2019 is the curtain call of the decade, and this year’s music releases felt like plenty of artists wanted to share their last words on past happenings and get everything off of their chest before starting their move from ’10s to ’20s with a clean slate. It’s always hard to single out a favourite of anything, especially when so much was so good, but our team gave it shot, selecting a total of 15 of our most-worshipped releases of the year. And if nothing else, one thing has become clear: Just like last year, 2019 belonged to the women in music.
CLAIRO – “BAGS”
On this slow burner, 21-year old singer/songwriter/producer Claire Cottrill walks us through a situation all too familiar: She develops a crush, mocks herself for the way she tries to elongate the time spent together on the couch, fast-forwarding to the possible moment of rejection, seeing the significant other “walking out the door with your bags”. The track alludes back to when the Atlanta-born artist realized her bisexuality. It was co-produced with Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij and features Danielle Haim of HAIM on drums. It is simple and poignant and relatable. It’s sad and comforting and a grand, wonderfully executed kick-off to an artist who’d previously called attention to herself by way of endearingly dorky, homemade tracks and videos on YouTube.
JHENÉ AIKO – “NONE OF YOUR CONCERN”
One of very few songs released by Jhené Aiko since 2017’s Trip, “None Of Your Concern” is a sparse and stunning reckoning with her former partner. It’s not just a break up track, it’s a state of mind after having finally come to terms with the end of an important relationship. It is the acknowledgment that, despite having been somewhat inseparable from the person in question, there has to prevail a certain understanding for the fact that the sun has set and both parties have to somehow move forward. The fact that her actual ex, Big Sean, features on the track, makes the thickness of emotions here feel all the more authentic.
LADY DONLI – “CASH”
On a lighter note, we find self-described “Pan-African Rockstar” Lady Donli’s summer banger “Cash”. The breezy track’s infectious production sways effortlessly alongside the singer’s warm, breathy vocals. “I’m addicted to cash”. And as we wiggle to the beat, we ask: Who isn’t?
NILÜFER YANYA – “IN YOUR HEAD”
Nilüfer Yanya‘s debut Miss Universe was one of the most captivating releases of the year, as it incorporated an almost mind-bogglingly big repertoire of artistic references, all of which were twigged to form her unique sound. Standout track “In Your Head” displays this quite well, leaving us helpless as we surrender to dirty, gritty guitar riffs, piercing screeches and a distorted refrain, wrapped around a skeleton frame of electro-pop.
WEYES BLOOD – “ANDROMEDA”
Released in January, “Andromeda” off of Weyes Blood’s cinematic fourth studio full-length, commenced the year with what nostalgia dreams are made of. Compared to the prime of Joni Mitchell and other ’70s soft rock wielders, the track feels like you’re traveling through space and time as Natalie Mering swoons of running in circles, failing again and again at finding—let alone sustaining—love.
FKA TWIGS – “CELLOPHANE”
This is a no brainer. FKA Twigs has never not impressed, and her second LP MAGDALENE’s “Cellophane” is no exception. The visual sees her climbing a pole, twisting and turning around it as though her limbs were boneless. The tragedy of both the lyrical content, as well as her fall from grace into the depths of an underworld-like pool of mud cannot be escaped. What makes song and video so touching is the lack of closure—something we’ve been made to believe we’re deserving of, when in fact so few situations in life actually offer it to us.
HARRY STYLES – “LIGHTS UP”
In his first single since 2017’s self-titled solo debut, former boyband beau Harry Styles is seen embraced by and embracing men and women, nude, singing of finally stepping out of the dark, into the light of one’s own truth. Though never commented on by the artist himself, many believe this was Styles’ coming-out as queer. Regardless, the short but steamy clip leaves little to the imagination and feels refreshing in comparison to his former bandmates’ rather bleak, tough-guy trap pop aesthetics.
KELSEY LU – “FOREIGN CAR”
Stemming from her exquisite sophomore record Blood, R&B-experimentalist Kelsey Lu‘s “Foreign Car” sees her in many a setting: a field of flowers, a gas station, a marble palace, a tiny bedroom – dressed to kill, caressed by handsome, topless men. Switching places with the archetype of what R&B music commonly retreats to in the visual realm – buff dudes, naked women, dollar bills and dimly lit table dance bars – , Lu alters the narrative, and becomes (as one commentator puts is) a “female pimp”. She “really just turned the male gaze on it’s head”, another reads. What else is there to say? We’re here for it!
MARK RONSON FEAT. LYKKE LI – “LATE NIGHT FEELINGS”
In the music video for his “sad bangers”-themed album of the same name, super producer Mark Ronson takes a step back and lets Lykke Li frolic obsessively through the hazy, neon-tinted apartment until joining him on stage. The disco track and its video tackle every sonic and visual ’70s/’80s-memento head first while simultaneously telling the paradox, euphoric condition of new but unhealthy love in the digital age, from ghosting to booty calls.
SUDAN ARCHIVES – “CONFESSIONS”
The wonderfully weird debut Athena of Sudan Archives—a collection of afrofuturistic electronica and classic violin—placed her in top ranks on many a ranking. The accompanying visual to single “Confessions” only further provides proof for the endless eclecticism of this LA-artist’s work. Her instrument at hand, the otherworldly-dressed protagonist finds herself in a suburban home, one she clearly has grown out and tired of, ready to embark on an adventure more suitable for her extravagant artistry.
ANGEL OLSEN – ALL MIRRORS
On her fourth studio record, North Carolina-based virtuoso Angel Olsen manages yet another impeccable reinvention of sound and self. Starting out as a folk music songbird, having ventured into alt-country and glam rock territories, Olsen has now come into her own as a crafter of theatrical, synth- and orchestra-accompanied chamber pop. Be it on album opener “Lark”—a 6 minute, punch-in.the-gut epos that feels like a movie—or the glistening, philosophic title title track “All Mirrors”, this 10-piece LP is a journey, and by all means not an easy one. But it’s one worth taking, one that’ll make you sick and happy, drained and energized at the same time, and one so encompassing and so opposed to everything she’s done before, you can’t help but wonder what the talented Angel Olsen will come up with next.
ARIANA GRANDE – THANK U, NEXT
Five albums in, the notoriously pony-tailed vocal wunderkind Ariana Grande displays the true depth to her talents. thank u, next is a collection of airtight pop jewels, results of creatively channeled anger, sadness, confidence and the lack of it, forgiveness and self-love. Harvesting the fruits of truly terrible occurrences in her personal life, Grande managed to not only lick her wounds, but also entertain and empower an audience so large and so diverse it resists demographic categorization. That being said, this album fully solidifies the Florida-native as one of, if not the most influential artist(s) of her generation.
LANA DEL REY – NORMAN FUCKING ROCKWELL!
This year, Lana Del Rey perfected Lana Del Rey. Her art ripened, like good wine, over the course of the decade—one she both opened and closed with two of the contemporary’s most talked-about records. Norman Fucking Rockwell! is a 14-track heavy compilation of contemplations. Anxieties, views and speculations towards a world ablaze or pill-popping companions date back to the 34-year old’s first material, but the manner of how she articulates and accentuates these thoughts both lyrically and instrumentally has matured, and hereby manifested her as one of America’s greatest living songwriters.
SUMMER WALKER – OVER IT
Summer Walker’s Over It is undeniably one of the most important debuts of the year. It’s sassy, it’s sexy, it’s production is warm and wistful without leaning too far into her peers’ overuse of PBR&B-isms, trivial trap beats or the like. It’s well and carefully put together, an accurate, musical interpretation of different moods, meaningful but easily digestible. Good music, plain and simple.
TINASHE – SONGS FOR YOU
Following the chaotic consequences of signing with a label aiming to slowly but steadily transform the bedroom producer into a cheeky pop star, Tinashe concludes her tumultuous decade with an independent project. On the superb Songs For You, the 26-year old has reclaimed her integrity as an artist with a vision. Pairing some of the sonic aesthetics that helped her garner fans and the record deal in the first place, avant-garde arrangements and just the right amount of Aaliyah, Tinashe is now back on track to become the star she’s supposed to be—but on her own terms, by her own methods.
Head Image: Still via YouTube