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The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

20.

Lizzo

Cuz I Love You

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

Genre is dead – Lizzo is very much alive.

When it comes to breakout artists of the year, Melissa Viviane Jefferson, who is better known as Lizzo, must be among the top of the list (I’m looking at you, Billie). When we featured her singles in 2018 it seemed like the artist was right on the cusp of breaking into the mainstream. With the release of her debut LP Cause I Love You she did just that and then some.

Cause 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, Cause 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.

– Luke Sharkey


19.

Maverick Sabre

When I Wake Up

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

The New Ross man trades bars for wisdom on his third LP.

Maverick Sabre’s third LP is a change of scene and style for the Irish-English artist. While Sabre made his reputation as a stellar MC in a time when Irish hip-hop was not the cultural zeitgeist it is today, Sabre pushes his singing voice to the fore on this new record. Of bars, there are admittedly few, but Sabre makes diligent use of the lyrics throughout When I Wake Up, plainly speaking his mind on some of the most pressing societal concerns of the day.

These concerns come in many forms; disillusionment on the superb ‘Into Nirvana’, domestic abuse on ‘Her Grace’ and the Grenfell Tower tragedy on ‘Big Smoke’. The lyrics throughout are golden, rarely if ever dipping into the dreaded voice of the preacher. The very soulful, vintage production and arrangements are the ideal counterpart to Sabre’s vocals.

– Luke Sharkey

18.

James Blake

Assume Form

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

The album I always hoped Blake would one day write.

Love songs are not as popular or common as they once were, whole albums about falling in love even less so. Still, that didn’t stop British artist James Blake from writing the best album of his career to date on the subject. Assume Form is a straight-up, genuinely tender album about Blake overcoming his trust issues and internal barriers in truly connecting with another human.

So bonus points for the premise, but Assume Form also boasts the best songwriting, production and features of any of Blake’s music thus far. The influence of hip-hop is palpable, a craft Blake has honed over the past 4 or 5 years via collaboration and producing. Tracks like ‘Mile High’ feature co-production from Trap maestro Metro Boomin and vocals from olympian MC Travis Scott. Yet, Blake’s roots in neo-classical composition remain visible – just check out the violin arrangements on ‘Into The Red’ and harmony on the album’s title track. ‘I’ll Come Too’ is the best love song of 2019, period.

– Luke Sharkey

17.

Aldous Harding

Designer

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

New Zealand folk artist blends old & new in a stunning love letter.

Signed to 4AD, Aldous Harding only really came to my attention in the lead up to the release of her third album Designer. With little previous experience, I wasn’t sure what to expect heading into the album, which made the very idiosyncratic blend of modern and vintage folk-rock sound all the more enamouring.

While Harding tends to avoid press and publicity wherever possible in person, the lyrics on Designer never shy away from presenting a full and honest account of the artist’s endeavours in love and life. The opening exchange of “What am I doing in Dubai?/In the prime of my life/Do you love me?” on ‘Zoo Eyes’ remains the best start to a tune of the year. Harding’s writing is multi-faceted, capable of zany ideas like ‘Fixture Picture’ and tender love songs like album highlight ‘The Barrel’.

– Luke Sharkey

16.

Bibio

Ribbons

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

Lush and whimsical folk stylings from the introspective experimentalist.

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.

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, its a full-bodied embrace and there’s a risk-taking charm in releasing wide-eyed tracks like ‘Erdaydidder-Erdiddar’ and ‘Watch the Flies’ to a Warp audience.

Yet, Bibio could teach his IDM peers a lesson with the intricate instrumentation and skilled layering exhibited throughout Ribbons. Ribbons brings you on a whimsical journey to another world that you might never want to return from.

– Kelly Doherty

15.

Weyes Blood

Titanic Rising

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

Cinematic indie pop from the corners of the galaxy.

Natalie Laura Mering’s (Weyes Blood) four full-length albums have come in relatively neat succession, ending up with February’s Titanic Rising.

This is an odd album upon first listen. Conceptually, Titanic Rising seems adrift between the cinematic indie of Lorde, Lana Del Ray and the dreamy psych of acts like Temples. The mixing doesn’t help either. At first listen, so many of the tracks feel warbled and muddy as if the main tune carrier had been purposely buried. ‘Andromeda’ is the perfect example – caught somewhere between a ballad and a synth inspired daydream.

Time and attention have changed my mind on this. Titanic Rising is a properly nuanced indie album, unafraid to occupy its own space and identity. On this album, Mering has broken the trend of cinematic indie – looking outwards (towards the sky in this case) instead of inwards for a conceptual basis. Some of the mixing remains a little suspect, but Titanic Rising is deservedly one of the most concept lauded projects of the year.

– Luke Sharkey

14.

For Those I Love

For Those I Love

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

A brutally emotional love letter to friends lost.

One of the Irish treats of this year, For Those I Love’s debut album is a pleasure from start to finish. qual parts a beautiful tribute to a recently passed away friend (Burnt Out’s Paul Curran) and a love letter to Dublin in all its raw glory, For Those I Love recalls the intimate personal moments that make people and places mean something.

Brutally and beautifully honest spoken word poetically depicts the camaraderie of shared struggle and the hope of communal ambition. Providing a truly three-dimensional response to grief and the memories that death leaves behind, For Those I Love borrows from elements of downtempo electronic, nostalgic 90s rave and ambient atmospheres and textures to create a body of work that is emotive and quietly euphoric in the face of hardship.

– Kelly Doherty

13.

Big Thief

U.F.O.F.

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

Sweet relief for the grieving soul from Brooklyn folk-rock group.

Some albums resonate with you because of the music itself, some for lyrics and others leave an impression for an innovative approach to producing modern music. Big Thief’s U.F.O.F. bonds with its listener on an emotional level.

U.F.O.F. is an expression of grief. Vocalist Adrianne Lenker has taken the creative reigns and peeled back the band’s already mellow folk-rock sound to its thinnest layers. Love and loss permeate the album’s entirety. Whether it’s mourning a death in ‘Orange’ (as strong a contender for track of the year I’ve heard) or the passing of time and friendship in the hypnotic ‘Cattails’ grief has rarely been as sweet or well-articulated than on U.F.O.F..

– Luke Sharkey

12.

SOAK

Grim Town

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

Derry native returns with electric guitar and synth in hand.

Bridie Monds Watson (SOAK) returned after a near four year hiatus with an album larger in scope and ambition. Grim Town gleefully abandons the subdued arrangments of Soak’s debut in favour of glitzy electric guitars and poppy synth lines. Highlights like ‘I Was Blue (Technicolour Too)’ and ‘Knock Me Off My Feet’ highlight the depth of Mond’s songcraft, blending upbeat tunes and sugary sweet refrains with often pensive lyricism.

– Luke Sharkey

11.

Nilufer Yanya

Miss Universe

, The 30 best albums of 2019 so far

One of our favourite emerging acts justifies the hype on debut full-length.

We’ve spoken a lot about British recording artist Nilufer Yanya since coming across her mid-2018. Yanya’s early EPs, namely Do You Like Pain showcased a creative indie-pop artist more than capable of crafting memorable hooks with guitar and voice.

Miss Universe, the artist’s debut full length, reaches to a new and very exciting level. The lo-fi aesthetic is abandoned, Miss Universe is a carefully polished high-fidelity project. It boasts the kind of stylised indie-pop songwriting that boasts an appeal across demographics of music fan. The core songcraft remains, as does Yanya’s honey vocals. Yet, the arrangements have been blown up – laden with full drum kits and glitzy synth sounds. Tied loosely around a concept of mental health, Miss Universe is a golden debut album.

– Luke Sharkey

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