©2019 by The Mic. Proudly created with Wix.com

The Mic Awards: Best Albums of 2019

The end is nigh for 2019, and as the curtain comes across the decade, we have celebrated the best of this year’s music offerings over the past few days. As you prepare to celebrate the dawning of a new decade, or are now recovering from the headiness of New Years Eve, sit back and relax as we bring you the 25 Best Albums from 2019. An eclectic mix that spans surefire indie, vitriolic punk, shimmering Americana, sweeping alternative and potentially one of the most complex progressive metal records ever released, there’s something for everyone here. 2019 has been a emphatic statement of sheer brilliance and utter confusion, yet in its wake it’s enabled some of the best releases in modern memory. We can only imagine what 2020 will bring…


Introduction by: Ben Standring

Words by: Ben Buffery, Kieran Craig, Patrick Donnelly, Jermain Ethell, Bethan Fletcher, Lara Gelmetti, Louis Griffin, Faye Nichols, Tristan Phipps, Ben Standring, Phoebe Wade and Owen White


25

Oso Oso - ‘basking in the glow’

The follow-up to 2016’s cult-appreciated The Yunahon Mixtape, Oso Oso’s third studio album is a sharp catchy collection of gleaming guitar-driven rock. Long Island emo maestro Jade Litiri, formerly of State Lines and the only permanent member of the band, operates Oso Oso on a one-man mission, aside from drummer Aaron Masih and his third offering is both a testament to the power of positive thinking and a poignant reminder of its limitstion. A brisk invitation to savour and embrace the insecurities and quaint joys of life, the record as a whole hangs on to the head-rushing moments of everyday living. ‘Sometimes you do what you feel / Well most times I feel like shit’ are sung with a hapless serenity on Impossible Game, whilst the title track’s gorgeous hook has its listeners quite literally ‘basking in the glow’ of Litiri’s radiating songwriting. A personal love letter, Litiri’s disarming vocals dictates the album’s sound, floating on melodies and balancing evocative imagery with his unique yet relatable perspective. Elegantly catchy and driven from a personal perspective, basking in the glow is the crowning light in the recent emo revival, and a record the deserves to see Litiri’s Oso Oso risen to new heights. Ben Standring


24

Sharon Van Etten - ‘Remind Me Tomorrow’

New Jersey singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten’s electrifying fifth album Remind Me Tomorrow is not pretty, but it is her most integrally raw, heavy and most important record to date, returning from her acting role in The OA to the role she was most destined for, telling stories, but shifting from piano to guitar. The shift in musical dynamic is what gives Remind Me Tomorrow its finessed drive. The shuffling drums and prominent bass-line of No One’s Easy To Love is just one example of the widening musical consciousness that Van Etten has grown to have. Yet the singer-songwriter allows moments of dampened reflection with the likes of Malibu and Stay harking back to Van Etten’s previous discography. It’s no surprise that the album retains a sense of chaotic glory, Remind Me Tomorrow was written whilst pregnant with her first child, acting and studying to be a mental health counsellor. All of which, alongside her relocation away from New York City are woven into the reminiscent narrative of the likes of Seventeen, in which she reflects poignantly on her growth and upheaval. I Told You Everything divulges the details of her traumatic past to a lover, whilst her new electronic direction coats Van Etten’s lyrical introspection and plaintive vocals with a new gloss. It’s an emphatic surprise then that in times of considerable change, turmoil and yearning, Remind Me Tomorrow is Sharon Van Etten’s most driven and ambitious works to date, lifted with a confidence and conviction that is held tightly; a chaotic glory cemented into stone. Ben Standring


23

Jenny Lewis - ‘On The Line’

Born in the intoxicating and hedonistic heartland of Las Vegas and sharing a birthday with Bowie and Presley, it seemed almost fated that Jenny Lewis would become a performer. Yet despite a critically-acclaimed musical career, music wasn’t responsible for thrusting Lewis into the spotlight. A child prodigy, Lewis began acting from the age of two-and-a-half, had been bought a house by her agent by the age of five and then quit acting altogether at twenty, whilst enjoying the friendship of the likes of Leonardo Di Caprio when they were both teenagers. Not used to the stability of a normal childhood, Lewis’ whirlwind youth and early adulthood wasn’t helped with her mother’s relationship with substances, something which made a blossoming Jenny Lewis a remarkable raconteur and on her fourth solo record, her eighth in total including Rilo Kiley’s discography, a rejuvinated golden period has dawned. What began as a grief album mourning the end of her twelve-year relationship with partner and Scottish-American songwriter Jonathan Rice, On The Line later became a grief album to mourn her mother, and includes deftly weighted odes that attempt to bridge the years of turmoil that occurred in the past. Lewis’ songwriting style transgresses a plethora of influences, from Kate Bush and Fleetwood Mac to the more loose-based nature of the 60s blues scene happily bounding from one genre to another with the loose shrug and hapless smile of a singer-songwriter who’s comfortable with anything and everything. Heads Gonna Roll, a swaying 60s ode to classic songwriting and the ballady Dogwood contrast the jovial bounce of Wasted Youth and blues-based rocker Red Bull & Hennessy. Addressing her youth again, Little White Dove offers a proverbial olive branch to her mother and is sung with a charismatic pout and a joyful fondness. In 2019 Jenny Lewis sparks with the effervescent confidence of a giddy artist who’s just received her first record contract. A confident, self-assured head rests on wiser shoulders now, and the singer-songwriter is experienced enough to understand that timeless albums are a rarity for most artists, yet with On The Line, she has her most transparent record to date. Ben Standring


22

Solange - ‘When I Get Home’

If 2016’s A Seat At The Table was a colossal work of art, Solange’s self-produced follow up is celebration of black culture and femininity, acting to highlight Solange as one of the foremost important R&B artists in contemporary music. The record’s minimalistic opening foreshadows the airy instrumentation which elevates the listener onto an intimate bed of clouds, a feeling that Solange creates throughout the record. By ditching traditional song structure and weary lyrical themes, When I Get Home appears ambient and exploratory, projecting the beating heart of New Orleans into a wider, sporadic global music map, sporadic jazz and Gucci Mane guest spots coming and going at the blink of an eye. What remains a constant is the soothing production and lyrical prowess. Beltaway strips back the production dynamism, with its raw and unguarded outlook delivering a sense of primality, whilst as a whole on the record Solange offers an uplifting message of pride for black culture, a message permeating throughout her lyrics. Perhaps more impressive is her ability to drop the whole album without warning, highlighting a self-assuredness and strength of an artist dominating her genre. Ben Standring

Photo: Max Hirschberger

21

Jaws - ‘The Ceiling’

After almost two years without releasing new music, Birmingham trio Jaws threw themselves back into the indie limelight with The Ceiling. A striking mixture of tracks: sometimes guitar-driven and purpose built for the live-shows, sometimes softly introspective, Jaws have once again put forward an album that will turn heads. While the tracks on sophomore album Simplicity echoed the thoughts of a younger man coming of age, Connor’s vocals on The Ceiling feel a lot more adult. Do You Remember felt tighter and more focussed, with the vocals echoing a man less in a state of late-teenage muddle, but echoing the internal conflicts of someone who knows where they want to be but can’t quite get there. An atmospheric, summery riff paired with open, reverberated vocals – The Ceiling ditches the slightly melancholy tone of being directionless, and replaces it with one of youthful positivity – in what may be one of their most accomplished tracks to date. Upon listening to the album in full, striking comparisons emerge between The Ceiling and the Milkshake EP, released back in 2014. With simple choruses, soothing riffs, and an airy, baggy sound, Milkshake ended up being hugely well received amongst Jaws’ cult following – with fans calling for the songs of old to be played on 2019’s autumn tour. Not drifting too far from what earned them their loyal fan-base in the first place could be a shrewd move from the Birmingham boys, and by producing an album as accomplished and mature as The Ceiling, they are doing themselves no disservice on their route to becoming one of the country’s most renowned indie bands. Tristan Phipps


20

Marika Hackman - ‘Any Human Friend’

Marika Hackman’s third studio record expanded her already strong repertoire, flourishing in the more experimental elements first seen in 2017’s I’m Not Your Man. Whilst a mix of crunchy guitar tones and atmospheric vocals are consistent throughout the record, the cascading synth motifs in the intro and chorus of I’m not where you are hint towards the new expansion of her sound, an introspective attitude developing in her songwriting. the one’s layered vocals and groovy guitar line leans towards more of a pop sound, whilst all night highlights the overtly sexual theme prominent throughout the record. Perhaps the most synth-driven record from Hackman to date, blow loans towards 80s pop whilst wanderlust, send me love and hold on offers moments of respite. All in all, Any Human Friend is a solid addition to a fantastic discography. Read the full album review here. Jermain Ethell


19

Julia Jacklin - ‘Crushing’

An emphatic masterclass in narrative songwriting, the Australian singer-songwriter bares her soul for the purpose of self-discovery on second record Crushing, a sweeping analysis of relationships in crises against an alarming desire for inner-understanding. Jacklin’s array of alternative and vintage influences provide solace to fans of her 2016 debut record Don’t Let The Kids Win, and if anything, they are honed in on in ten compact and concise tracks. ‘Well, I guess it’s just my life / And it’s just my body,’ brews the stormy tension within Body, encapsulating the famed and steamy Fleetwood Mac rollercoasters of yesteryear, Jacklin’s hunger for detailing the most complicated of breakups amassing on a record of startling quality. The journey of emotions that Jacklin takes her listeners on is vastly impressive and immersive. Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You is heartbreakingly intimate as lyrics ‘Hope that your mother states friends with mind’ encapsulates a teary wholesomeness that tugs on the heartstrings. Amongst the chaos and emotional wreckage, she offers defiance. On Head Alone she declares ‘I don’t wanna be touched all the time / I raised my body up to be mine’ whilst in an even-more impressive feat, she manages to flip Bob Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay chord progression into a track of subversion, Good Guy reminding another lover that sex doesn’t equal a warming personality. A relentless snare drums maintains a nerve-shattering pulse throughout the record whilst the peppering of guitar on You Were Right matches the conviction and assuredness that Jacklin is in desire of. The vulnerability within the record’s vocals is its crowning statement, the instrumentation merely there to set the pace then step aside and let an array of delicate vocals do the heavy work, picking apart the fragments of the past to rebuild a greater understanding for the future. Ben Standring


18

Little Simz - ‘GREY Area’

Despite prominant support from Kendrick Lamar, touring with Lauryn Hill and Nas, a spot on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list, features with Gorillaz and a rising acting career as well, London-based Little Simz has taken some time to find her footing, yet on her third record, she tackles isolation, alienation, culture, violence, gender and more. Anchored by the production work of her childhood friend Inflo, GREY Area sees Simz’ fiercely independent brand rising alongside grime’s renaissance, finally feeling the spillover effects in 2019. The record projects Simz at her most confident. The versatility of the rapper is prominent, with humorous quips seen amongst the more grittier subject matter. Boss and Offence both capture an artist oozing with confidence, the bravado of lines like I’m Jay-Z on a bad day’ gleaming atop a slinking bassline. Yet thoughts that GREY Area would see the rapper in a tamer light were swiftly brushed aside. Venom is a vitriolic critique of gender stereotypes and status whilst Flowers tackles the price of fame and death. A crackle of US soul matches the sparks and fireworks of cosmic jazz throughout the record, a nod Simz’ ability to stay ahead of the UK’s jazz trend whilst On Wounds is bolstered by Jamaican artist Chronixx on its chorus, as Simz surveys gun violence and gang crime. Where Simz is set to go next is unclear. Given her many-fingers-in-many-pies approach to life, it’s not even sure as to when or if we will hear her again, yet her slow-burning, idiosyncratic third album the rap maverick has given fans enough to keep the tide rolling over. Ben Standring

Photo: Linda Nylind

17

FKA twigs - ‘Magdelene’

FKA twigs has ascended to the artistic stratosphere with almost frightening speed. She now finds herself mentioned in the same breath as auteurs such as Bjork and Kate Bush, despite the fact that she has just two albums to her name, and seemed to emerge as a fully-formed artistic proposition five years ago. But she earns this respect with Magdelene. A complex sophomore record if there ever was one, with circulating themes of gender, sexuality and power all colliding against a backdrop of some of the most ambitious instrumentals Twigs has ever put together. You can’t help but escape the sense that every beat, every texture, every last syllable has been considered and re-considered, that every inch of this record is exactly the album she has always wanted to make. Does that mean it’s a perfect album? No, far from it. But it does achieve that rare thing, making you question if every imperfection is intentional, and from this does the album’s power stem. Twigs’ vocals quiver and break, the synths and programming threaten to tear themselves apart at any minute, and yet the music just manages to hold itself together, a beautiful, imperfect artwork. To say that FKA twigs is one of the most important female voices in music right now would be misleading; she is one of the most important living artists, full stop. After delving into one of her projects for any length of time, it is difficult to return to the works of those who, unlike Twigs, aren’t making Art with a capital A. The finest anecdote I could unearth about this album came from electronic producer Nicholas Jaar, who is widely considered to be one of the most innovative electronic artists operating today. Twigs has said that he offered to remove his production credit from the album, as he felt it would undermine the work that she put in to producing every single track presented here. And this is the true story of Magdelene. Of a female artist operating in a world so stacked against her that she has to qualify every creative decision she makes, and still creates a triumphant, beautiful record. A biblical story for modern times. Louis Griffin


16

Tool - ‘Fear Innoculum’

Having been teased for the majority of the thirteen years in-between their fourth and fifth record, Tool manage to make up for time lost with a barraging ninety minute experience, complex and overpowering yet a marvel to wind through. There are no production flourishes and indecision, simply four metal musicians making a more mature and exciting collection of rhythmic exploration. Despite taking a step back, Maynard James Keenan’s vocals still soar in their uniquely ubiquitous and obscure fashion, but it is the layered-nature of the record that ultimately shines, and the sheer ridiculousness of it all when taking it apart. Invincible’s time signatures are counted in prime numbers whereas Legion Inoculant is a digital-only offering. Making complex tracks seem complex is easy. Making them listenable and enjoyable is another matter, and it is this in which Tool excel at. A sprawling record littered with minute nuances and deliberated motif’s that subtly change and waiver at a moment’s notice, the progressive metal quartet still build on their love for technical precision and psychedelic cravings. Following a thirteen year wait, Tool’s fifth record is a surprising statement of purpose moving forward, showcasing Adam Jones’ prowess for riffs whilst the polyrhythms from drummer Danny Carey on the title track and Descending are scintillating musical highlights in their own right. Fear Innoculum not only quenches fans’ thirst for new material, it challenges them and the band alike, for fans it might take another thirteen years to understand the full intentions behind the album, for the band it might take another thirteen to create something so obscenely intricate yet devilishly delivered. Ben Standring


15

Frank Carter & The Rattesnakes - ‘End of Suffering’

An emotional blitzkrieg from the former Gallows star, End of Suffering, the enthralling third record from Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes mines increasingly sensitive material, and dodges a maelstrom of pitfalls the record could have slipped into. The record is a surefire sign of the rapid development Carter has undergone. A few years ago and he still wouldn’t have been ready to fully contemplate and dissect the past and perhaps with the arrival of daughter Mercy, whose babbling features on the title track, whilst as a body of work Carter offers a brand of cathartic storytelling that is as extroverted as it is intimate, discussing the fleeting nature of life, love and joy when at times it’s easier to focus on the pain and disenchantment, the likes of Love Games asking the question ‘If life is a losing game, then why do we play it again and again and again?’ Whilst the punk anger of Blossom filters through sections of End of Suffering, the record is a more exploratory offering, injecting blood into new veins, Anxiety and Angel Wings are both transformational call-to-arms, destined for arenas and lighter-waving singalongs. Yet there are moments Carter is not afraid to come and kick the door in. Crowbar is a devilishly delightful, non-conformist message to keep the energy flowing and enjoy life to the fullest. Denice The Menace qualities still run through Carter, his live-wire propensity making him an easy figurehead to support, the likes of Kitty Sucker and Tyrant Lizard King preparing fans in advance for the behemoth of mosh-pits and frantic mauls that are set to follow in the new year. Having already delivered a string of modern punk rock classics, Carter’s third record is a poignant and commanding statement that he’s here to stay for the foreseeable future. More reflective but equally destructive. Ben Standring


14

Charli XCX - ‘Charli’

The third album by experimental pop artist Charli XCX, is one of the standout records of 2019. Exciting and diverse between tracks, it takes risks and pushes further into the realms of experimentalism whilst maintaining firm, accessible roots in mainstream pop. At first glance, the album shouldn’t work: over half of the tracks have features and the sound and style of individual songs varies drastically. Yet Charli pulls it off thanks, in no small part, to the singer’s masterful control of melody and skill at unorthodox song writing. Charli is the product of a more mature Charli XCX, influenced by the success of 2017 release Pop 2. Charli has taken the strengths that she demonstrated in that record and pushed them forward: her intuitive knowledge of when (and who) to feature on a track, her use of unconventional song writing techniques (whether in the lyrics or instrumental), her iconic use of autotune and knowing when and when not to apply it. This is the glue that holds together an album that, if created by anyone other than Charli XCX and her producer A. G. Cook, would otherwise fall apart. Next Level Charli is almost an ode to Pop 2, ending the era with a energetic, synth-heavy track before ushering in the new ‘next level’ version of Charli with Gone, one of the most critically acclaimed tracks from the album, featuring Christine and the Queens. The track’s focus is clearly on instability, showing vulnerability in its lyrics and in its sound – the instrumental cuts out and in, leaving you feeling like you never quite know when the next beat is coming. 1999 (feat. Troy Sivan) and Blame It On Your Love (feat. Lizzo) bring a positive, upbeat feel back to the album, after their preceding tracks (‘Cross You Out’ and ‘Thoughts’, respectively) which are more introspective and relaxed. Perhaps the most engaging part of ‘Charli is the block of four successive ballads which feature just Charli on her own. These four tracks demonstrate so much vulnerability and maturity in lyricism, unlike anything we’d seen from Charli previously, and display a stripped-back, yet still full-feeling, version of Charli’s experimental style. Charli is definitely the most refined work released by the ever-exciting Charli XCX but also one of the best experimental pop albums in recent times. If Charli can continue to experiment and surprise us, finding novel sounds and writing mature, fleshed-out lyrics, then we truly are in for a treat as the new decade dawns. Patrick Donnelly


13

slowthai - ‘Nothing Great About Britain’

In case you’ve not been paying attention, UK politics haven’t been in top form in recent years. Brexit has taken a stranglehold of the nation, meaning blue passports are prioritised over foodbanks and austerity leaves more and more people behind. At times like this it really feels like there’s nothing great about the place we live in, there’s nothing great about Britain. It would come as no surprise that this is the climate in which slowthai exploded into popularity. While he had received attention for his RUNT EP, this was relative obscurity when compared to how Nothing Great About Britain would catapult him into the mainstream. It seems long overdue that music was produced to take a swipe at the powers that be and slowthai pulls no punches. Within the first song the Queen is called a c**t and throughout the rest of the album he lashes out at the establishment that moulded his life. Together with producer Kwas Darko and a handful of features and collaborators, slowthai flexes his creative strengths. Whilst it doesn’t massively reinvent the UK hip-hop sound it does feature a melting pot of influences and styles coupled together with some fidgety production to match slowthai’s often unconventional delivery to great effect, providing a soundtrack for empty town centres, abandoned estates, and job centre queues. From the electro-punk throbbing bass of Doorman to the more tender and heartfelt Toaster; in every song slowthai’s voice is rich with emotion and energy. With Nothing Great About Britain slowthai has managed to lay himself a solid foundation on which he can sculpt his sound. There is an abundance of talent on display and you can only see slowthai getting better and better. Ben Buffery


12

Anderson .Paak - ‘Ventura’

Anderson .Paak albums are like buses. You wait eighteen months for one, and then two come at once! Despite the strained analogy, fans of the smooth voiced Californian singer won’t mind that he dropped both Oxnard and Ventura within five months of each other, after almost three years since the release of the masterclass that is Malibu. Despite a heavier, rap-based offering with Oxnard, Paak settled back to his roots with Ventura, flaunting the leisurely grooves and soulful serenades that worked so effectively in Malibu. Warming tracks like Make It Better, immediately put the listener at ease, no doubt the result of collaborating with Motown icon Smokey Robinson. The laid-back tone continues with the delicious duo of Reaching Too Much and Winner’s Circle – giving the album a feeling of carefree romance and heart. With Yada Yada, the album subtly begins to take an introspective tone, as .Paak begins to question his own reality and the end of the world. However, when delivered by such an expert crooner such as himself, at first listen you would be excused for missing these layers to .Paak’s writing. As the album draws to a close, Jet Black reveals itself as standout track. A sumptuously upbeat offering that offers a glimmer of reflection to both Venice and Malibu, delivered with a disco inspired edge that wouldn’t be seen in either of the aforementioned albums: a welcome sign that .Paak has developed his sound, rather than simply attempted to imitate his best work. Ventura serves exceedingly well when addressing the weaknesses of Oxnard, but that seems like too unfair a statement when describing one of the best .Paak projects we’ve seen to date. Producers on Ventura said that the real Anderson .Paak fans would appreciate the album, and in truth – this album marks .Paak’s fantastic return to the forefront of the American funk and soul scene. Tristan Phipps

Photo @emilygardnerx

11

Dave - ‘PSYCHODRAMA’

Arguably one of the most anticipated albums of 2019, Dave’s Mercury Prize winning concept album sailed straight to the Number 1 spot on the UK albums chart. The record follows a therapy session tackling his personal mental health struggles as well as his relationships and wider issues such as the social restraints on working class black youths, an issue so prominently documented about on the likes of Black. Throughout the record Dave offers compelling and powerful messages based on personal experience, delving into the past in order to help narrate and shape the future, and as a collective body the record is a triumph in the UK rap and grime scene, writing yet another story way in the growing history of the genre. Kieran Craig


10

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - ‘Ghosteen’

Ghosteen is a powerful, haunting record. An album made about, within and defined by grief, and yet one that manages to transcend such mortal matters as loss and despair, and touches beauty and purity. For those that don’t know, Nick Cave’s 15-year old son Arthur died tragically in 2015, and this was his first record to really unpack all that grief. Of course, this being Nick Cave, he does so in oblique and poetic fashion, spinning lyrical webs that stretch over the haunting electronica and gorgeous orchestration courtesy of Warren Ellis. The album is split into two parts; the first 8 tracks are ‘the children’, the last 3 ‘their parents’, according to Cave. I needn’t point out the tragic poignance of such labels. The words, sometimes spoken by Cave and sometimes sung, never approach the grief head-on. They approach from oblique angles, and are all the more touching for doing so. They dance around the subject, and the most direct are often the most abstract:

‘The little white shape dancing at the end of the hall / Is just a wish that time can’t dissolve

at all’

‘You’re in the back room washing his clothes / Love’s like that, you know.’

These lyrics loop back on themselves, the same imagery reappearing again and again, like a dream that cannot be escaped. Biblical references, nature, memory. Cave handles the heaviest subject with the lightest of touches, and makes an album about death, become somehow life-affirming. Cave finishes the record by repeating and repeating the phrase ‘I’m just waiting for peace to come’. The Cave we meet on Ghosteen is much less the lead figure we are used to, much more an impotent observer, watching tragedy unfold, utterly powerless to stop it. We too, then, are merely along for the ride, shown the reality of grief, and some kind of conclusion to it. Ghosteen feels like something is being exorcised, and put to rest. It’s a spiritual work, a gentle work, and ultimately, a statement that will stand the test of time as a masterwork from one of our greatest poets. Louis Griffin


9

Vampire Weekend - ‘Father of the Bride’

With Father of the Bride, indie veterans Vampire Weekend abandon the youthful hipsterism of their previous 2013 album Modern Vampires of the City in search of deeper self-reflection. Across an hour and its mega 18 tracks, Father of the Bride is a surprisingly versatile and diverse record oozing character that tricks us with major-key choruses, light guitars, upbeat tempos and charming vocals (providing the prefect summertime garden party soundtrack) however with lyrics carrying deep, melancholy thoughts covering a range of topics. Due to its great collage of influences, Father of the Bride is a much less cohesive and more experimental album than its predecessors. The mixed album contains some of the best Vampire Weekend songs to date (single Harmony Hall, an absolutely glorious mid-tempo folk-pop track, and retro-pop hit This Life that draws people in with its infectious, cheerful melody), throwback sampling (album opener Hold You Now samples a song from war film The Thin Red Line and 2021 samples Haruomi Hosono), tracks reminiscent of 70s progressive rock (Sympathy with its flamenco vibe, and Sunflower, potentially Vampire Weekend’s first song with a nonsense vocal chorus), some traditional country-style duets (collaborations with Danielle Haim: Married In A Gold Rush and We Belong Together), Disney-sounding songs from a seemingly alternate-universe (Rich Man and How Long?, both featuring twinkling piano and orchestral strings), and a couple of auto-tuned vocal riffs (Flower Moon and the sweetly familiar Bambina), all thrown together to create an indie pop-rock gem of an album. Vampire Weekend clearly enjoyed exploring a variety of different genres as their distinct sound is dragged through and adapted to suit a vast number of styles within the one record, yet their hypnotising melodies and smart lyricism still ring true to their previous work. Father of the Bride is Vampire Weekend’s wonderful serving of summery and light ear candy. Despite being slightly messy, a bit weird and probably too long, it is a unified and memorable record that flows like one long jam, showcasing the band’s versatility and frontman Ezra Koenig’s incredible songwriting capabilities. Lara Gelmetti


8

Slipknot - ‘We Are Not Your Kind’

The unveiling of new masks shortly before We Are Not Your Kind heightened the anticipation of a new record, with fans picking apart the band’s refreshed look and what it could mean for the music. The iconic Slipknot masks are redesigned with each album to hail in the new era, but, though they change, they retain certain features - keyboardist Craig Jones has sported spikes since album one, and percussionist Shawn Crahan has maintained his creepy clown persona. The band does with its masks what it does with its music; developed, explored, finessed, but never changed so much as to become unrecognisable. We Are Not Your Kind is more similar to Slipknot’s self-titled debut than anything, filled with punchy drum beats and gritty riffs, not to mention frontman Corey Taylor’s familiar vocal style – growled verses interjected with melodious song. But this album is undoubtedly more experimental than anything they have produced to date. The opening track Insert Coin is a short, eerie exploration of synth sounds, mainly instrumental, with the single line ‘I’m counting all the killers’ heard towards the end. Unsainted, the album’s catchiest track, contains fast-paced verses and a memorable chorus easy for crowds to chant to, reminiscent of Duality from Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses. The ruthlessness of Birth Of The Cruel, Nero Forte and Red Flag still allow an array of intense layers of emotion to come through, harking back to the divided state of affairs in America and across the globe. Despite the expected ferociousness, We Are Not Your Kind possesses moments of poignance, A Liar’s Funeral juxtaposing heavier condemnations with Taylor’s butter-sweet vocals. My Pain, arguably the softest track on the record, remains quiet and uncluttered throughout. As a whole, We Are Not Your Kind demonstrates Slipknot's impressive progression since their debut twenty years ago, whilst showing that they still are, at their core, the same band they were back then. Read the full review here. Pheobe Wade


7

Tyler, The Creator - ‘IGOR’

Tyler, The Creator’s IGOR is one of the most interesting and explorative hip-hop records of the past decade and also arguably one of the best and most heart rendering breakup albums ever recorded. It’s at points lovely, bitter, smooth, heavy, vindictive, saccharine sweet, jaunty and painstakingly detailed; often many or all of the above over the course of a single song. Tyler already shed his traditionally adolescent and provocative persona on 2017’s Flower Boy but here he also forgoes his usually intricate and showy flows, commanding baritone delivery and high-fidelity audio quality. In these elements places he instead chooses to expose a more vulnerable side to listeners, a side that’s more diverse musically and in terms of influences, more tuneful, cracklier and more analog, and ultimately, more rewarding. This is the kind of record that raises an artist to auteur status as Tyler’s singular creative vision and classy aesthetic tastes shine through on all tracks present, entirely produced and written by Tyler himself, as the album’s cover brazenly advertises. Tyler’s world is a haze of contradictions and paradoxes: candied 60s soul clashes with trunk knocking G-funk bass, mind-blowing technical proficiency brushes shoulders with charming amateurism and adoring odes of devotion stand side-by-side with spiteful and ruthless screeds. Through all these contradictions however Tyler’s immense grasp of the craft of songwriting and innate ability to channel mundane and deeply personal emotions into art that’s at once direct, expansive and ambiguous, never seems to leave him once. From the impossibly expansive synth drone that saws through the silence at the beginning of opener and tone setter Igor’s Theme to the immediately catchy and devastating refrain ‘please don’t leave me now’ on the thumping New Magic Wand to the charmingly sluggish and self-aware climbing soul synth-bass riff at the onset of blissful but blown-out sunshine soul closer Are We Still Friends, this is a record that confidently pull sounds and influences from all manner of disparate sources and feelings to draw out cohesive beauty without losing any of its carefully curated individuality. With this album Tyler has finally crafted the mature, emotionally nuanced and sonically diverse artistic statement he’s been building up to throughout his entire career right back from the eerie melodrama and amateurish charm of Bastard up to the disarmingly honest and instrumentally lush Flower Boy. Let me just say, it was well worth the wait. Owen White


6

Fontaines D.C. - ‘Dogrel’

Dogrel begins with clattering drums. It’s the sonic equivalent of Renton running from the police in the opening scene of Trainspotting. Big is a post-punk statement of intent, immediately plunging you into the world of Fontaines D.C., married to their country’s heritage, through a lens of literary references, by way of some of the most interesting guitar work this decade. Like their peers IDLES, Fontaines never let their energy drop, but they achieve this not through a full-frontal assault, but instead through the sheer emotive power of Grian Chatten, a frontman who prides himself on always taking the road less travelled. The songs here feel like vignettes, brief moments in the lives of characters you might find in a Dublin pub. Standout moments include the yearning Roy’s Tune, achingly nostalgic with lyrics like ‘Hey love, hey love- are you hanging on?’. Equally, closer Dublin City Sky channels the energy of The Pogues with its folky side and ode to the city. The album is fascinating sonically, too; post-punk, sure, but by way of garage and Britpop, with hints here and there of more straightforward indie band. One of the remarkable facets of the record is its ability to switch gear from maniac punk to soft balladry and back again with such ease; Fontaines find themselves exhibiting far more creative breadth than their peers here, to remarkable effect. Dogrel itself is a byword for a type of Irish colloquial poetry originating from the 1600s- it seems an apt title, both acknowledging the band’s heritage, while displaying a greater concern for literary achievement than their peers. In fact, Fontaines seem to have emerged practically fully-formed, with a cohesive set of mythology and references (see: James Joyce, Walt Whitman), and this debut record cements their unique brand of songwriting as, well, uniquely them. You’re never in any doubt as to who you’re listening to. Nominated for a Mercury, and Rough Trade’s album of the year, it’s hard to not to anticipate their forthcoming second album - wherever will they go next? Louis Griffin

Photo: Daniel Topete

5

Foals - ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2’

When announcing that they would be releasing two albums this year Foals were taking a dangerous gamble that could have ended in disaster, however when the first serving of their two-part series dropped in March earlier this year it was met with incredible reception. The album delved deep into the bands new-wave tendencies and was described by many as some their best work to date leaving very high expectations for the pending second instalment, which has since turned out to be a competent predecessor. Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2’s opening track Red Desert features a dramatic, futuristic and intensely cinematic instrumental sounding like a 70s synthesiser straight out of a film soundtrack that leads directly into the previously released single The Runner. This single has one of the catchiest riffs on the album, and according to frontman Yannis Philippakis, the song invites listeners to get determined and find their purpose despite the everyday troubles they face - establishing the tone for the album as promised by the band. Third track Wash Off channels Foals’ roots in math-rock, featuring cross-threaded guitars, multiple layers, a high tempo, fast pace and short bridges. Black Bull, definitely Foals’ heaviest track to date, is almost as intimidating as its title. This highly raw song encapsulates all the elements that make the band so distinctive on the modern music scene with an impressive driving percussion and its pure cockiness. Philippakis’ goes into full beast mode as his voice is completely blown out and his lyrics emit a sense of pure aggression. Situating itself as a sleazy-blues track, Like Lightning is another heavier rock anthem, but with a slower tempo and march-pace. By contrast, Dreaming Of provides a glimpse into the second half of the album, where the feel of the music takes a dive towards a softer, more haunting and mystical mood. This track still features some of the album’s most dense and impactful riffs, with a bassline that leads the song and barbed guitar sounds that give it a ‘pop’ feel. The brief interlude Ikaria is an effective burst of beautiful, atmospheric piano that borders on modern classical and aligns perfectly with the unusually tuneful and psychedelic 10,000 Feet – a dreamlike track with meaningful lyrics reliving the Icarus myth, featuring a soft guitar riff juxtaposed against its hard-hitting drums and heavy baseline. Into The Surf closely follows suit, with another illusory soundscape that brings back the piano we got a taste of in the interlude. And finally Neptune, a ten-minute track that is truly representative of all aspects of the band and what they are about, from their new-wave edgy and coarse side, to their older somewhat awkward math-rock days and also incorporating the introspective side of the band that has been all the more present in their recent work. It harmoniously summarises the entire Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost saga. Potentially the most relentless the band have ever sounded, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2 continues the cinematic and apocalyptic kind of concepts such as environmental and societal collapse that Part 1 introduced with a heavier and bolder approach. It pushes boundaries in terms of its themes and sound, providing the perfect soundtrack for the end of the world. Lara Gelmetti


4

Lana Del Rey - ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’

My, how far Lana Del Rey has come. Who would have thought that the purveyor of 2011’s Video Games would now be mentioned in the same breath as the great American singer-songwriter’s she seemed to idolise back then? But then again, she’s earnt it. The performer born Lizzy Grant has had a career that seemed to be laid out in front of her - she was destined to be an icon. Her debut album was so cohesive in its vision of Americana; dusty Hollywood boulevards, forgotten films and forlorn starlets, that it seemed almost too good to be true. And yet, she managed to establish herself as a genuine cultural force, broadening her sonic palette, and increasingly refining her lyricism and delivery. This year’s effort, Norman Fucking Rockwell!. is a staggeringly accomplished work. Lana deals with themes all too relevant in 2019: of gender, politics and love, and does so in a way that is worthy of Cohen or Dylan. Not only are her lyrics incisive, but they have matured so much from her earlier work. Gone are the iffy gender roles and bad boys in leather jackets - or rather, they haven’t gone, but Lana is fully aware of how passé and tired these images are. The opening line tees up for a different sort of Lana album: ‘Goddamn manchild / You fucked me so good that I almost said “I love you”’ The instrumentals here are in a different league too, with pop wunderkind Jack Antonoff providing sparse piano where it’s necessary, and lush orchestration when it’s needed. Never overbearing, never extraneous, he compliments Lana’s performances perfectly. The album has moments of tenderness, with How to disappear a particular standout, with just the most achingly gorgeous melody. Equally, Venice Bitch is Lana at her most, well, Lana; overblown instrumental outros, lyrics just provocative enough to excite, but still keeping a straight face, and hooks that you just can’t shake off. Lana is the songwriter modern America deserves, and NFR! will be viewed as a cultural record of these turbulent times. God bless Lana for being here to document them. Louis Griffin

Photo: Mat Hayward

3

Sam Fender - ‘Hypersonic Missiles’

One EP, eleven singles and one BRITs Critics’ Choice award later, Sam Fender finally dropped his long-awaited debut album earlier this year. Hypersonic Missiles showcases Fender’s talents in writing smart, provocative lyrics, putting together some belting tunes and creating award winning music which not only climbs the charts but is art that resonates with listeners too. It’s fair to say that the hype surrounding Fender’s debut album has been unprecedented. Particularly since winning his BRITs Critics’ Choice award late last year, you couldn’t switch on your TV without seeing Fender’s sharp jawline, baggy tee and belting voice on one talk show or another. With so many singles already out in the wild, there was heavy speculation on which were going to make the cut. Luckily, Fender still had plenty of tricks up his sleeve, managing to keep the record fresh and innovative, with listeners still on their toes. More than anything, this is thanks to his provocative lyrics; they tackle personal themes just as effectively as current political issues. The Borders - a track hailed by Fender himself as a favourite - tells the personal traumatic story of two boys growing apart as time goes by. White Privilege goes on to tackle social issues surrounding today’s political world acting as a standout for being notably simplistic yet impactful. Its multi-layered vocals provide depth to the track, whilst simple guitar chords, haunting vocals and stirring lyrics leave this as a song which lingers in your mind long after the final note has been played. Breakthrough hit Dead Boys, opens with its foreboding, poignant plucking of notes, tackling the taboo subjects of male suicide, mental health issues and toxic masculinity, acting as a prime example of the power which music can have. Like most tracks on the album, Dead Boys feels raw, emotional and above all else, real. Written by Fender, the track was triggered by the loss of a close friend and the rising number of male suicides in his home town; building momentum throughout, it swells to a harrowing finish. Fender has a talent for writing his tracks with enough ambiguity to make personal connections within individual listeners, yet somehow still remaining deeply distinct to himself. Often, lyrics will merely hint towards an idea through their simplicity, but, carried by Fenders unwavering vocals, they’ll elicit visceral responses from within. The record still manages to produce some surprising highlights, the likes of Two People, a delicate track documenting Fender’s struggles with hearing an abusive relationship at a young age but being unable to help in any way, written and performed with such elegance. Fender has managed to achieve the seemingly impossible for many musicians – creating purposeful art which is also commercially successful. Written, recorded and produced all within Fender’s own self-built warehouse studio in North Shields; it truly is a personal insight into the artist himself. The distinctive style and charm which has certainly served him well so far in his career oozes from every corner of the album - the tracks feel grand and heavy, but rarely tired. A Northern lad singing about social issues with a guitar in hand is nothing revolutionary nor new. Fender however, manages to put himself away from the crowd, whether it be with the hard-hitting lyricism, easy listening rock vibes or the flourishes of Springsteen-esque sax. Sam Fender has hit the ground running with Hypersonic Missiles - a stellar debut album, that shifts his name to the higher echelons of British commercial rock. Bethan Fletcher


2

Billie Eilish - ‘WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?’

Billie Eilish’s debut, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? is eclectic, to say the least. Outdoing herself in the album’s production, her and brother Finneas have mastered the art of genre-escapism. You could call it noir-pop, but that eradicates the entrails of trap, EDM, even shades of indie – labelling seems an injustice to an indescribable sound quality. WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP… is outrageously sensory and immersive. Throughout, we are enveloped in Eilish’s liquid vocals, from sharp, frosty whispers which melt into fluid serenades. Her flexibility is empowering, and confirms there is no ‘one-size’ to her craft. We aren’t to forget that, despite the ground-breaking success that has spun her world into edgy luxury, Eilish was still, at the time of the album’s release, only 17. The album is littered with shards of youth motifs: she starts by removing her Invisalign (queued by ear-tickling slurps), her brazen ‘duh’ in bad guy and Coca-Cola-drinking in xanny. But Eilish is staggeringly aware, her lyrics frequently diving into a painful honesty that even the most experienced amongst us would find difficult to anchor to words. Eilish is undoubtably hypnotic. From thirteen seconds in, her cackling laugh grabs us by the ankles and pulls us straight out of bed into her world: horror-film style. bad guy tosses the listener into a verbal catch-me-if-you-can style chase, with the playful synth running rings around us, the pre-chorus feels as if you’re squaring up for a fight. It’s punchy and cartoon-esque: saturated with vibrancy. Eilish herself has spoken about the song representing how we lie about our personas – and it reeks of irony, as she is in fact laying everything on the table for us. She offers clear insight into the background of many of her songs: it’s strangely inclusive, intimate and feels refreshing to have an artist so transparent about their creative process. The nightmarish bury a friend wields a disturbing amalgamation of sound effects, but one, Eilish revealed, is taken straight from a recording of a dentist drilling into her mouth. Even the opening grunt of Billie is a close friend’s recorded voice. ilomilo resurrects the memory of Eilish’s favourite childhood computer game of the same name, and its narrative of losing and reuniting with a loved one underpins the lyrics. Sounds from the game itself are bubbled through, adding a childlike sphere. Eilish is constantly proving that, even when unpicked, her music is as rich and intimate as it is stitched together. WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP… has come with numerous accompaniments: ‘The Billie Eilish Experience’ paid homage to her synthesia, with a room dedicated to each song; the album’s tour itself was also an experience with horror visuals and death-defying energy. Eilish is the ring leader of her own gothic circus, with every second pulling us closer into the light, before throwing us back into the audience: firmly where we belong. This is the one and only Billie Eilish show, and 2020 is in the palm of her hand, as are we. Faye Nichols


1

Bon Iver - ‘i,i’

To get a sense of Bon Iver’s genre-bending, fractured collage of records that have spanned the better part of a decade, it is vital to understand the fight or flight instinct embedded within the mind of the man in charge of it all. For a project that first began as a work of hermetic isolation and dampened reflection, i,i is a startling turn of events, relying on collaboration and evoking the importance of community. An unpredictable and elusive figure at the best of times, the completion of Vernon’s album cycle casts greater doubt over what the future has in store for Bon Iver. However, one piece of certainty is that, in this continually fragmented world, the importance of Bon Iver’s retrospective musings is greater than ever before.

Capping off our inaugural Mic Awards, Ben Standring delves deeper into the heart of our Album of the Year. Read why Bon Iver’s i,i rose higher than anything else to win the award here.

This site was designed with the
.com
website builder. Create your website today.
Start Now