20. Dave: Psychodrama
The highly anticipated debut from UK hip hop star Dave, saw his maturity shine through at the age of 20. Tackling issues such as racism, mental health and social injustice, Psychodrama is a concept album revolving around Dave’s interactions with a therapist regarding these issues.
The intensity of the album is evident from the opening track “Psycho”, in which Dave’s tone switches between arrogance and depression in a matter of seconds. This switch is portrayed both lyrically and sonically, transitioning from an upbeat trap banger to a mellow piano melody, as he goes from describing himself as being careful and humble to reckless, arrogant and extravagant, all in the same line.
His awareness of racial issues is presented on “Black”, where he explores the inequalities which still prevail in today’s society. From the lack of career opportunities to the media’s conflicting portrayals of black and white criminals, Dave acknowledges racism is still a major issue in our society.
At such a young age, his confidence to speak on issues such as domestic abuse on the poignant 11 minute story-telling track “Lesley”, demonstrates his passionate approach to social issues, which is reinforced through his raw delivery. Dave’s talents extend beyond his awareness, with his sharp word play and quirky punchlines being right up there with the best in the scene.
Once again showing his talents stretch beyond slick wordplay, Dave’s piano performance adds an eerie atmosphere to a handful of tracks on Psychodrama. All of these qualities along with the support of collaborators such as J Hus, Burna Boy and producer Fraser T. Smith, who earned a Grammy for his work on Adele’s ‘21′, helped Dave craft a mature conceptual album.
Fave song: Psycho
19. Anderson .Paak: Ventura
California rapper, producer, singer-songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, Anderson .Paak returned in 2019, just 1 year after releasing the impressive Oxnard.
Off the back of working on west coast sounds along with iconic hip-hop producer Dr. Dre on his previous record, Paak was eager to display his singing and instrument playing this time round. This was achieved by crafting a soul inspired album.
We’ve heard glimpses of Paak exploring these sounds on previous records, however this time round the focus was heavily on soul instrumentation, which allows for his impressive drumming ability to shine through. Adding to the 70s feel of the album, motown legend Smokey Robinson provided backing vocals on the cheesy but brilliant ballad “Make it Better”, where both singers offer solutions to a deteriorating relationship.
Anderson Paak’s appreciation for live instrumentation is evident on this record, with the elegant saxophone intro on “King James” being a somewhat breath of fresh air in an era dominated by electronic music. The inclusion of a horn on the opening track “Come Home”, blends in with the intricate bass guitar work which ends with an unbelievable André 3000 verse, suggesting his immense ability on the microphone show no signs of deterioration.
Paying homage to his west coast background, the final track “What can we do?” features unreleased vocals from Nate Dogg, a huge inspiration of Paak, who passed away in 2011. Exchanging vocals throughout each verse and chorus, the song’s theme centres around the heartbreak felt in the aftermath of a failed relationship. Ending with the lyric ‘time to grow up and turn it around’ along with an inspiring introduction of brass instruments closes the album on an optimistic note.
Fave song: Make it Better
18. Jpegmafia: All My Heroes are Cornballs
Following the success of his sophomore album ‘Veteran’ in 2018, the experimental rapper promoted this album along with the idea of ‘disappointment’ – which is far from how most fans were left.
While maintaining his signature glitchy instrumentals (and of course his trademark ‘you think you know me’ sample) which made Veteran so captivating, Peggie approached this record seeking a more melodic sound. This is evident from the opening track, where we hear Peggie sing on a chorus for the first time in his discography.
Finding his singing voice resulted in more of the songs on this record following more of a traditional song structure, with a chorus and multiple verses. “Grimy Waifu”, “Feel the Frail” & “Papi I Missed U” all follow this structure, which contrasts heavily with the freely structured tracks which dominated Veteran. Along with melodies, Peggie introduces us to more laid back beats this time round, with “Beta Male Strategies” being one of the smoothest instrumentals he’s rapped over.
On the 2 part track “Kenan vs Kel”, Peggie demonstrates his vulnerability, claiming he gets nervous when asked to feature on a song, as well as questioning whether he’s able to produce a good beat. These doubts are rightly disproved in the second half beat switch which contrasts heavily in its brash and aggressive approach, competing with Peggie’s raw delivery.
Being narrowed from 93 recordings to 18 tracks lasting just over 45 minutes, the tracklist covers a variety of topics ranging from broken relationships to PTSD. Peggie also experiments with speaking from the perspective of women, including on the “No Scrubs” cover “Basicbitchteargas”, where he interprets a scrub as a man who constantly talks about what he wants, but does nothing to fulfil these goals.
Despite being a change sonically for Jpegmafia, his flow and bars remain intact, while his wittiness once again is ever present in the song titles; “JPEGMAFIA TYPE BEAT” being pick of the bunch, sarcastically aimed at up and coming YouTube producers, using artists’ names to gain attention. Overall a very solid follow up to what is an ever-growing impressive discography.
Fave song: Kenan vs Kel
17. James Blake: Assume Form
On his 4th studio album, the English producer, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist solidifies his status as one of the most influential artists of the decade.
A contrast to his sombre and melancholic album The Colour in Anything released in 2016, Blake maintains his versatility, including fusions of multiple genres ranging from electro-pop, hip-hop and R&B.
The glistening piano intro to the title track supports the idea of Blake beginning the album in search of himself. Ending with ‘doesn’t it seem much warmer just knowing the sun will be out?’, Blake appears satisfied with life, suggesting he’s stopped taking the simpler things in life for granted. This is portrayed by sonic progression of the track, which ends with a soft and peaceful piano outro.
Blake also demonstrates his ability to beautifully harmonise over trap beats “Mile High” and “Tell Them”, which both feature production credits from established hip-hop producer Metro-Booming. This is an ability which has earned Blake popularity amongst the hip-hop community, which has seen him feature on Kendrick Lamar & SZA’s Black Panther soundtrack.
Along with Spanish vocals from rising pop sensation Rosalía, James Blake delicately addresses the effect his lover is having on him on “Barefoot in the Park”. Inspired by a movie of the same title, Blake uses this phrase as a metaphor to describe the security and freedom he feels with this lover, so much so that he finds himself questioning why he’d ever require balance, hallucinations, or even to pray.
Other components of love are explored throughout Assume Form, including the disbelief felt on “Where’s the Catch”. Blake feels what he has is too good to be true, which may indicate the scars that still exist from previously failed relationships. An enthralling André 3000 verse over a plucky electric guitar adds another dimension towards the end of the song.
Blake’s interpretations of the love he’s feeling draws to a closure on the gentle closing track “Lullaby For My Insomniac“, where Blake insists he’ll stay up if his lover can’t sleep, a phrase presented over a repeating harmonic refrain. A beautiful ending to a wonderful album.
Fave song: Barefoot in the Park
16. Solange: When I Get Home
Long in track numbers but relatively short in length, Solange returned in 2019 with a jazz inspired record, incorporating elements of her renowned R&B style and electronic music. Combining these elements, she managed to form a glossy, high quality record dedicated to her hometown, Houston.
Opening with the repeated line ‘I saw things I imagined’ along with a soft piano melody, the intro provides a dreamy atmosphere, in which the lyrics are very open to interpretation.
“Way to the Show” sees a Solange perform harmonic vocals over a psychedelic funk instrumental, which is modernised with the use of trap drums. A catchy playful flow used over the Metro Boomin’ produced “Stay Flo” fits the narrative of the track superbly, in which Solange describes someone as being intoxicated.
On the gentle “Dreams” , Solange sings about the fact that although dreams and aspirations may not be coming true ‘today’, they will do eventually. The fading cries of ‘dreams’ layer beautifully over a soft bass guitar, in one of the many tracks where hip-hop elements shine throughout the album with production credits from Earl Sweatshirt.
The bass loop on “My Skin My Logo” played by The Internet’s Steve Lacy steals the show on this track, with nonchalant laid back vocals from Solange and guest rapper Gucci Mane flowing in and out of the bass, as they exchange verses stating what the other likes.
Harmonising over a simple yet catchy synth loop on “Binz”, Solange’s verse converges on her lust for exuberant spendings on expensive items such as yachts and rolls royces. The infectious high-hats give a lively feeling to the song which represents Solange’s braggadocios side.
Having launched her own label Saint Records, Solange was able to craft an album collaborating with her favourite producers and artists, creating a magnificently sounding album which compensates her vocals superbly.
Fave song: Way to the Show
15. Foals: Part 2 Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost
4 years since the release of What Went Down, Foals announced they would be returning with 2 new albums in 2019. This served as a new era for the band, even more so with the departure of bassist Walter Gervers in 2017.
The opening instrumental “Red Dessert” merges into the noisy and aggressive riff for “The Runner” which sees lead singer Yannis Philippakis demonstrating his will and determination to ‘keep on running’ even if he falls down.
Where Part 1 at times lacked the aggression and urgency previously associated with Foals records, the follow-up has these elements in abundance. “Black Bull“ being one of the heaviest songs the band have released to date, the Queens of the Stone Age inspired riff and screeching vocals from Yannis make it impossible to not get on board with the energy of this track.
Amongst the hard-hitting tracks, Yannis is still able to demonstrate his incredible song writing ability, which shines through most notably on “Into the Surf”. This track was teased with a snippet of the instrumental being used for the album announcement trailer, we were made to wait until the release of part 2 for the full masterpiece. Inspired by his Greek heritage, Yannis explained how the song symbolises the shadow of death, of one not returning from a voyage. Compared to the hard hitting singles, “Into the surf” remains just as powerful, channelling this darkness through haunted vocals.
Foals end this era with the longest song in their discography, “Neptune“, which covers a wide range of emotions while building up before erupting into a wonderful guitar solo which gives off shades of the great Pink Floyd. With each member having mastered their sound, Foals once again show why they’re one of Britain’s most exhilarating rock bands of the decade.
Fave song: Into the Surf
14. Malibu Ken: Self-Titled
A collaborative project between prolific mc Aesop Rock and multi instrumentalist Tobacco, better known for his role as frontman of experimental psychedelia band Black Moth Super Rainbow.
Aesop’s witty rhymes required specific instrumentals throughout the album and these are complimented by Tobacco’s unusual electronic elements.
The lack of bass on the incredible “Tuesday” is complimented by the psychedelic synths that manage to maintain an energetic beat. Despite the energy presented through Tobacco’s production, lyrically Aesop explores the concerning state of his life. Despite these ‘concerns’ shown through imagery using items of food to represent his feelings of self-disgust, this is masked through irony as he states it scared his neighbour more that he wasn’t even alarmed.
The brilliant use of imagery is also demonstrated on the opening track “Corn Maze”. Using rabbits vs bunnies as a way to refer to the hip-hop scene, Aes claims the ‘bunnies’, being the young rappers with no experience are the ones who are flaunting their talents despite not yet earning the right to. His ’24 paw pads full of scabs’ demonstrates the significant length of his career, in which he has largely gone under the radar, often underappreciated by many.
The quick and skilful delivery Aesop comes through with on “Dog Years” contrasts with one of the most laid back beats on the projects. Given the self-deprecation Aesop presents on “Tuesday”, the amusing line ‘I never ate dinners with pop stars, you wouldn’t paint litter on a Bob Ross’ could once again be interpreted as him showing self-criticism, referring to himself as the litter, that doesn’t belong with these pop stars.
Aesop’s self-awareness and ability to acknowledge his downfalls is a breath of fresh air in hip-hop. His self-effacing, shameless approach is made less despondent by the humorous punchlines and incredible use of imagery. Aside with Tobacco’s consistent production, this makes for a very fun and unique album.
Fave song: Tuesday
13. Denzel Curry: ZUU
Less than a year since his critically-acclaimed 3 Act album Ta1300, Denzel returned with yet another high quality record.
A concise album being just 12 tracks long and 29 minutes in length, Denzel wastes no time in flaunting his impressive delivery, switching between high speed rapping and melody, almost effortlessly. Bass boosting 808s along with hard hitting trap drums combine with Denzel’s infectious flows to form a well polished record.
Thematically, the album serves as a homage to Curry’s childhood in South Florida, which is directly referenced on “ZUU” and “CAROLMART“. Combining with the theme of his hometown, Curry acknowledges his parents’ effect on his upbringing on the gritty lead single “RICKY”, which is named after his father. The energetic chorus addresses the advice Denzel received from his parents, such as trusting ‘no man but your brothers’ and ‘treating girls like your mother’.
The impressive “SPEEDBOAT”, as suggested in the spoken intro, is based on the fact Denzel ‘went from stickin’ pennies in the jar to offshore bank accounts‘. Despite acknowledging the privileges his success has granted him, he still sees concern that ‘school, jail, army’ appear only options for people raised in urban areas. Hard hitting 808s outweigh the melodic piano to maintain the energetic and aggressive vibe on this track.
Not intended to be as conceptual as Ta1300 or Imperial, Denzel used this record to showcase his sheer talent on the mic. In an interview with HotNewHipHop, the rapper stated no verse on the record was pre-written, claiming every one was freestyled. It’s this type of talent that earned him Genius’ lyricist of the year 2019.
Fave song: Speedboat
12. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard: Fishing for Fishies
Prolific Australian psychedelic rock outfit King Gizzard continue with their knack of releasing multiple high quality albums in a calendar year. Not quite the 5 albums released in 2017, but Fishing for Fishies, along with Infest The Rats’ Nest has now took their discography to an astonishing 15 albums in just 7 years.
As misleading as the upbeat tone projected through the plucky guitar and harmonica on the title track may suggest, “Fishing for Fishies” is heavily based on the idea of over-fishing, which is contributing to the extinction of certain sea creatures. Rather than celebrate the idea of fishing, the band take an alternative view on the matter, with vocalist Stu Mackenzie claiming ‘It seems like cruelty to me, You ain’t hungry, leave them be’.
The title track serves as an introduction to the narrative of the album, which heavily revolves around the concept of environmental issues, that are seemingly destroying our planet. This theme continues on “Plastic Boogie”, which addresses humanities’ unattainable use of plastic in every day life. ‘Death will come from plastic’ can either be interpreted as a direct effect on sea creatures or the possible future death of the planet due to excessive plastic consumption.
While maintaining the blues rock inspired instrumentals, King Gizzard introduce a character named “Boogieman Sam”, who’s used as a metaphor for humanities’ wrongdoing. Using symbolism throughout the track, King Gizzard are able to smartly address political issues such as war through lyrics such as ‘He stole from the punter, the exact shoes he wanted’.
The ‘boogie’ element of blues dominates the album, with 3 of the tracks containing the word ‘boogie’. The final track “Cyboogie” contains 70s inspired synths which coexist fantastically with the live drums and complete a well rounded conceptual album. Great work.
Fave song: Plastic Boogie
11. Danny Brown: Uknowwhatimsayin?
From underground rap to commercial success with his latest record Atrocity Exhibition, it’s safe to say Danny Brown is now widely regarded as one of hip-hop’s most talented MC’s.
9 years since his commercial debut The Hybrid, Danny’s now at a stage of his career where he recognises his accomplishments in music, something he acknowledges on the first track “Change Up”, where he declares he’s ‘just trying to keep (his) legacy’. Being in such a positive place most likely had an inspiration on the witty-natured theme of this album, compared to the dark themes he’s covered on previous projects.
This LP sees a return to more traditional hip-hop instrumentals, with A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip having production credits on 3 tracks. This contrasts with the quirky and experimental instrumentals Danny was rapping over on Atrocity Exhibition, however his innovative lyricism and flows mean this album doesn’t simply feel like ‘yet another predictable rap album’.
The addictive loop used by Playa Haze on “Savage Nomad” surely has to make this beat a contender for instrumental of the year? Along with multiple switches of flow and slick punchlines like ‘No ice on my neck but she love me for my charm’, Danny provides further evidence confirming he’s on top of his game.
Whether using clever double entendres throughout the stand-up comedy inspired single “Dirty Laundry“, or competing with hip-hop legends Run The Jewels on the Jpegmafia produced “3 Tearz”, Danny remains as captivating as ever. Continuing with his signature nasally delivery and his punchlines more witty than ever Danny maintains what made him one of the genre’s most exciting acts.
Fave song: Savage Nomad
10. Brockhampton: Ginger
With Iridescence being recorded in just 10 days, this resulted in a slightly underwhelming follow-up to the Saturation trilogy. Ginger saw Brockhampton return to their best.
In comparison with prior albums, the self-proclaimed hardest working boy band in show business are at a different point in life, which is evident through a lyrical and stylistic change. On the opening track “No Halo“, Dom, Merlyn and Joba each deliver compelling verses over a lo-fi acoustic guitar loop, which touch on their difficulties fighting their depression, setting an entire mood for the remainder of the album.
Much of the album gives an insight to the negatives of being in the limelight, from drug misuse to fame, while also referencing childhood issues at times. Dom delivered one of Brockhampton’s most spine-tingling verses to date on “Dearly Departed“ in which he addresses the situation with former band member, Ameer Vann. Ending with the microphone hitting the floor adds to the raw emotion presented through Dom’s vocals.
“Boy Bye” being the only track to feature efforts from each vocalist and producer, still sees individuals address their issues despite the upbeat instrumental. Kevin acknowledges fame may indeed have changed him, with him now only realising how poorly he’s been behaving now that he’s sober.
Along with their continued openness regarding their sexuality, the group scrutinise the idea of masculinity on ‘Big Boy’ with Joba stating how he’s ‘weak and I’ll say it proud’. Being at their most vulnerable, and acknowledging the issues that may have gone unnoticed as they rose to fame, Brockhampton appear to have found themselves now. This journey has lead to a very impressive album.
Fave song: Dearly Departed
9. Little Simz: GREY Area
On her third studio album, Simz demonstrates why she’s one of the most talented MC’s emerging from the UK scene.
Her impeccable flows could rival anyone, a skill she herself recognises, as her confidence shines through on the opening track “Offence“, in which she suggests she’s ‘Jay-z on a bad day’ and Shakespeare on her worst. The live instrumentation gives a raw feeling to the track, with the striking drums, out of tune flute and the resounding bass loop creating a gritty atmosphere. Her irresistible wordplay and attitude of doing as she wishes, while not caring who she offends, sets the tone for the remaining 9 tracks.
Simz’ impressive rhyme schemes on the single “Venom” forms 2 incredible verses, in which she alludes to the fact her talent on the mic is overlooked simply because she’s a female. The excitement of the track continues into the second verse with a rapid change of flow over intense strings before the beat comes back in. The stagnated instrumental along with the raw delivery from Simz on “Boss” makes for a unique sound which sounds like something Jack White may have influenced.
To compensate for the aggression, Simz also explores a more mellow sound on “Selfish“, acknowledging the big ego that is ’embedded’ in her. A more laid back delivery along with a soothing chorus from Cleo Sol provides an element of soul to the record. This smoother delivery is also heard on the final track “Flowers“, where Simz makes reference to the amount of great artists who’ve passed away at the age of 27, of which include Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse. The inclusion of a saxophone and chorus from soul singer Michael Kiwanuka gives a poetic feel to the song.
GREY Area sees Simz at her most enthralling yet, with consistent wordplay and a unique delivery matched with brilliant live instrumentation. Great album.
Fave song: Offence
8. Fontaine’s D.C.: Dogrel
Irish post-punk band Fontaine’s D.C. are among the recent surge in an ever-growing genre, which includes IDLES and Shame, among many others
The punk attitude is clear from the opening track, “Big”, where the band show their ambition despite the tough upbringing and impoverished conditions of their hometown, Dublin. Describing their birth place as a ‘pregnant city with a catholic mind’ the band plays on the anti-abolition belief held by Catholics, whilst showing that despite the awful conditions, the people of the city will always prosper.
Imagery of weather depicted on “Too Real”, among other tracks, forms a despondent tone aimed to represent the struggle of the nation throughout the years. The passion and hunger prevails regardless, as on “Too Real”, lead singer Grian Chatten screams ‘I’m about to make a lot of money’.
Their self-described ‘renewed sense of pride in being Irish’ is evident throughout this debut, particularly on the final track ‘Dublin City Sky’, which incorporates elements of Irish folk, sounding particularly inspired by The Pogues. Along with the rich Irish accent of Grian and the rough guitar work throughout the album, the band have established themselves as one of the most exciting pop-punk bands of the decade.
Fave song: Too Real
7. Slowthai: Nothing Great About Britain
Northampton rapper Slowthai experienced a rapid rise to mainstream success, with the release of his explosive debut Nothing Great About Britain.
Released amid the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, and the turmoil of British politics in general, this album serves as an insight to the pain and anguish of growing up in a 21st century Britain, where austerity, poverty and racism still prevail.
Referencing British culture throughout the opening track, Slowthai makes remarks on Buckingham Palace, tea and biscuits, and even iconic EastEnders character Phil Mitchell. Although there is clear pride in his nationality, ending the track with the lyric ‘hand on my heart I swear I’m proud to be British’ appears tongue-in-cheek, appearing swiftly after acknowledging the downfalls of the nation.
We’re given an insight to life growing up in Northampton on “Gorgeous” and the autobiographical Northampton’s Child, which explores the trouble his family had with his mum giving birth at 16, then again at 17. Opportunities are so scarce growing up in urban Britain, so much so that Slowthai only feels peace of mind when he’s dreaming of a life he’s not living.
Slowthai directs his disappointment towards the government, with urban areas receiving a sufficient lack of funding to improve health and lifestyle. On “Dead Leaves” he claims to run his town, but insists he’s nothing like Boris. This attitude is reflected on “Doorman“, a post-punk song produced by Mura Masa which features screechy vocals and the punk attitude that existed in 1970/80s UK music.
Along with high quality features from grime stars Skepta and Jaykae, Slowthai succeeds in capturing the feeling of the youth of Britain in 2019. A lack of hope and lack of guidance.
This wonderful debut deservedly earned him comparisons with a young Dizzee Rascal.
Fave song: Dead Leaves
6. Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Teaming up with prolific pop producer Jack Antonoff on her 6th studio album, Lana delivers one of her most ambitious records to date.
The cinematic “Venice Bitch“ undergoes numerous instrumental adaptions over the course of 9 minutes, even including a psychedelic rock breakdown containing plucky electric guitars that sound like they could exist on a Tame Imapala record.
The title track which opens the album is based on a pretentious poet who’s ‘up his own backside’. Despite being ‘fun’ and ‘wild’, this poet fails to acknowledge the sadness Lana is feeling, as he’s too self-indulged.
Having covered other songs on previous albums, it was therefore unsurprising to hear Lana cover “Doin’ Time”. Originally released by American Ska Punk band Sublime in 1988, the theme ties in with the album’s narrative.
The strings on “cinammon girl” portray the conflicting feelings Lana is feeling in her relationship. Feeling cinammon in her teeth from kissing her partner, Lana could be symbolising the danger this partner may possess. Despite this, she offers leeway after explaining nobody she’s had a relationship has avoided hurting her.
The exploration of new sounds and the lyrical density Lana provides throughout this record, makes for a wonderful cinematic experience.
Fave song: Venice Bitch
5. Charli XCX: Charli
Back with her first LP since the release of two of the most exciting mixtapes of 2017, Number 1 Angel and Pop 2, Charli once again shows why she’s one of the most forward thinking artists of the decade.
On this self-titled album, it’s evident Charli is now comfortable having found her own style and direction. This sound she experimented with on both mixtapes in 2017 has now been mastered, and cranked up a notch, as suggested on the opening track “Next Level Charli”. The synths, vocals, and finally the drums being introduced separately allow for the track to build into an anthem centralised around topics Charli has widely covered throughout her discography, including partying, and her preference for fast cars.
Charli continues to celebrate her accomplishments on the braggadocios “Click” which features guest verses from Kim Petras and Tommy Cash. This theme is also visible on the experimental “Shake it“ which includes some of the most unique and futuristic vocal effects Charli has explored. Featuring verses from 4 of her friends, this track serves as an intergalactic electropop banger.
This theme doesn’t exist throughout the album, as Charli shows a more emotional side on tracks like “Thoughts” in which she questions whether her friends are really friends, and whether or not she’s ‘lost it all’. On “White Mercedes” Charli acknowledges her shortcomings in a relationship before admitting she doesn’t deserve their love.
Her ability to craft grand choruses such as Blame it on your Love ft Lizzo, a remake of her “Track 10” off Pop 2, along with the magnificent “Gone” featuring Christine and the Queens, Charli shows why she’s destined for large arenas.
The transition from club hit “1999” featuring Troye Sivan which sees Charli reminisce her childhood, into the final track “2099”, represents Charli’s growth into the trend-setting futuristic artist she’s become. While clearly inspired by electropop producer SOPHIE among others, Charli’s quirky instrumentals and clever use of auto-tune has crafted an iconic sound, which will most definitely pave the way for up-and-coming artists in the next decade.
Fave song: Shake It
4. Weyes Blood: Titanic Rising
California singer-songwriter Natalie Mering delivered a cinematic chamber pop masterpiece with her 4th studio album under this name. Having been inspired by the titanic film at a young age, she successfully crafted a magnificent album around the idea of learning to live and to love while in the shadow of doom.
With its gentle synths and psychedelic guitar riff, lead single “Andromeda” provides a dreamy atmosphere. Feeling as though you’re floating through space, Natalie claims there’s nothing in the big wide galaxy for her. This, however, doesn’t stop her looking up into the sky seeking guidance from a higher spirit she ‘may never find’. The wonderful inclusion of the slide guitar adds further emotion to the lyrics, while also sounding like something George Harrison might’ve recorded while alive.
The wonderful piano intro to “A Lot’s Gonna Change” is paired with heavenly vocals. Natalie appears to be looking back at her childhood, a time when she ‘had the world gently wrapped around her’, and warning someone younger of the difficulties that inevitably occur later in life. The introduction of string instruments in the chorus add to the atmosphere, in which Natalie has seemingly been hurt, and therefore not wanting to give this person a false perception of reality.
Natalie’s ability to explore sombre topics using her haunting vocals to convey the melancholy continues throughout the album. “Mirror Forever“ acknowledges the fact you don’t receive a trophy for being through the most pain, while the heartbreaking “Picture me Better” serves as a letter of closure to a friend who committed suicide.
Using instrumentation inspired by the 70s, combined with the highly polished mixing of today, Weyes Blood has created a masterpiece. An exceptional vocal display complements the vulnerability of her lyrics, making Titanic Rising her most comprehensive and complete album to date.
Fave song: Andromeda
3. Billie Eilish: WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
Released at just 17 years of age, this emphatic debut makes Billie one of the most exciting acts to emerge from the music industry in recent years.
Written, produced and recorded along with her brother, Finneas O’Connell, in their family home, the result of this atmosphere shines through right from the first track in which they joke about taking out her invisalign before introducing the album.
The unmissable viral hit “Bad Guy” kick starts the album with an addicitive bass loop, before transitioning into a loud, glitchy instrumental breakdown that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Jpegmafia record.
On “xanny“, Billie addresses the social pressures surrounding recreational drug use, that is a prominent issue particularly in the music industry. “What is it about them? I must be missing something” she sings softly, before stating her preference for canned coke. The heavy 808s contrast heavily with the quiet vocals.
The instrumentation on this album is minimal at times, such as on the dark heartbreak song “listen before i go“. As Billie asks to be taken ‘to the rooftop’, distant voices in the background can be heard over the soft piano chords, giving the sensation that you’re on the rooftop. A similar effect is used on “Wish You Were Gay” where a sample of audience laughter is played after the line “I’ll never let you go – five words you’ll never say”. This gives a comedic element to what is a sombre message, and is perhaps Billie’s way of dealing with her heartbreak.
In contrast with the minimalist approach on some of the more sombre tracks, “all the good girls go to hell” has a wonderful bass loop which builds up into west coast inspired synth progression during the chorus. The instrumental for “my strange addiction“ is also a highlight as Billie samples quotes from the office, later confirming it is her favourite show.
Her intimate vocals are present throughout the album, and are layered and staggered at different times to create eerie effects. This along with the addictive bass loops and roaring 808s creates a unique atmosphere throughout the album. This uniqueness helped create an enthralling debut which has rightly earned her a nomination for ‘best new act’ at the grammy’s.
Fave song: listen before i go
2. Tyler, the Creator: IGOR
On his 6th studio album, and his angsty teenage rebellions now a distant memory, Tyler delivers a conceptual break up album centralised around a fictional character, IGOR.
As we’ve now come to expect, Tyler delivers yet another album fully produced by himself. The instrumentals extend on the dirty, lo-fi mixing of Cherry Bomb and are combined with elements of the glamorous synths heard on Flower Boy and WOLF. On IGOR, we hear more instrumental complexity and diversity than ever before in his discography, which at times speaks louder than the lyrics themselves.
The concept of the album is fantastically crafted over 12 songs. Lead single “Earfquake“, originally written for Rihanna, is one of Tyler’s most commercially viable to date, which ties into the narrative of IGOR, seeing him express his love and devotion for this lover. These feelings are reinforced on “I Think”, where he feels as if he’s falling in love for the first time, informing us over a synth progression which sounds influenced by Kanye West’s “Stronger”. Kanye himself features on the track “Puppet”, where the idea of obsession and lack of self-control associated with relationships is explored.
Vocally, we experience Tyler at his most melodic, with the aggression of his previous albums only coming through on tracks like “What’s Good” and “New Magic Wand”. The aggression on “New Magic Wand” represents the concern around the possibility of his lover leaving him. Desperation can be heard from IGOR as the flat vocals repeat the refrain ‘Please don’t leave me now’.
When the relationship finally comes to a close on “GONE, GONE”, the glossy synths and joyful tone to the singing suggest IGOR is happy the relationship is over. Perhaps this positivity stems from the fact “at least I had it instead of never”. However, the following track reveals Tyler may have been masking his true feelings, as we hear his sinister screeching ‘I don’t love you anymore’.
The final track “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?” signals the end of IGOR’s relationship and concludes his story, making it Tyler’s best execution to date. The clear theme and the immaculate instrumentals create a journey in which Tyler takes us on through 40 minutes. A masterpiece.
Fave song: I THINK
1. FKA Twigs: Magdalene
4 years ago Tahliah Barnett was a backing dancer in Jessie J’s music video for smash hit “Do It Like a Dude”. Now on her second album under the name FKA Twigs, she’s delivered one of the most captivating electronic art pop albums of the decade.
Having found a distinct style, FKA printed her sound by producing much of the album herself, with support from fellow electronic producers including Skrillex and Benny Blanco.
Inspired by the biblical character Mary Magdalene, who has been referred to as one of Jesus Christ’s closest acquaintances, Twigs used this character to signify the power of women. Addressing the rejection of Mary’s humility in the Bible due to her being a prostitute, Twigs continues the theme of empowering females with the line ‘A woman’s war – unoccupied history’ suggesting woman’s roles are often forgotten in popular culture.
A truly devastating heartbreak album sees FKA twigs open up about her relationship struggles in a very vulnerable manner. The opening track “thousand eyes” begins with a haunting refrain of ‘If I walk out the door, it starts our last goodbye’, signalling the end of a relationship.
The theme of heartbreak continues with the melancholic “Sad Day” which signals a slow end to the relationship, followed by addressing her needs and desires on the trap infused “holy terrain“, which features vocals from Future. “fallen alien” extends this theme of heartbreak, in which Twigs states her under-representation, alluding to the fact she feels as if she doesn’t fit in.
Her haunting soprano vocals intertwine with the experimental instrumentals, and she is able to use this to portray her emotion of pain throughout the album. This creates an expressive atmosphere, causing her feelings of agony to be somewhat infectious. A truly remarkable album.
Fave song: fallen alien