Best Albums of 2019
Another year, another shit show. Luckily there were absolutely TONNES of great albums to take my mind off it. So without further a do, here are Crackle Feedback's top 40 albums of the year. Have a listen, take your rubbish Xmas presents back and buy some of these instead.
Du Blonde - Lungbread For Daddy
An album that sounds more like Du Blonde's stripped back and punkier live shows than her previous recorded output, Lung Bread for Daddy goes from low-key and personal to brash and noisy in the click of a finger. Du Blonde's knack for communicating rage, humour and sadness is all present and correct and so is the talent for composing thoroughly catchy pop tunes.
Flamingods - Levitation
Easily the most commercial and accessible entry in the Flamingods cannon. On Levitation, the band cut back on some of the ambience and extended psych freak outs which kind of made their name. However, they replaced it with a tonne of catchy hooks, fat basslines, Oh-Sees style yelps and a beefy beefy sound. They still like to include a twenty-plus minute track in their live set, so I don't think the Flamingods of old will ever go away, this is just another feather in their cap.
Piroshka - Brickbat
"Piroshka features members of Lush (Miki Berenyi), Moose (KJ "Moose" McKillop), Modern English (Mick Conroy) and Elastica (Justin Welch - who was also a member of Lush when they briefly reformed in 2015 - neatly completing the circle). Although the album has a more angular, hardened edge than anything you'll have heard from Lush, the dreamy vocals from Berenyi and the flair for a pop melody still give this more than just a passing whiff of Lushness...However, it's clear that, musically and lyrically, this is a true collaborative project with each band-mate bringing something to the table."
Drahla - Useless Coordinates
"It's dark and industrial right from the outset, utilising harsh, angular guitar sounds, discordant melodies and unusual rhythmic flows alongside more traditional punk and rock elements to create something that's both challenging and familiar. It can be harsh and desolate but with enough pumping rhythm to get you moving, should the mood take you (think Spectres with a bit more bounce). Then there's Brown's lyrics, which are delivered in chunks, like tiny observational soundbites (a possible heir to the Mark E Smith throne?) and they sit perfectly alongside the musical clatter. Chris Duffin from the superb XAM Duo also appears to add some sax which flits between intense, abstract and full on glam-rock (see the finale of "Serenity" which goes all Roxy Music from out of nowhere). A fittingly hectic debut."
Avalanche Party - 24 Carat Diamond Trephine
It took a while, but Avalanche Party finally released their debut album this year. A brash, dramatic, self assured record which nods to glam-rock, punk-rock, Jarvis Cocker and Jason Buckle's Relaxed Muscle and in "El Dorado" has one of the strangest, most OTT mission statements a band could make with album 1, track 1.
Giant Swan - Giant Swan
A real one-off, and one of the most original albums I've heard this year. You need to be in the right mood for this one, but luckily the 2019 default mood of "annoyed" is the correct mood. Industrial percussion and disorientation are Giant Swan's tools of the trade (along with some lovely minimal techno beats). I predict that all music will sound like this in 2020.
Patience - Dizzy Spells
A pure pop banger if ever there was one. Actually, there's been a few this year, but this one does seem to have an extra magic spark of Top of the Pops 1985 about it. There's ten songs and it lasts barely half and hour, but there's such an abundance of hooks, ear burrowing keyboard riffs and a dance-floor beats that it's nigh on impossible not to shuffle your feet a bit. Think New Order, Yazoo and The Human League and you're in the right ball park.
Cloud - Live at Kulak's Woodshed
"This is Cloud as you haven't heard him/them before (certainly not via their studio output) and the performance is feedback driven, frequently ramshackle performance full of emotion and simmering anger...Live At Kulak's is short and sweet, and a welcome glimpse into a completely different side of Tyler Taormina's Cloud"
Elva - Winter Sun
"After listening to opening track "Athens", you'd be forgiven for thinking that absoluetly nothing has changed in the world of Elizabeth Morris. Fans will certainly enjoy the nostalgic and evocative words along with the joyous shuffling beat that kicks in part way through. It's an absolute gem. However, unlike most of Morris' previous output, this album is a collaborative effort and there's a clear division of songwriting going on...Winter Sun is an impressive, meandering debut, and whilst the band don't fully abandon their previous directions, after an initial hit of nostalgia, they start to plough their own furrow. It's good to have them back."
Earthen Sea - Grass and Trees
"Grass and Trees closes with "Less and Less" which, as the title suggests, is certainly minimal, made up of hand claps, repetitive rhythmic synth and the occasionally bit of dubby bass hum. Gradually the elements are jettisoned until there's less and less going on, and at the end, all we have is hand claps. It's an innocuous ending to a understated and impressive album."
Ivan the Tolerable - Wild Nature!
"This isn't minimal, maudlin bedroom indie, each song is built from the ground up using layers of instrumentation, drone and found sounds to form sweeping, organic pieces which are sometimes harsh and sometimes delicate...I can't think of many other musicians that are just hitting their stride on record 32, but Ivan the Tolerable doesn't seem to have any interest in following the traditional rock n roll path"
Hannah Cohen - Welcome Home
"Hannah Cohen's long awaited follow up to 2015's dark pop masterpiece, the criminally overlooked Pleasure Boy. On this album Cohen has morphed from synths and stark soundscapes to a smoother, folkier sound (albeit still with dashes of icy electronica)...the whole album has a warm, laid back quality to it and typified by tracks like "Dissolving" which brings to mind drifting slowly out to see on a raft."
Sacred Paws - Run Around The Sun
Purely joyful, full of lightening fast pop guitar and drums, excitable rhythm and some party-time hand claps thrown in for good measure. Nothing has really changed that drastically in the world of Sacred Paws in the 2 years since Strike a Match, this is mostly a continuation of what Sacred Paws do best. But the band do push the boat out on tracks like "Write This Down" which features a wonderful brass section and adds a bit of Dexys' kitchen sink glamour to the already impressive sound.
The Proper Ornaments - 6 Lenins
"The fact that most of these songs were written in the summer is telling, as the record has a clear mellow, sunshine vibe running through it...complimented by some warm, droning organ which propels the band towards the more psychedelic end of the classic American rock spectrum. Elsewhere there are hints of Mwng era Super Furry Animals, Elliot Smith, Drinks and Galaxie 500 (none of whom are particularly known for their "get up and go"). Yes, 6 Lenins is more of a night in record than a night out record, so why not just stay in and give it a spin"
Frog - Count Bateman
"whilst this new album may have lost some of the dynamic and raw clatter of their previous releases Bateman has instead gone down a mellower, west coast route. "RIP to the Empire State Flea Market" with it's harmonica and cool rhythm section is reminiscent of vintage Neil Young and "You Know I'm Down" is not a million miles away from The Beach Boys at their late 60s post Pet Sounds peak (and I do not say that lightly)."
Mark Peters - New Routes out of Innerland
"Eight remixes of the tracks from his debut solo album from a varity of collaborators including Ulrich Schnauss, Moon Gangs, Odd Nosdam, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Olga Wojciechowska, Andi Otto, E Ruscha V and Brian Case. Artists working together, across the globe on a collection called "New Routes out of Innerland" seems to be a nicely timed dig on our current political situation / brexit shambles. The original concept for Innerland was based around industrial North West England, but now the songs have been given their freedom, new leases of life, extensions and in many cases a complete re-invention."
Aldous Harding - Designer
"Its modus operandi seems to be beautiful, mellow arrangements over a bare bones - but cool and funky rhythm section (think 1960s French funk-rock a la Serge Gainsbourg / Jean Claude Vannier). It's a spotless mix of surreal pop and (mostly) sad, stripped back introspection, the only real constant being the ultra slow tempo. These lush compositions bring to mind a host of artists and genres over the nine songs. "Zoo Eyes" has nods to the subtler end of brit-pop, "Fixture Picture" is a pop gem in the vein of Super Furry Animals and "The Barrel" (which has an air of Cate le Bon) sounds like it's been custom made for a Wes Anderson road trip scene. Put it all together and you've got a pleasant 40 minutes, an album to stick on in the sunshine and an outside contender for album of the year"
Okay Champ - Dead About Thinking
"The guitar is particularly crushing on the stellar opening number "The Party's Over", starting off with a standard wonky riff, but "after the drop" turning into something that would be right at home on an Obituary album...The last few minutes of "Keen Admirer" see the band saving up their last shreds of rage to round off the album in devastating, epic style. Okay Champ have produced seven songs which have a clear ingrained sound, but they manage to incorporate many other disparate elements and influences to form a colossal, strange and totally enjoyable debut album"
Tim Hecker - Anoyo
"It's only after listening to Anoyo a few times that it becomes clear that it's quite a symmetrical record. Book ended by two sprawling elongated tracks (1 and 6), with two ambient, compositions as a centre point and the more avant garde percussion based numbers sitting in between at tracks 2 and 5. So, despite the fact that this is essentially a "leftovers" album, there's a clear and distinct flow to it. This is a compelling, at times alienating, new chapter in the Hecker library, which was thankfully not left on the cutting room floor."
Imperial Teen - Now We Are Timeless
"How We Say Goodbye is a particular highlight here and is one of those tunes that seem snappy and carefree until you delve a bit deeper and realise it's not as jovial as you first imagined (see pretty much every Beautiful South song)...Now We Are Timeless, as the title suggests, is the sound of a band traversing the genres and pulling out something which is relevant and, most importantly, thoroughly entertaining."
Fontaines D.C. - Dogrel
A rare example of a hyped up band delivering a great debut album and receiving even more hype and praise after its release. Not every song on Dogrel is gonna be a timeless classic, but there are enough bona fide gems on here to seal its place in indie history. "Boys In The Better Land" and "Sha Sha Sha" might have the catchy hooks but it's the stunning (and a bit weird) "Hurricane Laughter" that should seal its place on any end of year list.
PAWS - Your Church On My Bonfire
Your Church on My Bonfire sees Glasgow trio PAWS tone things down a little, and at the same time move into more ambitious territory, losing some of the raw DIY clatter and picking up some influences from across the pond. There's certainly a very strong hint of REM in there amongst other things. Lyrically, it deals with themes of death and break up but, very much like REM, there's a whole lot of hope in there too. A slow burner this may be, but it packs a punch unlike anything they've done before, a point hammered home by the wonderful, epic final track "Not Goodbye (See You Later)".
You Tell Me - You Tell Me
"this isn't just a quick detour or knockabout, it's about as fully formed and ambitious as you'd expect from their combined previous form. There's complicated song structures, soaring (and subtle) strings arrangements and folk harmonies, it's a full blown album with a full band sound...There's not many pop groups working with such ambitious classical arrangements on a shoestring budget, but You Tell Me are certainly excelling in the field. A fine collaboration which hopefully won't be a one-off."
Haiku Salut - The General
This sprawling 23 track soundtrack to a 1926 Buster Keaton film is a broad church in terms of tone. Whilst the score is grounded in electronica, the individual tracks flit between ambience, euphoria, piano ballads and darkly exciting passages (see "Train Steal" which wouldn't be out of place on a Stranger Things score). There's also a whole load of industrial clatter going on, but as always with Haiku Salut's work, everything sounds beautiful and organic. A fine album in its own right.
The Catenary Wires - Til The Morning
12 woozy and atmospheric duets delivered by Rob Pursey and Amelia Fletcher and an array of guest musicians who add piano, hammond organ, mellotron, cello and harmonium into the mix. On Til the Morning the band sound never better, like a gothic version of The Beautiful South of a more jaunty Bad Seeds, it's a winning formula for these veterans of the indie scene. The lush vocals might send you off to sleep if it was't for some bite, or twist of the tale which creeps up on you unexpectedly, out of the shadows.
Pom Poko - Birthday
"Machine gun guitars are complimented by West African rhythms, unexpected percussion (I keep thinking I hear steel drums, but can never be quite sure) and Ragnhild's unique and exciting vocal style are the perfect disparate match. Different combinations are mixed up in different songs, making for an exhilarating ride. However, in the case of Birthday, odd doesn't mean impenetrable. This is some of the catchiest music you're likely to hear in 2019"
Sleaford Mods - Eton Alive
Another blast of aggro from Andrew Fearn and Jason Williamson, this time with the "controversial" inclusion of singing from the latter. Lyrically, Eton Alive is as biting and vitriolic as ever, just with less political potshots (however, the celebrity observations in "Kebab Spider" are particularly memorable). The music is more subtly menacing than it has been in the past (see the wonderful opener "Into The Payzone") and occasionally goes borderline disco ("Discourse"). Definitely their most eclectic record to date.
Younghusband - Swimmers
Another welcome return in 2019 which flew a bit under the radar was that of Younghusband, who delivered an excellent third album Swimmers, after a four year gap. Front-man, Euan Hinshelwood is an in demand musician when he's not recording with his own band (he's spent a lot of 2019 touring in Cate Le Bon's band for example), which may explain the sporadic spells of Younghusband action. But Swimmers is a great record which shouldn't be overlooked, brighter, breezier and more poppy than any of their previous recordings, it takes on a host of US West Coast influences, adds a dash of new wave electronica and delivers it all in a simple but effective package.
Benjamin Shaw - Live at donaufestival
"Where most solo artists would strip things away from a song when performing alone, Shaw somehow manages to build on them, adding layer upon layer (synth, percussion, samples etc) to the bares bones of each number to give them a new lease of life. Shaw's nervous banter between songs is at odds with the music he makes on stage and only really hammers home the fact that this is quite possibly his finest work to date. A must have for anyone who's been a fan over the past decade, and a fine place to start for anyone new to the world of Benjamin Shaw"
Ivan The Tolerable & The Elastic Band - Rations
"If you're going to try something new, you might as well do it properly. So Rations is a double instrumental LP with 12, not-so-slim tracks which stretch Ivan The Tolerable's remit to new and uncharted areas. There are hints of pastures old in there (the sci-fi sounding synth from Ivan's previous two releases is the obvious carry forward), but generally speaking this is different. It sounds like everyone is in the same room, which i'm not even sure is true, but that's what it sounds like. There's a jammy, Spacemen 3 sort of feel to the whole thing which I think works magnificently (see "The Metallic Sea" for proof)."
Lorelle Meets The Obsolete - De Facto
"The album opens with "Ana" and one repetitive note of pulsing electro, which eventually incorporates some creeping interference and Bad Seeds-esque guitar lines. As an opening statement it's bold and ominously dark, with Lorelle's otherworldly vocal contributions only adding to the general unease. It's a pretty astonishing vocal performance, and is certainly something which we haven't really heard before from this band, moving more into the realms of Haley Fohr and Circuit des Yeux (whilst keeping their own hardened edge). The duo get back to more familiar/commercial territory on the very next track "Lineas En Hojas" which sounds more like mid-80s New Order or more contemporary artists like Gwenno and Charlotte Gainsbourg. By the time track three rolls around you get the feeling that this album isn't going to be sticking to any preset or game plan."
Little Simz - GREY Area
I'm ashamed to say that this is the first Little Simz album I've heard, but on the basis of GREY Area i'll be having a deeper delve into her music over the Xmas break. On this one, organic bass and drum breaks, sit perfectly alongside film-score style flourishes and Little Simz' "no shit taken" lyrics (the rallying cry of "I said it with my chest and I don't care who I offend" perhaps sums it up best). The albums peaks with the beautiful/creepily "Venom" where Simz machine gun lyrics provide beautiful contrast to a slow and creeping score.
The Twilight Sad - It Won/t Be Like This All The Time
"Epic and uplifting, but with just enough howling guitar fuzz in the background to let you know that it's still very much a Twilight Sad song. "Keep It All To Myself" is an oddly romantic gothic ballad, the sort of thing you'll occasionally see on those 1980s repeats of Top of the Pops and think "this is pop music, but there's something not quite right about it..." (e.g. New Order, The Jesus and Mary Chain). The album as an entity, despite it's dark moments and imagery, is actually far more accessible than anything that's come before. To think that not so long ago, before Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave was released, the band were talking about jacking it all in. What a difference a few years can make. The Twilight Sad are going from strength to strength."
Stealing Sheep - Big Wows
"Big Wows is their third album, their first in four years. It's a dazzling mirror-ball of a record, full of glistening pop gems that keep the positivity flowing in a music scene that is not currently brimming with joy. Thematically, the album was influenced by the modern tech era, so it's fitting that the songs were born on a computer and then moulded into something that sounds more organic. This is truly an electro album though, and apart from the inspired percussion and a few untouched vocal harmonies, it's an album fitting for that technological world...a sparkling summer pop record with a dash of modern-day cynicism."
Martha - Love Keeps Kicking
2019 was another year with grim news and some equally bleak albums, so it was great to see those beacons of light from Pity Me come back with what is probably the best album of their careers so far. Packed with ultra-catchy hooks and lyrical punches the band seem to be filling in the gap left by Allo Darlin when they departed in 2016 (Martha have even added a cover of "My Heart Is A Drummer" to their live set which is an absolute joy). Love Keeps Kicking may contain songs of romantic heartbreak and Martha are certainly no strangers to political digs, but it's hard not to beam when you listen to this album (even for a misery like me). Lovely Stuff.
Dave - PSYCHODRAMA
If you aren't already sold by the jaw dropping, gut punching opening track on Dave's celebrated PSYCHODRAMA then there's probably no hope for you to be honest. This ambitious, inventive, warts and all concept album was a (rare) worthy winner of the 2019 Mercury Prize. Dave's lyrical talent (stark tonal shifts, dramatic twists etc) has rightly won him plaudits but the cinematic and classical elements woven into the narrative are equally stunning. In many ways it's the Scott 4 of grime, but with added emotional clout.
FKA twigs - Magdalene
FKA Twigs' long, long, long awaited follow up to LP1 came in the form of Magdalene, a concept album of sorts in which Taliah Barnett unleashes a tumultuous 5 years onto a character who appears throughout the record. The beautiful and destructive elements on opening track "thousand eyes" has hints of innovators like Kate Bush and more recent envelope pushers like Circuit Des Yeux. That's not to say the album tries to copy anything in particular though, this is a uniquely odd and eclectic collection through and through. There's so much going that, much like a David Lynch film, you'll keep coming back and noticing something different each time.
Richard Dawson - 2020
After 2017's medieval themed "Peasant", Richard Dawson comes back to the present day (or not too distant future) with 2020, an album which concerns itself with over enthusiastic football dads, floods, homelessness and divorcees. Musically, it's his most accessible album to date, more synths, more hooks and with more concise tracks. Lyrically, Dawson is working at God-level. I don't think anyone currently living on this planet has the ability write about a demoralised civil servant (navigating their way through horrendous colleagues, soul destroying targets and works trips to Wetherspoons) and make it sound like such a gripping, epic, and often darkly hilarious tale. If the opening salvo of "Open your eyes, time to wake up. Shit, shower, brush your teeth, drain your cup. Wolf down a bowl of Ready-brek" hasn't drawn you in, then nothing will.
Cate Le Bon - Reward
Reward is a grower if ever there was one. Whilst it may sound a bit low key on the first few listens, its subtleties are the things that will draw you back in. Whether that be the opening keyboard riffs on the wonderful "Miami" or Stephen Black's scene stealing sax accompaniment. There's a certain stillness and warmth to this record which we haven't really seen on her previous efforts. It's a crowded field when choosing a favourite Cate Le Bon album but this one might just pip it.
Bill Callahan - Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest
"First of all, the production on this record is unbelievably good, the superlative I'd normally use - lush - is a massive understatement. For me, this is Callahan's Blood On The Tracks, and with that i mean it might not even be his best album, but it's a special one, I'm certain it will be a memorable one (and easily the best of the already impressive "Bill Callahan" era releases) and one that i'll keep coming back to. He even seems to nod to Dylan on "Young Icarus" which has more than a passing resemblance to Dylan's "Simple Twist of Fate". There's not quite as much blood on these tracks though, and this album contains some of the most hopeful songs that Callahan has ever put to paper. "What Comes After Certainty" is essentially about how good life can be and there's a generally positive vibe throughout with songs about everyday life and fatherhood and family (with the occasional flight of fancy)...To be honest I'm amazed that any songwriter has 20 songs as good as this in them, so to unload them all together, on the same album is an absolute master stroke."