Soundsphere’s 21 Best Albums of 2019

Another 12 months are almost in the bag.  It’s been an exhausting perpetually anxious and oftentimes downright depressing year on mother Earth, but at least we had a stupendously excellent barrage of new music to soundtrack us through.  So much so, in fact, that even though this post is titled “Soundsphere Magazine’s 21 Best Albums of 2019,” I for one am most certainly under no illusions that these are the only Best Albums of this past year.  This list has had to be constructed solely by myself and I’ve had a tonne of notable gaps in my listened-to list – apologies mainly to metal fans as I’ve never really gotten on with that genre – so more than feel free to lob your favourites at me in the comments or on the socials, I’m always up for trying new things!  Oh, and this list is just in alphabetical order rather than any real ranking so don’t read too much into it.

Right, with all that said and also additional apologies to Stormzy (turns out my editor doesn’t particularly want to work over Christmas), here are the 21 Best Albums of 2019.


1000 gecs100 gecs – 1000 gecs [Dog Show Records]

I honestly still have no idea whether the debut album by the experimental pop duo of Laura Les and Dylan Brady is actually any good or not, but it’s been three months since I first clicked play on this record, spending the following 23 straight minutes laughing my ass off, and I haven’t managed to stop listening to it even long after the joke should’ve worn off.


U.F.O.F.Big Thief – U.F.O.F./Two Hands [4AD]

The number of artists who have managed to successfully release two great albums back-to-back within 12 months is in the single-digits.  Brooklyn-based folk rock quartet Big Thief made such an accomplishment look completely effortless, following up May’s gorgeous borderline psychedelic U.F.O.F. just five months later with the rougher and more rugged but no less beautiful Two Hands, which for my tastes is the superior of the two.  Two sides of the same spiritual coin, both records displaying the relentlessly gifted songwriting talents of Adrianne Lenker and the electric chemistry that the band shares, I couldn’t only include one or the other.  It had to be both.


WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?Billie Eilish – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? [Darkroom/Interscope]

We who lived through 2019 will know that it was not the year of Ed Sheeran and Lewis Capaldi, but rather Billie Eilish – and also Lil Nas X plus one other artist we’ll get to shortly – the 17-year-old who, along with brother FINNEAS (her producer), bum-rushed the mainstream via an instant classic of a debut.  Filtering horror aesthetics and anxieties over depression and societal discomfort into a distinctly 2019 deconstruction of how pop music is supposed to sound, held together by Eilish’s alternately hushed and menacing delivery, it’s a record that reminds me a lot of Lorde’s Pure Heroine, that game-changing debut from an artist already so sure of herself yet clearly nowhere near her full potential just yet.


DedicatedCarly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated [604, School Boy, Interscope]

Real talk: even if the rest of Dedicated were made up of cuts from JESUS IS KING, the album probably still would’ve been in with a better-than-average shot at cracking this list purely off the back of opener “Julien.”  But as my fellow gays know, Queen Carly comes through with the bops.  Less immediate than 2015’s cult classic E·MO·TION, Dedicated’s 13 tracks soon reveal themselves to have HOOKS the size of skyscrapers, whether they be in the synthwave-y “No Drug Like Me” or the constantly escalating “Everything He Needs” or the Obama-era throwback maximalist pop of “Real Love” or the skippy euphoria of Electric Guest collab “Feels Right” or…  You get the point.  Why this woman isn’t utterly dominating the pop charts I honestly haven’t a clue.


PUNKCHAI – PUNK [Heavenly Recordings]

Perhaps the most purely fun record I’ve had the pleasure of hearing this year, the second full-length by Japanese dance-punk quartet CHAI sees them realise all the potential found on their energetic but scattered first album.  The all-girl band’s body positive Neo-Kawaii manifesto, rebelling against Japanese society’s oppressive and traditionalist views of beauty and gender roles, has been finessed into a series of irresistible blasts of glorious three-minute pop songs.  “Fashionista” fights against the fashion industry to a CSS/Rapture reminiscent boogie, self-love anthem “I’m Me” radiates sugary J-pop bliss, whilst the climactic “Feel the BEAT” envisions what The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” would sound like if written in 2019 and was way less self-important.


CharliCharli XCX – Charli [Asylum, Atlantic Records]

No Pop 2, but frankly what else is?  And if anyone deserves the opportunity to take a well-deserved mainstream-hoping victory lap, it’s Charlotte Aitchison.  Charli is stuffed to the gills with bops.  Pop confections which deconstruct, re-invent, conceptualise the future of, and sometimes just straightforwardly execute the current popular music scene better than nearly anyone else is able to do.  Sometimes, as on the trap-inflected posse cut “Click” which concludes with a noise blast like two monster trucks hate-fucking or on the sensational Christine and the Queens-featuring “Gone,” they manage to do all of that within the same song.


Young EnoughCharly Bliss – Young Enough [Barsuk, Lucky Number]

Guppy, the New York power pop quartet’s previous from 2017, was one of my favourite albums of that year and one of my favourite debuts of the whole decade.  This is even better.  Young Enough manages to invoke the spirits of The Primitives (“Bleach”), Josie and the Pussycats (“Under You”), 80s drivetime pop-rock (“Capacity”) and so many others without ever once feeling like anything but themselves thanks to supremely gifted songwriting and Eva Hendricks’ disarming way with a phrase as she spends the album dissecting an abusive relationship with alternately cathartic and gutting frankness.  Also, the title track is the best Rilo Kiley song Rilo Kiley never bothered to write.


No GeographyThe Chemical Brothers – No Geography [Virgin EMI, Astralwerks]

Coming up on three decades in the business of delivering block rockin’ beats yet the Chems not only show no signs of slowing down, they’re still actively trying to branch out their sound to new unexplored avenues.  Sold as a throwback record, being made as it was with the same equipment used to make their mainstream-shaking 90s output, the duo’s ninth album instead sees them mining the sounds of the era they’d otherwise missed out on.  Acid jams (“We’ve Got to Try”), Aphex Twin homages (“Gravity Drops”), gay-ass disco house (“Got to Keep On”), blissful rave euphoria (“No Geography”).  How many other artists nearing 30 years of music do you know that are putting out some of their best work right now?


PSYCHODRAMADave – PSYCHODRAMA [Neighbourhood]

I tend to treat albums which aim to set themselves up from the outset as Great Important Records with an air of suspicion and an extra critical eye.  But over the course of PSYCHODRAMA’s 51 minutes and 11 tracks, Dave managed to negate that suspicion with extraordinary ease for a record that deals with the messy and the often depressing.  That’s a testament to the virtuoso storytelling skills of the ascending British rap superstar, the detail and honesty he puts into his narratives, and how he brings the listener right in close so that, regardless of how far away from his own experiences they may be, they can see and understand the world as Dave does.


Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost - Part 1Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost, Part 1 [Warner Bros., Transgressive]

Part 2 may have bricked the conclusion by being boring as sin, but even a failure to land couldn’t dull the shine of Foals’ best album since Antidotes.  Here, for the first time since that debut, is a Foals record shorn of filler, which marries off-kilter prog and math-rock touches – the skittering time-signature marimbas of “Café d’Athens,” the sludgy “Syrups” which charges into life at the halfway mark, a surprising lovely sub-minute interlude – to their penchant for ginormous riffs (“White Onions” may be one of the biggest they’ve ever come up with) and radio-ready rave-ups (“On the Luna”), sequenced into a shockingly addictive and cohesive package which functions as the best possible version of their arena-mainstay evolution this decade.  It also, unlike Part 2, doesn’t sound like muddy over-compressed shit.


Norman Fucking Rockwell!Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell! [Polydor, Interscope]

It’s not that I actively disliked Lana prior to NFR!, she just didn’t particularly do anything for me.  So when I hit “play,” I didn’t expect a whole lot.  It took about two minutes into the opening title track for my attention to be completely and totally enraptured by this toweringly effective record, perhaps the most Lana record yet made but also inarguably her best with a levelling up in songwriting across 14 phenomenal tracks – including a friggin’ Sublime cover presumably just to prove that Lana’s talents are now so great and undeniable that she can even rehabilitate a guilty pleasure into a straight-up pleasure – so total that it kind of beggars belief.  I spent a solid fortnight listening to nothing but it over and over and over and over again.


A Picture of Good HealthLIFE – A Picture of Good Health [Afghan Moon]

Hull’s own come good on this excellent, hooky, and just plain fun sophomore record.  Bursting forth from the opening blast of feedback which pre-empts semi-title track “Good Health” and arguably not letting up until another blast of feedback dully cuts out at the end of “New Rose in Love,” A Picture of Good Health often functions like a set of repeated sockings to the jaw.  But the quartet are also capable of strutting and swaggering, and Mez’s lyrics can be sneakily witty (as on the “Losing My Edge” gone punk of “Thoughts”) as well as triumphantly rabble-rousing (“Half Pint Fatherhood”).  It’s the unrefined potential of their debut finally coming together and an indication that the sky may soon be the limit.


GREY AreaLittle Simz – GREY Area [Age 101]

GREY Area is the sound of an artist who knows exactly how gifted she is refusing to be denied any longer.  10 tracks, every last one of them absolute bangers which sound equally at home rattling speakers in the back of trunks as they do flourishing within the intimacy of a good pair of headphones.  35 minutes, not a single second of which is wasted, prioritising the statement of a complete album that demands instant replaying as soon as it’s done.  It’s a heavy, often emotionally raw record, yet Simz is such a forceful presence and a gifted storyteller that it also doubles as 2019’s finest pop record.  I highly suspect there will be future stars in the rap game who will have learned their craft from going over this with a fine-toothed comb.


Cuz I Love YouLizzo – Cuz I Love You [Nice Life, Atlantic]

Between 80% – 90% of my friends are women and not a single one of them has made it out of 2019 without at least once bursting into a rendition, either solo or in a group, of “I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% that bitch” or professing their adoration for Lizzo, the third of 2019’s trio of seemingly unstoppable breakout pop stars.  Weirdly, her rise has consisted of everything but the 11 fantastic empowerment anthems which make up her major-label debut.  Dear lord, people, we not only live in a world where the raucously fun funk-bump of “Juice” didn’t reach any higher than #38, and where a goddamn Missy Elliott collab that superbly called back to the heyday of The Neptunes went absolutely nowhere on the charts, but we live in a world where friggin’ “Soulmate” hasn’t been dominating radio dials non-stop since April or even been issued as single!  How is that fair?  Do you know how femme and awesome I feel whenever “Soulmate” or any one of the 10 other tracks which make up Cuz I Love You come on?!  Cos I’m a depressed self-loathing bucket of crap but for three minutes at a time I feel like a fucking badass!


PatienceMannequin Pussy – Patience [Epitaph Records]

Speaking of, here’s the record I really did not know that I needed so totally in 2019 and am incapable of parting with.  25 minutes, 10 tracks, most of which are well under three minutes long, of cathartic, emotional, raging, melodic punk rock.  Compared to most of these other blurbs, I’ve struggled mightily with what to put here because I can’t really explain why I adore Patience so much other than just pointing to every inch of it gibberingly yelling “HAVE YOU HEARD THIS?!”  Such emotional torment so messily delivered with such force and yet so utterly incandescently satisfying in every single one of Marissa’s pained screams and Kaleen’s tour-de-force drum work.


Saves the WorldMUNA – Saves the World [RCA]

Even as I found myself really enjoying the Los Angeles trio’s 2017 debut, About U, never would I have thought that they’d have a record like Saves the World in them.  Largely ditching the darker emo pop of their debut material in favour of lush synthwave and throwback FM radio sounds which crib just as much from the early 2000s (“Good News” is basically a prime Natasha Bedingfield song and I don’t consider that observation an insult) as they do the 80s (funky anti-harassment anthem “Hands Off”), every track has been precision-engineered for full-throated singalongs in rooms full of strangers.  But Katie Gavin’s confessional lyricism, where inclusive mass sentiment is augmented with detail and enough autobiographical touches to add a knockout emotional wallop (most perfectly encapsulated by closer “It’s Gonna Be Okay, Baby”), has only gotten sharper and darker which makes the hope that percolates throughout the record all the sweeter.


Resonant BodyOcto Octa – Resonant Body [T4T LUV NRG]

Maya Bouldry-Morrison’s fifth album courses with anxiety and uncertainty, a dance record made for these increasingly divisive, aggressive and terrifying times.  Even having largely recorded the album in relative isolation at her New Hampshire cabin, there’s a tumult and fear across its eight tracks which reflects the socio-political landscape that can’t help seep into her work – most especially in the dramatic closing one-two-three punch of the near-trance-like “Can You See Me?,” the natural ambient purgatory of “My Body is Powerful,” and the protest-sampling “Power to the People.”  But for all that fear, this is still a hopeful record that finds the dancefloor to be the great unifying, healing safe space.  An expression of queer abandon where everyone can be themselves, as on standout “Spin Girl, Let’s Activate!”


The Center Won't HoldSleater-Kinney – The Center Won’t Hold [Mom + Pop]

Knives have undoubtedly been opportunistically unsheathed and gleefully plunged into both the album and the band as a whole the Internet over following the messy, dramatic rollout that accompanied what is inarguably the weakest S-K record since Call the Doctor.  Whatever, I still think Center Won’t Hold kicks tremendous ass.  Proudly poppy but also surprisingly exhausted for a band whose music is often furiously riotous, Center is indeed a major stylistic shift for the trio (now duo) but it’s one that’s surprisingly rich to dig into and no less powerful for its frequent admission that cathartic raging in the face of everything going on is hard.  Plus, this is an album with “Hurry on Home,” “LOVE,” the title track, “Reach Out” and especially “The Dog/The Body.”  Low-tier S-K still creams most other bands’ A-list.


Nothing Great About Britainslowthai – Nothing Great About Britain [Method Records]

These past few years have seen a revitalisation, or at least a refocussing of attention from the music press and industry, of the punk scene in Britain.  They’ve also seen a long, long overdue extended focus on British hip hop, which until recently was barely given much coverage or respect unless you were a grime godfather or The Streets.  Located at the perfect intersection of those two avenues is slowthai, the Northampton MC whose snotty snarl goes harder than most punk bands and whose bars display more depth and dexterity than the vast majority of rap’s current superstar elite.  His debut album, at least on the physical editions, is just 11 tracks and one half-hour long but it’s a mordantly funny and incisive portrait of working-class life after a decade of Tory rule that’s more empathetic and observant than any documentary or exposé traditional media can be bothered to cook up.


Father of the BrideVampire Weekend – Father of the Bride [Spring Snow, Columbia]

Yes, it is much too long.  Yes, it is sequenced bizarrely.  Yes, “We Belong Together” is so unforgivably corny and belongs on an Peppa Pig episode rather than the long-anticipated comeback record by the soundtrack to your school/university student days.  Yes, that last side is a massive drop-off in quality.  But, man, when Father of the Bride is firing on all cylinders?  When the Madchester beat of “Harmony Hall” drops?  When that California beach party chorus of “This Life” kicks in?  When those violins in “Unbearably White” overtake the mix like the world’s politest anxiety attack?  When “BOY” breaks through in “2021?”  When “Sunflower” and “Flower Moon” impeccably compliment each other?  Yeah, who cares about what this record gets wrong when it gets so damn much so very right?


What are some of your favourite albums of 2019?  Why not let us know in the comments!  Keep checking back on Soundsphere across the rest of December for alternative Best Albums of 2019 lists!

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About Callum Petch

Callum Petch is doing this for the thrill of it, killing it. You can read more of their work over at callumpetch.com.