Is it just me or did albums go through a bit of an identity crisis in 2019? So many big players in music opted for releasing mixtapes, EPs, ‘projects’ or no album whatsoever (hi Rihanna!) that it has me wondering what kind of future the humble album will have in the next few years. But back to 2019, the year started out patchy and I was ready to write this year off as a dud, but at the eleventh hour a lot of albums from artists I didn’t expect proper delivered. We love a sneak attack!
I’m sure I’ve missed out on plenty of albums that you think deserve their spot on this list, so let me know what I’ve left out because I am always looking for recommendations for new music to sink my teeth into.
Honourable mentions go to Ashely Tisdale – Symptons, Ciara – Body Marks, Dawn Richard – new breed, Solange – When I Get Home, Stormzy – Heavy Is The Head and Harry Styles – Fine Line.
Now let the rankings begin!
20. Mahalia – Love + Compromise
A commendable and impressively focused debut from one of the country’s most promising R&B stars.
19. Kano – Hoodies All Summer
Best listened to from start to finish, Kano’s eviscerating assessment of the state of the U.K on Hoodies All Summer has never felt so timely or urgent.
18. Miley Cyrus – SHE IS COMING (EP)
Originally meant as the first in a 3-part EP collection, SHE IS COMING is Miley recapturing some of the former glory of both Bangerz and …Dead Petz. It’s the most interesting, or in the case of ‘Cattitude’ with RuPaul the most batshit crazy, music she’s put out in years.
17. Maren Morris – GIRL
Off the back of the success of ‘The Middle’ I really saw Maren Morris having her Kacey Musgraves mainstream breakthrough moment this year. But this wasn’t the album to do it. Still, Maren knows her way around a solid country song and GIRL is bursting at the seams with them.
16. Dave – Psychodrama
Dave’s debut literally forced me to stop dead in my tracks, put away my phone and listen to every single word that was being said. Psychodrama plays out more like a collection of autobiographical stories touching on everything from abusive relationships, racism, mental health and the UK prison system. An absolute landmark record.
15. Summer Walker – Over It
“Am I really that much to handle?” asks Summer Walker within the first 30 seconds of Over It. And reader, it was from this moment I knew I was under attack. WHEW! On her debut album the Atlanta native combines her refreshingly frank and honest storytelling with irresistible 90s R&B production. I still can’t believe Summer managed to not only sample Usher’s ‘U Make Me Wanna’ on ‘Come Thru’, but somehow got him to feature on the track as well. What a flex.
14. KAYTRANADA – BUBBA
I’m still finding little flourishes and nuances that I love about this album, especially as it was only released the other week. It plays like the most carefully curated DJ set with every song seamlessly flowing into one another before you have time to think. There are literally no skips on here. Like the Pitchfork review said, BUBBA is Kaytranada blessing this decade with one last great dance record.
13. Mark Ronson – Late Night Feelings
For the most part Mark Ronson wisely takes a back seat on Late Night Feelings, allowing his star-studded roster of female contributors to take centre stage across all 13 carefully crafted sad bangers.
12. Lizzo – Cuz I Love You
There are at least 5 (maybe 6?) songs on this, Lizzo’s third studio album and first major label debut, that deserved the same level of adoration and success that ‘Truth Hurts’ got in 2019. I mean, that run of ‘Like A Girl’ into ‘Juice’ into ‘Soulmate’ is literally a work of art.
11. Jonas Brothers – Happiness Begins
Was my unquenchable thirst for Nick and Joe Jonas to run a train on me the driving force that made me listen to this album? Oh absolutely. But let the record show I’ve always been a Jonas Brothers fan. *ahem* Happiness Begins, the group’s first release in almost a decade, is a polished update on the classic Jonas Brothers sound, swapping their signature guitars for synths and combining the very best of Nick’s solo career and Joe’s stint as the frontman of DNCE. Out of all the albums released this year, I had the most fun listening to this one.
10. MUNA – Saves The World
MUNA’s follow-up to their astoundingly good debut album About U sees the trio grapple with the darkest of human emotions with a far sunnier disposition than before.
9. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
On Norman Fucking Rockwell! Lana’s love affair with the American dream comes crashing down in truly spectacular fashion. Forced to question and reassess all that she’s ever known and loved, NFR is Lana at her most conflicted, complex and irresistibly enigmatic. The boundless critical acclaim both Lana and this record continues to receive has been long overdue.
8. Blood Orange – Angel’s Pulse (Mixtape)
Recorded in the style of someone station hopping while listening to the radio, this Dev Hynes mixtape feels like a sketchbook collection of unfinished R&B tracks, with some songs ending abruptly and others starting right in the middle. It’s an adventurous production choice that could have gone either way. But with the help of some brilliant A-list features, it somehow manages to make complete sense.
7. Kehlani – While We Wait (Mixtape)
On this, her third mixtape, Kehlani displays incredible levels of maturity well beyond her years and delivers some of the best music of her career as she sings about love and heartbreak in all its many forms. There’s something so zen-like about Kehlani that even if her relationship is breaking down right before her very eyes or she just can’t seem to shake the advances of a good for nothing ex, she still manages to see the beauty in whatever curveball is thrown her way. I can only wish to have this type of outlook on life.
6. Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated
I’ll be honest, it took me a while to warm to Dedicated, purely because I went into it expecting the album to be another incarnation of E•MO•TION. Once I stopped looking for that, everything about Dedicated clicked with me pretty quickly. High expectations only lead to grave disappointments! That’s not to say this album is void of great songs; ‘Automatically In Love’, ‘The Sound’ and ‘Want You In My Room’ are all excellent sugary pop goodness. Though no songs on here quite reach the God-tier heights of songs like ‘Run Away With Me’ or ‘Gimmie Love’ (‘Real Love’ does come verrrrrrrrrry close!) Carly appears to have found her lane and if she wants to stick to it then that’s fine with me.
5. Ariana Grande – thank you, next
Released just a mere 5 months after 2018’s post-trauma catharsis sweetener, Ariana makes good on her vow to live her life unshackled by guilt or plagued by heartbreak. For much of thank u, next it genuinely feels like you’re witnessing a singer work through her emotions in a bid to make sense of her life up until this point. It’s Ariana at her most vulnerable and exposed with absolutely nothing to lose. thank u, next will most definitely be looked back on as one of the defining moments of Ariana Grande’s career.
4. Beyoncé – HOMECOMING: THE LIVE ALBUM
Beyoncé’s historic Coachella performance from 2018 is thankfully preserved forever in this absolutely stunning live album. Aside from the obvious tribute of HBCU’s, black history and black excellence, Homecoming doubles as a celebration of the past decade in Beyoncé’s career. Whether it’s flexing her newfound creative and artistic muscles on 4, crystallising her legacy with the surprise release of Self-Titled in 2013 that forced the music industry to work for her and not the other way round, or using her position to elevate the voices and stories of black people, particularly black women, at a time when their lives are routinely under threat by the government and law enforcement – in the last 10 years Beyoncé has graduated to a level of superstar so far out of reach from any other artist around today. Even grouping her in with the likes of conventional superstars like Taylor Swift, Adele, Drake and Ed Sheeran seems offensive. If your biggest takeaway from the past decade in Beyoncé’s career is that she hasn’t had a hit single since ‘Single Ladies’ then I really don’t fucking know for you.
3. Aly & AJ – Sanctuary (EP)
At just 5 tracks long, Aly & AJ’s second EP since their return to music in 2017 is all killer, no filler. Hauntingly gorgeous harmonies bolstered by luscious 80s synth-pop production, Sanctuary is an ode to love, religion, sex and everything else in between. With music this good, I want to live in Aly & AJ’s sanctuary forever.
2. Taylor Swift – Lover
Based off the two lead singles ‘ME!’ and ‘You Need To Calm Down’, my expectations going into this album were astonishingly low. Like, I’m talking bottom of the barrel. Seriously, what the entire fuck are those two songs? Why do they exist?!?!?! But! If you bypass those them and block them forever from your consciousness, Lover is in fact a very good, and at times, outstanding, pop album. Compared to reputation, Taylor sounds so much more comfortable and at home on Lover and it holds up to being the true sequel to 1989. Of course she’s weathered a few storms both personally and professionally (🐍 🐍 🐍), and a big part of Lover’s charm is that Taylor comes across a lot wiser this time round and isn’t looking at life through rose-tinted glasses like she was on her 2014 effort. The standout tracks for me include ‘Cruel Summer’ (those last 30 seconds!!), ‘I Think He Knows’ (the best song on the album, IMO) and ‘It’s Nice To Have A Friend’ – a song absolutely ideal for walking wistfully through the deserted streets of Manhattan at 6am pondering about the complexities of life.
1. Tinashe – Songs For You
Free from the shackles and creative constraints of her former label, in 2019 Tinashe was finally able to be the artist she wanted to be and do it completely on her own terms. Songs For You, her first full length release as an independent artist (which hit #1 on the iTunes chart, just wanted to throw that out there!) is her strongest and most self-assured body of work to date. While the album (or ~project~ as she refers to it herself) harks back to the moody R&B soundscape of her early mixtapes, it also touches new ground with Tinashe incorporating hip hop, disco, synth pop and even acoustic across the 51 minute runtime. This mixed bag of genres is bound to raise eyebrows and suggest either a lack of direction or a desperate attempt to appease multiple audiences all at once. But in Tinashe’s case it’s far less to do with intent and more so a testament to her artistry – how many times do I have to stress the point that Tinashe transcends genre completely?! Whether she’s sparring with 6LACK on ‘Touch & Go’, talking her shit on ‘Link Up’ and ‘Hopscotch’ or wearing her heart on her sleeve on career highlight ‘Know Better’, Tinashe has finally managed to make a body of work that best represents all facets of her personality.
There was a serious risk that Tinashe would ride out this decade a footnote in music; just that girl who sang ‘2 On’. It’s absolutely not fair that in the years that followed RCA spectacularly fumbled her bag, publications who initially supported her suddenly switched sides or that her words were misrepresented in interviews which opened the floodgates to online abuse. But ultimately Tinashe got the last laugh. Now in full control of her sound, image and who she works with, Tinashe is entering the next decade an artist unburdened by label pressures or chart expectations and for the first time in forever the future feels like it’s hers for the taking. Quite literally: TO FREEDOM!!!!!