Saturday, 28 December 2019

My albums of the year (2019)

Frankly, 2020 can't come quickly enough - partly as it is bringing us a new Bombay Bicycle Club album and I am counting down each second until that is in my life. Beyond that, there are debuts from Seramic, Rhys Lewis and White Tail Falls to expect as well as new records from the likes of The Staves, Lucy Leave and The Big Moon - there's a lot to be excited about! Before all of that, however, it's time to look back on the music that I've been listening to this year with a round-up of my favourite albums of the year. I loved doing a post like this last year - when Novo Amor narrowly missed out on the top spot to the incredible Someone Out There from Rae Morris (you can catch up on last year's post here.)

As this blog is solely contributed to by me (hi!) the list is a bit of a self-indulgent reflection of the music that I've been loving this year. It's been a bit of a rollercoaster of a year, which kicked off with me being made redundant from my job at HMV back in February. I've traded music and films for a job as a bookseller now and I'm loving it, but I still miss being surrounded by music lovers every day. It has become even more important to me to have the blog to use as an outlet to ramble about the music that I love, and what follows below is five of the records that I've fallen in love with this year, with a further list of several more brilliant albums that I wanted to shout about.


1. Maggie Rogers - Heard It In A Past Life

Could there really be anybody else but Maggie Rogers in the top spot this year? Her incredible record has come to occupy a really special place in my heart. I first started listening to Maggie towards the end of 2018 when she was announced as tour support for Mumford & Sons. From then, my love for her grew with each new track that was released, and my anticipation for the record grew. The album itself arrived in January, while HMV was in administration and in the midst of a really confusing and stressful time for me. It is no exaggeration to say that it helped to ground me and bring me much needed joy through the experience of redundancy. I spent several weeks listening to the album at least once daily, finding new aspects of it to love with each listen.

I feel that it's worth noting that Heard It In A Past Life is Maggie's debut album, and as such it is even more impressive. She has recently been nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy award, the pinnacle of a whirlwind year of touring, huge TV appearances and a whole lot of dancing like nobody (or indeed, everybody) is watching. Given that I adore the album in its entirety, I struggle to pick a favourite track from it, but a stand-out track for me from the first few listens was Burning, so why not start there and then go on to check out the entire album. You can thank me later!


2. Friendly Fires Inflorescent

Next up an in a really close second is an album that I spent a long time waiting for, worrying that it might never exist. I think even the band themselves couldn't be sure that they would make this record, but I am so incredibly glad that they did. Friendly Fires were one of my favourite bands of the early 2010s and I worried that I'd never get to see them play live when they took an extended hiatus several years ago. To my delight they returned in late 2017 and I was lucky to see their triumphant London return last April. Fast forward a year or so and the moment that I'd been waiting for... an album announcement. The wait was finally over in August, and it was more than worth it. I think that I probably annoyed some people with how much I couldn't stop talking about the album when it was released.

The record is an injection of pure joy in what is very often a pretty miserable world. Friendly Fires are back with their infectious energy, catchy hooks, incredible live shows and an album to fix all of our problems. Or possibly just to get us dancing - but that's a start. Again, I really adore the full record but my favourite track would probably have to be Silhouettes. A certified bop.


3. Bear's Den So that you might hear me

Having been a big fan of Bear's Den for a few years, one of the coolest perks of running this little blog came earlier this year when I received a link to listen to their album and review it six weeks ahead of release. It arrived in my inbox while I was searching for a new job and feeling a little lost, and the album felt like something that I could keep to myself before it was released out into the world - it really came to mean a lot. I recall describing my review at the time as being like a love letter to the band. It sounds a little cliché to say that an album tangible helped you through a situation but it really did. I've been lucky to see the band live a few times this year in various settings (headlining a stage at Citadel Festival and the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire to name a couple) - it's been a Bear's Den kind of year and I'm very happy about that.

In their third studio album, we find the band enjoying the confidence that the success of previous records Islands and Red Earth & Pouring Rain brought, combining the acoustic and electric elements of both to explore new ground sonically. The record explores themes of intimacy and connection. with the band describing it as being about "trying to communicate with someone honestly [...] an attempt to reveal the honest and difficult challenge of communicating with anyone that you really care about." It is a gorgeous example of Davie's skills as a songwriter, bringing to life his story and those of others. A favourite track of mine is the opener Hiding Bottles, written about his relationship with a close family member with an alcohol addiction. From my first listen, the lyric "well I'm keeping it together but you don't know the half of it. It's starting to show, no I'm not on top of this" has really resonated with me.


4. Christof van der Ven You Were The Place

In a way, Christof manages to make his way onto this list twice - he's a touring member of Bear's Den, creating some gorgeous solo music in the spare time that allows him. Having released his gorgeous debut album at the start of last year, he's the only artist to have been on both the 2018 and 2019 lists, and deservedly so. I really really love this album - and was lucky to have an early listen of this one too. With the album in 2018, an EP release at the start of this year and a busy tour schedule with BD I'm impressed at the rate at which he got this album out into the world - I feel lazy just thinking about all of that. Written in response to the end of a brief but intense fling, this is an incredibly personal, yet relatable, record from Christof. As you might expect it is sad in places, while being full of optimism and hope in others. Production from bandmate Marcus Hamblett is superb too - the finished record is raw and intimate and really deserving of a spot on the list.


5. Lucy Rose - No Words Left

After a little thought about who finished up my top five albums of the year my thoughts kept on returning to Lucy Rose and her fourth studio album. It is, in a word, sublime. In direct comparison to her previous records, this one is incredibly stripped back (centring around vocals, guitar, piano and strings) and is as a result stark and vulnerable. At the time of release Lucy wrote online that "these songs have allowed me to get to know myself in a way I haven't before and I'm sure after you listen to it you'll end up knowing me better as well." It is a record which explores issues of anxiety, isolation and uncertainty without sugarcoating anything, it is exactly the kind of record that I needed to hear this year. While I really connect with a number of lyrics across the record, my favourite track is perhaps The Confines Of This World, in which Lucy delivers the lines "I really don't mean to bring you down, But I need someone to talk to." 



Well done for making it this far - that's my top five albums of the year. I genuinely adore each of them, and will enjoy listening to them on repeat for years to come, I hope. It's been a bit of an up and down year for me and these albums have really helped to bring some light into my life when I've needed it. But I'm not finished there... there's been plenty more (in fact, more than I'd realised) that I have loved this year, so here is a bit more of a list (in release order) of albums that I really recommend you check out. You'll love them too, I hope!

Busted - Half Way There
Stella Donnelly - Beware of the Dogs
Foals - Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost (Part 1)
Jack Savoretti - Singing to Strangers
Fil Bo Riva - Beautiful Sadness
Pêtr Aleksänder - Closer, Still 
SOAK Grim Town
Hailaker - Hailaker
Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride
Benedict Benjamin - Truant
Matthew and the Atlas - Morning Dancer
CHILDCARE Wabi-Sabi  
Charlie Cunningham - Permanent Way
Bastille - Doom Days 
Two Door Cinema Club - False Alarm
The Black Keys - "Let's Rock"
Grace Lightman - Silver Eater
The Teskey Brothers - Run Home Slow 
Marika Hackman - Any Human Friend
Bon Iver - i,i 
Liz Lawrence - Pity Party
Geowulf - My Resignation 
Half Moon Run - A Blemish in the Great Light
Leif Vollebekk - New Ways
Marcus Hamblett - Detritus

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