The 10 best albums of 2019
We have more choice than ever before when it comes to listening to music in 2019.
That's undoubtedly a good thing: it means that there's a wider variety of material out there to listen to. Genres that perhaps would have been resigned to 'subculture' status are now going mainstream, arguably thanks to the accessibility of streaming.
And while there's still lots of bad music out there (like, turn-the-telly-off-if-it-comes-on-in-the-background-of-Eastenders bad), we're focusing on the best albums that we've heard in 2019. The most inspiring, disturbing, catchiest, quirkiest, dreamiest, can't-get-it-out-of-our-head albums released this year - both Irish and international.
We fell for this album hook, line and sinker in 2019 (sorry). The central point in a Venn diagram with Joni Mitchell and The Carpenters, the 1970s/Laurel Canyon vibe of Natalie Mering's music proved seriously irresistible on songs like 'Everyday' and 'Andromeda'. If Lana Del Rey is a bit too stylised for your liking, the dreamy vibe of this brilliant record will do the job.
Perhaps you, like us, had swept Michael Kiwanuka's previous material aside with a careless 'Sounds good, but not for me'. If that was the case, the Londoner's third album will change your mind. There is both an authenticity and an originality to these soulful songs, which touch on personal topics and wider issues like racial identity. This is a Sunday morning record if ever there was one – simply excellent songs that are both easy to listen to and thought-provoking.
They really only formed - or at least settled on their current line-up – last year, but this Dublin band's live performances were quickly being talked about with a hushed reverence. Luckily, with the help of renowned producer Flood, they captured the fire and fury of their gigs on record. This is a special album, with much of its lyrical content inspired by the suicide of frontman James McGovern's best friend. There is sadness, despair, defiance and hope in his monotone delivery, while the taut, tightly-coiled soundtrack puts paid to any notion that guitar bands are a dying breed. Superb, seriously accomplished stuff.
If there's a song lyric that has become iconic in 2019, it's undoubtedly one of Lizzo's. No, we're not talking about the unapologetic sassiness of 'Juice', or the 'hair toss, check my nails' of 'Good as Hell', great though they are. But even your granny could fully embrace the iconic opening of 'Truth Hurts': 'I just took a DNA test, turns out I'm 100% that bitch'. This year was the year that Melissa Viviane Jefferson broke through to the mainstream in glorious fashion with her third collection of uplifting, funny (“Slow songs, they fo' skinny hos”), damned catchy pop/funk/hip-hop tunes. It was the musical pick-me-up we all needed.
In another world, Billie Eilish might well have been a one-hit wonder. 'Bad Guy' is such an impressive calling card that the 17-year-old could easily have been saddled as 'the Bad Guy singer' for eternity. Luckily, her debut album has enough variation, depth and emotional maturity to keep you coming back for more. Pop music seriously needed the injection of weirdness that Billie Eilish provided with this record. The songs are great, but her delivery of them is sublime.
For a band that has been around as long as The Divine Comedy have been – or more accurately, as long as Neil Hannon has been – things usually go two ways: they fall into the trap of replicating their biggest hits because it's what they think their audience wants, or they continue to throw new things at the wall. This album falls firmly into the latter category. Incorporating '80s synthpop and electronica alongside quirky pop songs like 'Queuejumper' and the theatrical majesty of 'Opportunity Knox', he's still managing to surprise listeners, shoehorning concepts into albums and retaining his own unique sound, twelve albums later.
If you've never heard of Purple Mountains before this year, don't worry. They are – or were – a new band by a stalwart of the American indie scene, David Berman, best known as the protagonist of revered Silver Jews. Purple Mountains was Berman's return to the music scene after a lengthy absence – and what a return it was. It's an album that combines gorgeous melodies, sincerity and his trademark self-deprecating humour with some of the best lyrics you've heard this (or any other) year. Sadly, Berman took his own life just a month after it was released. RIP.
Probably the biggest Irish success story, in terms of bands going 'out foreign' and reaping rewards, is this Dublin band. Fontaines DC have spent much of 2019 on the road touring this absolute gem of a debut album, which embodies the kind of self-assured swagger of a band who've been at it for decades. These guys undoubtedly borrow from the past; there's a definite '80s indie vibe to songs like 'Boys in the Better Land'. But when they're delivered with this level of poise, it doesn't matter a jot.
For a while, it looked like Girl Band weren't going to make a second album. The Dublin post-punk band cancelled dates on the last tour for their debut album amidst the mental health struggles that frontman Dara Kiely had been very open about. Thankfully, he recovered, they regrouped and decamped to old country estate Ballintubbert House in Co. Laois to record the follow-up to 2015's 'Holding Hands with Jamie'. It's a primitive, unrelenting, seriously gutsy record that you won't forget hearing in a hurry.
The third album by this Cardiff-based Kiwi musician took us by surprise. We'll hold our hands up and say that we'd never heard of Aldous (real name Hannah) Harding before her single 'The Barrel' slowly eked its way into our subconscious. By the time we'd fallen in love with 'Fixture Picture' and 'Zoo Eyes', it was game, set and match. The album that's spent the most time on our listening pile in 2019 is this collection of beautiful, strange, comforting, challenging songs; there's no one out there doing what Harding is doing right now. She's a true one-off, and this album perfectly demonstrates why.