best albums of 2019
We have arrived at the time of year when we cast our eyes and ears back to highlight the best that 2019 had to offer. We have all passionately and (mostly) politely championed the choices you will see below.
You can read about our favourite albums and films in more depth in this month’s Best of 2019 special edition of The Fopp List – available for FREE in all of our stores, right up until the end of January.
Be sure to let us know your picks or shout virtually (all caps optional) if we missed your favourite record from 2019 in the comments, or tweet us @foppofficial.
Sharon Van Etten Remind Me Tomorrow
A decade after her debut-proper, Because I Was In Love, Sharon Van Etten has delivered her most accomplished and most compelling record to date.
Arriving five years after her last LP Are We There, the songs were written while Van Etten was pregnant with her first child as well as juggling acting work and studying for a degree in psychology. Given all that, it’s perhaps no surprise that Remind Me Tomorrow is her most direct work. Made with producer John Congleton, best known for his work with Blondie, Honeyblood and St Vincent, the album features a string of bonafide collaborators, including Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa, Mini Mansions bassist Zachary Dawes, Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart and singer-songwriter Heather Woods Broderick.
Written and recorded in what must have a chaotic period in her life, Remind Me Tomorrow sees Van Etten distilling the tumult into something totally cohesive and daring. The record finds the singer tentatively embracing electronics, giving the songs haunting atmospherics and brooding soundscapes. That said, this album isn’t a radical departure and doesn’t break the tried and tested formula that has made so many people fall in love with Van Etten over the years. It has subtle flourishes, experimental dabbles and an expanded sonic palette, but that none of that distracts from the singer’s power and poise.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Ghosteen
Unimaginable tragedy can take many forms. It can be a driving force and an insurmountable climb all at once. Nick Cave’s response is many things; a warm, more melodic companion to Skeleton Tree with equal measures hope, sadness and all perfectly nuanced. The Bad Seeds are on fine subdued form, giving the songs the delicacy and ambience needed. As stately as it is exquisite, Ghosteen concludes the trilogy that began with Push The Sky Away in 2013. Having now received the conclusion, allow yourself to step back and appreciate where each album fits within a journey so evident in process and presentation. No, it’s not an all-time great party album, however, it’s a tremendous work of art that demands your attention.
FKA Twigs MAGDALENE
It has taken FKA twigs five years to follow up the hugely acclaimed LP1, but it has been worth the wait. The album features a stellar line-up of producers working alongside twigs, with Jack Antonoff, EDM giant Skrillex and electro whizz Nicolas Jaar among the collaborators, while rapper Future guests on lead-off single Holy Terrain. MAGDALENE is another fine example of twigs’ ability to combine experimental flourishes and witchy soundscapes with direct R&B. At times, it’s soothing, at other times, it’s profoundly unsettling. But it’s all captivating.
Big Thief Two Hands
Two Hands is Big Thief’s fourth studio album, as well as the second album that they have released THIS YEAR.
Coming just five months after U.F.O.F., the release has been described by singer Adrianne Lenker as “its Earth twin”. Filled with slow rhythms, clean and reverberated guitars, gentle soft vocals, this LP us a must-have for any indie folk fan. It is such a rich and mellow album, with some of the most emotional lyrics I’ve heard in recent years.
Aldous Harding Designer
For her third album, New Zealand born songer-songwriter Hannah Sian Topp, aka Aldous Harding, re-teamed with producer John Parish, the British musician/songwriter best known as PJ Harvey’s key collaborator. The apparent ease and harmonious nature of their working relationship affords Harding complete freedom to explore and evolve, resulting in a more experimental, liberated collection of songs. In their four-star review, NME proclaimed, “A breath of fresh air in a time dense with noise and algorithmic hiss, this is an open-hearted deep dive into Aldous Harding’s colourful imagination.”
Joan Shelley Like the River Loves the Sea
In a career spanning almost a decade, Kentucky-born Joan Shelley has recorded a handful of studio albums, starting with the self-released By Dawnlight in 2010 and culminating in this year’s Like The River Loves The Sea. While Shelley may have enlisted a host of outside helpers – such as guest vocalist Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy on the track The Fading – they all prove themselves to be sympathetic and like- minded collaborators, wholly sensitive and never threaten to overpower Shelley’s voice or vision.
black midi schlagenheim
Indie jazz scronk to the highest standard. This album feels like a culmination of modern times, loud, chaotic and surprising you at every turn. This is one of 2019’s best debut releases from the London based four-piece. Hard-hitting guitars, rolling basslines and crashing drums, making you want to dance and headbang at the same time.
angel olsen all mirrors
According to Olsen’s statement that accompanied the album release, “the songs here are about losing empathy, trust, love for destructive people; walking away from the noise and realizing that you can have solitude and peace in your own thoughts, alone, without anyone to validate it.” Over 11 epic and lushly orchestrated tracks, this is a powerfully moving pop gem.
bill callahan shepherd in a sheepskin vest
This marks the sixth album of material released by the erstwhile Smog front- man under his own name and the much anticipated follow-up to 2013’s Dream River. Across twenty tracks, Callahan preserves his reputation as a true original and fiercely experimental musician, delivering a career high collection and worthy addition to an already stunning body of work.
When Alex Petridis described Psychodrama as “the boldest and best British rap album in a generation” in his Guardian review, few doubted the validity of this glowing endorsement. Confirmation, as if it was needed, came when the album beat out stiff competition to become the 28th winner of the coveted Mercury Prize. Born David Orobosa Omoregie in Streatham, South London, the 21-year-old rapper has cemented his reputation as one of the UK’s most prestigious talents. Building on a solid debut and a slew of non-album singles, Psychodrama is lyrically challenging, intelligent and amusingly self-aware.
Tyler, the Creator Igor
Written, produced and arranged all by Tyler. Simply put, this is his best work. This album hits you with a bang with the heavy drone of ‘Igor’s theme’ leading into the crashing drums and layered vocals that create a powerful soundscape. Broken into three parts this album describes the story of someone falling in love, becoming addicted to the person they have fallen in love with and then eventual fallout of the breakup. It’s hard to say this is a rap album, when even Tyler himself describes it as more of a pop album with the occasional bar on it, but when he does rap you know it’s for a reason. The best part of this album is the instrumentation and the emotions that are created from these. The flowing synths in ‘Gone, Gone’ create a sense of melancholy whilst the hard-hitting bassline of ‘What’s Good’ creates a sense of unease about what’s about to hit you. Listen in one sitting to fully take in the story and emotions.
comet is coming trust in the lifeforce of the deep mystery
Since forming in 2013 The Comet is Coming have carved out a unique path, creating a potent cocktail
of sound, infused with jazz, funk, electronic and psychedelic rock. With their second full-length album, the band continues to push boundaries and defy genre classification. Q described it most eloquently as “a blast”.
Little Simz Grey Area
Just four years on from the release of her 2015 debut, A Curious Tale Of Trials + Persons, Little Simz delivered an astonishingly accomplished and sophisticated third album, Grey Area, picking up a well-deserved Mercury Prize nomination along the way. Grey Area presents an artist at the peak of her powers, delivering on her early promise and expanding their horizons exponentially. Incorporating soulful grooves and punching bass to her razor-sharp lyrical delivery, this is undoubtedly a contender for rap record of the year.
Lizzo Cuz I Love You
Mainstream success has been a long time coming for Lizzo, the Detroit, Michigan native, born Melissa Vivianne Jefferson in 1988. Her third full-length album, 2019’s Cuz I Love You, Lizzo finally delivered on the early promise of her previous records, 2013’s Lizzobangers and 2015’s Big Grrrl Small World. Powered by the sleeper hit Truth Hurts – 7 weeks at No.1 on the US Hot 100 and 138 million views on YouTube – and the deliciously playful Juice, Cuz I Love You has spent 26 weeks on the US Billboard Album Chart.
Slipknot We Are Not Your Kind
Twenty years on from their self-titled debut, Slipknot delivered an unexpected UK No.1 album in the summer of 2019, dethroning Ed Sheeran in the process. It’s testament to the band’s staying power and prowess that their unique brand of ‘nu-metal’ has endured when many of their contemporaries have fallen by the wayside. We Are Not Your Kind received exceptionally positive reviews, with Kerrang! stating, “Slipknot are as bold, fearless and exhilarating as ever,” before awarding them a five ‘K’ review.
Beth Gibbons & The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra Henryk Górecki: Symphony No. 3 (Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs)
Overlooked on its 1976 debut, it was a 1992 revival which propelled The Third Symphony by Polish composer Henryk Górecki into the public consciousness, selling a million copies and cementing the second movement as a TV sound-bed and movie soundtrack staple. Invariably performed with a female operatic soprano voice, it is the tormented whisper of former Portishead vocalist, Beth Gibbons, which sets this recording apart. The Guardian stated, “Where previous versions have been eerily transcendent, Gibbons’s quiet, demotic vulnerability makes this both more harrowing and emotionally engaging.
sunn o))) Life Metal
For their eighth album Life Metal, Sunn O))) have broadened their palette considerably, with the band’s core duo of Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson welcoming a third member, TOS, to the party. Enhancing their trademarked droning chords and earth-shattering, ultra-heavy vibrations with some more straight forward riffs and a wash of soundtrack-like Moog synths, it’s safe to say Sunn O))) have created their most commercial offering to date. In their four ‘K’ review, Kerrang! described Life Metal as “Gloriously triumphant, weirdly exhilarating and entirely engrossing.”
Iggy Pop Free
After the extensive touring schedule which had been set in motion to promote 2016’s Post Pop Depression, Iggy Pop declared himself “drained” and longing to be “free”. The sentiment stuck and the Free album was born. Explaining further, to Exclaim! Magazine, Iggy said, “I wanted to wiggle out of the frame of rock instrumentation that I’d gotten encased in over time. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it wasn’t what I felt at this time. I was interested in working with some fine musicians who broke out of the normal time and space.”
Fat White Family Serfs Up!
Formed in Peckham, South London in 2011, Fat White Family released their debut album, Champagne Holocaust, a couple of years later. After their second album, 2016’s Songs For Our Mothers, seemed to be treading water rather than pushing forward, the band seemingly split, resurfacing the following year as Moonlandingz with the Interplanetary Class Classics album. Fast forward to 2019 and, now signed to Domino Records, the band unexpectedly resurfaced. The Observer hailed Serf’s Up! as “a giant leap forward”, signalling the return of a reinvigorated artist, seemingly here to stay.
Sleater-Kinney The Center Won't Hold
Formed over two decades ago in Olympia, Washington, Sleater-Kinney – Carrie Brownstein (vocals and guitar) and Corin Tucker (guitar and vocals) – released seven studio albums before splitting to pursue solo projects in 2006. Reuniting in 2014, the band’s feminist stance and left-leaning politics made them even more relevant, giving their music new-found energy and bite. Mojo stated, “The Center Won’t Hold sounds like a band urgently resetting their course, putting their fury and fear on a war footing. At times, it’s on an industrial scale,” before adding, “There are gorgeous pop songs here, too.”
Other Top Titles
opeth in cauda venenum
Big Thief U.F.O.F.
Moon Duo Stars Are the Light
calexico / iron & wine years to burn
Elbow Giants of All Sizes
Kate Tempest The Book of Traps & Lessons
Bruce Springsteen Western Stars
Brittany Howard Jaime
Bon Iver i,i
the waterboys where the action is
rhiannon giddens with francesco turrisi there is no other
Jenny Lewis On the Line
Wilco Ode to Joy
slowthai nothing great about britain
Metronomy Metronomy Forever
Thom Yorke ANIMA
The Cinematic Orchestra To Believe
Foals Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost: Part 1
Foals Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost: Part 2
Karen O & Danger Mouse Lux Prima
Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride
Pixies Beneath the Eyrie
Ride This Is Not A Safe Place
The National I Am Easy to Find
Richard Hawley Further
Lloyd Cole Guesswork
P.P. Arnold New Adventures of... P.P. Arnold
Ezra Collective You Can’t Steal My Joy
Flying Lotus Flamagran