2019 in music

How to summarise 2019? So. Much. Good. Music. I've struggled to properly evaluate an overwhelming stream of releases, and my charts are still in flux. But, the year-end is nigh, so I must commit.

I tended to like handfuls of tracks from dozens of artists without entirely loving that many albums. As ever, there were plenty I was told I should like, but few of those bowled me over. It's actually been hard work: I've been evolving, amending, juggling and sweating over this list all year. I'm not sure why I torture myself. Oh wait, it's because I'm a hopeless music geek.

I've been a robust editor and chopped out many good records to keep this manageable. I usually choose twenty albums and songs, but I'm taking an extra five this year because I'm in charge.

My top albums

I seem to have become a Nick Cave fan, and Ghosteen stunned me; perhaps his most human and inviting album. I wrote in detail about his Conversations event and the strange beauty in grief that he's leant on since his son's death. There's a note about Bright Horses further down.

I've rediscovered The Twilight Sad in recent years, and they've made the big album they were always capable of. I didn't entirely love The National's project with filmmaker Mike Mills, but there are plenty of new songs to cherish.

I listened to so many brilliant women. Lana Del Rey surprised me, Twigs oozed pain and beauty, Olsen went epic, Yanya arrived. Then there's Hackman, Clairo, Hval, Weyes Blood, etc. Even Heather Woods Broderick — Sharon Van Etten's backing singer — released a brilliant album. Anyway, here we go:

Nick Cave Ghosteen
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
  1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Ghosteen
  2. The Twilight Sad, It Won/t Be Like This All the Time
  3. Lana Del Rey, Norman fucking Rockwell!
  4. FKA Twigs, Magdalene
  5. Thom Yorke, Anima
  6. The National, I Am Easy To Find
  7. Nilüfer Yanya, Miss Universe
  8. Angel Olsen, All Mirrors
  9. Drahla, Useless Coordinates
  10. Jenny Lewis, On The Line
  11. Heather Woods Broderick, Invitation
  12. Marika Hackman, Any Human Friend
  13. Clairo, Immunity
  14. Purple Mountains, Purple Mountains
  15. Big Thief, UFOF and Two Hands
  16. Fontaines D.C., Dogrel
  17. Kate Tempest, The Book of Traps and Lessons
  18. Empath, Active Listening: Night on Earth
  19. Gruff Rhys, Pang!
  20. Jenny Hval, The Practice of Love
  21. Erland Cooper, Sule Skerry
  22. Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising
  23. King Princess, Cheap Queen
  24. Bill Callahan, Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest
  25. Michael Kiwanuka, KIWANUKA

Notables: any other year, many of these would’ve placed much higher…

Floating Points Crush
Floating Points, Crush

MUNA, Saves The World; Sudan Archives, Athena; Jessica Pratt, Quiet Signs; Aldous Harding, Designer Tyler, the Creator, IGOR; Floating Points, Crush; Sharon Van Etten, Remind Me Tomorrow; Little Simz, Grey Area; Julia Jacklin, Crushing ; Sleaford Mods, Eaton Alive; Dave, Psychodrama; Earthen Sea, Grass and Trees; Holly Herndon, Proto; beabadoobie, Loveworm and Space Cadet; Mannequin Pussy, Patience; Hiss Golden Messenger, Terms of Surrender; Hammock, Silencia; Vanishing Twin, The Age Of Immunology; Girl Band, The Talkies; Priests, The Seduction of Kansas ; Blood Orange, Angel’s Pulse; Vagabon, Vagabon; Bon Iver, i,i; Production Unit, Why Do The Birds Sing?; Fennesz, Agora; Broken Social Scene, Let’s Try The After (Vols 1 &2); The Amazons, Future Dust ; Modern Nature, How To Live; Patience, Dizzy Spells; Trash Kit, Horizon; The Japanese House, Good at Falling; SASAMI, SASAMI; The Soft Cavalry, The Soft Cavalry; Kim Gordon, No Home Record; Made Mountain, Here Hello; Charli XCX, Charli; CHAI, Punk. Phew!

My top tracks

Bright Horses is one of the most beautiful and haunted songs I've ever heard. It paints epic fantasy imagery and then burns it all down with grief. It oozes poignancy, Cave's late son is "the little white shape dancing at the end of the hall" as his wife makes her way home to console him. Chokes me every time.

I adored Nilüfer Yanya's album double-whammy of In Your Head and Paralysed; something brilliantly King Krule London fuzz about her sound. Rylan is up there as we National fans have waited so long for a studio recording. The Jenny Lewis track is unashamed alt-rock hedonism. Interpol made a song with the winningly itchy claustrophobia of their first two albums.

Purple Mountains
Purple Mountains
  1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Bright Horses
  2. Nilüfer Yanya, In Your Head
  3. The National, Rylan (finally)
  4. Jenny Lewis, Red Bull & Hennessey
  5. FKA Twigs, Cellophane
  6. The Twilight Sad, VTr
  7. Clairo, Bags
  8. Thom Yorke, Not The News
  9. Lana Del Rey, Doin' Time
  10. Marika Hackman, i’m not where you are
  11. Angel Olsen, Lark
  12. Big Thief, Not
  13. MUNA, Pink Light
  14. Heather Woods Broderick, Where I Lay
  15. Purple Mountains, Snow is Falling in Manhattan
  16. Fontaines D.C., Big
  17. Weyes Blood, Movies
  18. Interpol, Fine Mess
  19. Sharon Van Etten, Jupiter 4
  20. Drahla, Stimulus for Living
  21. James Blake, Assume Form
  22. Julia Jacklin, Head Alone
  23. Matt Berninger & Phoebe Bridgers, Walking on a String
  24. Little Simz, Offence
  25. Nivhek, After its own death: Side A

Notables:

Michael Kiwanuka, I’ve Been Dazed; Holly Herndon, Eternal; Kate Tempest, People’s Faces; Dave, Black; Working Men’s Club, Teeth; Bon Iver, Faith; Gruff Rhys, Ôl Bys/Nodau Clust; King Princess, Ain’t Together; Charli XCX, Gone (feat. Christine and the Queens); The Leisure Society, God Has Taken A Vacation; Slowthai, Doorman; Modern Nature, Nature; Leon Vynehall, I, Cavallo; Seabear, Waterphone; Hiss Golden Messenger, My Wing; Aldous Harding, Treasure, Sleaford Mods, O.B.C.T; Idlewild, Dream Variations; Jarvis, Must I Evolve?; Vagabon, Water Me Down; Patience, White of an Eye (re-release; already on my 2017 list); Vampire Weekend, Harmony Hall (even though I still don't like Vampire Weekend).

Reissues, comps, live...

Last year there was only one. This year was bumper, and I had to whittle it down to a top ten:

Kankyo Ongaku
Kankyō Ongaku
  1. Sigur Ros, Ágætis byrjun - A Good Beginning - 20th Anniversary Edition
  2. The National, Juicy Sonic Magic, Live in Berkeley, September 24-25, 2018
  3. Various: Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990
  4. Burial, Tunes 2011-2019
  5. Wild Nothing, Live from Brooklyn Steel
  6. New Order, Movement, and accompanying 12”s: Ceremony, Everything’s Gone Green, Temptation
  7. New Order with Liam Gillick, ∑(No,12k,Lg,17Mif)
  8. Hildur Guðnadóttir, Chernobyl (Music from the Original TV Series)
  9. Ólafur Arnalds, re:visions (Live)
  10. Various, Tiny Changes: A Celebration of Frightened Rabbit’s ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’

Shows

The National take the top three because they really were my best three gigs of the year. The top six here were all exceptional. Each links to the relevant journal entry.

  1. The National and Jenny Lewis, Nottingham
  2. The National, Castlefield Bowl, Manchester
  3. A Special Evening With The National, Royal Festival Hall, London
  4. Conversations with Nick Cave, Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
  5. The Twilight Sad, O2 Ritz, Manchester
  6. The Twilight Sad, Rough Trade Nottingham
  7. Death Cab For Cutie, Rock City, Nottingham
  8. Mutant Monster, Bodega, Nottingham

That's it

So, that was 2019 in music. Need a playlist? NP. You can wade through my vast and unedited 2019 Faves playlist (400 songs, almost 30 hours), or go for the more focused 2019 Top Twenty-five playlist playlist (almost 2 hours) mirroring my top twenty-five list.

By the way, I retrofitted my entire Year in music archive, and it looks pretty all together. You can check out 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, and 2004.

More 2019 roundup posts

2019 in review / 2019 culture top-fives / 2019 in personal projects / 2019 run archive