With the arrival of July marking the second half of 2019, we’ve been taking some time out to take stock of the year in music so far.

2019 has, so far, proven to be a strange year in music. While there’s been plenty of strong album releases (and some exceptional ones too), the vast majority of these have come from already established artists on their second, third or fourth outing. It has not been a year filled with snatch-the-spotlight debuts, with a few notable exceptions. (How you doing Slowthai?) Often, these things either come in floods or not at all. Perhaps the months to come will uncover an act that’ll melt us away, especially on the homefront, but not every year can have a Deli Daydreams.

Women are leading the way in music so far in 2019. From solo pop-cultural tour-de-force Billie Eilish to XXL Freshman 2019 listee Rico Nasty to the razor-sharp folk of New Zealand native Aldous Harding, much of the envelope-pushing music this year has been female. And we can’t forget Lizzo.

In terms of Irish releases, Fontaines D.C. are hard to ignore – they do make some racket. Maria Somerville’s shoegazey debut has flown a little under the radar but deserves heaps of praise, as does the sincere and heartfelt release from For Those I Love.

We wanted to collect all these thoughts and releases into one place. So, in no particular order, here are our 30 favourite albums of 2019 so far.


30.

Mark Ronson

Late Night Feelings

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

Chart producer dials it back for a charming breakup album.

Super-producer Mark Ronson is no stranger to pop success with credits on some of the biggest chart hits in the last couple of decades but one of his most irresistible victories has been this year’s Late Night Feelings – an album of relatively stripped back, self-proclaimed “sad bangers”, featuring collaborations with some of the brightest female voices in music.

Late Night Feelings has pop appeal but the release isn’t reliant on choruses and commercial viability. Its success rests in Ronson’s expert vocalist selection and the room his production leaves for them. Rather than picking names for the sake of sales, Ronson has curated a collection of singers that fit perfectly into his “sad banger” vision with their usual output. Each song takes his introspective disco approach and combines it with what that vocalist does best. ‘Nothing Breaks Like A Heart’ showcases Miley Cyrus at her strongest in recent years whilst elsewhere ‘True Blue’ brings an accessible sheen to Angel Olsen’s melancholia. Late Night Feelings is a masterclass in collaborative albums and shows why Ronson is such a force to be reckoned with.

– Kelly Doherty

29.

Maria Somerville

All My People

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

Experimental shoegaze wielded expertly on the Galway musician’s debut full-length.

Maria Somerville’s debut full length walks the tobacco strand thin balance beam between melodic shoegaze and introverted experimentalism. On her debut, Somerville’s voice is almost indistinguishable from her arrangements. The vocals, awash in a cavernous layer of reverb, entwine with sparse guitar strokes and pad sounds – creating a compelling musical cohesion.

A relatively brief album, seven songs in total, All My People trades out sprawling songwriting for razor-sharp precision. One of the nation’s most unique emerging voices.

– Luke Sharkey

28.

Solange

When I Get Home

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

R&B goes jazz on free-flowing change of direction

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.

– Kelly Doherty

27.

Various

Kankyo Ongaku: Japenese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

The sounds of the natural world imbued in a stunning collection of ambient works.

Light In The Attic Recordings is a label that specialises in reissuing obscure, but great, music. Kankyo Ongaku is a superb collection of ambient works crafted in Japan during the 80s.

It’s a naturalist record, with a focus on compositions seemingly crafted around the sounds of nature. The sea, the wind and the gentle rattle of foliage line these tracks. Unless you’re an ambient enthusiast, you probably won’t have heard of these tracks of artists before. Take the time to take the time.

– Luke Sharkey

26.

Carly Rae Jepson

Dedicated

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

Pop’s favourite cult star looks inward

Carly Rae Jepsen has long been a pop enigma. Since her success with chart crusher ‘Call Me Maybe’ back in 2012, the Canadian singer-songwriter has been confined to a role of ‘cult classic’ – a favourite of music critics and queer clubs across the world but never reaching the dizzying heights of her breakthrough single.

Dedicated is another irresistible addition to the Carly Rae Jepsen canon with fifteen slick anthems about romance, loss and self-love. No one does bubblegum pop as well as Jepsen in 2019 and infectious anthems like ‘I Want You in My Room’ and ‘Automatically In Love’ are packed with self-aware sugary sweet choruses and Jepsen’s perpetually endearing vocals.

Whilst Dedicated has universal appeal, it’s her most personal work yet. ‘Too Much’ is a minimal self-referential critique of the over-romanticised nature of her work hitherto and emotive closer ‘Real Love’ is a gently building ode to the issues that arise in the endless pursuit of a fairytale ending. Dedicated is a real moment of growth for Jepsen and an excellent release from an artist making some of the best music in her genre right now.

– Kelly Doherty

25.

The National

I Am Easy To Find

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

Alternative rock band find a new lease of life through clever collaboration and expanded creative vision.

Cincinnati alternative rock veterans The National convinced me of the quality of their I Am Easy To Find long before its actual release. In part it was paying attention to the Dessner brothers, who have been taking long strides in more experimental production – something I suspected would crop up on the band’s new record. The second was the slew of superb singles which preceded the record’s release, ‘You Had Your Soul With You’ and ‘Light Years’ were some of my favourite new National tunes I’d heard in a long time. The collaborative short film, directed by Mike Mills, sealed the deal.

Once I actually had my hands on the record, I was taken away with how much it felt like the band had found fresh creative ground to work upon, something I think the band desperately needed following two albums which veered dangerously close into the realms of dad rock.

I Am Easy To Find is packed with superb collaboration, usually in the form of female contributors (Lisa Hannigan crops up a couple of times). These collaborations add narrative depth, working both in tandem and, alternatively, as a counterweight to Behringer’s flawed romanticism.

– Luke Sharkey

24.

Injury Reserve

Injury Reserve

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

Hip-hop oddballs push boundaries with friends.

In a time period where oddball rappers like Tyler, The Creator are topping charts, it makes sense that experimental, boundary-pushing rap acts are making waves in the underground. Injury Reserve are one such act, creating hip-hop that embraces a plethora of influences from jazz to noise and everything in between.

On their self-titled debut studio album, Injury Reserve sustain their smoothness but inject it with experimental boundary-pushing that’s always exciting and surprising. Boasting an impressive line-up of guests including Rico Nasty, JPEGMAFIA, Freddie Gibbs and Cake Da Killa, Injury Reserve marries largely traditional flows with some of the most intriguing hip-hop production this year. Group producer Parker Corey is the star of the show, delivering moments of deconstructed club, industrial beats and a whole load of wonkily spaced out yet abrasively cutting moments. Throughout, Injury Reserve straddle the line between experimentation and irreverent accessibility showcasing a propensity for innovation that has huge potential for crossover success.

– Kelly Doherty

23.

Skepta

Ignorance Is Bliss

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

No messing around from heavyweight Grime MC.

Those entering into Skepta’s Ignorance Is Bliss expecting a follow up in the vein of the critically lauded Konnichiwa will be woefully disappointed. On his fifth studio album (not counting mixtapes), the MC adopts a no-frills approach to his music. The production and beats, while high-fidelity, do pale in comparison his very lush previous attempt.

Instead, Skepta opts to pile on the bars on his new record. Ignorance Is Bliss is at its best when Skepta is on the mic. Seamlessly transitioning into the role of hip-hop godfather, the MC drops the sort of self-assured, confident bars only justified by over a decade of critical and commercial success. The album opener ‘Bullet From A Gun’ says it all, so begin there.

– Luke Sharkey

22.

Talos

Far Out Dust

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

Eoin French widens his grip on an ambitious second album.

Talos’ follow up to their smashing 2017 debut LP checks all the boxes in terms of visible markers of progress for the group. Considering the projects very nuanced sound, pigeonholing would be a concern.

Instead, on Far Out Dust Talos near seamlessly expand their core sound to include more pop-oriented aesthetics (‘See Me’) and contemporary classical compositions, like on the stunning ‘The Flood’. The group’s strongest asset remains Eoin French’s vocals, which shine throughout though especially on album highlight ‘On and On’.

– Luke Sharkey

21.

Better Oblivion Community Centre

Better Oblivion Community Centre

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

Two worlds of indie-folk collide to share sad yet heartening tales of loss and hope

Indie folk has been going through a small scale revival in recent years with a new batch of young artists breathing life into a genre that saw many of its leaders either completely diversify their sound or fade into obscurity. It’s fitting so that one of the stars of this revival, Pheobe Bridgers, has teamed up with early noughties indie-folk hero, Conor Oberst, to create one of the best releases the genre has seen in a long time.

Better Oblivion Community Centre serves as a showcase for two brilliant songwriters to bestow their emotive, confessional lyricism in a manner that resembles old friends sharing their personal stories. Oberst’s recent solo work has seen him swap in melodramatic heartache for stark depictions of grief and struggle, a path Bridgers also treads albeit with slightly more optimism. Together, the two ruminate on their respective alienation and emotional struggles and appear to find solace in their communal condition. Better Oblivion Community Centre feels warm and comforting and comes to the conclusion that “if you’re not feeling great, there’s always tomorrow”.

– Kelly Doherty

Tags