The following are lists of my favourite releases of 2019. This is not a definitive list of the best of 2019: I would not be so presumptuous to think I have listened to every single release nor the objective ability to state what is best. This is essentially stuff I have listed to and liked throughout the year, some of which I have reviewed in Backseat Mafia and some of which I haven’t.
First off, my favourite album of the year is a joint one. One album is a stunning debut from one of the most exciting young guitar bands around that has resulted in sold out gigs across the globe. The other is the tenth album from a sorely underrated Australian band that are in their second life.
Album(s) of the Year:
I didn’t get to actually review this album in Backseat Mafia but I saw Fontaines DC play live in a small venue Manchester just before the band began selling out at venues twice the size. Of the single ‘Big’ I wrote Fontaines DC were ‘defiant, belligerent and mouthy, unwilling to be labelled or defined. There is, however, a literary spine that carries an angry yet optimistic brutality and honesty, leavened by a hopelessly romantic and raffish air’. Single ‘Boys in the Better Land’ is the single of the decade. The future of guitar-based rock’n’roll is truly safe in the hands of bands like this.
The tenth album from a Melbourne band that formed over thirty years ago that shows creativity is not solely within the realms of the young. I wrote in my review: “This album, more than any of their earlier releases, is a complete package, proving the Undies have reached an impressive ascendancy in their creative career. At the risk of hyperbole, I cannot express more how good this album is. It is always exciting to anticipate an Undies release, but the joy in the epic way they deliver is unbridled. ”
The greatest tragedy is that a band like this and an album of this caliber does not get the exposure they deserve both within Australia and across the world.
Other albums I’ve loved (in no particular order):
This album is a masterpiece. It’s not any easy listen, it is melodious but not full of melody or easily identifiable structure, it is feeling and sense encapsulated in music that floats and does not thunder like a rock’n’roll song. There is, as such, little spine but a lot of heart.
I discovered this album as a result of witnessing a blistering live performance at Hobart’s Dark Mofo Festival. With a prominent synth spine, Van Etten’s ‘Remind Me Tomorrow’ is a passionate vibrant and literate glory, captured perfectly in the collection of great pop songs such as ‘Seventeen’.
I will have to admit jumping on the bandwagon on this one. Its prominence in so many end of the year lists led me to listen to it despite my initial prejudices, and I will admit to being blown away by its rawness, its lyricism and power.
Australia’s answer to Mazzy Star, Gena Rose Bruce‘s debut album was a romantic tour de force. I wrote that the album ‘is an extraordinary debut that brings to the fore Bruce’s gorgeously rich and expressive vocals with personal tales of love and loss. The instrumentation is redolent of southern gothic blues, twanging guitar, reverb-soaked and sharp slashes with unexpected embedded synth weaving in and out. But above all, and despite the clear influences, Bruce’s songwriting is unique, intimate and brilliantly emotional.’
The National continue to produce their middle aged male angst-ridden beautiful poetry, but in this album spun a whole new spirit and drama with the introduction of collaborations with many female artists.
Essentially the solo work of David Berman of the Silver Jews, this must be one of the most elegiac and beautiful suicide notes in history – Berman tragically took his own life a month after this album’s release. At the time of its release, I wrote ‘ His sonorous, velvety vocals, self-deprecating sense of humor and beautiful poetry return with a vengeance in an album that is epic and statuesque: a bold vision captured in a sound that is antithetical filled with snippets of the mundane miseries of life.’
If this raises any issues for you and you need someone to talk to, please contact your local mental health support organisation such as the NHS in the UK, Mental Health Australia in Australia or Mental Health America in the US.
Pure scouse pop brilliance from Phil Wilson – I wrote that this album was filled with ‘achingly beautiful melodies and dream pop-infused instrumentation. Sounding somewhere between The Charlatans, The Las and The Lightning Seeds, Wilson has crafted an album that is enduring and iconic, filled with perfect pop songs.’
Ummagma produced one of the most endearing dream pop releases this year – I described it as creative, innovative and bold – an art pop composition of beauty and expression, with diverse and intelligent songwriting. One of the most enigmatic, intriguing and exciting releases of the year: have a listen to the magnificent single ‘Caravan’.
Italian goth at its best, Japan Suicide (now called Varanasi and exclusively singing in Italian) released a wonderful, literary album – dark gothic undertone leavened with an intelligent lyrical curiosity and creative exploration of sound.
Another legendary shoegaze band back living a tremendous second life, Ride’s ‘This Is Not A Safe Place’ was a brilliant extension of form and was accompanied by a rousing world tour where they proved their mettle on the live stage. Single ‘Clouds of St Marie’ was one of the year’s highlights and one of their best songs.
I wrote that Mallrat’s EP is an evolution of the style and creativity of this phenomenal artist. Back in February 2018, I reviewed ‘UFO’, noting Grace Shaw’s sweet pop melodies interspersed with a half-singing narrative. Here, in ‘Driving Music’ the inevitable melancholia of age creeps in – a kind of weariness that comes from knowledge and experience yet peppered with delightful hope and optimism. And she’s only twenty.
Brisbane’s Local Authority released ‘Negative Space’ – an album that I described as a ‘truly a magnificent album that carves out a unique space for Local Authority in the heady world of shoegaze/dream pop’.
This is an incredibly beautiful and poised album – it has an inherent grace and melancholy expressed on poetic lyricism and a musicianship that is fittingly melodic and celestial. Australian Halloween was produced by long time collaborator and studio maestro Wayne Connolly (who also did the recent Underground Lovers album). The title is a deft dig at those who decry the Americanisation of Australian culture, brilliant because the album itself explores the things that make life in Australia – and in particular Sydney – so unique.
While tunnel traffic is ostensibly the moniker for multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Adam Hachey, the move to bring long time collaborator, singer Jacky Muñoz, to the fore in the new album, ‘Age of Convictions’ pays dividends.
In this new album, Hachey has dialed up the intensity of the instrumentation: capturing the quite/loud ethics of the Pixies and the fuzzy raw guitars of bands like Dinosaur Junior and Pavement, and added the delicately beautiful floating vocals of Muñoz. There’s an inherent tension but a deeply satisfying fusion: the diamond in the rough, beauty and the beast, innocence and experience.
An unexpected and delightful surprise from two former XTC members: a live recording of them with a full band performing songs from their ‘Great Aspirations’ EP as well as some XTC favourites. Read my review here.
Along with Fontaines DC and Just Mustard, The Murder Capital are part of a very welcome Irish wave of raw, earthy punk poets. I wrote: This album is ferocious and beautiful: it has the passion and the energy of classic post punk rock, yet is leavened by a poetic and delicate beauty. Guitars with the architectural build of a city skyscape, a spine of pure thunder and the emotional strength of the vocals that spits out veracity and passion. There is detectable an authenticity that very few bands can muster.
Another band I only caught up with recently, Big Thief are one of the most innovative purveyors of indie pop at the moment. This year they released two excellent albums, U.F.O.F stands out as the most accessible and softer album. It is familiar territory and yet so innovative and poised.
Utterly delightful album from China Crisis founder that I found to be an album that creates a beautiful canvas of pure pop magic that sparkles throughout. It’s not heavy, it’s not dangerous, it doesn’t arrogantly swagger with attitude. It’s sweet melancholia infused with melody, and we all need that sort of beauty in our musical arsenal.
Single of the Year
Stand out single of the year for me was The Golden Dreg’s Nobody Ever Got Rich: a sombre, rich ballad of hurt and loss.
Other contenders (in addition to the singles from albums mentioned above) include:
- Chilean shoegazers Maff‘s brilliant single Swamp;
- Cloud Tangle‘s mesmerising ‘Thinking of Myself‘;
- Tan Cologne‘s evocative ‘Cave Vaults on the Moon in New Mexico’
- Melbourne’s Didirri with his indie anthem ‘Blue Mood Rising’;
- From Sydney, Bland hearkened back to the great inner city indie scene of the eighties with ‘Steel Park (The Path)’;
- Italian shoegaze maestros changed their name from Japan Suicide to Varanasi, began singing exclusively in their native tongue and released an epic single ‘Rosemary’s Baby’;
- Rising superstars Jekyll are continuing to impress – their single ‘Marionette’ was everything a good rock song should be;
- Greta Stanley‘s gorgeous ‘Kick’ that somehow captures the essence of Queensland;
- Fragile Animals continue to produce brilliant dream pop in their single ‘Waiting’
- Chakra Efendi‘s double single Morphine/Body By The Water created a low-fi resonance that is haunting and melancholic.