Happy New Year Everyone !
I hope you had great holidays. In December I spent a lot of time listening to 2019 albums to try and come up with a list of my 50 favorite releases and I now wanna share it with you.
But first, let’s get a few things outta the way :
- 2019 wasn’t the strongest year of the decade album-wise, but there is still a ton to celebrate
- UK ?? What is going on there ? Have they been secretly musically training all the kids or something ? They represent about half my favorite 50 albums of the year…
- I know everyone has their own taste and all that stuff is subjective, but if we’re being honest, it is has been established that I have the greatest taste of all professional music reviewers (source : shroomie4president.gov) so Anthony Fantano can take notes.
Now if you haven’t read it, you can check out what I think makes a great album so that you get a better idea of which elements of a record will impact my appreciation.
*Playlist with all the picks at the bottom of the page*
Let’s get started :
1. Little Simz – GREY AreaHip Hop / Soul / RnB | UK
I mean. Just start the first song, Offence. You get raw drums, crunchy bass, ”Me again”, and floots. Remember when I wrote about how playing with your attention makes an album stronger? Well Little Simz’s got mine in the first 10 seconds. Then, each song has its own style and surfs a wave of energy. Boss yells at you aggressively with a new type of background vocal : a nonchalant ”little bitch”. Then the sweet sweet collab with Cleo Sol brings a catchy soulful RnB tune in Selfish. Next is a collab with Chronixx where the energy builds back slowly with Simz’s verses. It is preparing you for the following aggressive song : Venom. Violins set a spooky atmosphere before Simz gives all the trap rappers a triplet lesson. She’s one of the rare artists that can me make appreciate trap music. Then, things lighten up with the very fun 101 FM. The time now seems right for a more sentimental song, and who else than Little Dragon to make such a song. The following track Therapy brings us back to the album’s main vibe : Attitude. Sherbet Sunset also keeps that kind of tone going, before Flowers peacefully closes the adventure with the soothing vocals of Michael Kiwanuka on the chorus.
This album has all the elements to make a great album which I wrote about. It catches your attention, lets it go, catches it again, and so forth. It has a specific vibe, which makes it a perfect album to play when you are feeling like : ‘I said it with my chest and I don’t care who I offend‘. The track order is well constructed and very cohesive, it has a ton of hard grooves and a lot of soul in the RnB parts + a lot of emotion in Simz’s rapping. It’s pretty unique, it generates feelings in me and has great production. For all these reasons, it is my favorite 2019 album.
2. Seba Kaapstad – ThinaNeo Soul / Pop Jazz / RnB | South Africa
This album also satisfies all the points I just mentioned, and its got all the neo soul jazz chords that I was craving this year. It also has beautiful vocal harmonies, something I haven’t heard as much this year. The only downsides I could point would be that for some the lyrics could sound a bit cheesy at times, and the production is very present, though I wouldn’t call it overproduced. I love how they blend different genres and integrate elements of more traditional African music in a very contemporary sound. They also play a lot with having a pop sound only to fall into an experimental-ish part, then pop again.
Although the album is generally very happy and uplifting, the song that gets my attention the most is the very sentimental Don’t. It starts with a soft atmosphere and a verse that could be a musical, and then a loud bass line kicks in. It gets soft again with a chorus that makes me feel a thousand things at the same time. As if the song wasn’t already great enough, after the 2nd chorus, they merge into a 3min outro that is simply heaven.
3. Resolution 88 – RevolutionsJazz / Funk / Electronic | UK
This gem took me by surprise while I was going through albums in my car. Its first song Pitching Up starts with a slow groove which you can already appreciate, but it quickly has more to surprise you. If like me you have a sweet spots for Azymuth-like grooves, this album most likely will please you. Every song is well built and shows great musicianship.
I gave it a few listens before Mattt made me realize that the song titles were all referencing vinyl records. So I looked at the albums’s bandcamp page where I found out that this was a concept album, where every song represents an feature of the vinyl experience. In other words, the song title will somehow be musically represented in the song. I thought that was pretty cool, considering that they didn’t make it too obvious for the unaware ear, but then pretty obvious once you know the concept. Overall a very solid, cohesive, enjoyable album.
4. Ishmael Ensemble – A State of FlowSpiritual Jazz | UK
The album title is pretty self-explanatory. This is an album on which you can lay down and let it take you wherever it wants. A great balance of background / foreground ambiances that can make you float one moment, and bop your head the next moment. Also a rare artist that can make me appreciate house music (see the song Lapwing).
5. Nubyan Twist – Jungle RunContemporary Jazz | UK
This album could have very well been #3 on my list. It embodies the current wave of UK jazz artists that blend world music, hip hop, RnB and Soul with Jazz so well. The album features no other than Ethiojazz’s pioneer Mulatu Astatke on Addis to London amongst many features. Every song is great and I’ve got nothing else to add.
6. Ruby Rushton – IronsideFlooty Jazz | UK
Okay. I might be biased on this one. But come on. It’s not just the floots. The keys, the grooves, and the sax leads are all amazing. Plus you can enjoy figuring out the time signature in Triceratops 😉
7. Gabriele Poso – BatikAfrolatin Jazz House | UK / IT
Not sure what to put on during your next gathering with friends? This album has a great mixture of house-ish flow with afrolatin and jazz colors. If an album can get me to appreciate house music, it has to be one like this. While I find the genre usually redundant and soulless, here each song has its own essence. The second half gets further away from the house to explore different sounds and genres while remaining cohesive as a whole. The song Lime Tree struck me for blending the house vibe with a strong melancholic feel.
8. Scrimshire – ListenersJazz / Soul| UK
This album is very entertaining and has a great amount of features. Yet, you can tell that the song order was designed to experience the full album. I love how the opener Theme for Us builds up into the chorus of the song.
9. Sessa – GrandezaJazz / Bossanova / Folk (?) | BR
Very unique album that captures the essence of Brazilian music while modeling it into a minimalist contemporary piece. The album will calm you down and surprise you with brief moments of intensity. The song Tanto is a very good example of this.
10. Aldorande – AldorandeJazz / Space / Funk | FR
If you feel up for a funky space exploration, Aldorande got you covered. A strong debut album for the french band. I hope we will get more enjoyable tunes like Praia Do Destino.
11. SAULT – 5R&B / Funk | UK
Also a debut album, the R&B collective SAULT released two albums this year : ”5” and ”7”. I personally liked ”5” a bit more but enjoyed both a lot. Little Simz and many others contributed to making these albums what they are. The song Why Why Why Why Why Why reminds me a bit of Mac Miller’s What’s the use?. Just a bit faster. Maybe it’s just me. NEXT.
12. Jake Milliner – Bernie SaysBeats / Jazz / Lounge | UK
Another debut album that made its mark. This time from beatmaker/producer Jake Milliner, who won my heart for featuring Alfa Mist and for sampling Gary Burton on his track Jack Jones.
13. Bernardo Bauer – Pássaro-CãoFolk | BR
Very smoth album that can make you fall in love. Just check the song Coragem and be the judge. Also a debut album if you don’t count the 2017 EP.
14. Floating Points – CrushElectronic / Classical / Idk really | UK
I find it really too bad that the second half of this album wouldn’t have as much of an impact on me as the first one, because otherwise this would have been way upper on my list. Those who know me will be surprised that it even made my list, as I am not a huge fan of electronic music nor modern classical. But the first songs of this album really made me reconsider my tastes. I can’t explain it. Listen to the opening song, Falaise, and see for yourself.
15. Melodiesinfonie – A Journey to YouSoulful Jazzy Beats | DE
The Swiss producer will remind you of Jordan Rakei with his soulful R&B beats. The song A Fool’s Moon is possibly my favorite of the album.
16. Matthew Hasall – Oneness
17. Teotima – Weightless
18. Ego Ella May – So Far
19. Joe Armon-Jones – Turn to Clear View
20. Sefi Zisling – Expanse
21. Shafiq Husayn – The Loop
22. Ashley Henry – Beautiful Vinyl Hunter
23. Yelfris Valdes – For the ones…
24. Àbáse – Invocation
25. Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!
26. Brent Birckhead – Birckhead
27. Greg Foat – The Dreaming Jewels
28. Ronin Arkestra – Sonkei
29. Ari Lennox – Shea Butter Baby
30. Budos Band – Ghost Talk
31. Mark de Clive-Lowe – Heritage II
32. Yazz Ahmed – Polyhymnia
33. Hoodna Orchestra – Ofel
34. Ezra Collective – You can’t steal my joy
35. Sampa the Great – The Return
36. Orpheus – Visions
37. Cheick Tidiane Seck – Timbuktu
38. Rosie Lowe – Yu
39. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Ancestral Recall
40. The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble – Build Bridges
41. Portico Quartet – Memory Streams
42. Brad Mehldau – Finding Gabriel
43. Mdou Moctar – Ilana (The Creator)
44. Tank and The Bangas – Green Balloon
45. Greg Foat – The Mage
46. Altin Gun – Gece
47. Kelsey Lu – Blood
48. Da Lata – Birds
49. Skinny Pelembe – Dreaming is Dead Now
50. Alogte Oho & His Sounds of Joy – Mam Yinne Wa
There you have it! I hope you make great discoveries!
Overall I must admit I was a bit disappointed with artists I love that released albums that didn’t impact me like their previous work. Names like Alfa Mist, Blue Lab Beats, Kaytranada come to mind (there is more). None of these albums were bad, just not up to my expectations – given they were very high. However I am still looking forward to their future work, and a lot of new artists had excellent debut albums.
To make things easy for you I have made a playlist with a song I like from each album in the list’s order and tried to make it flow. Hope you enjoy. Have a great year everyone !
Could this be the first of a series of favorites from every year? maybe…