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50 Best albums of 2019: 10-1

Epigram Music finish off 2019 with their top 10 albums of 2019, featuring the likes of Little Simz, Kate Tempest and Slowthai.

By Epigram Music

Epigram Music finish off 2019 with their top 10 albums of 2019, featuring the likes of Little Simz, Kate Tempest and Slowthai.

10. Slowthai - Nothing Great About Britain

By Lucas Arthur, First Year Geography

Few debut albums are as incendiary as this. Slowthai rose quickly through the UK hip-hop scene throughout 2018, releasing a string of acclaimed singles and building up a following from punk and grime fans alike. In his distinctive snarl, he recalls the struggles of a working-class upbringing through a cynical lens, littering tracks with cultural references: From T N Biscuits to Trainspotting and Peter Kay, Slowthai’s work revolves around the British identity. Fitting, then, that the album should feature some of the biggest British artists: Mura Masa nails production on the mosh-inducing ‘Doorman’, while Jaekae and Skepta lay down verses on ‘Grow Up’ and ‘Inglorious’.

Growing up is another recurrent theme, alongside struggles with mental health and masculinity – topics far outside the genre’s usual remit of drugs and violence, but, as Slowthai demonstrates on tracks like ‘Northampton’s Child’, closely related. Despite Slowthai’s disdain for the current state of the nation (particularly it’s leader), this album shows that there’s plenty more to look forward to from UK artists. As he says in the title track, “Hand on my heart, I’m proud to be British”.

9. Angel Olsen - All Mirrors

By Francesca Frankis, Music Editor

Angel Olsen didn't disappoint this year with the release of her fifth studio album All Mirrors. An album of evolutionary proportions, from folky singer-songwriter to punchy rock’n roll maestro. All Mirrors proved Olsen to be at the top of her game, exploring new musical horizons yet still providing cathartic, emotionally charged anthems for vanquished souls. Gliding over epic orchestral string arrangements, All Mirrors, carves out the importance of self worth in relationships with others, and your own identity, ultimately revealing we are ‘we’re just at the mercy of how we feel’.

Change and evolution run as heavy themes throughout; the discovery of loss on leading track ‘Lark’, to revelations of self-conviction on ‘Spring’ and ‘Summer’. Olsen doesn't hold back from unearthing the harsh realities of heartbreak. The entirety of All Mirrors is wrapped up nicely with the final track ‘Chance’, it’s bittersweet, and the final lines are repeated; ‘Forever's just so far why don't you say you're with me now, with all of your heart?’

8. Fontaines D.C. - Dogrel

By Jasmin Robinson, Third Year History

Dublin City based punk four-piece Fontaines DC show their teeth with ‘Dogrel’. Filtered with a gritty Irish poetry achieved through pub nights scribbling Joycean style verse, the album shouts and snarls with a tender romanticism. The album boldly begins, ‘Dublin in the rain is mine / A pregnant city with a Catholic mind’, and sullenly ends ‘We trip along disaster in the whirlwind of the free’. Dogrel is much more than a ramshackle white-knuckle punk record – its clever lyricism marks it as the band’s rally round the flag, and its musical vivacity partners up to create a force to be reckoned with. 'The Lotts' wrestles with Dublin City life; ‘Liberty Belle’ harnesses the ‘ready-steady violence’, and ‘Boys in the Better Land’ wrestles with Anglophobia.

The record finishes off with the closing-time bar-singalong ‘Dublin City Sky’, wherein singer Grian Chatten welcomes a beautiful, intimate, and poetic depiction of the early hours of Chinatown. On this record, Fontaines DC tap into a post-punk that is unlike the rest of their cohort. Its precocity is understated, but it’s what makes the album one of the best of the year. Snarling, punchy, and intimate – it is an excellent work depicting the influences of Irish literature, and Irish culture.

7. Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell!

By Bethany Marris, Deputy Digital Editor

In the height of Summer, Lana Del Rey confessed locking her sights on “writing the next best American record”. Her fifth, and longest project so far arrived with everything expected of an LDR project. Infused with the essence of Mid-Century America, fleshed out with indulgent piano chords and written through a dusty lens of nostalgia, NFR! is utterly on brand. Fleeting between moments of dominance, heartbreak and frustration, NFR! is an exercise in vulnerability. With the clarity of hindsight, Lana’s position in her all-American narrative shits between the adored and the adorer; the chaser and the subject.

Although rich in romantic lyricism, the album’s devastating undertone flows through the way in which the kind of love painted in NFR! Is never completely requited. Offering fourteen tracks is certainly ambitious, yet not once does NFR! compromise on quality. An album that feels ultra-relevant yet instantly classic, Lana seamlessly navigates lust, longing, gluttony, and the mundane to present one of 2019’s most intimate and timeless releases.

6. Dave - Psychodrama

By Lucas Arthur, First Year Geography

To summarise Psychodrama in under 200 words is a disservice. As both a pianist and a rap artist, Dave released a series of chart-topping singles, remixes and collabs from 2016 onward, culminating in his 2019 Mercury Prize winning album. ‘Psycho’ sets the mood, with a monologue by his supposed psychotherapist introducing the central themes: Depression, insecurity and loss. They are explored with deft intelligence and self-awareness, perhaps best showcased on the 11-minute epic ‘Lesley’ amid sombre strings and brooding instrumental. There’s some respite: ‘Purple Heart’ offers cutesy wordplay and ‘Location’ brings in a Drake-esque beat, but there’s no doubt that the album shines brightest on the darker tracks.

On ‘Black’- a blunt, biting assessment of institutionalised racism, not a single word is wasted (“A kid dies, the blacker the killer the sweeter the noose”). ‘Environment’ deals with public perceptions in rap over a fireside piano score and ghostly background vocals. ‘Drama’ is sullen and raw: Dave struggles with the incarceration of his brother, conceding “I thank God for the pain because it made me this”. The project is ambitious and emotionally draining at times, but perfectly executed. A hallmark of UK rap.

5. Big Thief - U.F.O.F/Two Hands

By Jessica Li, Second Year Economic and Politics

American indie and earthbound rock band Big Thief released two beautiful new albums this year that have similar undertones, yet tell two completely different stories. The melodic lyrics of both albums are harmonious and subtle, yet Two Hands maintains a harsher and a much more certain sense of foreboding compared to U.F.O.F. In U.F.O.F there is a 'tender masterpiece that manages to interlink the ascendance of an underlying 'grunge-rock' with the celestial voice of Adrianne Lenker; this builds a beautiful imagery whereby the instruments are played to accompany rather than overbear the singers voice.

Two Hands in comparison is a down-to-earth grind that builds upon their previous works, the album clearly has deep-cut roots, which is shown by the pure honesty in the lyrics and slight mumbles that highlight the raw emotions that have been absorbed into this album. This bare-boned stripped album certainly grows upon the younger U.F.O.F. By listening to these two albums, as they are consequentially presented, you are transformed from 30 miles outside El Paso, where Big Thief were born, to Washington State where these albums were created - finding intricate confiding solace n a cabin in the woods.

4. Kate Tempest - The Book of Traps and Lessons

By Guy Marcham, Deputy Music Editor

This just might be Kate Tempest’s magnum opus - a timeless masterpiece for our jaded and disenfranchised generation. On The Book of Traps and Lessons, Tempest takes a microscopic knife to the human body and sense of self, carving out stark and deep seated feelings of isolation, anxiety and dread. From the resonating repetition of ‘7.3 billion humans’ to the subtle portrayal of life’s intimacies – Tempest speaks for all. Yet to find beauty in amongst life’s thankless pitfalls and crushing relentlessness is what makes Tempest’s album something especially pertinent. Poetry that catches the heat of 2019’s ferocious dystopian ‘firesmoke’ but rather get burnt, huddles together and shelters for warmth.

3. Michael Kiwanuka - KIWANUKA

By Daisy Lacey, Fourth Year Comparative Literatures and Cultures

Fans of Michael Kiwanuka had been left anticipating new material since the artist’s 2016 record ‘Love and Hate’. With the release of ‘KIWANUKA’, Michael presents himself at his most confident. Infused with the sonic zeitgeist of the 1960s, KIWANUKA carefully employs dramatic Motown horns and psychedelic, Hendrix-esque guitar riffs without straying too far from his original, folky sound.

Where the album’s decadent opener, ‘You Ain’t the Problem’, is an exercise in in personal acceptance and an affirmation of independence, ‘Hard to Say Goodbye’, reminds us that emotions can be simultaneously temporary and lingering. KIWANUKA celebrates the intricacies of life and heartbreak whilst navigating what it means to be an individual.  Released in the close of 2019, the artist’s third studio album since 2012 cements his position as a decade-defining voice.

2. FKA twigs - Magdalene

By Bethany Marris, Deputy Digital Editor

Earlier this year, FKA Twigs broke her silence with the release of Cellophane. A desperate depiction of vulnerability and sheer confusion, the track arrived in complete juxtaposition to it’s exquisite music video in which Twigs effortlessly commands the pole with peak athleticism. Where the artist’s debut was characterised by warped vocals and choppy electronic production, Cellophane garnered anticipation for Twig’s sophomore project to be a far more organic, conceptual exploration of her artistic capacity.

Indeed, in many ways, that’s exactly what Magdalene is. However, despite Twigs’ experimental artistry,  it would be wrong to look for abstract meaning in an album that so blatantly contemplates deeply ordinary, humane issues. In a recent interview, the artist explained that writing from ‘an honest place when you’ve had a real glimpse at adulthood differs from writing from an honest place at 22". Through Magdalene, Twigs grapples with unrequited heartbreak. In this, she details the process of ‘unmeshing’; the process of re—structuring routine when your agenda is no longer intwined with someone else’s.

More intimately, she delves into the emotional burden of recovering from a physical set-back, not only when your body is so intrinsic to your craft, but when you feel ‘alone’. Such loneliness quite literally echoes throughout the album, with the instrumentation on tracks such as ‘thousand eyes’ and ‘home with you’ ceasing where Twigs' soprano kicks in. Nodding heavily to the work of Kate Bush, weaving classical piano with electronica, and immersing the listener within a very dark period of Twigs’ life, Magdalene is a testament to the artist’s lyrical, rhythmic and creative dexterity.

1.Little Simz - Grey Area

By Jessica Li, Second Year Economics and Politics

As album opener ‘Offence’ pulses into action, Little Simz declares: ‘I said it with my chest and I don’t care who I offend, uh-huh!’ It’s clear the North London rapper means business. What follows is a fearless and powerful album that’s nothing short of phenomenal. From the murder of a dear friend to the gritty social decay of North London council estates –GREY Area at its heart is an album engulfed in darkness and uphill struggle. Yet, with a concoction of funk-jazz arrangements and surging lyrical prowess – Simz manages to defiantly overcome her personal demons and produce a beautifully poignant record of intent.

Simz’s musical dexterity and idiosyncratic approach is unmatched by anyone else in 2019 – a unique voice flying the flag not just for women in rap but the genre itself. No wonder Simz has gone on to have a remarkable year, in which she received an esteemed Mercury Prize nomination – something well and truly deserved. GREY Area is also a vibrant and diverse album, which darts from R&B influenced grooves (‘Selfish’) to driving and ominous hardcore beats (‘Venom’). A powerful and emboldened record by an artist at the top of their game. So, here’s to Little Simz, here’s to GREY Area – an expectational record.

Featured Image: Francesca Frankis/Epigram

What are you top 10 albums of 2019?