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Nialler9’s 40 best albums of 2019

Nialler9’s 40 best albums of 2019

2019 Best of | Best international albums | Best Irish albums | Guest selections


20.

Denzel Curry

ZUU

ZUU is exactly the album that Denzel Curry needed to release. With four full-length projects in four years under his belt, Curry has been establishing himself as one of the most critical Soundcloud rappers to make the full transition over to the big rap league. Curry isn’t in the game for a viral song or a TikTok soundtrack, he’s a fully-fledged album artist and ZUU is the realisation of his always apparent potential. Veering between accessible hip-hop numbers and his trademark dark rap sound, the album constantly changes up and shows the extent of his writing skills and excellent beat selection.

Lead single ‘RICKY’ is unquestionably one of the rap anthems of the year – combining immense hooks with substantial flows and a leftfield beat. Elsewhere ‘BIRDZ’ and ‘P.A.T’ take a completely different tact and set out to complete the noble task of melting faces. Between the ever-changing soundscape, however, lies a meaningful narrative that battles with and pays homage to, in equal parts, his home of Miami. Everything on ZUU feels deliberate and contextualised in where Curry’s career stands right now – this is an origin story and a statement of intent full of boundary-pushing creativity.

19.

Mark Ronson

Late Night Feelings

One of pop music’s great modern producers pulled off that rare feat of a cohesive, focused large scale collaborative pop album. Late Night Feelings, a collection of sad bangers, is a showcase of Ronson’s productive flex. Every track, whether Lykke Li’s title track, King Princess’ ‘Pieces Of Us’ or Angel Olson’s ‘True Blue’ highlights the very best of the guest vocalists on it. It’s loosely an album about heartbreak, but that’s not the point. Approach Late Night Feelings in the mood for 40 minutes or so of pop brilliance.

18.

Clipping

There Existed An Addiction To Blood

The LA experimental rap group’s third album chooses horrorcore as the starting point for their firebrand spooky alt-rap full-length. Throughout There Existed An Addiction To Blood, there’s an overarching atmosphere of doom and darklit productions by William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes illuminated in new directions through Daveed Diggs’ imagistic lyrics drawn from a 70s vampire film Ganja & Hess. There Existed An Addiction To Blood is a metallic noisecore rap dive into a seedy underbelly reflects the unease of the modern world hurtling towards an unknown dark.

17.

Injury Reserve

Injury Reserve

After a few years in a jazzy wilderness, Injury Reserve came through this year to release their challenging yet charming self-titled album. The trio have always simmered with potential but nothing so far has hit as hard as this eclectic journey of weirdness. Melding disparate influences – jazzy structures, oddball trap beats and deconstructed club elements – Injury Reserve have created an album that is disarming, provocative and, very often, humourous. Furthermore, with a rollcall of guest features including Freddie Gibbs, Cakes Da Killa, JPEGMAFIA and Rico Nasty to name a few, this album was always going to be a winner. Whether it’s the dark and angular goofiness of ‘Jailbreak The Tesla’ or the hype-beast attacking humour of ‘Jawbreaker’, Injury Reserve always surprise and revel in the unexpected moving between full-on aggression and sceptical reticence with the change of a melody.

Injury Reserve’s secret weapon and musical driving force is unquestionably producer Parker Corey. A suburban kid whose first introduction to beatmaking came from Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, his choices sound unlike anything else being created right now and that, combined with the group’s biting wit, make for a release that refuses to be boxed in or reduced to one type of style. At its core, Injury Reserve is an album that makes a mockery of technologically obsessed, homogenised pop culture and that feels incredibly vital in these times.


16.

Fontaines D.C.

Dogrel

Take a 39-minute crash course into the psyche of Irish rock band Fontaines D.C. Dogrel packs light, forgoing weighty overdubs and excessive soloing for a bare-bones, dirt in your nails sort of impossibly youthful rock & roll. No one will be seated for the A-Side, which runs like it’s about to miss the last bus home. Tracks like ‘Sha Sha Sha’ & ‘Hurricane Laughter’ attack the listener with a sort of anti-social ferocity, coming and going before you have time to even catch your breath and think about what you’ve just heard.

It’s a phenomenon brilliantly contrasted by Dogrel’s B-Side, announced by ‘Roy’s Tune’. This is the turning point in the band’s debut, the moment at which they begin to show you more than sharp postures. While the helter-skelter is good for a thrill, it’s the languid meditations on ‘The Lotts’, ‘Roys Tune’ and ‘Dublin City Sky’ which showcase a young band who have managed on their first outing to tap into an experience of Irish youth with points of resonance for the masses.

15.

Girl Band

The Talkies

That a follow up to Girl Band’s debut LP Holding Hands With Jamie would ever come was by no means obvious. Yet, earlier this year new music did indeed materialise. The Talkies represents a leap in production and songwriting craft from the Dublin industrial group, even if it picks up sonically from where their debut left off. The Talkies is anxiety personified, a lingering feeling somewhere amidst the whirling guitars and yelped vocals of Girl Band’s second album. Recorded over the space of 18 months and largely self-produced, it’s clear that the band were happy to take the time to give a high fidelity sheen to their often dystopian and personal brand of industrial music.

14.

FKA Twigs

Magdalene

The second album from FKA Twigs bares little resemblance to the English avant-pop artist’s 2014 LP1 and there’s no doubt it’s because she’s been through the wars. A high-profile relationship and subsequent breakup with actor Robert Pattinson, an operation to remove 6 tumours from her uterus that brought crippling pain and much effort in recovery that lead to a further mastery of poledancing and swordfighting. Painstaking doesn’t cover it.

And so, Magdalene hangs heavy with heartbreak, pain and a crisis of self-identity of a public figure in a toxic world. Musically, FKA Twigs sinks into a discombobulating sense of statis bringing club textures, operatic movements and avant-garde pop music together and vocally, her soprano brings heavenly tones to these unique celestial yet introspective productions. It’s no easy listening for anyone who has recently experienced heartbreak but dig deep into Magdalene and you’ll come out the other side with a transcendental music experience created by a rare auteur.

13.

James Blake

Assume Form

There’s been a general feeling that English recording artist James Blake has been teetering on the verge of crafting a great record for the past few years. While not every listener will agree that project turned out to be Assume Form, there’s few who’d argue it isn’t easily the artist’s finest long form project to date. Assume Form is unashamedly a modern romance album. Indeed, Blake has quoted his partner Jameela Jamil as being a muse on this new record.

That alone marks Assume Form out as unique, in an era where love songs tend to be either entirely surface level or pointed toward the self. Blake delves into the working parts of romantic endeavour, from early stages infatuation (‘Mile High’) through jealous paranoia (‘There Must Be A Catch’). Assume Form absolutely revels in being an album out of time.

12.

The National

I Am Easy To Find

The Dessner brothers who are at the heart of the Cincinnati alternative rock veterans have been taking long strides in more experimental production in recent years and collaborating with many through their PEOPLE project. As a result of these experiences, I Am Easy To Find has an open and expansive ensemble feel with female contributors (Lisa Hannigan crops up a couple of times) complimenting Matt Berninger’s trademark creaky baritone. These collaborations add narrative depth, working both in tandem and, alternatively, as a counterweight to Berninger’s flawed romanticism while offering a way forward for a band comfortable enough in their own sound and world. I Am Easy To Find is the sound of a band pushing themselves in fresh places years down the line.

11.

Solange

When I Get Home

Solange’s When I Get Home is a major departure from her much-loved former output and it’s all the better for it. Her fourth studio album largely eschews traditional popular songwriting for a more free-flowing method, evoking a stream of consciousness feel. If her last album, A Seat At The Table, was a response to the world around her, When I Get Home is Solange writing for herself – unrushed and unpressured. Cuts like ‘Way To The Show’ and ‘Almeda’ are more accessible than most of the release but still exude confidence and control whilst elsewhere jazz, soul and hip-hop combine atmospherically alongside her silky smooth vocals. When I Get Home is the sound of an artist who has been building for years and is in the position to create what she wants to create.


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