The 15 Best Albums Of 2019, So Far
From the pop superstars to the underground dance kings, these are the albums that matter.
Yesterday, we took you through the tracks that have defined 2019 so far. Now, we turn our attention to albums.
If 2018 was defined by groundbreaking debuts, then 2019 is steadily being defined by welcome returns from old favourites. In May, we saw the long-awaited re-appearance of Carly Rae Jepsen, who finally satiated her fans’ hunger for a follow-up to 2015’s E•MO•TION with Dedicated.
A month before that, dance veterans The Chemical Brothers came through with one of the best albums of their career in No Geography, putting to rest the fears that their best years were behind them.
Closer to home, Flume cropped up out of nowhere with a fully-realised visual mixtape in tow, the precursor (we assume) to his next album which will potentially drop later in the year — while artists like Julia Jacklin and Stella Donnelly delivered records that expertly flexed their songwriting prowess.
There’s plenty to sink your teeth into — and we’re only halfway through the year. Get stuck in.
Carly Rae Jepsen — Dedicated
Dedicated arrived this year in a long shadow: Carly Rae Jepsen’s fans had been demanding a follow-up to her 2015 cult classic, E•MO•TION, for years. And judging by the first few snippets, it seemed like we were in for a perfectly fine re-tread. Early cuts ‘Party For One’ and ‘Cut To The Feeling’ were oddly hollow, as if Jepsen were imitating herself. But Dedicated pulsates with life, warmth and hints of disco that subtly push Jepsen forward, cementing her place alongside Robyn and Lorde as a master of feeling feelings.
Sure, Jepsen’s still obsessed with ’80s synths and crushing hard — and Dedicated has a song for every emotion in a John Hughes film — but here, she’s sharper.
Where E•MO•TION flirts with genres thanks to its many producers, Dedicated is considerably more cohesive, cherry-picking pop-staples where appropriate. Take the tropical EDM chords behind ‘Now That I Found You’, the vocoders on ‘Want You In My Room’, or the 808s in a semi-Latin count on album highlight ‘Too Much’.
Despite this, Dedicated isn’t trying for radio play; instead, it begs for repeat listens, cultivating the devoted audience she already has. Jepsen wants you to scream-sing about your crush without worry about whether anything eventuates — the possibility remains on the horizon, shining bright.
The Chemical Brothers — No Geography
Late-period albums from veteran acts usually suck — or at least that’s the accepted wisdom. The further we get from our favourite artist’s apex, the less hope we have. Will this new one merely remind us of their heyday, or actively chip away at their legacy? It’s rare to expect something exhilarating — but that’s exactly the word for No Geography.
Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands rightly became rave icons with an unassailable run of ‘90s albums: Exit Planet Dust, Dig Your Own Hole, and Surrender. Then came the 2000s, where things went awry. The block-rockers felt adrift until a powerful return to form on 2010’s Further. Now, nearly a decade on, the duo is celebrating middle age with a true barnstormer.
No Geography was made in a “tiny makeshift room” packed with studio gear gathering dust since the first two Chems albums. That back-to-basics freedom is palpable right from the riotous chug of opener ‘Eve of Destruction’, which barrels thrillingly into ‘Bango’ and ‘No Geography’. Norwegian singer Aurora is the album’s recurring vocalist, and the absence of big-name guests only sharpens the heady vibe.
In reaching for rave highs, the Chems have often forgotten the funk. This time out, they’re firing on all cylinders.
Sigrid — Sucker Punch
At the core of pop music and what makes it such a scintillating delight — for some even a guilty pleasure — is its propensity for fun. For Norwegian pop singer, Sigrid “it’s all about how it feels,” she told Time earlier this year.
The often giggly, effervescent pop rocket is emboldened by her youthful abandon throughout her highly anticipated debut record, Sucker Punch. A true masterclass of in pop music, it’s all a wild flurry of guitar-laden melodies and Natasha Beddingfield-reminiscent strings.
From intimately detailing romantic melancholy on dizzying ballads (‘Level Up’, ‘Dynamite’) to transforming on the frenzied EDM banger ‘Strangers’, Sigrid seamlessly oscillates between moods. On her breakout hit, ‘Don’t Kill My Vibe’ the singer crystallises the mood of the current political climate in one fell swoop. “You love to tear me down, you pick me apart,” she sings. “Guess you’re surprised I’m the puzzle you can’t figure out.”
Written about a frustrating studio session with a group of older music executives, its prevailing mood struck a chord and subsequently went viral. Sucker Punch signals the advent of conscious pop, music that brims with joy but without the artificial aftertaste.
— Kish Lal
Charly Bliss — Young Enough
After exploding out of the gates in 2017 with arguably the best rock record of the year in Guppy, Charly Bliss were always going to have to put in the hard yards to outrun the shadow cast by their debut.
Not only were they able to achieve that with Young Enough, they were able to do so entirely on their terms. Yes, this is an album that embraces the band’s love of pop music. It’s not a dirty word where these four come from — and nor should it be.
With that being said, you won’t find any other pop song on the radio right now that strikes upon the human condition the same way standout tracks like ‘Capacity’ and ‘Chatroom’ do. Emotively striking and visceral in its honesty, they’re delivered so subtly and in such glossy packaging that you might not even fully understand the weight of that verse you’ve been singing along to this whole time.
From the charging ‘I Fought the Law’ pastiche of ‘Blown to Bits’ through to the quietly-devastating title track, Young Enough is a stellar achievement for a band that doesn’t show any signs of slowing momentum.
— David James Young
Solange — When I Get Home
It’s easy to forget that Solange released her debut album in 2002. With a synthetic, pop-savvy sound supporting a singer still finding her feet, Solo Star is a real time capsule. So is its list of guests and producers, which included Timbaland, Lil’ Romeo, B2K, Rockwilder and The Neptunes.
For many fans, the Solange story started a lot later, with 2016’s A Seat At The Table. That album was a career reinvention, setting its creator apart as much more than ‘Beyoncé’s sister’. It had a sharp point of view and fully-realised songs you knew would sound incredible live. And it was cool, a word not so suited to early Solange.
When I Get Home had the difficult task of following a sensation. Instead of duplicating what worked, Solange reset the table. This time, the album drifts by in snatches, with most tracks running under three minutes. The overall effect is airy and unobtrusive on speakers, then quietly commanding in headphones. The uptempo moments, like ‘Stay Flo’ and ‘Binz’, pop even more in such languid company.
Built around impressions of her hometown Houston, the album features the likes of Metro Boomin, Dev Hynes, Sampha and Pharrell, who brings it full circle from Solo Star. But this battalion of men never pulls focus. The Solange of 2019 is searching, spiky, playful and completely in control. When I Get Home is a force of her own making.
Sharon Van Etten — Remind Me Tomorrow
Speaking to the New York Times, Sharon Van Etten described the period between her last album and Remind Me Tomorrow as a “dramatic pause”. That’s a fair way of putting it: in the years since 2014’s Are We There, the Brooklyn musician found love, had a baby, acted in two TV shows, composed a movie score and went back to school to get a degree in psychology.
That time spent studying the human psyche might be why Remind Me Tomorrow contains possibly her most self-appraising moment yet. Past the dark atmospherics of ‘Jupiter 4’ and the puffed-chest bravado of ‘Comeback Kid’ lies ‘Seventeen’, where Van Etten addresses her teenage self. The song is nostalgic and worried for that lonelier, less assured girl, but it also peers back at her present self and asks: would you like me? Would you be happy with how you turned out?
Van Etten has penned plenty of songs about her relationships with other people but this one, notably, feels like it was made just for her.
Tyler, The Creator — IGOR
Ten years ago, describing Tyler, The Creator’s music as mature was a laughable idea. The snapbacked blog-rap anarchist was the flag-bearer for aimless angst — but with the release of Flower Boy in 2017, Tyler mellowed with a stringified sensitivity. IGOR is another redefining text, one that almost entirely sidelines rap for angular neo-soul.
Chronicling the blossom and wilt of an almost-relationship, Tyler completely dissolves his ego on IGOR — rendering his sung vocals mostly through a pitch-shifter and placing them at the back of the mix. His demonic baritone isn’t totally absent, but when it does appear its aggression is stripped by a less confrontational flow. Features from Solange and CeeLo Green blend into the often vocally anonymous Tyler, while his typically wry braggadocio is delegated to hard-edged guests like slowthai.
It’s a masterfully wrought, yet simple conceptual effort from Tyler, and one that has cemented his vanguard status for a new decade.
Weyes Blood — Titanic Rising
Two themes link all of Titanic Rising. The first is living in the end of days; dating and looking for love even though sea levels are rising and the planet is doomed. The second is how movies — for Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering, one in particular — can anchor us and form part of our shared mythology.
There’s no missing that subject matter: From the cover where Mering is submerged underwater to the album’s final track, ‘Nearer to Thee’, a nod to the song played on the Titanic as the ship sank into the ocean — taking, as the ’90s blockbuster reimagined it, Jack and Rose’s doomed romance down with it. So, yeah, an album about Titanic and climate change: could anything be more millennial?
All this talk of the apocalypse might sound dark but Mering’s grand, sweeping arrangements make her fourth LP uplifting, fist-punching, skip-down-the-street-while-you-listen music. The icebergs may be melting around us but just like the band on the Titanic, that doesn’t mean we can’t go down singing.
Tourist — Everyday
William Phillips has an uncanny talent for imbuing his music with a warmth that is hard to come by on the cold keys of a synthesiser. His second album Everyday sounds like the comedown from the giddy hedonism of his 2016 debut U — the contemplative morning after a particularly intoxicating evening.
The gift of William’s songs is that they leave you wanting more; they’re like books with the last two chapters ripped out. They hint at loss, loneliness and in the case of ‘Emily’ something more hopeful, but they are always teasing the listener with snapshots of a narrative left untold, with samples of voices deliberately left as echoes.
Tourist has an innate ear for melodies that keeps the album from ever straying into elevator territory and when he allows the songs to stretch out like ‘Gin Under The Sink’ and ‘Apollo’, he gets that little bit closer to his progenitors like Four Tet.
It’s the balance between his more progressive compositions and instant earworms like ‘Someone Else’ that make Everyday a huge step forward; where U was a collection of bangers, this album is a journey.
Ariana Grande — thank u, next
Released just five months after Sweetener, thank u, next wasn’t so much a sugar crash as a readjustment away from overt optimism into a messier, more realistic worldview.
Like its title song, thank u, next is a confluence of feelings — resentment and gratitude, reflection and forward thinking.
It’s a sonic push too: even though Grande reunites with her pre-Sweetener producers Max Martin, Tommy Brown and Ilya Salmanzadeh, the album is still flecked with R&B ticks and vocal quirks of ‘yuhs’ — it’s a synthesis of the two sounds, huge tracks which remain uniquely hers. Like Rihanna’s ANTi, this album is the long-awaited coalescence of Grande’s sound and personality.
Julia Jacklin — Crushing
The haze of the NSW Blue Mountains has never left Julia Jacklin’s voice, though her words have gotten clearer. The singer-songwriter’s second album Crushing retains the woozy lilt and steady guitar jangle of Don’t Let the Kids Win, but with greater melodic focus.
Writing on the road, Jacklin unlocked the sheer mundanity of heartbreak. The absence of love carries as much as weight as its presence on Crushing, as relationships grow stale and infatuation feels impossible to beat. The solution, Jacklin appears to find, is agency; the belonging of her body is a nagging motif. She swaddles the most incisive couplets in the softest arrangements, while Jacklin’s vocals stretch from muted tones to a tender roar. Closer ‘Comfort’ engages the one thing most breakup songs can’t: empathy.
Crushing has leapfrogged Jacklin’s career from tiny Sydney bars to sold out national theatres, and it’s only going to get bigger from here.
Flume — Hi This Is Flume
Flume’s first two albums made him one of the most recognisable — and ripped-off — artists in electronic and pop music. On Hi This Is Flume, Harley Streten raises the bar for the third time by breaking his formula into pieces.
Hi This Is Flume could only exist as a mixtape. Every song, most around two minutes long, feels like it’s improvised, almost freestyled directly from his brain. ‘High Beams,’ a trap banger with verses by buzzy UK rapper Slowthai, fades into the childlike ‘Jewel,’ into the unpronounceable ‘╜φ°⌂▌╫§╜φ°⌂.’
Flume throws curveball after curveball; even the more festival-friendly tracks have a twist. His synth sounds get progressively weirder, but still sound recognisably pop — until they don’t, culminating in a seven-song, 15-minute acid-trip of an instrumental suite.
Equally impressive is the visual album, which takes Flume on an existential journey across the outback, discovering jaw-dropping images to match his psychedelic sounds. With childlike wonder, but a fully mature artist’s hand, it’s a pure joy to hear Flume play in his infinite digital toybox, smashing genres together with no regard for algorithms or playlists. What’s fame or success worth to an artist, if you can’t do whatever the hell you want?
Stella Donnelly — Beware Of The Dogs
When George Bernard Shaw said, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you”, he probably wasn’t thinking of something like Beware Of The Dogs. But Stella Donnelly’s sharp, funny debut album takes aim at shitty men hiding behind being an ‘Aussie larrikin’ with so much charm and humour that it’s hit an audience that might normally tune out.
After the smash success of her devastating anti-rape culture ballad ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ in 2017 (landing just before the #MeToo movement took off, and becoming a home-grown anthem) Donnelly was in a unique position: people weren’t just listening to her music, but its message. Across Beware Of The Dogs, Donnelly runs with it with self-deprecation and a stunning voice.
Backed with a budget that pushes her guitar-driven indie pop out of the DIY territory, Donnelly tackles her own shitty experiences with everything to creepy bosses “jerking off to the CCTV while I poured a flat VB” to terrible breakups.
Her real skill is not just a knack for wordplay, but an ability to balance critique with empathy. In other acts’ hands, references to Kyle & Jackie O or Southern Cross tattoos might come off as mean-spirited and ironic, but Donnelly is a master of using cultural cringe to clever, pointed effect.
Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats — Anger Management
There is no one in hip-hop right now that is doing what Rico Nasty is doing; her brash flow, snarling vocals, and frenetic punk rock energy is setting her well apart from the pack.
After a string of fiery singles in 2018 and one killer feature in Doja Cat’s ‘Tia Tamera’ at the top end of 2019, her and frequent collaborator/producer Kenny Beats dropped Anger Management, a deliciously fierce listen from start to finish.
Every song is fun and bouncy, but Rico’s signature raspy vocals bring it all together and give each song its undeniable power. In ‘Hatin’, she gives us a 2019 version of Destiny’s Child ‘Jumpin Jumpin’ over a Carnivale-ready brass-driven production line by Kenny. Even on the more sentimental tracks like ‘Sell-Out’, Rico never once turns her voice or her energy down.
Her voice, despite being so singular, works on every track because she simply demands your attention — and she knows she’s going to get it no matter what.
James Blake — Assume Form
2016’s The Colour In Anything was meandering, overlong, and worse still, it was boring. Jame Blake’s voice might be heavenly, but when his music over-relies on it, it can get weighed down by the histrionics of his impressive range. Thankfully on Assume Form he re-learns what we discovered on 2013’s Overgrown; James Blake is a far superior beat-maker, composer and collaborator than he is a solo artist.
Our collective breath is held with the first lines of the title track: “Now you can feel everything. Doesn’t it get much clearer? Doesn’t it seem connected? Doesn’t it get you started? Doesn’t it make you happier? Doesn’t it feel more natural? Doesn’t it see you float? Doesn’t it seem much warmer just knowing the sun will be out?”
Which is a tad too positive for most James Blake fans. Thankfully, he remembers how good his voice sounds alongside A-Class rappers, with André 3000 and Travis Scott putting in stellar contributions whilst the ethereal falsetto of Moses Sumney dances around Blake’s own spreadeagled tenor like they’re shadowboxing.
But the centrepiece of this album belongs to Rosalía. ‘Barefoot In The Park’ does what no other song in James Blake’s canon does. It bops. It sparks joy. It’s a production that neither artist could have pulled off without the other.
The album finishes with the hauntingly beautiful ‘Lullaby For My Insomniac’ — the man truly is head over heels — but kudos for pulling it off so well. Maybe there is hope after all.