
Two kingpins of heart-on-sleeve sadness, Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst, teamed up to create an expectedly emotive assessment of the human condition as part of Better Oblivion Community Center.
Packed with astute and insightful lyricism, the album is a wonderful blend of Oberst’s world-weary observations and Bridgers’ talent for relatable specificity. The album unites the duo’s disparate experiences through a mutual reckoning with anxiety, frustration and the difficulties of life not panning out how it was meant.
Largely, Better Oblivion Community Center makes for a dreamy excursion, cradling the listener through beautiful harmonies, acoustic guitars, warm production and slow pacing. Behind the pleasant haze lies powerful narratives and eventual acceptance that “if you’re not feeling ready / there’s always tomorrow”.
Cuz I Love You
Queen Lizzo. With smash hit records, viral lyric as memes, self-love declarations, headline-grabbing tweets, flute solos, sold out shows and energy that swallowed all criticism, Melissa Jefferson’s third album was bursting at the seams with encapsulations of all of the above in one juicy package.
Cuz I Love You correctly operates on the assumption that, by and large, genre is dead. Lizzo expertly delves into the world of soul, pop, funk and even a hint of gospel to offer a truly eclectic album for the masses. Above all, Cuz I Love You is so much fun. It’s certainly carried in part by the strength of Lizzo’s personality, but the quality in the tunes is there in spades to back that persona up.
Mango x Mathman
Mango X Mathman have worked with one another for nearly a decade now, dating back to cult group The Animators in the earlier part of the ’10s. So there’s plenty of experience between them to draw from. This is one of Casual Work’s most redeeming qualities. It’s not even some intangible chemistry the pair share (though this is certainly true), it’s the narrative and emotional scope of the project.
Casual Work plays like a journey through the pair’s lives over the past 4 or 5 years, the highs and the lows, no Instagram highlights. Some, myself included, may have been expecting an album chocablock with bangers like ‘No Surrender FM’, instead the duo opt for a nuanced telling of what Mango described as the second growing up every young man has to do, with Dublin city in all its forms as a backdrop.
American artist Weyes Blood’s fourth full length album Titanic Rising is the very best that cinematic indie had to offer in 2019. Go ahead and try to tell me you’ve heard better synths than on ‘Andromeda’ or ‘Movies’.
There’s so much more to Titanic Rising than just one sound or idea. This multifaceted record is immersive, a truly worldbuilding 40 minutes. On this record, Natalie Mering exists in a sort of half time slow motion. Life is going on all around you but it’s bathed in soft-focus and warm lighting. You spot the skeleton of a country song wandering underneath the rest of the arrangement, sometimes there’s a Stevie Nicks resonance to the vocals, but it’s all secondary to the movie that’s playing in your headphones.
A feeling more than a sound. 40 minutes passes and the Earth starts spinning at its normal tempo once again.
Ignorance Is Bliss
A Grime veteran reckons with fatherhood and the responsibility of adulthood on Ignorance Is Bliss.
That Skepta is a master of his craft is news to exactly no one. ‘Bullet From A Gun’, ‘Greaze Mode’ and ‘Love Me Not’ offer bars and flows from one of the best to ever pick up a mic. While the album doesn’t tread new sonic and conceptual ground, like its predecessor Konnichiwa, the measured influence of fatherhood and maturity provide some of the most compelling on the new album. Check out ‘No Sleep’ for clearest reference.
In the heart of the summer, Florist dropped one of the most ‘acoustic guitar and a cabin in the woods’ albums of the year. For Emily Alone, Emily Sprague left her band behind to create a solo album full of intricacies and diary entries. After spending time working on modular ambient compositions, the album sees Sprague applying the spatial openness and solitude of her electronic work to the world of folk music. A release filled with gentle tension, Sprague alternates between melancholic ruminations on death and isolation and earthy, melodic spring songs.
Reckoning with the death of her mother in 2017, Emily Alone turns to nature for answers and metaphors. ‘Ocean Arms’ contains some of the most shattering lyrics of the album – reflecting upon the loss of a parent and the parental role as a part of the natural world. When Sprague gently croons “you were not the final form / you were not the ocean’s arms”, it’s simple but heartbreaking. It’s close to impossible to discern whether nature is providing solace or heartache throughout Emily Alone and the truth appears too complex to understand from the outside. What can be understood, however, is that Florist has crafted an album that leaves its mark long after it’s over and is undoubtedly the best work of Sprague’s career.
Something Like A War
Adam Bainbridge’s third album as Kindness draws on R&B, soul, jazz and house music in an uplifting treatise and celebration of human emotion and variation in all its forms. From the gospel opening stomp of ‘Sibambeneni’ / ‘Raise Up’ which celebrates diversity to the album’s main themes of encouraging love despite the potential hurt (‘Lost Without) and the power of femininity (‘Softness As A Weapon), Something Like A War is an album that offers respite in the harrowing 21st century zeitgeist further elevated by guests like Seinabo Sey, Robyn, Jasmine Sullivan and old-school rapper Bahamadia.
Sharon Van Etten
Remind Me Tomorrow
It would be a fair assessment to categorise Sharon Van Etten as one of the most consistent indie acts of our time. Over the last decade, she’s released five albums – each of which marked constant developments in sound and impact. Whilst Van Etten could have easily rested on her laurels and continued a trajectory of accomplished indie-folk to the continued delight of her fans, 2019’s Remind Me Tomorrow saw the New Jersey artist throw out her own rulebook and move into a far more confident career stage. Remind Me Tomorrow oozes with assuredness – dabbling in a newfound appreciation for electronic and straight-up rock anthems.
Written whilst she was pregnant with her first child, studying for a Psychology degree and starring in Netflix series The OA (what’s our excuse, eh?), the album sees Van Etten at her most musically complex and exciting. Opener ‘I Told You Everything’ maintains her trademark confessionalism whilst cuts like ‘Comeback Kid’ and ‘Jupiter 5’ were built to be performed in stadiums. Album highlight and lead single ‘Seventeen’ is the greatest example of the album’s strengths. Simultaneously emotive and empowered, ‘Seventeen’ is a muscular masterclass in songwriting that marks one of the very few indie rock songs of recent years with genuine potential for becoming a legacy anthem.
Large parts of Van Etten’s early creative expression were built from her experiences of an abusive relationship. Remind Me Tomorrow sees her moving forward, embracing herself and all that she has built in a way that inspires hope and resilience, yet this album doesn’t feel like an ending – it feels like the start of a new era. This year, Sharon Van Etten put to bed any notions that guitar music is dead and if we live in a creatively just world, this album is the first step in her journey towards becoming a household name.
Not Waving, But Drowning
That international fame and the attention implicit within it hasn’t tarnished Loyle Carner’s conscious and considered approach to hip-hop is a very good thing.
Not Waving, But Drowning is Carner’s second full-length project, the time which elapsed between it and his debut must have been somewhat alien for the London MC, firmly a part of mainstream hip-hop appreciation. Perhaps that’s why Carner placed family (particularly his mother) and love at the very centre of his latest album.
‘Dear Jean’ prologues the record, an open letter to his mother explaining the new romantic interest in his life. In turn ‘Dear Ben’ epilogues it, a return serve from Jean Coyle-Larner. What’s between is an exploration of the many intricacies of adulthood, the wholesome hip-hop of Not Waving, But Drowning.
Bibio’s back catalogue is a walk through different grounds of experimental sound. Starting his Warp Records journey with Boards of Canada-influenced IDM, flirting with folk along the way and eventually falling into ambient textures on 2017’s Phantom Brickworks, Bibio has always pushed the boundaries of his work. This year’s Ribbons sees him committing fully to dreamy, old-fashioned folk on his own terms.
Ribbons initially feels like exactly the type of easy listening, laidback music that saturates chill Spotify playlists and the mood-based listening that dominates streaming platforms but Bibio’s unique qualities come in the weirdness and experimentation that breathes through his pretty, delicate instrumentation. Bibio’s relationship with British old-style folk isn’t a passing influence used to add another sound to his canon, it’s a full-bodied embrace and there’s a risk-taking charm in releasing wide-eyed tracks like ‘Erdaydidder-Erdiddar’ and ‘Watch the Flies’.
Yet, Bibio could teach his peers a lesson with the intricate instrumentation and skilled layering exhibited throughout the album. Ribbons brings you on a whimsical journey to another world that you might never want to return from.