These 50 albums shaped the sound of 2019
The world doesn’t feel like a better place than it did 12 months ago.
Between terror attacks, natural disasters and the endless noise emanating from online diatribes and debates – many of them uncivil, unkind and full of untruths – it’s an anxious time.
More than ever in 2019, it became apparent that our world is not in good shape.
How can we justify caring about something as trivial as music at a time like this? Surely there are bigger fish to fry.
Or maybe this is the time where we need music most.
There have been many studies into using music to decrease stress. And it would take an especially cynical person to begrudge anyone from finding joy in art at a time where joy is becoming a rarer commodity.
But there’s more to it than that.
In just about every one of the following 50 albums, there’s a sense of humanity that connects us to its creators.
We hear about people dispossessed from their homelands. We connect with those who’ve endured romantic trauma that we can relate to. We learn the untold history of vital historical figures. We gain strength from the positivity of some, and realise it’s okay to wallow sometimes as we drown in the woes of the artist.
Even in the most disembodied works listed here, we hear a reflection of ourselves as people, and our world as it currently stands. Its beauty, its ugliness, the endless possibilities it offers.
When the chips are down, music is there to help. It might give you perspective, or it might just take your mind off the shitstorm that rages with every passing day. You can find solace in a good album, even if it doesn’t actually fix any of our world’s underlying problems.
Albums have saved lives before and they will do it again. But their value doesn’t need to be that extreme; sometimes they’re just a nourishing way in which we can connect.
Here are the 50 best albums of 2019, according to the team here at Double J.
– Dan Condon, Music Editor
50. Busby Marou – The Great Divide
Busby Marou may have once been pigeonholed as a country band, but they prove they are so much more on The Great Divide. They retain the folk, roots and country aspects of their 2010 self-titled album, but are now unashamedly more pop.
This record is filled with songs you can sing along to, like ‘Lucky Stars’ and ‘Paper Hearts’, but the stand-out is ‘Naba Norem (The Reef Song)’. Sung in the Torres Strait Meriam Mer language, this song captures the essence of the islands, using traditional instruments and sounds of the sea mixed with beautiful cultural harmonies.
With so many Aussie references on this album, it feels like home. – Wendy Saunders
49. Jenny Hval – The Practice of Love
Norway’s Jenny Hval makes big ideas sound beautiful.
This is an artist whose last record was a concept album about menstruation called Blood Bitch. Which sounds like it might not be for everyone, but is a totally pleasurable listening experience.
So is this, her seventh record. It’s all about love, but there’s nothing romantic about it: she explores themes around feminism, the human body, childlessness and, honestly, a whole lot more that’s probably gone over my head.
It’s exquisite. Hval’s voice is soars over luscious, trancey new age beats that’d make Deep Forest jealous. It’s an album to ponder, or just bliss out to. – Caitlin Nienaber
48. The Cat Empire – Stolen Diamonds
Stolen Diamonds is chock full of trumpets, horns, and the danceability that The Cat Empire are known for.
Their eighth album was drip-fed to us over the course of six months, but that didn’t stop the full album making a big impact when it was released in February.
Bending and blending genres to their will, the band mould their signature sound into something that doesn’t get stale, fusing years of hard work as a touring band.
This album works equally well played live on a mammoth festival stage, or turned up to 11 on your stereo as you dance around the lounge room. – Sarah Howells
47. Jenny Lewis – On The Line
On The Line sees Jenny Lewis emerge from a marriage breakdown, which makes the fact that she wrote all the songs singlehandedly ultimately more poignant.
Lewis is fierce and forthright on this record. She’s like an outlaw straddling a glittering white stallion, with equal parts trepidation and confidence about the future. It’s a sonic excursion through love, loss and fresh beginnings.
Few artists are able to make an album boasting a guest list like Elvis Costello, Ringo Starr, Beck and Don Was, but she is a special artist.
On The Line feels like 43-year-old Jenny Lewis’ magnum opus to date. – Kath Devaney
46. Bobby Alu – Flow
Each September Double J holds a party at Brisbane’s BIGSOUND festival featuring an eclectic cross section of the best Aussie talent on our radar.
I hate playing favourites, but tropical ambassador Bobby Alu was my unexpected highlight.
A month later, his third album arrived. And again the Byron Bay local turned this tightly wound inner-city sceptic into a chilled out positive vibe merchant… if only for an hour.
Whether you’re on, near, or simply pining for a body of water and a calmer frame of mind, Bobby’s brand of coastal folk will take you there. It takes a lot of skill to make something this good sound so effortless. – Dorothy Markek
45. Winterbourne – Echo Of Youth
Winterbourne‘s debut album, Echo Of Youth, has been a long time coming.
For years now, the Central Coast duo have honed their craft, waiting until the time was right to release an album that truly captured who they were. We’re happy to say, they nailed it on the first go with the excellent Echo Of Youth.
Exploring themes of social media driven anxiety, aspirational culture and strained relationships, it’s a record that resonates equally as a statement of the times we live in and the duo’s personal journey.
The band went deep of the themes and the making of the album with Zan Rowe, listen right here. – Stephen Goodhew
44. Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin¿
Danny Brown‘s executive producer, A Tribe Called Quest architect Q-Tip, asked the Detroit rapper to return to the sound of his 2010 debut. Brown delivered.
With his snaggletooth capped, Brown loses none of the edges that distinguished him from his rap alma mater. He remains a helium-voiced firebrand, his newfound sobriety leaving his stinging punchlines and gallows humour undiluted.
Alongside beats from JPEGMAFIA and Flying Lotus, Tip throws in three of his own and spars with Brown on ‘Combat’.
On paper their partnership shouldn’t work, but uknowhatimsayin¿ brings back the ‘old’ Danny Brown, with his manic dexterity intact. – Sam Wicks
43. Youth Group – Australian Halloween
Youth Group‘s first album in a decade is redolent of the band’s earliest records.
They don’t sound like they have regressed, or chased a younger version of themselves. But it does feel like they have instinctively reconnected with an iteration of the band that had few aspirations beyond making great music and telling rich stories.
Toby Martin’s lyrics are nostalgic, warm, emotive indie rock glistens behind them, adding the right sense of emotional gravitas; not overbearing but unashamedly designed to make you reflect.
Youth Group are back and it feels so right. – Dan Condon
42. Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
Weyes Blood – aka Natalie Mering – is now four albums into her career. This is an excellent starting point for the uninitiated. Echoes of George Harrison, Carpenters, Beach Boys, Todd Rundgren, Philip Glass, and even Enya (in the voice layering department, she admits) all come ringing out of various songs.
This album could have happily lived in any decade across the past 50 years, yet it still feels so connected to today. By processing her memories, ideals, and other layers of her subconscious, she lands on at outlook that only spells survival and strength to me.
It’s a beautiful record, in all senses. Beautifully strong, vulnerable, open, reassuring, and to pun on her name, wise. – Richard Kingsmill
41. Jordan Rakei – Origin
London based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jordan Rakei is in a league of his own.
Origin is a lush mix of modern soul, jazz and funky grooves that’s best enjoyed in multiple, fully immersive doses. Shifting rhythms and meticulous details seem to pour out with ease and, more importantly, feeling.
There’s brighter colours but the same classy tones as 2017’s Wallflower and his debut Cloak. It’s warm and tender without being cloying, cool and sophisticated but never aloof.
The ambition’s always been there so it’s wonderful to hear his confidence finally catching up. – Dorothy Markek
40. Ry X – Unfurl
RY X has a truly stunning voice, and the judicious production on Unfurl means that every aspect – strings, percussion, organs, synths – is given space to breathe. Space to sound as beautiful as it should.
He’s not experimental, but you still feel the heart behind what he does.
Some songs, like the driving ‘Foreign Tides’ or the almost-dancefloor-ready ‘The Water’ threaten to become big, grandiose epics. But the restraint kicks back in eventually and, before you know it, everything has settled back down.
This is a hypnotic, meditative album that you should surrender yourself to. – Dan Condon
39. Rapsody – Eve
There have been a lot of incredible feminist hip hop records made this decade. Rapsody‘s third album Eve is not just one of the most profound, it’s simply one of the best.
Her flow as a rapper has always been incredible, but it’s getting even better. The production throughout is gripping and sympathetic.
The themes – notably the struggles of the past and the promise of the future – are covered with class and power.
The record features one of the year’s best guest lists – D’Angelo, GZA, Queen Latifah, J. Cole – but you’ll walk away from Eve worshipping at the altar of Rapsody rather than any of her famous friends. – Dan Condon
38. Tropical Fuck Storm – Braindrops
Another year, another Tropical Fuck Storm album, another favourite release of mine.
No one tackles the weird shit, the commentary on the deepest, darkest, scummiest parts of humanity better than them. Perhaps because, quite simply, there is no one who sounds like TFS.
Its title befits the listen – it’s cerebral, but also packs a physical punch. The clean guitars drip across each track like a melting Salvador Dali clock, the heavier moments scream and snarl, and the rhythm section feels like driving over road spikes at 100 kph.
When we’re all living Mad Max style after the apocalypse, this is gonna be my soundtrack. – Gemma Pike
37. Brightness – Brightness
Clocking in at just 29 minutes, Brightness self-titled record is a short but brilliantly sweet listen for anyone needing a dose of expertly crafted lo-fi indie rock.
There’s not a shred of fat across the album. From the guttural first chord of ‘Dallas’ to the abrupt close of ‘Thank You’, Brightness wastes no time traversing a deceptively broad swathe of emotional and sonic territory.
Uplifting moments, like the catchy ‘Bukhansan’, find balance with moments of quiet devastation, like ‘Feather’, an ode to maternal resilience.
Ultimately, Brightness is a remarkable statement from a truly gifted songwriter who was ready to quit music altogether. We’re sure glad he didn’t. – James Tynan
36. Kate Tempest – The Book of Traps and Lessons
I can’t make it through this album without crying. Blubbering in a heap on the kitchen floor, or weeping on public transport. This third album from Kate Tempest is the London poet at her brutal, truthful best.
Rick Rubin’s production is so enmeshed with Tempest’s words you don’t even notice its absence in the climactic ‘All Humans Too Late’.
She pummels us with real talk: on Brexit, social media, the bleakness of everyday life and why we stay in bad relationships (‘I Trap You’).
But just when you think you can’t take anymore, she lifts you up, shifting focus from the ugliness of the masses and finding refuge in the company of a lover (‘Firesmoke’) and beauty in the face of a stranger (‘People’s Faces’). – Caitlin Nienaber
35. Toro y Moi – Outer Peace
This album will forever take me back to the first few months of 2019. It was the soundtrack to my summer. All I listened to as I stalked the carpark at the beach, sweated on crowded buses, and hit the pavement in the hot sun with my headphones on.
Outer Peace is a total joy from start to finish. I get a spring in my step every time the beat kicks in on ‘Freelance’ and a smile on my face as I sing along to the chorus of ‘Who I Am’.
Forget the chillwave tag. In the past decade, Toro y Moi has proven he’s got so much more to give.
If you’re craving a record that’ll make you happy from the moment you hit play this is for you. – Caitlin Nienaber
34. Mavis Staples – We Get By
Mavis Staples turned 80 this year, but there’s a fierce energy pulsing through her Ben Harper-produced album We Get By that would put most young vocalists to shame.
Staples has pushed for change through her music for over 50 years, but in ‘Change’, the opening track from the record, she doesn’t sound weary or frustrated. She remains a pillar of strength.
Harper lets Mavis and her band do what they do best and doesn’t try and impart his own style on her brand of life-shaking gospel.
A perfect modern interpretation of a vintage style of music that ensures it remains as relevant as ever. – Dan Condon
33. SASAMI – SASAMI
On her brilliant debut, SASAMI exposes the diary fragments, emotional texts and unanswered questions from fleeting romances and doomed one-night stands. It’s revealing and relatable.
In shoegazy single ‘Not The Time’, she wonders why your lover pretends you’re part of their life when you both know its doomed. ‘Free’, a hazy ballad with Devendra Banhart, is the riposte to the older guy with a ‘good thing back at home‘.
It’s not a pity party though. Some songs are intimate and reflective. Others present loneliness as something weirdly seductive and empowering.
Fans of acts like Yo La Tengo – moody bedroom indie-pop, expressive guitar grooves – will find a lot to love beyond the heartbreak. – Ryan Egan
32. Tiny Ruins – Olympic Girls
On first listen, Hollie Fullbrook’s gentle, compelling folk songs remind me of walking past an open window. You see frozen fragments of a scene. Mysterious or magical moments in someone’s life fly past. Details dazzle but seem unconnected until you circle back to take it all in.
Darth Vader helmets discarded after a crash, UFO obsessives invade a bookshop, kids sleep in the back seat, prisoners watch gymnasts on the TV. Fractions of seconds on a long bus ride become drenched in existential meaning.
On Olympic Girls we find Tiny Ruins operating as a legitimate band. The textural guitars provide scaffolding for Hollie’s weightless voice. The tasteful arrangements and warm instrumentation are like the reassuring but unpredictable crackle of a well-tended winter fire.
The perfect backdrop for quiet contemplation or storytelling. – Ryan Egan
31. Tool – Fear Inoculum
For better or worse, Fear Inoculum holds no surprises for Tool fans. It’s the band doing what they do best and pulling it off with the expected level of precision, cohesion and mutual musical understanding that us mortals could only dream of.
That said, it never comes off as cold or needlessly technical. Between brain-melting epics like ‘Invincible’ and ‘7empest’, and short, ethereal oddities like ‘Litanie contre le Peur’ and ‘Legion Inoculant’, Fear Inoculum makes for one of the most enrapturing listens of the Tool discography.
If you have 90 minutes, you should give it a whirl. – James Tynan
30. Holy Holy – My Own Pool of Light
Holy Holy have developed into one of Australia’s best bands. Their live shows are excellent, and their sonic palate has intensified with each release. My Own Pool of Light is their finest yet.
There’s not just a musical confidence here, personal experience has clearly offered a lot of inspiration. Its beautifully crafted energy makes it a real album lover’s album.
‘Teach Me About Dying’ is one of the best singles of 2019, but when you hear it in the context of the whole record it may have you in tears. By the time you get to ‘Frida’ you might be on the floor.
It’s a strikingly beautiful, soul-nourishing album which keeps on giving. – Gab Burke
29. Faye Webster – Atlanta Millionaires Club
Faye Webster‘s creativity is jaw-dropping and fearless.
Atlanta Millionaires Club seems strikingly and potently carefree. It’s a hypnotic blend of gentle-yet-soulful folk and R&B slow jams, combined with the unlikely twang of pedal steel. The record even throws in a hip hop cameo!
‘Kingston’ is paired perfectly with a tropical cocktail and hammock, while ‘Right Side of My Neck’ warrants something stronger; a neat vodka and a pillow to cry into.
This is a brave and bold blend, effortlessly executed by a 21-year-old polymath in full flight, already on her third album. – Henry Wagons
28. Caroline Polachek – Pang
Pop futurists and genre-busting aesthetes abound in 2019.
With her debut album proper, Caroline Polachek leaps forward a few light years from her 2014 experimental album as Ramona Lisa and her 2017 ambient album as CEP.
On Pang, she presents the unapologetically bold statement that I imagine most Chairlift fans have been waiting for.
She channels a vast range of inspirations – from opera lessons to PC Music, Beyonce collabs to 80s art-pop like Prefab Sprout and Cocteau Twins – into a formidable collection of highly personal but catchy-as-hell modern pop songs. – Tim Shiel
27. Mark Ronson – Late Night Feelings
Mark Ronson has made a career out of introducing us to new voices, and making us hear familiar ones in a completely different way. On his fifth album Late Night Feelings, Ronson pulled together an all-female roster of established artists and exciting new names.
Having Miley Cyrus channel her godmother Dolly Parton on ‘Nothing Breaks Like a Heart’ is a masterstroke. Other names include Alicia Keys, Angel Olsen and Lykke Li. Rising star YEBBA almost steals the show alongside King Princess and Portland rapper The Last Artful, Dodgr.
All of these strong female voices combine to make one belter of a heartbreak album. These disco-inspired hits are the perfect late-night antidote to a broken heart. – Gab Burke
26. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
Vampire Weekend won me back with this album. Not that they ever really lost me, but their preppy 2008 debut grabbed me by the heart in a way that their successive records didn’t quite manage to.
Father of the Bride feels like Vampire Weekend has grown up emotionally, and their music is richer for it. It’s an ambitious double album, sweeping through the joy, the pain, the success and the failure of young adult life.
The catchy hooks and sing-a-long lyrics are still there in tracks like ‘Harmony Hall’, ‘Bambina’ and ‘This Life’, and there’s some impressive collabs with Danielle Haim, Mark Ronson, and The Internet’s Steve Lacy. – Gab Burke
25. Charlie Collins – Snowpine
Tigertown’s leading lady Charlie Collins burst into 2019 with her solo debut Snowpine, garnering praise that included an ARIA nomination for Country Album of the Year and a nation-wide support slot with Country Golden Girl Kasey Chambers.
Charlie has harnessed her inner cowgirl, but in her own way and in her own voice.
This approach is somewhat reflective of the current cultural shift of country music and its fans.
Snowpine is raw, real, and layered with hooks. But, most importantly, it’s impeccable storytelling from a voice with deep resonance. – Kath Devaney
24. Seeker Lover Keeper – Wild Seeds
On Seeker Lover Keeper‘s Wild Seeds, Sarah Blasko, Sally Seltmann and Holly Throsby pick up where they left off eight years ago.
The title track has me dreaming of floating in a sea pool, their three voices like the waves lapping at my cheeks, ambient and free.
Their live performances – with Sarah on vocals, Holly on keyboard and Sally on guitar – shine with pure abandon as they take the beauty of the album to another level altogether.
All their experiences combine and result in sheer brilliance, featuring powerful harmonies and lyrical storytelling that we can all relate to. – Wendy Saunders
23. Brittany Howard – Jaime
While we’re all waiting for the next Alabama Shakes album, frontwoman Brittany Howard has released an album that took me by surprise.
Taking nothing away from the band that made her famous, Jaime is the richest, most diverse and affecting body of work we’ve heard from her yet.
Made entirely her way, it’s a deeply personal project that so easily could’ve slipped into self-indulgence. It skilfully veers from the daring and frisky to the shocking and sad.
A lyric like ‘Who slashed my daddy’s tyres and put a goat head in the back?‘ is pretty hard to dream up… and even harder to forget. – Dorothy Markek
22. Fontaines DC – Dogrel
Fontaines DC are a cracking new band from Ireland who’ve really excited me this year.
Their debut LP Dogrel is full of intense, dynamic, rocket fuelled post-punk.
It sounds inquisitive and passionate, like a band with a deep love of musicianship still exploring the edges of their sound.
Fontaines DC also love poetry and sing about James Joyce, which feels very romantic, especially since many of their songs are about life in Dublin.
It’s thrilling, gritty rock from a band with infinite possibilities ahead of them. – Karen Leng
21. Olympia – Flamingo
From the first rollicking bars of early single ‘Star City’, I knew Olympia had served up a dynamite sophomore album.
Olivia Bartley, a fierce guitarist and magnetic vocalist who has woven some of the most inventive toplines I’ve heard in recent years, is at the top of her game.
Flamingo is an album that flits between moments of youthful confidence and critical vulnerability, a swinging pendulum of emotion that is instantly relatable.
Teaming up with producer Burke Reid – another musician with a knack for creating deliciously bent pop – was a buoying, brassy, bouncingly brilliant stroke of genius. – Gemma Pike
20. The National – I Am Easy To Find
I’m always excited by new music from The National, but when I found out I Am Easy To Find was on the way, I was sceptical. For a band whose evolution has always been gentle, it was time for a more daring creative step. Boy did they deliver.
The Brooklyn sad dads have taken their biggest creative leap in 15 years. Adding more than 75 musicians and a roster of female vocalists on almost every track adds another layer to the band’s distinct brand of smart, melancholic indie rock, without diluting their sound.
If you’re a fan, you’ve probably already fallen in love with this truly beautiful record. If not, it might be the perfect record to dip your toes in and see what the fuss is about. – Luanne Shneier
19. FKA Twigs – Magdalene
FKA Twigs has done a lot of growing up since LP1 cemented the fiercely talented singer, dancer and auteur as one of pop music’s most adventurous new artists.
Does heartbreak and pain make us stronger? After a difficult four years, Twigs channelled all hers into Magdelene; an intensely beautiful listen full of sadness and fragility, but also strength.
Delicate piano melodies and angelic voices jostle with distorted bass and stabbing beats. Above it all is FKA Twigs’ most expressive singing yet.
Magdelene is inspired by the duality of one of the Bible’s most famous women. It’s rich inspiration for an artist like FKA Twigs so ambitiously investigating her own identity through a myriad of artforms. – Karen Leng
18. Bon Iver – i,i
Bon Iver‘s newest recruit Jenn Wasner interrupted rehearsals to jump on Arvos back in August. She brought stories of communal meals, Bruce Hornsby piano runs and general band bonhomie.
The dazzlingly detailed i,i is imbued with that spirit of collaboration, with Wasner and Hornsby’s contributions sat alongside the voices and textures of James Blake, Moses Sumney and Migos producer Wheezy.
In opening up Bon Iver, Justin Vernon has revealed more of himself, dialling back the auto-tune and pushing his voice upfront.
His unveiled lyrics are no less cryptic, but their unadorned majesty is as affecting as ever. – Sam Wicks
17. Amyl & the Sniffers – Amyl & the Sniffers
Melbourne’s sharpie subculture of the 60s and 70s lives on in Amyl & the Sniffers, a bunch of transplants to the city who kick out hard, fast and heavy pub-punk.
Led by firebrand vocalist Amy Taylor, the Sniffers have bottled the rip-shit-or-bust rock’n’roll honed at their vicious live shows.
With 11 songs that fly by in a half-hour, Taylor barks out her thoughts on homelessness, dead-end jobs and love gone bad, driven by the Sniffers’ unbridled raw power.
These mullets can’t be muzzled. – Sam Wicks
16. Michael Kiwanuka – KIWANUKA
Sneaking into the decade’s end with one of the best soul records of the 2010’s is KIWANUKA, the third album from Michael Kiwanuka.
Like any good self-titled album, KIWANUKA is a reclaiming of artistic identity. All of us have struggled at one point or another to reconcile the person we feel we’re meant to be with the person we want to be.
With the help of the one and only Danger Mouse, Michael plants his flag firmly in his own territory, embracing the complexity of his Ugandan/British heritage. – Stephen Goodhew
15. Solange – When I Get Home
Solange has nothing to prove. When I Get Home is an experimental and assured album that shows someone working with complete self-assurance. A piece of work that is more about expression and exploration than trying to pander to what is happening in pop music today.
The many guest spots – from Sampha, Panda Bear, Tyler, the Creator and more – are very much in support of Solange’s performances rather than trying to take the spotlight. While tracks like ‘Jerrod’ prove that Solange requires no assistance.
When I Get Home is not for everyone. In fact, its appeal is probably fairly limited for an artist of Solange’s public stature. But, if you’re a fan of R&B that colours well outside of the lines, you’re going to fall deeply in love with this extraordinary piece of art. – Dan Condon
14. Underworld – DRIFT: Series 1
What Underworld have done over the past year isn’t just ambitious, it’s creative, vulnerable, and would be bloody frightening for a lot of artists. Each week they released a new song, the whole project an exercise in letting go and letting be; and that’s the vibe on this release.
Despite being on our best “albums” list, I’m reluctant to call it one – DRIFT: Series 1 is more like a world. The moods reflect life’s ebbs and flows, the unrelenting passing of time, something that feels linear but is anything but.
I don’t think many artists could release something like this and get away with it; this is quantity and quality. – Liza Harvey
13. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Fishing For Fishies
You know when you go on a day trip and it begins with a delightful drive out of the city into the clear, crisp air of the country?
You stop in for a ploughman’s lunch and decide to pair it with a glass of Chardy. Before you know it, the arvo is taking on a different kind of shape and you’re having D&Ms with your mate.
You stumble into a bush doof then, what seems like five minutes later, the sun is coming up and you’re full circle at the start of a new day.
That’s what this King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard album is. – Zan Rowe
12. Angel Olsen – All Mirrors
One of the great distinctions of this fifth record by Angel Olsen is the way the songs are set up in sequence to tantalise and hypnotise. It draws you in like pitcher plants would unsuspecting insects.
But, instead of a digestive cavity, you are presented with a hall of mirrors. The longer you are in there, the eerier the experience becomes. You wonder if you’ll ever make it out. If only you could stop second guessing yourself.
Things get bleak when life falls apart around you. But rather than turning away, Olsen looks deeper at what pain can reflect of herself.
This is an absolutely absorbing listening experience from start to finish, emotional drama at times ornate and soaring, at others writhing and contorting in on itself. Ultimately, patiently, it restores the heart. – Caz Tran
11. Aldous Harding – Designer
The third album from New Zealand’s Aldous Harding is not what I expected.
After the acclaimed, intense folk drama of 2017’s Party, Harding’s voice is softer and warmer on Designer, with songs that lure you in with sweetness and lull you in to a state of unsettled calm, reminiscent of a Sophia Coppola soundtrack.
Teaming up again with producer John Parish (PJ Harvey, Eels) Harding’s oblique lyrics, intense and at times fragile voice, proves she is one of the most unique, otherworldly artists right now.
Designer is that perfect Sunday morning record you’ve been looking for. – Meagan Loader
10. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow
Remind Me Tomorrow sees Sharon Van Etten at her full wing span, delivering an album that is a fascinating combination of being both a strident, at times aggressive, musical barrage, but at the same time, also being completely fragile and emotionally prone.
Her tales of love lost and confession are surrounded by jaw dropping swathes of broken piano, infinitely echoing synth and irrepressible rhythm. It’s almost like staring at Sharon backlit on the horizon, in both triumph and pain, after Rome has burnt down.
A glorious, ambitious and fascinating album. – Henry Wagons
9. Big Thief – U.F.O.F.
Another delicate and devastating piece of music from the pen of Big Thief‘s Adrianne Lenker.
Her deeply affecting, evocative lyrics are potent as ever on the Brooklyn band’s third album, and the music has that same free and unencumbered spirit as their best work in the past.
Whether you’re losing your mind in the dizzying ‘From’, stomping your feet to the down-home Americana of ‘Cattails’, or bawling your eyes out to the title track – you’re not gonna get through this record without feeling some feelings.
Listen deeply and allow yourself to be taken by its subtle charms. Then go and listen to Two Hands, the other excellent album they released in 2019. – Dan Condon
8. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
In 2019 it feels like we know more about what makes Nick Cave tick than ever before. Yet what makes Ghosteen extraordinary is a deep sense of mystery which envelops the songs.
It is a devastating listen, but also incredibly poetic, as Cave explores grief with a kind of open-hearted wonder.
The Bad Seeds have considerable musical muscle, but the beautiful songs on this double album are marked by restraint, finding power in gentle orchestration and subtle detail.
As Nick Cave evokes burning horses, stars and fireflies, children and Christ on a cross, he conjures a world where loss is tempered by the redemptive qualities of love and the promise of renewal. – Karen Leng
7. Lizzo – Cuz I Love You
Lizzo caught our ears with ‘Boys’ in 2018. She then dropped her massive earworm ‘Juice’, the huge ballad ‘Cuz I Love You’ and then, out of nowhere, ‘Tempo’ ft. Missy Elliott, which absolutely blew us all away.
So, by the time her album dropped, expectations were pretty high. The record turned out to be a solid, unapologetically loud collection of retro-infused, glossy soul-pop party jams and self-love anthems layered with messages of female empowerment, survival and self-love.
An infectious, feelgood record for anyone feeling like they need to belt out some car karaoke, hit the dancefloor or turn their happiness dial up to 11. – Luanne Shneier
6. James Blake – Assume Form
After three James Blake albums and what feels like a million sad, electronic R&B copycats, I thought to myself, ‘Enough! I have had my fill of this sound. No more!’
But this is an album of uncommon depth, sophistication and emotional resonance.
Yes, there’s sadness – it’s a James Blake album – but, for the first time, you get a very real sense of hope creeping into the music. And it’s this new dimension that makes Assume Form such a compelling album.
There’s light and dark within all of us and music is never more powerful when it speaks to both. On Assume Form, James Blake pulled back the blinds and let the light in. – Stephen Goodhew
5. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
In ‘Happiness is a Butterfly‘, Lana Del Rey gently equates the pursuit of a desired state of being to a flighty, heedless creature. Chasing after it proves pointless and exasperating.
On past albums she’s sought happiness through dazzling romances or the pursuit of money and success. But on this year’s ‘Mariners’ Apartment Complex’, she sings ‘I’m your man‘.
Perhaps we have taken her sadness out of context, for behind her lingering, softly downtrodden words is not a fragile, inconsolable woman, but a person who offers the gift of empathy, wisdom and hope.
Lana Del Rey has stepped out of the speckled silver screen she’s cast herself in previously, and into our lives with a record in which she delivers an exhilarating humanity. It’s kinda fucking miraculous. – Caz Tran
4. The Teskey Brothers – Run Home Slow
Who would’ve thought a bunch of tradies from the outskirts of Melbourne could make you feel like you’ve stepped back to Detroit in the 1960s?
From the very first few notes on their slick second record Run Home Slow, that’s exactly where The Teskey Brothers take you.
A rock-solid follow up to their brilliant 2017 debut, the band takes a classic sound and makes it their own, combining Motown-era warmth with Josh Teskey’s powerful, raw and gritty vocals.
Not many artists live up to the standards set by the some of the greats – Otis, Aretha and Sam Cooke – but The Teskey Brothers get real close. – Luanne Shneier
3. Julia Jacklin – Crushing
On her masterful second album, Julia Jacklin explores the non-linear realities of heartbreak and loneliness in a way few artists can do.
‘Body’ is a brutal opener. The ex-boyfriend – proud of being kicked off a plane for smoking, now in possession of nude photos of her – is perfectly drawn and unfortunately recognisable. ‘I guess it’s just my life, and it’s just my body‘ she observes painfully.
These lyrics linger as Jacklin moves through the potent ‘Pressure to Party’ and ‘Head Alone’, cleverly exploring the rocky path of self-realisation. ‘Hurts for a while, cured with time‘ she sings hopefully on gentle closer ‘Comfort’.
Like the worst break-ups you might find yourself flicking back to track one to do it all over again. – Ryan Egan
2. The Chemical Brothers – No Geography
I was not prepared for just how much I would love the new The Chemical Brothers album.
A band who have been omnipresent in my musical life, when I first saw the album scheduled for release I thought, ‘Okay, here we go with another set of fairly bright, crowd-pleasing dance tracks’.
But that first listen hit me like a tonne of bricks. I hit repeat on it straight away.
Born out of the club rather than the studio, this is a collection of fast paced, propulsive, driving tracks – mirroring the discontent of the times we find ourselves in.
Stay angry, Chem Bros. – Gemma Pike
1. Sampa The Great – The Return
Sampa Tembo was destined to find acclaim; she’s talented, charming, and considered. If it weren’t for that third trait – that patient, thoughtful, careful nature – those first two attributes might have been exploited in the years leading up to her debut album The Return.
Rather than hurriedly rushing out a first record to capitalise on well-deserved hype, Sampa has worked on a schedule that works best for her. That allows her to evolve at the speed and in the way that makes her the best artist she can be.
As a fan, it’s been frustrating. We didn’t want to wait years for a Sampa The Great album. But she couldn’t have released a record as honest, powerful, cohesive and broad-ranging as The Return until she’d been through a ride as wild as her past four years.
‘I’ve seen the industry kill the dreams of a dreamer,’ Sampa and Krown rap in unison on ‘Time’s Up’. It’s one of many unapologetic lines that speaks to how her journey as an artist has really pissed off those who insist some things need to be done a certain way.
‘Singin’ ’bout my freedom while they plannin’ how it’s buyable,’ she says in ‘Freedom’.
Sampa’s rapid-fire delivery has always been impressive on a surface level, but the way her lyricism has evolved – notably, the way she’s become far more unapologetic in her rhymes – is what has made her into a truly great artist.
On The Return, Sampa The Great raps about black excellence, the impact of fame, the weight of expectations on artists and the immense strength of women.
Anyone who cares about this country – about its art, and about its people – should take interest in Sampa’s poetic and frenetic work. She has a knack for reflecting on complex issues with economy, relying on her emotion and talent to make you care about big, weighty issues.
She’s also a great storyteller, as evidenced in ‘OMG’
‘Took a lot of effort just to get out from the heat
Daddy adolescent said he’d get out from the streets
Give him kid a feed
Let em grow they feet
Fly em out of Africa
Give them kids a beat
Show them how the other half
How the world lives’
Once you start pinpointing great moments on this record – an amazing guitar line, a perfect lyric, a beat that just hits in the right way – you can’t stop. Sampa is the hero of the record, but her cast of collaborators also do everything they can to rise to her level as they share their experiences as musicians, creators and people.
The artistic vision on this record is so extraordinary, incorporating innumerable styles and complex, densely arrange musical reference points that take us from the rapper’s native Africa, to the golden era of modern hip hop, right up to modern experimental R&B.
A laidback jam like ‘Diamond In The Ruff’ (which features yet another perfect vocal from the incredible Thando) would’ve easily sat on a big hip hop record from the 90s. As would the glorious g-funk of ‘Light It Up’.
Conversely, ‘The Return’ is a nine-and-a-half-minute psych-funk epic, dripping with Funkadelic-style guitars and a vocal from Sampa more akin to Betty Davis than Lauryn Hill.
We are lucky to have The Return. Not just because it is a thrilling, vital, expertly crafted album in a musical sense. It’s an artefact of Australia – and Australian music – in 2019, from a perspective that doesn’t get the amplification it deserves.
It is honest, raw, unapologetic and a work of sheer genius. – Dan Condon